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The New York Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007
by Liesl Schillenger

“Since adulthood lasts for decades, we have plenty of time to adjust and to get it right.”

That unromanticized wisdom should console the authors of “The Empty Nest,” a book of essays by parents who (mostly) mourn the departure of their young, even as they take guilty pleasure in being able (at last) to buy a red sports car, or walk around the living room naked.

Harvey Molotch, whose wife died when his children were 2 and 5, remembers the family’s glory days when as an exhausted but fulfilled single father he would plan the weekly family grocery-shopping expedition. “I used to tell people that if my life were a soap opera, it would be ‘Search for a Nap,’ ” he recalls.

Recently, with his son at college and his daughter married, he automatically headed toward the children’s food aisle before stopping himself.

“The grocery-shopping cart was where my rubber hit the road, the place where I realized that life had changed,” he writes. “Which aisles do I now walk? What jars do I check out?” It occurred to him, he writes, that “I didn’t even have to be there. I felt the luxury of ennui.”

In the first chapter, “Proof of Love,” Karen Stabiner, the book’s editor, anticipates the day next fall when she will load up a suitcase and take her daughter to college. “How can you pack an entire life into a finite space?” she wonders.

. . . . Ms. Stabiner has assembled . . . an exercise in creative catharsis. In one chapter, an eerily far-seeing 7-year-old boy asks his mother, “Why do you take such good care of me when you know I am going to leave you someday?” The day he left The day he left for college, the boy’s mother tearfully told a group of women that she was thinking of writing a book about “the end of motherhood.” An older woman reassured her, “Motherhood never ends.”

And as Ellen Goodman, a Pulitzer-winning columnist, notes in another chapter, neither does grandmotherhood. Ms. Goodman, the mother of a daughter and a stepdaughter, and grandmother of two, writes, “If there were any more proof needed that care giving does not end, that family continues, it is grandchildren.”

She jokes, “What empty nest?”

© The New York Times 2007.


Publishers Weekly - March 12, 2007

This collection includes essays by such well-known authors as Anna Quindlen, Ellen Goodman and Susan Shreve, as well as lesser knowns. Mothers write the bulk of the stories, though a handful of dads, such as Charles McGrath, help to balance the perspective. Quindlen, always a reliable sage, writes that the empty nest is emptier than ever before by virtue of the fact that so many mothers of her generation threw themselves so wholeheartedly into the role. Alongside the recurring motif of parents sighing forlornly at the threshold of their children’s empty rooms, there is also a place for humor [“You lose a child, you gain a sex life,” writes Letty Cottin Pogrebin] as well as a sense of optimism and rebirth [“I felt myself standing a little taller, like a plant reaching up toward the sun,” observes Marian Sandmaier]. While many of these essays address kids leaving for college, one mother laments a son who died of a heart ailment and another a boy who has set off for Iraq. This varied and compassionate collection. . . should make [parents] feel that they’re in good company as they navigate this parental rite of passage.

© Publishers Weekly 2007.


AARP Magazine
by Lindsay Mergens

Whether they sob uncontrollably as the last suitcase is packed, or rush into vacated bedrooms with paint brushes and fabric swatches in hand, all parents would agree that when a child leaves home, life is irreversibly altered in ways from imperceptible to drastic. Watching your baby venture out into the "real world" is anything but an ordinary experience, and in The Empty Nest, 31 contributors—including such notables as Anna Quindlen, Harry Shearer, Ellen Levine, and Susan Shreve—describe "empty nest syndrome" in essays that speak to the universality of this rite of passage and evoke every emotion in the spectrum.

In "Regime Change," New York Times writer-at-large Charles McGrath remembers dropping his son off at college 10 years ago and reflects on this milestone as he andhis wife move between creating a "grandchild trap" in their home and savoring the tranquil time they have alone. In "Juggling Lite," Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodmanmuses about parenthood ("Is there any other job that defines success as becoming unnecessary?") as she remembers when her daughter was settling into post-collegiate life. Writer Fabiola Santiago ponders her return to singlehood after her youngest leaves home in "The Science of Ghost Hunting." Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founder of Ms. magazine, asserts the positive aspects of a childless home in "Epiphanies of the Empty Nest" (epiphany number one: "You lose a kid, you gain a sex life.") And in her essay "Proof of Love," the book's editor examines how her business travels eventually paved the way for her daughter's seemingly effortless transition from home to college.

Representing the full range of families—two-parent homes, divorced parents, single parents, gay parents, grandparents, even godparents—and including the perspectives of both moms and dads, the essays offer healthy doses of reassurance, funny shocks of recognition, and plenty of food for thought, whether your child has been gone for years or will be packing his bags this summer. Whether you're counting the days or dreading the prospect, The Empty Nest reminds us that even though the nest may be empty, life is still full.

© AARP Magazine 2007.