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Empty Nest?

I am not yet an empty nester. We have a good 4+ years before that happens. Maybe things will be different then, but my experience thus far leads me to believe that my empty nest ain’t gonna be that empty even then.

We all see the pictures of empty nesters exploring the world, hopping planes, hitting the sights, unhampered by school vacation schedules and peak costs. They smile arm in arm sipping margaritas, that my-kids-are-grown-and-flown twinkle in their eyes.

Sure, those pictures are shuffled in with family gatherings and visits … but even those often drip with a sentiment of equals gathering to shoot the breeze, to catch up on the happenings of their independent adult children. They are accompanied by updates that give a pleasant flavor of the family Christmas letter.

Oh, you don’t have to tell me about the trappings of social media photos. (A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words…unless it’s not. (vacation fails)) I know full and well that they never give the complete story behind the moments they pretend to portray, good or bad. We don’t tend to post pictures of family calamities and there is no way to properly capture parental angst in a photograph even if we wanted to.

That said, my experience up to now as a quasi-empty nester leads me to believe that the nest emptied of children and their challenges is soon filled with challenges of a whole new and daunting level.

At the risk of stirring nightmarish memories in the minds of my fellow Gen X’ers, it’s less like winning a video game … and more like being bumped up to one of those levels that bred blisters on your hands, and made you want to rip the joystick straight out of the console.

Of course, much of this is directly a result of the times in which we live. When I scooted off to college, aside from the occasional letter, and phone calls exchanged over the landline when both parties were near one and available, being out of the nest meant I was fully absent from the nest.

The level of direct connection and communication we had then (and to an even higher degree when I moved overseas) would nowadays be equivalent to ghosting.

Yes, my parents worried about me, about how I was doing. But, they sure as hell didn’t sit by the landline waiting to find out. And, I would not have wanted them to. They went on living their lives, their empty-nester lives once my younger brother also left, and I began the process of learning how to make decisions on my way to independent adulthood.

Now, with the means to be connected 24/7, our nests have gone virtual. And, as much as it can be a means to stifle worry, it can also create a new and exciting level of anxiety.

Example: when I was off in school and faced with what seemed like an insurmountable problem … one of those adolescent/young adult tragedies that young brains initially see as unresolvable … unless I had access to a landline and my parents happened to be near theirs, I was on my own. It was up to me to decide who to trust for help, and how to proceed.

Now, with the invention of the ever-present cellphone, it’s easy for young, fledgling adults to grab it and shoot off desperate texts … before they even fully comprehend the situation and know if there is actually a problem.

Ah yes, my all-time favorite kind of text: the string of desperate pleas announcing imminent destruction and unstoppable armageddon … which turns out to be a digital spew of initial reaction to a situation that has not yet nestled itself into the brain to be processed.

Our brain is a complex organ, made up of different areas with different jobs. For the sake of this article, I will refer to these different areas as “offices.”

When the amygdala, the office of oh-shit-something-new-and-threatening-is-happening-and-we-are-all-going-to-die, is allowed to have direct access to the cellphone, the above texts result.

The first few times I received these texts as a quasi-empty nester, I had to wrestle the cellphone and car keys from my own amygdala, smack the office manager on both cheeks, and request she kindly turn things over to the frontal lobe, the office of reasoning, planning, and what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about-we-can-totally-handle-this.

After which, I fired off some texts reminding the young adult in question of the vast cerebral resources at their disposal and suggested they also pass things along to the frontal lobe office … in not so many words.

And, without feeling that I am being too picky, or demanding, I would like to put in a request that perhaps the frontal lobe office could remind general management to send me a text letting me know when things are resolved … and not leave me hanging.

But, I digress.

Sure, it is still easier to go on vacation once the kids have all physically flown the nest and we are no longer hostage to the pricing whims of peak season and free to explore sans sippy cups and moody teens. Which is something that I am admittedly looking forward to. But, I find that the possibility of instant and constant contact also presents the temptation to virtually extend the proverbial nest, so that even when we are off on vacation, we risk not being able to disconnect.

I guess I see the cell phone and social media as potentially being either a seatbelt or a crutch – something our kids can use when in need … or something that they need to use.

In any case, this technology has forever changed the emptiness of our nests.

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