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The not-so-empty nest

by Debbie Carini

“They’re h-e-r-e …”

Those words, immortalized in the early 1980’s cinema classic Poltergeist announce the arrival of spirits who will turn an otherwise banal suburban home into a horror-fest—making glassware break and utensils bend, and moving furniture all over the place.

Hey, wait. That sounds a little bit like having kids home from college!

We’ve been “empty-nesters” now for 4 months and we’ve gotten used to going to bed on Saturday night knowing that all the doors are locked, and without having to worry that every light in the kitchen is left on.  Our cars usually have gas and we know if we bring leftovers back from a Chinese restaurant, they will still be in the fridge in the morning.

And then the spirits arrived. Our daughter came in from the east coast with her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s brother in tow. Our son traveled from the north with a big red bag full of goodies (mostly dirty clothes, but it did look a lot like Santa’s sack of toys).

The eeriness ensued. One day, soon after they all arrived, I went to get a drink of water and there were no glasses in the cupboard (except the Hearst Castle/San Simeon shot glass—an odd souvenir choice, o be sure). There were a half-dozen milk- and juice-crusted cups near the sink and ever-so-close to the dishwasher, but where had the rest disappeared to? Scary.

When I went upstairs to the spaces that were once occupied by bunk beds and an American Girl Doll (but which I now like to think of as our guest room and my craft space) to investigate, I could barely make my way.  I slogged through mounds of sweaters and jeans; I spied our cat nestled between a discarded bath towel and a half-eaten bag of chips. Peculiar.  (And yet, in all fairness, she did look pretty happy.)

“Hey you guys, why don’t you put your clothes away in your closets and drawers?” I suggested to the guests at breakfast (which seemed to be occurring when I came home from work at lunch). 

They looked at me as if I were from another dimension. Apparently, this is how they live now—dropping stuff to the floor and then smelling things (sandwiches, socks) to assess freshness and viability. Strange.

I sent them off to college with high hopes and big dreams (and Swiffers and stain sticks) and the expectation that they would come out the other side and aspire to something fulfilling and rewarding that might also lead to me possibly living in the guest house on one of their estates. I slightly despaired at their general state of dishevelment.

They won me back, though, by requesting homemade spaghetti and meatballs and appealing to my skills as a laundress (because no one gets stains out like me).  They regaled us with funny stories about roommates and dorm-life, and there were plenty of hugs and kisses. 

In the end, no one was sucked through a portal in the closet (ala the aforementioned Poltergeist) and our house didn’t evaporate. There was music and laughter and lots of candy from the 99 Cent Store, and I look forward to their return this summer—smelly luggage and all!

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