To the Mean People

Mean people, we all have dealt with them in our lives.  Whether it was the fourth grade bully on the playground or the lunatic who keeps sabotaging your career or the family member who makes your life hard just for kicks, we have all faced them, been victim of them and many times, we have no idea what we have even done to them.  These are people who enjoy hurting others or throwing obstacles in their paths or even trying to ruin someone else’s life.  Many times, it’s revenge for a perceived slight that in their mind was serious but you can’t figure out for the life of you what you even did.  And many times, you don’t have to do anything at all, they are just wired this way.

These are the type of people who just make your life hell and without them around, your whole world becomes brighter.  I’m dealing with one such person recently, even though I have always been kind to them and kept my thoughts of ‘omg you are a lunatic’ to myself.  But that’s just it, this person is most likely mentally ill though I’m not a mental health or medical professional, the signs all point to some sort of issue that causes this person to be vindictive, hateful and sabotaging to other people so that they can feel important, powerful and large.  They are so insecure within themselves, so miserable and unhappy that they want everyone around them to be miserable as well just to make themselves feel better.  Their only real joy is to hurt others.

I believe this person blocked a path for me for something I thought I wanted.  Though I don’t have proof, the signs all point to this person’s interference in my journey.  Though at first, I thought it was other sensible circumstances.  But then when this person popped back up suddenly in my face, I knew in my gut, they were hoping to inflict even more pain or gain satisfaction that they indeed made me unhappy because they had blocked my path. I just can’t deal with the depth of what feels like endless crazy to me so I had pushed them outside of my life as much as I could.  I’m sorry this person is so unhappy but I’m not the person who inflicted anything upon them.  It happened way before I ever came into their life, or maybe some people are just born that way.

At first, I started to think of revenge (I am Irish after all) but as I sat and meditated on the circumstances, I smiled to myself.  This lunatic did me a favor.  When I really searched my heart, the direction in to which I had turned was not one that I truly desired and so having the decision made for me, the pressure was off of me.  I wouldn’t have been happier going down this road.  Thank you, mean person.  You actually did me a solid and as you hover around what you believe to be my carcass, you will find it’s just ash of out which I will rise like the Phoenix as I have always done in these circumstances.

As I think back over my life, though at the time, these circumstances of sabotage and hatefulness perpetrated by people who meant me harm, may have seemed dire.  Though as I look further along after the incident(s), I see how my life became better.   I’ve always been a survivor and I will continue to be that until my time on this earth is over.  I feel sorry for you, that you are so black and dead inside that your joy comes from the suffering of others (or in my case perceived suffering).  I am not the person people run away from when they see you or cringe when you text them or avoid you at all costs.  I’m not the person crying that they don’t have any friends and not realizing their own personality and propensity to being cruel is the reason for this predicament.  As you tried to hurt me, my own close friends came to my side giving me support and we form a wall of friendship and love that you can’t penetrate.  You actually bring us closer in unity because they too have experienced your cruelty.

While I should be angry at you, I only feel sorry for you.  I feel sad that your life is so empty and so destitute of love for yourself.  I pray that one day, you will see the light, that the road to happiness and self-love/acceptance isn’t trying to destroy others but helping others be the best they can be, by lifting them up.  Because when you do this, you lift yourself out your dark hell.  I pray that you get the help you need to heal yourself and love yourself.  Because until you can do this, you’ll just be a miserable lunatic that people run from.  You’ll die alone a victim one more time of your own misery.

So mean person, thank you, thank you for making my life better.  I sent you love and light in the hopes that one day you’ll see that the path you’re on won’t ever make you happy.   But know, that I will always rise above what shit you throw at me and you mean nothing to me at all.

 

 

Mid-Life Changes and the Second Wind

Perimenopause can be a real bitch.  It starts out slow, making you slightly miserable and then for me, almost two years of feeling absolutely like shit.  Hot flashes that wake you up 3-4 times a night not to mention just randomly during the day which is super fun.  Having your sleep suffer to the point you’re falling asleep driving to work.  Mood swings that a teenager wouldn’t envy.  One minute you’re crying and the next you’re ready to kill a cute furry creature with your bare hands.  I can go on, but trust me, it’s no fun.  Plus, I was the one person who can’t take hormone replacement therapy and everything else they tried I was either allergic to or was overly sensitive.  Yay me!

One thing about this I didn’t expect was how absolutely old, unsexy and washed up I felt.  A lot probably was because I was struggling to do every day things and even more was my own way of thinking and preconceived notions.  The bottom line is that just because menses stops, doesn’t mean it’s over.  Not that I’m going to miss that monthly visitor.  Good riddance.  Moving into this phase of life though, you can’t deny you’re not longer in the ‘youth’ category.  So I started searching out blogs and articles of women who had actually came into their own and had their greatest successess after they entered into menopause.  That was eye-opening especially since I had figured that once you hit menopause, it’s over.  Pull up your rocker, adjust your walker, get ready for death.  No clue where I got that idea but it was stuck in my brain.

Pair in the start of my empty nest, it was quite the emotional, depressing, shit show of who am I?  What am I going to do with my life?  What meaning and purpose do I have any longer?  Why is this so dang hard?  I guess it was my version of a mid-life crisis but mostly it was just an adjustment, two events which I had no control over and in reality, both normal and eventually, positive things.  Eventually, your perimenopause symptoms ease to the point you feel half-way human again and start sleeping more.  You have more energy because your body isn’t in a revolt against the lack of hormone production.  It’s almost like a withdrawal, a reverse puberty.

