They’re everywhere this time of year.
And I’m not talking about overpriced, Pumpkin Spice beverages.
Turn a corner in the grocery store a little too quickly and you may literally run into a middle-aged woman who is staring at a bag of Pepperidge Farm Mint Milanos with tears silently running down her cheeks, “What the actual…” you start to think, when she glances sadly over at you and softly whispers, “My baby is gone.” You quickly scoot away, because that’s some seriousish that you don’t need in your life.
Or you’re walking through the bar area of a restaurant on your way to your table and suddenly the air is pierced with a loud shriek, “We did it! To us!” And you turn to see four middle-aged women holding up margaritas with looks of unadulterated joy on their faces. “Wow! I’ll have what they’re having,” you think, a la When Harry Met Sally.
What is up with all the emotions suddenly on public display?
Ahhh, then it hits you, when you remember the text you got from a friend yesterday: “This sucks!” With five Anguished Face emojis behind the words to really drive the point home.
Her youngest child flew the coop for college a few weeks ago and she’s not taking it so well. For real, though.
If you can’t relate, you might be thinking, “Just breathe, people. Whatever.” But if you’ve been through the transition yourself, or it’s barreling down upon you soon, you get it and you might feel the urge to help out a bit.
‘Cause, yeah, it can confuse the heck out of a parent when at 7pm one evening, they are reveling in the fact there is not enough laundry to fill a wash load, yet by 7:12pm they are pouring a glass of wine and contemplating cat videos to make the sadness go away.
So, with all those care packages being sent off to the college kids, let’s for a hot minute think of the empty nester parents. They could use some love, too. And they don’t necessarily need a whole box of stuff, although that would be awesome, if you’re the motivated type or have extra cash stuffed under a mattress somewhere. Just a couple of items could really turn their week around.
Here are ten suggestions to get you into creative-giving mode:
1. Adult beverages.
Wine, for the friend who tends to trend more on the sad end of the parental emotions scale. Champagne, for the more joyous among us. One bottle is fabulous, a gift membership for a Wine or Beers of the Month Club is super extra, but the holidays are right around the corner! (Kill two birds with one liquor.) And for those who abstain from alcohol, a box of sparking water or soda in a favorite flavor is never a bad idea.
2. Multipack of travel sized tissues.
Because tears, in random and unforeseen places like the grocery store or driving past the high school. And Parents’ Weekend. And Season 3 of This is Us. And cold and flu season (coming soon to a neighborhood near you.)
3. An airline gift card.
Help them actually take that little getaway they’ve been putting off for years. Maybe to visit an elderly aunt, or a college friend they haven’t seen in person for twenty years, or to get to their student’s college Family Weekend. Any dollar amount that goes towards a ticket would be greatly appreciated. And perhaps they’ll invite you along on a Girls’ Trip.
4. Sex stuff.
OK, skip this section if you’re squeamish or a tad straitlaced. But an empty nest provides extra time for contemplation of relationships. It could be that a friend’s “Netflix and Chill” routine has devolved into a pathetic “PBS and Pill” – you know, ibuprofen or Tylenol PM! Give your friends something to spice things up. Moving on…
5. Pay a teen for digital assistance.
When kids are away, the best method to keep in touch is technology. But a lot of parents out there are not savvy to SnapChat features or Instagram stories. Pay a teen you know $20 to go spend a half hour getting your friend or family member up to speed. They may shock you by suddenly knowing how to text using only their thumbs! #skillz
6. A basket of good snacks.
Quite a few empty nesters give up cooking actual meals several nights each week, or so I’ve heard. (Yes, surely, I jest because I’m Queen of the Cooking Slackers.) Stores like Trader Joe’s and World Market are treasure troves of interesting items that cobbled together equal Dinner – exotic hors d’oeuvres, wines, beers, and desserts that are quick and fun.
7. Movie passes or cinema gift card.
For any parent experiencing the doldrums due to a quiet house and a sad pet, nothing beats going to the movies and spending a few hours with a Superhero or Bradley Cooper. And popcorn (a vegetable with lots of fiber) constitutes a dinner, in my book.
8. Massage gift card.
This can be used towards a solo session or a couples’ massage. Extreme relaxation could possibly lead to a quick return home to utilize a gift from section 4. (see above) Moving on, again…
9. Trip to an animal shelter.
A surefire way to induce instant happiness: puppies and kittens. Take your empty nester friend to visit a shelter and plant that pet adoption seed. At the very least, it’ll be a feel-good escape that releases her maternal instincts and might spur you both on to a new volunteering habit.
10. An hour of your time.
This one will cost you zero cash and may be the one thing that your friend needs the most. Arrange a time to get together someplace comfortable, go for a long walk, or offer to help them paint the bedroom that’s turning craft room. Ask them how they’re truly feeling then put yourself on mute, without offering up any judgment or suggestions, unless they ask for it. Because we all get through this life shift in our own ways, on our own timeline.
And sometimes a thoughtful, little gift helps carry someone right along.