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!

 

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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…

 

 

Empty Nester – The Roller Coaster from Hell

Being the parent of adult “children” is equivocal to being locked into a roller coaster from hell.  While that may sound dramatic, there is a lot they don’t tell you about being the parent of adult kids.  Probably if they did tell us, no one would want to have kids.  But let me explain what I mean by roller coaster from hell:

  1. You’re stuck like Chuck on this thing.  Locked down tight, no escape on this journey of wonderful highs and screaming, scary ass fast traverses down that big hill.  In other words, you’re job as parent is over in the hands on sense.  You can offer suggestions, give advice, help out if asked but mainly you’re a helpless slob tied to a roller coaster you can’t control or stop.  Unless you disown your children or have some magical way to disconnect from worrying about them, it’s a powerless, scary and exciting ride.  Not all of it is negative of course.  Actually the positives usually outweigh the bad shit but it’s impossible for me to not worry especially if the weather is bad or your oldest is taking off for France for a month with her girlfriend who is working on a contract job.
  2. It’s a delicate balancing act, you’re always teetering on the edge of what to do and what not to do.  Or say.  You’re speeding toward a hair pin turn and you have to stay on track and not go off the fine line or you’re going to crash and break into a million pieces.  It’s hard to let go of wanting to guide them, protect them and keep them safe.  They have to live their lives and make their own mistakes, have their own adventures.  We get to be the bystander with no control, no real say just trust that your parenting has given them a good solid base and you always just have to let go.  Even when everything inside of you is terrified, you have to just cross your arms tight against your body and hug yourself.  You find yourself saying “please, please, please…” in your head a lot.
  3. Screaming in terror is only allowed when you’re on the coaster without the ‘kids’ around.  When they are present, you have to STFU, nod a lot, say “that’s cool” or “I’m so excited for you”.  You have to put aside your parental fears and concerns so you can be supportive of their dreams and adventures.  It gets exhausting.  I wish I could find a better way to let go but I think the instinct to protect your child is so deeply rooted in your DNA by then, it’s fighting nature.  This shit is hard.  Some of the hardest things I have had to do as a parent is to just keep my big ass mouth shut.  I have to really focus on how I would want my parent to act.  Put myself in my kid’s shoes.  Some days, all I want to do is crawl into bed and pull the quilt up over my head.  I’m getting better at this, but letting go even if your oldest is now 28 years old, is tough.  You’re still terrified of losing them.  That NEVER goes away.
  4. You feel like a dick because of everything you put your own parent(s) through.  You know they are laughing behind your back thinking, serves you right.  But then again, they are on the ride with you, these are their grandbabies.
  5. Some days you’re on the gentle kiddie coaster where life is calm and just going along at a reasonable pace with rolling hills.  Then there are days, you’re on the biggest baddest muther roller coaster in the world.  This coming Sunday, I drop my oldest off at the airport for her to start an exciting adventure in France for a month and I’m going to be crying the whole way home.  Actually, I probably won’t even get out of the airport.  Who knew there was so much crying in being the parent of adult kids?  Wasn’t this supposed to stop once they graduated high school or college?  Nope.  I’m excited for her, I really am.  This is a dream of hers to travel overseas and I’m proud of her for grasping the opportunity full force.  She’s braver than me.  At her age, I would have been worried about so much stuff that I would have talked myself out of the entire opportunity.  I’m grateful she has the balls to do something I wouldn’t.
  6. This ride doesn’t end until you die.  I don’t think you ever stop worrying.  My mom worried about me up until her last day.  I have a feeling she’s probably worrying about me in heaven too.
  7. Like everything in life that is worth having or living for, it isn’t easy.  It’s intense, scary, joyful, fun, rewarding, full of love and fear all at the same time.  It’s not all bad.  It’s probably most of the time a very fun ride.  But those lows seem to be very low as a parent.  There may not even be anything negative happening to your child but there you are, locked and loaded, riding along screaming or laughing depending on the moment.

Parenting no matter what stage you are in is not for the weak of spirit and heart.  Though I rarely see much written to parents of adult children so here is a bit for you.  The great part is there is a whole bunch of us strapped into the same coaster, we just need to reach out to one another for support and to know we aren’t alone.  I’m here, I’m listening and yeah it’s one crazy ride.   Say a prayer for me this next month that I don’t go all crazy and such.  I’ll be happy when March 30th arrives and my baby is back home but until then, I’m holding on for dear life.  Au revoir!

Free, Less, & Me

I was writing in my journal noting that it hadn’t even been a month since my youngest moved out. As I reflected on how I was feeling, I noted several words came to mind.

“Free”. “Less”. “Me”.

