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Here's to a Fresh Start — For All of Us

Marlene Kern Fischer


The start of the academic year always feels like a fresh beginning, a clean slate. When my kids were younger, I loved taking them shopping for school supplies. The pristine binders and empty notebooks came with infinite possibilities. 

This upcoming school year feels extra special. Though the pandemic is far from over, the worst of it is in the rear view mirror. After treading water for a year and a half, our kids will finally be able to move forward — and hopefully we will be able to as well.

I don't have to tell you that the past 16 or 17 months have been hard, and weird. My youngest son, who will be a junior, has yet to have an entire normal year at college. He came home abruptly in March of his freshman year, just as he was starting to get his college groove on. And although he returned to campus last year, all but one of his classes was remote.

Which meant he didn’t really get to know any of his professors. He had COVID tests twice a week, all of his meals were grab-and-go, and he spent a lot of time in his dorm room on his computer. Not quite the college experience he expected or the one his older brothers had when they were in school. 

Still, he was relatively fortunate. At least he had the chance to make friends freshman year before his campus and the world shut down. I suspect it was harder for kids who started college last year at the height of the pandemic, which is why many colleges are including sophomores in their orientation programs this year — they understand their sophomores are in a similar social situation to first-year students. 

When I dropped my youngest son at college in the fall of 2019 and cried (actually, sobbed uncontrollably would be a better description), little did I know my empty nest would be fleeting. I was just getting into the swing of it when he returned, along with his two older brothers, one fiancée and one girlfriend.

It was a lot all at once. And I know I wasn’t alone. For the first time since the Great Depression, a majority of young adults in the U.S. were living with their parents. Although there were some nice aspects of the full house, like cooking together and playing games, it didn’t feel normal, for them or for me. After a while, we all got kind of cranky.

Before the pandemic began, I finally learned to play canasta. It might sound trivial but it was something I’d wanted to do for a while, and I looked forward to my weekly game with a group of women whose company I really enjoyed. I was spending more time with friends, taking on additional writing projects, and exploring Manhattan on the weekends with my husband (instead of attending our sons’ soccer games as we had done for decades).

Assuming all goes as planned, this fall my husband and I will be empty nesters again. Although now we do have Maisy, the pandemic pup we rescued this past spring. She keeps me from being too lonely and the house from being too quiet. 

Of course, I realize that COVID-19 is not gone, especially with the Delta variant raising case numbers and hospitalizations. Hundreds of universities, including my son's, are requiring students to be fully vaccinated to return to campus this fall, and I assume booster shots will be needed in the near future as well. The CDC recommends masks for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in indoor public spaces in some areas, and many big box and grocery stores are requiring them again for employees and customers. The virus will remain part of our reality, at least in the short term. But hopefully a part that is manageable.

This time around, I'm pretty sure I won't be crying when my son leaves for college.

In fact, I will send him off with hugs and smiles. I want him to have a great, normal year.

I’ve learned that an empty nest is better than having a full nest during a global pandemic when you can’t go anywhere and your life becomes virtual.

I want to resume my canasta game and learn pickleball next. I want to travel. And I want to feel excited again, for myself and my kids, that life can progress as it’s meant to be.

I especially want to be able to visit my kids in their own spaces, not walk down the hallway to see them (and their messy rooms). I want all of us to thrive. I want to hear about their adventures and have some of my own.

Here's to a fabulous 2021–22 school year — for everyone!

Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother of three sons and a newly gained daughter, food shopper extraordinaire, blogger and college essay editor. She recently published her first book, “Gained a Daughter But Nearly Lost My Mind: How I Planned a Backyard Wedding During a Pandemic.” A founding contributor at Collegiate Parent, her work has also been featured on Huffington Post, Grown & Flown, The New York Times (Modern Love), Kveller, Her View From Home and The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Find her on Facebook at “Thoughts From Aisle 4.”

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