05/01/2015 06:59 pm ET Updated May 01, 2016

Why I Don't Like the Number 171


Anyone who knows me well will tell you I am a big numbers person. Numbers are wonderful things. At any given moment, I can tell you with a reasonable degree of accuracy the balances in my checkbook, my 401(k), ad in my son's college account. And, believe me when I tell you that I am always, always ready to rattle off the number of days remaining until my next vacation.

For the most part, I love numbers. However, there is one number that I am struggling to embrace: 171. No, it's not my weight; neither is it my IQ. It's weekends. Yes, weekends. By my calculations, there are 171 weekends left until my son leaves for college. 171.

Framed that way, it almost sounds like a lot of time. I mean, that's more than three years' worth of weekends, right? "Sheesh," I can hear you saying, "That's a ton of time. What's her problem?" Here it is, by the numbers:

15 years ago, I was a parent of a newborn. My weekends were consumed by newborn Mom things, and it seemed like I would never, ever be out of the diapers and 2 a.m. feeding stage. Bleary-eyed, I simply tried my best to catch up on sleep on weekends. I had 951 weekends to go until he would move to college. I had gobs of time with him.

10 years ago, I was a parent of a 5-year old. My weekends were filled with helping to teach fundamental life skills like how to tie a pair of shoes, how to read and why it was important to put Lego blocks and other toys away at the end of the day (so they wouldn't lie in wait in the hallway, ready to impale an unsuspecting Mom's feet at 3 a.m. as she made her way to the bathroom, of course.) I had 691 weekends to go until college. Although it was no longer gobs of time, I still had plenty of time in my estimation; oodles of time, really.

Five years ago, I was a parent of a 10-year old. My weekends were filled with the sounds of pre-teens playing video games in the basement and with teaching such important life skills as cleaning one's room, folding towels and making chocolate chip cookies (this is a critical, yet highly underrated life skill, in my humble opinion.) I still had 431 weekends to go. Not oodles of time, but still plenty. No problem yet, right?

Fast-forward to today: I am a parent of a 15-year old. My weekends now are typically filled with work, while his weekends are filled with time on his computer or time spent with his friends. The life skills being taught now involve taking responsibility for actions, learning and using study skills and cleaning his room (yes, we are still working on that one.) There are now 171 weekends left until my son leaves the nest. 171.

My problem with that number? It sounds like a lot, but it's not enough time -- not even close. As he gets more involved with activities and friends and presumably at some point, a job, those 171 weekends are going to fly by at lightning speed. For the first time, I am getting a glimpse of what the "empty nest" will be like, and it makes me simultaneously apprehensive, excited for him and a little bit sad.

Although I can't drop everything to spend each of the next 171 weekends with him (that sound you hear right now is his sigh of relief as he reads this), I realized I need to be more conscious about making some of those weekend moments we do have together more meaningful moments.

Here are some important numbers for anyone else grappling with a limited number of weekends with teens:

  • There are 63 hours between 5 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. on Monday. If, like me, you have a commute, your number of weekend hours may shrink to 61 or 62.
  • 24 hours of the weekend are spent sleeping, if you are lucky enough to get eight hours of sleep each night.
  • In my house, there are approximately six hours of overlap sleep each weekend; these are hours when the teen is awake and the adults are asleep, and vice-versa.

For those of you not doing the math at home, that means there are 33 hours leftover each weekend. Of course, although it sounds like a big number, that's deceptive too. In my world, much of this time is gobbled up by everyday (but no less important) activities and tasks like laundry, grocery shopping, preparing meals, sports, church or community activities, etc.

So, let's say those tasks take up 13 hours each weekend. That should still leave 20 hours of weekend time. Where does it go? Is there a time bandit stealing those hours from us on his way to hang out with the dryer-sock bandit?

Regardless of what the time is spent doing, one thing is clear to me: I have an opportunity to make better use of one or two (or ten) of those hours occasionally by spending time with my teen, finding out what makes him tick, and learning about the man he wants to become. I vow to seize that opportunity, and I challenge any of my fellow parents of teens who may be feeling a similar time crunch to do the same.

And yes, just to be clear, I fully understand that life is not going to end the weekend he leaves for college. However, after the next 171 weekends, my son will start a new chapter in his life as an adult, just as his Dad and I will start a new chapter in ours as empty-nesters.

And now, I'm off to start this weekend, after which the number I'm struggling with will be 170. Oh, and that vacation I mentioned? It's just 49 days from now.