Want Some Empty Nesting Fun?

Borrow Your Nieces!

by Robin Bonner

Long Time Coming
My nieces Malinda and Rachel live in Tampa. We live in Philadelphia. Guess how many times we’ve seen them during their young lives? So many times that I can count them on one hand, and that's a shame.

Rachel and Malinda.
When my own girls moved out and I had time to catch my breath, one goal I had was to spend more time with our nieces and nephews. All except the Tampa crowd live in the northeastern U.S., so getting together with most of them was easy—over holidays, for graduations, and just for fun. Seeing Malinda and Rachel was another story, though. This was going to take some work.

My sister, Cathie, and her family are the outliers—they’ve lived mainly in Florida, but also in Oklahoma, and they’re now back in Florida. Just like my kids, her daughters are exactly four years apart (their birthdays are around the same time, but 6 months after my girls'). They’re now 18 and 14, though, and I hardly know them. With the distance between us, sometimes it’s years between visits. Sure, Cathie sends photos and tells me what they’re up to (twirling, dance, etc.), but it’s not the same as hanging out with them—seeing them and hugging them. And, because I have a hearing problem and they have a tendency to be soft-spoken (or to have adolescent mouth hardware), when I get on the phone with them, I can’t get much of a feel for what’s going on in their lives. So, what to do?

Not So Fast
I had been talking to my sister for years about sending the girls up north in the summer or during a school holiday break. I told her we’d pay for it, keep them away from our cat (the girls are asthmatic), and so on. She never took me up on the offer, though.

When the summer of 2009 rolled around, I decided to get serious. The girls were 17 and 13 then, plenty old enough to get themselves through an airport without an adult, I thought. So, I called Cathie in June to repeat my invitation. Let’s just say that from our conversation, I got the impression that neither the girls nor Cathie were ready for such a big step. You really have to prepare yourself to send your kids out of state unaccompanied, and sometimes even the kids need a long time to think about it.

Fast forward a year—plenty of thinking time for everyone.

When the girls’ birthdays came in June, I sent cards and gifts as I always do, but this time, I wrote, “Hey, we’d love to have you visit us this summer! If you want to come, tell your mom and ask her if you can!” First thing I knew, Cathie called me to talk about it. They were all planning to drive up in July, as it turned out, and the girls could spend a few days here before they flew back.

Yay! I couldn’t wait. First thing I knew, I there was a Facebook post from Rachel: “Going to my other aunt’s tomorrow! Can’t wait! :-p”

Let the Fun Begin
Now if you don’t have girls, you don’t know what I mean. But, when two teenage girls are coming to visit you, you’d better be ready—for laughter, for surprises, for almost anything. And we were.

Uncle Gary's telescope.
I met my brother, Mike, at the Delaware Valley exit of the PA Turnpike, just over the bridge from New Jersey, on a Monday night. Cathie and Brian had left for Florida the previous Friday, so Mike and his family had a few days of quality time with Malinda and Rachel. Now it was our turn! The handoff took place around 9 o’clock. I was a little leery about it being so late. We had an hour drive ahead of us before we were home, and I wanted the girls to have a chance to warm up to their new surroundings before settling down for the night. What could we use as an ice breaker? I thought as I drove and the girls chatted. Ice cream! When we were 15 minutes away, I called Gary: “Honey, light the Tiki torches—we’re going to have ice cream sundaes on the deck. See you soon!” Malinda and Rachel were excited. So was I!

The girls walked into our house and looked all around. Last time they were there, they were small children. Like our cat, Oliver, when he was a kitten, they immediately began to explore. “What’s that, Aunt Robin?” Rachel asked, pointing. Gary’s telescope had sparked some interest. So, along with our ice cream sundaes—which the girls personalized—we carried the telescope out to the deck. There, we checked out the full moon (love those craters!), the Ring Nebula, and the Great Cluster in Hercules. The girls were enthralled. We ended staying up a lot later than I had intended, with no ice breakers needed.

