Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Adult Offspring, Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Ode to the Youngest, About to Leave…

Grown children leave and come back in a game of cat & mouse with our hearts.

Road trips. Fox love. YouTube clips. Listen to this song. Try this latte, sushi, cookie. ”Hug?” (him)

He came for the Outlets. I came for the Sea. Both of us underemployed, trying to find our way forward, untangled. You go first. “Hold hands?” (me)

From behind sunglasses, he can tell I’m rolling my eyes or maybe it’s the tilt of my head, the jut of my jaw, the language between us so subtle, so fine tuned, as if I’ve said aloud: “You cannot wear them on the beach.” (He leaves his sneakers in the car.)

I was born barefoot beside the sea. He was delivered in the bathroom of the little farmhouse beside the brook at the foot of the mountain.

I’m surprised by his knees beneath the steering wheel, belonging to a man instead of the boy with whom I’m gallivanting in Maine for the day.

“What do you think of this suit?” he asks, of number 4, in slate blue, while I thumb this poem (?) on my phone from the stool I found beside the dressing-rooms.

Immersed like this in distinct pleasures, we have almost forgotten about…”The baby foxes!” which we say at the exact moment over lunch because the day, turned sunny, would find them lounging on the rock outcropping off the back door.

Almost immediately he offers the same consolation that I am about to speak: “It’ll be good for them to have the den to themselves for the day.”

It’s like this with him, 5 years at home alone with us after his older brother went off to school, simpler, sweeter, easier, like it was the first 5 years alone with my firstborn.

You first, I say, silently to my baby now. Let go of me. I’ll be okay. Not right away. But I have a whole lot of life to lead ahead of me too.

And also this:

It’s been a privilege sharing your childhood.

Thank you.

(Early June, 2019)

Posted in Adult Offspring, College, Fragile Life, Insight, Milestone Moments, Mother to Crone, Nuts & Bolts, Takes a Village, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

No Guarantees


There’s something about a college graduation.

I can’t put my finger on it.

Last weekend, at the farmers market, I came across another college graduate and she told me about her plans to return west to start her career, and I walked away weeping.

I’m grateful for sunny days. For sunglasses.

I think it’s time. Maybe it’s time. Time passing.

Teens becoming grownups. Everything changing, reshaping.

I had come to the Farmer’s Market from yoga so maybe I was especially tender. I feel awfully proud of my son’s graduation, but I’m not sure why. What did I have to do with it?

I actually felt called out when the commencement speaker said: “Thank your parents,” especially as I looked around at all the richer parents or harder working ones or more sacrificing ones–those who put their kids through school while ours did it on his own.

And then I remembered all the trips I made to be close by when he was going through something that I couldn’t quite figure and then all the times I helped him navigate through alternate routes and detours and segues. I remembered all the encouragement and returns and goodbyes and trips to the airport. The fights. The pillow talk. The persistence. So much persistence.

Maybe I feel used up.

Maybe that’s just right.

I gave it my all, I did.

He seemed so happy on his graduation day and that made me happy. It still does. He was so full of himself in the way that every one of us should be at such a moment. Inflated. Buoyant. Light. The whole point of me was to be ballast. Weight. Homecoming. Backboard. Less and less relevant.

I always feel better when I write into something that I don’t quite understand even if I don’t understand it much better afterward.

Just showing up for myself is something.

Like I showed up for him.

Like we’ve been showing up for this nation.
For women.
For immigrants.
For Muslims and Jews and POC.
For the underpaid. The uninsured.

No guarantees.

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Adult Offspring, College, Fragile Life, Holidays, Home again, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Cutting Teeth

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Kelly Salasin, May 2018

I suppose every mother has her sweet spot.

There are those who get pregnant in an instant,

and those who feel better than ever when expecting,

and those who deliver with ease.

There are those for whom wearing a baby night and day is just right,

and those who delight in the ever-shifting expressions of a toddler,

and those who are made whole by the emerging consciousness of the preschooler.

There are those who can manage the ins and outs of homework and lessons and birthday parties and playdates,

and those who know whether to lean in or pull back as hormones shift and stakes heighten,

and those who can pivot from manager to consultant providing just enough space and just enough support for young adults to emerge.

There are even those who go on to develop healthy, reciprocal friendships with grown offspring.

~

From Thanksgiving to the New Year, this Empty Nest of mine has been awakened in new and mysterious ways leaving me unable to place my own sweet spot (though I was once particularly fond of the preschool mind.)

And then they all departed, again–my oldest and his partner (until the next holiday perhaps), and my youngest on the 1:00 train for a few days in the city ahead of returning to school full time.

I wandered the empty house, and then lay down on the couch, absorbing the silence, until I found myself, like a teething baby, drooling.

I often wonder if I made the “right” choice. Perhaps if I had remained in a demanding career or at least made more money (both of these fit together nicely), I would be riddled with less self-doubt or at least less space to consider it.

While they were home, I left them all, in an ice storm no less, to meet up with a young friend who since we last met became a mother, and I found her in a kitchen soothing an 8-month-old baby girl who was cutting her first teeth.

“Teething,” I said, “That was my hardest time.”

I watched as my friend juggled cooking and setting the table and conversation while tending to her child—diapers, feeding, play, comfort—revealing a depth of connection between these two beings, as if it was always so.

It’s the absence of control, matched with the emotional impact, coupled with the unpredictability and absurd variability, that slays me, particularly now, when I have such little reference for my role and so little clarity of how to do and not overdo.

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?

As the sun sets on another day, on another month-long school vacation, and on the first half of my 50’s, I have forgotten who I am.

Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears.

One night, after everyone went up to bed, I took to the stairs, tucking my head under the railing while playing the soundtrack from Fiddler on the Roof to an empty room.

