For the first time in 31 years, we do not have children at home. To say it feels weird would be an understatement. After feeding kids for three decades, we only had to set out two plates. It’s a parental paradox: we raised four kids to be independent but miss them now they’re gone.

We brought our youngest, Mark, to Grace College last weekend. It’s a small Christian school in an old resort town, Winona Lake, Ind. When we arrived on campus, we were swarmed by red-shirted underclassmen eager to carry my son’s stuff to his second-floor room. There was a welcoming spirit everywhere as Grace students are compulsive door-holders.

We had visited the school before but were newly impressed with its abundant greenery and handsome architecture. The campus also has a multi-purpose arena that accommodates basketball games, theater productions and religious services, not necessarily in that order. We attended a chapel service featuring a rousing rock band and inspirational speakers.

After Mark got himself squared away in his new home, the school treated students and their families to a picnic-style dinner. Seeing the endless line for burgers and brats, the three of us repaired to the Boathouse Restaurant. It was a pleasant place to dine and gaze at the sun setting on the lake.

We returned to the arena to hear the president’s address. We thought he should have left out the part about repairing a sewer line at his house. Otherwise, we liked his theme that Grace students are precious stones that would be polished into gems.

I was also impressed with the school’s location. It’s surrounded by giant health care companies in a region called the “Orthopedic Capital of the World.” I spoke with a student who said it was easy for him and other Grace students to land internships.

The next morning, we attended a church service, before conducting the most sacred college ritual – the shopping trip to the local warehouse store. Thanks to his hard work at the Park District, Mark was able to contribute. He later picked up the tab for his books. Finally, it was time to hug goodbye. I felt sorry for my wife on the way home.

I think this empty nest syndrome is harder on mothers. Besides nurturing him all these years, Mark had been her couch buddy. They shared favorite TV shows and had the same taste in romantic comedies.

However, according to Wikipedia, empty nest parents can forestall their feelings of grief and loneliness by keeping in contact with their kid and writing about their mixed emotions. It also said that having an empty nest can increase marital happiness, lower financial stress and relieve parents of household drudgery.

Who cares? I’ll take a house filled with screaming kids anytime. With Mark gone, whose going to give me a good argument when I need one? Who’s going to cut the grass, walk the dog and shovel the snow? This must be why God invented grandkids.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball...