MRS. R HAS lost count of the hangovers she has had this summer. She has eaten out most nights. Ethel & Ramone's, in Mount Washington, two nights in a row, same table, same drinks, same entree. The dog died in April, so she didn't have to rush home to walk him. Foreign films, facials and freedom (within reason). Once, her husband wondered aloud when she would be home to stay. Oh, she's been home. Those nights, she usually wandered over to the neighbors for wine on the porch and leisurely wandered back after dark.
Mrs. R's summer vacation began June 28, the day her 12-year-old son left for Camp Skylemar in Maine, the day she put her husband on a plane for Italy. "I've been out with all my friends," the 50-something professional said gleefully.
But, regrettably, her freewheeling, footloose summer is over now. Summer may officially end Sept. 22, but for this working mom and other parents who found themselves home alone for the first time in years - seasonal empty nesters, if you will - summer ended last weekend with the return of campers and teens with jobs down at the ocean. It's back-to-school season now. And some of these same parents - who felt giddy with their newfound freedom over these past weeks - are back in their Suburbans, Suburus and Santa Fes shuttling kids to back-to-school appointments.
If Mrs. W had to pen her "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" essay, it might begin with a reverie on mornings at the pool. Gliding through that blue water, swimming lap after lap. It was an exercise she last undertook as a teen-ager. But with three of her four children away for the summer and her youngest enrolled in a local day camp, Mrs. W could slip into the pool with nothing to occupy her but the push and pull of muscle against water.
She took up yoga, re-rented movies such as Bridget Jones's Diary and cleaned her kids' rooms of the flotsam and jetsam of the past school year: dirty socks under a bed, stale Halloween candy on a shelf, sticky gumballs in a dresser drawer. On the occasion of her 40th birthday, Mrs. W invited her friends for a game of soccer - yup, they played soccer - and a late lunch.
"It was the best day," she recalled.
For Mr. F, the father of two teen-age girls, his essay might recall the weekend guitar workshop he attended in Virginia, watching the fretwork of Tommy Emmanuel and Stephen Bennett. It would certainly mention those leisurely, after-work runs with his wife and dinners at their favorite Lebanese eatery. And, of course, the satisfaction of finding everything in its place and as you left it, which is never the case where teen-agers reside. With their oldest babysitting on the Jersey Shore and the youngest at camp in Vermont, Mr. and Mrs. F found the time alone liberating and vaguely familiar.
"Like when we were first married," he said. "And interestingly, it doesn't take long to get back to that place."
Sure, they missed their kids (everyone did). But they knew they were having a great summer.
Being home alone meant less responsibility and fewer hassles. Their California vacation had few of the worries that come with planning for four and more of the pleasures of choosing for two.
The summer of 2003 was their summer as seasonal empty nesters, and over the course of the summer, they realized that what they did on their summer vacation offered up an invaluable lesson for life: "That there's plenty of life to live when the kids leave."