I’m not big on change. Growing up in Brooklyn, I lived in the same house until I left for college. This was long before it was cool to live in Brooklyn, and I never looked back. When I graduated from college, I spent almost nine years in the same apartment in Manhattan. After I married and we bought our first house in the suburbs, we stayed there twenty years. In spite of the terrible market, we listed our house for sale as my daughter was finishing her senior year of high school. Tired of having the plumber, the electrician, and the landscaper on speed-dial, I dreaded all the things that would start needing replacing. And I didn’t want to go through another winter dealing with my long, steep driveway. (Who knew we were about to have one of the mildest winters on record!) Also, I felt like I no longer needed so many “things.” It was cathartic to throw away and give away so much stuff. The dumpster outside my window was a welcome sight.
I vividly remember the day we brought my daughter home from the hospital. I sat down with her in my arms at the kitchen table and cried because I had no idea what to do. We childproofed the whole house only to find that we had the only child who never tried to get into anything. I religiously listened for any sounds from the baby monitor, since her room seemed so far away when I was downstairs. She was a late walker, and I was afraid of falling down the circular staircase with her in my arms. More recently, I remember how beautiful she looked as she descended those stairs in her prom dress.
Our house sold quickly– almost too soon. As soon as she left for college, we finished packing. The monumental effort required to sort through a house full of twenty years of acquisitions was a welcome distraction from my sadness at her leaving. I was embarrassed by the urge to go into her room and climb into her bed, missing her so much. She was not happy with us for selling the only house she had ever known. She didn’t see the new place until fall break. I decorated her room so that it resembled her old bedroom — only better. I held my breath until she gave our new house her seal of approval.
Part of me thinks we timed the sale of our house this way to avoid the empty-nest syndrome. I clearly did not want to face living in the house where we raised my daughter once she was gone. And I don’t envision suburban life without kids around. The city-girl in me is resurfacing as if she never left.
It’s freeing not to own a house anymore. I don’t miss much about it. And yet, as spring unfolds, I feel the urge to drive by to see my old flowering trees in bloom. The small plum tree outside my door now reminds me of what I left behind. But I was ready to move on. Knowing that our current place is temporary opens up all kinds of possibilities. Anyway, you can’t be an empty-nester if you’ve sold the nest.