The Not-So-Empty Nest

I was watching the TODAY show last week, while trudging along on my treadmill, and I saw a segment of “helpful tips” designed to assist parents in “transitioning” their nestlings into real live college kids. Most of the tips were just common sense: have the big good-bye before arriving on campus, discuss the big three: sex, alcohol, drugs. Let the kids know your expectations about grades and attendance. But I about spewed my Dasani when it came to the last–and it was stressed–very IMPORTANT–tip. Do not, the expert warned, touch your child’s bedroom.

Children need to be reassured that their home will not change, even as they grow and explore new horizons in the exciting world of college studies. Transition gently, the expert warned.

Hahahahahaha. This is another reason why you should never trust television experts. Back in the day, when I was a newspaper reporter, I called up all kinds of “experts” and asked them all kinds of questions as resarch for the helpful tip story du jour. Believe me, most reporters will accept whoever answers the phone as an expert. Probably two thirds of the people who pass themselves off as “experts” are, in reality, posers, frauds or wannabes.

But I digress. Was it only two years ago that we took our own son off to college? I remember it well. We loaded up Andy’s clothes and mini-fridge and new computer, and installed him in his dorm room, and then, tearfully, drove back home. How empty the house seemed. Ten minutes after we got back to the house, I unleashed the full fury of a mom on a mission in Andy’s room.

For years I’d been trying to get the boy to give up his old mattress. To tell you how old that mattress was, I have to admit that we bought an antique bed at a store that was going out of business, and they threw in the display mattress that probably came with the mattress when the bed was manufactured. I’m talking older than dirt, people. But Andy didn’t want me mucking about in his room. Frankly, after taking a quick look at his room on any given day of the child’s life, I didn’t want me mucking around in there either. Those crack dens you see on COPS were cleaner than my son’s room. We are talking level four biohazard.

But I was bereft that day two years ago, and it seemed like a project would be a good idea. Job One was that mattress. It had to go. I stripped the linens off the bed and was confronted with a very unpleasant fact. My child had been sleeping on a mattress with giant holes in it. Poking out of those holes were giant springs. He’d been stuffing bath towels and socks and all kinds of stuff into those holes to keep the springs at bay. Shocking!

And yet–those holes were the least of the shocking finds lurking in the boy’s room. Mr. Mary Kay reluctantly agreed to assist in my detoxification of Andy’s room. He hauled the mattress and box spring off the bed, and I made shocking discovery number two. There, stashed between mattress and box springs was the devil’s handiwork. Porn! In my own home.

I got the barbecue tongs and picked up the shocking material to get a closer look. It was a DVD.
Something about cheerleaders in chains, I believe. Mr. Mary Kay sniggered disapprovingly while I took said DVD and melted it with a lighter, then whacked it with a hammer, and then finally, took it out to the growing trashpile on our curb, hoping desperately that the garbagemen wouldn’t let it get out that the guy at 2113 liked cheerleader smut.

We tied the offending mattress to the top of my spousal unit’s SUV, and sped off to the dump, where we deposited said mattress–still warm from our son’s body–in the landfill. Even the guard at the dump looked disgusted when he saw the state of that mattress. Then it was off to the mattress store for new bedding, and the paint store for new paint.

Back in the crack den, er, bedroom, I began clearing the room to paint. The antique oak dresser he’d been using for years basically fell to pieces when we went to move it. Determined to give the room a clean sweep, I attacked the closet. Bad move. Hidden at the back of the closet I found several empty bottles of beer, as well as, even more mystifying–several unopened cans of beer. After promises of parental immunity, Andy later admitted that he and his friends found his dad’s taste in beer severely lacking. He and his buddies much preferred beer pilfered from some other dad. He’d been saving the bad stuff for a beer emergency that apparently never manifested itself.

