I am now three days into the highlight of my summer, the holiday I’ve been eagerly anticipating for months. No, I am not wine-tasting in Napa, beach-combing in the Caribbean, or sight-seeing in Paris. In fact, I’ve never worked harder. I spend 10 hours a day hunched over my computer, taking breaks only to exercise and enjoy quasi-romantic dinners with Mr. Seventy Percent. Yet it feels like the vacation of a lifetime because we are living in a kid-free house! My oldest daughter left in mid-June for her job as a counselor at a YMCA girls’ camp–the same job at the same camp I held 32 summers ago. Though I miss her, she texts me just as often as she does when she’s sitting in her bedroom upstairs. Then on Sunday, we ditched the two younger ones: the 10-year-old joined her big sister at camp for the third year running, and our 14-year-old Mountain Man flew to Colorado to conquer some 14,000-foot peak with Outward Bound.
It feels like the old days, before we knew how messy and disruptive kids could be. No dirty socks litter the floor, no ketchup-caked plates cover the coffee table. I cannot hear Sponge Bob’s grating laugh blaring from the next room. The cover remains firmly on the toothpaste, and the bathroom counter is free of Band-Aid wrappers. No one is asking me to make grilled cheese, drive them downtown, or help locate a missing sweatshirt/cellphone/pair of goggles. There are no toy guns on the sofa, stuffed animals in the cupboards, or embarrassing Cosmo covers–“Why Guys Love it When You Bite Your Lip”–on the magazine pile. I can make the chicken curry as spicy as I want. In the grocery store yesterday, I walked right past the Cheez-Its and Oreos; my cart was so full of healthy food that for once I hoped I ran into someone I knew. The only person cluttering up the kitchen counters with loose change, golf tees and crumpled pieces of paper is Mr. Seventy Percent, and he usually needs to be asked only once. When I put something away, it stays put away.
I am trying to savor the days, but the two weeks already seem to be flying by.
And yet … I feel slightly adrift. No one calls, except for the telemarketers, who now suddenly seem friendly. The only person ringing the doorbell is the UPS guy. No one is asking me to make grilled cheese, drive them downtown, or help locate a missing sweatshirt/cellphone/pair of goggles. The dogs still rouse themselves every afternoon around 2:30, in anticipation of the banging door, shrieked greetings and dumped backpacks that usually announce the kids’ arrival home. But no one comes. So they wander over and lay their heads plaintively in my lap. I know how they feel.
I can’t stop thinking that while the calm is a reminder of our newlywed days, it’s also a taste of our empty-nest future. What will happen when they’re gone not just for two weeks, but forever? In a pique of panic, I tell Mr. Seventy Percent, over a crisp Riesling and a plate of extra spicy chicken curry, that I will fulfill his fantasy and learn to play golf when we retire–if he promises to take up bridge. He enthusiastically agrees. And while such a future can never compete with making grilled cheese or picking up dirty socks, I must admit it holds a certain appeal. Especially if he remembers to keep the tees off the counter.