No, empty nesters are not just the sad parents who are still sitting in their cars after dropping off their kids to college, unable to walk into an empty house. Eventually, they will steel themselves (probably after they run out of tissues) and go inside. Indeed, we are in the throes of college drop-off season and empty nesters are all around you. Here’s how you can spot them:
1. They are clustered in the pet toy aisle, all wearing college sweatshirts.
When forced to choose between the stuffed squeaky toy that costs $2.99 versus the one that costs $15.99, they pick the more expensive one. The pooch is worth it; she won’t leave and move 1,000 miles away. These parents also spring for the organic, gluten-free, made-in-a-nut-free-kitchen, must-be-great-because-it’s-so-damn-expensive dog food that the store keeps in the locked refrigerated case. These parents are huddled with the store manager discussing their grave concerns that said dog food could spoil on the way home; they also buy a special refrigerated bag to carry it in. And maybe a dog car seat harness, just for the pooch’s safety. How did they not get one before this???
2. About that sweatshirt.
Yes, it is 100 degrees out. But they won’t take it off, so don’t even suggest it. It is the last thing their darling son or daughter touched as they hugged them goodbye and ran off to be with his or her new friends. If you sniff it, you can actually pick up a faint odor of your child. It will be worn every day, possibly until Thanksgiving, and it will not be washed.
3. In the first 48 hours after drop-off, they will take at least 500 photos of either the cat or their child still at home, but only while they are sleeping.
Neither the cat nor child especially care to have their sleeping photos posted all over Facebook, but these parents will do it anyway. Please “like” them. They need you to “like” them.
4. Their student’s campus mailing address becomes exceedingly important.
At the point of drop-off, parents realize that they have a few 20 percent off Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons still unused and that this constitutes some kind of crime against humanity. But since they have already been banished from the campus, they just start shipping things directly to their student. Plus, didn’t the peer advisor say getting care packages was thrilling, and a good thing to do? Why yes, yes they did! Have at it Mom and Dad. Even though it looked like you couldn’t fit so much as another paperclip in that stuffed dorm room, isn’t an extra set of sheets a smart idea to cut down on time spent doing laundry? And boxes of cookies and some chocolates and maybe some frozen fruit on dry ice for smoothies?
5. They stop strangers just to tell them how much they trust their kids.
All those stories you hear about wild parties and nobody studying and drunk hook-ups and skipping the classes that are costing $30,000? Those are all about someone else’s kid. Empty nesters are the people you don’t actually know but who make you their captive audience in the grocery checkout so that they can tell you about their kid who is attending the University of Party Central but will likely be the one who closes the library every night. Just smile and nod affirmatively.
6. Their student’s bedroom becomes a shrine, not a guest room.
Red velvet ropes are put up across the doorframe and the door has been replaced with plexiglass so that people can view the student’s room but not enter it or touch anything.
AYSO soccer trophies are housed in a new display case, protected behind bullet-proof museum-quality glass. You just never know who might want them or what they could fetch on the eBay black market.
Oh, and there is no tidying up of the room. It is as sonny-boy left it, which was just perfect in these parents’ eyes.
Empty nesters ask your indulgence for the next few weeks. We fully expect to return to normal by January.