From Empty Nest to College Dorm

I’m not complaining. Let me say that right up front. It’s just that I didn’t expect to go from an empty nest to having not one but two college students living with us this summer. I knew that my son would be coming home, of course, and was rejoicing in that news. The unexpected part occurred when one of his best friends from high school asked if she could live with us this summer. (And no, they’re not dating. They really are just friends. No, I don’t have my head in the sand. And no, I’m not giving you a “wink, wink, nod, nod” as I write this. They are truly a testament to the fact that you can, indeed, be friends with someone of the opposite gender.)

Our first response to the request was that we needed to think about it. She is a terrific young woman – brilliant, witty, kind -- and we’d had her over for dinner many times over the years, so we weren’t worried about getting along with her. But taking on an additional roommate after a school year of only worrying about ourselves appeared a bit daunting at first.

Our first and most pressing concern was how our schedules would work. Both my husband and I work out of our home which isn’t even a house, it’s an apartment. Having two teenagers doing their own thing at the same time that my husband and I are trying to work seemed like a traffic jam just waiting to happen.

When I told people what we were considering, they chimed in with their own anxieties: “What about the food? Teenagers eat a lot. You’d be taking that on as an additional expense!” “What about the chores?” “What about the extra cooking?” “How would you handle laundry?”

There would also be additional worries: two teenagers with no curfews had the potential to keep me up at night wondering if they were safe.

So my husband and I sat down to talk about it – first just between the two of us, then with our son, and finally with the four of us all together. And I have to say that it’s been a joyful experience because, I believe, we really worked out the potential glitches before making a decision.

First, we solved the scheduling issues by putting everyone on Google Calendar (nope, I’m not getting paid to promote it, but it’s a pretty darn good tool.) Both teens would be required to work around my husband and my schedules.

The extra grocery expense we simply didn’t worry about. We looked at it with a “pay it forward” mentality for the very simple reason that when my daughter was in college an extremely generous benefactor helped with her tuition so that she could go to the school of her choice. We resolved back then that whenever we could pay it forward we would. This would be one of those times.

Extra chores: simple. We divvied them up. My husband loves to cook, so our adolescent roommates would be responsible for dishes and taking out the trash, with the exception of one day a week when they would have to plan, grocery shop and prepare the meal. (An ulterior motive has been to teach our son some simple recipes as he will be living in a co-op next year and responsible for some of the cooking there.) Laundry: every man and woman for themselves.

Finally, I require both teens to text me when they get home if they will be out late. That way, if I wake up in the middle of the night and feel worried about whether they’re back I won’t have to get out of bed to see – I can simply check my texts. So far, so good – they’ve been very responsible and I haven’t had reason for concern.

So the upshot is that building a small college dorm from an empty nest has been a rewarding experience. The vibrant youthfulness and intellectual curiosity of two college kids infuses the house with a lovely energy that we enjoy. They’ve proven to be completely responsible in following all of the house rules we set up. We’re not, however, going to talk about the way their bedroom space looks. It looks like, well, like a college dorm. So I shut the door and just don’t go there. Literally. I don’t go there and neither should you.