Sunday, August 18, 2013


These two are emptying our nest next weekend.

The thing I did not realize about this whole empty nest thing is how it happens in stages over a really long period of time. Unless you have an only child of course,  but for those of us with two or more, it is not an all-or nothing prospect.  I mean, all your kids don’t just get up and move out of the house one day and you and your husband are left alone.

No. Just as you did not fill the nest all at once you do not empty the nest all at once either.

And just as each child changed the dynamics and the nature of your household when you brought him or her home from the hospital, the same thing will happen as each one moves out to whatever is beyond life at home full-time.

Left behind will be a new, changed family.

The more kids you start out with on the front end, the more new families you get to parent on the back-end.

I first noticed this last fall when Atticus left and things were different right away. For example, I could keep up with laundry for the first time in years. And if I made a girly meal with things like quinoa and kale in them, no one said, “Umm, did you make meat with that?” and when we went to restaurants and hotels we found life was a lot easier getting a table or a room for four instead of five.

I found I talked a lot more to Grace than ever before. I have to admit, Atticus had been my go to guy for conversation for some simple reasons: he was there first and when the girls came along he was the first to move to the front seat next to me as we drove through life so I just talked to him more.

This is probably typical for the oldest but it does mean the second just doesn’t get the time to talk to mom as much.

Until the oldest moves away.

With Atticus gone I was free to talk to Grace and get to know her better. I liked her very much and realized there are many upsides to emptying the nest little by little.

Also, last year for the first time she was the oldest Ludwig at school and she finally had a chance to shine as she found herself out from under the long shadow her big brother has always cast.

It was a delightful year to watch her blossom then bloom.
The same thing happened to her relationship with Lilly: with the two of them left as the only kids, they grew even closer and it was great fun to watch as they explored life as two teen girls kind of owning the place (and the car!) together.

Their new life involved a lot of Starbucks trips and clothes sharing and at first a little more squabbling than normal (because it turns out big brother also served as a buffer) but ultimately less squabbling as a new equilibrium was established.

I started thinking about how this phenomenon must affect other families in the neighborhood who surely have experienced this same thing—the ever-changing family and the affects on the left-behind sibs. Like neighbor, Carrie O., mother extraordinaire of four kids.

She has two girls close in age and then two boys close in age. So when I first met her, in the mid 90’s she had two girls and a new baby, and her house was a girly house and her girls dressed like girls from a girly house. They were rather famous for their FABULOUS giant, crisp white hair-bows and we all found it impressive because we struggled just to keep our girls’ hair combed decently, let alone adorned with a big, clean white bow.

But last year, her second daughter went off to college. And her house became a house of all boys; the kind of house where you don’t serve a lot of smoothies and I’ll bet it’s been some time since Carrie opened a drawer and found it full of white bows.

And I imagine sometimes it is weird to Carrie that she started with an all-girl house but ended up with an all-boy house.

As I said, this also affects the kids left home. I think of my friend Kelly, whose youngest, Charlie, has grown up as the youngest boy of four. He has only ever known what it’s like to be the mascot of a giant fun frat-house complete with all sporting activities and multiple trips to the ER. But some day, in the not too distant future, he will wake up and find himself not the part of a great raucous clan but—an only child! And he will remain the only child for several years. And how weird will that be?

I know Lilly is not looking forward to being an only child but here it comes. Because when the house changes next week, she will go from having been the baby for 14 years to being an only child.

Now there may be kids out there from larger families who look forward to being the only kid in the house but I have yet to meet one. Most of them are perfectly fine having run in the shadow of an older sib with little parental scrutiny. And they are not looking forward to having that cover ripped off.

Lilly dreads it.

So now, in addition to dealing with the grief –and I don’t think that is too strong of a word to describe what she will feel when Grace goes to school-- she will have to deal with the fact that her father and I look at her each night at dinner and ask her, and her alone, what happened at school that day. And there will be no one else to answer that question.

This past week, we were up at my parents’ home in Michigan for an end of summer visit. Neither Atticus nor Grace could join us so Lilly invited her best friend Lauren to come along. Now Lauren, as it turns out, is an expert at being an only child. She has been one for her entire 14 years and likes it quite a bit, thank you very much.

She even tried to help Lilly out. “Watch and learn,” she said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I am going to teach you how to do it.” She tried to show Lilly the fine art of eavesdropping on the adults during cocktail hour. But man, Lilly had no game at all.

The girls sat playing Uno while we visited. I could see Lauren was half-listening but I could also see Lilly was actively NOT listening to us.

At one point, I saw Lauren’s ears pick up when we got to some juicy family gossip. Lilly continued to ignore us. I made eye contact with Lauren whose face was saying, “I know can you believe she just missed THAT?”.

After a few days of pointing out the benefits of being an only child without Lilly picking up any of it Lauren threw in the towel. “I see you have much to learn before you appreciate what you’re about to be given.”

So that’s where we are. It’s August, the nest will be two-thirds empty as of next weekend, I will be the parent of an only child for the first time, and Lilly is not even trying to embrace her impending only-childhood.

But just as we found much of the upside as the nest emptied of our first, I hope to find the upside of having Lilly as an only child.

And I know that some day, Charlie will also find much to love about at last being the center of his parents’ universe. Most of the time.

Best of luck to us all this month as many of our nests empty a little or a lot.


  1. Ah yes, I remember it not liking that much at all when my brother Peter moved out.

  2. Bon courage, Judy. I still remember after my daughter moved out, how strange it felt to be the only one to talk at the dinner table. My son and his dad focused only on the food.

    1. Thanks Pat! I appreciate the French encouragement! It must have been funny to see those quiet men staring at their plates wondering what happened to the chatty women in their lives!