There's a reason a home once lived in by children is called--AN EMPTY NEST

ESSAY

August 29, 1993|By Joanne Sherman

It is the time of year when young adults leave home, many for the first time.

A byproduct of this annual ritual is a barrage of empty-nest articles published to help mommy and daddy birds handle the departure of their nearly-grown birdlets. Unfortunately, what most empty-nest articles neglect to mention is that when your children depart, they will try to steal everything they can sneak out of the house.

Listen to parents who have been through the experience: Even the sweetest, most loving child, the one who lighted up your life from the moment of birth to the moment of departure, needs to be patted down before he or she embarks on the journey.

There's a reason a home once lived in by children is called an empty nest: When they leave, they empty it. Clean it out. Off the children march into the future, proclaiming their maturity and independence, and you get caught up in the poignancy of the moment, never thinking to inspect the contents of the cartons they are so quick to seal shut.

Do you have any idea what is inside those cartons?

Your good scissors and the blender and the batteries from the smoke detectors and the entire contents of the medicine cabinet, that's what.

Parents of children who have recently left the nest walk from room to room, sighing, "Gosh, it seems so different here now."

Well, sure it does! Look around. Your child is not the only thing that is missing. Also gone are lamps, area rugs, a 20-year accumulation of small appliances, the weed-whacker and assorted pieces of flatware.

Frequently, the objects they take are those you won't miss until the moment you need them. That's the reason so many parents in newly emptied nests have a peculiar expression on their faces -- an expression that is often mistaken for grief. That's not grief, that's confusion! It's the result of not being able to lay their hands on the small screwdriver they know was in the junk drawer. Or the postage scale, or the knife sharpener, or the jumper cables or the heating pad.

I learned of a couple who spent an entire afternoon hunting for missing wine glasses, a pasta machine, and a large, unopened bottle of Tums. While checking the garage, they discovered the tool box also was gone, along with the "You Can Repair Anything!" book. Of course they called the police, who told them it appeared they had been ripped off by a yuppie handyman with indigestion. The description fit their oldest son, who had moved out the previous week.

It wasn't until they finally got inside their son's newly furnished "place" that they fully understood the reason he felt so "at home" there. They did too -- most of "home" was there.

I was foolish and got hit twice, by the same child. Not only did my grown son sneak out of the house with too many of our belongings, he returned to the scene of the crime, claiming he was homesick and needed to visit for a few days.

And I was glad to have him back. His visit took my mind off my concern that I was losing it -- all of a sudden I couldn't locate the toilet-bowl brush, an object that has stood propped in the same spot for two decades. And half the fireplace equipment was gone. I kept wondering where I could have misplaced such things. From the moment my son left the nest, it seems that every time I spoke, it was to say, "Oh well, I guess it'll turn up."

The fact that he arrived for his little visit towing an empty U-Haul, alerted me to the realities of the situation and the purpose of his visit: To further furnish his off-campus pad. While he was here, I never left the house unguarded, but he still managed to smuggle out a marble-top dresser, the rest of the fireplace equipment, several light fixtures, a small sofa, the dog and a cast-iron skillet.

I was particularly upset about the cast-iron skillet, which has enormous sentimental value.

I sneaked that skillet out of my mother's kitchen more than 20 years ago.

JOANNE SHERMAN is a free-lance writer living on Shelter Island, N.Y. Her last piece for Sun Magazine was about her son's Navy commissioning ceremony.

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