Empty Nest Redux

My husband traveled a lot. During my childbearing years, he would go away on business for three weeks and then return for six weeks, in order to catch two ovulation cycles.

I used to ask, “Can this marriage survive living together?”

No, it couldn’t. But it yielded three most rewarding daughters. 

Though it was agony to part with my kids for the nine days a month required by the custody arrangements, the monthly good-byes were good practice for when—one after the other—they left for college. Nonetheless, when my little Emily, the third to head out, left, I had to endure the cliché of a totally empty nest. At least I didn’t have to become reacquainted with a husband, as I’ve heard happens for marrieds.

Emily was the only one who returned after graduating. For the past two years, she and her boyfriend, Ed, lived a 20-minute bike ride from my home in DC, until recently, when they moved to Long Island—six hours away by train—where Ed is attending medical school.

IMG_0434The stark absence of these two reminds me of the aftermath of one particular breakup back when I was their age. Hours after Mr. Wrong walked out the door a rat skittered across my kitchen floor. It was no consolation that the radio was playing a break-up song, whose name I can’t remember, about scrambling—or was it frying—only one egg in the morning instead of two. (Googling “one egg instead of two” yields links to brownie recipes and to Humpty Dumpty.)*

Ever the optimistic worrywart, I remind myself of the benefits of the new long-distance living arrangement with Emily. Rather than weekly coffee, movie, and/or dinner dates, we’ll have monthly sleepovers, like the treasured ones I have when visiting her sisters. Are two overnights a month better than four visits for a few hours each plus having her nearby for spontaneous additional visits?

What if I grow to love this arrangement and then, after Ed finishes med school, they move

Batting practice on Long Island

Batting practice on Long Island

farther away? Is the rest of my life destined to be one empty nest after another?

I wonder whether it is just a matter of time before I move to New York City, where my oldest daughter lives and where my middle daughter will probably live when she moves back to the States from China, hopefully next year.

Recently Frank Bruni wrote in The New York Times about living alone together with his partner: “That’s the thing about our wired age: apart is actually the new together, because alone isn’t alone anymore. On top of calling, there’s Skyping, e-mailing, texting . . . .”

In fact, my oldest daughter, Eliza, and I have often watched our favorite reality shows together apart. When she was living in Asia, I would set up my Skype in front of the TV for her to watch in tandem with me. Now that she’s back in New York, we’ll discuss the drama among Bachelorette or Survivor contestants during commercials.

My middle daughter, Sabrina, who lives in Beijing, sometimes hangs out on Skype with me for hours. As with when she’s actually here, we don’t feel the need to talk the whole IMG_0866time. I’ll go to the basement and do laundry; she’ll make herself noodles. It’s practically like having her at home, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

*Update: A mobile shout out to my friend David was all it took to learn the name of the Burt Bachrach song, “One Less Bell to Answer.”

One less bell to answer

One less egg to fry

One less man to pick up after

I should be happy

But all I do is cry . . . .

What are your empty next stories? Words of wisdom?


Confessions of a Worrywart: Husbands, Lovers, Mothers, and Others                                                  is now on Amazon.com, Kindle, and Smashwords

“A first-rate personal essayist, Susan Orlins delivers the goods time and again. Underneath her self-mocking voice, her abundant humor, her brio, there is the serious candor of a moralist who worries the problems that won’t go away.”

–PHILLIP LOPATE, author and editor of The Art of the Personal Essay

“Susan Orlins is America’s funniest neurotic since Woody Allen. Just be careful you don’t crack a rib reading Confessions of a Worrywart.”

–PATRICIA VOLK, author of Stuffed and Shocked


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