Lots of parents who just sent their last child off to college are now facing an empty nest. It can be a sad time and a difficult period of adjustment after many hectic years of active parenting. I am here to tell you that it gets better with time, and if you don't believe that, read this blog entry I wrote a year later for a lighter look.
Yet back when I first faced an empty nest, it occurred to me one day while swimming that my empty pool was a symbol of my very empty home. Here, then, is my story.
With an oldies station playing a welcomed Beatles tune, I jump into the pool ready for my daily swim. As much a time of reflection and meditation as it is exercise, swimming serves the dual purpose of keeping my middle-aged body in shape and keeping my mind serene.
Instead of beginning my swim to the beat of a great tune, it quickly became apparent that a bothersome chore awaited me. Scanning the water's surface, I see an accumulation of insects that find the clear waters of my pool so inviting. Especially prevalent are brown water beetles, which congregate in great numbers only to be overcome and weakened by the pool chemicals. Fortunately for them, the pool's old circulating pump just isn't what it used to be, and is not even strong enough to sweep those minuscule beings into her filters.
Mindful that the Dalai Lama said that we must not purposely kill even the smallest of earth's creatures (with the implied exception of roaches), I take a nearby plastic cup and gather the motley assortment of beetles, mosquitoes, (drowned, but bobbing on the surface), a ladybug and a wasp. They are humanely and ceremoniously dumped into a nearby bush.
There was a time, not so long ago, when the pool was filled to capacity with two-legged critters of the human variety.
During my solitary swim recently, I pondered how this once majestic centerpiece of our backyard has become a lonesome place and a symbol of my emptying nest. The pool is aged, and mostly neglected, and her blue waters call to me and only me these days.
When we first purchased a home with a backyard pool, our friends assured us it was the best summer babysitter in the world. True to that forecast, the pool seemed smug with importance in her heyday. After all, it was the pool that was the focus of attention, not just for the splashing children, but also for any grateful adults poised there with their little ones. If they had to withstand the heat outdoors, they appreciated standing in the lukewarm pool water available to them.
The days came very quickly where the kids were old enough to be unsupervised in the pool and our "pool parties" were attended by adults not even bothering to wear swimsuits, let alone even thinking about leaving the air-conditioned comfort of the house interior.
With this, there was a tweaking sense that I was no longer necessary; so I began to hang out there whether I was needed or not, appreciating the chaos and the laughter in the pool. Sure, I was mostly on hand to provide refreshments for my children and their visitors, but I wasn't yet ready to let go. Neither was the pool.
In another short span, my children became teenagers; and they didn't care to use the pool much anymore. Computer chatting, phone calling and going to the mall replaced the pool for entertainment on summer days. Concerns of frizzy pool hair replaced the carefree attitude of staying in way past wrinkled finger and toe digits. In the world of teen-dom, both pools and mothers can be expendable.
A brief glimmer of hope arrived when we hosted foreign visitors on two separate summers. Even if the American teenagers took a backyard pool for granted, the teens from Great Britain thought it was the best thing, well, since the Beatles.
"A pool," they exclaimed, "brilliant!"
We learned important information during those cultural exchanges; namely, that backyard pools were an extreme rarity in England. The availability of a pool way offset our visitors' disappointment in Houston's lack of horses and ten-gallon hats. Soon, our backyard was buzzing again with the British visitors and friends and neighbors curious to get to know the Brits. Regaling in her renewed glory, the pool survived the surge of activity. This time, I threw myself into the commotion. I felt needed again, if only to shuttle refreshments out to the group of hungry teens that gathered.
The pool and I were soon abandoned again.
So the pool sat mostly lifeless, her foundation shifting aimlessly. I was feeling pretty lifeless myself, desperately longing for those hectic, splashy days of watery fun. That's when I started my solitary swims.
Now it is just the pool and me, and the occasional unwanted critter.
As if to remind me of that dismal reality, during my contemplative swim on this particular day, a brown colored speck frantically paddled in my direction. I grabbed a cup and tossed it out, thinking if I'm doomed to swimming with the beetles as my only pool companions, at least I can decide it won't be the copper colored six-legged variety.
I pause to find a Beatles CD, pop it into the boom box, and resume my lonesome pastime.
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