Posted in College, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, Teens, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

11 Things We Learned~in a week without the kids

empty nest
One summer a few years back, I stumbled upon a brilliant act of self-love. I arranged for both of our boys to be away from home at the same time.

Our oldest departed early Sunday morning on a road trip with his girlfriend, while our youngest was scheduled to be dropped off at camp that very afternoon.

On the drive over to Waubanog, my husband turned to me with a giddy whisper, asking What do you want to do AFTER…!

I could barely contain my delight and hoped my son wouldn’t see or sense it from the backseat.

Mostly we slept, and went out to eat, and enjoyed lots of summer cocktails.

A week later, we’d also learned some things about ourselves; things we could no longer blame on the kids:

1. We make lots of messes.

2. We use lots of glasses.

3. We depend on their noise, demands, connection & love to direct our days, our emotions, our very thoughts.

4. We’d do well to focus more on our own shit. Inside and out. There’s plenty there.

5. They apparently keep animals away from our gardens.
(Either that or they arranged for the groundhog to eat all the greens so that they wouldn’t have to.)

6. Casey & I still enjoy each others company more than we do anyone else. (Following some initial turbulence.)

7. We can’t wait for them to leave, and when they’re finally gone, we miss them.  (Duh.)

8. We have softer edges without them, but much less dimension.

9. There will always be an Aidan and a Lloyd shaped empty space in our hearts once they’ve grown.
(Sappy, but true. OUCH.)

10. Even without the distraction, disturbance & delight of children, we don’t “get done” what we imagined.

11. Our lives without them will easily out distance the day-to-day we’ve shared as a family.

At the end of that summer, our oldest and his beloved set to repainting his walls. Their youthful abandon spilled out of his room and down the stairs and into the kitchen; as did the palpable presence of endings–he would leave for college that week and they would break up rather than endure a long distance relationship (and I was not to ask about how or if we would see her once he was gone.)

Add to this the juxtaposition of my baby sister’s first born who had just celebrated his first birthday. His milestones seemed to be engaged in some kind of parallel dance with those taking place in my home.

I hold no regrets. I have lived well and loved our years with children; and I am proud to see them spread their wings; though what is also true is that I can barely breathe at the thought of a completely empty house, or imagine one that doesn’t begin and end with camps and semesters and vacations.

When the boys were babies, Casey & I would race up the stairs to be the first to arrive after naptime–to be that holy recipient of their precious waking gaze of delight & devotion.

At the end of that week apart, instead of a set of stairs, it was a steep hill, and the baby was 13 and he was smelly, carrying all of his gear from a week in a tent. Casey wore flip flops. I chose sneakers. I may have pushed him off the path. More than once.

What I’ve learned most from my time with and apart from my children is something I feel a bit embarrassed to share…

A deep & abiding love for myself, and the pleasure of my own company.

Which alas, grew out of my fierce love for them–both in their comings and their goings.

This past week, in another brilliant act of self-love, I sent my husband off on a trip to retrieve our youngest from his time at the shore with his young cousin–who is now 4 years old.

It was a hard decision not to go along. I missed his little sister’s second birthday. I missed spending time with my entire extended family. I missed a beach trip I’ve taken every summer since we moved to the mountains 23 years ago.

But I also felt conflicted about leaving because it was my oldest son’s birthday, and even though he lived three hours away and planned to spend his 21st with his friends instead of coming home, I wanted to be here. Just to the hold the place of home if nothing else.

I also wanted to write. And to find myself. And to hear my own thoughts. Especially as my first born came of age.

After the initial pangs of emptiness, I settled into a delicious morning of word and bird song and green tea.

Cue the phone.

Guess who’s coming home.

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Posted in College, Mid-Life Mama, Nuts & Bolts, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

home again, gone again

photo: Julie Fender-Zobel

the food lasts longer.
so does the cleaning.
routines are simpler.
decisions too.
but less than 48 hours later,
our hearts ache in his absence.
so we tell them:
don’t be silly,
he’ll be back soon.
but hearts are funny that way.
families too.

Posted in College, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Episiotomy (of love)

broken_heart1Last night I felt the “Lloyd void.”

Lloyd is my first born, and after a month at home (following a season abroad), we deposited him back at the university.

This. This is my first morning of my first week alone in the home since before Thanksgiving.

I work at home. I require clear space to do my work. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally.

After a month of sweet chaos together, Lloyd’s final week home was so turbulent as to render the separation less severe. (Think episiotomy.)

The tension reached its physical climax, however, on our final morning together, as we stood face to face, above the last box, in a tug of war–with a kettle.

I knew that the unpacking of this last box wasn’t entirely rational, especially since it was already loaded into the car.

But it wasn’t organized. It had a jumble of food and pharmacy and odds and ends that had no business together; and more importantly, I couldn’t tell if he had everything he needed. Without me.

So before he got up, I unpacked it and resorted it–into like items–each with their own smaller box; and then I dashed around the house, adding things–like tea, and bandaids and peanutbutter.

When he came down the stairs to the sight of this intrusion, he was appalled. He started throwing everything back into the larger box; while I tried to stop him. Like the tide. Of time. And life. And love.

The kettle was large enough that we could both have our hands on it at the same time. We each pulled in our own direction.

“Let me have this,” I said, and I didn’t mean the kettle.

Please, let me have this irrational, let-me-do-this-last-thing-for-you, mother-panicked, moment.

And he did.

Posted in College, Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments

Passion. Purpose. Partying.