In line with that, I adjusted to living in this house without children.  I spend a lot more time alone now, but I’m an introvert and I actually thrive in solitude.  Not that I sit at home and feel sorry for myself (okay, once in awhile I did), but I found I love going out alone and being among people I don’t even know.  Interacting with strangers is kind of my jam, because it’s short-lived and doesn’t require a huge amount of energy I don’t want to spend socializing.  Oddly enough, I may be out alone but I’m not actually alone because depending on what I’m doing, there’s people everywhere.  I’ve talked to all sorts of people from all over the world just doing things I love whether it’s hiking, biking or walking through a festival.  When I am with someone else, I tend not to talk to anyone unless spoken to first because I place my attention on the person(s) I’m with.

Then when my employer increased our yearly tuition reimbursement amount, I decide to start taking classes again to finish my bachelor’s degree.  I don’t have any grand plan when I do finish, but I realized it’s important for me to get my degree, a goal I had set for myself in my teens and it had always bothered me I didn’t finish.  My first class was a basic orientation class which was super easy for me.  My next class, Algebra.  I picked this as my first real class because I like to get the worst out of the way early on.  I’m not bad at math, I just struggle with things that don’t make much sense to me so algebra in high school wasn’t my thing.  Geometry made sense to me so I did well in that.  I somehow avoided calculus and trig which in a way, I wished I had believed more in myself back then.

Taking algebra 30+ years later is scary if you didn’t do well in high school.  I’ve spent hours and hours on this class so far and I’m only about 50% done but guess what, I’m getting a 95% in the class overall so far.  My hard work is paying off.  The magical bonus – I’ve totally immersed myself in something extremely challenging and while scary at times (I was afraid I might not get it or even fail), the challenge has given me a major boost.  I get frustrated at times, have been about in tears others but I really love having something that challenges me and it doesn’t revolve around people.

I am not a people person, though I’m not socially awkward, people and their issues drain me like no tomorrow.  But equations and coefficients just sit there quietly, waiting for you to solve, or factor or graph.   It’s exciting when something that didn’t make sense to me suddenly becomes clear.  It may take me awhile to get it but when it clicks, it’s exhilirating to see “CORRECT” when I work through the online homework system.

The odd part is, this class has given me a new purpose and is teaching me about myself.  I never do well having to deal with a lot of people but sit me down with a set of problems that are totally non-human related, and I’m happy to immerse myself in them.  I also realized that I’ve sold myself short most of my life when it comes to math.  Yes, it’s not easy for me but if I work at it long enough and ask for help, I eventually will get it and succeed.  Going back to college again and starting with probably the hardest class in my curriculum has sparked something long buried inside of me.  My love of a challenge.

When you grow up in a violently, dysfunctional home, go through two really bad marriages, so on and so forth, you tend to retreat into the most comfortable place you can nest.   But for me, this means boredom.  Yes, everything is all quiet and such for the most part but I’m bored shitless because I don’t even challenge myself or try something hard.  Not that I want chaos and craziness in my life, but stepping up and stretching my wings is a good thing.  Going back to school has made me feel almost alive again even if at times I just want to cry because I can’t quite get something.

  1. The good news is that even if you reach a time in middle-life when you’re struggling with ‘the change’ and/or empty nest or other changes, there comes a moment where you reach your second wind.  My former therapist called it a valley.  For years, you run at high speed taking care of so much and then bam, you fall into this valley which was for me was grief of losing my mother, perimenopause and transitioning into the empty (though it’s not technically empty) nest.  Then one day, you realize that you’ve climbed out of the valley and are standing out in the sunshine once again.  You take in a deep breath of crisp air and you feel human again.  You want to take on the world or at least a country or two.

I know it’s hard but there is this time when you will out of the blue realize that you’ve come out of the woods.  That you aren’t washed up or too old.  The only time you’re too old is when you’re dead.  Just keep moving ahead even if it’s a few baby steps at a time and you need a nap right after.  We have to adjust as we get older but I follow the Facebook page of Ernestine Shepherd – the World’s Oldest Female Body Builder (check her out, she’s amazing).  She’s in her 80’s and looks better than most people in their 30’s.  Following her posts, it reminds me that you don’t have to just give up and get old.  This lady is super dedicated and even trains other people!

It’s like my great-grandmother, Sadie, always said, “You’re only as old as you think.”  That didn’t make sense to me until I got this age.  She’s absolutely right.

Adventures of the Mid-Life College Student

(Insert scream here) – I’ve gone back to college for the third time.  In 1989, I graduated with a Medical Assisting Diploma (that the college had promised would be an Associate’s program before my first year was up – but NOPE).  In 2006, I started on again and off again online classes through a local two-year college and over ten years of quitting and restarting, I finally graduated with my Associate’s of Applied Busines or AAB which sounds super fancy (yet isn’t).  This I graduated from two years after my mom passed away in honor of her.

When I got an actual degree and a few letters behind my name for my work email signature, I thought, there, a degree, that’s enough.  Yet here I am, three years later starting back up going after my BS degree through more online classes.  It took me applying to several colleges but I found one that wasn’t going to make me take a ton of classes and hours as well as several what I’d call repeat classes they didn’t make my co-worker who graduated from the same program at the same time take – he got credit and I didn’t – WTF (Colorado State – I’m calling you out).  I don’t care if the class was the next level up, I was not doing another Microeconomics class especially when I’m not an Economics major.

