We have joined the ranks of the notorious empty nesters. I say this with eyes wide open, knowing that Empty Nest Syndrome is actually a diagnosable disorder, treatable with antidepressants and counseling, according to WebMD.
Somehow, my husband and I have managed to cope without a prescription or professional help – unless you count the jugs of red wine we’ve downed during Friday night dance parties for two, supplemented with frequent Saturdays and/or Sundays at the sports bar, where we drone on and on about lots of things that don’t have to do with child raising, as our therapeutic bartender dutifully listens and nods.
Of course, we go there to watch our former hometown heroes, the Philadelphia Phillies, over a burger and a pitcher of beer. That’s not the same as drowning our sorrows over our birdless nest, or drowning out the phantom chirps of the ghosts of baby birds past, who have long since flown the coop.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when Jim and I acknowledge we will never again experience anything as joyful as a crowded Christmas morning with a houseful of happy kids, or the parental peace that settles in after every child you are responsible for keeping alive is tucked in their own bed, safe and sound.
I will admit that sometimes I long for the good old days, when all it took to materialize my son for his favorite chicken casserole was a declarative text message, like: “Food!” It was magical. He’d come bounding down from his third-floor lair in no time flat and satisfy my maternal need to feed something on demand.
Similarly, I could always count on spending quality mother-daughter time with my fashion-forward daughter by sending a simple, “Want to go to the mall?” text, and before you could say “Do I look fat in these skinny jeans?” we were on the road, Julie riding shotgun in the minivan, allowing me to peek through the tinted window of her current hopes and dreams.
All that changed when my younger son moved out in January, ending what had been a pretty good 38-year run of life with kids starring our own four, plus a revolving cast of supporting characters – teenagers who unofficially adopted us as substitute parents.
Many of them stayed on full time for as long as they needed, which has added to the sense that our big, empty house has never been bigger or more empty.
I don’t know, but maybe the reason Empty Nest Syndrome is no longer the mental health issue it once was is because the technology is so much better these days than when my parents had to figure out how to go on living without children in and out at all hours of the day and night.
I don’t sit by the phone and wait around for a kid to call to let me know how their life is going.
For one thing, we got rid of our landline.
But besides, my smart phone delivers automatic text alerts whenever my oldest, Aimée, checks in somewhere near her home in Pennsylvania, including the names of everyone she’s checking in with. It’s like having a private investigator on duty.
I am also thankful that my son’s girlfriend posts frequently on Instagram. I now know when Bill is enjoying a picnic at the beach, or eating a large piece of cheesecake at a restaurant on the coast.
Without technology, I might get antsy wondering if my oldest son, Neil, has settled in to his new life in New York City, since moving back to the states from Japan earlier this month.
But thanks to his Facebook updates and occasional tweets, I know he’s staying with friends on the Upper West Side, and is still looking for a lead on a cheap apartment in a nice neighborhood. I also know he’s missing Tokyo, and that the city that never sleeps always changes.
And then there’s my youngest, Julie. I watched her airplane make its way from Portland, Ore., to Fort Worth, Texas, Tuesday night using an app that also informed me of her current elevation and the trajectory of her flight as it entered an animated thunderstorm on Doppler radar.
I knew her flight was going to be 15 minutes late to Logan Airport, which gave me just enough time to park and find my way to the Spirit Airlines baggage carousel.
For all the virtual long-distance mothering I’ve done, I have to say that technology has nothing on the actual feeling you get when you wrap your arms around your well-traveled child after her long flight home.
In fact, nothing beats seeing your kids in real time. That’s why I totally understand how Empty Nest Syndrome could be a problem for someone who doesn’t embrace technology. It’s practically painless to be the mother of four grown children.
Yes, I hover over my iPhone. A lot.
And while my husband and I are enjoying our second wind as a carefree couple, I also know that whenever the nest needs a little livening up, all I have to do is tag my son in a photo of my chicken casserole on Facebook, and he will find his way home in time to finish the leftovers faster than a hungry homing pigeon.
(Carol Robidoux is a freelance writer who lives in Manchester and editor of manchesterinklink.com).