Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Empty Nest Contemplations

The last of six children in our blended family is moving out this week to attend college. We will, at last, become empty nesters.

jmb_6_jpg_610x345_q85The full weight of the emptiness has not settled in yet. No more family dinners with vague answers to the parental question, “What did you learn today in school?” The dog, who has slept every night since she was a puppy with Sophia, no doubt has premonitions of what it will be like as an empty bedder.

Carole and I occasionally have daydreamed about more freedom to take off for a weekend at the beach, travel more extensively or eat more fish (Sophia turns up her teenage nose at anything with gills and fins on the dinner table.)

But those daydreams usually come quickly back to earth thinking about continuing responsibilities to a college freshman, a daughter who is struggling, a son in the Air Force, another daughter making her way up the chain at Starbucks and the eldest child who has given us four grandchildren. Somebody always seems to need something. That’s what parents are for. But now all of our parent-child relationships will be rendered by iPhone instead of around a kitchen table.

Soon, I will head to the car rental place to pick up the largest SUV available, which we will stuff with clothes, supplies and a lot of pink accessories, from a desk lamp to a waste basket. Then there will be the “last supper,” apparently burgers and fries from Five Guys, per Sophia’s request. In the morning, we will strike out for Eugene and a day of unloading and unpacking stuff and emotions.

In between and after last-minute runs to the nearest Home Depot, there will be weeping. Our baby has left the building.

Students are naturally eager and anxious at the same time to embark on a new and cornerstone-setting chapter of their lives. Parents just as naturally suffer the anxiety of wanting their child to flourish in an atmosphere at once charged with opportunity and festering with bad influences.

College is a place where you get to try out life on your own for the first time, alongside thousands of others in the same boat. Some navigate well; others float to the bottom. This gives parents nightmares when they return back home after the dormitory drop-off.

Sophia displayed sound judgment in high school. She had fun while resisting temptations that sometimes send a life in an unintended direction. She is as ready for college as Carole and I were when it was our turn to leave home. We didn’t always make smart choices and Sophia probably won’t either. We only hope her good decisions outweigh her not-so-good ones.

Being empty nesters means Carole and I need to give more thought to what we do, rather than just rely on the inertia of years of “taking care of the children.” It is just sinking in to me that what we choose to do will have far greater meaning than what we once had to do. It also may be challenging, at least at first, to make choices because they will draw on muscles that may have atrophied over the years.

At the University of Oregon, Sophia will be close enough to home to indulge in a weekend back in old room on her own bed. Sophia’s return will be a holiday for the dog who will have her sleeping companion back. The prospect delays having to think about how to convert Sophia’s bedroom into some more contemporary use.

Mini_Cooper_Facelift_frontOne reminder of the empty nest will be her car parked perpetually in front of the house. I will drive it to work occasionally to give the motor a periodic workout.

There is nothing like driving around in a MINI Cooper to remind you that your daughter has flown the coop.




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