An 18-year-old is a missile screaming toward the future, with neither the time nor the inclination for a backward glance. That 18-year-old's parents, on the other hand... Kristin Clark Taylor of Great Falls, Virginia said she left a pair of her son's size-13 Jordans at the bottom of the stairs when he left for college.
"When he was home, I nagged him incessantly about picking them up and putting them in his room," she wrote. "But the day after he left, with that space at the bottom of the stairs suddenly so empty, my heart began to feel a little heavy."
Two years later, her daughter left for college, and Kristin left her ballet slippers in the middle of her bedroom for five or six days.
"So two pairs of shoes are what helped add the wind beneath my own wings as I watched my children fly away from their nest," Kristin wrote. A single mother of three who signed herself "Ms. L" wrote that when her children were younger, she dreamed of finally having space: "Being able to come home from work and not instantly hear one of them yell 'Mom' as soon as I walked through the door. I used to joke with them when they were teenagers and tell them that mommy's goal in life is to live alone.
"Now years later, with my youngest now a freshman in college, it's weird but I sometimes find myself wishing they were home."
Roger Elmore of Woodbridge, Virginia counsels tough love when it comes to empty-nest syndrome.
"As a long time ENS sufferer, my advice is to either join the witness protection program or move to an undisclosed location to prevent helicopter kids with their new families in tow from returning to the old homestead," he wrote.
Oh, Roger loves his kids, of course, but he wrote: "It's so nice to be able to waste money on useless things like golf clubs and jewellery and expensive trips — positively delightful, actually, after so many years of deny, deny, deny. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!"
John Underriner of Arlington, Virginia said it was the little things that stuck out after his and wife Jennifer's youngest son went off to college two Septembers ago. "A gallon of milk actually spoiled before we finished it," he wrote. "We can find the TV remote. The only dirty dishes are in the dishwasher. No doors slam at 2 a.m. The floors are clothes-free zones. We always know where the car keys are. Grocery bills are mere double-digits, and we hear the local Papa John's may go under." This is the first year that both of Sarah Thomas' kids are off at college.
"One thing we have noticed is we've become even more goofy over our black Lab, Toby," Sarah wrote. "After dinner we sit and remark on what a good dog he is. Never had that going on before!"
Sounds sort of like when you used to hire a babysitter and go out for a nice dinner, then sit at the table talking about — your kids.
Speaking of dogs, for years, the Oravec family of Manassas, Virginia has been rescuing dogs, a practice inspired by daughter Jessie Mae, who when she turned 3 got down on all fours, panted and begged for a pooch. "Each time a new dog would join us, either Jessie Mae or I would make a drawing of him or her and add it to the gallery in my office," mom Janet wrote.
Now Jessie Mae is at the University of Cincinnati and hasn't met the newest rescue dog, PJ the pug. "At the suggestion of a friend, I drew the top half of PJ's mugshot," Janet wrote.
"Then I mailed the unfinished piece 500 miles away to Jessie Mae. She finished the bottom half and mailed it back. Same blood type, same medium; different states, different styles. I sit here every day and look at that collaboration, a fine piece that may not have happened if our daughter had not flown away from the nest."
Paula Matuskey's son moved to California in 1997. He's in his mid-30s. Even so, she and her husband have recognized a condition they call "proximity parenting." When he is far away, they have to settle for not knowing everything that is occurring.
"But let him come back to the East for vacation, and we revert back to years ago: asking where he's going, when he's coming back, and even waiting up for him when he's out," wrote Paula, of Ellicott City, Maryland. Emily Joyce of Crownsville, Maryland. said that when her son, Steve, left home for college, the mother of one of his friends remarked that she must have that "awful empty nest feeling."
Emily wrote: "My reply? 'Sure, I miss him, but for me the greater problem would be if it were time for him to go and he wasn't ready!' "And don't all parents wish that their kids will be able to make it on their own? (John Kelly/The Washington Post)