My Empty Nest

March 10, 2013 | By | Comments (11)
my empty nest m My Empty Nest

Illustration by Jack Unruh

The boy has gone off to college now. And here I am, left with all the peace and quiet I have learned not to miss.

I was not a man who wished for children. It seemed contrary to the notion of human happiness, like wishing for chiggers, or tinnitus, or the more awful forms of gout. I was single most of my life and therefore content, and parenthood was something that afflicted other people. I watched it from a distance, and shuddered.

When they were small, children seemed to scream for no apparent reason. As teenagers they seemed to lose all sanity, pinging through mood swings like Ricochet Rabbit and marking their bodies with more tattoos than a harpooner from Moby Dick, while listening to music with more foul language than my uncles used drunk at a rooster fight. In between infancy and high school graduation (if their parents were lucky), they were mostly just unclean.

Then one entered my life. I did not plan on him. He just came in the package, like a ninth piece of chicken in an eight-piece box, and, in time, made me pay for all the happiness I had enjoyed. He was 11 when he appeared, past the screaming years and before the age where everything that fell from my mouth was deemed idiotic. I got him in the unclean years, when I tried to avoid close contact with him because I was never quite certain where he had been. This is the child who once licked spaghetti sauce off the underside of his arm. No more needs to be said.

When he discovered girls he got much cleaner, but suddenly I was unfit to be around. I always said the wrong thing, or a dumb thing, or too loud a thing. Once, in an Indian restaurant, I was banned from speaking at all. When he had a girl over, I was banished to whatever room he was farthest from, like a cave troll.

“I used to be cool,” I said. “Some people think I still am.”

He gave me a pitying look. So did his mom.

And now he is gone to college and I miss him, which is how I know there is indeed a God and He is a great Prankster, and knows how to make a man pay for his transgressions. He remembers that long-ago day I sulked in my too-small airplane seat, thinking over and over that the screaming baby one row over should have been left at home, even if it meant her grandparents would not see her until the cotillion.

I am not alone in this sadness in our house, in this empty nest. I barely even had a nest, before it was empty, though I guess I have no one to blame but me. His mom misses him, too, of course. Even the dog misses him.

The dog loved the boy. Woody Bo met him every day at the door after school, knowing he was home because every time the boy locked his car it gave a short, quick honk. Woody, who is too fat to jump (usually), bounded into the air at the sound, defying gravity, flinging rugs about and destroying furniture on a wild-eyed dash to the door. A dog should love his boy, I suppose.

His world is in pieces now. The boy has been gone for months. The dog will not even go in his room—not one time since he left. Recently, my wife had to use the boy’s car and, unsure if she had locked it, aimed the fancy remote thingamajig at the window and pressed “lock.” The horn gave its quick honk and the dog bounded into the air, raced to the door and squirmed, his tail wagging.

He sat there a long time.

I guess I know how he feels.


  1. Lynda Howard

    I just read your wacky account of life with children. You made my day start off with such a fun memories rolling around in my mind. Thank you for your talent with words.

    September 18, 2015 at 9:41 am
  2. Eli

    Hi Rick,

    me and my wife were empty nesters as well and althogh my wife is a licensed marriage therapist we took it pretty hard. We decided to work hard and rekindle our relationship and reconnect by going on several adventures ranging from Tuscany, Jerusalem and even going on a Safari.

    While seeing the world we discovered we could live with less and invest more in our relationship. That’s when we had the great idea to offer this kind of experience to other couples as well

    So we created our website
    Basically couples who struggle to rekindle their passion can go on a vacation, relax and at the same time confront head-on the core issues that have taken them in different directions.

    kind regards,

    April 4, 2013 at 1:28 am
  3. Nancy gordon

    You always put it perfectly! And what a joy for you all to find each other.

    March 12, 2013 at 3:11 pm
  4. christine brady

    When my son left for college I thought I would lose my mind.
    The supermarket used to trip me up; for the first time in nearly two decades I didn’t have to worry if I had the things he liked to eat in the house.
    I was suddenly bereft of one of the most precious responsibilities of my life- feeding my son. I know it sounds melodramatic but thinking on it now still brings a tear to this mama’s eye and he moved out four years ago, and is happy on his own in the big world.
    As ever, Mr. Bragg, I surely enjoyed your piece.

    March 12, 2013 at 1:59 pm
  5. Merle T. Harris

    Beautifully described. I had girls and all have moved on now but the feelings you expressed I felt tinge when each moved on. But the last one to leave left the hole. Thanks to God we do move on and enjoy with them their and our new stages of life.

    March 12, 2013 at 12:54 pm
  6. Polly

    Thanks for sharing Rick. This is a prime example of why we need to live in the moment and enjoy it as it comes. In hindsight I’m so grateful for every moment we had. The chores, the bills, the errands will all be there, and when the kids aren’t, there is too much time to get it all done. As for me and my dog…I miss him too.

    March 12, 2013 at 12:13 pm
  7. Pattye Stanfield

    In time they come back usually not alone. With the love of their lives and some “munchkins” of their own for you to love too! I know, we started with three children and how they have multiplied! Life is great. We are blessed. Hang in there! 🙂

    March 12, 2013 at 11:31 am
  8. Cindy

    Brought tears of laughter and sadness to my eyes…My son is a first-year college student…I didn’t know how quiet a house could be until he left!

    March 12, 2013 at 11:28 am
  9. georgie kearns

    This says it all – my baby got married in Lynchburg Virginia this weekend!
    Well said!!!

    March 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm
  10. Vickie H.

    Aw Rick! This was so tender & sweet! Loved every word! And you, ever the master of the side-splitting analogy! You remain a literary treasure!!! God bless you, your wife and that lucky boy.

    March 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm
  11. Sheryl Harlow

    Rick, that was a great article. As a mom of a college freshman and a college junior, I could relate, right down to the dog (but we have cats too). Thanks for your eloquent words.

    March 10, 2013 at 7:17 pm

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