Charlatan Magazine

The Empty Nest Syndrome

The Empty Nest Syndrome is not a condition. It’s a phenomenon.

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She never cried when her son went off to school. She was far and away too excited for him to engage, learn, and take flight into a new world called kindergarten. She thought, perhaps, something might be wrong with her. Why didn’t she mourn her toddler’s transition into the public-school system with abandon, trepidation or tears?

Covid-19 now sits comfortably amongst the greatest pandemics of all time. It has infected 150 million people throughout the world, according to Johns Hopkins University, and killed 600,000 in the United States. Sending her first born off to college during this historic year presented a confounding challenge.

All rites of passage for teens — high school prom, graduation, sports, activities and avocations — were decimated during the Spring of 2020. In her son's case, rowing season was suspended indefinitely thus deterring the oldest intercollegiate sporting event in the United States. His senior classes in physics, math, and all other prerequisites for a college engineering degree were cancelled. Commencements in 2020, in particular, saw all seniors around the U.S. given an option to ‘Pass or Fail’ for their final semester, effectively eradicating their last practical steps with accountability.

That I May Serve

Virginia Tech is renown as a research university in Blacksburg Virginia. Moreover, it is the first four-year public institution (among the 11 former confederate States) to admit black undergraduates. At the time when the Commonwealth of Virginia enforced Jim Crow laws — racial segregation in public and private schools — Virginia Tech was proudly enrolling the first black students. It can fairly be said their motto “Ut Prosim” has been guiding their alma mater for nearly 150 years with the mantra, “That I may serve.”

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter appeared on social media in 2013 — after the shooting death of African American teen Trayvon Martin — and launched a social movement advocating for non-violent civil disobedience against all racially motivated violence against black people. The movement returned to national headlines following the killing of George Floyd, and an estimated 26 million people joined the Black Lives Matter protests around the world this summer. However, not all of those marching in the protests were African American, turning the combined interracial protests into the largest civil rights movements in history. The coming together of many different races was a reaction to government shutdowns, shelter in place orders, and the general economic anxiety associated with Covid-19.

Fear stokes racism, and racist thoughts and actions often arise from prejudice: a preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience. As she packed up her son’s belongings, oscillating between emotions of joy and concern, she realized she was growing anxious. After he leaves for college, she thought, she will no longer have oversight nor control of his environment. Social distancing, face masks, and hand sanitizer are the order of the day, but do college freshmen actually comply? As a low risk demographic, are teenagers concerned, compliant, or avoiding the protocol? Having reached the threshold of young adulthood, she began to wonder what type of job she’d done as a parent, and if or whether her son would serve society, humanity, or self?

The Empty Nest Syndrome

All parents are susceptible to the Empty Nest Syndrome, a feeling of grief and loneliness associated with a child leaving home for the first time. The American Medical Association confirms that the Empty Nest Syndrome is not a condition but a phenomenon, and psychologists explain the emotions are typically driven by a fear of the unknown, and the inability to control their young's environment.

Symptoms of empty nest syndrome can include depression, the loss of a sense of purpose, feelings of rejection, worry, stress, anxiety and fear over their offspring's welfare. Parents who experience empty nest syndrome often question whether or not they’ve prepared adequately for their flock to live independently.

Fear is not merely an abstract emotion induced by a perceived danger or threat, it’s a physiological response that leads to behavioral change. “If you are worrying that something will happen — don’t let it,” her husband always said, and she’d admit to conflating emotional reactions with measured response. Throughout the years, she’d often ruminate in worry about something until sharing the possible scenario with him. His words were a call to action. A reminder to get to work. She called them ‘Eureka Moments’ every time he said them, and when their young went off to kindergarten, she realized that they’d done the work, gave them what they could, taught them what they knew. There was no need for tears.

With over 5,000 colleges and universities in America, all are reacting differently to the pandemic. UNC Chapel Hill and Notre Dame have sent their students home. Cornell and Georgia Tech have instituted a high-volume surveillance testing program. Brown, Duke and Rutgers are being sued for tuition refunds, highlighting the importance of the college experience above and beyond a college education. Gen Z — who’ve never known life without the internet — are now virtually consigned to it.

Racism is stoked by speculations. Revolution by experience and reason.

When the Spanish Flu and Great Depression passed one another in first half of the 20th century unemployment fell to 23%, the GDP fell 15% worldwide, and the pandemic infected 500 million people throughout the world. Statistics and circumstances eerily on par with the present day. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was a calculated response designed around the 3 R’s of 'Relief, Recovery, and Reform' which together effectively rebuilt the staggering infrastructure to become the most powerful nation on earth. But he also intended it to be the most inclusive. In a letter to his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, he wrote, “Let there be no forgotten men, no forgotten races.”

Creative destruction presents an opportunity for renewal. The $2.2 Trillion Hero’s Act will buoy education, housing, unemployment and small business. But the fine print of this legislation reveals how democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are redefining public education and race relations in the people’s behalf. It sends $3.5 billion to historically Black colleges and other minority serving institutions, and expands loan relief to the borrowers with non-federally-held student loans typically held by minorities. The devil is in the details.

They passed like ships in the night. In December 2019, the very first headlines of a strange virus originating in Wuhan China was coinciding with her husband’s final bow from a long and courageous battle with cancer. Though his death presaged the early hours of Covid-19, then little more than faint news alerts from faraway places, she’s stood up straight most days since his passing and refused in the wicked months and year the fetal position, the reluctance to leave the nest. Outings, chores and routines struggle for normalcy in a society that’s been partially shut down, an economy now in recession, and a world that collectively now lives behind masks. “If you're afraid something will happen — don’t let it,” he said, and with that she wresteled and began to spread her wings.


Sunlight filtered through the pitifully gnarled branches splaying images of white birch on heath and hull. The sun came out, and, without opening her eyes, she stirred and began exploring the other side of the nest with her legs. Neither twine nor twig was warm on his side and she wouldn’t know — for a few more blissful moments yet — just how terribly long they’d all been gone.

In Memoriam
Paul Leonard Gala
1964 - 2019

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