Much has changed since I first started writing Jen’s World more than 15 years ago.
For one, I used to write my columns in 10-point type. Now I use 12-point type, reading glasses, and a document set at 125%.
Another change is the time of day I sit down to write. In the early years, I’d wait until the kids were in bed at night and my house was gloriously quiet for the first time all day. Later, I graduated to writing while the boys were in school, stealing that precious time when the house was empty — a respite from the cacophony of busy mornings and chatty afternoons and homework and dinner and bedtime routines.
These days, my house is empty a lot, allowing me time to sit with my thoughts and write my weekly letters to you, reader-friends.
Though “empty” is maybe not the right word. Because, technically, my house is rarely truly empty. With my husband, Jay, and I both working full-time from home, we seem to always be in it. What makes it “empty” is the quiet — the two of us at desks in different rooms, the silence broken only by the click of laptop keys and Zoom meetings.
Sometimes we wander out of our office caves to see what the other is doing. “I missed you,” Jay will say. “It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other.” And then we’ll laugh and laugh.
The thing is, you get used to this stuff. Fifteen and ten and five years ago, we were used to a crazy, kid-filled house. You think it will never end, all that noise and clutter and jam-packed scheduling. And then it does end. The kids graduate and go on to whatever they go on to next, and you get used to that.
Our older son just finished his junior year at NDSU. Our younger son went away to UND last fall. And yet, after one nine-month stint of being empty nesters, it feels like we’ve had the house to ourselves for a decade. Like it’s always been this way.
I mean, sure, the whole worldwide pandemic probably has something to do with that. But there’s more to it than that, too. It doesn't take very long to slide into a new normal.
Jay and I joke that no two people should ever spend this much time together. David Sedaris had a piece in The New Yorker a couple weeks ago about just this thing. He wrote that he was used to spending several months a year on author tours … until the pandemic canceled them, causing him to suddenly spend all that time with his decades-long partner, Hugh.
He wrote, “… I sought out (Hugh’s) old friend Carol. ‘What’s he really like?’ I asked her. ‘I think I sort of knew once, but that was 25 years ago.’”
I read the whole article out loud to Jay on our way to the airport for vacation last week. The vacation where we were escaping the past year together by traveling to another house in another state where we’d spend whole days together. (When Jay came back from the airplane bathroom on the return, I said, “I missed you!” And then we laughed and laughed.)
These are the years, we’re told, of getting to know each other again. Or so we thought.
Because last week, the kids returned. Our younger son arrived home for the summer. Our older son, for a week to serve jury duty.
Suddenly our house has been bubbling once again with chatter and laughter and screen doors sliding and late night refrigerator rootings and calling out to people on the other floor and shoes piled in the entryway and a sink constantly filled with dishes.
“Did we always use so many dishes?” I asked Jay last night. “Is this how we used to live?”
It is. It is how we used to live — loud and messy and tiring and full. A time when I had to sneak away and hide to write. Much like I’m doing now, behind the closed door of my bedroom, hoping no one realizes I’m here until I finish … this final … word.
Jennifer Koski is associate editor at Rochester Magazine. Her column appears Tuesdays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.