redefining the empty nest // i believe it begins when your first child leaves home

Friday, September 28, 2012
Debbi DiMaggio

Our Trip Back To College // Sophomore Year…..Three Generations // Mom, Daughter, Granddaughter


Taking my daughter back to college as a Sophomore was much easier.   As a mom of a Sophomore I can smile when I hear the comments of Freshman moms…

it’s as if I am missing a limb

it’s so strange in our house with one less

I know so well what they are feeling.

What I experienced Freshman Year was very different than what I had understood about the Empty Nest. My sadness and Empty Nest feelings did not begin when my last child left, but occurred when Bianca, my first child left, realizing that soon our son Chase and all of his friends would be gone too.

This year we turned our return trip to the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU Boulder) into a mini-vacation, and laughed the entire way, even when things didn’t turn out so well, as you will soon learn.

It was an adventure!

Three generations: My mom, Grandma Midge, my daughter Bianca and me.

A few weeks before, I found out it was going to cost us a bit more than expected. I had to pay an extra fee to make sure the movers who were shipping a container full of furniture, clothes, kitchen utensils, pots and pans, art, electronics and other miscellaneous items to Denver arrived while my mom and I were still in town.

(Note: summer flies by so if you are shipping belongings to school, plan ahead.)

It was my goal that the delivery would arrive in a small window of time so my mother and I would be front and center to unload and unpack for Bianca as she settled into her new and first apartment.

We flew out on Friday afternoon in August, arriving in Denver to a City bursting with activity. Colorado Rockies Fans flocked Coors Stadium as the baseball game began. It was familiar, because Coors Stadium is architecturally reminiscent to our own AT&T Park in San Francisco.

It was a warm summer night and the streets were lined with people strolling, restaurants bustling, and patrons dining al fresco under the stars. Our destination: The Four Seasons, Denver. Located in the heart of the City just down the street from the Denver Convention Center, the Denver Performing Arts Complex and Larimer Square. It reminded me of Chicago, for its tall buildings, stunning architecture and flat streets. We checked in, quickly unpacked, and then headed out for dinner to Charcoal Restaurant, known for its contemporary, European fare. It was the first of many delicious meals we enjoyed throughout the weekend, always fresh and beautifully presented.

Out on the streets of Denver the next day, coffee in one hand, my iPhone in the other, I couldn’t help but to notice the architecture. Simply breathtaking with such exquisite detail. One of the buildings seemed to tell a story. I snapped photos, intrigued. Denver is a very walkable city, very flat and easy to navigate. Do not forget, Denver is called the mile high city for a reason, so drink plenty of water and know that you will have to adjust to the high altitude. Don’t be surprised if you are caught off guard as you won’t realize just how high up you really are. But you will feel it, eventually.

Saturday morning was our big day. Grandma Midge, Bianca and I headed out to do what we came to do.

First stop, Bianca’s new apartment in Boulder. My mom and I were happily surprised to see that her new apartment was updated and like new. Grandma had come equipped with rubber gloves and cleaning supplies having recalled my first apartment near UCSB. No gloves needed!

Bianca was greeted by her first roommate with a huge hug and lots of screaming. She was home.

After enduring so much sadness and worry just one year before, I was happy to see that Bianca was quickly acclimating to her new home. Knowing she was going to be sharing an apartment with such great girls, whom she had met last year in the dorm, put my mind at ease.

It is important that a Freshman experience dorm life in order that they are able to meet new people, make new friends and be part of a community. Getting settled in your second year with wonderful roommates, as well being able to prepare your own meals in your own kitchen makes life much more comfortable. All of these small things contributed to making her Sophomore year a much easier pill to swallow, for all of us. I cried a little less this time when I said good-bye.

The clock began to tick and we needed to get to work. Grandma walked around the apartment with a keen eye, assessing the new apartment. Bianca and her buddy giggled with delight and instantly started catching up. I ran downstairs, jumped into the rental car and went to the U-Haul gas station, dingy and greasy. I approached a man with his head buried in paperwork. He looked up when I joyfully said, “I need to rent a U-Haul for an hour.”  He retorted gruffly, “they are all booked.”

( Well, if you know me, than you know, I don’t take NO for an answer. I was not leaving until I got my U-Haul. I had a job to do! )

This man did not know my plan nor my short window or time. No was simply not an option. I said, “okay, if the small ones are reserved, I’ll take the large one.” He tried to brush me off and said I could go down the street to some other place. I didn’t even hear what he said. I said, “no, really, I only need it for an hour.” “I’ll take any size you have and bring it back before your next renter comes in.” He finally relinquished to the fact that I was not going away, I was not going to budge.


