“Hmmm,” he said.
“But this is HUGE,” I declared; “why haven’t we noticed?”
Without connecting any dots, I’d sort of vaguely registered the fact that I was mostly now only hanging out a single, light, line of washing once or twice a week, instead of two solid packed lines every single morning before work; that when I tidied a room, it remained, mysteriously, for the most part, tidy.
Of late there still seemed to be a lot of fruit sitting in the fruit bowl at the end of the week; there were more vegetables than usual left over in the fridge by the time shopping day came around, and loads of meat in the freezer, even though I hadn’t been buying extra groceries.
In fact, without consciously thinking about it at all, now that I thought about it I realised I’d gradually started to cut back on the amount of food I was buying and cooking.
Things, in general were also… well, dare I say it, inexplicably quieter and, er, a bit easier all around and somehow the house seemed to be, well, a bit more spacious.
I’d also vaguely been noticing that when we came back from being out somewhere, the house was exactly as we had left it.
No unattended saucepans of pasta boiling over on top of the cooker. No dirty dishes in the sink or sitting around on the worktops.
Nobody was hunched at the table glaring at their phone.
Nobody was in the sitting-room hogging the remote control and challengingly eye-balling anybody who tried to join them.
There were no mud-encrusted, newspaper-stuffed football boots or running shoes at the patio windows.
Nobody had suddenly, surreptitiously, crammed the laundry basket with two weeks’ worth of dirty washing from the floor of their bedroom while I was conveniently out of the way.
In other words, we returned to an oddly empty but pleasantly quiet and tidy house that could easily have belonged to somebody else.
It was a very, very strange feeling.
But it actually wasn’t inexplicable at all.
And, now that I actually thought about it, this peaceful state of affairs had been unobtrusively going on for several months.
Because the kids are, em, not to put too fine a point on it, all gone.
Both in college and no longer living at home.
“This is a major life phase!” I exclaimed.
When there was no reaction from my husband in terms of the utter immensity of this change in our lives, I resorted to Google.
“Empty Nest Syndrome is not a clinical disorder or diagnosis,” I read out.
This was good.
“It’s a transitional period in life that highlights loneliness and loss.
“Parents want to encourage their children to grow into independent adults.
“However, the experience is often bittersweet or emotionally challenging.”
“Do you feel lonely, lost, bittersweet or emotionally challenged?” I asked.
He looked bewildered.
“The classic symptoms of empty nesters,” I read aloud, include “sadness, loss, depression, loneliness, distress or a loss of purpose in life.”
“Don’t you feel any of the above?” I urgently asked my life partner, who was now tranquilly playing his guitar.
“Erm, not really,” he said, continuing to strum.
I searched my deepest soul for sorrow, loss, depression loneliness.
And in terms of a sense of purpose in life, work was more or less the same as it had always been.
And I was still doing the washing, the tidying, the cooking and the grocery shopping, even if the load was noticeably lighter in each category.
So, nope there was no feeling of a loss of purpose.
“Well,” I said, “it says here that Gordon Ramsay was so gutted when his son left home that he went into the boy’s bedroom, opened his drawers and put on a pair of pants he found there.”
Jeepers, my husband said mildly.
“Is that actually all you have to say?” I demanded, a bit taken aback.
“Because it says here that parents often feel lonely and sad and filled with grief when their children depart.”
My husband coughed.
“Well, you know, they haven’t exactly gone very far,” he pointed out.
True, but all the same I was disconcerted.
“It says on this website that professional help is recommended if the parent is crying excessively and for long periods.
“And that special attention is required if daily life and work are impeded.
“And that we’re supposed to be in mourning for a period that has come to an end.”
Was he, I demanded experiencing any or all of the above?
Well, that was a no-brainer, he responded tranquilly.
No, no and no.
“Same for me,” I said anxiously, although nobody had asked.
“Look here, it says there are all sort of worries attached to not knowing how your children are doing.”
My husband snorted.
“Personally, I think you’re better off not knowing what they’re up to, to be honest.”
“God,” I said, a bit wildly, “D’you think we need help?
“Obviously not,” he said patronisingly.
“Seeing as we’re not falling apart from grief.”
“But,” I said, “maybe that’s the point. Maybe we should be.
“Should we, like, be seeking help because we don’t need help?”
“Can’t help you there,” he said.