Our Kids Are Suddenly Back, Our Nest No Longer Empty

Courtesy Andrea Dukakis
Andrea and her daughter Jobie, a freshman in college, at the assembly right before saying goodbye.

When our son first left for college, my husband sobbed for two weeks.

It started when he saw our boy’s bags in a disheveled heap by the back door. I had to do the college drop-off alone. My husband said it would be too painful (and anyway, I wanted to make my son’s bed with clean sheets for what I knew would be the first and last time that year).

In the humid New England heat I moved my boy in, made his bed, said goodbye and left. A few minutes later, I came back pretending I had forgotten something so I could see him one more time.

I flew home. We still had our daughter with us but things were clearly different. My husband couldn’t shake the emptiness of a three-person house.

Courtesy Andrea Dukakis
Andrea in her son's freshman-year dorm room right before heading back home.

Then, we started getting used to our new life and then we started enjoying it. We marveled at how great it was to spend some alone time with our daughter.

Two years later, we were dropping her off for her freshman year at college. We moved her in. It was a similarly ungodly humid day. At the end of the day, parents and students were ushered into a large auditorium for a talk. Eventually, we were told to say goodbye. The three of us, sweaty and exhausted, cried. We hugged her. She walked away and turned to look at us one last time.

When we got home, the house was like a morgue.

Quiet, somber, neat. I felt like there was an echo when we talked to each other. We’d sit at the kitchen island for dinner. I know we both were thinking, “Wow, is this it? All that child-rearing, fun, yelling, and this is it?”

Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I have a lot of fun together. He makes me laugh. But I don’t think either of us thought about what happens after kids.

Then it was Christmas break and they came home. When they left, we started getting used to the rhythm of our new life. Fun, late dinners without kids complaining they were hungry. Meeting friends last-minute. No logistics. No compulsion to look over the kids’ shoulder to see if they were doing their homework or watching YouTube instead.

We had the bathrooms redone and repainted for the first time in 20 years. We put down new carpet and rearranged the furniture.

And then the otherworldly messages and emails started arriving.

That college was basically cancelled. (What do they mean by online classes?)

That everyone was going to be coming home. What?

Suddenly, the nest is about to fill with warm bodies and lots of messy feathers. We might get sick and will hope it’s mild. We mostly hope the world will be spared the dire possibilities.

If all goes OK, there will be lots of laughing at our house, fun dinners, family games, and a fair amount of yelling. (“If you’re home, could you please walk the dog, put your dishes in the dishwasher, pick your clothes off the floor?”)

It will probably be a mix of some silver linings and some major soiling of the nest.

It's definitely a twist we never saw coming.