How will you know your teen has grown and flown? Your refrigerator will tell you.
If there are no school lunch menus, calendars, or newsletters on the fridge door, you’ve moved into early retirement parenting. Instead of daily prompts, there will be annual reminders, like the university’s Parents Weekend. You’re in paternal retirement when the only items are coupons for Lipitor, Estroven, and Viagra.
When you were childless, the refrigerator was just another appliance. The door, plastered with drunken selfies and a Domino’s pizza coupon, was the entrance to expired milk and leftover Thai food. After you entered parenthood, the refrigerator door became a trusted friend, the family epicenter, and the foreteller of life changes.
The codependent relationship started when your preschool kid brought home a folder titled, “No More Free Time for Mommy or Daddy.” The enclosed calendars, reminders, and teacher letters were instinctually posted on the refrigerator. That’s because the approach to family scheduling has not evolved – using cute Container Store magnetics to attach stuff to the frig is the modern-day equivalent of drawing a kid’s schedule on a cave wall.
Parents stick with the cave wall approach because technology can’t handle the complexity of family planning. Siri and Alexa can offer reminders, but no virtual friend can decide when to redeem parental favor tokens, select the best day to be “sick,” or decide which kiddie activity will get Grandma off your case. Scheduling for a child requires a savant. A parent.
By posting all the demands in one place, the scheduling savants get the flexibility needed for never-ending obligations. The cave wall also helps with the most predictable aspect of childrearing – unpredictability. The family calendar is never inked; it’s an erasable listing of maybes.
The refrigerator door eventually becomes the family Yoda. It knows what the kid is doing, can detail what happened to the 401K, and explain why mommy and daddy have a date night every lunar moon and sex each solar eclipse.
Your frig also prepares you for developmental changes. Every summer, it reminds you to take down the previous chapter of your kid’s life. There’s no parental mourning because the next chapter is immediately posted, you have to take the kid to the pool, and you don’t have time to grieve.
After high school graduation, you do what you’ve done for almost 15 years – remove the old stuff. This time, it’s different. There’s no fall sports schedule, school supplies list, or principal’s letter. Instead, it’s just a dorm check-in schedule and the university fall calendar.
It’s weird. For the first time in ages, nothing needs to be attached to sides of the refrigerator. The door is so barren that you notice the dozens of scratch marks left by Shutterfly photo calendars. And there are lots of open days on the family schedule. Lots.
Initially, there’s a sense of relief, that rare parental less-to-do feeling. Yet, it dawns on you that you’re going to miss something way more important than a bunch of obligations – your kid.
Your appliance buddy is gently warning you that the next saga of your kid’s life will be entirely different. The story is going to be written without you as a main character. That means grown, flown, and time to mourn.
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Mark Shatz is a single dad, psychologist, and author of Comedy Writing Secrets (3rd ed). His favorite pastime is watching his college-bound son outsmart “proven” parenting techniques. Dr. Shatz’s parental rants are at: https://worldshardestjob.com