My Clean-Upmanship

I spent the first four days home after taking my kids to college cleaning out their rooms, not exactly what was promised in the “Now It’s Time for You!” chapter of the empty nester’s manual.

But I was glad to do it. Extremely glad to do it.

I had given up on my daughter’s room since we started talking about her going away to college – at the start of her senior year, a full 12 months before she would move out. I had been constantly nagging her to pick the clothes up off the floor so I could vacuum it. I fretted about the stains on her carpet that wouldn’t come out. I threatened to do a total reorg of her room and I even went so far as to buy some cute nubby-woven-earth-tone closet organizers. She was not at all interested.

One day she said, “Why don’t you just wait until I leave for college and then you can do whatever you want with my room.”   * scribble scribble scrabble scratch * I etched those words into my brain for later.

For the next 12 months I stopped fussing about her room. When we had company I closed her bedroom door and told people my husband was sterile and we were childless.

So when I returned home from moving her and her brother into their college school-year temporary residences, I didn’t waste any time getting my hands on those rooms.

And, oh, the stuff I found.

It was like a TV show, half Hoarders and half Let’s Make a Deal, but only the part where you have to come up with some crazy stuff that you carry around in your purse. What’s that you say, Monty? Has anyone got an instruction manual for a cell phone that no one owns anymore? Why, I’ve got seven of them right here!

Some more things I found in my kids’ rooms during the Big Clean-Up of Fall 2011:

  • Clothes with the price tags still on them. These are clothes that someone had to have right then. Clothes that were not on sale. Clothes that I had my doubts would ever be worn.
  • A dead frog.
  • A check for $200, uncashed, dated July 2010.
  • Ten years of Sports Illustrated magazines in a crate that was intended to hold two years worth of a magazine I had no idea would be renewed so many times. Who knew there would be so much to say about sports? Remember, SI comes out every week pretty much, so with special issues, the swimsuit issue (which is as big as the JCPenney catalog; Yeah, and is that necessary? No, it’s not), anniversary extras, and the months that our subscriptions overlapped and we got two of each issue, we’re talking about some 600 magazines. Some were worth keeping, since a lot has happened in sports since 2002. When my son started getting this magazine, LeBron James hadn’t yet signed with the Cavs, Lance Armstrong had only won four Tours de France, Brett Favre looked like he was 14, and nobody in baseball was taking steroids.
  • Drumsticks. No one in our house ever played the drums. Ever.
  • Enough empty Red Bull, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Monster cans to build this:

But I resisted the temptation.

  • Lots of movie stubs, theater and concert programs, receipts, birthday cards and boarding passes that I couldn’t decide were junk or keepsake memorabilia. No one is as sentimental as me, but it’s possible that they wanted to remember that trip to Dunkin Donuts in February 2009 for some reason.
  • A mouth guard that I spent several hundred dollars on, which was not covered under insurance but was oh so necessary. Clean as a whistle. Obviously has never seen the inside of a mouth.
  • A bunch of my stuff. Books that I swore I owned but could never find, the good scissors, all the Sharpies, and a couple of DVDs that they bought me for Christmas. I’m starting to wonder if they want me to have anything nice at all.

I read an article once in which a psychologist attempted to explain why teenagers have messy rooms. One of the reasons was “futility.”  It’s just going to get messy again, so why bother cleaning it when my time is better spent watching TV and eating Pringles? And then I’ll toss the empty can onto the pile of clothes I just brought home from H&M, which are now mixed in with the clothes to give to Goodwill. And then I’ll ponder the meaning of life. I’m sorry, but teenagers are not allowed to use “futility” for a reason not to do something their mother wants them to do. Suddenly they’re now the philosopher?

When they come home for the first break, there better be no complaints about what I’ve done in their rooms. I got your futility, right here.


Who Are These People in This Photo of Us?

My husband and I recently took a ride to the beach in his convertible with the top down. We walked along the water in our bare feet for an hour and then went to a little French café that we like, and had breakfast, coffee and mimosas. And then we got down on our knees and thanked the baby Jesus that we have the life that we do.

But it wasn’t until we looked at some photos that we had taken of the two of us in the car, that we realized how we look to outsiders. My husband said it best:

“Crap. We’re ‘active old people.’”

