Every spring, with the arrival of letters from college admissions offices, parents around the country start getting all nostalgic and sad, picturing themselves wandering around their children’s empty rooms.
You probably are a little worried about us–that we miss your charm, beauty, brilliance, goofiness, intensity, sarcasm, humor and talent.
You may worry that we miss the good old days when your lips got stuck to gigantic icicles and you fried ants with magnifying glasses. Don’t.
We are writing this letter to assure you that we are just fine. But we don’t get to give you advice 24/7 now, so we hope you will read this, memorize it, and refer to it often as the years go by, as it can serve as your guide to avoid Empty Nest Syndrome when your own children are ready to leave the nest.
Here are _ Tips to Avoid Empty Nest Syndrome:
1. Know that the anticipation is always worse than the Reality. The days that follow that tearful goodbye will be delightful. When you get home, walk around the house naked (don’t picture that.) The Reality is that you are More Free (which of course should be sung in those first days to the tune of “Born Free.” )
2. Preparation, Preparation, Preparation. There is a fine line between this and “Neglect, Neglect, Neglect” that you want to make sure you don’t cross. During the two and a half decades that Dad and I had you all at home, as difficult as it was, we practiced being without you. We had date night, took vacations alone, sent you to summer camp, and dropped you all off at your grandparents whenever they would have you. It also helps to have grandparents nearby and a life partner you like.
3. Martinis and Ice Cream for Dinner. During those sad, lonely weeks of summer when you were all away, we would come home from work, fix a couple of martinis and sit out on the porch thinking of you. We might open a letter from camp: “Dear Mom & Dad, Camp is still great. Yesterday we found an ant farm in my backpack, because half of 1 sweetish (sic) fish stuck to the bottom. It was gross. Anyway I love you people SOOOOOO much, and I really miss you. Love, Melissa” “That was a great letter,” one of us “people” would say. And then we would spend some time laughing and decide we wanted ice cream instead of a real dinner. You may have noticed that we did not have martinis and ice cream for dinner when you were growing up, but it is a wonderful privilege of an empty nest.
4. There is nothing better than Teenage Sarcasm to make you happy the kids are gone. Try to jot down a few of the most notable quotes for the purposes of brightening your day should you be begin to have feelings of nostalgia. Here is one of my favorites from my daughter, as she was leaving the house in her senior year of high school: “Should I text you when I get into the car so you know I didn’t trip on the stairs?” (I would have liked that, actually.)
5. Clean like the lice are back, then enjoy. Clean out the french fries shmooshed under the back seats of cars, the popcorn kernels from the couch, throw away any empty liquor bottles, thongs, jock straps and all sorts other embarrassing evidence you might find. Don’t think or ask questions, just dump.
6. Recall in great detail all the times someone threw up in a crib, a bed or into a radiator.
7. Rejoice each time a kid goes off the payroll completely. It is a special kind of happy.
8. Surround yourself with others who need you: sick parents, crazy relatives, great friends, volunteer work. It’s easy to do, for better and for worse.
9. When it is cold and rainy, smile because you are not on a little league or soccer field.
10. Plop on the couch and don’t get up until you have watched every episode of Shameless and House of Cards. There is no need to set an example.
11. Remember the positive: You will never, ever again have to search for #2 pencils and batteries for the calculator the morning of an SAT !
12. Feel comfort in the fact that you can still pester your children. They are are only a phone call, Skype or text message away whether they are in Florence, Abu Dhabi or the next town over.
13. Know that embarrassing your child, one of the great pastimes of parenting a young adult–never has to go away. See #14 below.
14. Have sex in every room in the house. See, how easy that was? (Don’t picture this either.)
So, dear kids, we echo the words of the camp letter sent so many years ago: We love you people SOOOOOO much, and we really miss you. Know that you are welcome home for a visit any time you want. Just make sure you call first.
Love, Mom and Dad