Empty Nests and Full Bookshelves

booksThe scene played suddenly on my mental movie screen: — me, in front of some kind of 12-step support group, anxiously staring at my shoes. Then, in a quavering voice:

“Hello, my name is Tom, and I am a book-a-holic.”

A muffled response arose. It sounded something like, “Hello, Tom,” but their chins were all buried in their chests as their heads drooped toward the books, Nooks, Kindles, tablets and phones in their laps, so it was kind of hard to make out exactly what they said.

This vision came to mind as I carted yet another laundry basket of the 700-plus books that comprise my personal library down from the attic above the garage, then up the stairs in my house to my new office.

My first thought: “Jeez, I have a lot of books!”

My second thought: “Wow, my back is killing me!”

Neither thought was exactly accurate.

First, these were just the books that would fit into my new space. They don’t include the dozens more still up in the attic or that my daughters have borrowed.

Not to mention the 103 on my own Nook – which are a whole lot lighter and easier to tote than their more traditionally-bound brethren.

My wife Kellie and I are both voracious readers. However, I tend to read both compulsively and obsessively – I stumble onto an author and buy everything by that person. And I refuse to part with most of my books, whereas she easily gives most of hers away (a serious character flaw, if you ask me…)

And second, back spasms weren’t the only pain involved in this process.

My “new office” is actually our youngest daughter’s “old bedroom.”

See, we’re now, officially Empty Nesters.

I admit that many people do not see this status as reason for emotional anxiety (much less physical strain). But, truth be told, I’ve struggled with this transition.

To be sure, it has its good points.

First and foremost is the welcome feeling that we have adequate space again. For the last few years, two full-grown adults, two adolescents and first one, then another small Shi Tzu struggled to carve and claim some room in our comfy-but-space-challenged house.

Twenty-one years ago, our first – and so far, only – home perfectly suited our young family. No basement? No problem! Not much room beyond the three small bedrooms, 1.5 baths, living room, family room and kitchen? No worries! We were merely two adults, a three-year-old and an infant. (Shi Tzu’s don’t take up much space.)

But then our kids did that irritating thing that kids tend to do: grow.

They became tweens and then teens, commandeering more space. Things got tighter with each passing birthday, but we fully expected to move in a few years in any case, so no big whoop.

Then we, like many others, ran Titanic-like into the frozen iceberg of the Great Recession. Moving was simply not in the cards.

Instead we made do. Two adults and now two young adults (and the ever-present, ever-sleeping Shi Tzu) shoehorned into a house that even Mother Hubbard might have found a bit snug.

To accommodate, both Kellie and I sacrificed any personal space beyond our bedroom. Both professionals, with hobbies and side interests, yet neither of us with an office or workroom or hobby nook. “That’s ok, when the girls move out…” we placated each other, while mentally measuring the floor space in their bedrooms.

Soon – too soon for me, I admit – the time came.

Emma, our oldest moved in with her fiancé a year before their wedding. Kellie flipped Emma’s bedroom into a sewing and cross stitching haven faster than a reality television show. Great. Good for her. Well-earned and much deserved.

For me? Not so easily done.

Olivia, our youngest moved out a couple months ago. Knowing that I was still having a tough “Dad Transition”, Kellie sincerely encouraged me to make over Olivia’s bedroom into the office and writing space that I had craved for two decades.

She knew that if she didn’t gently nudge me in the right direction, I might wander around the muddy field of my malaise forever, like a dumb farm animal untethered, but unable to see the open gate at the end of the barbed wire fence.

She was right.

It took a while to screw up the courage to move the desk and chair up the stairs and load that first basket of books from the attic. But now, after a few weeks of organizing and re-organizing, I like it. A lot.

Not just the new office. The new nest, too.

See, the real challenge wasn’t the lack of space in our house. Rather, it was how much space my kids take in my heart, brain and spirit.

I love our daughters. But, parents must love their kids. It says so in the contract.

My problem, is that I LIKE our children. I truly enjoy spending time with my kids because I admire the young adults they’ve become.

During one of many self-pitying (me, not her) conversations about our daughters’ new lives, Kellie bluntly stated what should have been obvious all along. We raised two smart, talented, hard-working, caring, loving, thoughtful, successful and happy young adults who will contribute much to the world thanks, in part, to us.

We have done our jobs, she said. Now it is time for us to do something else, and for them to find and make their own places in the world.

(This was about the zillionth time in our 32 years together that Kellie had patiently helped me see a forest of truth ridiculously obscured by the gnarled trees of my own emotions. Maybe one of these days I’ll figure out how to thank her…)

Certainly, I miss our girls.

Obviously, it was easier to share their company when we shared the same living space, if for sheer logistics if nothing else. But to wish them home again just to appease my own parental pining is arrogant, silly and selfish.

And you know what? It’s fine.

We still talk daily as they run between work and their new homes. We have lunch occasionally (I insist on buying – I am still Dad.) And they stop by to raid our freezer and wash their clothes (surprise, surprise…) Plus, that’s why God invented big kitchen tables, Monopoly, weekends and holidays.

And as an extra bonus, I finally have my own little room where I can stretch my legs, listen to my music, type a few thoughts and chat with 800 friends.



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