Empty nest: Diverse paths find an American family all in China, then gone
An empty nest fills when an American couple goes to China to work, and finds their trailing offspring with them. But now the Beijing-ensconced parents see their adult kids moving back to the US.
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Our family adventures remind me of the year we lived in Belgium when the two were teenagers. Then, uprooting Daniel, 16, and Joanna, 13, was tantamount to child abuse in their eyes, and they responded initially with a fairly heavy-duty regime of sulking and door-slamming. But before long they discovered the joys of Europe: buying chocolate crepes a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower, skiing in the Alps, eating twelve grapes in the shadow of the Alhambra in Granada as the new year arrived, biking through Holland, riding double-decker buses in London, and gorging on moules-frites in Brussels. Not all was bucolic, of course, since travel with teenagers has its own challenges. I remember one giant fight over the best way to exit the ancient grounds of Pompeii, losing track of them in St. Marie de la Mer and wondering if they had been abducted by gypsies, and feeling frustrated when they seemed to prefer playing their hand-held video games instead of looking at a panel of stunning Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. And there was that memorable meltdown in Avignon when the water park didn’t work out and they accused us of tricking them into going to the Palais des Papes instead.Skip to next paragraph
Debra Bruno is a Beijing-based freelance journalist and the mother of two children: 28-year-old Daniel and 25-year-old Joanna, both of whom also happen to live in China. She loves cooking, her 15-year-old cat (whom she brought to China), and travel. She blogs about it all at Not by Occident.
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Mostly, though, that year brought us closer as a family at a period when some families tend to drift apart.
And now we’ve had another chance, one that few families get. This time it’s Asia to explore, both as a family of four and with each of the kids alone: biking alongside rice paddies in Vietnam, feeding crackers to petite deer in Japan, snorkeling in the Philippines, running a race through Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We’ve celebrated birthday dinners both in our apartment and at Beijing’s best spots. We’ve stared at more Buddhas than I ever expected to see in two lifetimes.
Now, though, this brief idyll is about to end. Both kids are heading back to the US this summer to begin new chapters in their lives in the form of grad school. Gone will be the funny texts from Joanna: a Starbucks that had run out of coffee, commentary on Downton Abbey. Gone will be our weekly manicures. Like the chats many parents can have with their adolescents when they’re in the car, sitting in a nail parlor was an opportunity for us to chat about just about anything because the manicurists didn’t speak English. And I’ll have to figure out the time difference between Beijing and Denver when I want my son to explain the nuances of the latest episode of “Game of Thrones.”
I know that lots of parents face the struggle with both the empty nest and with boomerang children. In our case, it’s not that the nest is empty but that we’ve moved the nest. And I can hardly call them boomerang children if we’re all in this Asian adventure together.
In any event, it was fun while it lasted. And if someone had told me five years ago that we’d all be living in China in the year 2013, I wouldn’t have believed it. We won’t pass this way again, but this unexpected episode makes me hopeful that life has a few more surprises in store.
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