The Day of the Empty Nester

My wife and daughter are organising each other. Though it’s not yet seven in the morning, they’re excitedly swopping instructions like bees who’ve just discovered a meadow popping with pollen a short flight from the hive.

I don’t bother listening too closely to what they’re saying. There’s no point. I will get my orders soon enough and until then there’s no point in getting excited. Or even getting up.

I am a worker bee

You see, I am just a worker bee. And an indolent one at that. Deciding who should do what, when and how is beyond my pay grade. I just lie back and think of the honey.

If I were actually in charge of ‘Making Things Happen’, things wouldn’t. I don’t think I could rustle up the energy to be a drone bee.

I’m happy being a worker bee, plain and simple. I’ll get my orders and head off into the new day, willing to do what I’m asked to in a sort of bibbling, bobbling bumble bee sort of way.

As I lie half-awake listening to them chatting, I imagine my wife is a bumblebee, dressed in an RAF Squadron Leader, giving me instructions for the day.

‘Head 50m North North West, left at the old Oak tree and you’ll find the pollen. Fill your boots and return by 19.30,’ she says in a bee’s voice.

The bedroom door opens.

‘Aren’t you up yet?’ asks my wife.

‘Coming my Queen Bee,’ I reply and slide out of bed.

Why are they up so early?

The reason my wife and daughter are up early organising each other has nothing to do with the fact that:

  1. They both have jobs
  2. Their jobs require them to attend a workplace
  3. Their jobs begin before 08.30

No. The reason they’re doling out decisions at this unearthly early hour is because my daughter is moving out tonight and lots of tasks associated with that momentous project are incomplete and unassigned. Today is the Day of the Empty Nester.

Yup. She’s going tonight. Packed her bags, her boyfriend and an old orange Le Creuset pan into a series of boxes and bags, which have been piling up downstairs since last night.

I don’t blame her. I was keen to leave home myself when I was her age. It’s time to jump off the old family coat tails and set sail into the ocean of opportunity which awaits her.

This is the day of the Empty Nester

As I think about the day ahead, I realise I’ve seen this moment coming ever since she took her first uncertain steps towards me as a toddler twenty years ago. Only this time she walks on by. Growing up is going away.

The Day of the Empty Nester is also the Day of the Chauffeur. Before the door opens and my wife tells me what it is that I need to do today, I know she will ask me to take my daughter’s boxes and bags to her new flat in Maida Vale. It’s what I was born for and I welcome the inevitable role like Boris Johnson welcomes donor’s prepared to pay for his wallpaper.

‘Would you mind taking her bags to the flat,’ asks my wife.

‘Like Sherpa Tenzing Norgay helping Hilary climbing Everest?’

‘It wasn’t the first analogy that came to my mind. But if it helps you get through the day fine,’ she says.

‘Are you feeling sad?’

‘No, I’m pleased for her.’

‘But she’s going and this is the Day of the Empty Nesters.’

‘You make it sound like the Day of the Dead.’

‘Isn’t it?’

‘You fool. Your son is back on Monday and he he’s got another three years at university.’

Can we handle the time alone?

‘I’m worried about your Mother,’ I whisper to my daughter.

She’s back from work and we’re packing her escape.

‘Why?’

‘She doesn’t want to acknowledge what’s happening to us.’

‘Acknowledge, what?’

‘Having to spend more time together with me.’

‘It’s a scary thought,’ she nods.

‘This is your chance to become autonomous adults again.’

‘That’s what she’s worried about. That you and your brother have infantilised me.’

‘You’re worried she realises you’re not the person she married?’

‘God, no. She realised that years ago.’

‘Would you rather I stayed?’

‘Could we come to a sort of lease back arrangement whereby, I pay you a small fee for coming home every now and again to…’

‘Have dinner?’

I nod.

‘And you would mind staying in the family WhatsApp group?’

‘Jesus. You”ll be asking me to come on holiday with you next?’

‘Not every year,’ I say with a weak smile.

Gone girl

The black Toyota Prius reverses up onto the kerb. It stops approximately six inches short of denting our neighbours new electric Maserati and pulls away.

I can’t see through the Toyota’s tinted windows, so I am not sure if my daughter is waving goodbye from the backseat or turning to her boyfriend and saying: ‘Thank God, we’re finally free.’

The cat jumps up on the wall next to me and rubs itself against my thigh. The bloody thing is insatiable it’s after a second dinner.

My wife comes up next to me and strokes the cat.

‘How long do you think until we see her again?’ I ask.

‘Two days. Maybe three,’ says my wife.

‘So soon? How come, you be sure?’

‘She’s left all her laundry behind.’

 

 

 

Do I owe you anything?

