Empty Nest 
Date: Wed, 25 Oct 2000 
by Mark: Hertzberg 

His bags and the van are packed.

The stuff that's been lying around all summer - papers, pictures, odds and ends - is picked up.

He and his friends have been saying their good-byes, and went on a farewell camping trip two weeks ago.

He tells me he's leaving us his car with a full tank of gas. It's about 15 hours before he heads out, and he's in the basement playing video games.

His mood? He says he's anxious, not nervous, but anxious to get up there.

Up there is college, the same school his brother has been at for three years.

He's our second and youngest son, and three months after graduating from high school, he's off to begin a new chapter in his life.

Since 1984 "school" has meant report cards, notes and envelopes with the seal of the Racine Unified School District. Now, school for both boys is six hours away, at the University of Minnesota.

Jefferson, McKinley, and Park High's orange and blue are in the past now; their school colors are Minnesota's maroon and gold. The Park Panther has been replaced by Goldie Gopher.

That's not all that's changed.

No more parents' nights at school just a few blocks from home.

No more Saturdays at soccer games or cross country meets.

No more running into your kid somehwere over lunch and stopping to grab a bite with him.

No more notes on the kitchen counter to or from the kids.

No more asking if they've done their homework before they head out for the evening to see friends.

No more Sunday afternoon hockey games together at the rink in Kenosha.

No more coming home to a delicious meal cooked by the one who watches Chef Emeril on the food channel.

No more walking past an open bedroom door and seeing one son or the other asleep, 21 years after the first one came home from the hospital.

No more shoes to trip over in the dining room because they weren't carried upstairs.

No more mounds of laundry.

No more lines for the bathroom.

No more four towels and four toothbrushes.

No more buying whole milk as well as skim milk.

No more lights snapping on in the hallway after midnight waking us up, when they come home from a night out.

No more dirty dishes left out after a 2 a.m. snack.

No more, no more, no more...

There are lots of no mores that will be tough to get used to.

We have e-mail and we have a cell phone with lots of free long distance minutes. It's time to let go, though.

I never understood people who said they couldn't wait for their kids to be out of the house. I haven't looked forward to this day, not for one second.

I never understood the people who slap and curse their children in public over insignificant things.

I hear people say that the empty nest isn't so bad after all, that you really get to enjoy it. We'll see, because now I understand how much I've taken the boys for granted as a part of our everyday existence.

This evening we stopped on an evening walk and talked to neighbors whose children had just started kindergarten and first grade. The mom cried on the first day of school, they told us. So will we.

We'll smile, and slightly envy people we see pushing infants in strollers, throwing a ball in the park with their kids, and so on, and so on.

What are you doing Saturday afternoon? We're free, the kids are gone, and there's nothing on the calendar...

Mark Hertzberg is Director of Photography of The Journal Times. 
He can be reached at mhertzberg@journaltimes.com or at 631-1719.


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