By Shelley Murphy
Fall’s official arrival finds my youngest son studying for his college midterms, my older son focusing on his career and me reluctantly adjusting to the emptiness of my nest.
Actually, this month I have a reason to appreciate my empty nest: I am no longer required to decorate for Halloween. The ghoulish celebration has always been one of my sons’ favorite holidays and my least favorite of the year. This October, I’m skipping everything costumed, candied and colored orange.
A couple weeks ago, I realized another advantage of living in my empty nest.
When my boys turned into teenagers, they announced they’d each outgrown their juvenile themed bedrooms. Their renovation plans included coaxing my husband into painting the walls of their bedrooms a vivid blue that only adolescents appreciate.
Their color choice clashed with everything in our house but I learned to live with it—until two weeks ago.
Walking upstairs I reached the landing and again stared straight into their blinding bright-blue bedrooms, but this time two thoughts struck me: My boys are grown and flown, and I can paint.
Once a teen moves from the family home into the dorm room, parents face the complicated questions of what to do with their offspring’s bedroom, including: Do you repurpose the room? If so, how soon is too soon? Or, do you leave it untouched?
I remember one girlfriend telling me she couldn’t bear the thought of changing anything in her son’s room, and she kept his bedroom door closed for several weeks after he left. Yet another girlfriend couldn’t wait to break out the blueprints and convert her son’s bedroom into a yoga and meditation retreat.
After dropping off my boys at their college dorms, I never felt the urge to swing by Lowe’s home improvement department. Although, I admit I coveted their closets and didn’t waste time claiming large sections in each bedroom.
Years ago, when my older son set off for college, I read an article debating the pros and cons of dismantling a college kid’s bedroom as they transition during their first year of college.
The article concluded that although most college freshmen outwardly boast about their independence many secretly crave the comfort of returning home to their childhood bedroom filled with their familiar belongings.
The author advised against purging a college kid’s bedroom and suggested making changes in increments. College is a transient phase for undergrads and students emotionally detach from their childhood bedroom on their own timetable. The article said, “If you can leave their room the same for the first year, do it.”
My sons are past the one-year mark, but before visiting Sherwin-Williams, I asked each of my boys how they felt about my plan to return their bedroom walls to their original subtle color of clary sage.
One evening I called my older son in the Midwest and asked, “How attached are you to the color of your bedroom walls?” After recovering from a hearty laugh he asked if I was serious, then said he couldn’t care less.
I assured him if he missed the vibrant blue color of his bedroom walls that he’d still find plenty of it on the electrical outlets, ceiling fan and door jambs. My husband apparently painted during a power outage or while blindfolded.
Getting the OK from my college graduate, I called my college sophomore to ask his thoughts on my painting project. Reflecting on my reading, I wasn’t surprised when he replied, “No thanks, I like my blue room.”
Today, when I walk upstairs I’m greeted by the soothing sage green paint in my older son’s bedroom. I like the new calm color but miss my boys’ chaotic adolescent blue years. It’s going to take some time for me to adjust to the new paint—and even longer to embrace my empty nest.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 17 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the SC Times since 2006.