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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Kids’ absence proves we’re not ready for an empty nest

By Suzanne Perez Tobias
The Wichita Eagle

So my children are away with my parents for a couple of weeks, and I almost hesitate to tell people because they expect me to twirl around in circles with outstretched arms, smiling toward the heavens like Maria von Trapp in the Austrian Alps.

The hills are alive with the sound of … silence.

I can hit the pool or read a book or play Fruit Ninja or watch “Sex in the City” in the middle of the day.

My husband and I can try the new restaurant the kids wrinkled their noses at — and not feel guilty leaving them home with frozen pizza.

We can meet for drinks after work, stay late at friends’ houses, eat snacks in front of the television, drive where we want to and head out of town for a weekend getaway.

Such glorious respite, right? Time to do the kid-free dance and celebrate.

But here’s the thing: I don’t feel that way. Not the whole time, anyway. When my children are gone — particularly for any length of time — I miss those little buggers.

Their latest absence has proven again that while temporary breaks can be fun, my husband and I aren’t quite ready for an empty nest.

What’s been particularly noticeable and a little surprising is how many people throw me baffled looks when I tell them we’re kid-free and I shrug or shake my head instead of gleefully jumping up and down.

“I wouldn’t know what that’s like,” said a friend at the pool who has five children. “We’ve never been without at least some of them home.”

Then he turned to his wife and they exchanged wistful looks. I got the feeling they’d be willing to try.

With Hannah and Jack away from home — and as of this writing, unable to even call or text — we can’t share all those little things we talk about during an average day: funny things from Facebook, razzes about Jack’s epic bedhead, whether we like who won “The Next Food Network Star.”

Fact is, I not only love my children. I like them. I enjoy their company. I miss pouring them cereal, snuggling next to them on the couch, reminding them to let the dogs out.

Sure, Randy and I enjoy our time alone. But the house is strangely, perceptibly, achingly quiet.

I was thinking about it this week when I ran into a friend and mentor I hadn’t seen in years, a mother of eight who helped counsel me through sleepless nights when my babies were newborns. She’s a grandmother now, so we traded updates on kids and grandkids, who’s doing what and where everyone’s working or going to school.

I told her my kids were gone for two weeks.

“Oh, isn’t that strange?” she said. “Don’t you just miss them?”

Yes! I told her. She smiled and nodded. I don’t think it was coincidence that I spotted her this week. Her perspective and affirmation was timed perfectly with my need to hear it.

Fortunately, I know my children are safe and cared for, having fun and making memories with their grandparents and learning the joy of extended family, which too few children get to experience.

Before they left, I implored Hannah to keep a journal in her purse or on her iPod, so she’ll remember details but also so she can share them with her father and me.

Before long, she and Jack will be home again, and I’ll be chiding them for leaving dishes on the table or shoes in the living room. They’ll grumble about having to wake up early. They’ll beg for video games or some sugary snack.

Life will return to its normal chaos. Just the way I like it.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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