However, I do have to take Algebra and Statistics – GASP!  I barely passed alegebra in high school 30+ years ago.  I sailed through my orientation class they force you to take even though I’ve been in school oh, about half of my life.  The first week of Algebra, I was almost in panicked tears.  Algebra isn’t my jam.  It’s not that I’m stupid about math, my brain just has a hard time wrapping itself around things that don’t make a lot of sense.  I spent HOURS and hours that first week working through problems via their online software that tests and helps you through everything you need to know.  This means if you don’t get it, you have to do a lot of the same thing which I guess is good.  But I made it harder on myself because I didn’t read all the textbook sections assigned so I was clueless.  Good job, Laura, handicap yourself right out of the gate.

So, now, I do the textbook reading first, then jump into the homework.  Today I drove over an hour to get a book – TI-84 Plus for Dummies because I have never even touched a graphing calculator.  A have a scientific one that I can use on the paper tests but the homework started with using a graphing calculator which I had borrowed from my daughter’s girlfriend (thanks!).  But I had no idea how to really use it even after the lesson instructed me, I could get it to work on the online graphing calculator because I got specific instructions, but the same didn’t work on this real life calculator.  So here I am, closing in on my 50th birthday learning how to use a graphing calculator.  I had asked my husband and he said he used graph paper, aka the old fashioned way.  Since my first test is a week away and he’s traveling for business, my butt was in the car going to the only bookstore that had this in stock.

Though I’m a little worried I won’t pull a high enough grade to keep up my GPA and still get employer tuition reimbursement, I’m working super hard on relearning algebra and actually, to be honest, I’m learning stuff that I just guessed at when I was in high school.  I get all excited when it finally makes sense and I no longer feel like a math failure.  It’s not that I’m not smart enough to learn it, it’s that it’s hard and I have a tendency to want to gloss over hard things.  I want it to be easy like most things are for me.  Give me an English class and a term paper over an algebra quiz any day.  Where some people freeze up on having to write papers, I revel in it.  While I struggle with slope-intercept form.

I’ve created a life that is consistent and easy to an extent.  I’ve struggled most of my life so it has felt good to just coast along.  I’ve worked for the same company for over 21 years.  I’ve been in my current position for 13 of those years.  I shy away from change and new things.  Maybe this is part of getting older but I think it’s also the fact that I got burned out by my turbulent life.  Now that it isn’t turbulent, I’ve been coasting.  But I’ve also been bored shitless.  Without challenging myself, even though it’s scary AF, I’ve made my life mundane.  I sit around and ponder why my life doesn’t seem to have meaning which is not really the issue.  My life doesn’t have positive challenges.  I’ve had so many negative challenges, that I shut off the good ones too.  I”ve cocooned myself into a bunch of fluffy nothingness and then whine about how I’m bored or don’t have enough to do or whatever it is.

I’d gotten stuck in the idea that I had to accomplish something huge when really all I need to do is challenge myself.  As much as I tell myself I hate algebra, it’s bothered me for years that I never really learned parts of it that my friends seemed to get.  Now I’m going to learn how to use a graphing calculator which wasn’t a thing when I was in high school.  And I’ve stopped worrying about my age.  When I first started participating in my class discussions and projects, I was terrified I’m the oldest one.  And usually I am but there’s quite a few people right in my age group and no ones gives a flying F.  It’s fun to have so many different ages and backgrounds around me even if it’s online.  I find it interesting that in the weekly “Meet” sessions for my algebra class, it’s the females that are ringing out the answers and solutions more so than the males.  That’s a shift from when I was in school.  Losing the girls aren’t good at math and sciences mentality is awesome.

Well it’s getting late, my eyes hurt from staring at a book and screen most of the evening and trying to read that tiny writing on that calculator (thank you readers!).  I’ve got a full day of work tomorrow and more homework to tackle.  Onward and upward!

Empty Nest – One Year Later – Finding Myself

About one year ago, my last daughter moved out on her own, leaving with the empty nest which is really a stupid term, because there are still my husband, my pets and I.  It’s the altered nest, the changed nest, the lighter nest.  It’s definitely not empty.  Honestly, the anticipation of her leaving was worse than the actual event.  Oh, I cried as I repainted her room, I grieved and after a few weeks, I was like, huh, this isn’t so awful.  It’s different, quieter, cleaner, and at time starkly frightening as I was faced with all this free time that I wanted but didn’t really know what to do with once it arrived.

It’s been a year of letting go, of adjusting and of grieving.  You go right ahead and grieve, just don’t get stuck there.  And understand that it will ebb and flow and eventually your new life will seem more ‘normal’.  The beauty of this time is that you get to go back and find yourself, pick up and start a new life.  The hard part for me has been letting go and also discovering who I am when I peeled away the roles I’ve been living for so long.  My caretaker role goes clear back to my youth as I lived in a very dysfunctional home.  At a very young age, I was cooking, cleaning and taking care of people that were not my responsibility.  So it’s been a bit of a shock, but I’m happy not taking care of much more than my pets, my home and myself.

I had the added challenge that my husband and I don’t work the same shift at times.(single parents – I feel so much for you!).  My shift is steady while his swings and encompasses every other weekend.  I’d never lived alone (I think everyone should live alone for a year – I’d fared much better) so being in the house alone as much as I was this past year was a struggle.  First of all, I had to combat my own thinking.  I’m not a loser if I’m home alone on a weekend night.  I also had to embrace the fact that I’m an introvert during this year.  I’ve become an ace at eating in restaurants alone and sometimes, I prefer this.  Though people assume I’m not married or I have no friends or family when I do, this is certainly not true.  I’m just a bit of a lone wolf and didn’t really discover how much this is true until this past year.

