John Kass' wonderful Chicago Tribune column ("Trip to becoming empty nesters went too fast," Aug. 10) hurled me back to the time when my own kids left home for college. I wrote about it in my Chicago Sun-Times column back in 1992 when it happened:
August 25, 1992
Departing Children Leave Quiet House
By Dennis Byrne
The kids are gone now. Packed off the youngest of my two children to college last week.
With Kati and, now, Don both away, Barb and I are alone. Guess this is what they call a passage. Or another test. Friends tell us that this will be a great year. After two decades of kid raising, we'll have our lives back. We'll do what we want, go where we want, when we want.
But I dunno. I think I'm happy. I think I'm not.
I'm glad to get my house back. But my home feels so empty.
The first thing we noticed when we got back from taking Don to school was no phone ringing. It's so peaceful; it's too quiet. I can set the car radio back on my favorite stations. I haven't yet; rock music assaulting me when I start the car makes me feel Kati and Don's presence. No shoes, sports equipment and other stuff to trip over anymore. But that means there are no kids around anymore to leave things to trip over.
Won't have to pound on bedroom doors anymore to make sure the kid's up in time for school. Can't pound on his door anymore, so all we can do is lie there sleepless, wondering if the kid's up.
For a week before he left, we nagged: Hurry up and pack, Don. Get focused, you haven't much time left. Suddenly he's packing; this time tomorrow, he'll be gone. It's too soon. One minute Don and I are joshing at dinner. The next I'm out in the garage watching the rain, so no one can see me cry.
I can't believe how fast two childhoods sped by, and how long it took. It seems like just yesterday I was carrying them on my shoulders. It seems so long ago that they were small enough to be picked up and hugged.
In the backyard after Don has left, I sit alone and listen to the neighborhood kids. "Watch me, watch me!" "I get the window seat." From next door, I hear 5-year-old Dustin call to his dad. I struggle to remember what it was like - the sights, the sounds and the other sensory gifts and demands that parents regularly receive from their kids. The feel of a small hand in mine. The pervasive smell of the diaper pail. It's all beginning to slide away.
Thankfully, almost knowingly, Dustin wanders over at just the right moment to ask when Don and Kati will be back, to inquire after the cat, to ask all those other questions that I've forgotten that kids ask.
How thankful we are that our children are fortunate enough to get to attend college, to pick careers of their choice. How we worry about how they'll handle the trials ahead. The irony is that if we had not put so much into making sure the kids would be ready to leave, then maybe we wouldn't have grown so close, and their leaving now wouldn't hurt so much.
Actually, children haven't left; friends have left. Children you love, automatically, without qualification. Friends you like. Friendships are made, friends give and take. Friends you miss because they are who they are.
Maybe someday I'll figure out this parent stuff. Why, after all these years, when they're hundreds of miles away, children are still sources of such joy, and pain.
Barb and I, as we did for about half our lives before Kati and Don arrived, now will have to look within ourselves. What will we find there? Who will we find there?
It's scary. But we'll have this to build on: There's no better way for two people to come to know each other than to have children together, to share the ecstasy and demands of creating and nurturing a life.
And there'll be this: With only two people left in the house, it'll be a lot easier to nail whoever took the last cookie.
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