Man in the Middle 89: The Day of the Empty Nester

Man in the Middle is the fictional diary of a Boomer coping with the demands of an ageing mother with dementia, his millennial children and his own impending obsolescence. Bowed down by Brexit, Covid and self-pity, all he wants is more ‘me time’. Will he succeed? Or is he destined to be stuck forever in No Man’s Land in the war between the generations?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning, you can read No. 1: The Letter here

No 89: The Day of the Empty Nester

My wife and daughter are on the staircase organising each other. Though it’s not yet seven in the morning, they’re excitedly swopping instructions like City traders executing an insider’s tip or bossy bees who’ve just discovered a meadow positively popping with pollen a short flight from the hive.

Soon it will be my turn to be organised. So, I don’t bother listening too closely. 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.

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 and interest. Or, as an apiologist might put it, beyond my genetically designated social role within the hive. I just lie back and think of the honey.

As I lie half-awake listening to them chatting, I imagine my wife is a bumblebee, only dressed in an RAF Wing Commander’s uniform, about to come into our bedroom and give me instructions for the day.

‘Head 50m North Northwest, turn left at the old Oak tree and you’re there. Acres of pollen. Fill your boots and return by 19.30.’

The door opens.

‘Aren’t you up yet?’

‘Coming my little Queen Bee,’ I reply.

*

The reason my wife and daughter are up this early organising 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 are incomplete and unassigned. Today is the Day of the Empty Nester.

Yup. She’s going tonight. She’s leaving home. She’s found a flat and 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. And, frankly, what sort of young woman wants to watch her father’s chins folding down his throat like a slow-moving glacier every night over dinner or hear the same bad jokes again and again like a Boris Johnson apology. No, she’s right. It’s time to jump off the old family coat tails.

*

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 that she will say it would be most helpful if I could help take my daughter’s boxes and bags to the flat in Maida Vale.

‘Like a chauffeur?’ I ask. ‘Or Sherpa Tenzing Norgay?’

‘Whatever helps your imagination get through the day,’ she says.

‘Aren’t you sad?’

‘No, I’m pleased for her.’

‘But this is the Day of the Empty Nesters.’

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

‘Well, isn’t it?’

‘No. Our son is back on Monday, you fool. And he doesn’t leave university for three years.’

*

‘I’m worried about your Mother,’ I say to me daughter.

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

‘Why?’

‘This is the first Day of the Age of the Empty Nester and she doesn’t seem to acknowledge what’s happening.’

‘Acknowledge, what? Having to spend more time alone with you once I’ve gone?’

‘No. Not that. Well, not exactly.’

‘With me gone, you’ll be autonomous adults again.’

‘That’s what I’m worried about,’ I say. ‘I mean I think that’s what she’s worried about. That maybe I can’t be that again. That maybe, you and your brother have infantilized me beyond return.’

‘You’re worried she may realise you’re not the person she married before you had kids?’

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

‘Would you rather I stayed?’

‘No. You must move on. But I wondered if we could come to a lease back arrangement whereby, I pay you a small fee for coming home every now and again to…’

‘Have dinner?’

‘And stay in the family WhatsApp group.’

‘Go on holiday with you?’

‘Not every year,’ I say.

‘Oh, for God sake. Just pack the car.’

*

The black Toyota Prius reverses up onto the kerb. It stops approximately six inches short of denting our new neighbour’s electric Maserati and then 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 front wall next to me and rubs itself against my thigh. The bloody thing is insatiable I think it wants a second dinner.

My wife comes down the path, too late to wave. She said her goodbye’s indoors.

‘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.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Man in the Middle 90: The Repair Cafe

Read the previous one – Man in the Middle 88: An Offaly nice idea

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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