I’ve tried group activities and even if I had fun, I just didn’t want to go after the first meeting.  I’ve tried different varieties of volunteering and settled on being a Lunch Buddy for a now sixth-grade girl at the middle school.  The one-on-one interaction appeases my introverted side while the limited commitment appeased my desire to not ever be over-committed again.   My personality demands flexibility and spontaneity.  I’ve spent most of my life tied to commitments, schedules and so on.   I will admit though, having all this free time was scary at first and there are times when I struggle with the thought that I need to do more, be more productive.  When this happens, I have to really sit down and consider if I think I must do, if it really makes me happy or if it is just something I believe I need to do for whatever reason.  In other words, that I don’t just stuff activities into an uncomfortable space that will eventually just make me miserable.

Having an empty nest has really opened the opportunity to learn who I am and focus on what I really want out of life.  I was so used to just doing things because I was told I must, or there was some expectation of it (this was also self-inflicted), that I’ve been challenging my preconceived notions and ideas all year.  This is still ongoing but when I reflect on where I stood a year ago, I’ve made some significant headway.  Being authentic and being myself is a top priority for me.  Though we all have to do things we don’t want to such as clean toilets, work, etc. these things have to be done or there are significant consequences that are worse than actually doing the undesirable activities.

Learning to let go has been another big lesson over the year.  I still am working on this one as well, but after you’ve spent years guiding your kids, letting go especially for someone like me has been a drastic lesson in itself.  But as I am getting better at not trying to control, give advice, etc. (not perfect at this in any way!), I find more and more freedom and way less worry and anxiety.  My goal over the next year is learning to finally truly relax.  I’m always just a little bit keyed up, partly because my brain is constantly rolling over things, many of which I have 0 control over to anyway.  Ruminating over these things that are out of my control and driving my husband nuts is not beneficial.  Like anything else, this is a process and slowly I’m getting better and better.  I’ll never nail it perfectly but I can continue to improve.  It’s hard not to worry about your kids.

Besides finding a volunteer opportunity I really love, letting go and being authentic, I started back to college utilizing my company’s reimbursement benefit.  I finished my Associate’s degree in 2016.  I thought I was done but I searched my heart when I found that my employer upped their benefit enough that I could actually attend online college (which is extremely expensive) and graduate in less than a billion years because I don’t want to put any money out of pocket for school.  If I had some great career change I was pursuing, I would jump right in and take out loans, etc. for the higher education but since I really don’t have this, I am happy to go at a slower pace and not pay out much $$$$.

Though I will admit, I’ve freaked a bit at having to take college-level algebra after a 31-year hiatus from my last algebra class.  This class is taking huge amounts of my time, so much so, that I dropped the management class that I was taking at the same time in order to stay sane.  I’m just not great at algebra and had to start at the very beginning of the text book and read everything, watch every video, redo a ton of problems, take tons of notes, etc.  This is extremely challenging.  But while I’m not a fan of math, I am really underneath it all, good at math when it finally makes sense to me. What I do enjoy is the challenge.  Being so engrossed in something, even though it’s not my fave, that time flies by.  I was sitting in one of my regular haunts yesterday, eating lunch alone working on math problems in between bites.  One of the co-owners asked me what I was doing and even provided me with more scratch paper when he saw I was running out.

My life had gone on automatic.  I’ve worked in the same place for 21 years.  I’ve been in the same position now for 13 of those years.  I can do much of my job in my sleep.  I’m also not great about going outside of my comfort zone.  This has more to do with growing up and living a good part of my life in chaotic mess.  Now that my life is really good, usually calm (outside of work), I love the peace and am afraid of bringing anything stressful into my life.  But I’m bored shitless this way.  Walking around in a trance is no way to live.

But guess what?  Now I have all this time to focus on my own challenges and goals.  Even if I don’t have a clear picture of what I want to do in this chapter of my life, I can start working on whatever interests me.  I get stuck on that, having this great big picture and when I don’t, I paralyze myself into inaction.  The truth is, I don’t have to have it all figured out.  I can pursue what I want in life and maybe it will all click together into this grand picture or maybe it never will.  Either way, I’m not sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.  But I am also not filling my time with “should’s” and “have to’s” that aren’t truly something I need to do.  I have to pay taxes but I don’t have to join a writing group just because I love writing but I don’t love groups.  I can sit at home alone and watch a movie on Friday night.  I don’t have to get a bunch of people together and go out.

So, thank you empty nest for allowing me the time and focus to really get back to myself and learn about myself.  Hopefully, I’m becoming a better person (still working really hard on this one) and a more independent person.  I was used to having one of my daughters around to hang out with but now I have to entertain myself at times.  It’s forcing me out of my shell, out of my safe little world.  I’ve even started attending festivals alone when no one is available.  On my bucket list – go to the movies alone.  Okay, for an extrovert that sounds awful but for an introvert like me, it seems almost normal.

Thank you college algebra, you’re probably going to have me in tears a few times, but I forgot how much I love a challenge.  I have been avoiding things that I don’t like as if they are the plague.  I think this attitude is holding me back in life.  I may hate editing my own writing, but I need to if I want to publish something on a real scale.  I may be afraid of the whole submission, finding an agent, etc. process but I am going to have to move forward rather than staying in my safe bubble to accomplish publication and finally see one of my books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble.  I have a tendency to talk myself out of hard goals or activities.  No pain no gain, right?  I’ve got to get my cowardly ass back out into life.  I’ve spent years hiding behind my kids and my responsibilities.