Cash Zone, Spa Road by Stephen Craven is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

It’s Easter Sunday. I’m visiting Mum in the nursing home. The sun has a smile on its face wider than Jurgen Klopp’s after his FA Cup semi-final win yesterday against Manchester City.  ELO’s Mr Blue Sky is booming out of every radio station. Hey, hey, hey.

Choirs of lollipop men

At the roadside, daffodils sway like choirs of evangelical lollipop men singing their favourite songs from the HighWay Code hymn book and the Archbishop of Canterbury has just called the Government’s plan to hand asylum seekers a one-way ticket to Rwanda ‘ungodly.’

The world feels, for a moment, clear eyed and righteous.

As I turn into the car park of Mother’s nursing home, I slip the car into neutral, turn off the engine and try to glide the last few feet into a parking space imagining I am Lewis Hamilton pulling up with a flourish at his favourite casino in Monaco.

I’m not Lewis Hamilton

Unfortunately, our ancient 1.4 litre Vauxhall Astra is not a Mercedes. And I am not Lewis Hamilton. As I disengage the gears, it splutters like a coal miner with emphysema, stalls and then stops dead sideways across two parking places at the front door of the nursing home. It’s a pitiful pit stop, more Mr Bean than Lewis Hamilton.

Luckily, no one is there to see it. In fact, the car park is completely empty. Strange. It is only ten o’clock. I guessed more people would be here today of all days. This is Easter Sunday, after all. The Day of the Resurrection. A day when miracles might happen, perhaps. A day when one might hope to arrive at a place like this to find the tired minds and crippled bodies of its residents rewired and restored to working order. Some hope.

Mum has had Covid

I haven’t visited my mother for ten days. She’s been boxed in her room with covid for a second time. They say she’s brushed it off. Let’s hope so. Each time I see her after a break as long as this, I’m not sure who I’ll meet.

I finish parking properly and head into the home with a little less va-va-voom than before.

Mother is in the resident’s lounge leaning on a table with her head in her hands.

The woman next to her is asleep, head on the table, a Cadbury’s mini-easter egg nestled next to her grey hair.

Mother sees me and winds herself up from the table, slowly.

‘Do I owe you anything?’ she asks.

It’s an odd opening remark. Is she auditing her annual accounts?

‘Owe me what?’ I ask.

‘Money, you fool.’

‘No, you owe me nothing.’

Fear of debt

Old people often fear running out of money more than death itself. Mother runs with this pack. She fears dying in debt or with an unpaid or unacknowledged obligation.

Unfortunately, I’ve had this conversation before. It tends to go badly, stirring up anxieties from her childhood. Money can’t be discussed rationally but once she’s locked onto the issues it’s very hard to close down.

‘I must owe something to someone?’ she says. ‘I had a haircut last week which must be paid for.’

‘It has been.’

‘But how? I don’t have cheque book.’

‘You pay by direct debit.’

She shakes her head. She’s forgotten what direct debit means.

‘I don’t have a red card, so I can’t be paying anything.’

By red card she means cheque card.

‘You don’t need a cheque card to pay,’ I say. ‘It’s all taken care of automatically. Don’t worry, please.’

She shakes her head again. She is frustrated. Something is not right but she doesn’t know what. The world isn’t what it was or how it ought to be. She wants to continue.

‘Why won’t you give me my cheque book? I want to give the sisters a little something for their kindness.’

She calls the nursing homes’ carers sisters, as if they were catholic nuns.

‘It’s better you don’t have a cheque book and card while you’re here,’ I say. ‘We have talked through this before, let’s move on.’

I’ve slipped into school master mode. I promise myself I won’t do this, but sometimes I can’t help it.

‘You don’t owe anyone anything,’ I say. ‘Don’t worry.’

Dreams of cake

She pauses and then starts up again in a more wistful voice.

‘Are you sure?’

‘100%,’ I say.

‘Last night, they held a farewell party for me. They asked me to make a speech. I didn’t want to. I’ve never been good at that sort of thing. But I did it. Half-way through, my speech went flat. Nobody understood a word I was saying and then they brought me the bill for the cake. I didn’t have a cheque book to pay for it. And I felt so ashamed.’

There was no party. This is another recurring dream. But I’m not going to leave her wallowing in shame.

‘Well, it’s just as well that I paid for the cake beforehand.’

‘Did you?’

‘Of course, I did,’ I say, and try to look her in the eye.

 

 

We were students once

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Oh, God. It’s a stag party

In the middle of the aisle is a young man, tall as a pine tree, swaying in tune with the train as it leaves King’s Cross.

His left palm is flat against the carriage ceiling while his right hand steadies half a bottle of vodka against his lips.

