When kids leave home, you get your life back.

November 24, 1996|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,The Baltimore Sun

Connie and I have known each other since the seventh grade and we, along with our friend Nancy, walked arm-in-arm through adolescence, three abreast so that anyone who met us on that road had to step aside to let us pass.

Nancy was pretty, I was funny and Connie had a core of strength that drew us to her as if it were magnetic and we were metal shavings.

The three of us now live time zones apart, but when we are together, we soon relax into a pattern that is as comfortable as a beanbag chair, a pattern that is a memory of how we used to be with one another.

We see one another every year or so. Sometimes, it is just two of us, but never without one of us quoting this verse from the Bible: "Whenever two or more of you are gathered, there also will I be."

It was just Connie and I this time for a weekend at her home in upstate New York. Her husband was away on a business trip and her daughter and stepdaughters were away at college.

As the last child packed for school, Connie and Bill built a hot tub in the space the children once occupied, knowing there would be little money for any other amusements until they finished paying three sets of tuitions.

So that weekend, Connie and I soaked and drank wine and "talked until our tongues were tired," as the Dan Fogelberg song says. Connie's hair is streaked gray and mine might be, too, and both of us need glasses to read. But underneath the skin made bright pink in that hot tub, we were the same girls we were in high school.

Except in one important way.

My friend Connie is an empty-nester.

Connie was having a baby while I was touring the country in a van, and our lives are out of phase now. I am still in the thick of raising children, and hers are all but launched.

"I thought I would cry when I left Jessica at college," said Connie. "And I did, for about 50 miles out of town. After that, I was fine, and it has been great since."

Connie and Jessica were more like best friends than mother and daughter for the years after her divorce, so I feared she would miss her child more keenly. But she has substituted the friendship of her husband, and the childless-except-for-semester-breaks life they live made me envious.

With each new revelation of their delightful life together, I moaned in physical pain. Apparently, you don't have to lie like an empty husk in a frozen cornfield when your children leave home. You don't have to rattle around your house, digging the grooves of empty routine. You don't have to sit silently across from each other while waiting to be served the early-bird special.

Connie and Bill work just a mile or two apart and have lunch together nearly every day, sometimes going home for it. They golf every Friday after work in a languid winding down that often ends with a light supper out. Connie doesn't cook much these days. Her fridge is filled only with gourmet coffee and those little orange-juice cartons I am still packing in lunches.

Connie and her husband golf again during the weekend and again at least once after work, so Connie says she doesn't clean until it snows. That is OK, because there is no one to make a mess and everything stays where she puts it.

They travel when they can with the frequent-flier miles they have accumulated paying tuitions with a credit card, but there isn't much money for that, and so their life is not punctuated by the getaway weekends that save many a marriage with children. That is because they still like each other and they don't have to leave town to remember it.

The irritations of marriage are not there between Connie and Bill, and I realized something I will not know for myself until my nest is empty. Those irritations are often born of the logistics and busyness of raising children. The misunderstandings occur when you cannot complete a sentence, let alone a conversation, with your partner without a small voice calling you from another room.

I realized that if the husbands and wives I know could end their busy days in a hot tub together, talking until their tongues were tired, they might realize that underneath the pink skin, they are the same two people they were when they fell in love.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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