My wife and I are coping just fine, but that doesn't change the fact that there's an echo in our mostly empty basement.
We are a mere two people living in a large house. Basically, half of its square footage – the basement – we don’t even go there, unless we’re doing laundry, feeding the cats or taking a shower.
With our youngest son moving out a few weeks ago so he could “feel more like a college student,” my wife and I are the newest members of the Empty-Nester Club.
For parents, I suppose the significant life adjustment my wife and I are currently experiencing falls slightly short of the cliché of something coming full circle. For moms and dads, traversing the full circle would begin with becoming parents in the first place, obviously, and then spending the better part of the next two decades doing your very best to raise your kids in a way that optimizes their chances of becoming adults who live positive, productive lives full of love, happiness and success. You'd come back around to where you began on that circle when you're old and less independent and your children, in a role reversal, take care of you.
Adjusting to life in an empty house? While we're a long way from coming all the way around on that circle, it doesn't change the fact that, for parents, having the last of your kids move out of the house to embark on life on their own as young adults, when it comes to impact, is at least in the same ballpark when compared to the earth-shaking impact that reverberates violently, but joyously as well, when bringing your first baby home from the hospital and getting started on that monumental adventure.
The quirky things we’ve noticed range from poignant, to almost funny, to filling our eyes with tears.
There are the obvious things. I haven't done the math, but I'm going to estimate we're saving around $10,000 a month in grocery bills. You know you no longer need growing-boy-inspired, massive grocery store runs when you downsize the container of milk you buy. The days of gallon jugs are officially over, and we're wondering if we should go even smaller than a half-gallon, considering that I cracked the seal on the cap of a half-gallon of milk a couple weeks ago, and it was already three weeks past its "Please use by" date on the label.
We sent one couch in the basement with our youngest son to use in his apartment. We gave another couch in the basement to the Times' new sports editor to use. Now, whenever we say anything out loud in the suddenly cavernous, mostly empty space that used to be a popular teen-cave hangout, there's an echo.
We used to have epic laundry-folding sessions in the living room. My goal, which I kept to myself, was to not only squeeze four piles of folded laundry – one for each of us – onto our undersized coffee table, but to pile the four stacks halfway to the ceiling without them tipping over. It was remindful of the Lego towers we built together when the boys were so young that required a ladder and actually touched the ceiling. But our oldest son moved out a couple years ago and folding laundry reverted to the mundane chore that it is. Now they’re both gone, and, suddenly, with all of the elbow room on the coffee table, you can almost hear freshly folded clothes ask, “Aren’t you going to go any higher?”
We run our robot vacuum on the main floor a couple times a week. During preparations, I lift the four dining room table chairs, flip them upside-down, and place them on the dining room table. More often than not these days, the chairs are still flipped onto the table when it’s time once again to fire up the robot vac. My wife’s most cherished time of the day, sitting down for dinner as a family...that’s no longer a regular occurrence, but something special, reserved for the rare occasions both boys are home visiting and ravenous for some home cooking.
The outside lights that line our steps from the driveway to the front door, they’re not turned on nearly as often as they once were, as countless evenings gave way to nights and, sometimes, very early mornings...serving as a beacon in the night, showing our sons that they were home, welcome and safe.
Maybe that all sounds a bit depressing, but it’s not. I think we’re doing remarkably well, actually...all four of us. Our family text-message thread rarely goes a full day without someone checking in with a random update, witty anecdote, meme, complaint about a roommate, question about a tuition bill, or an update on a work schedule or upcoming family activity.
They’re calling it our “next adventure,” those who weigh in on our freshly minted empty-nester status.
That sounds plenty agreeable to us, as long as we can, while embarking on this adventurous new chapter in our lives, also observe from a distance, and, yes, sometimes witness, our sons’ milestones and triumphs as they forge ahead in this thing called life.