I knew exactly what he meant. The parents of adult children in the new Toyota commercial who would rather go mountain biking than have Facebook friends. The couple in the Viagra commercial who are still hot for each other but sensible enough to wait until the grandkids leave before they do the horizontal hokey pokey. The white-haired pair on the cover of Modern Maturity, with smiles so big and white, they’ll light up your mailbox.

Not that we don’t want to be Active Old People. It beats the alternative: Being Sedentary Old People. But do we have to be them now? This soon?  It seems like just yesterday I was surrounded by little kids. Between them, the dog, the other people’s kids, the laundry, the homework (I could go on indefinitely, but you get the picture), I was about as far away from a Sunday morning cocktail and a walk on the beach as you could get.

I should have seen it coming, though. Some obvious clues: One, the fact that my husband drives a convertible two-seater sports car. And two, we are not spending our Sunday mornings at a soccer game, a swim lesson, teaching Sunday School or volunteering in the children’s nursery at church. And yet we’re up and dressed on Sunday morning, despite #2.  That has Active Old People written all over it.

As for the car, there’s a reason why, when you see a snazzy sports car on the road, and pull up next to it, there’s never some young thing driving it. There’s always some geezer behind the wheel. One of life’s ironies is that by the time you can afford a sports car, you’re too old to remember why you wanted one.

Dorm Room Shopping for Girls is Not for the Faint of Heart

I thought I knew everything about buying dorm room necessities. I knew squat.

I had installed two boys into dorm rooms multiple times. I had been lulled into thinking that all college kids were as simple as Medieval priests or Peace Corp volunteers or other people who get off on the vow of poverty.

“Do you need a shelf to put books on?” I asked my son, when I was helping him unpack into his dorm room two years ago.

“No, I’ll just use this old cardboard box I grabbed from the common room garbage can,” he said. “Once the Pepsi and pizza sauce dries off of it, it’ll be fine.”

“What color bedspread do you want?” I asked him when we were shopping for his dorm room supplies.

“The unbleached muslin is fine, or what about that one on sale?

“It has Bratz dolls on it.”


When shopping with my boys, they got into the pattern of repeating back to me whatever item it was that I was asking about.

“What kind of pillow do you want?

“Mom. It’s a pillow.”

“Do you want this extension cord with the V shaped outlets or the one with the safety switch? The brown one or the green one?”

“Mom. It’s a cord.”

So I learned to just be cool about the dorm room stuff and act all nonchalant.

Dude. It’s a dorm room.

Then along comes my daughter, who – let’s be clear about this – is not a princess, is not a girly-girl, is not spoiled in the least. So I was a little thrown when we went to Bed Bath & Beyond for our big dorm room shopping trip and left with only a handful of things crossed off our list.

“Bedspread,” I read off the list. “Here’s one. It’s black and will hide dirt.”

“I was thinking I should get a really warm down comforter and a duvet cover,” my daughter said.

“OK, here’s a down comforter . . .”

“Well, which one should we get? Which one is warmest?” she said. “I want to be really warm.”

The duvet cover wasn’t easy either.

“I want it to be a dark color but not necessarily a solid color. But not a print. Maybe something with a very, very small pattern on it.” Yeah. We didn’t find one that day.

Pillows had to be lined up and tested. Sheet sets had to be opened and felt for softness. Even the hangers had to be mulled over. She ended up getting two sets of soft fuzzy hangers in tropical coordinating, contrasting colors.

In the end, I’m sure her dorm room will be a lot more functional than her brothers’ rooms were. And it will probably be better looking. And she’ll make her roommate happier. And most importantly, we’re sure not to have a repeat of the Clashing Extension Cord Disaster of 2010.


In the Night Kitchen

This morning I solved another case of What Did the Kids Do While I and the Rest of America Slept: They ate $150 worth of food and drank a half gallon of milk and a bunch of Diet Pepsis and Frappuccinos.

Because I currently have two adult children under my roof, my family is split evenly between day walkers and the nocturnal ones. My husband and I get up at 5 a.m. and go nonstop until we fall asleep in front of whatever 9 o’clock show is on. The kids, however, get up sometime between noon and late afternoon, start out slow, gain momentum around 11 p.m. and build to an energy peak at around 4 a.m.

So after dinner (which is their late brunch) my husband and I go to bed and the kids still have a couple of meals to get through before they call it a day.

