Echo Chamber

This empty nest thing is for the birds. (Pun intended.) I feel like I should enjoy this silence after years of rambunctious kids and their singing and shouting, TV blaring cartoons through the house, dancing, laughter and fighting. Now  the house is just so quiet.

On a good note, I’m getting more proficient at self-talk. I can almost carry on a whole conversation with myself while walking through the grocery store. I’m not the only one afflicted. I saw a friend in the chip aisle the other day. We were both stocking up for graduation parties. I saw her before she saw me, and didn’t recognize anyone around us she might have been talking to. I approached her and laughingly asked if she was talking to herself. She nodded semi-sheepishly. I think we’ve both come to terms with a certain amount of crazy.

They say you should live long enough to embarrass your kids. I have, but they’re not around enough to be embarrassed.

I get it. Kids need their space. My head knows this. I’ve been an independent young person aching to stretch my wings. I lived through the days of no cell phones and probably didn’t call my mom as much as I should have. (Mom, I’m sorry I put you through this.) My head is on board. My heart, however, feels like it’s being ripped out of my chest and trampled on the ground in front of me. (Okay, only slightly dramatic.)

The thing is, I saw my mom starting to teeter with empty nest syndrome, but I was the eldest and didn’t take much time to look back over my shoulder. She coped by adopting a whole new family’s worth of kids, thereby extending her motherhood years by another eighteen. I was not willing to go that route. I looked forward to the day Mr. A and I could spend some quality time together sans kids. The appeal of a $30 dinner bill loomed in the near future. We could go out to eat 3 or 4 times for what it cost to take the family, all of whom are lovers of strawberry lemonade (at $4.00 a pop). We could go to the beach on a whim and not hear anyone complain about the cold or try to figure out an activity that everyone wanted to do. We could watch documentaries without eye rolls. Yet here I am, longing for those days, for the structure of the family web and the love and support we provide each other.

Determined not to be that parent frantically trying to hold onto my kids as they perched precariously at the edge of adulthood, I went back to school and finished up my teaching degree. I wanted a life, something to fall back on after motherhood, an airbag to fill the space left by my fledglings. The thing is, motherhood doesn’t end. Those babies whose first steps you worry about become preschoolers who learn to ride bikes and teenagers who start to drive and develop relationships and head off to college, and you never stop worrying about them. It’s a mentally exhausting job. My life is inextricably intertwined with those of my kids, bonds I’m sure they’re only too eager to hack at with the machete of youth.

I know they’re busy. I was too, at their age. The days go by and my phone doesn’t ring. Texts go unanswered, and then all of a sudden they are there, cheery and wanting to talk, and for a moment, life goes back to the way it used to be. Too soon the conversation ends, and I’m surrounded by silence once more. I’ll be glad to one day reach a state of equilibrium.

In the meantime, won’t you join me in crying over this clip from Toy Story? I’m certain the song was written by an empty-nester.

Cowardly Dog


My dog is a coward.

It’s a trait not normally associated with dogs. There are no movies, to my knowledge, about cowardly dogs. Instead, these animals, touted as man’s best friend, are supposed to go to the ends of the earth for you. They are our guardians, barking ferociously at intruders no matter how diminutive they may be or how likely they are to smother them with doggy kisses when they actually meet. They are supposed to take on a cougar or a bear to defend us. Lassie went to the end of the earth for Timmy. Toto, small though he was, never let Dorothy down. And then there’s Old Yeller, who paid the ultimate price for his devotion. These brave and loyal companions are the epitome of what we love in a dog.

My dog doesn’t have these traits.

She is no spring pup. She’s well into her third year on earth and has been with us since we rescued her from her bouncy, hyper litter of thirteen. We are no strangers to each other. There’s no doubt she loves me, and not merely as the provider of food. She gets excited when she sees me, jumping and dropping sticks, balls, and frisbees at my feet. She comes when called and is eager to please.

It’s just that she expects me to protect her.

If she happens to be inside when someone knocks, she runs behind my legs, then stays in the other room while I go to check it out. When the other dogs bark, she will turn tail and run to the back door at breakneck speed. Most recently, when the fireworks were going off on the Fourth of July, we were walking through the semi-dark to get another log for the fire pit. The neighbors lit off a mortar, and she took off running, leaving me to face the danger alone.

At least she was safe.

My daughter recently made a list of the things this dog is afraid of. It includes a hula-hoop and pillows. Yes, you read that right – pillows. We have Christmas pillows that come out once a year. They are feather pillows, red and white, and whenever we even pick these pillows up, she runs to the other end of the house and hides. I don’t know where the fear of the hula-hoop came from, but unless she can conquer it, I fear she will never become a circus dog. The most recent addition to the list is the lid to the new fire pit. Whenever we pick it up to add a log (and admittedly play along with her fear by staring at her through the mesh), she looks on in terror and takes off across the yard. She has barked at me from upwind, only to sheepishly realize her mistake and beg forgiveness by grovelling at my feet. Whoever equated spinelessness with cowardice had my writhing mass of submission in mind. Does anyone have the number of a good doggie therapist?

Cowardice is defined as the shameful lack of courage in the face of danger.

My dog is a coward.

I guess I’m on my own.

On the lookout for bikes.