As we dropped off our younger son Michael for a month at a Vermont summer camp and joined the southward procession of Volvos and Vanagons, we confronted not just his new status  -- first real time away from home -- but also that of his older brother, Daniel.  It was confusing to have the older son at home while the younger one was away, exploring, growing, leaving.  Daniel wasn't leaving home, but with a full time job and social life, he was too old for camp.   

Couldn't they see that Michael was too young?  Did they consider that when they snatched him from our bosom?

We drove back from camp, his empty seat strewn with

rem­nants, a shrine to his chaos.  Once home, that empty seat had expand­ed into an empty room; as empty and still as the house which seemed to hold its breath, echoing an unaccus­tomed still­ness. 

I'd never felt Michael's presence so sharp­ly.  Where was he?      

There was, in the immediate sense, nothing to do.  We had to create our own purpose and meaning -- even our own chaos.  I've never seen my wife, Marlene, so busy.  In no time at all, though, she managed to create order out of order -- a fretful, empty order.  We wandered the house together.  Daniel made plans.

Throughout the evening, we speculated about Michael's exact whereabouts at each moment, vicariously experiencing his demand­ing schedule.  How could he be happy if we had nothing to do?

Daniel became our tour guide, explaining from the per­spective of a former youth what Michael was going through and how it was all for the best.  Sweet Old Six­teen.

Within days, the reassuring letter came, and it passed Daniel's profes­sional peer review: "Yeah, he means it, he's

hap­py," he nodded wisely.  He'd seen phonies in his time. 

          I won­dered how many he'd written.

We soon found our­selves enjoying our new rhythms, more adult and spontaneous; less planned, less responsible.  We even began to feel a little guilt about the easy plea­sures that a nearly empty nest provided.  And since Daniel was so mature and inde­pendent, we could even feel a lot of guilt about our temporary freedom.  Untethered, giddy guilt.

"Of course we can make dinner at your place.  No, Michael's off for the month, and Daniel's with friends and can get home by himself." 

And with that, we're off to see old pals and sit and eat and drink away the night. 

A little past mid­night the phone rings. 

"It's for you.  It's your son."

Heartstop.  The chaos.  Oh my God, Michael!

It's Daniel.  Calling from home. He's fine; just

wonder­ing -- since we hadn't bothered to tell him -- what our plans were for the rest of the evening.  No problem.  Just wonder­ing. 

The voice of the child.  The voice of the adult.  Alone and wondering.

And so we made our apologies and our jokes.  And sped home to Daniel's empty nest.