There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes;
the true, where he is free to do what he ought.
~Charles Kingsley

Is it me or is there something inherently wrong with dropping your child off at college? And not just because you’re leaving him at an institution. But because that institution is filled with throngs of the people who are of the same age and predilection.

06-114th-congress-swear-in.w529.h352.2x
Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP/Corbis

Is this kind of homogeneous grouping  ever a good idea? Think of nursing homes. Prisons. The military. North Korea. British cooking. Congress.

As we arrive at my son’s new, sophomore year suite, we find his roommates steeped in the activity of the only Sunday night of the semester without homework.

I fight the urge to say,”You don’t have to stay.” Instead I whisper, “Everything is a choice.”

He whispers back, teasing me: “Like heroin?”

“Yes, like heroin,” I say, “And staying in this dorm.”

As we hug goodbye in the hallway, I suggest that he reconsider the academic dorm, but he lets me know that those students are even more serious about drugs.

I don’t want him to be too serious.  I think fun is important. In fact, when we arrived at the top of the stairs with his luggage and I heard the music blaring through the door of his suite, I had a moment of remembering.

The abandon.

The freedom.

I like freedom.

Partying is one way to explore it.

But it can quickly become a destination instead of an avenue.

(Plus, college is an expensive party.)

 

Posted in College, Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

the canyon

broken_heart1There is so much time–a grand canyon of time–between the intimacy of mothering and the emptying of the nest. And the time in between is something altogether out of time. Only you don’t realize this until you find yourself on the other side. Which is where I am now.

It’s a bit like marriage. Maybe a lot like marriage. Only the gap is swifter then. Like in the time between the birth of your first child and your first getaway. Where you discover that there is nothing. Left. Where there once. Was. Everything.

It was his birthday. I dug out the blue cardboard box with the silver stars and found a melted nine candle and melted one candle and put them together to create the impossible number: 19.

Going through the motions.

The night before was even harder. We sat on his bed and read the book that we read every year on the kids’ birthdays: “On the day you were born…”

He was born on a rainy Tuesday. Waited forever for him to come. Agonized through years of negative pregnancy tests. Two miscarriages. An emergency c-section. And once he was in my arms, I never let him ago.

Until, of course, it was time.

First in little ways. Then in small ways. Next in big ways. And finally, the day we took our baby to an institution 3 hours away and left him to live with strangers.

College.

9 months later, he returned home to us. Loving us once more.
Only I was miles away.

Posted in College, Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Teens, Uncategorized, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Turnstile

revolving-door-1
We sent our very independent and surly 18 year old off to college last August, and he returned this past May, thrilled to be home.

We were taken aback by this deep appreciation for our small world given his desperation to escape it a year earlier, and we mistook this as a leap in maturity rather than a deep disappointment in his experience at college and in himself there.

His new plan is to take a semester’s leave and to volunteer in his field (International and Community Development) to help bring the excrutiating static classroom experience to life; and to shed light on how to move through with passion and meaning and integrity.

With this aim, he has been working with a non-profit organization in Central America to find a good fit. They have decided on a women’s artisan cooperative in Costa Rica in the same town that he visited with his Junior High class in what seems like another lifetime ago.

He leaves in two weeks.
He leaves.
He.

As parents, we’re not sure about our role; which has been increasingly true for a least a couple of years now.

I’m beginning to understanding that parenting, all of it, is not so much a nest as it is a reverse toll booth or a turnstile or one of those revolving doors through which others move from the outside to the inside to the outside again.

In this analogy, I find it important to distinguish the role from myself. This distinction seems to have growing relevance as our children become adults.

I want to communicate support and encouragement without robbing initiative and autonomy, and that is a tall order.

Breath has become one of my greatest tools. And silence. And listening.

(But just in case, click here for his upcoming trip. Pass it a long if you’re so inclined.
Just don’t tell him that I asked.)

Posted in College, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Letting go like a dream, or labor, or swimming under water

klimt-mother-and-childThough she could probably count the times she’d cried as an adult, she found herself randomly weeping throughout the entire college orientation weekend.

Shit, she thought. What did I get myself into?

She thought she was ahead of the game of loss given her advance work on the blog and the book entitled, The Empty(ing) Nest Diary (END). But there seemed to be no escaping any of it. It was a lot like labor in this way. Unpredictable. Chaotic. Tender. Remarkable. Excruciating.

By the second day, she began to feel that she was caught up in a bad dream. Her son’s impending absence was so thick around her heart, that she felt the need to hug him, but she couldn’t find him—not in the bookstore, or the meal tent, or in the lounge or  in the residence halls.

Once or twice she thought she spied him among the crowds, and she even ran toward him, only to discover that it was another handsome young man who did not belong to her.

When she crossed paths with his friends,  she had to restrain herself from embracing them, though she did over eagerly greet them with a desperate joy.

“Have you seen Lloyd?”she’d ask, trying be casual, as if she was just making conversation, not letting on that in fact she was caught in a nightmare where her son was just around the corner, but she’d never find him. Again.

When she finally did stumble upon him, the real him, on a tour, she hugged him. In public. In front of strangers. He didn’t seem to mind. Too much.

They would meet for lunch. She placed herself at the first table in the tent, facing the entrance so that she wouldn’t miss him; and still she looked behind herself every 10 minutes just in case she’d been distracted and missed him rushing by.

But he did eventually arrive, and even returned to her table once he found some lunch. It was a light meal and quick conversation and then he was off again with his friends.

Suddenly she realized that this is how it would be.

He would breeze in and breeze out of her days like breath after a long time underwater, and she would be both refreshed and emptied in the space she created inside to receive him.

She resented this. Because of her father.