The Empty Nest Syndrome

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My wife Kathy and I became official “empty nesters” this past week as our youngest child Corey left the Bay Area and blazed a trail 736 miles north to begin a new life as a college student at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. This wasn’t the first time we had experienced this kind of life passage, as we’ve watched our older son Jesse leave – and return – more than a half dozen times over the last three years as part of his continuing life as a college student. But it definitely feels different right now, with all of the kids out of the house for the first time in twenty-two years.
There are some immediate benefits to being an empty nester. My wife and I quickly came to the realization that it was going to be a good deal easier to keep the house clean. In addition, gone from the bathroom counters and shelves is a department store’s worth of make up, hair care products and other items that I never was able to find a purposeful use for. We now have two spare bedrooms for guests, at least until Thanksgiving break, when my son will have to sleep on a fold out futon in what was once his bedroom but is now my teaching studio and office. And I’ve already moved some of my instrument cases into Corey’s bedroom closet. It’s sure nice to have a bit of extra space in our small Berkeley home.
However, I now know a bit more about the expression “silence can be deafening.” I keep expecting Corey to come through the door in the late afternoon, throwing books down on the sofa and heading straight into the kitchen to make an after-school concoction involving some kind of improvised combination of chocolate, hot sauce, chai, milk and avocado. And I already miss the sound of her talking on the phone over the sound of a newly discovered alt rock band playing on her turntable (yes, some things do come back around – vinyl is all the rage among the musically hip college student these days and it does indeed sound better if the band is right!). I also miss her coming in late at night, to report on a new band she had just experienced over in San Francisco.
Music has been a source of endless enjoyment as well as sometimes a source of debate in our house. I often would find both kids disparaging my own musical tastes, which not only run to bluegrass but to a great deal of what is unfortunately these days called “classic rock” – artists like the Beatles, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Richard Thompson and Bruce Springsteen – as well as classical, rock, folk and jazz. However, I was surprised to find that many of the artists we had argued about the most vehemently ended up on her bedroom CD shelf, next to her own purchases from bands with names like Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Explosions in the Sky and Blizten Trapper. I also found that all of my John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Duke Ellington CDs had somehow migrated from my room to hers. The kid has got taste.
Corey spent a bit of time as a young teenager playing both bluegrass guitar and mandolin but her heart has always been in drumming and she became one of the best high school drummers in the United States (just ask Wynton Marsalis the next time you see him). However, I was perhaps the most proud of her when she decided not to study music at the Berklee School of Music but rather to attend a liberal arts college to follow other dreams: psychology, environmental science, sustainable agriculture, literature and art.
I keep thinking that I should now have more time on my hands and I’ll find a lot more time to practice, to compose and to hunt down a few more gigs for myself and the bands that I book. That hasn’t happened just yet but maybe it will over the next few weeks as my wife and I get more used to these new, vast open spaces. For now, we keep talking about what we’ll do when the kids come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. <

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