What words of wisdom can I give them?
How can I help to ease their way?

I looked out across the kitchen table to the French doors and recognized that new paths were emerging while the sweetness and burden of the path once shared necessarily fades…

Now they must learn from one another
Day by day.

Posted in Adult Offspring, Nuts & Bolts

Watching my kids eat…


They’re 18 and 23, and they don’t live with me anymore, but if we’re eating together, or worse yet if I’m simply watching them eat, I’m compelled to get involved.

Aren’t you going to finish that?
Do you want more butter?
Does that need to be heated up?
Don’t you like the soup?

WTF!

(I need much larger FONT.)

And it’s not just loving, motherly attention I’m expressing, but anxiety, compulsion, PTSD even.

As a mother of two, and as a lifelong early & elementary educator, and as the oldest of 8, not to mention as FEMALE, I’ve attended to children at mealtimes since I was old enough to talk—from bottle-feeding to spoon-feeding to fixing meals and to taking my youngest siblings (and later nephews & nieces) out to Pizza Hut long before I had kids of my own.

Over the weekend my husband and I went out for brunch–with our grown kids–where we were seated near two different tables, each holding a mother and a young son and no one else. Adorable.

At the table closest to us, the mother had a fruit cup and her child had waffles or pancakes or french toast (one of those). At the other table, it was the child who had the fruit cup while the mother had yogurt with granola. I noticed this and something else when I passed their tables on my way to the bathroom.

The child with fruit was on a device.

“Did you see those two tables?” my husband later said as we were walking to our car. “I felt so sad about the mother who missed out on talking to her kid.”

I paused before I replied, and then I suggested that perhaps my husband had a gender bias/blindness, unaware of how demanding it is on mothers to eat out with their children.

My favorite scene illustrating this parental gender differential is one that takes place at the dinner table with the Incredibles. For years, I dropped this phrase on my husband:

BOB, it’s time to ENGAGE.

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“Maybe that mother and child had a really good connection before breakfast,” I said to my husband, as we crossed the street. “Maybe they’re going out for a hike afterward. Maybe this was the mom’s only quiet moment of the day.”

Our own kids were device free in the world and maybe that had been a mistake. Maybe I would have been more relaxed if they were more fully occupied without my attention.

That said, I have two lasting memories of eating out with my youngest when he was a boy…

The first was the morning that we arrived to the Butterfly Museum before it opened. I had tea and he had waffles.

The second was the first time that he tried sushi and loved it.

I remember being in Japan for work and dining at a traditional restaurant where no one spoke any English and I was served a breakfast on a tray with a dozen ceramic dishes of mostly unrecognizable foods without any directions on how to use or not use the accompanying condiments.

I took cues from the small children at the table across from mine, toddlers really, thinking it more acceptable to stare at them then at a table with only adults.

They ate, like everyone else in the restaurant, almost silently, without a fuss, tasting everything on the tray, for a meal that lasted as long as a fancy dinner might.

Maybe Casey was right. Maybe that other mom was missing out. Maybe she was on the road and needed a break. Both mothers and sons seemed to enjoy a relaxing meal. I admired each of them and was grateful to be eating with grownups.

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Adult Offspring, Home again, Mother to Crone

Home again…


Though it doesn’t make it hurt any less to look into their dark and vacant rooms, It turns out that they leave home at just the right time. You’re getting older. Noises bother you. Lights. Chaos. Commotion. You realize you’ve run a marathon and you’re not sure how you did it. You’re more and more attracted to simplicity, ease, slow. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. They’re home!

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Adult Offspring, College, Holidays, Home again, Mother to Crone, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Home from School

The children, once grown, move in and out of the home like water.

Trickles, flash floods, sun showers, but rarely if ever the familiar steady flow, though evidence of it is everywhere, like seahorses found in the desert.

It all happened so fast.

Not the day-to-day, which seemed without beginning or end, but the vanishing which screams in silence from room to room…

Two placemats on the kitchen table.
The empty bedrooms (though we do our best to avoid them.)
The basement, from which I’ve just returned, with a hand on my heart and another on my belly, as if I’m about to be sick.

Like a morgue, the basement houses the remains of a life once embodied, together.

What to make of the favorite toys? The collections? The artwork? The photos?

I’m a Keeper, the consequence of a fractured childhood.

But now, the keeping weighs me down, leaves me sad, makes me wonder what I am to do with it all (and myself.)

To whom does it belong?
To whom do I?

My mother departed before her nest emptied, so it’s my husband’s mother whose gradual paring of the home I watched over time. I hadn’t known I’d been watching. Absorbing. Digesting. Over three decades. (Three decades!)

I had such hopes for thinning this autumn. But the weather, it kept changing. Inside and around me. The visits fast and furious and sometimes choppy and extended.

“Be like water,” wrote Minister Kendra Ford.

Run deep run clear
fill any space to its
own dimensions
respond to the moon, to gravity
change colors with the light
hold your temperature longer
than the surrounding air
take the coast by storm
go under ground
bend light
be the one thing people need, even when they’re fasting
eat boulders, quietly
be a universal solvent.

Am I water too?

I’m not sure which direction I’m flowing.

Should I swim or float or dive deep like I did each time I welcomed a new baby into my body and onto my breast and into our lives. “I feel like I’m living underwater,” I used to say to friends.

Perhaps I am a beached whale or a fossil of a whale like those discovered in the Green Mountains near Lake Champlain.

In part, it’s the way the leaving instantly aged me, signaled the impending Swan Song. Maybe that’s the secret of large families–perpetually immersed in the sea of new life–wave after wave–grandchildren arriving before the departure of the youngest.

And what of those without children? Do they experience a more seamless, fluid aging?

Must we stay young?

How do we know when. To hold on. To let go.