Running on Empty

Running on Empty

My husband and I found that the best cure for the empty-nest blues was to leave the nest behind.

Now that our youngest had graduated law school and been recruited by a top firm, my husband Tom and I were unprepared for the calm that descended upon our home. Our older children, Nick and Matt, were married and starting families of their own. With each child's departure, we experienced a variation of the empty nest syndrome. But now, with Suzie settled in a distant town, the "someday" we had always talked about had finally arrived. And we hadn't a clue what to do with it.

"Maybe I'll convert Susie's room into an art studio," I said without much conviction. "Or start writing a novel."

"Uh huh," Tom nodded absently, keeping his eyes on the e vening news.

It was as if a dark cloud had settled over us. I felt like I was jumping out of my skin, constantly starting new projects and then dropping them. Meanwhile, Tom couldn't focus. He was watching too much television. Reading books without ever finishing them. Skipping his usual morning runs. If this keeps up, I thought, we're going to end up in matching recliner chairs.

Our mortgage was paid. We were financially secure. But the truth was, although we had saved well, we had never really planned how to enjoy our retirement. Friends were taking lavish cruises and exotic vacations. Or moving to sunnier climates. That wasn't our style. I hated living out of a suitcase, Tom gets seasick, and we both like the change of seasons. I was leafing through a magazine one day when it hit me.

"Tom, you know how you always joked about wanting to live on an English country estate? Why don't we do it?" I said. "I don't mean a castle like Downton Abbey. Just a cottage in the Cotswalds."

He looked up from his newspaper.

"You mean for a week or two?"

"Um. No. I mean for six months, maybe a year?"

"A year? Robyn, that would blow a massive hole in our retirement account. And who would care for our house?"

"What if we swapped houses with an English couple, the way the Meyers did?" I said.

Tom looked at me as if antennae had just sprouted from my forehead. Our neighbors, the Meyers, had traded houses with a British family for an entire summer. For three months, the Meyers lived in a fabulous London townhouse, complete with maid service, a Mercedes and two cats while the British family took care of their ranch house, pool, SUV and Golden Retriever. We had been fond of the British family and continued to exchange Christmas cards.

"So, you mean there's no expense involved, other than airfare?" Tom said, his brows raising.

I nodded like a bobble-head doll. Tom went back to his newspaper, but I knew I had reawakened a long-forgotten dream. In college, Tom had spent his junior year at Cambridge. When we met the following year, he was still affecting a vaguely British accent and wearing an ascot. I didn't mention the idea for another two weeks, during which I researched the possibilities online, then placed a copy of an available cottage on the kitchen table next to the coffee pot. It had wisteria-covered stone walls, a rose-colored roof, a lovely garden and a white cat named Mr. Wiskers. Best of all, it had an updated kitchen and central heat and air.

"You're serious?" said Tom, adding artificial sweete ner to his coffee.

"Just a thought," I shrugged, letting the idea marinate. I wanted him to think it was all his idea. Thirty years of marriage will do that. Tom went out for a long run. When he returned, he placed a box of English tea biscuits on the table and in a thick British accent he drawled, "Shall I serve tea in the parlor, ma' am?"

I practically squealed with joy. The following months were filled with travel arrangements and Skype calls to the Emersons in Oxforshire. The change in Tom was instantaneous. He read up on the history of the area and poured over maps. Plus we both had lengthy conversations with our three adult children, who thought we were out of our minds.

"But, Dad, what will you and Mom do there?" Suzie groaned.

"The same as we do here. But instead of taking in a Broadway show, we'll see Hamlet at Stratford-upon-Avon," Tom said.


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Would love to swap homes with someone in another country! A home on the beach would be my idea of heaven. Maybe some day...

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