Apropos of Nothing: The Realities of an Empty Nest
An Editorial by Jamie Beckett
The nest is almost empty. Not entirely. We still have a teenager in the house. But she’s a super-mature, amazingly capable, car-owning, free-grazing champion of young womanhood. It’s only a matter of time before she’s gone off to do great things, like her siblings before her.
When that day comes, I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen. I have an idea, but it’s just a guess really. Maybe it’s better expressed as a dream. A hope. My fingers are crossed pretty fervently, if that’s any indication of anything. Mostly, I’m realizing that as a man of middle age I’ve got some adapting to do.
Here’s my story.
This empty nest thing isn’t something most of us prepare for. Because you see, this is the backside of life. It’s the start of the long, slow, downhill slide that we all have to face at some point. Life is finite. It ends. And the first undeniable stage of that unavoidable tango with time is the empty nest. When the day comes that the last kid moves out, you have no choice but to turn to your significant other and realize that you no longer have the option of distracting yourself with soccer practice, dance recitals, the regular meeting schedules of social organizations, or the challenges of chaperoning a school field trip. Now things start to get tough. We’ve got to learn to live together, just the two of us, with no distractions or interruptions.
All that peripheral stuff that comes as standard equipment in the parenthood package falls away when the youngest kid leaves. That’s when things get weird. About half an hour after that last little tax deduction walks out the door, you are faced with a realization that hasn’t occurred to you in some time. It is this: I’m living with a total stranger. Sure, I know who she was 25 years ago. She was the cute girl who agreed to go out to dinner with me, thought I was cute, and was foolish enough to agree to a second date. Then somehow, everything spun out of control. We got married, we had babies, we got busy and stayed that way for a quarter of a century. Now, we have to figure out who we’re married to and maybe, just maybe, remind ourselves why we found each other attractive in the first place.
Of course, there is a corollary to this dilemma. While you are standing there trying to figure out who this woman you live with really is, deep down – she’s thinking the exact same thing about you. While pretending to watch television, or play video games on her favorite device, empty nest wives are peeking out of the corner of her eye at their empty nest husbands, wondering, how the hell did I end up tied to an overweight, bald guy who more often than not exhibits the energy and enthusiasm of a bowl of plain oatmeal. A day old bowl, at that.
This leaves us with a conundrum. Do we hit the skids, head out for parts unknown, and live the later days of our lives separately? Or do we accept our bet, double-down on it, and get to work making this bizzaro experiment called marriage work?
Me? I’m going to make the most of it. Prepare for awesomeness, I say. Why not pull out all the stops, get crazy, and start acting my age – and by that I mean, anything goes. I’m running short on time y’all. There’s no point in trying to be dignified, refined, or respectable at this point. I say let’s wind back the clock, get busy living life to its fullest, and show that old girl why she made a great choice when she picked me in the first place.
It’s time for me to get busy on a plan to make the woman I married feel like she’s the most amazing woman to ever walk the earth. We’ll go out to dinner, take a cruise or two, fly off to Key West, or New Orleans, or where ever she wants to go. We’ll travel by train to the great Northwest, and spend a few weeks in Arizona one winter. Whatever she wants. Because not only is she the woman I love, the key to my long-term happiness, and the mother of most of my children – she’s also legally entitled to half of everything I own if things don’t work out. So as you can imagine, it’s very, very important that I not be revealed as a complete and irredeemable jerk in these last days.