West and Rewaxation at Wast, or, A Taste of the Empty Nest
By Kelley Cunningham
Yes, here I was, all alone. Thanks to the magic of sleepaway camp and the surreal fact that I am newly divorced, I was alone. For the first time in my life.
Right after college I had to move back home because the only job I could get paid next to nothing. After a year I was able move out, but into a house shared with a depressive Brit who stayed in his room and listened to Enya, an obsessive clean freak who I had to step over as she scrubbed floors, and another woman that I honestly can’t remember. Not a fun bunch. But by then I was dating my future husband anyway, so I was always hanging out at his place. I married relatively young and then came the babies, and you know the story.
So in my entire adult life I’ve never been truly alone in my own home longer than a few hours. Or an overnight at the most. Now it was just me, the cat Flunky and Marcus, the Chinese Fighting Fish. I was determined to do everything I always said I’d do during those long baby years. Read books uninterrupted! Walk around scratching myself without worrying about being a bad example to my kids. I could belch loudly, watch Gone with the Wind from start to finish and go bra-less without worrying about the jiggle factor in a house full of adolescent boys!
I woke up depressed, with a headache and cotton mouth to boot, and immediately revised my next evening’s plans. OK, less wine, no smoking. Tonight will be given over to the intellectual pursuits that eluded me during the time in my life where the only intellectual stimulation I got was from comparing sodium levels of competitive baby formulas.
So I got home from work, had a handful of Triscuits for dinner, and perused my bookshelves. There was that book of French poetry I bought at a yard sale ten years ago I’ve always meant to crack. Hmmm. Maybe tomorrow. I looked through all the books I’ve half-finished over the years and thought maybe I should pick one up and finally finish it. But it’s been so long since I put them down in the first place I realized I would have to start over, and that discouraged me.
I wound up reading More magazine because I am peri-menopausal and I need to feel empowered. I read about women re-inventing themselves, starting businesses and dressing for success. It exhausted me. I really don’t want to start a business right now. I looked around my living room (that has miraculously stayed neat and tidy), listened to the crickets chirping outside and decided to go to bed.
The next few days passed pretty much like this. But it was a pleasure to get up in the morning and not have to get kids out the door. I only had to get me out the door. This took some doing as my morning routine started to slip. One morning I was drinking coffee in my bathrobe and watching Al Roker when I realized had to be at work in fifteen minutes.
The first weekend I had to myself was strange. I slept in. I didn’t wake with a start, wondering where the kids were and if they were playing with the furnace or juggling knives in the kitchen. But still, I woke up early. I forced myself to go back to sleep and enjoy the luxury. I did, but woke up an hour later feeling foggy-headed and struggling to shake off weird dreams.
I decided to take a walk. Why not? Hell, I’m empowered. And after that I got in the car with a map, determined to stop and explore every antique shop or interesting side road that I had always meant to check out when I had the time. Well, now, I had nothing but time!
I wandered aimlessly, not worrying about getting home to get dinner started or in time to drop off a son at track practice. I picked things up at the antique store, and put them down again. I struck up a conversation with the owner of an organic pet food store who called her dachshund “her baby.” And I got back in the car and went home. I cut the grass and watered the lawn, and sat quietly on the patio for a good long time.
It was amazing how little I worried about the kids. Out of sight, out of mind, so the saying goes. When they were home I worried about everything. Did I handle that crisis in a way that is positive? Am I giving them enough? Did he look both ways before crossing the street? Now, here they were at a camp featuring overnight survival trips in the woods, sans tents, in bear-infested country. And I didn’t give it a second thought. Yeah, they’ll be fine. Whatever.
A few days later the cat Flunky got sick. His paw was infected and I had to take him to the vet. I was given antibiotics that required refrigeration. It was strange to open the fridge and see a bottle of antibiotics again. For so long the pink amoxicillin bottle was a fixture in my fridge, having three sons who were all prone to ear infections. Now the antibiotic in my fridge is for the cat.
This realization made me petrified I was becoming a crazy cat lady. Was I losing my mojo? Have the dreams of my youth been crushed forever under a pair of Heelys? I decided to start a painting. I must say it came out pretty good, and that encouraged me to dream once more about showing my art. OK, that’s good! I’ve still got it! I’ll be okay with this empty nest thing! I’ve got my own life!
After another week or so my alone time started winding down. The magic had gone. I found myself staying at work late because the evenings at home were so dullsville. Yesterday I found myself talking out loud to the cat and making up names for him. I asked which he liked better, Zippy McKitty or Yack A. Furball. He looked at me and blinked, then yawned.
Jesus Christ. Talking to the cat.
God, I miss the kids. Only two more days till I pick them up. Oh, man, so soon?
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
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