On my own.

Three weeks ago, I dropped my boy off at art school in Providence, Rhode Island. It’s a trip we’ve been planning for years, maybe even decades. From the days when Jack was first able to pick up a crayon and started making marks on paper, his mom and I celebrated his creativity and put those pieces of paper into a special binder, a collection which grew to two books, then three, then a shelf-full.  We didn’t have any particular plan to create an artist or designer or an illustrator; we just celebrated what seemed special about him, and let him know that if this (or drumming or soccer or World of Warcraft…) is what he really loved most, it was fine with us.

When it came time to apply to college, I told Jack that committing to an art school had risks but so did any career path. As far as I was concerned, a bigger risk would be to seek a profession that didn’t ignite his passion, to simply try to make money at something in which he had no real interest. I know too many people who have gone down this path and found little at its end. That shelf full of drawings proved that Jack had a calling, a rare thing indeed.

I borrowed a truck from a friend, loaded it with Jack’s belongings and we drove up 1-95 to RISD. After lunch in the cafeteria, I sensed that Jack was ready to take off, that he wanted to set up his room, meet his new friends and start his life. My job was done.

I had been dreading what was to follow. I have only ever lived alone for about six months — after graduating from Princeton and moving into a studio apartment on the Lower East Side. Then I got some roommates, then a girlfriend who became a wife, then a son …. and the last three decades were filled. Overnight, I was on my own again.

For a year, I had been worried about being alone in my empty apartment — empty evenings, lonely mornings, no one to talk to but my dogs and the wind. My girlfriend Jenny has been in Dallas all summer and I have been missing her sorely too.

But here’s the funny thing: I love it.

Despite all my worries and fears of dying alone in my sleep and being eaten by my dachshunds, I love being able to decide when I get up, when I got to bed and what I do in between. What I eat, what I do, whether I watch TV or read or draw or stare out the window. It’s fantastic. Time expands. I have a huge sense of accomplishment and also of being relaxed and at my own pace. And I love having a neat apartment, not having soccer equipment on the living room floor or boxer shorts in the kitchen. I don’t have to share the bathroom or the remote control or the sofa. It’s just me and two miniature hounds.

I do miss Jack. I email him, he texts me, we chat on the phone a couple of times a week. He sends me phone photos of the art he is making and tells me about his new friends, about his teachers (for the first time ever he loves them all), about how great the food is.

And he is flourishing. He works his ass off, staying up till the wee hours doing enormous assignments. His first week, he posted the following on Facebook:

a haiku about getting out of bed;
no no no no no
no no no no no no no
no no no fuck that

Then one of his new classmates uploaded this picture:

Jack’s new best friend.

He’s going to be okay, it would seem, and so am I.

P.S.  I try to avoid getting emotional about commercials but this one has been getting to me:

32 Comments

  1. Ann

    The empty nest is not so empty after all. What a sweet post, Danny.

  2. Chris

    “fears of dying alone in my sleep and being eaten by my dachshunds,” LOL Life has more surpries instore it seems.

  3. Nikira (@nikiraa)

    Totally understand it, been there. Great feeling to see kid growing and have bits of personal freedom. :-)

  4. Caroline Berk

    A flourishing boy, a relaxed dad. Life is good.

  5. Gina

    Hard to envision your dachshunds eating you – your post was a bit sad, but a lot happy! It is an interesting experience to live on your own – something I have only done for about 3 months in my entire life. Sounds like your boy is doing well!

  6. Helenlp

    Lovely. Feels like I’ve watching Jack grow up from a distance for years through your videos, books and blogposts. And now he’s gone off to school. Can’t help feeling, more than most kids even (including my own), that he is VERY much your and Patti’s creation. Glad to hear you’re happy – makes me smile.

  7. Brenda Swenson

    It makes me smile to hear you and Jack are doing well. It sounds like the two of you are experiencing life in all its new forms.
    I have two sons. I love the special bond we share. I wasn’t sure how I would go on when my last child left home. Instead of mouring the empty space I turned his room into my studio. Our lives have ever been the same, better! Both my sons have found their passion in life, and so have I.

  8. Mary Martin

    Ah, you’re going to be fine, and so is Jack! You have a great rapport and that will keep you close through the years. Heartwarming to hear you have a new lady in your life……

  9. Tam

    OMG I laughed and laughed reading this. Especially Jack’s haiku. Sweet and sour, this empty nest business. But I’m glad you found the sweet because it’s supposed to be that way!

  10. Darlene K Campbell

    As I was reading your beautiful essay about being alone in the house I kept thinking, but you’ll love it…then you said exactly that and I smiled. My three daughters all have graduated college and let me offer you a bit of simple advice that you didn’t ask for…change the locks on the doors. Nah, just joking, but it did take years to get them all out of the house and one still lives here part time. (I can’t really explain part-time, but she has a definition for it that works.) Mainly it means all of her stuff has taken over three rooms upstairs. At the first hint that I may have my house back for my husband and I again I got rid of the living room and made it my art/writing studio. Such freedom. My mantra now is “I want privacy.” I definately connected to those little things you expressed that are quite lovely when living alone. I loved sharing those first college years with them and you are in for a memorable time with your son. Congrats!

