The Last Word

The Last WordRehearsing for the Empty NestOne Mom Dallies with an Afternoon of Independence and Free Time

By Beth Gribas 

No doubt you’ve read about, and perhaps have even experienced, the phenomenon called “empty nest syndrome.” Well, there is a state of existence that almost always precedes it and is rarely discussed. I have named it the “almost-empty nest syndrome.”

A.E.N.S. – all good syndromes have an acronym – affects parents of “tweens” and teens. It differs from the traditional empty nest syndrome in that the kids still are home (on occasion) to ask for the car keys, hog the phone and raid the refrigerator. These tweens and teens rarely speak when spoken to except to ask to be driven somewhere or to borrow money to hang out with friends. I live with A.E.N.S. and view it as good training for the looming empty nest.

I first became aware of the phenomenon one day this past year. I had just returned from dropping off my 13-year-old daughter and her friends at the mall and my 14-year-old son at the movies. My 16-year-old son was out with his buddies, as was my still-living-at-home 21-year-old son.

My husband was sitting in his recliner, and I plopped down on the couch. He began to channel surf while I idly scratched the dog’s belly.

“Do you hear that?” I asked, excited.

“What?  I don’t hear anything,” replied my husband.

“Exactly! That’s what I mean: No noise!” I exclaimed in awe.

We looked at each other across the living room for several minutes.

“What do you want to do now?” I asked.

“Maybe we could go out and get something to eat,” suggested my husband.

“You mean as in the two of us? Without kids? I mean, it’s been so long, will we know how to act?”
My husband and I got in the car and headed to a local barbecue restaurant. At first, we barely said two words. It felt almost like a first date. We were nervous, unsure of each other. We took our seats and placed our orders.

Then we locked eyes and began a conversation. Instead of romantic bantering back and forth, we talked of our children. We talked about our hopes and dreams for them. We talked about their schooling. We reminisced about our favorite stories of the kids.

Eventually, the conversation crept around to what life without kids would be like in the not-so-distant future. We talked about buying an RV camper and traveling. We talked of going on a cruise to Alaska. We talked of downsizing our home. It was starting to sound quite enticing. 

But before we had even finished our meal, the cell phone rang. The here and now was calling. The girls needed to be picked up. We gathered up our things and headed to the car. The cell phone rang again. The movie was over and our son needed a ride home.

We climbed into the car with visions of the future still swirling in our heads. There will be time for us in the future, but for now, we will savor the last few years with our children at home.

Almost-empty nest syndrome lasts for only a couple of years. Our little birds test their wings as they learn independence, important social skills and how to ask for the car keys. Parents can learn to be a couple again, rekindling a relationship sidetracked by the day-to-day life with kids.

As a family, we can use this transition time to help each other venture outside the comfort of the family nest and take flight for a whole new adventure.

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