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ImageIt’s so, so hard being an empty nester. Nobody warned me.

For one thing, I don’t know how to grocery shop anymore. Big cart? I don’t think so.  Two-for-one pricing on those end of season strawberries? Sure, it’s a bargain, but we’re going out of town for the weekend and probably won’t finish them before they go bad. Roast a whole chicken? For the two of us? It would be so wasteful.

Milk presents its own dilemma. Actually, I feel like I’m breaking up with the dairy department entirely, and it’s not going smoothly. For decades I’ve just assumed that whatever else is on my list, a couple of half gallons of skim should always come home with me. Open my sister Betsy’s fridge, and behold the tableaux of a house with children:  homage to milk. When I was last there, she had nine half gallons of skim, a carton of whole and a pint of half and half. 

Tim and I just pitched the remains of the skim we couldn’t finish before it went sour. It’s just so sad.

Here’s the good news: I have cooked dinner since the girls left. Once. Here’s the truth about that dinner: only one person complained about the meal. I’m not mentioning names, but I thought it was delicious.

Television is turning out to be a problem, too, which is surprising. We spent decades portioning out screen time for our kids. Yes, I’ll admit that “Not on a school night” turned into “Only after your homework is finished” which descended into “Okay, but just for the play-offs.” Still, there was a sense that the screen needed to be restricted until the final diploma had been received. 

Not any more. No kids. No school. No rules. Every night is a no-homework night. I am absolutely convinced that if television had existed at the time Greek mythology was being codified, there’d be a companion to Bacchus. She’d be named something like Comatessa, Goddess of the Screen. Her sly gaze would lock your eyes and fix your head into a stoney paralysis, where you’d remain for the rest of eternity. Sure, it’d be fun in the beginning.  But inevitably the good shows would end and you’d be stuck watching the Kardashians for the rest of forever.

My point is we need to resist the allure of the screen. I did not see that coming.

What’s been most surprising is my discovery that the world is divided into two types of people: those who feel sorry for me, and those who won’t talk to me.  

Let’s start with those big-hearted, sad-eyed, going-straight-to-heaven types. I run into them all over town, and when they realize that both of my girls are off to college, they stop.  They lean in toward me. They clutch my arm, my shoulder, my hand, gripping me tightly to show their support for what surely must be a dark and empty time in my life.  

“How are you doing?” they ask in husky voices, tinged with the dreaded reality that one day, too, this fate will befall them.

“It’s totally awesome. I don’t know how to buy milk anymore, but otherwise, it’s great.” 

I can’t help it. The more earnest their tone, the bouncier I become. It’s a character flaw.  

Of course, there’s another set of people I didn’t know existed. They’re the ones who won’t talk to me because I made it to the finish line and they’re still mired in carpool lanes and packed lunches and back-to-school nights.  When I see them around town, they’ve made it clear that they don’t want to hear about where Tim and I had dinner or what movies we’ve seen or how few shoes litter my hallway. I’m allowed to smile, but only for a short time. 

In truth, this empty nester gig only lasts for a short time. Why? It’s because of the new-fangled college calendars. A thousand years ago, when Tim and I went to college, we’d say goodbye in September and then counted the days until Thanksgiving.

It’s not like that anymore. Now there are Fall Breaks, and Fall Reading Weeks, and Parents’ Visiting Weekends (which always happen to be scheduled within a week of the Fall Break, by the way).  You want to know what I really do with my time these days? I make travel plans for my girls to come home and for us to visit the girls.  

I also call. And text. And email. And send packages.

After all, I’ve got a little time on my hands.

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