09/30/2011 08:15 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2011

Nest Half Empty

My husband and I took our oldest boy back to college for his second year, driving home the long way, via the ridiculously gorgeous coast of California. Stunning vistas of crashing waves and sheer cliffs at every turn, now and then a random mailbox perched by the side of the road.

"Someone lives there!" we'd squeal (or maybe I was the only one squealing), each time we'd see one. Which of course launched me into one of my favorite topics: What we're going to do with our empty nest years.

Having recently finished a book on the very subject, it's something I think about. Perhaps more than I should. Considering that -- oops, almost forgot! We still have a 14-year-old at home. An unsmiling ball of hormones who douses himself once or twice daily in something called "Axe," which is a kind of body spray/deodorant marketed to young males with no apparent olfactory sense. This pungent chemical broth is a powerful parent repellent, which I suppose is the point.

Is it any wonder that I wistfully dream about hopping a tramp steamer or moving to a Parisian apartment?

He used to be prone to sweeping his hair to one side with such a violent head-toss that I feared for his spinal safety. I am certain that there will be some serious chiropractic adjustments in his future because of this former habit, but in the meantime he has switched to a shaggy mod-rocker style that allows him to peer up from under his fringe of bangs in a cool yet grating manner.

This boy is the teenager we never had, as the first child apparently never received the memo. You know, the memo: secretly delivered to all pre-teens, welcoming them to the Kingdom of Teenager-Land. The memo that says:

Be as irritating as possible to your parents. Stay up very, very late and refuse to go to bed, even when you know you have to be up at 6 a.m. to catch the bus for school. This will drive them nuts.

Also: either toss your head violently a hundred and 40,000 times a day because your hair looks really good for a few minutes after you do that, or brush your hair down over your eyes. Stare at yourself in the mirror, a lot. Wear sleeveless "muscle" t-shirts even when the temperature dips below 50 degrees... especially when the temperature dips below 50 degrees. Even if you have no discernible muscles. Even if said "muscle" shirts make you look as if you live in a trailer where crystal meth is manufactured.

Also: wear the same sleeveless t-shirt whether going to school, attempting to leave the house for some "hoagies & wings" at midnight, or attending a formal dinner. Grunt dismissively when asked a question. In fact, do not speak at all unless you are asked a question, and when you do, speak in an infuriatingly unintelligible manner.

When asked, "What did you say?" for the ninth time, roll your eyes and chuckle derisively at clueless parents who don't understand simple English. Hog the sofa. Glue eyeballs to computer. Help less. No, I mean help a lot less. Really! Just relax, kick back, and do the opposite of everything your parents ask of you. Just Say No.

You are a Teenager now. Welcome.

That memo. Apparently it wasn't just our fabulous parenting skills that produced a generally gracious and helpful eldest child. Turns out, the second child is often an entirely different person with an entirely different personality! Weird.

You can have one child and think, "Wow, this raising a kid thing isn't so hard after all," and then the next one comes along and kicks you behind the knees. Just when you think you're breezing down the home stretch, your second child is there to remind you: "Not so fast, people. You are not off the hook. Not by a long shot. And please wipe that smug look of your face."

So his older brother has gone back to college and we have no one to take out the garbage and be nice to us anymore. It appears we have some more "parenting" to do, as much as I would like to start all my empty nest fun, implementing all my fabulous empty nest plans for my empty nest future.

So we are working toward helping Mr. Teen Hair Guy acquire those all-important tools he'll need if he ever wants to divest himself of his parents. He's acclimating himself with Los Angeles's budding transit system and is becoming a little more adventurous about getting around town. He will occasionally feed himself when hungry, and will even tear himself away from the computer from time to time to practice his cello or do homework.

Chores are problematic, and we do fear that if we leave him alone for any length of time we will return to find him marinating in a pool of his own waste in front of the computer, his two eyes blank, dimmed lights, the week-old remnants of a hoagie (or a wing) faintly crusted around his parched mouth.

Instilling independence and a sense of responsibility is a process. A process that, at the moment, seems as if it will be an endless one.

In the meantime, I'm hoping the sullen grunting phase will only last a few years, so we might enjoy some of his company (we know our delightful and charming boy is in there somewhere) before we kick him out of the house after high school graduation.

Not that I'm counting the days, hours and minutes until that momentous event. I mean, not literally counting.