It was two years ago, September. My wife, Yolanda, and I lay in bed talking before going to sleep. Our oldest child, Michael, was in his first weeks of college. He was out of the house and, to a certain degree, out of mind.
“You know,” Yolanda said, “this hasn’t been as tough as I thought. I mean, I miss Michael, but actually I’m OK. I feel guilty that I don’t feel worse.”
Now this is coming from a woman who, after we left Michael in his dorm (I’ll never forget my last image of Michael that day as he sat alone, fingers drumming the dorm desk, gazing out the window at the campus below) broke down in tears minutes later in a booth at a nearby restaurant.
“We should’ve made him come to lunch with us,” she said between sobs, “he has to be hungry.”
“Mom,” our daughter, Anissa, said sliding an arm over her shoulder, “he’ll find food. Look, you can see the dorm from here. He’s only a hundred yards away from a restaurant.”
Yolanda dabbed her tears. The three of us smiled, then laughed, reassured that with the school cafeteria and a number of restaurants and grocery stores within a mile of campus that Michael would find food and survive the day.
Of course Yolanda was not worried about Michael getting fed. Nor was she, that night weeks later, saying she no longer thought about her son on a daily basis. She was just expressing the contradictory feelings that most parents encounter as our children leave home. In our case, the transition was eased by the fact that Anissa was with us for another two years before she scampered off to college. So it has only been the last ten weeks that Yolanda and I, along with our Sheltie, Sammy, have had the house to ourselves.
“How’s it going, you empty nesters?” folks say, eyebrows arched.
“Pretty good, overall,” I respond, with a wink, “although Sammy misses the kids. Yolanda’s paying more attention to him since they left. Plus, she’s speaking in Spanish to him. That’s never a good sign. Heck, in human years, the guy’s fifty some year’s old, I think he’d like his space.”
A bitter pill to swallow, but yes, even our dog wants some separation from us.
Some people deal with the empty nest transition better than others, with a few sinking into depression, experiencing a lost sense of purpose. There are miles of articles, advice columns, academic studies and even support groups available for parents to utilize in assisting them to navigate through this period of life.
I do not foresee such circumstances for Yolanda and I because we have raised our children to leave. That is, after all, one of the main objectives of this whole parenthood exercise. Sure, we miss them and sometimes wax nostalgic. But we know it is time for them to venture forth and for us as well.
“Honey,” I said to Yolanda that fall night two years ago, “you don’t feel bad because you know Michael is where he’s supposed to be, doing what he should be doing. He’s happy, you’re happy.”
Years ago, before the kids arrived on the scene, I watched reruns of the Andy Griffith Show on a regular basis. I particularly like the black and white version with Don Knotts. There are many hilarious scenes that come to mind. But one moment that has stayed with me occurs when Andy tells Aunt Bee that she should not feel compelled to marry a man she does not love because she thinks it will be best for Andy. In Aunt Bee’s mind she is freeing Andy from what she sees as a burden: her presence.
Andy tells her: “Among folks that love each other, like we do, nothing can be best for us unless it’s best for you.”
Yolanda and I are empty nesters. Sometimes the house seems deserted. Sammy may need therapy, or at least Spanish lessons, but he’ll survive. Our kids are content, so we are content. What’s best for them is best for us.