I’m an Empty Nester, and What I Miss Most About Having Children in My House Is Probably the Vomit

If only I’d appreciated the puke more when it was ever-present. Alas.

I found this nest, but there is no vomit in it either.

Sometimes I think about what I would tell the younger version of myself if I could travel back in time or simple send him—me—a message. I’m in my fifties now, and my three kids are all out in the world. When I come home from work at night, my house often feels very empty. I still remember when the laughter and raised voices of small children filled the rooms all the way to the ceilings. But now there is just me, my old basset hound, and quiet. Yet, as I sit here in my empty nest, it’s not the noise or the laughter I miss most. It is the vomit.

Yes, if I could time-travel, the first thing I would tell my 30-year-old self as he stumbles around in the darkness at two in the morning trying to change puke-soiled bed sheets with one hand and catch the next stream of vomit with a pot in the other is: Cherish these moments. Each and every one of them. Because sooner than you think, your babies will be grown men or women and there will be no more barf to clean up. All that will be left is a clean, empty house, your mostly non-vomiting dog, and perhaps a warm cup of coffee on a cold night. It is in those moments of peaceful reflection that you will miss the projectile vomiting of your sweet children.

In my naïve youth, I looked upon vomit-sopping and other seemingly disagreeable parenting tasks as… well, kind of disagreeable. With age comes wisdom, however. And, owing to the particular time period when I was born, with age came the rise of the Internet. Thanks to many well-meaning people of the World Wide Web, I now know that each moment I spent with my children was the best moment of my life, no matter how much of their puke was in my hair or up my nostrils.

If only my younger self could have understood. Or, better yet, if only my younger self had had the Internet to make him understand. Things would have been so different. How could I have been so dumb that I didn’t fully appreciate the puke? My disgust in the face of stomach-churning upchucking will haunt me until my dying day. When the puking became particularly violent and the odor particularly overwhelming, I would sometimes ask aloud, “When will this stop?” or “Why me?” I was so young and stupid. Why me? Maybe because I was the luckiest person in the world! So lucky and, ultimately, so undeserving. That chunky-tuna-smelling goo from my children’s stomach was destined for the chest hair of a man more grateful, but instead it found mine.

Occasionally now, on a bitterly cold winter night when the icy air in my bedroom cuts through my blankets, or on a warm summer evening when the cool night breeze rustles through my open bedroom window, I dream about the vomit. My sleeping brain conjures the distant sounds of a child crying out and then retching, startling me awake. I bolt to attention in my bed and listen intently. After a moment, when I get my bearings and the familiar room comes into focus around me, my heart sinks a little. There will be no child vomit for me this night. Or any other night. I will never again feel the warm mixture of mucous, stomach acid, and half-digested goldfish crackers dripping off my shoulders and trickling down my back. The funk of ten thousand rotten bananas will never again permeate every inch of my home. Those most precious moments are gone forever.