When my daughter opened the front door as she left for school today, she was chilled by the crisp air of an early autumn morning. I grabbed one of her light jackets and passed it to her. It didn’t fit. I handed her another one, but it was also too small. Finally, after a few minutes of trial and error, we located a garment that still fit her growing frame. The others have been set aside, soon to be delivered as donations to the local Salvation Army thrift store.
I turned to my husband and said, “Nothing fits her. We’ll have to make another clothes shopping trip.”
“Yes, she’s growing up.”
“I don’t like it one bit,” I replied. “First new clothes, then she’ll be wanting lip gloss. Before we know it she’ll be dating boys we hate, and then going off to college. What are we supposed to do then?”
My husband, with the skilled practice that comes from years of co-habitation with an irrational being, murmured some soothing platitudes in my ear and then quickly left for work. He’s no fool.
I get it – she’s growing up. I’m okay with that, believe it or not, even in light of my earlier rant. That’s my goal as a parent, after all, to raise my children to become happy, well-adjusted, competent individuals.
Or, failing that, I’d like them to stay out of jail and find employment. But you get the idea: I don’t want them to live in the basement forever. I want them to become adults and live their own lives. My question, though, is this: Then what?
I have spent the last twenty-five years, my entire adult life, in the pursuit of raising children. Furthermore, when Brian married me, he became an instant parent. In an amazing two for one deal, he got both me and a precocious second grader. It’s never been just the two of us.
What happens when the last child flies the coop? What do we do then?
You might think I’m focusing on this a tad early considering our youngest is still in grade school. There are years to go before we join the ranks of empty nesters.
Perhaps you’d understand if you ever had the misfortune to witness an exchange between the two of us on the rare occasions we find ourselves without our children.
“What do you want to do?”
“I dunno. What do you want to do?”
“I dunno. You pick.”
“Lets’s go somewhere.”
“I dunno. Where do you want to go?”
We can do this for HOURS, folks. Finally, we realize we’ve lost our best options while we waffled in indecision. The last movie has started at the theater without us and the best restaurants are closed. (When you live in a rural area, there aren’t a lot of late night options.) So we eat cold sandwiches, and Brian starts an action movie on Netflix. We cuddle on the couch for a bit, but I fall asleep the moment the first car blows up onscreen. It’s pathetic. I’d be embarrassed if I hadn’t had conversations with other parents who report this identical situation in their own lives.
Okay, I’m embarrassed anyway. This can’t continue. We’ve got to something before the hour gets any later, and we are too far gone to reverse the course. I fear I will wake up one day after our last darling child has left and find myself doting on twenty two cats, crocheting a cover over anything that moves. Meanwhile Brian will be carving ugly figurines out of bars of soap and writing disgruntled letters to the editor about the rising cost of grass seed. If we don’t take drastic measures now, our future is bleak indeed.
That’s why I am focusing my all my energy on this situation. Long before our youngest makes her own way in the world, Brian and I will be ready. We will have something other than parenting to give our days focus. Only then can we can be spared the torture of wandering around an empty house with glazed eyes and too much time on our hands. What will this meaningful, life giving activity be, you ask? What will draw us together as a couple, and imbue our years together with meaning and hope?…
…I dunno. What do you think we should do?