I have no excuse now do I?  Time to live.  Thank you, Empty Nest, for ripping back the curtain of comfort that I was hiding behind.  I keep trying to pull it closed so I can hide and not face hard things.  I’ve stopped challenging myself outside of my comfort zone.  It’s hard to go back and face the forgotten dreams, it’s easy to say, oh, I don’t really want to get my bachelor’s degree or I don’t really want to publish that book, but is it really true?

It’s taken me a year, but I finally want to step out from my comfort curtain and start living.  It’s a bit scary but I feel alive.  Until next time, hugs and encouragement to you!

 

Empty Nest Series: From Super Hero to Pinch Hitter

There is not great advice out there on transitioning to becoming an empty nester.  All along I’ve not been a fan of the term ’empty nest’ because of the word ’empty’.  It’s not empty because you and/or your spouse or partner and maybe some pets are still live in said nest.  Maybe something like ‘lightened nest’.  My nest is lighter.   A term with a more positive connotation would be preferable.  My nest has changed but it isn’t empty.

Starting clear back in 2009 when my oldest daughter graduated high school, I had started reading books, articles, blogs and whatever I could get my hands on about transitioning into this lighter nest time in my life.  Considering that my youngest just moved out last year in 2018, nine years later, I’ve had quite a bit of time to do research.  I’ve even conferred with my therapist.  But the advice you get is about all the same.  Grieve that time in your life, but not too long and definitely don’t talk about it.

That’s the thing about being a parent, you spend an awful lot of time keeping your mouth shut and honestly, I get tired of it.  Not that I want to tell my adult children what to do or run their lives (though I’ll be honest, I have to catch myself out of habit and well, you want the best for them), but I want to be able to honestly express my feelings.  Not to make my kids feel guilty but so if they have families one day, they will know that this time in your life is a bittersweet one.  So that other parents out there feel that they are heard as well.

There are many things I don’t miss about being a parent.  All my time is dedicated to another person and my calendar was full.  I don’t miss having to have meals on the table every day.  I don’t miss a messy house or dishes left in the sink.  I love having freedom to do what I want when I want without (outside of kenneling the pets if we travel) outside of my job.  I don’t miss all the noise and the fighting, I like the quiet.  I love having my washer and dryer free all the time and I’m not waiting on someone to unload one or the other.  I love having a home office and an exercise studio/guest room.  I love that my life is now my own after having my first child at the age of 20.  And maybe someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll turn the studio/guest room into a room for grandchildren.

But I’ll admit, something very important is missing.  I’ve tried all the advice they have suggested which essentially is: Fill all your time up with something else.  Get a new hobby or go back to an old one, travel more, volunteer, go back to school, go after that career you’ve always wanted, start a business, join a club, make new friends and so on.  In theory, that sounds like solid advice and maybe it truly works for some but it hasn’t really worked for me.  I don’t sit at home doing nothing and feeling sorry for myself, especially since my husband and I work opposite shifts off and on during the month so I’m home alone quite frequently.  I already had a dozen hobbies, we travel about the same, I am going back to school in less than a month, I’m not a club person, maybe I’ll make new friends but I’m an introvert and not horribly social to start with and well I don’t have some new career I’m dying to start.  In short, I’d been living my life alongside raising my girls.  The more independent they became, the more time I devoted toward my interests.

Last fall, I signed up with a local organization much like Big Brothers/Big Sisters to be a lunch buddy for an 11-year old fifth grade girl I’ll call Madison.  Though you were to go just twice a month to eat lunch with your ‘little’, I usually went once a week when I could.  Here I was in the middle school my three daughters attended and that once was the high school from which I graduated.   I could still show you my locker in high school, #111.  I’ll admit, I’ve tried different volunteering activities and this is the first one that I really enjoyed and looked forward to doing.  I finally found something fulfilling.  Toward the end of the school year, the coordinator determined that we were a ‘match’ which means Madison and I can now spend time together outside of school with permission of her parents and of course, when she is available.  Though it took some back and forth (Madison’s parents are divorced and she floats between the homes) and some phone tag but the other day, we finally had our first day out.

I took Madison to meet my oldest daughter and while there she met a few of her friends and my daughter’s cat.  Then we visited my middle daughter and her three cats and three fish tanks.  Though my youngest was at work, she lives with the middle one, so Madison got to meet her two cats as well.  She loves animals and wanted to meet my daughters she’s heard so much about.  Our last stop was the local coffee/chocolate house downtown.  We each picked mango smoothies (with whipped cream) and walked down to the river to sit on an iron bench I sat with my own daughters when they were little.  I told Madison stories about my girls bringing bread down to feed the ducks/geese (which you’re not supposed to do now) and how my middle one would come and fish trying to catch these ginormous catfish that live in this murky river.  She told me stories as well about her family and things she’s done.

As she’s talking, I glance over at her, her feet up on the bench, oversized sunglasses on her face, my heart seizes.  I realize how much I miss these moments with my own daughters when they were younger.  I have an ‘AHA’ moment right there happily hanging out with Madison and I realize all the empty nest advice I’ve read or been given, doesn’t even touch the one key thing I’ve been missing.    It was as if the last puzzle piece of what I was struggling with finally clicked! into place.  Everything finally, finally made sense.

