Many folks I’ve grown older with, both friends and family, like me, had children of their own. As with mine, their children grew to adulthood and moved out to live their own lives and, just as it was with the Mrs and I, the sudden vacancy of those beautiful souls you nurtured to become strong men and women left a vacuum in their wake. The rooms suddenly resonated with the echoes of our footsteps, and we could hear our own breathing as we stepped inside their now empty bedrooms. The bathroom always being available, the lights off when the rooms are empty, the front door not opening and closing continuously with no directive being hurled that we’re not heating or cooling the outside world: these became the new norms in our lives.
Now there are no socks to pick up off of the living room floor, no towels left hanging on the shower door, the milk supply in the refrigerator is always enough for the two of us. Speaking of which, food shopping is affordable again, and the television remote is always in plain sight. Bedtime is a set time now and not dependent on when the last child comes home from wherever he or she was until all hours.
Our previous house was a large two-family where the wife and I lived with my parents, our four children, including our oldest son’s new wife, a daughter’s live-in boyfriend, two dogs and a cat. It was noisy, enough lights on at night to emblazon a small arena, and the front door was akin to an old western swinging saloon door 24×7. When my folks passed, our son and his wife moved upstairs to the now vacant apartment that they shared with one of our daughters. The rest maintained bedrooms in either our first floor apartment or in the finished basement. After nearly a year of this arrangement we realized this wasn’t working due to the cost of the overhead, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to charge the required rent from our son and daughter that we needed. So, we announced that the house had to be sold, and within an incredibly short period of time they all found other places to live. When our last child left, I journeyed upstairs to survey the now empty rooms of the large apartment. It was eerily quiet; walking from room-to-room I realized this was for real and that my children have moved on. I was experiencing the empty nest syndrome. The tears were unavoidable, I wanted to call them and say I made a mistake, that they needed to move back home, that I didn’t want to be this old, or feel this lonely, so damn lost in the unmerciful gradient of passing time.
I wanted to build blanket and sofa cushion tents in the living room again, have them all stay up as late as they wanted to on Saturday movie nights with mom and dad. There were pajama races: feigned contests we had when it was nighttime and they raced to see who could put their pjs on first while we counted out loud the illusory seconds it took: 1, 2, 3, 4, 31, 32, 33, etc. They never made it back to the living room under 99 seconds (though, in reality, they returned in far less time than that!)
There were soccer practice and games, softball practice and games, baseball practice and games, football practice and games, bowling, friend’s birthday parties, school plays, sleepovers…the list goes on. They needed to come back home so we could start all over again.
But they were gone, and the silence was the most overbearing din I ever experienced. I hated it, felt lost and empty inside, teeming with anxiety and anger, overshadowed by a broken heart. When composure set in I realized you can’t turn back the clock, instead I accepted it as another of life’s lemons and I needed to make lemonade. Now the Mrs and I live in a small, quaint single-family home in an adult community where our children visit with their children. They have nests of their own now and I tell them don’t rush through life, it moves quickly enough on its own.
RjCook is the author of Dream Lover and Other Tales & The Road Behind Me (The Lie of Hannah) author.to/rjcook