I parked my small, brand new, blue rental car and hopped into the cabin of the U-Haul. It was huge! But I meant business, we had a lot to do in very little time. I pulled into Bianca’s apartment complex before my mom and daughter even realized I had left. There were many obstacles we had to overcome.

Obstacle #1: The U-Haul was fairly tall, so I almost hit the top of the apartment building. I double parked in front of three parking garages, breaking all the rules. I found myself stuck, faced the wrong way as I tried to pull back and forth in order to turn around. To no avail. A friendly, college boy waiting for his girlfriend, got my attention and offered to rescue me. I was so relieved and hugely thankful. I gladly jumped down from my new huge U-Haul and the nice college boy somehow managed to get it out of the parking lot.

In climbed Grandma and Bianca. It was a sight! The three of us lined up on those rickety torn black seats, bumping up and down as we meandered down the road. Actually it was sort of fun and ridiculously funny.

In one fell swoop we unpacked the storage unit, loaded up the truck, removed our lock and CHECKED Item #1 off my TO DO list. Back in the U-Haul, again, we bounced our way out of the storage place and down the narrow alleys towards the exit. Bianca closed the account, and we were off.

After numerous phone calls, the shipping company could not guarantee a delivery before 5PM on Monday. My mind raced as I pondered the situation. Quickly calculating our timing and all we had to get done prior to our departure flight on Tuesday, I grabbed my phone and called Mr. U-Haul, “Would you mind if I keep the truck all day?” He replied, ‘it’s fine, it’s all yours, keep it all day.’  I turned to mom and Bianca and said, “okay girls, we are going to Denver!” ‘In this??’ they replied. Mind you, Denver is at least 30 minutes away and not easy in such an over-sized vehicle.

Upon getting the directions to the dock and confirming Bianca’s items were in fact there and available 24 hours a day, we could go anytime. So off we went, to the dock. Grandma way over in the passenger seat, Bianca in the middle snapping photos, and I behind the wheel as we bounced down the highway, laughing all the way.

Without too much difficulty, we had made it. Rows and rows of trucks and unhitched trailers filled the quiet yard with no one to be seen. It was as if we were in an episode of 24 and Jack Bauer would be coming around the corner at any moment and Columbian cartel soldiers with machine guns would begin shooting. (Yes, I have a vivid imagination, indeed.)

We found a worker who welcomed us, with a slight chuckle, said we were here but we had to go around the corner and to the office. We all three jumped down and headed over, including Grandma who is 5’3”. So when I say jump down, I mean jump down. Eventually we found a gal sitting in a small desk in a huge open room in the back corner. She buzzed her team to retrieve our belongings.

Down came the first mega container. It was enormous! We all smiled and waited. Container #2: a bit smaller than #1 but still HUGE. He assured us that our 3rd container was smaller. As we waited we stared at the wrapping and steel straps. There was no way we could get into the container, let alone strong enough to dismantle the items that were stacked tightly and vertically. The third and final container made its way to us.  The containers were all so heavy he was using a fork lift!  Now I had to convince this guy to unwrap and unload it for us.  Obstacle #2

I nervously smiled and asked, “do you think you could help us unpack and load the truck?”  I took a deep breath, as he replied, “yes.” This very nice man was taking the time to help us, wrestling with the packaging, and unloading each of the containers just as I had hoped. A huge sigh of relief.

Moving through my TO DO list, and because of the kindness of people willing to help us, we were now a few days ahead of schedule! YEA!

Happy and relieved we climbed back into our truck, swung around, and off we went back to Boulder.

Still on the list: Mattress Delivery, DMV, Container Store, Bookstore, Bank, Grocery Shopping, the unexpected… will we ever get to rest?

A quick lunch and run through the Container Store, we arrived back to Bianca’s apartment and happily found all of her roommates and one of the mom’s who all helped us to unload the U-Haul. A large lounge for the living room, a huge flat screen TV, multiple lamps, shelves, bookcases, art and boxes and boxes of clothes and so much more. But it was done! We unpacked and unwrapped the easy stuff and then I disappeared to return the U-Haul, now 5PM.

We said good-bye to her roommates and promised we would bring Bianca back to them soon.

Back through the glass doors at the Four Seasons, past the doormen and their smiling faces, we made our way to our room for a quick rest, shower and regroup.  Just down the street we ate at a restaurant called, Tamayo. In three words: delicious, fresh & interesting. Their website says it best: “with a comprehensive and seasonally-changing menu that marries the freshest ingredients to bold, new culinary approaches…”

The three of us hit the pillow that night– Grandma fast asleep, Bianca watching a movie from beginning to end, and me falling asleep mid-movie, as I always do.

Sunday was another beautiful and new day.