I went from Super Hero to Pinch Hitter as my kids grew up and moved on with their lives.  I’m still close to my daughters, I still see them frequently, we still spend time together.  We’ve had a few growing pains and bumps, but mostly things are good.  We’re still a close-knit family though everyone’s schedules are a bit challenging to get us all together.   But I’m a pinch hitter now.  Once in a great while, they need me but they are independent grown women.  I talk to them at least once a day via messenger app.  We have a group chat and individual chats.  That’s one blessed thing about technology that we didn’t have twenty-five years ago.  We can be in touch, just like we were when we all lived together.  Just less crowded and we aren’t fighting.

I had been chiding myself because I believe that I shouldn’t ever feel sad about having a lighter nest.  “You started out with no kids and you were fine back then.  You had a great time, you weren’t sad and down.”  But parenthood changes you.  I’m not the same person I was at 19-20 or in my teen years.  I’m trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  I’ve become a different person who has rounded out their life.

When your child(ren) are born, you put on a cape and become their super hero.  You’re responsible for all their care, they are completely helpless.  As they grow, there is usually a pretty intense love affair between you.  First smiles, first laugh, tiny fingers gripping onto one of yours, wrapping their arms around your neck, you saving them from all sorts of scary things, they become attached to you at the hip and then for a while they don’t like you but then they come back.  You’re the first person they show things to and you walk with them as they learn about and explore life.  So many kisses and hugs and bedtime stories.  So many sweet moments tucked into all the hair-pulling exhaustion and frustration and then one day, it’s all gone even if you have a good relationship with your adult kids.  But it’s changed as it’s supposed to but no one really tells you that you’re left a bit empty.  Maybe that’s how the word empty came into play.

It’s a process, going from Super Hero to Pinch Hitter, usually a gradual one but you’re now a bit player in their life.  What annoys the crap out of me is when people, well-meaning as they are, tell you ‘well that’s how it’s supposed to be, they are supposed to grow up’.  No shit.  Thanks so much for that.  But no one tells you that no matter what you do, even if you’re happy to not be caring for someone and to be on your own again, that you miss all the love.  Not that you and your adult kids don’t love each other but they aren’t running up to you four or five times a day and wrapping their arms around your neck and giving you sloppy kisses.  No one is looking up to you daily (though this wanes as they get older).  You’re not the hero anymore.  Maybe a little, but it’s more in the background.  You’ve been pretty much retired and even though I volunteer and spend time with someone younger, it’s not as if she’s my own child so it’s different.  She’s happy to see me and excited to spend time with me.  Now the only people who are excited to see me outside of Madison, aren’t people at all but my pets (thank god for them right?).

After I took Madison home, I drove back to my house in deep thought.  It made sense now.  I can do all the things on the list of ‘what empty nesters should do’ and it’s not going to replace the sweet love and moments I had with my daughters.  Even if I worked all day with kids, it’s not the same.  I’m guessing this is why people are so happy when they become grandparents.  They get their Super Hero cape back, at least for a decade or so.  Or maybe with grandparents, you get to keep it longer?  But this makes sense to me, this is why going back to school, delving into 200 hobbies, starting a business, etc. doesn’t quite make you feel whole (or at least me – I can’t speak for others).  But acknowledging what is really going on with me, helps.  I can be gentle with myself and not chide myself for struggling a bit.  There is a reason I am struggling and even though my girls are productive and amazing grown ups, I’m grieving parts of parenthood that can’t be fixed by anything.  It just is.

I’ve had my cape cleaned and it’s tucked neatly away in my closet in case I need it some day.  But until then, I will allow myself to feel what I need to feel.  I will be gentle with myself and understand that it’s not something you ‘fix’.  That there isn’t a book or article or blog or maybe even therapist who is going to tell you that it’s really okay and not suggest shoveling a lot of activities into that missing piece.  It’s okay for me to be sad and sometimes feel a little unneeded because the truth is, I’m not needed as much.  My feelings are valid.  I’m not being silly or a pathetic person, I am being human.   It’s okay if sometimes I feel like I’m not as useful as I once was or miss reading bedtime stories, and all the hugs and kisses.  There is no shame in that.  It’s okay to be sad sometimes while being relieved you don’t have to cook dinner every night.

Bottom line: Being a parent changes you.  You’ll never be the same person again but that’s alright.

 

Mid-Life Series: Renaissance vs. Crisis

Renaissance: Rebirth, Revival

Crisis: An emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life

                        -Defined by Merriam-Webster

Say the word ‘mid-life’ and suddenly the stereotype of the fiftish man dumping his long-suffering wife for a younger woman, who buys an obnoxious sports car pops up into the brain.  Mid-life is met with groans and negativity.   The words ‘mid-life crisis’ are rampant for describing this period of life.  But I don’t think most of us have an actual ‘crisis’.  I believe it’s normal to step back and look at one’s life especially admist the many signficant life changes that can happen in this period such as a parent or both parent’s death, children leaving home and facing our own mortality more definitely now.

The average US life expectancy at this writing is approximately 78 years of age.  Divide that by two and you get 39.  Yep, at 39, you’re half way to dead if you live to this statistic.  That was a bit sobering for me when I did the math because I’m already 49.  Ten years into the downward spiral to the grave.  There are varying opinions of when mid-life crises seem to strike or when mid-life actually falls.  Frankly, none of usually know when we will die unless we have been unfortunately diagnosed with a terminal illness.  If you die when you are 30, then 15 was your mid-way point.  It’s the crap shoot of life, you just never know.

