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I thought dropping my youngest off for her first year of college would feel a little like falling off a cliff, a jarring change in life both traumatic and inevitable. The downside would be an empty house filled with long delayed projects and no more excuses putting them off. The upside would be more free time, flexibility, the opportunity for travel and that most treasured and elusive condition — spontaneity.
This new phase in life has not been what I expected and, truth be told, doesn’t feel all that different from before. There have been a few more dinners out, a few more movies and a little more travel but so far the adjustment has been minimal.
Apparently I put out a “Vacancy” sign advertising my free space. Old buddies from Hawaii started off my fall by staying for 10 days after dropping their only child off at college in Massachusetts. My sister and brother-in-law made an appearance, as did a cousin, and our own pesky kids have both been home for holidays and vacations.
We even recruited a surrogate daughter for the weekends last semester. A friend of our oldest girl scored a great internship on a weekend television show in New York City. Like all of these so important, career-building experiences, it came with almost no money and certainly no housing. To make it work, she needed to stay in the most expensive American city from Friday until Monday each week on next to nothing.
We have the room, she has the job and the dream, plus loves our dog — it’s a perfect match.
I know other families who have found opportunities to fill their homes and offer resources for young people. Hosting exchange students, students on short term trips with choral or instrumental groups, or children traveling with their faith groups; renting rooms; even becoming foster parents, which requires a different level of commitment — all these are ways parents have filled their homes after their own children left for college.
While I’m sure there are parents who crave isolation and solitude, after more than 21 years raising kids I’m used to some hustle and bustle around the house and a reason to keep the refrigerator filled. It seems normal to hear the upstairs shower running in the morning, to have extra towels in the wash, and to make a full pot of coffee when I first get to the kitchen.
This empty nest thing represents changes in how many nights my kids sleep at home but it doesn’t necessarily mean my life has changed. In addition to everything else I do, I continue to enjoy being a host, tour guide, cook and other roles that were part of being a parent all these years.
If you’re coming to visit, be sure to make a reservation. My empty nest sure seems to be filled much of the time.