Mia Geiger

The Washington Post
Parents Spread Their Wings

By Mia Geiger

Mama, don’t let your kids grow up to be independent. Maybe then you won’t suffer the longing felt by the parents in The Empty Nest.

Karen Stabiner has assembled a survival guide — or commiseration guide — for parents whose kids are leaving home. The essays, penned by writers ranging from the well-known to the lesser-known, focus primarily on college, but a few discuss children leaving the nest to join the military or move to another state.

Contributors include syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen, writer/actor Harry Shearer, novelist Susan Shreve, professor and journalist Roger Wilkins, and Hearst magazines editorial director Ellen Levine.

Two recurring themes punctuate the essays: My child is leaving, I’ll miss her; and my child is leaving, now what?

Many of the anecdotes are boo-hoo worthy, such as in “Regime Change,” when New York Times writer-at-large Charles McGrath remembers drop-off day at college: “A quick hug, a wave, a promise to call, and, in an instant, he was gone.”

And it’s tough not to get weepy as Stabiner herself remembers, in “Proof of Love,” experiences leading up to her daughter’s departure for college. Each, she says, “was a chance to build up calluses so that the real thing wouldn’t hurt so much.”

Happily, the writers explore unexpected pleasures, too. Letty Cottin Pogrebin is better able to enjoy sex without her kids in the house. Marian Sandmaier relishes her newfound freedom from the daily worries of child-rearing.

Among the most moving essays is “My Cart,” by sociology professor Harvey Molotch. In unsentimental prose laced with humor and poignancy, Molotch, whose wife died when their children were ages 2 and 5, tells how his grocery-shopping cart reveals his life: One day he’s buying Chocodiles and ketchup; the next he’s scanning the high-fiber aisle.

Yes, the empty nest is a rough place to be. But take heart: As these highly readable and engaging essays show, you’re not alone. And, there are always the grandchildren.

Mia Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.

 

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