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the occasions lady and

Empty Nesting in a Pandemic
by Audrey Poff, illustration by Brittney Guest

Although in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic our situation may change at any moment, my husband and I now have about two weeks under our belts as empty nesters.

After we moved our youngest daughter onto the A-State campus in late August, Rodney and I began settling into a low-key routine. For the first time in more than 27 years, my daily schedule was no longer centered around raising children. Our blended family of four children – Adam, Eric, Emma and Sophie – was out the door.

Unfortunately, all of that freedom paired with an empty house created overwhelming anxiety for me, and a meltdown ensued. I knew it was coming, and I knew it wouldn’t be pretty. For a few hours though, steam mopping the dorm floor and unpacking two vehicles of furnishings kept my emotions at bay on move-in day. By the time the final Command strip was stuck to the wall though, it was me who was coming unglued.

Returning home was even harder, and I could tell Rodney wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all, so I took a much-needed nap. That evening, I decided to take a friend up on her offer to come over. An experienced empty nester, she shared her own story and helped put my mind at ease.

The next week was better, but only by happenstance, not because I managed to get a grip on my emotions. I got sick and ended up in bed with a sinus infection and an ear infection. It’s not a coping mechanism that I would recommend, but after sleeping the better part of four days, I was pretty much in a new routine by the time the antibiotics kicked in. At that point, I was just happy to feel human again.

For those who say the last bird in the nest is just across town, I realize that, and I am delighted that Sophie chose A-State. With a little planning, we can go to dinner or go shopping, and we are able to use Facetime often to catch up. For those who don’t get that it still leaves a void and marks the end of a phase to which I have dedicated more than half of my life, just kindly be quiet while I adjust to the new normal.

We thought that by the time we were empty nesters we could spend our spare time traveling, going to see movies and playing games with friends, but the pandemic has squashed most of those plans for now. On the bright side, here are a few nice things we relish about being empty nesters so far:

• My wet clothes don’t get thrown out of the washer.
• There are fewer dirty dishes in the sink.
• We had Devil Dogs from Harp’s Bakery for dinner one night just because it was a tough day.
• We no longer need to buy industrial size peanut butter.
• Streaking to the laundry room to retrieve clean clothes is an option.
• A cheese sandwich can be a meal.
• When I buy my next favorite blanket/throw, it will be mine.
• We are not responsible for feeding anyone else.
• All of the toilet paper in the house belongs to us.

It’s not much, but we will enjoy the simple things for now. College students across the country are already being quarantined and sent home, and it’s not even Labor Day yet. Stay safe, and be kind to empty nesters.