Of futons, farewells, and the virtues of meatloaf

boy-1042683_1280Last week’s list of how to annoy teenagers without even trying was something I almost didn’t publish out of guilt.

My kids are okay people, and by that I mean they give us way less trouble than people want to believe of teenagers. I also mean they inspire a whole bunch of gooshy, happy feelings the expression of which would get me kicked out of the snarky parents club.

I didn’t expect that of parenting. What I expected was to be at a point by now where I was counting the days until our oldest was leaving.

When I was on a business trip in December, there was a woman who got really gloomy toward the end of the week. She didn’t want to leave because she’d be returning to a home recently absented by her grown daughter.

I may have lacked the appropriate amount of empty-nester empathy.

If we’re doing parenting right, and sometimes even if we aren’t, kids grow up and depart. It’s a fact. I get that it leaves some parents bereft. It’s got to be almost as much of an adjustment as when the little slimy, snotty things made their ways into our lives in the first place. You spend eighteen-plus years making sure someone doesn’t wander out into the cold without a coat, set the house on fire, or choke on a Lego, I imagine it’s difficult to get used to any other life.

They’re nearly the death of us with the anxiety they cause, and yet when it’s time we can’t stand to let them go. That’s parenting.

It’s also kind of a reverse Stockholm Syndrome, I think, but whatever.

My personal worry is that we’ll send these people off with all our best wishes and hopefully only enough student debt to make them appreciate the help we were able to provide for college, only to have them circle back and camp out in our basement, like Will Ferrell, yelling for meatloaf.

dream

And so we daydream about getting a condo, somewhere downtown, near the life we remember from our 20s, in which we’re usually too tired or broke to participate today, when we have to be up early on Saturday to fit in all kind of work and exercise and laundry and general prep for the week ahead.

We talk about how we’ll always have space for our kids, but we don’t plan on being too accommodating. Hey, if you need somewhere to crash, there’s a futon in the hall closet with your name on it.

Because, no matter how much we love our kids, the ultimate goal is for them to leave, right? If a portion of our existence revolves around active parenting, around the day-to-day routine of raising a person, the time is going to come when that job is over. And, ultimately, in a full, long life, the parenting part is only a teensy window.

Isn’t it?

The point is, neither Mike nor I have had any anxiety about empty nesting. We were together for the better part of a decade before kids, and we’re excited to get back to who we were before little people were pawing at us all the time.

… I know you know where this is going.

Last weekend I was looking at our summer calendar and trying to coordinate a trip, a few weekends in the mountains, and a couple of season tickets to an outdoor theater we’ve all enjoyed together since the kids were young enough to not know how to whisper during a play. I found where Jack had marked the camps he plans to work this summer. He completed counselor training last year, and this summer will be a junior counselor, working couple of weeks of orientation and then at least one two-week session to qualify as full counselor.

We’ve sent our kids to this same YMCA resident camp for years. Early on, we scheduled a date for every night they were away. Concerts, drinks with friends, movies that weren’t animated. We’d celebrate the last evening by eating all the marshmallows out of their cereal. This year would be no different. I’d already scheduled our younger son for teen camp. I was kind of hoping Jack’s schedule would overlap with his and once again we’d have the run of the whole house for a good, solid week.

Nope.

That week our younger son, Colin, is away at camp is a week that Jack plans on being home. Actually, it’s the only week Jack will be home. Because he’s signed himself up for nearly every week of camp this summer.

Except for August. In August he’ll return home for about four days before he’s scheduled to leave again. For his year-long exchange in Denmark.

We’ve planned for him to leave. We’re fine with him leaving. It’s a healthy thing.

We joke about it:

Jack: You’re going to cry like a baby when I get on that plane.

Me: You’ll cry. You’re going to be a big, messy, puddle of goo.

Jack: You better bring a big box of tissues to the airport.

Me: I’ll be bringing them. For your face.

Actually, I have been making a pretty good effort to avoid imagining the airport goodbye. I’m not ready to stand there, hoping he’ll know enough to make his connections without losing his passport, that we’ve taught him enough to make it through a year in a place we’ve never been with people we haven’t met. I’ll have time to think about all that later.

But the little snot has gone and taken my summer away too. His brother plans on taking over his room, so instead of camping as a family, we’ll be packing up Jack’s room, exchanging the posters on the wall for those of his brother.

Like he’s already left.

All of this is my way of apologizing for every time I scoffed at people like that woman who didn’t want to return to a home without her daughter. I’m sorry for every joke about a futon in the hallway, I’m sorry if you’re an empty nester and I was ever lacking in empathy.

And, as for my kid: If you happen to be hanging out in the basement with friends, and have a craving for meatloaf, just give me a shout.

I’ll maybe throw you a bag of chips or something.

***

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6 thoughts on “Of futons, farewells, and the virtues of meatloaf

  1. I’m not worried. …my kids will NEVER move out. My husband built my oldest son a posh hangout in his bedroom. Free food. No rent. Someone who does laundry. And a new bedroom. He’ll be here forever.



  2. My daughter turns 21 this week, so this is on my mind these days. Sure, she’s been away at college for three years, but she still comes home for summers and breaks. She wants to go “South” for graduate school and then she’ll be out of reach for quick weekend visits. I’m not ready.

    Are we ever ready?



  3. You are so funny!!! I can so relate to so many things you talk about and i love it! I’m going to be a “big puddle of goo” when my kids leave me. I am looking forward to getting a little bit of MY life back though and actually having some legit hobbies and life accomplishments again though! Parenting is awesome, tough, heart wrenching and heart bursting all at the same time!
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