Here's a joke that I recently heard. An optimist sees the glass half-full. A pessimist sees the glass half-empty. An opportunist drinks the water. Not all that coincidentally, these describe the various emotional states of my half-occupied nest. Sometimes it's half-full; sometimes it's half-empty. Although there is more time and space in my house since my daughter Anna left for college, I'm still shocked that she packed up and moved a five-hour drive away from me. Bearing in mind that our daughter wakes up every day almost 300 miles away, here's a very short list of what's changed at my house.
The bedroom. Be careful what you wish for, because it may come true. Before she left for school, we blasted Anna's room, clearing over eight years of detritus. We were sorting stuff that dated all the way back to 4th grade. There was that book project Anna couldn't part with or that oh-so-pretty party dress that she wore on the bar mitzvah circuit six years ago! Six years ago?! Mind-boggling. In fact, Parents' Weekend at Anna's school falls on the fifth anniversary of her Bat Mitzvah. The quiet, clean bedroom matches the quiet, sort of clean house. I don't mean to say that Anna is loud. But there is a liveliness, a spirit of wonder and a megawatt smile that she brings into a room. And with her departure for college, I'm now the only girl in the house. Even the dog is a boy and like the men in this house, he could care less about the fabulous sweaters and pocketbooks that I find on sale.
The car. Anna never made the deadline we gave her for getting her driver's license. Even her learner's permit has expired. This means that Anna needed rides early and often. The longest ride we had together was between her school and Adam's. I'll admit I was almost always grumpy about the prospect of driving 15 miles in traffic between schools. But my annoyance evaporated when Anna got in the car and we had a half hour to ourselves. We put the time to good use. We'd talk about the books she was reading, the people she was hanging out with, the latest doings at Student Council. The car ride was the teenage equivalent of lying down with her before she fell asleep. When she was a little girl that was the time that I learned what was near and dear to her heart, or conversely, what broke her heart.
Mealtime. Anna's acute dairy allergy shaped who she was and, consequently, who we became as a family. Over the years Ken and I worked to help her advocate for herself at a birthday party or a restaurant. It turns out that Anna's allergy also informed our Judaism. Since we had such little dairy in our house and we had made the commitment to send our kids to Jewish day school, it was not such a big leap for us to start keeping kosher. At first, we practiced keeping kosher using our non-kosher dishes. That is to say, we didn't buy new plates or get a second set of plates to separate meat from dairy more fully. The fully-stocked kosher kitchen was a natural outcome of our kitchen remodel. Everything was new including a dishwasher with two drawers -- one for meat and one for milk. Nevertheless, we mainly lived a meat and pareve existence. When Anna left for college, I was sure that we would have a dairy fest every night in the house. I'll admit that for the first couple of weeks we went wild and crazy with cheese tortellini and traded some of our pareve margarine for a tub of butter. But it wasn't as fun as we thought it would be. There was something disloyal about indulging in all that dairy and so barely realizing it, we went back to our pareve life.
The brother. In many ways, Anna's departure has been hardest on Adam. When it became clear that Anna was indeed going to college he got downright depressed at the thought of being the only child at home. He'd mumble under his breath, "I can't believe I'm going to be stuck with those two." Those two, in case you haven't figured it out, are Ken and me. I tried not to be insulted and chalked up his rudeness to anticipatory anxiety. It's been six weeks since Anna settled into a dorm room with posters of Coldplay and the Beatles, and Adam still can't believe he's stuck with the two of us. I thought he'd be thrilled to be picked up on time and have unfettered access to parmesan cheese. It turns out he was just making noise about those things. He'd rather have Anna home.
When it's all said and done, this half-empty nest, or depending on a given day, half-full nest, is ultimately emotional limbo. I'm not exactly pushing Adam out the door, but I'm kind of curious about what being an opportunist feels like.