Fall is on the way and school is back in session. I have had an “empty nest” for quite some time now, with my two children turning 26 and 23 next month. When they were little, I never dreamed that day would come, but now it seems like only yesterday that they were small.

A few years ago, Chicken Soup for the Soul put a
call out for stories for an upcoming book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Empty Nesters. My daughter Jessica had gone to college just the year before that, and so I submitted two stories that were both accepted for that edition of Chicken Soup.

One of the stories, I  Remember Seventeen, was about my own
rebellious teenage years, and the vow I made to ALWAYS remember what it felt like to be seventeen—something I was sure my mother had forgotten! When my  daughter turned seventeen, I had to remind myself of that long ago promise to myself…and suddenly, I knew what my own mother must have been feeling at the same tumultuous time in our lives.

The other story I wrote was called My Nice Surprise. When Jessica was a little girl, I would sometimes tempt her with “a nice surprise”.  “Let’s do this and then we’ll get a nice surprise afterward.” Sometimes, I wasn’t sure what the “nice surprise” was going to be myself—but we always figured out something, whether it was ice cream,  a trip to Wal Mart and a new toy, or going to the park.

One day, when Jessica was three or so, we’d gone to Wal Mart to pick out the “nice surprise”. We walked on and on up and down the toy aisles. “I’ll know it when I see it,” she told me. Just when I had begun to despair that she’d see “it” at all, suddenly her eyes lit up and she pointed. “Right there! By your hand!”

That was how Simon the Rubber Snake came to live at our house—no matter how I tried to talk her into Play Doh, a Barbie, crayons…it didn’t matter. She wanted that rubber snake.

He looked so real, brown bendable fangs and all. But she loved him and would even put him on the bed when she slept.  One day, I found Simon in my underwear drawer, curled and ready to strike.  It
tickled me that she would have put him there, and waited for me to find him. I didn’t say anything, just took him out of the drawer and put him under her pillow. That night, I heard her squeal with laughter when she discovered him back in her room again.

Simon began to roam the house, finding his way under my pillow at times, or into the clothes hamper. I’d always be properly startled—squealing in mock fright, ending with laughter.  “Oh, Simon,” I’d exclaim.  “You really got me that time.”

Because this game delighted Jessica so much, I began hiding Simon in her room for her to find.
I always knew when she did.  I’d hear her infectious giggle, followed by, “Simon! You really got me that time!”

Eventually, Simon was relegated to the toy shelf, then the top of the closet.  Suggestions
of packing him away were met with dire opposition.

Graduation day came, and shortly, Jessica would head off to college.  Even though she would be
attending a university only an hour’s drive from us, I felt the hole in my heart as surely as if she were moving across the country.  Becoming a college girl marked a new phase of her life; a new level of independence—and of not needing her mom.

With mixed emotions, I waved goodbye as she pulled out of the driveway, her radio blaring.
She rolled the window down and shouted something I couldn’t hear about the roar.


“Look in your bedroom!”

I nodded, and waved again.  It was time, and I reminded myself that I had known this day was coming.  But it didn’t help.  I felt just as bereft as I had when she’d gone to first grade.  I had followed the bus—from a distance—then sat parked in the school lot, watching her walk so confidently from the bus to the school.

There were other mothers there that day, parked and watching.  I realized I wasn’t alone.  I wasn’t alone today, either, but it sure felt like it.

I waited until Jessica drove around the corner.  Then, I went inside and opened my bedroom
door.  Nothing was different.  I must have misunderstood what she was telling me.  I sat down on the bed, then lay full length.

But when I put my head down, I felt something odd on my pillow.  I pulled the spread back.  There was Simon the Rubber Snake staring up at me from hellish orange-red eye sockets, his fangs still intact
after all those years.

Isn’t he cute? Simon’s a good snake… A childish voice echoed from the past.

A yellow sticky note was wrapped around his body.  I unfastened it, reading slowly.

Take care of Simon the Rubber Snake for me, Mom. I’ll see you this weekend.  Love, Jess

I picked him up and hugged him, thinking of that long ago day when he’d first come to live with us, and all the years in between.

You’re such a good girl, Jessi . . .

“Oh, Simon,” I whispered.  “You really got me that time.”

Got any “empty nester” stories of your own? Let’s hear them!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Empty Nesters is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble in e-book format and print.  I also have a story in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages From Heaven edition (same link.)

Website | + posts

A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work:
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here:
Follow me on Facebook:


  1. Can’t think of anything off the top of my head, Cheryl. But I loved that Simon story (my youngest had real live reptiles, but they stayed in their little homes, thank goodness).
    I got a blast from the past when I took in my 17-year-old grandson for three months this spring. The late nights, the chauffeuring, the worries, the girls, the weird friends…it was deja vu all over again! Love the kid but it wore me out!

