My house — make that my life — just got a whole lot quieter.
I am officially an empty-nester, having just deposited both my kids at an out-of-state university about a million miles away. I spent the weeks building up to this event buying Twin XL sheets and rain coats for their new “We’re not-in-Southern-California-anymore, Toto” home.
Fearing that I hadn’t fully prepared them to live on their own, I slipped into a habit of dispensing abrupt bits of maternal wisdom at inopportune times. “You know that you shouldn’t wash your underwear inside out, right?” I asked my daughter just as the waiter put our lunch plates down in front of us. I will always cherish her reply, the one that didn’t come with the eye roll the waiter probably expected: “Yes, Mom, you taught me that. And thank you.”
The truth is, for the most part, my kids are self-sufficient human beings. They can cook for themselves, dress themselves, book a concert ticket when they want to, and watch a YouTube video to learn how to do everything else. What they probably can’t do, though, is fill my home with noise from a distance.
And I sorely miss that noise.
I miss my son’s protest slam of the front door when I ask him to walk the dogs. I miss the screech of his brakes as he races up the driveway to make curfew with nanoseconds to spare. And I miss his gawd-awful music that I can always still hear because he insists on walking around with only one ear bud in his ear and letting the other one dangle around his neck.
“I do that, Mom, so I can hear you if you talk to me,” he says with that smile of his that melts me. I even miss hearing his excuses.
I miss the howls made by the hot water heater when two teens decide to take teen-length showers. I miss the accusations when one eats the last of the ice cream, and the threats if they worsen the crime by leaving the empty box in the freezer. Dashed ice cream hopes should be a felony.
I miss hearing my daughter trip over Harry our dog, who still lays across her bedroom doorway, not sure who he’s suppose to protect anymore. I miss the refrigerator door opening at midnight for the hungry kid who wasn’t hungry at dinnertime even though I cooked her favorite dish.
And I miss the “Hey Mom, got a sec?” interruptions — always attempted when I was rushing to meet a work deadline and also always accompanied by the implied choice of “what’s more important — me or your job?” I always allowed the interruption.
I miss the beeping sound of their constant incoming texts and their replies of “no one” when I ask “so who’s texting?” I miss their conspiratorial whispers, a Camp David approach to “telling Mom” something she won’t want to hear, and the occasional treaty violation that ended with “Mom, make him/her stop.”
I miss my daughter’s habit of reading aloud to herself and the nonsensical conversation my son starts when an alarm wakes him up from a deep sleep.
Yes, I miss my now in college children and the joy and life they have always brought to our home. But no, I’m not in the paralyzing grip of empty nest syndrome.
I just never realized how loud the silence could be.
Ann Brenoff was a staff writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, where she won a shared Pulitzer for coverage of the Northridge Earthquake. Most recently, she was a senior writer and columnist for HuffPost based in Los Angeles.