While out for a walk in my neighborhood this week, a mom I know, driving her well-used Suburban, called out to me. She has six children -- the youngest is in middle school, the oldest is several years out of college.
"I love your column," she said.
"Thanks," I said, surprised, not only because she pulled up behind me (of course I was wearing my ugliest clothes), but because I didn't know she read it.
"I don't think I'm ever going to have an empty nest," she said, "my kids keep coming back home." As she spoke she gestured with her left hand, completely engulfed in gauze. It looked like a boxer's mitt, in white.
"What happened?" I asked.
"I was opening a can and cut two tendons in one of my fingers. I had surgery and now I'm going through physical rehabilitation," she said.
She had me at tendons. Anytime anyone mentions them in the same breath as cut, I imagine blood splattered everywhere like in a scene from "CSI" or "Bones," my mother's favorite show, or that skit from "Saturday Night Live" where Dan Aykroyd is playing Julia Child -- she cuts her finger and fake blood comes squirting out while she keeps cooking.
Like Julia, I know this mom can whip up a meal for a crowd -- my youngest son being one of that crowd in years past.
"I guess with everyone back at home," I said, "you're doing a lot of cooking, opening a lot of cans."
"Yes," she said, "and at this rate, I think I'm going to have to be the one who moves out. They're driving me crazy."
I've read about how researchers at Oregon State University found that many parents' empty
nest plans are being put on hold. Between the economy and the job market, things are changing.
All I know is the conversation got me thinking about two things:
1) That I need to open cans more slowly.
2) There's some stuff I won't miss when they do move out. Take, for instance:
Sandwiches. Please, take them. I learned early on that kids like "gross" sandwiches -- but there's cool gross and uncool gross. Make them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich layered with tortilla chips, and they make new friends; make them a smelly egg-salad sandwich layered with tortilla chips, and nobody wants to sit next to them. By the time mine were in high school, and many of their friends were leaving campus to buy fast food, I made a deal with the devil: I promised to keep making their lunches if they promised to eat them. I figured I'd pack leftover dinner and we'd be done. Turns out that's just flat-out uncool.
What did they want? Sandwiches. After making thousands of them, there are no variations on the lunchbox favorite I haven't tried. From white bread to wheat, from rolls that are square to rolls that are round to raisin bread; from tortillas, pitas, lavash, biscuits and more -- if it exists, I've slathered it with spreads, butters, jelly, and dressing; filled it with meats, cheeses and vegetables; and cut it every which way from Sunday.
Well...maybe there is one I haven't tried but did seriously consider when my children were growing faster than the speed of light and I could not fill them up: A spaghetti hoagie. The only thing holding me back was Dr Oz and an irrational fear that he'd show up at their school, see the sandwich, move in for a close-up and ask, on national TV, who their mother was.
Laundry. So after 20 years of trying, I still have no idea how to fold fitted sheets. I sort of close my eyes and mold them into a shape. As for the kids' clothes, years ago when Target was having a blow-out sale on the ugliest green plastic laundry baskets you have ever seen, I bought six. It happened somewhere around the time my kids started putting their own laundry away, a.k.a. they started using laundry baskets as drawers. That's when I told myself that if they didn't care how wrinkled they looked, I needed to stop caring how wrinkled they looked.
The Wormhole. My mother had one too. "Have you seen my...?" she'd say. In science fiction stories, a wormhole moves someone between separate points in spacetime; in my house, it moves homework to folders that I find when I'm doing my taxes, books to food cupboards, dish towels to sock drawers, and socks to who knows where.
Carpetbag purses. For two decades I've been envious of anyone carrying a purse smaller than a breadbox. If you're a mom, you know what I mean. It worked for Mary Poppins, but she must have had a personal trainer, because my arms are getting really tired.
Yes, in my empty nest, I'll have a smaller purse and a lot less laundry. In memory of my two kids, I think I'll make a spaghetti hoagie.
Unless, to my great disappointment, it disappears into the wormhole.
Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.