There's a shift going down at my house. It's been slowly creeping up on us for a few years, but lately the pace seems to have quickened.
My older son, Christian, is away at college. My younger son, Bergen, is a high school senior, filling his days with the things that seniors do — namely school, work and friends. Though not necessarily in that order.
It boils down to this: The only kid I still have living at home isn't actually home all that much. Somehow, just a couple months into the school year, I'm already feeling the quiet beginnings of the empty nest.
You think I'm about to go down the weepy road of a parent-about-to-let-go, but I'm not. I mean, I wouldn't put it past me. You know I'm going to be writing that column eventually.
But that's not this column. This one is about how, despite the fact that Bergen is primarily using our home for a place to sleep and keep his clothes, our house still feels pretty full most of the time.
And that's because there always seem to be animals under my feet.
Despite the fact that we only have two pets — a cat named Stripes and a dog named Daisy — they somehow manage to be exactly wherever I am. Though we're starting to see signs of that dynamic changing around here, too.
A universal truth of pet ownership is that your pets are going to age faster than you are. Stripes and Daisy are getting old. How old? I can't say exactly. And not because they're vain and forbid it. But because we aren't sure.
Stripes was a stray we adopted after he showed up on our neighbor's deck 15 years ago. We called every shelter in town trying to find that cat's owner, but he was destined to be ours.
He was thin and friendly, and the tips of his ears were so frost-bitten that he eventually lost one of them. We decided that he was probably about a year old, which would put him at right around 16 now.
Daisy joined the family 8-1/2 years ago. We adopted her in July 2011 — a timeline I only remember because it was the first summer my boys went to sleep-away camp. We surprised them with Daisy at pick-up, because Jay and I are just that cool.
A rescue dog who'd been moved from a shelter in Kentucky to a shelter in Minnesota, Daisy's records were thin. The vet estimated her age at 3 to 5, which would put her between 11 and 13 years now.
Life expectancy for small retrievers — which is what we figure Daisy is, give or take — is roughly 10 to 13 years. And cats who've lived a solid 9 lives like our Stripes has? A Google search tells me 13 to 17 years is average.
This means that our pets are well into retirement age. They came to us as children, energetic and nubile. And now, by the magic of time, have somehow out-aged us.
Neither of our animals seem interested in retiring yet. Daisy still loves to chase her tennis ball across the yard. And Stripes — well, he's not interested in chasing much of anything, but he's also not lost his ability to come running in search of a lap the moment someone sits on the couch.
Still, our pets are slowing down. Napping is a favorite and frequent pastime. Stripes gets up slowly now, testing out his legs before moving across the room. Daisy may still live for tennis balls, but after a couple retrievals, she's ready for a breather.
Her hearing is going, too. It wasn't long ago that Daisy would be at the door to greet us when we came home, having heard us pull in the driveway. Now, we can pull in the driveway, open the garage door, and walk in the house while performing a drum solo and still have to yell: "Daisy! We're home!" before she comes around the corner. But I'll tell you what: Once that old lady realizes we're here, she's as exuberant as a puppy to see us.
When we adopted Daisy, my younger son asked, "Will Daisy still be living with us when I go to college?"
The question, I understood, wasn't simply whether she'd be living with us — but whether she'd still be living. "Yes," I assured him, doing an optimistic math in my head. "Yes, she will still be with us when you go to college."
I feel confident that both Daisy and Stripes are going to make good on that promise. But I do see the time coming when our nest is going to be emptier and emptier.
Just not yet. Tonight, as I write — scratching out a messy longhand in a yellow steno book — Daisy sits at my side, periodically nudging my elbow to remind me to pet her. Stripes sits across the room at the patio door, watching birds peck at seeds on the deck.
And even though Christian is away at college and Bergen is at work on this Sunday afternoon, I'm appreciating our still full-ish nest while we have it.