I dreaded her moving out, cried for days before and after she moved out. It truly was the end to an era of my life. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been struggling with this whole empty nest idea for about eight years. What will I do? How will I feel? How will I fill the time? How will I feel useful? Needed? I’m not great with the unknown. I want to control everything after growing up in a dysfunctional family. But you can’t control this event nor do you want to. It’s our jobs as parents to raise the baby birds into full fledged adults allowing them to leave the nest and forage on their own. Looking back, I couldn’t wait to move out of my mom’s house. Freedom! Adulting! Doing what I want! Yay! Of course, we all know that it’s never as great as we think because there is always: Bills! Employment! Taxes! Car Issues! Health Insurance!

My life has never really been my own. Maybe a few years late in my teens as I moved from 18 to 19. Then I met my daughters’ father and I allowed my life to get hijacked. So on and so forth, this is all covered in previous posts. But I recovered and made a good life for my daughters and myself. I’ve achieved the majority of my goals that I had from years ago that seem relevant today. Being a famous rock star died out once i had the first baby.

“Free”. I have 4 things I’m responsible for: Myself, Pets, Home and Job. Suddenly I find I can spend a lot more time doing things I enjoy. It’s been going this way for a long time but now it feels more permanent. Outside of my responsibilities, I can chose how I spend my time. If I want to hang out with my kids I can. If I want to spend the day hiking in the woods, I can. If the hubby and I want to spend the day out driving in the Corvette we can (at least until the first salt hits the road). Holy shit! Freedom, or as much as a grown mid-life adult can have.

“Less”. Less cleaning, less cooking, less toilet paper, less grocery shopping, less picking up, less drama, less expectations, less responsibilities, less shit in general. I’m in the process of streamlining household chores, grocery shopping and so on to spend less time on these activities. Less = more freedom, more money, more fun. Essentially less becomes more. More of my own life to life.

“Me”. I’ve spent my life care taking people due to my crazy upbringing and then jumping into young motherhood. Now I can focus on me for the first time in my life. There are no grandparents or parents around pushing their expectations on me. Sad they are gone but it’s simply the truth. These people can really influence your life choices and in my case, I didn’t follow what I truly wanted. I hope I haven’t pushed too much onto my daughters though I know I have in the past. I try to just be supportive now. Me – Doing things I enjoy. Me – Spending quiet time alone which is an introvert’s paradise.

Though I will admit, it has taken me some time to adjust to this time and not try to force myself to be more extroverted because of some odd expectation I had set in my mind. I have the rest of my life; however long that is, to focus on myself for the most part. Which this may just be simple things like doing what I enjoy or pursuing a goal that I find I desire or taking naps. Aren’t naps amazing?

My biggest issue with this change of seasons in my life has been my fear of the unknown and the fear that I would no longer be relevant or useful. I’m not a helicopter mom, nor did I get so involved in my kids’ lives that I forgot my own but the change was significant for me. At times, I miss having kids in the house but mostly, I don’t. They all seem pretty happy on their own and I work at remembering that. I gave them a better shot than I had. I gave them a better childhood than I had. I did my best and honestly, I failed a bunch. I would never get “Perfect Parent of the Year” award but I would get “If You Fuck With My Kids, I Will Kill You” award. They never had to doubt I had their back. They still don’t. I would go all psycho mom on anyone who hurt my kids, grown or not. It’s my job. If they need me, I’m there. No questions asked. Okay, about 100 questions asked, but still there. Some things don’t change.

Bottom line is that you will live through this change. Yes, it can be very sad and you can feel very lost at times. Being a parent is the toughest and most rewarding job I ever had so it’s hard to replace that in my life. I’m really trying to look at it as I was successful at it, as much as anyone can be and now is time for new adventures. Now is the time to get back into my own life, take care of myself, buy myself fun things now and again, relax and enjoy. My life is in a rare quiet moment (knock on wood) so I need to enjoy it. Instead of worrying about what do I need to do now. Who cares? If I look back on my life at the end, will I think I should have started another business, went back to school, filled up my free time pronto? Probably not.

I did though sign up to be a Lunch Buddy for Big Brothers Big Sisters for a young girl who attends middle school. I’m excited (and nervous) about our first meeting next week. This is a volunteer activity that I can have face to face contact with one person with little commitment. I meet her for lunch for 30 minutes every other week (or more often if the Little wants). I chose older children because everyone wants the little kids because they seem less daunting and more cute. My hardest time wasn’t in elementary school but middle school. Nothing more awkward than my 5th grade self. I desperately needed a Big Sister in 5th, and 6th, and 7th, etc. (Shout out to my friends, hubby and boss who gave me a glowing reference – love you guys). I didn’t want to jump full in to a volunteer thing so this seems perfect. Wish me luck! I hope my Little likes me! I love that I have some time to give back to others.

