Theoretically, with all five kids out of the house, Husband and I should be Empty Nesters. But things don’t always go as planned when you’re a member of the Sandwich Generation. One side of our sandwich holds a pit-stopping college returnee, and the other is home to my 91-year-old mother – conveniently living right next door. So, Husband and I can see the retired life ahead…we just can’t quite live it yet.
Ads in our AARP Magazine show happily retired couples riding golf carts to their next hole and enjoying their fellow card carriers in the “bistro” of their sunny retirement community. These silver-haired semi-seniors exude a kind of inner peace reserved for those devoid of all caretaker responsibilities. Baring dazzling smiles full of unnaturally white teeth, they appear to be living a well-earned and deeply enchanted life – exactly what I want.
Although most of the pictures represent ads for pharmaceutical companies, the message is clear – life is good when you’re a Baby Booming Empty Nester. You’ve earned carefree living…It’s your turn to meet new friends and relax… No responsibilities…And you’ll never have to cook a meal again.
THAT is the part of empty nesting I long for the most … eating food prepared by anyone other than myself. Although the rest of the retirement picture looks equally appealing, it’s a future without a stove that really excites me.
There was a time when cooking was my everything. Weekends were filled with scanning the Silver Palette and clipping recipes from Cooking Light. My range was expansive and nothing was off-limits. Elevating Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese, was as enjoyable as boning a turkey. Dinner parties with friends were regular (and often competitive) events, and my attention to detail was evident at each and every one. I served delectable dinners, showcased on enviable tablescapes. And of course, there was always the gourmet restaurant I’d open someday.
But that was then, and this is now. Maturity (aging) has brought me to a place where I no longer feel the need or desire to exert quite so much energy or effort feeding other people. Except perhaps, those who still depend on me.
My pit-stopper (a Food Science and Nutrition major no less) has developed an affinity for high quality health food. Left to her own devices, she’d dine at a crunchy bistro every day of the week. Not enough $$$ in either of our pockets for that. My mother, on the other hand, would be perfectly happy eating Lean Cuisines nightly. Lucky for her, my guilt, and the doctor’s sodium concerns, ensure a continued flow of homemade meals.
So, I continue to cook… but not the haute cuisine of yester-year. These days, my pantry and refrigerator are full of items designed to cut my cooking time in half. Favorite grocery store terms include “ready in minutes,” “prepared,” or “fresh frozen.” My freezer floweth over. If I can’t “cut here” or “microwave,” then it’s probably not ending up on the dinner table. My expensive cutlery sits idly at the back of the utensil drawer, usurped by can-openers and scissors. On days when even these are too heavy to lift, l call House of Pizza or Feng Yang. And, although I haven’t actually tried them yet, I am not averse to using a food delivery service. Less work is always better.
Even with my vast array of stove-avoidance techniques, there are times when I need a full escape from all things kitchen. This is when Husband and I head to the Cape where we have a home with a functioning stove… that has been used exactly once in three years. These little getaways are a respite from repast, where gourmet take-out and local restaurants sustain us. From lobster to lemongrass langostinos, I get full relief from cooking. By the end of a weekend, Husband and I have used more plastic containers than a family of five should be allowed in a year.
Our batteries are recharged with our Cape reprieves, and we are reminded of what awaits us beyond the nest. We get just enough time to test our retirement fantasy, and truly consider it as a reality. Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot to do on the Cape post-summer. One can only eat so much gourmet take-out. And by the end of September, we’ve exhausted our favorite restaurants as well.
And then… it’s back to our semi-empty nest, feeling semi-ready to get back behind the stove, and semi-renewed to deal with things that Baby Booming, (almost) Empty Nesting, Sandwich Generation-ers deal with. Ultimately, we realize our fantasy retirement life may have to be tweaked; we may have to include a little more hands-on interaction with those we love. And cooking for them may just be the best way to do it.