Tea and Books
Early the next morning, Uncle Gary headed out to work and Aunt Robin headed to her desk to address some work emails, while the two princesses caught up on their beauty sleep

At the Lederach Tea Room.
(as if they needed it, golden-haired beauties that they are). Finally, I went up to wake them (they were staying in our bedroom—no cats allowed, ever, as I’m allergic, too). Time to shower and dress: Breakfast at the Lederach Tea Room awaits us! They loved the mismatched tea cups, checked out historical farm photos on the walls, and laughed at Aunt Robin’s stories about cousin Sarah drinking tea loaded with sugar from an espresso cup there when she was three.

From the Tea Room, we headed to nearby Harleysville Books, where the girls had the daunting task

Left: Rachael climbing; Right: Malinda and Robin.
of picking out a book (or two) for themselves. From there, we ran a couple of errands, including the post office and Rita’s. (Water ice can be an errand, too, ya know?) Before we knew it, we were back at the house checking out Aunt Robin’s old photo research projects on fave authors Lois Lowry and Stephen King. What? Uncle Gary’s home already? Must be time to go rock climbing!

And Rocks . . .
It was a tough decision—sailing or climbing? Being that there was no wind, we opted for climbing. The girls had never been and were excited to try, so we “showed them the ropes” at the Philadelphia Rock Gym. They were naturals! Like spiders, they zoomed right up the rock wall. We whiled away a couple of hours there, then decided it was time for . . . cheeseburgers. Nearby Max and Erma’s has the most amazing ones. And French fries (did I mention the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies?). Too many fun things to do to spend time at home cooking. We were trying to avoid typical default activities like TV and The Mall, and we were succeeding.

Liberty Bell and Cheesesteaks . . .
The tough part was trying not to cram too much into the *two days* we had. (The girls were flying back to Tampa Thursday morning, just in time to begin band camp first thing Friday.

Dominic, his driver, and Malinda and Rachel.
Rachel, soon to be a high-school freshman, would be joining her sister Malinda, a senior, in the color guard.) Well, you can’t visit the Philadelphia area without touring historic Philadelphia, right?

So, it was “up and at-em” early on Wednesday (or at least earlier than on Tuesday). After a breakfast of cereal and fruit out on the deck, we left for the hour-long drive to Philadelphia, Cradle of Liberty.

The horses and carriages near Independence Hall were a real draw for both girls. (They petted Dominic, but da Vinci was really their favorite.) And, what better way to get a glimpse of everything important than while listening to our well-versed driver and laughing at Dominic’s antics? The Moon Tree in Washington Square Park was another point of interest. The Graff House, the Philosophical Society, the Liberty Bell, and Todd House were just a few of the attractions we passed.

Tour guides in period dress (and accent) impressed us at the Visitors Center,

Rachel, Malinda, Independence Hall, (background) and the Liberty Bell.
George Washington’s family pew in Old Christ Church wowed us. Was the sun rising or setting on Washington’s chair in Independence Hall? Soft pretzels on a shady park bench provided a respite from all our touring. (Pigeons need to be fed!) Finally, about 6:00, we made an executive decision not to do the (very expensive) ghost tour, and instead to amble down to South Street for a Philly cheesesteak. We were rewarded for the long wait at Jim’s (4th and South) with the finest cheesesteaks in the land (although Rachel, not a chopped steak lover, was not impressed). Finally, we brought two tired kids back to our place for their last night.

Uncle Gary helped download photos from our collective cameras, so Malinda and Rachel could take a disk home with them. He then uploaded files to the CVS website to have prints made. Malinda and I went over some AP English assignments she planned to work on during the flight. Both girls packed their things. We printed their boarding passes.

Time for Goodbye
All too soon, our visit was over. It was off to the airport first thing Thursday morning—Mom, Dad, and band camp waited in Tampa! Hugs, kisses. More hugs. We’ll come again next summer, Aunt Robin! Such sweet girls. Such fun! Already, I can’t wait until next year…

Robin Bonner is Editor of Empty Nest. For more about Robin, see About Us.

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