Letter from an Empty Nest

Originally published in the Snowmass Sun — Most older siblings will never know what life at home is like once they are gone and off to college. To them, the house they grew up in is simply a second home where they visit for holidays and say hi to the others they forgot to stay in touch with while away but then suddenly remember their names when they ran out of money for food. When you turn 18, life begins to seem significant, not a worry in the world, and nothing else on your mind except leaving your annoying little siblings behind. Lucky them for not having to listen to the never-ending whimpering of Mom and Dad. So, this is my story for the firstborn who will never experience feeling at home alone.

The constant whimpering from Mom and Dad becomes very repetitive and somewhat discouraging. I had always known I was never my parents’ favorite. After all, my older brother is the password child. But it wasn’t until I heard my Mom and Dad refer to our house as an “empty nest” that I felt it. It’s almost like they forgot they have two other 16-year-olds still eating, sleeping, and breathing under their roof. Since I no longer had adult supervision, a house party with live music and a petting zoo jumped increasingly higher on my bucket list.

Suddenly the movement from being neglected turned into helicopter parents. It was as though I was playing in a continuous jeopardy game. The nonstop questions about school, boys, and sports just seemed never-ending. I figured that it was just them missing my brother and hoping I would follow in his footsteps, even though I was the one who made varsity as a freshman, not him. Seeing my mom and dad tear up if I mentioned his name was tricky. Sometimes, they would talk about him like he was in the next room.

At first, my brother being gone didn’t faze me. The house felt cleaner and there was one fewer voice to talk over at dinner. My brother called me constantly, so it felt like he was on an extended vacation. But then the phone calls became less frequent. I would pretend that his house presence was something I didn’t miss. I wouldn’t tell my parents how passing his room and not seeing him playing video games made me sad or how I missed the constant arguments in the car over who gets to play music. Feeling lonely was not something I had ever experienced until my brother left for college. It was like I had lost a best friend. What made it the hardest was that he had a new life and that mine suddenly felt insignificant to him. When he comes home to visit, it’s hard to enjoy spending time with him because all I can think about is him leaving again.

Older siblings: you guys play one of the most critical roles in your family’s life. While you think leaving home at 18 is more complex, you will never experience the rollercoaster of emotions you have dragged the household through.

For college students, this is a reminder to call your family, tell them you miss them, and go home on a free weekend to spend quality time. And for those who haven’t left for college yet, don’t just spend time alone on your phone or watching a movie alone in your room. Ask your brother or sister if you can keep them company. I can assure you you won’t regret it later.

Now, I hope my older brother never reads this so he doesn’t realize that I do enjoy his sarcasm, cooking, and lack of athleticism in the family. But if he does read this, thank you for being my friend. You are the best older brother a family could ask for.