The Bittersweetness of an Empty Nest

The thumping sounded like a malfunctioning dishwasher—loud, erratic and alarming to the people who pay for dishwasher repairs. Then came the whining—high-pitched and clear in its intentions. Rigby Floyd, our 70-pound doodle puppy, wanted attention. He rhythmically pounded the wood floor with his tail and whined, his eyes fixed on us.

It happened around 8:45 one night when my wife and I were watching TV. Then it happened around 8:45 the following night and then the following night. It is a call for attention on his terms, to come to him, to rub his belly, to milk the most out of the day’s final hours. 

It has become an essential part of our nightly routine as empty nesters. I get on the floor, stretch out, rub his belly and then attempt to get up. Amy and I laugh and laugh and laugh.

Then we go to bed before 9:30. 

Sometimes sooner.


Because we can. 

As empty nesters, we eat dinner on the couch with great Why-the-Hell-Not? fanfare. Sometimes we play pickleball, other times we just think about pickleball. Often we opt for wine on the couch before eating—get this—anything we want!

We are blissfully boring people. 

Make no mistake, we miss our daughters terribly. They are doing amazing things, and our time between wine and dog bellies is spent discussing their pursuits and independence. We worry about their safety. Amy sends them recipes. I hound them about car maintenance. We wonder when they will call next. 

Then we yawn and discuss how early is too early to go to bed. 

It took Amy some time to warm to the empty nest. When Caroline left for the University of Central Florida and Katie moved to Virginia, Amy cried. I, on the other hand, measured their rooms to see if my desk and record collection would fit. Amy processed the silence with bittersweet tears. I immediately jumped to “Ooh! Man cave.”

On the man cave door, however, is a brass knocker inscribed with “Kay”—my mother. It is at least 75 years old and makes me think about a young Kay, the only child of a dentist from South Carolina and a Southern belle from Atlanta. My grandparents became empty nesters after my mom and dad eloped in high school. My mom and stepfather became empty nesters when I, the youngest of five, flew the coop. 

It was one of the few times I saw my mother cry, and I remember thinking, “Why is she crying? I’ll be home next weekend with my laundry.”

Now I get it. It is not the silence so much as the Cats in the Cradle reflections: Did we do enough for them? Did we offer any useful advice? Will they take the cars in for oil changes?

Here’s what I know for sure: Rigby Floyd’s tail will start thumping at 8:45 tonight, shortly after we finish dinner on the couch. We will laugh and laugh and laugh. Then we will say, “I wish the girls could see this.” OS

Posted in Community Spotlight, LivingTagged

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