Sunday, July 17, 2011



Empty nesters. The baby boomers, alone at last. But along the way, somehow empty and alone did not happen for my wife and myself. And in many ways, though there is sadness attached to this alternate reality, there is something good that has emerged.

While I read, from the point of view of recent college graduates ("Growing Up, Then Going Home) of what it means to be back under the watchful eye of your parents, let me tell you the story from my perspective.

My son is now 30 and he is brilliant. There is no smaller way of describing his intellectual capabilities. At 2, he could pick up a record (yes, a record) find the cut on the album that he enjoyed (yes, a cut) and put the needle to the appropriate sound. At 6, he was teaching 10 year olds in his elementary school about the latest on the computer. He wrote music and words for a song for his 5th grade play. He graduated at the top of his class (well, almost), had an outstanding academic career at Dartmouth and was a star in his graduate program in public policy at Berkeley.

And he has spent the last 5 years, from the moment he called to say he was too sick to finish the last term of his studies and took a plane home, in the bedroom down the hall from myself and my wife.

This is not easy to write about and it makes me feel a bit irritated with those young graduates who good naturedly grouse about the difficulties they have in finding a world not ready, willing or able to accept them. But this is not about responding to them nor about pitying myself or my son. This is rather about the benefit that has come from his unexpected return.

You see, empty and alone connotes that there is something missing. And what my son, in his mid-20's and in his diminished physical state brought back into our lives, was an intellectual curiosity and questioning. Events of the world that seemed to swirl around my life without focus, suddenly started to have meaning. Here was a young man, with all his passion for those who have been trampled in the rush of the few and the privileged to reach the top of the food pyramid. Here was my son, making me turn my attention to all that was wrong in so many arenas. Here was this young mind challenging me to take issue with a world that had lost its compass. For you see, my son brought to me the gift of compelling me to think.

As my intellectual horizons broadened upon my son's insistence, I found that I took a real interest in exploring parts of our universe, and my own mind, that had long been ignored. The sports pages no longer were the only focus. Soon the news and opinion pages took center stage. My discussions with my son, while often still about the Yankees, more and more centered on matters that mattered in more fundamental ways. And I began to write about my reactions to the world around me.

Now I write almost every day. It is a role that I could never have fathomed and never would have taken on had illness not forced a return of my son to a nest he wanted nothing more than to abandon. And while he acts as my in-house editor, and responds with the most gentle of criticism to my less stellar efforts, my son's "this one is good, this is very good" is for me the sweetest of all sounds.

There is much more bad than good in watching a son turn 30 under your watchful eye, in a bedroom intended for many things other than his permanent occupation. He can and should be spending the incredible gifts he was given on a world that could sorely use his skills and his passion. I know that each day he hopes and waits to feel the pain disappear, the strength returning to his muscles and the weight, that so mysteriously and dramatically dropped, to as mysteriously and dramatically return. And maybe tomorrow will be that day. And there will be no happier moment for his mom and me, then waving goodbye as he begins a life that has been placed on hold.

But, if and when he does leave, it will be a sad time also. For I have grown to be a more complete and mature person because of his presence. I have discovered things about myself which make each day of my life more full and more interesting. So while I curse the fates that have been unkind to my son, I also thank them. I wish nothing more for my son than good health and a productive life, but I will be forever grateful for his unexpected return that made an empty nest much fuller.


Harryette Friedland said...

Having Richie here in the same building has been such a great comfort to me, his grandmother. Not just because he is my instant "tech support" but because of his unfailing love and respect. Richie came home just as Granpa,s health began to fail. We shared many a supper together with conversations that kept alive Michael's connection to the outside world.
I'll never forget that it was Richie who answered my call when his grandfather suddenly passed away and he who stayed with me until the rest of the family could assemble. Richie told me later that it was the "worst day of his life" , but he never wavered in his support.
I can only hope that he knows how much we all appreciate how very special he is and how much we wish for his return to good health!
With all my love,
Granma Harryette

Marc said...

Very nice. A joy to read.

Pam and Tom said...

We love you all....

Nancy Leeds said...

While I pray for Richie’s recovery, you should all know that even though he can’t perform at the top of his game, it has not stopped him from assisting the Leeds family with his his brilliance, big heart and talents. Richie was instrumental in helping us fight for our daughter Annie’s rights by orchestrating a very effective blog that was viewed by thousands of people and I believe was an enormous help in exposing her story and in acquiring a new home. He has also been an asset to the Post 21 Club, a parent group that is developing the necessary supports for their children with autism that are aging out of their school entitlements. With Richie’s efforts in designing and executing webpage fundraising sites were able to double what we raised the previous year.. Richie continues to assist the Post 21 Club with his high level thinking and ability to put those ideas into action.

Anonymous said...

I think the post is beautiful..


Anonymous said...

great piece!