Another One Flies the Coop

By Chris Erskine
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES ~ Several large IKEA bags rest outside the little girl’s bedroom door. She is leaving for college soon. By all estimates, she will barely sleep her freshman year, yet she seems to need $300 in bedding. So be it. I try to pick my battles.

The other day, I got up early with the little guy, let his mother sleep in, and fixed him a fine breakfast of pistachios and leftover McDonald’s milkshake, which he guzzled, naturally. So I followed that with some fried egg whites – cooked slowly in little poker chips of fresh butter – toast on the side, crumbs everywhere. I topped that off with some cocktail onions, which I know he loves, just like his grandpa.

Well, when my spouse gets up and finds the pistachio shells at the bottom of the kitchen trash – wives can be drug-sniffing K-9 units – she gets all Poshy on me and starts saying things like, “Let me get this straight, you fed him pistachios for breakfast?” I can tell you from experience that this is no way to start a day. It also jeopardizes the deep sense of trust that I’ve been working feverishly to establish.

Yet, a husband can’t be passive in such situations, so I tell her, “See, I understand kids,” then go on to explain about the eggs and the toast and how you need to feed this particular little boy in waves – in courses, like in those fancy restaurants she loves – for that’s the way he eats best. The worst thing you can do is give this kid too much food at once. He’s a nibbler. He’s a mouse.

This explanation stops her, for it has a small ring of truth to it, then she spots the jar of cocktail onions still out on the counter, and I am doomed. “OK, let me get this straight. …” she starts in with again.

So, I take the dog for a long walk to let my wonderful wife cool down, for she’s been a little brittle lately, the girl getting ready for college and my wife spending lots of energy pretending she’s cool with it when she’s not. There is nothing harder on a mother than letting a daughter go, and college seems like such an end to things – though I assure you it’s not. In the next few weeks we’ll discuss this. So to all you teary moms and dads out there, stay tuned for that. We’ll get you through this milestone yet, with humour and cocktail onions to spare.

Certainly, empty nest is one of the toughest parts of parenting. But it’s not the end of things, just the beginning of another delightful phase. A phase in which you don’t have to do her laundry every three hours, for one thing, so let’s look at the bright side. A phase in which she’ll soon be extraordinarily glad to see you when she steps back in the front door – happy as a spaniel – and that’s always nice.

This little girl was supposed to be our empty nest baby, but she turned out to be the first runner-up when the little guy came along – oops. So in one sense we got a reprieve. In another, we got a life sentence.

Which brings us back to the little guy and I walking the dog, during which the 6-year-old is telling me things like, “In the 1950s, George Washington cut down an apple tree,” to which I respond, “He did?” to which he answers, “Or maybe it was peach.”

I’m not a stickler for details, so I let him get away with this little corruption of history. Besides, I want him to share things freely, without me jumping on his every thought. And who knows, it might’ve been a peach tree. Or walnut. Who really knows.

“Tell me more,” I say.

So he tells me about the history of chocolate chips, which not even I knew that much about, even though I know a lot of history, just from having lived through much of it. Plus, I sprinkle chocolate chips on just about everything – one time, a burger.

After 20 minutes of walking the dog, we go back into the house with all the IKEA bags, where Posh has slipped into bed with the little girl. We hear them whisper-discussing whether she needs a mini-fridge in her dorm room and what sorts of personal hygiene the girl will practice when she’s finally, gloriously on her own.

Me, I think this is no time to be practicing such things, you just need to treat it as if it’s real, hygiene being very important to me. When I mention this aloud, Posh swings shut the door. Ka-BAAAAAAM.

Oy, what a couple of weeks this is gonna be.

Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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