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by Lindsay Mergens, AARP The Magazine, March 2007
Whether they sob uncontrollably as the last suitcase is packed, or rush into vacated bedrooms with paint brushes and fabric swatches in hand, all parents would agree that when a child leaves home, life is irreversibly altered in ways from imperceptible to drastic. Watching your baby venture out into the "real world" is anything but an ordinary experience, and in The Empty Nest, 31 contributors—including such notables as Anna Quindlen, Harry Shearer, Ellen Levine, and Susan Shreve—describe "empty nest syndrome" in essays that speak to the universality of this rite of passage and evoke every emotion in the spectrum.
In "Regime Change," New York Times writer-at-large Charles McGrath remembers dropping his son off at college 10 years ago and reflects on this milestone as he and his wife move between creating a "grandchild trap" in their home and savoring the tranquil time they have alone. In "Juggling Lite," Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist Ellen Goodman muses about parenthood ("Is there any other job that defines success as becoming unnecessary?") as she remembers when her daughter was settling into post-collegiate life. Writer Fabiola Santiago ponders her return to singlehood after her youngest leaves home in "The Science of Ghost Hunting." Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founder of Ms. magazine, asserts the positive aspects of a childless home in "Epiphanies of the Empty Nest" (epiphany number one: "You lose a kid, you gain a sex life.") And in her essay "Proof of Love," the book's editor examines how her business travels eventually paved the way for her daughter's seemingly effortless transition from home to college.
Representing the full range of families—two-parent homes, divorced parents, single parents, gay parents, grandparents, even godparents—and including the perspectives of both moms and dads, the essays offer healthy doses of reassurance, funny shocks of recognition, and plenty of food for thought, whether your child has been gone for years or will be packing his bags this summer. Whether you're counting the days or dreading the prospect, The Empty Nest reminds us that even though the nest may be empty, life is still full.
Lindsay Mergens is a freelance writer living in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. She has a fully feathered nest that won't be empty until at least 2025, when the second of her two chicks will fly—or be pushed—from the coop.
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