Empty Nest Syndrome


The woman who offered us sandwiches in a New York City subway car had a sweet face. If I were to accept questionable food from a stranger in the bowels of Brooklyn, this would be the time.

Fact is, you should never accept food from strangers. On a subway. Or anywhere. 

Such is the one lesson we imparted to our college-bound daughter this summer during a trip to NYC. Caroline did not need the lesson, especially as she stared at the crumpled, baggie-wrapped sandwich in her lap.

The woman did not speak English and I assumed she was trying to sell the food. While I stressed “No, thank you,” she shoved one in my lap and moved on to my wife and daughter.

She then circled back, plucked the sandwiches and redistributed them, often to the same person. Street vendors are everywhere in NYC, but this one felt different. Was she a grandmother trying to make a buck, or was she an angel trying to feed the masses in tough times?

No matter. We declined her food and handed it back as she left more in our laps as we considered the line between kindness and common sense. 

Then I bought a $12 hot dog from a sweaty stranger manning a cart above the subway.

The woman handing out her PB&Cs–“peanut butter and COVID sandwiches,” my wife called them–was a great story from a great trip. 

The voyage was a high school graduation present for Caroline. We met celebrities, saw a Broadway musical, paid our respects to John Lennon in Central Park, avoided a headless Mickey Mouse in Times Square, shed tears at the 9/11 museum and did all the goofy stuff tourists do in the Big Apple. This was our time with a brilliant arts student headed to the University of Central Florida in a matter of … well, too soon. 

I write this two days before we move Caroline, when we will tote her luggage, desk and used foosball table up three flights of stairs. Two weeks earlier, we dropped off our University of Florida alum, eldest daughter Katie, in Virginia, where she will work in campus ministries.

An empty nest. But …

As we consider what the hell to do with an empty nest, I wonder–every second of every day–if we left these young women with effective parental advice.

When my parents dropped me off at UCF in 1986, I clearly remember the last words my mom whispered in my ear: “Eat your vegetables. It’s what kept you skinny.”

Wise words. I scramble to find anything more substantial.

“Make sure you have your insurance card,” and, “Do not eat PB&C sandwiches.”

Seems a bit, “No duh!” but it is the best I have in moments that have me wiping away tears. 

But they are Schlenkers. They have the wit, wisdom and smart-alecky savvy to thwart threats to common sense. 

They also know that Mom and Dad are one text away from smacking down sandwich schemes that threaten Southern princesses. 

In the meantime, Amy and I struggle: What, exactly, do we do now? OS

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