When I get up in the morning and walk into the kitchen, I feel like Bones arriving at a crime scene. This plate has remnants of fried eggs, but the skillet is saying ‘meat byproduct’  . . . There are four empty Mountain Dew bottles, so it’s possible some outsiders were brought in . . . oh and thank god someone ate that leftover rice. It was 3 hours away from being turquoise.

I remember not that long ago, I was putting food in front of them at the dinner table when it was still light out, pouring everyone a big glass of 2% milk and that was that. After dishes were done, the kitchen stayed cleaned up until the next morning.

Now, the mess that they leave (and that’s another story for another time. Feel free to chime in and tell me what a loser mom I am for allowing my kids to not wash their own dishes. You’ll get no argument from me) is like reading their diaries. Once, my daughter made eggs with her boyfriend and I was so confused. There were the eggy dishes in the dishwasher but I didn’t remember putting them there . . . If someone ate eggs, where was the spatula? Where was the pan?

“Did you guys make eggs?” I asked them.

Yes, they said. They made eggs.

“Where’s the pan?”

The boyfriend was a little taken aback by my shrill, cracking voice.

It hadn’t occurred to me that somewhere there was a woman who had a grown son who washed his dishes when he was done cooking. Or that I might have the good fortune to have that son come over to my house and cook with my daughter.

But how does his mom know anything about him?

Welcome to My Life and Yours

Debut blog posts are difficult. I feel the need to introduce myself, but no one wants to read a long boring bio. So here are the relevant things you need to know if you’re going to follow my blog, Surviving Empty Nest:

I grew up in a small town in Ohio, where I was a nerd, became a journalist-with-a-heart, got married, had some kids, quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom, moved all over the country, drove a mini-van and had a wedge, became a band mom/track mom/soccer mom, spent Friday nights drinking wine and falling asleep in front of the TV and trying to outsnore my husband, started writing a blog, baked a lot, took a lot of photographs, wrote a book in vain, and became increasingly aware that someday my youngest  would leave home and – – then what?

I was never the kind of mom whose life revolved around my kids. Even when my life revolved around my kids. Sure my days were filled with doing things with them and for them – from the lunches I packed minutes after my feet hit the floor after getting out of bed in the morning, to the taxi service I ran for them and every kid within a 3 mile radius, to the laundry I folded, to the gum I scraped off the bottom of their shoes. And my nights were no better: Instead of clubbing, my husband and I spent weekend nights at the Tinky Winky Super Grapes soccer team pizza party or the cross country banquet or the eighth grade awards night, none of which allowed alcohol. (The punishment for being caught with a spiked Pepsi was a two-year-term as vice president of the PTA.)

I gladly did all those things and enjoyed them. But when Empty Nest was lurking around the next corner, I started to hear a lot of people say, “Ooooh, what are you going to do when your daughter goes away to college?” “Ooooh, what are you going to do in that house all by yourself?”   “Ooooh, you and your husband should take a nice trip to take your mind off of the extreme loneliness that you’ll feel when your BABIES HAVE LEFT YOU to pursue their own lives and drink keg beer.” “Ooooh, you guys should get a dog.”

Possibly the worst thing I’ve done as a parent – the least maternal thing – was that I did not fall apart, did not curl up into a fetal position, did not need meds over my kids growing up and leaving me to pursue my own new life, one without Gatorade, permission slips, well-child visits or Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Sure, I was sad. Yes, I even cried a little bit, especially when looking at their baby pictures. And God knows I love them, almost too much maybe.

But I always knew I would be OK. Being the mom of young children is super cool. Always has been. I’m surprised there’s not more in the Bible about Mary’s adventures when Jesus was a toddler and in elementary school. It really rocks. But I was fine before I had kids and I’d be fine after they moved out.

It’s good to have a plan. So after considering my options (get a real job, get a master’s degree, move happy hour up to 11 a.m., clean out my closets once and for all, run for Congress) I decided to share my Empty Nest wisdom with others and write a book.

I’m not the most disciplined writer. So I’ll be posting sections and chapters here as a blog as I write. I know that means that the people who follow this blog regularly will have already read the entire book before it comes out. I never was good at the business side of this writing gig.

So I’m hoping you all will comment like crazy and add your experiences, which I can steal and add to my book. I’ll throw in a few day-to-day experiences, too, just to keep things interesting.

Welcome to Surviving Empty Nest and let’s get the survival started.