Sunday, September 21, 2008


I was recently asked to contribute to a new anthology just published called Writin’ On Empty: Parents Reveal the Upside, Downside, and Everything in Between when Children Leave the Nest. The book, written and compiled by three Oakland writers, Joan Cehn, Risa Nye and Julie Reynalds, is loaded with personal accounts of that half-dreaded, half-welcomed day when the first—or last—child leaves home.

It seems like yesterday that my firstborn, Matt, and my baby, Rebecca, left for college. To keep busy, I removed all the childproof locks, turned Matt’s room into an office (a write-off!) and Becca’s room into a spare bedroom (just in case they came back). I think it was getting rid of all those cabinet latches, protective gates and drawer guards we’d installed years ago that it really hit home. The kids were gone. We’d kept them safe for all those years, and now our cats, plants, and knick-knacks would be safe once again.

I thought, when we unloaded the kids, we could finally toss out all our child-ravaged furniture and start fresh. I looked forward to living my Empty Nest years with a clean, new nest, filled with white leatherette La-Z-Boy chairs (with cup holders), objets d’art such as bird houses that look like beach houses, colorful wall hangings that read “Keep Your Feet Off the Couch,” and fine collections of wine with labels like “Mad Housewife Merlot” and “Reddish.”

Now that the kids have kids of their own, I find it’s time to pimp our pad once again. After an awfully short period of empty nesting, we now have two grandsons who visit us on a regular basis—and the house looks like it’s been decorated by Ike rather than Ikea.

When Bradley, the three-year-and-a-half-year-old, comes to visit, he heads for the living room where he dumps out several box games that he doesn’t know how to play. Next he runs to the toy chest where toys are stored for only moments at a time until they can be flung around the family room. That’s followed by extreme bouncing on the new bed because the expensive pillow-top makes it extra fun to use as a trampoline. When his tornado winds down, he turns on my computer when I’m in the middle of a column to play “Diego” with the sound full blast.

But he’s a piece of cake to clean up after, next to one-year-old Luke. His M.O. never varies. He pulls out all my scrapbook supplies and throws them in the fireplace, sucks on the remotes then hides them under the couch, wads up my papers into drool-soaked balls, and then goes after my cats who run for their lives. When he’s finished, he heads outside to play in the dirt with wormy apples and my breakable frog collection, instead of all the clean, safe, and educational toys we bought him.

Apparently it’s time to baby proof the nest again. Time to put up gates, lock up cupboards, cover doorknobs, turn off cell phones, hide the cats, set the remotes on the mantel, and keep a handyman on site to repair all the damage. Once I’m done, maybe I’ll have time to enjoy all the amazing things those two busy boys can do to my nest with, say, a permanent black marker ….

Join me and the authors of Writin’ On Empty October 6 at 7:15 pm, at Towne Center Books, 555 Main Street, Pleasanton.


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