The next discovery found me weeping quietly on the floor of the closet. Not porn, not even beer made me cry. No. It was the stacks of old baseball jerseys that got me totally unglued. Andy started playing baseball as a five year old. For more than a dozen years, he played baseball. And not just in summer. Travel ball, all-stars, junior high, high school, American Legion, if somebody had a diamond and a bucket of balls and a bag of bats, we were there. Like his dad, Andy was a catcher. All those years, we were a baseball family. His dad helped out with the coaching, I made sure he had a clean jock and a cooler full of Gatorade. As a baseball mom, my favorite sign of spring was not the blooming of daffodils, or the budding out of the dogwoods. No. I lived for that first day in the bleachers. Feeling the sun on my shoulders, splinters in my butt, inhaling the intoxicating scent of fresh-mown grass. Was there ever a purer sound than the crack of a bat? Could there be a better kind of joy than jumping up, screaming at the top of your lungs–“That’s my boy!” as the ball went sailing over the outfield fence?

That day in August two years ago, I tenderly packed away the jerseys from the Red Wings–his travel team, the Golden Lions, his Atlanta high school team, and the Crusaders–his Raleigh team. I put them in a plastic bin, set his catcher’s mitt and chest protector on top, and sat down and cried like a baby. Not for Andy. He was excited about going off to college, and swore he didn’t mind the fact that his baseball career was probably over. Nope. I was crying for me. No more bleaching those hideous polyester baseball pants. No more fishing stinky sliding shorts and socks out of a filthy bat bag. No more road trips with the other baseball moms. No more opening day.

Eventually, I pulled myself together and got back on task. I washed down the walls and floors with Pine-Sol. Bagged up mountains of worn-out or outgrown shoes and clothes. It was when I was moving a pair of old work boots that I found another distasteful discovery. As I picked up a boot, an empty tin went rolling onto the floor. Snuff! My golden child had picked himself up a big league nasty habit. The boot was filled with empty snuff tins. As was its mate. My tears dried up in a hurry. A long distance phone call was made. Death threats were issued. Silence on the other end of the line. “I’m sorry,” came back the small voice of the former little leaguer. “I won’t do it any more.”

Transition my ass.

Postscript. It is now two years later. We sold the house at 2113 and moved back to Atlanta, where, hopefully, the stigma of cheerleader porn will not follow. Andy finished his freshman year of college and decided to take what his parents like to call a “sabbatical” from school. He’s working as a surveyor. And yes–boomerang boy is back, living at home. You couldn’t get me to go into that room of his with a court order.

9 thoughts on “The Not-So-Empty Nest”

  1. We just sent our daughter back to TCU as a sophomore. She is staying in a 12 month dorm so we really felt empowered to bomb her room. It is amazing the treasures and yuks we found when fumigating her room!
    P.S. Love the Savannah books.

  2. Oh my are a brave woman to go into your son’s room without full hazmat gear! As for the baseball jerseys, if you still have them, you could make a quilt top, or have someone do it for you! Love the books, can’t wait for the next one.

  3. Oh dear, I can imagine you cleaning your son’s room. Thank you for the laugh, as always I enjoy reading you. I’m looking forward to read your new book.

  4. When my son left for college, we left for Disney World. When we got back, I started putting flowered wallpaper in his room. My assistant, his father, said nothing until he went for water in the bathroom he could get into-my daughter’s room, and found the birth control pills. He lasted one semester at college, and now lives elsewhere, and still no grandchildren!

  5. My daughter is a sophomore in high school. Do you think it’s too early to bomb her room and make it into my jewelry design/craft/writing/bill paying/reading/whatever I want room? Probably it is. One can dream, can’t she?

  6. Oh man! I LOVED your story!! I have yet to step into the BioHazard room. I am afraid of finding all that and things I just don’t want to think could be up there in his room.

    I keep threatening, but everytime my feet hit the stairs the male bale out and meet at the top with the ‘rules’. No girls allowed. Hmmm…from what I gleaned from your post, maybe they DO know best.


  7. “spew my Dasani” HA! Thanks for the laugh and the advice to not follow expert advice. No one knows your kid like you– uh, that would be, no one knows their kid till you look under their mattress.
    Will pop in to say “Hey” at DBF this wkend.

  8. LOL ~ I am cracking up at this post ~ My daughter just left for college this year and said we couldn’t change a thing ~ but….my this summer newly married other daughter’s room is now my pink office :o)

  9. You will be back on the bleachers again when you watch your grandson (or granddaughter)! Believe me, once you have grands you will know for sure why you had children!
    A fan of Woody Robinson (my grandson)

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