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Bella English

The kids are grown and gone, and the dog misses them, too

Gumbo and Nick shortly before he departed for the Peace Corps.

Bella English/Globe Staff

Gumbo and Nick shortly before he departed for the Peace Corps.

The house is quiet. The dog is sad. First, his brother left. Then his sister. Those would be our children, Nick and Megan. Megan left a week ago to teach school in the Cayman Islands. Nick left a couple of months ago, headed to Togo with the Peace Corps.

Gumbo used to sleep with Nick, and still naps on his bed. When Nick left, Gumbo then took to sleeping with Megan. With both of them gone, the dog has been wandering from one room to the other, in search of answers. Where are they? When are they coming back?

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Those of you who haven’t loved and been loved by a family pet can scoff, but you don’t know what you’re missing. Our friends’ son has a beloved cat who sleeps on his bed every night. Cats being cats, she prefers to perch atop Sam, either on his head, his shoulder, hip, whatever suits her fancy. When Sam left for college, the cat was so depressed she began gnawing the fur off her leg. Our friends took her to the vet, who prescribed an antidepressant.

My husband says that, first, we’ll try talk therapy for Gumbo.

Like Gumbo, we miss our adult children terribly. It’s great having them around, even though it’s an adjustment. They don’t keep human hours. My son wants an action movie, while we’d prefer a comedy. My daughter borrows stuff and forgets to return it. Where are my white sandals?

They both leave lights on and I morph into my father, who used to follow us around turning lights off.

And “messy rooms” doesn’t begin to describe theirs. My son’s reasoning: “What’s the point in making the bed when I’m just going to get back in it tonight?” My daughter has a simpler approach: “What mess?”

We have long had a deal with both of them. When they travel, they need to call, e-mail, or text us “safe arrival.” They know if they don’t, I will track them down. And because they fear I will call the police or, worse, their friends, they are prompt with their “safe arrivals.”

When Nick was studying in France, he told us he was going to spend the weekend in London, via some cheap airline. Fine, we said. But the weekend passed, and we never got a “safe arrival” message. In fact, we could not reach him at all. I finally called the study abroad office and told them I was worried. Could they help? Ten minutes later, my phone rang. It was Nick.

“Nick! Where are you?”

“Mom, I’m at a pub in London. I told you I was going to London for spring break.”

“I thought it was just for the weekend.”

“No, the week. I told you.”

It has now become family lore: Mom tracking Nick down to a London pub. I’m sure that’s why Megan borrowed a cellphone in the Cayman Islands, where she knows no one, and made a quick call to say, “I just got here. I’m fine.”

My husband, being the less sentimental and more sensible of the two of us, says he misses the kids, but reminds me that their new situations are good ones. (But what about me? I want to ask.)

Seriously, he’s right. Though I miss their company, I know they’re doing what they need to do. Roots and wings, blah, blah, blah. When I hear the joy in Nick’s voice as he describes how happy he is, it becomes my joy, too.

He’s in West Africa, where three countries are under siege from Ebola. The Peace Corps evacuated its volunteers from those countries, which are to Nick’s west. Now a country to his east, Nigeria, has reported cases.

“Don’t worry, I’m not at risk,” he tells us. Somewhere along the line, we’ve changed roles. He’s comforting us.

Across the world, my 22-year-old son does not have Internet access or running water, so it’s cold bucket showers and an outhouse for him. But he’s thrilled, and lucky, to have electricity.

After 10 weeks of Peace Corps training in a city, he took his permanent post in a rural village last week. When school starts, he will be teaching English, in French. We remain grateful for the French immersion program in the Milton public schools.

In cleaning my daughter’s room, I come across the list of things to pack that she and I had made shortly before she left. “Shampoo and conditioner” are on it. I smile. Mine are missing.

There’s also her last grocery list, written in the same block print that hasn’t changed since middle school. She loves to cook and took over much of it while home this year, working in Boston. Now, it’s back to chicken and hamburger for me and my husband.

A few days ago, when Megan sent beautiful photos and descriptions from Grand Cayman, I exhaled. Unlike our son, she has Internet, a lifeline for us parents.

With both kids gone, the house feels like it went from color to black-and-white, the opposite of that scene in the “Wizard of Oz.” But I get it. They have gone out in search of their new lives, and now we’ve got to get on with ours, too.

We will. Still, the house is quiet. The dog is sad.

Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at english@globe.com.
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