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Bruce Watson: Empty nesters — time to spread your wings

LEVERETT — Until last week, my wife and I did not know we lived in a nest. Not once had we called our home a nest. It is not made of sticks and twigs but rather rotting boards and rusty pipes. True, it leaks in winter, sweats in summer and has occasional insect infestations, but it’s not a nest, full or otherwise.

Now, however, with our son joining our daughter away at college, everyone insists on calling us “Empty Nesters.” The dialogue goes like this.

“Whoa, Empty Nesters now!”

“Peep.”

“How’s that workin’ out for ya?”

“Peep, peep.”

Our pathetic peeping is our way of saying that having the kids suddenly gone is, well ... OK. I mean, it’s not like either one of the angry birds uttered a complete sentence after the onslaught of puberty. Our food bills have dropped, laundry is a breeze, and other than lying awake every night wondering when one of them will have a nightmare and call out “Dad!” I’m fine. Fine. Just fine.

But because millions of aging birds now find themselves alone in their nests, I offer a few Dos and Don’ts for making an empty nest seem at least half-full.

• DO wonder at all times what they’re doing — RIGHT NOW! Especially on weekend nights. Imagine orgies and binges. If you have trouble picturing them, drive within the vicinity of UMass.

• DON’T visit an elementary school, day care, or other gathering place of the kids your kids used to be. Sure, they’re all soooooo cute, but you’ll end up feeling like someone you warned your kids about.

• DO lie awake each night in a time warp. Let memories of those little guys wash over you until you’re not sure if, come morning, you’ll be carrying them down the stairs in their pajamas for oatmeal. It’s 3 a.m. Do you know how old your children are? NOTE: This might sound more like a DON’T but you’re going to DO it anyway.

• DON’T call, text, Skype or otherwise try to contact either of the wayward birds. You’ll only spend hours waiting for a reply. It’s much easier to follow their every tweet on Twitter. And on Facebook you’ll get the added bonus of learning what other Empty Nesters had for breakfast!

• DO watch lots of old Disney movies, the ones you used to watch with the kids back when they laughed. “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” “The Little Mermaid” — wallow in them all. As the credits roll, keep telling yourself that those days are gone! Forever! Disney is into Miley Cyrus now and your kids have gone indie or Iron Man.

• DON’T clean up their rooms. Every scrap of paper, every CD, every stray item of clothing must remain in its place so that you recognize it through your newly blurred vision.

• DO eat all the foods that made them squawk. Brussels sprouts? Never tasted so good. Tofu? Mmmmmm! And you’ll be amazed at the savory and subtle flavors contained in your average bread crusts.

• DON’T fail to appreciate the blessings of an empty bathroom each morning.

• DO read a book without interruption, aside from wondering what they’re doing — RIGHT NOW!

• DON’T assume your nest is empty forever. In the new, post-meltdown economy, even the bravest birds have been known to move back in.

• DO congratulate yourself. From those first worms you fed them on through to the first awkward flight, despite all the storms and droughts, homework and hysteria, in defiance of the mind-sucking culture and in the face of the future, you all survived. They’re adults now. You’re a new breed of bird as-yet undefined, and no matter how empty the nest feels, this is how the ornithological kingdom works.

• DON’T EVER answer questions like “Empty Nesters, eh? How’s that workin’ out for ya?” Just peep.

Bruce Watson’s column appears twice a month. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.

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