  2. Cheryl, I just bought a copy of the Empty Nester book. I’ve got a neighbor who’s baby just went off to college and she’s really sad about it. She has this vision of her and her husband sitting in front of the TV, her husband asleep, for the next thirty years and then she’ll die. LOL
    Maybe the book will lift her spirits a bit.
    Love the snake story. I’m trying to think of anything half as charming from my own kids.

  3. Not exactly an empty nester story… As the last one to go off to college, my mom was kinda sad… One evening she was coming down the stairs towards the living room and my dad asked “Who’s there?” Mom replied, “Who do you think, I’m the only one else in the house?” They both started to laugh …

  4. Hey, Vicki!
    In the actual story (I did a mash-up of blog and part of the excerpt of the story near the end, above in the post)I went into more detail about how she looked and looked for the very perfect “nice surprise” and I kept trying to get her to go over to the dolls, Barbies, etc. When she spotted “Simon”, I really tried to talk her out of it. I said, “But Jessica, he’s so ugly.” She said, “But who will love him if we don’t?” Well, you know, I had to put Simon in the basket right then. Out of the mouths of babes…

  5. Oh, Elizabeth! How fun for you to have a 17-year-old in the house again! And to know it wasn’t PERMANENT. LOLLOL Like you, I would be worn out! But how fun to have all that youth and vitality in and out the door for three months! I’m glad you enjoyed the Simon story. It’s one of those I’ll never forget, and I think Simon is here in my office right now! (I need to look through the stacks of books.)

  6. Mary,
    I hope your friend enjoys this book–it’s got several different sections in it (as CS books always do) with different takes on “Empty Nester”–my business partner, Al Serradell, wrote a story about having to turn the tables after his mother passed and “raise” his dad! It’s a neat story. We’ve talked so many times about him having to show his dad how to balance a checkbook, pay the bills, etc. — all the things his mom had done through the years. Lots of good stories, as always, and I’m sure it will lift her spirits. It’s weird to think you look forward to “the day” when you can have the house to yourself again, be on your own schedule, not worry about meal planning so much, etc. and when that day comes you want to go back to the way things have been all the years before. I have a letter my mom sent to me after I was on my own about how lonely the house seemed without me, how she missed hearing the piano play, etc. I truly understand how your friend feels, but maybe this book will give her some laughs. I sure hope so–keep me posted, will you? I tried to pop back in on the book banter last night, but wasn’t able to get back on the computer until after it was over. Hope it went WELL! (I’m sure it did!)

  7. CATE! I am still laughing over that one! HOW FUNNY IS THAT! That would have made a great story to put in that book! That sounds like something my parents would have done–I was the youngest by a LOOOONNNNNGGGG shot. My sisters were 10 and 12 when I was born, so my parents were 35 when I was born, and I was the…ahem…”rebellious child” of the family. You’d have thought they’d have been glad to see me leave. LOL

  8. Hi Cheryl, super post! When our son went off to college, I remember missing him so much, I’d go sit on his bed. When our daughter left for college two years later, hubby and I both took on new positions within our fields, to keep us too busy to miss them so much. We actually had fun “rediscovering” each other!!

  9. Tanya, I know what you mean. When Jessica left, I was just bereft in a lot of ways, but I then I’d remember how excited she was to be starting a new chapter in her life and it would make me smile. Casey was the same way. So excited to be “leaving the nest”–I remember that feeling so well.
    Thanks for stopping by today–I love that Chicken Soup put that book out–there are so many people who feel that way about their kids leaving, I think it really helps to read about others going through the same thing.

  10. Cheryl, Oh your story made me tear up!I have four kids and as each one left for college it was as if they were taking a little piece of my heart with them. It was especially difficult the last time because it was my twins and I was sending not only may babies but two at once.

    Your story did remind me of something one of my daughters did when she was very young (about six or so).
    Back then I was traveling quite a bit for work (a major project that took over two years to complete) One evening as I was packing for yet another trip she came up and gave me this very small (palm-of-your-hand size) plush bull that she’d gotten at an arcade. It was brown with a bright red ribbon around its neck. When she handed it to me she said, quite sincerely “His name is Ferdinand and I want him to be your traveling buddy so you don’t feel so lonely when you’re away.”

    To this day Ferdinand gets packed in my suitcase and comes along with me whenever I take a trip.

  11. Aw, Winnie…that is sooo sweet. It’s those moments that we will never ever forget, even when we’re 95. My mom used to tell me “Write everything down! You think you’ll remember it, but you won’t.” She was right about that, in most things. I did write a lot of things down, and I’m so glad I did, because when I went back to re-read it years later, I didn’t remember so much of it until I read what I’d written. But there are certain things…like Simon and Ferdinand, we’ll never forget, will we? Thanks for sharing that story. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to send two away at the same time!

Comments are closed.