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college kids

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Empty nest? Seriously? I almost want to laugh maniacally when people ask about our empty nest.

For starters, we have a dog and two cats, which means that our nest, such as it is, has plenty of creatures with ongoing needs. One of our neighbors even asks regularly about our “little one.” It still takes me a second to realize she’s not inquiring about our children, who are anything but little, but our dog, who is also over 80 pounds.

The pandemic and the weather have disrupted so much over the last few years that we half expect to see one or both of our children at the airport or on our doorstep at any given moment.

Sure, we’ve had a few weeks where we’ve been on our own (with our pets), but in between, we’ve entertained visitors thrilled to travel again. We, ourselves, have also traveled back and forth to visit family, which means that the whole us-time has morphed into a collection of pet feedings and short trips.

Like so many other parents of college kids, we welcomed our children back to our home recently. It’s a wonderful chance to see them face to face, when they pick their heads up from their phones, and to connect the dots on snippets of their lives that they’ve shared from a distance.

The dog, who loves both of our children something fierce and whose tail threatens to detach from his hindquarters and float to the ceiling each time they return, is completely exhausted. After a few late nights with the kids and their friends, the dog reaches the sidewalk in front of the house, stands stock still, and stares at me, as if to say, “you want me to walk now? Do you have any idea how late I stayed up?”

Once I coax him, in between clenched teeth, away from the house, he still stops at random places, eager to turn around and lay down.

The dog loves it when I chat with a neighbor, which gives him a chance to plop down on the grass and pant, as if I’ve taken him much further than the 1/8th of a mile from our home.

During a recent such pause, a neighbor shared the joy/frustration of having his two children in his house. His wife wants to institute strict rules about comings, goings, and living-under-their-roof. His son, a junior at a nearby college, is delighted for the home-cooked meals, but not so much for the home-cooked rules.

Both of our children have become nocturnal. They have no need to hear birds chirping in the morning, to plow through a plate of pancakes, or to share in the start of another day.

In the “late” evening (which is getting earlier for me each day), our children often appear as we’re going to sleep. Excited to see them, we sit up and engage in what can be competing conversations. It’s like that old joke about a lawyer who moves into town and has almost no business, until another lawyer comes and they’re both working nonstop.

Something about hearing a sibling talk greases the wheels for the other one, who then remembers important details to share.

The next morning, when we’re at our desks, our children are happily sleeping, resting and recovering and our dog is flat out on the floor.

Then again, the fatigue is more than offset by the joy of hearing about their adventures, marveling at their maturation, and steadying ourselves for the moments when they head back to their busy lives.