What's a good term for my situation?
Existential crisis? Nah, too dramatic.
It could be more of a midlife malaise, only that would imply I'll live to be 104, which would be fantastic. Problem is, if I'm currently peeing every morning in five languid installments, by the century mark I'll need a tasteful prostate pram to wheel around that leathery gland that partially popped free of my body in 2038.
No, I'll just assess this situation using a system to which we grew accustomed back in the Bush years—Irrelevance Alert Level Orange, or more formally defined as "a high risk of becoming paternally insignificant."
When I started keeping this journal six years ago, my children were ages fourteen and nine. I was fully immersed in nuclear family Americana, rarely poking my head through the surface in an ocean of macaroni, cheese and hot dog pennies.
Year after year, the fatherly importance threat level hovered at its lowest stage—Green—and only occasionally would it elevate to Level Blue, or "guarded." This slightly higher risk of irrelevance occurred only when one of my daughters did something unusually independent, like replacing toilet paper.
I coached soccer, I went on field trips; Costco wasn't a place to hit up real quick for a few odds and ends, it was a destination rivaling only the IKEA ball pit in kid curb appeal. Nearly every visit, after watching my grubby cherubs stuff their rosy cheeks with enough fro-yo to illicit unfettered shivering, I'd wrap them in their pink or purple jackets as we cruised the aisles looking for enough Gogurt and Goldfish to make it through another week.
My younger daughter was a bubbling aquifer of verbal treasures:
"I'm sorry. I just feel fragile today."
"When can I drink coffee? I want to try a crappuccino."
"You don't know how I feel! You're not inside my heart!"
Sure, life had its routines back when I started writing this weblog, but with kids in the house, the mundane could explode into the insane in the blink of a pink eye. Ever had someone vomit in your slipper...while it's still on your foot? Ever pulled a Barbie out of your coat pocket on the bus and wondered if you should try to explain it to the lady next to you?
Anyway, I think you get my point. I'm obviously still a dad who does a lot of dad stuff, but now I'm more the key grip than the director. During those days of high energy and overwhelming fatigue, I yearned for a future that allowed for a bit more breathing room. It happened. And with it came an abundance of time, and a heightened fear of irrelevance.
The Mayo Clinic defines empty nest syndrome as "parental feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home." I disagree, since it's still another three years until my younger daughter goes to college.
I'm feeling it now, maybe not as severely as I will, yet still I never could have imagined the meaty chunk of my personal identity that's permanently and irrevocably embedded in my dad self. And currently, while it does make me sad, this is not yet the time to step aside.
After all, while the nest may be half empty, it's also half full.