I live in an open nest. It’s not an empty one, but some days it sure feels that way. The rooms are tidy and still. Things stay just where I place them: the dirty glass in the sink, the jeans drying over the bannister, the bag of walnuts on the counter. My husband goes to work most days at a nearby hospital, offering solace to people who pass from this world to the next and to their loved ones who remain. My beloved Jasper, a golden retriever of incomparable sweetness and light, lies newly buried in my backyard, next to Tucker, the four-legged brother he barely knew. I work too much, trying to make a difference by helping others lead healthier, more emotionally satisfying lives. Sometimes, the silence in the house is deafening. Sometimes, I feel ecstatic. On bad days, I can’t seem to find myself or know where I belong.
My children are grown. My son, 25, lives in the Midwest with his girlfriend and their new puppy. My daughter, 21, is still in college nearby us in Massachusetts. When my son returns home for Thanksgiving, wearing rolled-up jeans and sporting a beard like Rasputin, he greets us with an earnest smile and big bear hugs. “That was a brutal, 12-hour drive,” he says. “But it’s good to see you both.” My heart wants to leap into his. My big boy, home.
Then he looks over at the kitchen table, carefully set and ready to receive the special vegetarian meal I’d prepared just for him. “Hey, you got new placemats? What happened to the old ones? They seemed fine.”
My face flushes, and I hold my breath. Did I do something wrong by wanting to cheer the place up with something new and colorful? You never can tell with my millennial: he’s opposed to frivolous purchases and unnecessary “materialism.” He opens the refrigerator. “Wow, there’s a lot of food here,” he mutters.
I can’t tell if it’s an observation or a judgment. “Well,” I counter, “it’s Thanksgiving. I bought extra fruit for you.”
He peers into the cooler drawer. “Hey, you got Macoun apples and blueberries. I love those. Thanks.”
I exhale, happy again.
Later, just as the lentil curry is being served, my daughter waltzes in, dragging an enormous duffle bag that could’ve easily contained a small person. More hugs and greetings, followed by “I’ve got laundry,…