The Beginning of the End

Category: Weekly Columns

Substitue the mom for a dad and you got me!

No, this isn’t a doomsday column. In fact, it’s a very positive one as we are watching and waiting for that big day. That day every parent wonders when or if it will ever arrive. That day that seems further and further away in this generation. That day, when…the kids leave!

Empty Nest - Because I Said So comic strip

We’ve got one out of the house – for good, we think! “For good” being the operative words in that it’s for his good, our good, and our other son’s good that our older son becomes independent. The “good” isn’t that we don’t still speak and see him regularly, but now he’s literally acting and living like an adult. I get a pile of demerits for not teaching either of my boys more independence skills earlier in their lives.

The first stark reminder of that was taking my younger son “car shopping” which I wrote about in a previous column. When he commented on my negotiating with the salesman about the price and terms of a deal, he said that he didn’t even know that cars were negotiable. He thought the MSRP price on the car was the same as a price tag on anything else!

Empty Nest for Grandparents

Then, the second surprise was that he understood the value of a good “schmooze” – something he’s seen me do all his life but thought it was embarrassing. Schmoozing is (Yiddish for) talking someone up, for sweet-talking, for networking in a good way. I’m a master of it. Heck, I was in showbiz and it was a basic requirement for survival, let alone any long-term success.

By the third dealership, when I already had two good deals in hand, and I locked down our best deal, my son was almost speechless. His “old man” actually knew what he was doing. However, this “old man” had completely neglected many basic things because this “old man” was busy taking too good care of his boys and NOT teaching them to take care of themselves.

When the Empty Nest Syndrome goes too far

That changed dramatically when my older son returned home after two years at a very expensive college in Boston, that dad paid for of course. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do; he liked to sleep in late, didn’t care to get a job, and generally enjoyed the sweet life with mom and dad. I finally set down some ground rules. He’s now living outside the house with the understanding he can visit anytime but he’s not moving back.

My boys have had bank accounts and ATM cards for years, but learning the ins and outs of handling money is still new to them. One summer when they were quite young I had the great idea to teach them about saving money and delayed gratification in an unusual way. At that time, they both did something quite novel – they liked to read books. Real books. This was before Kindle and its ilk.

Empty Nest cartoon

I gave them a limited weekly book allowance. It was enough to buy a cheap book, but not enough to get a special book. My older son quickly figured it out and waited four weeks to buy a big hardcover picture/photo book he wanted. My younger son just bought Berenstain Bears books each week. When he saw his brother’s “fancy” book that he’d waited four weeks to buy, he did learn a good lesson.

But, I didn’t follow that up with more lessons on money and independence. Then, I remarried and my new wife began teaching the boys how to cook, clean, and do laundry. So, they both know those basics. The fact that they don’t do their laundry until they don’t have a stitch of clean clothing to wear is their choice. We don’t do it for them.

Both know rudimentary cooking skills too, but are too lazy to do much more than heat up leftovers or make ”cheesy pasta.”

College grads returning home to live cartoon

So, they will learn. My older son – now living with a group of friends – is learning fast. When he got “my bill” for his car insurance he got a quick dose of reality but, to his credit, he didn’t whine about it. He has gotten a job and I gave him access to money from his birthday account to fund his first month or two. It’s his money and now is the time for him to use it.

One kid gone; the other gone for all practical purposes. We think he sleeps here, though we’re not completely sure because we’re asleep by 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. each evening and he never gets home before midnight (his curfew). It’s summer now, so he gets up around lunch-time, then goes to rehearsal for his plays (he’s in two this summer), then his cast hang out and he comes home by his curfew time. When his senior year in high school begins, he will get up ten minutes before he has to rush to school. We’ll wave at the speeding image of him heading out.

Birds dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome

That leaves what? Have you noticed I haven’t used the common phrase for when the kids no longer are at home? No reason other than I wanted to write this column without that cliché. Now, it’s my wife and me. Of course we don’t know each other anymore. But, perhaps we’ll begin to remember why we fell in love in the first place. That is, if I can get her to stay put for a moment. She’s off to Hawaii with a girlfriend this weekend….