I recently spent the day with a close friend. In the past year CF has watched her oldest head off to college, her husband retire, the sale of her present house, the purchase of a new one, and in a few short months her youngest will head off to college. Come September, her entire landscape is going to be different. I worry that she is about to unravel.
She currently lives in a large, rambling old house. She loves the location as she can walk into town and doesn’t have to rely on a car. Her home is filled with family heirlooms and things she has collected over the years. Her new home does not have the room to house the furniture that her parents left her. It does not have the room for the shoe collection that she has never been able to part with (and rarely wear). She is having trouble coping with this change. Rationally, she knows that keeping this house is not a wise financial decision- her property taxes are tremendous, a large house is expensive to heat and cool, an old house requires constant maintenance. She knows that 6 bedrooms is too many for a house with no children.
She is not thrilled with her new house though. I think the only reason they are buying it is because it has a living room large enough to house a large piano, the one family heirloom she refuses to part with. She complained about its distance from civilization (which is hard to fathom because it’s in a suburb of NYC that is rather densely populated and you can clearly read the newspaper that your next door neighbor is reading) It’s a thirty minute (dreaded) car ride to her old neighborhood. As she relayed this information I could see the color draining from her face.
But her biggest worry- the one consuming her- is what will her children do in this new neighborhood? Of course I reminded her that her kids would both be away at college. The conversation went something like this:
CF: But they’ll be home in December and the summer. That’s a long time.
Me: Just because your son is home this summer doesn’t mean he’ll be home next summer. You don’t know what they’re going to do during their breaks.
CF: The new house is across the street from a pool club. I asked about summer jobs for them next year.
Insert a quizzical look from me as to why SHE’S asking about summer employment for her 18 and 20 year old children
CF: I went on the message board of my new town and asked where the teenagers hang out
Insert picture of me as my mouth opens wide and I have to refrain from saying WTF
Unraveling. I started to think that it’s called empty nest syndrome because one of the parents becomes a looney bird- but that would be a disservice to birds. She clearly did not listen to my advice about preparing for children to fly the coop.
So what, as a friend, do I do when I start to see my friend go a little off kilter? We’ve been friends for over twenty years- we met and bonded during a tenure at a high stress job. I’ve walked her through her infertility issues- she helped me through a divorce from my first husband. The boundaries are blurry because we have shared so many life moments. But how do I tell her to get over her kids? Because there is nothing wrong with loving your children and wanting the best for them- but…….
I know change is difficult. I know we often have trouble adapting to new situations. But I’m not quite sure how to help her navigate this new terrain. I still have two more years till my daughter heads off to college- I have no actual experience at complete empty nesthood. For all I know, I may be worse than her. I might move to whatever college town my daughter decides to call her temporary home.
For now, I’ll listen to her complain. I’ll make sympathetic noises when need be. I’ll give her little nuggets of advice when I can. I’ll yell at her if she keeps doing things that her very capable children can handle by themselves. I’ll suggest a new hobby. I’ll just be her friend.