He begins to suck the vodka out of the bottle like a hungry calf. His cheeks sink and swell like an accordion. He leans back until the bottle is almost vertical over his head.

At this point, his posse of young male friends start to make a low mooing noise as the vodka disappears down his throat.

‘Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahoo,’ they moo.

As their chant reaches its climax so does he, pulling the empty bottle from his lips and spraying the last few drops of vodka and his spittle over the old couple sitting beside him.

His pals stand, applaud and cheer. He bows to them, his trousers sagging away from his buttocks and exposing his designer underpants.

He turns and bows to the rest of the carriage.

‘All gone,’ he says out loud with a triumphant grin.

The old couple stare ahead pretending they have heard nothing nor felt the vodka splashing over their shoulders.

It’s 10.30am on a Friday morning.

Oh God.

I’m booked on a train next to a stag do. How will I survive another two hours of this babel of boyish banter before I  get out at York?

‘Why did he say: all gone?’ I ask very quietly.

The loathsome pine tree has sat down now, but he’s only three rows away. He might easily misunderstand my interest in him if he overhears me.

‘It’s what a four-year old would say when they wanted you to be pleased they’d eaten up all their greens,’ says Friend Number 2.

‘Oh, come on. They mean well. We were as bad when we were his age,’ says Friend Number 3.

‘Nonsense,’ I say. ‘We couldn’t afford vodka and our trousers never came off accidentally.’

This weekend is a return to the past

‘The worst that could happen,’ said my daughter, earlier that morning. ‘Is that you realise you have nothing in common with each other any longer. Which in a way is a positive. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to let go of the past.’

‘But I’ve got so little future that I really want to hold onto as much of my past as I can,’ I say.

‘If you see any of your old student jokes, bring them back. I’d like to see if your humour’s evolved over the last forty years,’ says my son.

‘It hasn’t,’ says my wife. ‘Two of your father’s jokes have been on permanent loan at the Jorvik Centre since 1985,’ says my wife.

‘Right,’ I say. ‘I’m off to spend the weekend with people who respect me.’

It’s a university reunion

There are five of us old university mates on the train for a reunion weekend away to York university, where we first met nearly forty years ago.

I’ve never been to a school or university reunion, but I imagine that it wouldn’t take much for things to get tricky.

A clash of political ideology or an unwise joke could easily upset the apple cart.

But, after Palmers Green, the conversation loosens up and we start to swap stories. The stag party are already numb to alcohol and have retreated into the ear plugs into their I Pods.

Friend Number 2 explains how he is due a hip replacement operation in a few weeks but is still looking forward to walking the Roman Walls and that we shouldn’t let his hips hold us back.

Friend Number 1 says she may have an arthritic shoulder because of the year she spent as a geriatric nurse and Labour councillor in Croydon lifting old folks on and off the toilet. But we’re not to worry because she can still use a knife and fork and so she won’t embarrass us at the posh river side restaurant we’re going to on Saturday night by asking us to feed her.

Friend Number 2 says that Number 1’s story reminds him that as part of his pre op hip replacement physiotherapy he is being taught how to sit on a raised toilet seat and pull his socks and trousers with ‘a pair of long tweezers, which is quite hard.’

We discuss each other’s illnesses

‘This is what they call an Organ Recital,’ I say. ‘When old people talk about how their organs are functioning.’

To keep the Organ Recital rolling, I bring everyone up to speed with my mother’s dementia, which reminds them of their own parents’ trials and tribulations with cancer, dementia, delusion and death. The party is pumping.

By the time we’ve rattled through all the medical conditions we are (or might soon be) suffering from including high blood pressure, poor cholesterol and early onset diabetes, we’re nearly at Doncaster.

As we pull into the station, I decide to share with them the story of my colonoscopy and the strangeness of watching your own innards on a TV screen, while you lie on a couch with a backless surgical gown.

‘What did they find?’ asks Friend Number 4.

‘Haemorrhoids,’ I say proudly.

As if he were trying to trump me in a game of cards Whist, Friend Number 2 points at a small purple bubble on his lower lip and says ‘Benign tumour.’

We arrive at York

When we arrive at York. The sun is shining and there are daffodils all over the rampart in front of the city walls. Our organ recital has brought us all closer together. We’ve literally got to know each other’s insides.  What can stop us now from moving to an even deeper level of friendship?

We decide to have lunch in the pub opposite our old student digs and grab a cab.

Friend Number 5 turns to the cab driver and says: ‘We were students here forty years ago.’

Number 5 smiles as if he’s shared a life changing secret like the date of the Second Coming.

‘Is that so,’ says the driver with Yorkshire phlegm. ‘Unfortunately, this isn’t the Tardis so I can’t take you back to the past.