September 2010 Issue
My Ohio: Empty Nest
Missing the rhythms and traditions of a new school year.
My morning drive to the gym, from suburban Kettering to downtown Dayton, takes me through one school zone after another: two elementary schools, a middle school, a charter school, three high schools (including the one my kids attended) and the ever-expanding campus of the University of Dayton — an educational archipelago that reminds me, at this time of year, of a big part of my life now past.
Well, OK — mostly past. My son has a bit of college left, but since he’s in his own apartment now, my wife and I no longer share in the rhythms of his school day as we once did. Our daughter, married and through law school, is long since off on her own.
I miss having them around. As students re-congregate around their school buildings, anxious and excited after the summer away, our house is silently absent of the early-autumn bustle that attends the return to classes. New clothes, new schedules, school supplies, bus routes, meeting the teachers — all that is behind us now.
As you’re caught up in school routines and parental rigmarole, you can’t really appreciate all that stuff while you’re in it. You don’t realize how fast it’s blazing past you, and how much you’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Trust me: You’ll miss it when it’s gone.
What? Miss worrying about your kid’s grades? Yep. Miss fretting about whether you’re doing enough in the PTA, or whether your kid will get into the college he or she wants? Uh-huh. You will. Some day soon, you’ll drive by your neighborhood elementary school and realize with a start that the parents dropping off the kids look very, very young, and that you don’t know a single one of them.
I should confess that there is plenty about emptynesterhood that I like just fine, thank you. There’s nobody around to criticize the music I’m listening to, no Xbox cables to trip on. If I put half a pizza into the fridge at night, it’s still there the next morning.
But I do a lot more yard work and dog-walking now, and I miss being involved in the things parents do to keep their school-age kids happy, healthy and safe during the long march from pre-school to 12th grade.
You know the things I mean: All those hours spent on the sidelines, rooting for one young team or another. Sorting through the blizzard of paperwork that found its way to the kitchen table from a pair of overstuffed backpacks. Oohing and aahing over the artwork that came home, or answering questions about the things the kids had learned, or talking with them about the books they were reading.
Some of that of that artwork is still around, and my daughter recently reminded me how we read a chapter each night before she and her brother went to bed, from when they were small till they were old enough to tackle the classics on their own. The family jokes to this day that after a long string of great books, Swiss Family Robinson
was so awful that it killed off a noble Rollins tradition.
Traditions: Each morning, I made lunch for the kids, and I miss not doing it. Every Tuesday evening, my son and I uniformed up for his Scout meetings; I miss not going anymore.
As I see kids boarding the bus, hefting their backpacks, I can’t help but think back to my own kids doing the same — a long time ago, and yet not.
Fall has always been my favorite time of year, and back then, the fresh wind-up of school and activities was always a big reason why. Now, I suppose, it’s just that the evenings are cool and the leaves are pretty. That’ll have to do, I guess.
Ron Rollins is a Kettering-based writer and editor and an
Ohio Magazine contributing editor.