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Welcome to This Awful/Awesome Life! My name is Frances Joyce. I am the publisher and editor of this magazine. We'll be exploring different topics each month to inform, entertain and inspire you. Meet new authors, sharpen your brain and pick up a few tips on life, love, entertaining and business. Enjoy and please share!

Preparing for an Empty Nest at our Home* by Jim O'Brien

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A clock has started ticking in my head.  The countdown has begun.  Any parent can appreciate our dilemma.  Last Sunday, my wife Kathie and I accompanied our older daughter Sarah, as she returned to the University of Virginia for her fourth and final year.  How can that possibly be? 

Soon, too soon, we will be driving our younger daughter, Rebecca, to Ohio University as she begins her college career.  Then Kathie and I will become "empty nesters" and things will be different at our home.  What will I do now when I wake up in the middle of the night?  There will be no rooms to check to see if the girls are safe and snug in their beds.

Sarah O'Brien in her Brownie uniform with little sister Rebecca.

Sarah O'Brien in her Brownie uniform with little sister Rebecca.

We moved into our present home in April of 1979.  Sarah was 5-1/2 and Rebecca was not quite 2 when we arrived.  Sarah will be 22 next month and Rebecca turned 18 this May.  They are eager to extend their wings and fly on their own.

It had been a busy summer for Sarah and Rebecca.  They kept odd hours.  I'd hear them whenever they came home, no matter the hour. I'd hear the key turn in the doorlock.   I started to understand and appreciate my mother even more. Now I knew why she worried so much, why she still does.

Sarah worked two jobs for the third straight summer.  This time she worked as a student intern in the lab at the Transplantation Institute of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.  And on weekends, she worked for the third year as sales clerk or sales associate, at Lazarus at South Hills Village.

Her sister was nearby, working as a waitress and a hostess at Eat'n Park Restaurant at the Village.  Sometimes she worked two shifts, often the night shift.  My father and my father-in-law both worked the night shift when there were more mills and machine shops in the Pittsburgh area.  That schedule scrambles the lives of everyone in the house.

She was coming home at 5 and 6 a.m.  She'd come home just as Kathie was getting up to go to work, and I was getting ready to start writing.  There's no way I can stay in bed when Kathie leaves for work.

Neither of our children shies away from work -- outside the home, that is.  They inherited that gene from me.  They like to work and they like to see their paychecks and, best of all, they can't wait to deposit those checks in their bank accounts.

When they want to go shopping, they prefer to ask their mother or me for some money.  I am confident about their futures because they like to work, they are reliable and punctual, they enjoy their co-workers, and they like those paychecks.

Rebecca with big sister Dr. Sarah O'Brien

Rebecca with big sister Dr. Sarah O'Brien

 Sarah is starting to send out applications to medical schools.  She wants to be a doctor someday.  She'd like to go to the Pitt Medical School, which would make me very proud.  She would live in an apartment somewhere near school, and we could visit her from time to time.  Right now, she wants to be a pediatrician.  She manages to sneak in some babysitting assignments this summer.  She has always enjoyed caring for other people's children.  She has enjoyed working at Pitt this past summer, and she knows her way around Oakland and Shadyside.

 Rebecca graduated with a 3.56 GPA at Upper St. Clair High School.  She worked part-time, about 20 or so hours a week, at Eat'n Park during her junior and senior years. She was awarded a partial scholarship from Eat'n Park as she plans to pursue a degree in food service management.

She has heard they have a mother of all campus parties at Ohio U. on Halloween.  We will be passing out candy at our home without any help from Rebecca this year.  But we'll be thinking about her, and that infamous Halloween party in Athens.

We felt like the Beverly Hillbillies as we took Sarah back to Charlottesville last Sunday.   She drove her own car behind ours, to make sure the mattresses didn't fall off the roof of the station wagon we borrowed from our friends.   There were mattresses on our roof, a chest of drawers and chair, and furniture I had to put together when we got there all tucked snugly inside both vehicles.  After three years of staying in student dormitories, Sarah is now sharing a house with five of her classmates on the edge of the campus.

She's actually closer to her classrooms than she's been in her first three years at UVA.  We'd have preferred that she stayed in the student dormitories.  It's a rite of fourth-year students, however, to move off campus, even if it's just a street away from the school.

Our house will be quieter this fall and winter.  There will be less laundry, fewer meals to plan for Kathie.  She's kinda looking forward to that freedom.  She probably wishes I would go away to school for some graduate work.

She will miss dogging our daughters' heels, and reminding them to pick up after themselves, to do this or that.  I will just miss them and count the days until they come for holiday breaks.  Hopefully, God will go with them and look after them.

 *Jim O’Brien wrote this article in August of 1995 and it still resonates for all the right reasons.

Many of Jim O’Brien’s books are available on For a complete listing of his work and to order books, please visit his website,

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