On the Edge

February 22, 2013

Empty nesters build new nests

By J.P. Devine
Correspondent

I know how overwhelmed you are by the news, getting your concealed-weapon permit, fretting about the sequester, sending get-well cards to the survivors of that Carnival cruise ship in Mobile, Ala., and wondering if the Chinese military has hacked your Facebook homepage. But this item may be about you.

You might have looked around at the market, church, Grange hall and emergency medical flu center and noticed the absence of certain old people. I too have wondered, and I’ve discovered why.

At first I thought it was because, as I reported last week, many of our friends had retired and moved to Florida. But there is a new diaspora, an interesting exodus of the semi-elderly. They have succumbed to a new emotional malady called “We’re moving to be closer to the kids now.”

That’s right. Perfectly happy, sane folks of a certain advanced age are closing their camps, selling their houses, canceling their subscriptions to this paper and moving away. These are folks who never got over the “empty nest” years when the kids went off to college.

This group, whose kids resettled in Colorado, California, Texas, God forbid, for them, it’s a different story.

They’re scuttling years of friendships, lifelong relationships and “stop and chats” on the street to “be closer to their kids.”

Let me be the first to confess that some signs of this virus seem to have taken residence in my own heart. My two daughters still live in Los Angeles, and even though we tweet, Facebook, email and smartphone chat, I often yearn for their presence.

There is this day/night dream of being so close that you can have them over every Sunday for dinner, meet their friends, join their church maybe, drop in unexpectedly and share popcorn and movies. I’ll bet they miss watching the old Turner Classics with us, don’t you think? Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t it? Hello?

I have to remember that the youngest likes two veggies — peas and carrots. The other is a Whole Foods/organic nut. One daughter is a fan of In-N-Out Burger. The other likes sushi. One loves to cook. The other loves to order. One helps clean up; the other vanishes. Sunday dinner? Every week? Really?

I don’t have grandchildren. You probably have two or six. You remember how they crawled up in your lap and kissed you. You miss that. You arrive at your kid’s house and find that the babies are now teenagers who still sit in laps, just not yours.

How wide will the space be between “Isn’t this great having you guys so close, and sharing your time with us?” and “We can’t make it this Sunday. We’re going out of town, and we’ll call when we get back.”

So you sit there in the new tiny retirement apartment, wondering if it was a mistake.

She, who likes being close as well, but was happy with Skype, will adjust. She knows that if she stays home, they will come to her when they want to, and it will work out. I will have to learn.

After about a year of adjusting to a different climate, different baristas, a strange younger doctor who constantly mispronounces your name, different cable setups and traffic nightmares, you will wind up going out to the beach as I do, and sit on the benches with old men from Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Illinois who gave up their comfortable lives of gardening and raking, having coffee each day with their friends, just to shatter it all, flush it all down the drain, just to “be closer to the kids.” OMG!

It probably never occurred to my benchmates, as it did not to me, that “the kids” were happy with the status quo, the visits a couple of times a year, the sharing of photos on Facebook and the Skype waving.

They liked coming home for a few days, to escape the urban tension that your misguided longing sucked you back into. Maybe you and she should just take a nice cruise. Where’s that folder? What’s it called again? Carnival?

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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