Trip to becoming empty-nesters went too fast


They don’t talk about the quiet in the house.

Instead friends tell you all the fun you’ll have together, all the freedom you’ll finally achieve, once your kids are gone away to college.

The problem is that they tell you in a chatty, excited voice, extolling the benefits of “reconnecting as a couple” and how we’ll be able to take classes together, trips, adventures, weekends, whatever.

John Kass2

Betty smiles, pretending to like what she’s hearing, and I smile and pretend to like it too.

We don’t want to be rude to the chatty, well-meaning people who have gone through it before and sent their kids away to college.

In the back of my mind they’re just a tad too enthusiastic, too chirpy, like terrified North Korean tour guides extolling the virtues of their psycho dictator.

Or like dedicated dieters telling you how they never miss bread.

Bread? Who likes bread? Nobody. I hate bread too, don’t you? Bread? You’ve got to be kidding. Bread? Who needs it?

It’s all so desperately earnest. And so we, too, feign enthusiasm for this freedom from our twins.

Betty puts her hand on my knee and squeezes gently, warning me not to say anything too stupid. But I just can’t help it.

So in a chirpy voice, I say to a friend: You mean we can take art classes together? Like decoupage?

“Yes,” says our friend, “all the classes you want.”

I lied about the decoupage. Obviously, being artsy like other journalists, I have vaguely heard of it.

But if I ever take a decoupage class or even learn what the heck it really is, then I hope somebody reading this smacks me on the back of the head with a shovel.

Just swing away and leave me face down on the ground.

I’m sure the decoupage addicts will be incensed, but I don’t care. I’m not in a very good mood.

Because this is taking some getting used to. I didn’t expect it to be this way, but it is, with the boys going away soon and all this freedom awaiting us, I’m overwhelmed.

So I grit my teeth and smile as we hear more about all the newfound freedoms that will be available to us:

Like brunches on the weekends, camping trips, lectures, theater at the drop of a hat, concerts and learning bonsai since I’ll have all that time on my hands.

Or perhaps writing a novel about a crooked city, or taking real estate seminars, even learning Esperanto since you never know when you’ll need it to communicate with random diplomats.

If you want to take this to extremes, I suppose we can even dress up in superhero costumes to go to some idiotic pop culture conventions where they call comic books “literature.”

Now the comic-books-as-literature collective will no doubt write angry letters, or perhaps they’ll just use crayons and stick figures to insist that comic books are, indeed, literature.

An artist friend just told me over lunch that when his sons left home for college and the house was empty, he and his wife hit on a new thing.

I ordered a gin and tonic with bitters and listened to him explain it.

“With the kids gone, you can run around naked in the house and no one cares,” he said. “You might try that.”

That’s positively, what’s the old word, bohemian?

Everybody tells us the world will be our oyster when our boys leave for college.

But when the friends with the lists of new freedoms are gone, Betty and I just sit there on the couch and stare at each other.

“Arts and crafts?” she says. “Are you kidding?”

The way the freedom singers tell it, my wife and I will probably be like those actors in a TV commercial, selling joint supplements or exotic coffee, it really doesn’t matter, just as long as the landscape suggests absolute parental freedom.

We’re near a mountain stream, and she looks great as always, my lovely Sicilian, she’s painting watercolors in this commercial of ours.

And I’m doing something manly, maybe in a Carhartt jacket for some extra middle-aged hipster manliness. I’m drinking coffee, with a trout under my arm, and we stare at the mountain that we’ll conquer with our cool off-road vehicle.

Only I don’t want to drive an off-road vehicle across a mountain with my watercolor-painting wife, anticipating some idiotic arts-and-crafts class at the community center.

She doesn’t paint watercolors. And I’m not going to waste money on a hipster jacket. The next step would be spandex bike shorts, and then you’d have to hit me with the shovel again.

We’re proud of the boys and that they’re going off to college. We want them to leave the nest. We’ve been planning and saving for this for years. They’re excited they’re going. And we’re excited for them.

But this is coming up so fast.

I remember when the boys were toddlers, and readers warned me about the cruelty of time. And a few readers said I wouldn’t listen because nobody ever really listens.

And now it’s coming up faster than I thought possible, faster than I can comprehend.

Freedom is almost at hand.

It’s not announced by bells ringing. Instead, I figure you hear it in the quiet of the house.

(John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also hosts a radio show on WLS-AM. His e-mail address is: [email protected], and his Twitter handle is @john_kass.)

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