I know a lot of people around my age and honestly, unless it’s been kept a very tight secret, I’ve only seen a few of them go through what I would term a mid-life crises.  We are all going through changes to our life but haven’t we from the beginning?  It’s just that in mid-life, the changes sometimes are more painful.  Caring for an ill and/or aging parent or parents.  If you are a parent, your children leaving home can be bittersweet.  Some of you are super thrilled while others are gravely devastated. These are tough points in our lives and no one can truly prepare you for them.  I spent years preparing for the empty nest.  As soon as my oldest daughter graduated high school when I was 39, I went into preparation mode.  I read books and articles on empty nest.  None of which really helped.  You get vague advice like pursue your hobbies or start a new career, reconnect with old friends.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, but they don’t really say, grieve that part of your life.  It’s okay to feel sad about it.  Just don’t get stuck there.

When my youngest left home after living with us through four years of college, I spent the last few months she lived with us dreading her leaving.  Then after she left, the first few weeks were tough but then I adjusted.  Now, going on a year later, our relationship has evolved and even though we had a few bumps which I think are normal, I’m enjoying the empty nest quite a bit.  It’s a change.  There are good and bad parts of it but for me it was mostly good.  But getting over that hump was scary and difficult at times but mostly, I worked it up in my head to be worse than it truly turned out.  I was a young mother so at 49, I’m fully into mid-life, I’m an orphan because my parents and grandparents have all passed away and I’m living in an empty nest.  Which sounds somewhat depressing but it’s really part of life.  We won’t all be at the same place at the same time.

But did I go through a crisis?  No.  I had ups and downs but never a crisis.  I think much with this time of my life has to do with mentality.  How you see your life currently as it is.  It can’t stay the same, the kids grow up, people pass away and/or get sick, you get bored with your job (or not), you revisit old dreams only to find the are no longer valid.

I was sitting in a restaurant having lunch alone when the term ‘mid-life renaissance’ popped into my head.  I’ve embraced my introversion over the last year or so as I needed to recalibrate my life as an empty nester.  Actually, my nest isn’t empty, there is my husband and I and our cat and dog.  I really think they need a new term because “empty nest” makes it sound vacant.  Once a nest is empty in the bird world, not even the parents come back to it.  They move on to other locations and adventures.   Embracing my introversion means I actually enjoy doing things alone, mostly because it gives me a lot of time to think, which is really crucial to my personality.  I usually take in a book or a notebook, usually the latter, because I tend to do a lot of thinking while sitting in a restaurant.  I was thinking about what I want to do in the future, when the word ‘renaissance’ popped into my head.  Mid-Life Renaissance rather than a crisis.

As part of this ‘renaissance’, I’ve started challenging myself to do things out of my comfort zone.  Yesterday, I went to a large festival I really enjoy and almost always attend with someone else.  This time however, I went alone.  I was a little nervous riding the shuttle bus by myself.  But I forced myself into the long line and did it anyway.  A teenager sat down beside me relieved she didn’t have to sit alone.  She worked in the town where the festival was happening and knew she wouldn’t find parking so she opted for the shuttle.  So it happened that I was able to qualm her nervousness just by being there. At the festival, I walked around taking my time and stopping to talk to the artists at some of the booths.  I took photos of things that I thought were cool that I might not have noticed had I been with other people.  Essentially, I enjoyed the experience and getting out of my comfort zone is a key part of my mid-life renaissance.   Bottom line, I have fun by myself or with someone else along.   But I don’t need someone to go with me all the time.

Really we have little control over the world and what happens but we can control how we think about it and our reactions.  We can think of mid-life in the negative, that it sucks and so on or we can embrace this time, understand there are some tough moments to it, but find the beauty in the storm.  For example, I love to bicycle but at 49, I don’t recover like I once did.  I find myself being more cautious to prevent injuries because it simply takes longer to heal.  I could be upset and depressed about that fact or I can look at it as hey look, I’m 49 and I can still go out to ride fifty miles.  Choosing the positive outlook very much changes the feel of the exact same situation.  Yes at times I get passed by younger, fitter cyclists but on the other hand, I pass quite a few cyclists myself that are younger than me.  I chose at this point in my life to just compete with myself and listen to my body.   I’m not 20, listening to my body is crucial but it’s not a bad thing either.  I did damage to my body when I was younger that I pay for today.  I don’t want to repeat that mistake.

I’m at a point of my life that I am financially stable and want for very little materialistically.  I’ve worked hard to get here and have suffered several setbacks usually in the way of divorce, that required me to start over again.   But for this moment, I’m in a very good place and it’s time to enjoy what I’ve worked so hard for.  Mid-life is a time to stop and look around.  To stop racing so hard, pushing so hard especially when you’ve reached a large number of your goals.

Mid-life is your time for a renaissance, a rebirth, a revival.  To start embracing the gifts you have been given, to really start being cognizant of how you spend your time and with whom.  Mid-life isn’t a death sentence, it’s a gift all its own where you get to take your hard-earned wisdom and put it to use.  It’s a time to experience new things with the time that may suddenly appear after the kids move out and so on.  It’s your rebirth, but this time you don’t usually have to start from the bottom and work your way up.  Chances are you’ve already done that and have a solid foundation that allows you to enjoy your life and explore new avenues.

Very simply, it’s not required to have a mid-life crisis though I know people may experience this but I believe they are in the minority and have personality traits that set them up for this such as large egos or deep-seated insecurity.  The rest of us can embrace a rebirth, a revival, a mid-life renaissance.  I’m excited for this next par tof my life.

