2017-09-14 / Viewpoint

The tragedy of Early Onset Empty Nest Syndrome (EOENS)


Andrew Heller — Staff writer Andrew Heller — Staff writer Eighteen years ago, Sam, our oldest, stepped onto one for the first time. I remember getting misty about it because I’m a great, big, giant sap about that sort of thing. I wrote a column at the time talking about how this was it, the first step toward him leaving for good instead of just for his first half-day of kindergarten. I get a little dramatic at times. But I wasn’t wrong. It was indeed the beginning of the end of him as a daily, huggable part of our lives. We wouldn’t have it any other way, naturally. Birds gotta fly. We raised him to soar.

But it still smarts.

Sam is 22 now and a second year law student at Vanderbilt down in Nashville. He’s doing great. He just won a scholarship for second years – that’s what they call them, second years. He just finished a summer internship with a federal judge, which blows my mind. My kid? Helping a judge? The same kid who chugs orange juice straight from the container and whose college bathroom was legally declared a Superfund site? Yeah, that kid. The past few weeks he’s interviewing with big law firms for where he’s going to be next summer. He’s hoping for Seattle or Washington, D.C., and I tell him I hope he gets the one he wants most.

But secretly I think – as every parent always has – “But that’s a long way from us.”

And it all started with that damn school bus. That stupid, stupid school bus.

Annie was next. She stepped onto the bus for the first time 15 years ago. And now she, too, is grown up and living her life in galaxies far, far away from us.

It goes without saying that she, too, is the smartest, most beautiful person ever placed on this earth. She’s starting her third year at CMU, my alma mater. We just helped her set up her first-ever apartment after two years in the dorm.

She’s thrilled. But for a dad who viewed the dorm as somehow safer, it was a difficult thing. While Annie and her mom unpacked boxes, I walked around doing a dad security check on all the doors and windows, and grumbling mightily about the lack of a front porch light and how, by god, I was going to install wireless security cameras. Her response: an eye roll.

I love her eye rolls. I’ll miss her eye rolls, which she’d fling my way 5-10 times a day throughout her teen years. (She’s down to just one or two a day now.) Now I’ll have to settle for her eye rolls when we chat on FaceTime or Skype, which isn’t quite the same.

And it all started with that stupid, stupid school bus.

We’re down to one last child at home now. Henry, my god, he’s simply the best. Smart as a whip, a top athlete, and he has the kind of dry wit and wicked grin that make people instantly love him. In two weeks he starts his last year in the public schools. No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks. Until college starts. Him, I don’t worry about for a second. He’ll thrive in college. He’ll thrive in life beyond college. He’s just that sort of guy. The world will just open up for him.

Us? Well, the empty nest is on the horizon. I know some parents can’t wait for the last kid to go. We are not those parents. Both of us, in fact, are already suffering from Early Onset Empty Nest Syndrome (EOENS), a malady we just made up. It hurts.

Stupid buses.

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