I had decided on Saturday that we all deserved to take Sunday off as I knew we would all be fatigued after all of the moving and unpacking so I called the Spa at the Four Seasons and booked us each a massage.

A walk in the neighborhood followed by breakfast at the bustling Market Deli and Coffeehouse, a local favorite. Mind you, during the in between times I was on the phone and email staying on top of my real estate business. Keeping it contained, as I tend to do, I kept all of my stress hidden so that Grandma and Bianca could focus on the move and not get distracted.

Following a quick change, we headed to the famous Brown Palace Hotel, recognized for their High Tea Service.  It is a historic hotel which dates to the 1890’s, and is known for hosting all US Presidents since its opening, but one (President Coolidge). Tea was lovely, and people watching was very entertaining. Most guests were wearing hats and gloves, men in suits, and everyone in their Sunday best.

I had no idea what excellent chefs and restaurants Denver has to offer. We quickly learned last year that Boulder has some of the best restaurants, too. Of course, Italian is one of my favorites. I could eat a caprese salad and thin crust pizza every day. And having discovered burrata cheese, I order burrata almost everywhere I go. YUM!

Osteria Marco, an Italian restaurant was our choice. It came highly recommended. You guessed it right. We enjoyed burrata cheese, antipasti, a salad and finally a fig and prosciutto thin crusted pizza.

The DMV in Boulder was our first stop on Monday. Obstacle #3: When we arrived mid morning, the line was already hours long. We decided Bianca would sit in line, and read a few magazines to keep occupied. I drove Grandma back to the apartment to await the mattress delivery and unpack her piles of clothes.

Note: Obstacle #4 – You need a printed check (which is an entire story in itself) and a copy of your lease for proof of residency for the DMV.

I drove back to the DMV to sit with Bianca for another hour.  When I overheard someone ask the clerk at the front, ‘what time of day is quieter?’  The stone-faced woman replied, ‘Thanksgiving.’ Three hours later it was Bianca’s turn. We quickly learned, gaining in-state status is not as difficult as I had thought. A few questions later, a snap of the camera, and a hole punch to her California Driver’s License, she was one step closer to being a Colorado resident. ( Having already registered to vote in the state of Colorado last year. )

Back to the apartment we meandered, the bed had been delivered, boxes and boxes unloaded and empty boxes disposed of, we were now ready to go back to Denver, shower and make our dinner reservation at Bistro Vendome. But that would not happen…

We said our good-byes, one last time to her roommates, but as we got to our rental car, Bianca searched for the keys, and could not find them. We searched high and low and in all our purses, repeatedly. I searched the dumpster and emptied boxes. We went through her entire room, under her mattress and between her sheets, to no avail.  So I called the rental car office and asked, “what if we can’t find the keys?” she replied, ‘find them.’ I said we could not find them, and needed to know our options. We had to pay a service to drive to the rental car agency near the Denver airport, pick up the spare key, then  drive out from Denver to Boulder to bring the replacement key to us. It was a costly mistake. But I still wonder, where o’ where did those rental car keys go? I will always wonder.

Although Obstacle #5 was a bummer, we were given a gift.

The Gift and Obstacle #5 – the missing keys. Bianca and her roommates felt bad since I had to pay $300 for the both the courier and to replace the rental car keys. Bianca felt truly awful, since she had misplaced them, and we were all tired, and grandma was getting really dizzy from the altitude.

But in the end, it was an amazing two hours spent with the girls. Sitting in their newly decorated living room, enjoying their stories and just talking. Those few hours were precious to me.  It will be one of those moments that I will cherish forever. A mishap turned into a gift.

  • Enjoy unexpected moments

  • Turn a negative into a positive

We still had another 18 hours left together as Three Generations, which continued to be fun and funny. But, I will end on that note, as it really was, the icing on the cake.


Debbi  ( Mom )

To Note:  I have heard from so many moms that taking and leaving your child at college is like leaving part of your body behind… Turning that sadness into a positive helped me to create Contained Beauty.

In my personal experience, the empty nest syndrome sets in when the first child departs…not your last.

This affects thousands and thousands of parents every year…

2012 Freshman Class Size – Empty Nest..

While not a diagnosis, yet, it is discussed by the medical community: Empty Nest Phenomena

It is family weekend, once again at CU Boulder.  Chase, Adam, Grandma and Grandpa will be enjoying a fun weekend with Bianca.  This year I will be staying back for the George Mark Children’s House Autumn Gala, 2012.  Sometimes, even I can’t do it all !  XOXO!  Go BUFFS!!

Fun Times Last Year // Freshman Year 2011

Bianca, Grandpa Vince, Grandma Midge, Noni, Adam and I.  (Chase was unable to attend due to his football schedule, but he made one of his first touchdowns and you could hear us all shouting from Boulder!)



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