When the Last Child Moves Out

The house feels tilted. I sense it more at night and early morning because no one sleeps in the bedrooms across the hall. The doors remain open and the bed covers stay evenly spread.

My daughter moved out a few months ago. (Her sister had moved out a year earlier, so the nest is completely empty now.) She’d been talking about it for a while, but living at home for couple more years had its benefits: the ability to save more money, her own bathroom, a fully stocked kitchen, private parking, central air, and easy access to laundry facilities, to name a few.

Her bedroom is unadorned. She did, however, leave her large out-of-season wardrobe in the closet.

I see fewer TJMaxx bags around the house and fewer boxes from retailers at the front door.

There’s no daily fashion show anymore. The answer to “Is that new?” was always, “Oh, I bought this a while ago.”

The phone doesn’t ring at 5:00 p.m. with her asking, “Do you want me to pick up anything on my way home?” (Code for “What’s for dinner?”)

No longer do I hear the sound of a high-pitched beep when she locks her car.

I miss the jingle of keys at the front door and her upbeat, sing-song “Hello?” when she arrived home.

Gone is the sound of high heels clacking upstairs while she prepared for a night out. (I’d have to turn up the volume to hear Alex Trebek on Jeopardy!)

Her signature laugh doesn’t echo throughout the house, especially when she’d talk on the phone with a muffled voice in another room.

On Sunday nights, the kitchen island is clear where she used to prepare a week’s worth of salad lunches with an assembly line of reusable containers.

I don’t need to move her empty insulated lunch bag on the counter when pouring my morning coffee. Nor do I collect half-empty water bottles throughout the house.

Edamame, Special K protein shakes, and Halo Top ice cream have vanished from the fridge and pantry. So have the occasional doggie bags.

The dishwasher doesn’t run as frequently. And I expect the water bill to be reduced now that she’s not showering up to three times a day.

The dining room appears stark. She’d claimed it as her office, filling it with a laptop (whose cord I had to step over whenever passing by), stacks of neatly piled papers, stationery and supplies, tote bags, and up to four pairs of sneakers, lined in a row.

When I close a book and turn off the light in my bedroom, I don’t hear the hum of the clothes dryer and wonder when she’ll finish her laundry.

A floral whiff of her perfume no longer scents the air before she hugs me and says, “Bye! Love you!”

She still gets mail here. It gives me an excuse to go into her room and place it on her dresser. Other times, I simply stand in the doorway of her and her sister’s bedrooms and stare, like I did when they were away at college. I think about my young daughters under the covers where I knew they were safe and warm. And then I wonder what they’re doing and pray for their safety.

I purposely refer to their living quarters as their apartment, because this will always be home. At only a 40-minute-drive away, they fly in and out of the nest. They haven’t cut a cord. They’ve simply stretched our elastic bond. And when they both decide to stay the night, the house feels balanced again.

My husband and I have shifted our seats at the dinner table. We sit in our daughters’ designated seats now. Even though the arrangement feels lopsided, it makes us feel closer to them.

8 thoughts on “When the Last Child Moves Out

  1. My mother lent me her copy of “Musing Off the Mat” saying: “She reminds me of you.” I moved out of my parents’ house after grad school, and I can say you have captured a lot of what my mother has described as each of us gradually moved out. I, too, am about 35 minutes from home, but it’s still a strange adjustment. One nice thing we get to do now is have my parents over for dinner instead of the other way around 🙂


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