Thursday, September 3, 2009

Empty nest & full hearts

Not fond of the term "empty nest." Too many negative connotations.

Roberta and I are glad our kids are finding their own way ... and not just because Ben leaves a minor mess wherever he last stepped or Katie goes through toilet paper at an impossible rate.

We're glad because this is a sign that Katie and Ben have matured enough to be on their own, that many of the life lessons we've tried to teach have sunk in. Did I say many? How 'bout a few? Or even one? I'd settle for one ... as long as it's "Honor Thy Father and Mother."

Commandment ... life lesson ... same difference, right?

Anyway, our Katie pretty much checked out for good when she left in the fall of '08 for her senior year of college. After graduating from Lawrence this past spring, she remained in Appleton (where her boyfriend and most of her buddies reside), got a job, rented an apartment and started experiencing all the wonders of being responsible for oneself.

From our frequent phone calls and texts, I know she's truly enjoying paying bills, dealing with insurance companies, getting her car repaired, begging her landlord to fix things ... you know, all those glamorous, non-stop fun things grown-ups do.

After one year at Illinois, Ben decided he wasn't a college boy (the fine folks in Urbana-Champaign helped nudge along that decision) and he returned to the nest. He quickly got sick of being under our thumb, so he moved in with a friend his age. Neither Ben nor his friend had the maturity or money to make it work, though, so Ben came back home after a few short months. We had a (mostly) peaceful coexistence for well over a year, with Ben getting a full-time job as a restaurant manager and growing into a (mostly) responsible young man.

Now three months shy of his 22nd birthday, he just moved out again. And this time, I think it just might take. He has some money in the bank, his roommate seems like a decent dude and their Lincoln Park digs are quite nice.

(His roomie's 50-inch plasma and Ben's Xbox 360 certainly remind me of the 19-inch B&W and Pong game I had in my first apartment.)

So while we are - OK, I am - a little concerned that Ben still isn't the best at managing his personal fortune, and we are - OK, Roberta is - a little worried about his eating habits, cleanliness and all those other touchy-feely things moms tend to worry about, we are reasonably confident in Ben's ability to start building a life of his own.

So what's it like without little chicks in our nest?

Well, Katie's laugh fills a room and Ben always wants to talk about sports, so it's definitely quieter. And if I want a handful of Sweet Spicy Chili Doritos, I have nobody but myself to blame if there aren't any. And the only crap on the DVR is the crap we plan to watch (sorry, Ben; that Kanye concert and that Family Guy episode already have been eliminated).

The downside? There is none, because our nest isn't really empty at all.

Ben lives 2 miles away. Katie is 3 1/2 hours up the road, but we talk often and see each other when we can. And more than their proximity, there's this:

We think about Katie and Ben constantly, and most of those thoughts are happy ones that fill our hearts with love and hope and joy and memories and pride.

And really, if our hearts are that full, how empty can our nest be?

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