  11. Jane LaFazio

    wonderful. so happy to hear you’re doing so well. xoxoxo

  12. Ross Lynem

    I like that, “time expands”. Thanks for sharing …

  13. Pauline Leger

    so good to read this… filled with hope and happiness.
    Loved Jack’s haiku ;-) and yes, that commercial gets to me too.

  14. sweetwatergal

    Yayy!!! I’m alone during the week now, as well. My family scattered and doing their own things. Daughter nursing in Indy, a son in service in Afgahnistan, my baby a freshman at Purdue and hubby on the road all week. I love my solitude!! I can eat/not eat/eat crap, listen to my music LOUD, shave/not shave (usually not)……..the possibilities!! Such a feeling of ‘a job well done’ when they’ve found their path and are on their way!!!!

  15. cacollie

    It’s funny how some of the best feelings have that sadness shadow! Some of my friends who become empty nesters have found solace in gaining a sewing room, studio, or just a place of their own in the gone kid’s room! Sounds like you are finding your way, and what an accomplishment! Raising a child you are proud of, helping him find his way to what defines him, and supporting him while he tries to make it a self supporting profession. Lots to be happy about!

  16. pollywPolly

    Awwwww. We are on the other end of the spectrum right now with 6 little ones, but, believe it or not, I’m already worried about that drive to college. My husband says he’s not looking forward to the drive back from dropping any of them off and how I’ll probably be. On another note, I remember moving back in with my parents after college for about 4 years while I tried to get into grad school. Thanks for letting us be a part of such a big transition and showing us the good things about it.

  17. theamplegoddess

    That commercial gets to me too & my boys are still in high school.
    I can’t believe Jacks already in college! Glad he’s doing well and your adjusting to alone time.

  18. ann'sart@studiohyde

    Good to know Jack has settled into this new phase in his life and is flourishing. It is always difficult to let them go, but I found talking on the phone and occasionally seeing them made it all right.

  19. C. Prince

    The feeling I get when I read this was that you don’t have regrets. You’ve enjoyed your son, loved him, shown him how to grieve, and recover, discover his passion, see life through his own eyes…prepared him to fly. What peace you must have.

  20. wethree3

    I saw that commercial the other day and was surprised by how emotional I got! I love this post and while my son is still 12, I think about the day he goes off to school. Thanks for calming my mind for a few minutes:) Its got to feel great knowing that he’s taken to school so well.

  21. Susan Brubaker Knapp

    Oh my gosh. Crying here. And my kids are not even looking at colleges yet. I feel your pain, I feel your joy, I feel your pride. Hang in there. You have a great outlook, as always.

  22. FortheLoveOf

    About to happen to us too,I’m sure we’re also going to love it and hate it at the same time! The very best to you…

  23. Nikita

    so glad you are back!!!…now you’ll have more time to post your drawings and thoughts too, right?
    would you share Jack’s stuff ?
    great kid you got!!!

  24. Beth Berman

    Glad you are back and I totally relate. Been there, done that and love the freedom.

  25. gidget

    greetings to you from so cal,
    i only just stumbled upon you and your first books a few months back through amazon. i believe ‘you’ were one of the recommended titles for me to read based on my preferences and browsing history. since then, i have laughed and cried through a couple of your memoirs and sketch books. i am delighted to have found you as i’m sure your life and work will have an influence upon my own;just as my dog-eared favorite, calvin and hobbs or bob ross or watercolor by number or gag handbook or…well, you get the picture.
    with gratitude and best wishes for an easy transition to the gregory family,
    gidget

  26. Pat

    Love you, Danny, and the fact that you will share yourself with the world.

  27. Michael

    Wow…if a blog post like this is so powerful, what will “A Kiss Before You Go” be like?

  28. Revelle

    Your a good Dad. You have a great kid. All is well. Best luck. Love the commercial too!

  29. Adriana

    Oh goodness, I don’t even want to think about all of this. My BABY is starting 10th grade and I’m already trying to prepare myself. He was a baby two blinks ago. I can’t image how my parents let me move to a whole other country when I was 19. I guess is Karma.
    Great post. Keep us updated.

  30. Linda Kelly

    Even though we know that we are working to raise independent, strong, courageous children who will spread their wings and fly away from us, it is bittersweet when they do. It means endings and beginnings for them and for us. But those new beginnings can be so amazing, as you say. Time for yourself, time to think and breath and be, just for yourself now and then. Doesn’t mean you don’t miss your children, but it’s a wonderful time to grow and learn and turn in new directions ourselves. Congrats on raising a wonderful son and sending him off on a new adventure filled with love and hope and promise!

  31. Ann

    Glad your back. Missed your post. Been there too with my two daughters. Missed them a lot for a couple of months and then got used to them being away, Had more free time so I joined an art group and a quilt group. Now Im busy all the time. Life changes but life is always good.

  32. Michelle

    Oh my goodness that advertisement’s a killer! Triggers all the tear ducts.

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