Part 1: The Nest Empties
In the spring before my youngest daughter graduated from high school, as her college plans began to develop, I had a strange emotional reaction to the impending void in my life, dissimilar from my response to the flights of her older sisters. When my older two daughters flew from the nest, I busied myself with work and reassigned their bedrooms to
other uses. When my first daughter left, I gave her room to the youngest, and made the youngest daughter’s room into a guest room. When the middle daughter left, my husband quickly made her room into his home office. Life goes on; the house was small; we needed the space. But the impending departure of my youngest in the fall of 2005 was different.
I began to dream of puppies. I longed for a puppy, a small puppy. I wanted a puppy that I could hold on my lap. I wanted a puppy that would energetically greet me when I returned home from work, burdened with essays and tests. I wanted a puppy that would love me unconditionally (and never leave). Mind you, I have a perfectly loyal husband. I knew the puppy was a baby substitute. Rather than face my empty nest, I would get a new dog. I eagerly perused the AKC website, took quizzes on what type of dog is right for you, talked to friends about their dogs, and visited breed websites. I wanted personality, energy, loyalty. I wanted a permanent baby.
We already had a dog, a small beagle, Jake. Beagles need to be part of a pack and Jake’s pack was becoming smaller. Not only was my youngest daughter, his real owner, leaving, but we had lost the children’s beloved Springer Spaniel, Rosie, in December of 2004 at the age of 14. Jake had undergone a sudden personality change. He became morose, moping about the house, sniffing as if trying to find Rosie’s scent. When we went out for our run, he put his nose to the street as if hoping to find her. Jake needed a doggy companion. My husband agreed.
And yet he disagreed. One of the interesting things about being married for so long is that you think you are talking about the same thing, but you are not. I was thinking: puppy, terrier, mine. He was thinking: hunting dog, companion, his. While I was mourning the fact that my baby was leaving, he was exalting in the potential free time that he would have. Throughout our youngest child’s high school career, my husband had worked from out of the house as a consultant. He had been the parent who drove the car pool, who volunteered to help with the golf team fundraisers, who supervised the homework, and who kept the social calendars while I had the exhausting job of teaching middle school English. So even though he planned a return to corporate life to help with the college tuition payments, he anticipated having the leisure time to resume longed for pastimes. He wanted a German Short Hair Pointer. While I was searching for the perfect breed, he was e-mailing breeders, looking for the perfect GSP.
This was a conflict. GSPs are Velcro dogs. They attach themselves to one member of the family. My permanent baby could not be his hunting companion. At this point, we should have gotten a Lab or another Springer Spaniel. Instead we got an adult female GSP, Sugar, and a male puppy GSP, BB. Immediately middle daughter pointed out that males now outnumbered females in the house and we had replaced our three daughters with three dogs. The dogs, we explained to our friends and neighbors, were the replacement children.
When our youngest left for CSU Sacramento, we didn’t even notice, we were too preoccupied with our new brood.
Part 2: Life in the Empty Nest
Admittedly, our dogs are like our children. They occupy much of our time with demands like feed me, walk me, and pet me. We take them to the dog park and on hikes. They watch television with us and lie by the fire on Sunday mornings while we read the newspaper. We buy them collars, jackets, toys. We spend thousands of dollars on vet bills. One Easter morning hike alone was almost two thousand dollars in vet bills for two dogs. But when we want to go somewhere for the day, the dogs can stay home without a sitter. When we want to go away for a weekend, we can get a dog sitter to stay at the house. So even with college tuition payments, we found a new world. We began to camp more. We already owned a popup tent trailer. Occupied by the two of us and our teenaged daughter plus a friend, the tent seemed claustrophobic. With just the two of us and the three dogs, the tent became a cozy retreat. Besides we always knew where the dogs were.
Every journey became a romantic adventure. We would sit next to each other and sigh. We would cuddle in front of a fireplace and tell each other the trials of our marriage proved how strong our love and affection really was. And after raising three daughters, nursing each other’s careers, we could finally enjoy ourselves. We went skiing more often. We no longer had to worry about tests and essays and important teen social occasions. Good snowfall this week? Book a hotel room and drive up to Mammoth. My husband had a business trip in Utah; we had a weekend at Snowbird. We went to New York. We bought a convertible (which only seats two comfortably) and drove up the California Coast. Our daughters gave us a Tivo and we programmed the shows we liked. For five years, there was just the two of us.
And then the youngest daughter graduated from college.