Ever since joining the club, my diet has changed. Health club? Good God no! Book club, country club, beach club? Wrong again! I am now a card carrying member of the worldwide group of “empty nesters.” The club one is automatically granted membership to once their last or only child leaves the house for college or life elsewhere. No dues, no rules, and absolutely no where to go!
When my husband and I dropped the youngest of our two daughters off at college this past September in London no less, (our eldest went east to upstate NY, but not far enough for our baby, she needed another continent!) there were, of course, tears. I did cry myself to sleep the night after we said goodbye. Exhaustion and jet lag could’ve played into it a bit. We should have planned the trip better. A week to shop for a college room in a foreign city, plus a winter wardrobe (her Southern Cal cutoffs and T-shirts wouldn’t do in London come October) and her own kitchen setup as her dorm had no cafeteria just a communal kitchen on every floor that the 8 residents to a hallway shared, was a race I barely won.
Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom, as I learned with the first college drop, sets it up so well. The last few weeks before they leave, the kids are so nervous aka obnoxious, you really can’t wait to kiss them goodbye, put the pedal to the metal and head home. The old gal was on the job this time as well, but London is so far away from Los Angeles and this was my baby! Even though she had me running in and out of every frigging vintage shop in London for the winter coat that didn’t exist, and up and down the escalator at the largest Tesco ever created until I begged for an oxygen tank, (“Excuse me Sir, would you happen to have an inhaler I could borrow?”) I fell to pieces after we left her. So much for the year of living dangerously. Senior year when I didn’t know who to kill, her or me...or my husband, for if I hadn’t married him to begin with...
Coming home to “the boys”, our two dogs, saved us from walking into total silence. Yakking out loud to my Lab and Jack Russell/Beagle mix, the two male dogs who were the happiest lads ever when they heard gay marriage is now legal in several states because they are planning a huge wedding, is nothing new to me. This is not a by-product of our baby being gone, though I now keep the conversation with them going a lot longer. The house which is a perfect fit for a family of four now seems huge. Almost sinfully too big for two people. And slap my mouth for saying this, but yes I miss the mess! Truth be told, our baby was a slob. Her perch was the banquette along the far wall of our living room. That was her spot and as such, a constant mess: tea cups, crumpled papers, sweaters, socks, sneakers, lipsticks, tissues, used, of course, and candy wrappers were the gifts she left me daily. So now her corner of the universe is spotless and there are days it makes me misty eyed.
Here comes the big payoff, though. Back tracking just a bit, I have to say mothering was and still is, my true calling in life. The way some people live to win a Pulitzer, I lived to have my babies. I adored everything about the job, from the stinky diapers to the soccer games. Bring it on! Except for one minor, major detail, dinner. I hated, Hated, having to make dinner Monday through Friday. There I’ve said it. Breakfast: a breeze, even for me, the world’s sleepy head. Getting up at 6:45, putting eggs, or oatmeal on the table; a joy. Even in the high school years when they were nasty things rushing out the door without a bite, I was there yelling “just take one bite” although I won’t say in good cheer. This dinner thing? So not my thing.
First of all, I am not a foodie. I like what I like and I like it done well. Go for high quality, natural ingredients yada yada, but do I seek out the shallots of the season or spend my afternoons pouring over the Queen, Alice Waters, latest or the Contessa, Ina’s greatest. I do not. The other part of it is that I am highly disorganized. Where other mothers scheduled their meals ahead, you know, Taco Tuesdays, Fish Fry Fridays, and shop accordingly, try as I might, I never got it down. For me it was always the panic attack at 5:30 PM on the way home from volleyball practice or computer class. Not the “what’s for dinner” question, but the WTF moment when my mind took inventory of what was in the fridge. I could have purchased lovely cooked food at our local top of the line market, Gelsons, that has a beautiful and tasty selection of food ranging from baked chicken to poached salmon and several pastas in between, excellent mashed potatoes and a creamed spinach that looks like someone’s mother would have made. (But not my kid’s!) But to my twisted mind, that would have been cheating.
Once convinced by a friend, I tried ordering from a “chef” that she and several mothers I knew used, who prepared Monday through Friday dinners, she delivered in labeled Tupperware dishes Monday afternoon. The empty Tupperware had to be returned by late Saturday to be used for the following Monday. Too easy. But, ready for this; my kids didn’t like her cooking and wanted mine instead! Here is a classic family tale that I’ll be pulling out forever. One Friday night sitting around our kitchen island, everyone in the TGIF mood again, another week of school over and done with, my older daughter quips up with, “Mom, do you realize you’ve served us chicken for the fifth night in a row?” Well cluck me, no I did not! I did ask myself what my problem was repeatedly, I did. I pondered it. Rebelling? God knows it was my nature. Laziness? No, getting up at 6:45 dispelled that. Resentful of not having a fulltime cook? No, What I’ve always wanted is a full time masseuse. So what, pray tell was my problem? I considered discussing it with a therapist, but if I were going that route, let’s be real, I had bigger fish to fry! Never did get to the root of the problem.
Thankfully, those days are over. I am free! Free at last! And blessed with a husband who could care less what’s for dinner when we are at home. As long as there’s a can of sardines and some melba toast and a jar of mayonnaise, he is a happy camper. My fridge now boasts cartons in several colors and sizes. Leftovers from our favorite restaurants make up dinner several nights a week. Pasta Bolognese from Toscana in a large white carton. Fried Chicken from Post and Beam is lovely cold or popped in at 350 for five minutes. A left over turkey chopped salad from La Scala can last a good two days. But my favorite dinner of all, the one that brings me joy combined with the feeling that I’m doing something really naughty, a feeling I have not yet out grown, consist of potato chips washed down with an iced cold coke followed by Haagen Das chocolate chip ice cream. Heaven!
When friends ask how the “empty nest” is going, I smile, visualize that Post and Beam crispy chicken leg happily sitting on the second shelf of my refrigerator silently waiting for me in it’s take home box, the half a carton of Haagen Dazs in the freezer, and holding in my excitement say, “ a little rough but fine, it’s going fine.”
LA based Writer, Annie Stein, has written for C and More Magazines, NYTimes and is a regular blogger on Huffington Post. She runs creative writing workshops for at risk teens.