Divorce: Saying Good-Bye to the Kids and the Nest

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Siblings, Empty Nest, Relationships

Jeremy Gerard's kids

The author's children, Nick and Emily. Credit: Jeremy Gerard

Tears come easily to me -- an airline commercial can do the trick -- but crying, of the loud, snot-gulping, bottomless despair sort, is rare. Yet that's what happened when I flipped through Nick's yearbook and came to the page we'd bought to salute his graduation from high school in June.

The top half has cameo photographs of him at various ages, with a congratulatory note from my wife Leslie and me, standard-issue stuff. The bottom half was designed by his older sister Emily. In the picture, they're walking away from me, their arms around around each other, she looking back at the camera, a huge smile lighting up her face.

"Wee one," her message reads, "I got your back. Love, the luckiest big sister in the whole wide world."

None of us knew how much those words, written last fall, would mean when they were published so many months later. Over family dinner in the spring, Leslie and I told them that we were divorcing and I would be moving out as soon as I could find a new place of my own.

We told them how much we love them and that our split had nothing to do with them, standard-issue stuff. For several weeks I slept on a sofa in the dining room, and eventually I did move, to an apartment not far from theirs.

Theirs. What a stunning concept after 22 years of marriage, two kids, a dog, a mortgage, so much stuff.

Not surprisingly, Emily and Nick are furious and bewildered about the fact that our adult problems could jeopardize their home at a time when they both deserve to know that no matter how far away they are at college, home is home. Their home. The more I tried to explain the whys of our divorce, the worse I sounded and eventually I just stopped. It is what it is.

My new place seems tolerable. I have to walk half a block for the view of the Hudson River that has nurtured me from our living room windows for the past 14 years. But it's quiet, the subway access is great, there are a couple of gourmet markets, a wine store and -- this is why I can't imagine living anywhere but New York -- Chinese, Indian and Mexican restaurants around the corner, along with a diner, a coffee shop, a jazz club, a kosher bakery and newsstand that sells foreign papers and Lotto tickets. I have a super, Mike, who, on purely aesthetic grounds, doesn't allow welcome mats in the hallways.

"No mats!" he told me cheerfully when I stopped by to pick up my keys. "I keep floors sparkly sparkly." Yes, sir. So much for the welcome.

Leslie, always my first editor, would call those last two paragraphs avoidance. Writing about the empty nest, she told me, I keep going on about things instead of emotions. I suppose that's one difference in the way the sexes approach matters of importance. When we were looking for our first apartment, the number of places we walked through reached into the hundreds (actually, she walked through, while pregnant with Emily; I did the short list). My solo apartment search a few months ago took exactly one morning. I looked at three places, only one of which could accommodate a kid or two home from school. Boom, done.

Within a few days of moving into my new place, it looked as though I'd lived there forever, because I am, after all, a nester. And so part of this -- the part when I'm not sobbing over Nick's yearbook pictures -- feels surreal. It's over, move on. Boom, done.

When I began this column, I never imagined that I'd be leaving the nest along with Nick and Emily. But here I am, surrounded by my stuff. Emily and Nick have both been home for the summer, working. Their other home. I'm a few subway stops away.

In two weeks, Nick heads off to Ann Arbor to launch his college adventure. Soon after, Emily will return to Philadelphia for her senior year. They've weathered this summer together, arms around one another, one looking back, the other looking forward, then switching. Protecting each other as we four become just another family dealing with divorce and, suddenly, not one but two empty nests.

Standard-issue stuff, I guess. Boom, done.

Related: A Room With A (Point Of) View

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.