No Place Like Home by Sharon O’Donnell

My husband and I have lived in the same house for 29 years now. We almost moved to a bigger house outside the city limits back in 1998 but decided against it. I even wrote an article about this housing decision for one of my regular columns for our local newspaper, and I came across a copy of it a few weeks ago. I had to laugh when I read about our oldest son, then 6, telling us that if we moved he would keep coming back to visit the people who moved into our house. I’d forgotten about that.

Our oldest is now 27 and living in DC with a steady girlfriend, our middle one is 24 and engaged to his long-time girlfriend, and our youngest is 18 and a senior in high school who will be going off to college three hours away in August.  This is the empty nest they told me about. It had seemed so far away. Since my oldest and youngest sons are nine years apart, I’ve had at least one child at home since 1991, and the realization of how much my life and routine will be changing has hit me harder than I thought it would. It’s not sad, but it is bittersweet.

And as I look ahead and think about wanting my sons and their girlfriends/wives and later families to come back to visit us, I’ve felt almost a panic to provide a house that’s a bit more roomy for family gatherings. I’d also love to have an extra full bathroom for everybody should they be at home all at one time.  My husband and I have looked at open houses and even had a realtor friend of ours to come out and give us an appraisal on our house. Yet, just as happened in 1998, the more we look, the more we feel that perhaps we should stay at home and add on. Our house backs up to the greenway, which is really nice with some privacy in the back yard. It’s convenient to the main highway and the airport, and yet you can walk to restaurants. Sure, it’s down a hill, and yes, it doesn’t have a laundry room, which is something I’ve dreamed about for decades.

But now as the house empties, I find that I want that gathering room and extra bathroom more than I want the laundry room. Or storage space. Or a bigger walk-in closet that doesn’t give me claustrophobia. I know a lot of people with an empty nest downsize, and I can see how that might be appealing. Yet, I don’t want to downsize. We never really upsized as many people have done. We’ve looked at about 15 or so beautiful houses, and it is tempting to move, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. One of the main reasons is that this is the home we raised our boys in, and there are so many memories here. I know people say that we would take the memories with us, but I’d still like to stay if we can. So we’ve been considering plans to renovate and build on since we have the space to do so.  I guess if I’m going to have an empty nest, then I still at least want the nest.

This stage of life involves a lot of changes and decisions. It has been more stressful than I’d anticipated. Of course, I’m happy that my boys are doing well and are building their own lives successfully. Still, I know I’ll miss them, and I want to make sure I build a place for them to come home to that is comfortable. When a woman is pregnant and is near her due date, sometimes she starts cleaning her house by instinct to prepare for the baby; this is called ‘nesting’.  I think what I’m going through is similar to that. The new mother is preparing to bring her baby into the world, while I’m preparing to let them go — but still finding a way to bring them back from time to time.




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