MIDDLE-AGED PLAGUE - Empty-nester routine flees when 'College Girl' flits back

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We just finished an unexpected visit with College Girl, an acronym she prefers to The Middle Child.

Since she has headed off to the university, the four of us remaining have settled down to a quiet, smooth-running routine. Something that was shot to pieces within the first hour of her brief visit home that began by her dumping the dirty clothes bag two feet from the front door.

She made pancakes for breakfast, enough for the entire week.

She baked cookies, one batch using up several bags of chocolate chips.

She told funny stories, gave impersonations at the dinner table of her professors, brought us up to speed on celebrities and movies and social networking.

She was noisy and messy and loud and rambunctious and impacting. It looked like we had carpeted the bathroom floor with damp towels.

And now that she is back in school, we are back to our quiet, smooth-running routine, which this morning, although very efficient, is just a bit too quiet.

I have my bathroom floor back but, oh, I do miss my College Girl.

I would say that this Empty Nest thing is not all it's cracked up to be. But from what I've heard and read, it's generally a bittersweet thing, so yes, it is what it's cracked up to be.

It's great to see the birds fly, great to see them experience life with all its tumbles and weeds. It's great to have the chocolate chips last through the month, and it's wonderful to walk through the front door without stumbling over muddy running shoes.

But it is immeasurably sad and empty to not have that laughing, exuberant, joyful bundle of energy near enough to hug and talk to in person.

During the week of College Girl's visit, I made a coffee cake that by all measurements did not rise to the occasion. College Girl took one look at it and burst out laughing - there is something about her laugh that makes the people around want to join in, even the person holding the wretched coffee cake.

I am fortunate - I have four children in all, and not only have two still in the nest but a grandchild nearby. Without dwelling too much on the inevitable future, I enjoy the time that we share, squeezing out of it everything I can.

But to truly get myself through, I comfort myself with the thought that someday, when we're all in a different place, we'll be there forever, together, and we won't ever have to say good-bye. And while I find this a comfort, perhaps my children do not.

Whether other people share this belief doesn't matter to me. Whether someone chooses to say I'm weak and relying on a crutch is ditto on the same scale.

It's where I am.

It's what I believe.

And it's what gets me out of bed in the morning and through the day.

I don't know what heaven's like; none of us do. But one thing I do know - it's a place where you never have to say good-bye.

Dayton columnist Carolyn Henderson, who manages Steve Henderson Fine Art, can be reached at 382-9775 or via email at carolyn@stevehendersonfineart.com. More of her writing is at middleagedplague.areavoices.com.

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