‘Till next post…

 

 

Letting Go… Time to Move on

Recently I listened to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy via audiobook through my online public library.  While my family doesn’t really fall into the ‘hillbilly’ category, it does fall into the substance abuse realm which is what Vance dealt with his mom.  His mom had grown up with her father being an alcoholic.  Much of his descriptions about his life really hit home with me on this realm.  Except it was my father not my mother.

I have another blog that is completely anonymous, I don’t post it to my social media, I don’t put in any identifying items that it could be tied back to me.  I’ve used it to write about my painful past, especially growing up with a schizophrenic, alcoholic father without upsetting my family or having people feel sorry for me.  The purpose was to reach others in my situation so that maybe in some small way, I could help them.

Recently, a visit with a maternal aunt revealed that after my parents divorced, my dad had gone off the deep end.  So much so, that he was phoning in bomb threats to my mom’s work which threatened her job.  He’d call everyone he knew and act like he was in Vietnam (he never served overseas) and all this batshit crazy stuff.  My maternal grandmother grew so tired of it and being from Youngstown, Ohio, she considered hiring a hit man to rid us all of his shit.  If you know my grandmother, you’d not even blink an eye at this.  I was in my mid-teens when this was happening and my dad died seventeen years ago yesterday, June 2.  So from say age 14 till I was thirty-two, and really all the years before, my dad created havoc in lives all around him.  He cheated on my mom at least after my sister was born and maybe before.  He did crazy shit like get drunk and karate chop a priest at a family member’s wedding reception.

Essentially, my dad needed to be institutionalized.  He should have never been allowed to live among polite society acting so god damned crazy and it’s amazing he didn’t hurt or kill someone else in one of his paranoid phases.  My dad could have easily been one of those people who had procured an automatic weapon and shot up a crowd.  And no, it wouldn’t have been the gun’s fault, it would have been my crazy ass f’ing father’s fault.  That and the lack of mental health care.  When your ex-mother-in-law is considering hiring a hit man, you are a burden on society.  Part of me, when I learned this little historic tidbit, sat and thought about how much easier all our lives would have been without my father running lose.  I realize that may seem insensitive or cruel but my dad didnt’ want to get better, he wanted to live in his victim mentality disrupting everyone’s lives because he had been enabled his entire life to act like a freaking idiot.   People tried to help him.  I don’t know how many times he had been in and out of programs.  He was given medication for his mental illness but refused to stay on it.  Because if he did, he would have had to been a responsible adult like the rest of us and he wanted to be special, even if it meant hurting the people he claimed to love.

My paternal cousin, Chad, whose mother was my dad’s sister, lived the same hell I did and even more because he had to live with his alcoholic parent even past her divorcing his father.  We’ve become close over the past few years, helping each other through our healing process which has been eerily similar.  He’s more my brother than cousin.  He mentioned how the neighboring dairy farm had bought our paternal grandparents small dairy farm after my grandmother moved into town.  Recently, someone built a beautiful home on their old homesite.  This farm served as a safe haven for my cousin and I where many of our happiest childhood memories reside.  At first, it seemed sad that someone built there but then when I thought about it, I’m glad someone loved the little hill they lived on enough to build a nice home there.  The family that bought the land were always kind to us, which makes it even better.  But my father had been bitter about the sale of ‘the home place’ and for the longest time, I mirrored his feeling and now I just think, well if you wanted it so damned bad, you should have worked to get better, get a job and buy it.

Vance in his Hillbilly Elegy book laid out his crazy family’s skeletons for all to see but he rose above his upbringing with the help and encouragement of his hillbilly grandmother.  But mainly, he brought to light how his relationship with his mother had to be distant, and while he tried to help her, he stopped being pulled into her drama.  He made sure to put his well-being and family first.  At one point, he called out his mother by telling her what a ‘shitty mother’ she had been.  But the best point was how his mother’s brother and sister both chose to live better lives while his mom went the route of drug and alcohol abuse.  He doesn’t sugar coat the fact that his mother made that choice and that he came to the point he was done suffering because of those choices.  That he went beyond where he was from, the tough circumstances he lived to go to Yale law school.  He could have chosen to stay in Middletown, Ohio, and work in a dying factory.  But he didn’t.

Yesterday, we attended my cousin’s daughter’s high school graduation party.  I was sitting there surrounded by family, watching the excitement of his daughter at graduating high school, when it hit me.  I have everything in life I could ever want.  My daughters are happy and healthy as well as responsible members of society.  I live in my ‘dream’ house which is modest compared to what most consider their dream homes.  But my closest neighbor is a quarter of a mile away, I have views of rolling country side and can walk out any of my doors without having neighbors disturb my peace.  I own everything material I could ever want or more.  My health is good (knock on wood), I have a wonderful husband and a great job.  I have great friends, supportive family and so on.  Why do I choose to keep dredging up my past?  Yeah it was tough, but it’s over.

Now it’s my turn to make a choice, and today I closed out my anonymous blog with a final post.  I chose to leave that past behind me and embrace today.   My tumultuous upbringing wasn’t fair nor was it a safe, loving environment at times but I survived.  Yesterday was seventeen years since my father died on June 2, 2002.  I think today is a good day to move on.

I chose to let it all go and not be defined by my past.  I chose to be happy and to live in today.  I chose happiness over perfection.  I chose gratitude over self-pity.  I am a survivor and I am also very blessed.  I am letting it go….