“Empty Nest.” Every parent knows what that means. Some dread it. Some look forward to it. Either way, if you have kids, it’s going to happen. It’s normal and natural for our children to leave home somewhere between 18-22 years of age, to begin life as reasonably sane, independent adults. But after almost two decades of guiding and watching over our young progeny, laughing, loving, disciplining, cheering victories and healing heartaches, how do we let them walk out the door with a breezy “Bye, Mom,” all their worldly goods, and most of our checking account?
Most people agree that it would be a bit weird to have a healthy, grown child who never left home. He’d eventually become that creepy guy in all those movies about the 42-year-old man living with his mother in the big house up on the hill. “Failure to Launch” was a hilarious movie about a young man refusing to leave the convenience and affordability of living with his parents. The success of this film was an indication of its resonance with both generations.
Since it seems to be inevitable, how do we celebrate, rather than mourn, the empty nest? Like most difficult things in life, we need to look for the silver lining. Yes, I understand that young Bradford, the III, is taking a year to trek the Himalayans with three friends, one backpack, and a Sherpa, and baby Bitsy is going to the University of Five-Hours-Away-by-Plane, but you know what? You’ll be okay. Put down that spoon, stick the Hagen Daaz Triple Brownie Delight back in the freezer, pour a glass of wine and visualize the following:
- Your house is no longer a free hotel for mini-adults that apparently believe it also comes with complimentary housekeeping and laundry services.
- You can read a book. All of it. In one weekend.
- You can travel to grown-up people destinations. No more Disneyland or kid-focused hotels.
- You can eat out at restaurants that don’t have Happy Meals on the menu or have changing stations in the bathrooms.
- You can take up a new hobby. Buy the loom you’ve always wanted and set it up in your daughter Begonia’s bedroom. Paint the room bright purple. Install shelving for your creations. Don’t feel guilty. This is your room now.
- You can turn Samson’s downstairs bedroom into a wine cellar. Repeat after me. A. Wine. Cellar.
- No more fighting over the remote or yelling at selectively deaf teenagers to turn down the damn TV.
- Your mornings belong to you. No more lunches to pack, uniforms to wash, breakfasts to whip up, carpools to join, or homework to review. Just you, a hot cappuccino, and Buford, your rescue pug, enjoying a quiet sunrise. Aaahhh.
- You can fill your fridge with the good stuff that you couldn’t afford to feed the kids. For the last four years, your kitchen has been the mother-lode of gigantic bags of chips, cheese puffs, and Hot Pockets, attracting teenage locusts from all over town because you have all the good shit. Now you can stock up on fresh seafood, Pepperidge Farm chocolate mint cookies, and cheeses that don’t come in individual plastic wrappers. Go crazy. Toss it all into the cart.
- You don’t have to set a good example every day. Let’s be honest. Being a daily role model to teenagers who know everything is tough. By move-out day, we’ve taught them pretty much everything we can. Now they’re out the door and we can be our real selves, doing stupid things, without worrying about embarrassing our kids or having to explain why we should have known better.
- You have more cash. The constant, daily handing out of cash for unanticipated events will eventually trickle to the occasional frantic text request (“Mom, pls send $200 asap! Oh, luv u!”), and you can now afford a massage. And a facial. Every month.
- Your kitchen is no longer an all-night diner. 24-hour access is now limited to you and Hubs. And you can be reasonably certain that the other half of your Little Debbie’s cupcakes will still be there tomorrow morning when you get up.
- You no longer have to cook separate meals because the baby hates anything green, the eldest is dieting and won’t eat carbs, and your tweener has decided she won’t eat anything that “can look at her.”
- You can actually sleep through the night, rather than dozing like a mama fruit bat, with ears open and eyes half closed, listening for the key in the lock that says 17-year-old Rutger is home safe (and so is your car).
- You no longer have to spend hundreds of dollars on uniforms for Filbert to wear out on the field, so you can watch your teenage baby get tackled, pummeled, and body slammed every Friday night.
- No more long-distance, all-day sports practices or cold, rainy, morning soccer matches. Unplug the alarm clock, and snuggle under the warm, poofy comforter for another hour (or two).
- You can ditch the minivan and get a car you actually like. Feeling the need for a bright red, two-seater convertible? Or you think your neighbor’s tiny electric car is the cutest thing ever? Yep, they’re both wildly impractical. But what the hell, drive whatever you want. You’ve earned it.
- No more bulk buying. Cancel that Costco membership. You no longer need 12 bottles of ketchup, a gallon of shampoo, and 87 rolls of toilet paper in your house at all times.
- You get to give advice to new moms. You have parenting street cred. You’ve raised one or more “good ones,” and new mothers, unlike your children, will actually want advice from you.
- You’re one step closer to grandchildren. Those adorable miniature humans, with their silky-soft hair and clean-baby smell, that you can love and spoil the crap out of, and then hand back to their original owners to raise.
And so, Simba, the circle of life begins again.