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 (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.

Posted in College, Holidays, Insight, Nuts & Bolts, Teens, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Puzzles & Families, A-Z

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A 1000 piece puzzle may be the most revealing of family activities, exposing individual traits that shape the function (& dysfunction) of the dynamic of shared lives…

a. A few years back I bought a Will Moses “Thanksgiving Snows” puzzle as a charming kick off to the thanksgiving break

b. (even though we have never finished a puzzle in a decade)

c. my youngest and i started the puzzle; while my husband repeatedly asked if we were ready to pack it up.

d. i finally gave in (gave up) and sorted the edges and the finished bits into ziplocks to give us a better start in the following year

e. a year later i put the puzzle out again

f. my husband taped cardboard together so that the puzzle could be easily relocated

g. our oldest, home from college, never approached the puzzle. (in 2015 or 2016)

h. our youngest and i began the outer edges

i. he complained that no one was returning to the puzzle

j. he then devised a flow chart to assemble the ample sky pieces which he sorted–by cut

k. i showed our oldest his brother’s flow chart of sky pieces as a point of amusement; he was only slightly interested. maybe.

l. i ignored the flow chart and sky pieces and began with the recognizable barns, houses & people

m. i insisted that my husband join me

n. he claimed that he was too overwhelmed to participate so I suggested he begin with the large yellow house, and I set him up with a pile of yellow pieces

o. He insisted he needed all the pieces to the yellow house in order to continue and proceeded to handle every piece in the box in search of more yellow house pieces.

p. From time to time I looked over at his work, and annoyed, ran my hand randomly through the box, and found more yellow house pieces instantaneously than he did with his methodical sorting

q. looking up, he accused me of “taking all the glory,” because I put together the pieces of a man he had apparently found. (He told me to stick to the barn i was building.)

r. i told him that i didn’t realize that the man was his and also that i was working on three barns, two wagons, a few turkeys, a bunch of people, and other unidentifiable items

s. he continued sorting pieces one by one, while i suggested he return to the house with what he already had;

t. i left the puzzle. puzzles are fun for me for a moment, and then maddening.

u. an hour later, i insisted my husband step away from the puzzle

v. we are both afraid of what our youngest will say when he comes down and finds his system ignored

xyz… (to be continued)

post script: in 2017 we finished the puzzle! (in 2018, my husband claimed that he couldn’t find the puzzle in the attic.)

Posted in Holidays, Round Two, Teens, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

The Nest, wide open


I expected to wake cranky this morning, and I suppose I am (my youngest didn’t get home until midnight & my mother is 18 years dead), but my first thought/feeling/sensation was santosha/satisfaction/sweetness–for a job well done.

This is my last mother’s day with a child at home.

I first felt the pang of the empty nest in the shower on the morning after my oldest was born.

A month later, I began writing about this messed up love story, and years later, after both boys were in school, I began this very blog in an effort to get a jump start on the sucky ending ahead.

But that was a mistake. If I were to start name this blog now, I’d call it something else.

The Spacious Nest.

Welcome.

Posted in Fragile Life, Holidays, Milestone Moments

Anthem

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It was an unseasonably warm day, much like today, but in 1999, when weather like this was so rare as to be a miracle.

I waited to pick up a pregnancy test until after my hair appointment that, not wanting to give up my annual birthday ritual of highlights, but knowing that I would, if there had been a someone, to consider, inside.

A year had passed without two lines on a stick.

My first miscarriage was six-years earlier.In May of 1993.
The second–in November–of the same year, on the day of Uncle Joe’s funeral.
It snowed.

A son had come two years later, and now a second soul was knocking on the door, but I hadn’t found the key.

I stopped at Rite Aid with my fresh highlights and purchased this month’s pregnancy test.
I stopped at the Post Office too.
A yellow notification card.
A package.
A high school friend. A cd. Stevie Nicks.

Once home, I peed on a stick. I pushed play.
I called my husband. And my sisters.
No one was there.

I pushed play again, and hit the repeat button, and turned up the volume and opened the French doors and stepped outside, into the yard, onto grass, instead of snow, and danced and twirled and laughed with the mountains and the woods and the sky. In rapture.

It would be months before this song became an anthem.
He was born just in time.
A week early.

She held him in her arms before she died.
His life and this song became our balm.

Posted in Holidays, Insight, Nuts & Bolts

Candy Capitalism

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After Halloween, the whole point of candy is power.

Remember emptying your bag on your bed or on your floor like you won the lotto?

Did you sort your riches too? Did you bag them separately? Did you hoard them until the snow melted and they grew stale?

What about candy trading? That’s the ultimate power trip. Especially if you have younger siblings; they–who don’t know the value of select items.

My oldest asks what I’ll give for his Butterfinger.

Yes, even though I am a Mom–the ultimate power figure–I am still subject to candy power. But I brandish it as well.

How?

Candy tax.

Haven’t heard of it?

Candy tax is what you impose for all the help you give on Halloween… basically things you do on other days for free: like fixing dinner, driving kids around town, tucking them in.

It can also be used in the days and weeks after Halloween as a penalty.

Talking back?

Candy tax.

Leaving your laundry on the floor?

Candy tax.

Fighting with your brother.

Candy tax. Times two!

Be creative, parents. The power is yours.

Right now I’m sitting in bed with all the leftover candy from what we gave out. I call out the favors I need, and kids magically arrive to do them–in exchange for something in the basket.

We negotiate…

No, taking my workout bag upstairs is not worth a Twix bar. I only have one.

What about two tootsie rolls and a mini Milky Way?

…There’s power in candy, people. Tap it.

(And don’t even tell me that you were raised by socialists who made you pour your hard-earned candy into a family bowl to be shared by all.)

Kelly Salasin, November 1, 2011

ps. I eat Fair Trade candy most every other day of the year; and often share.

pps. To read more about my “take” on Halloween, click here.

ppps. To read more about my family & holidays, click here.