One thing I did promise myself (outside of the BBBS gig) was that I am going to just take a deep breath and not make any major decisions or changes until after the new year. This is to allow me to continue to acclimate to my new reality and to really take time to think about what I want to do, if anything. I tend to knee jerk when I am feeling lost and uncomfortable. I should start a soap making business! I should sign up to volunteer for something I deep down don’t want to do but think I should do! Anything to fill the silence and uncomfortable moments. But those are the moments that I need to truly find my purpose, calling or what makes me happy.

Thats been my folly all my life. Not taking the time to sit in the uncomfortable silence for as long as it takes to find my next path or listen to my heart. I avoid the uncomfortable unknown like the plague and this has never served me well. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off does not lead to smart decisions. Nor did listening to everyone else close to me in my life. Sometimes their advice was right but when I ignored what I really wanted, I did myself a huge disservice. Not trusting my instincts/gut – another disservice. Huge one in fact. Since I can’t fix the past, I can be more cognizant of my future. This time, I am forcing myself to stay still. To listen. To just be for a bit. A few months will not kill me. Learning that I don’t have to be productive 24/7 or have some big goal at every moment, is a good lesson for me.

Be kind to yourself through this entire transition. No one can tell you how to feel (though they will try) or minimize your feelings (also will try – ‘well you knew they were going to grow up’ – no shit – thanks, so helpful). It’s okay to be sad, just don’t get stuck. Your feelings will be up and down or maybe you’ll be elated. Everyone is different. I never can figure out why people expect you to look, act, think and feel just like them. If you don’t, then there is something wrong with you. Stupid.

If you are going through this and need someone to talk to, shoot me a message. I’m here for you. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful support system and realize not everyone has this. Try to remember to be a little excited. This is the next phase or season of your life! Make it what you want! Hugs!

No More “Empty Nest”!

To clarify, my nest is technically ’empty’ now since my youngest daughter just recently moved out and I have no more offspring living in my home. But my nest isn’t “empty”. No I don’t have any babies at home but I do have my husband, myself and my fur babies. ‘Empty’ is such a harsh word for this part of my life. Let’s look at the definition of the word:

1 containing nothing; having none of the usual or appropriate contents: an empty bottle.

2 vacant; unoccupied: an empty house.

My home and life are not vacant, containing nothing, unoccupied. My nest has changed, it had one less occupant but it is far from empty.

I’ll admit it, I suck at change. Growing up in an abusive alcoholic home where from day to day, minute to minute, you never knew what crazy shit was going to happen, change becomes the enemy. Even decades away from my childhood and adolescence, I struggle with change but mostly I struggle with any kind of a major change whether it is good or bad. Ask my husband, getting me to move out of a house I lived for fifteen years was no small feat even though I love my new house. I sat outside with my three daughters and two of their significant others last night around a big fire looking up at the million stars. It was the perfect summer like night that I would not have enjoyed living in town. We talked, laughed and made s’mores. It was awesome. I haven’t lost my kids, I thought as I stared up at the sky. They are right here. We can still get together and do the things we enjoy, it just takes some scheduling around our lives.

Since 2011 when my oldest moved away to college, I’ve been preparing for the ’empty nest’. Except I couldn’t really prepare for it. Because I didn’t know what it would be like. I could only guess at it. I started making lists of what I could do with all my new found time I would have since I wasn’t taking care of kids. I fretted and worried over this new ‘season’. I read books on empty nests, blogs, articles and so on but nothing clicked. The advice they give you is pretty lame but I think that’s because none of it resounded with me. Frankly, for me at least, it’s not that huge of life change when I think about it. My kids don’t disappear and I never see them again. Plus, I’m not cooking every day which is a bonus!

Logically, I wasn’t taking care of my 22-year old college graduate. She took care of herself. We spent a lot more time together after her two sisters moved out. But now she has moved in with her boyfriend and is starting her own new ‘season’. In a way, as a parent, you feel a little left behind watching your chicks fly the nest and starting up their own lives. It makes you think of when you left the nest, all full of goals, hopes, ideas and excitement. Maybe in a way, I was envious of them because my life never turned out how it was planned. But then when you think about it, so few people ever have everything turn out exactly as they planned anyway. Life isn’t like that. We get crap in our heads that we are a failure because we didn’t exactly reach this goal pristinely. But maybe we achieved it in another way. Which is pretty much how my life went. I achieved most of my goals, just not exactly as I saw it when I came up with the goal or imagined my future. We need to be flexible when we plan our goals and realize, they may happen differently. Flexibility is not a strong suit of mine in this area. I’m going to work on it though.

I’ve spent months dreading my youngest moving out. Who would I go for walks with? Who would I make ice cream runs with? So on and so forth. She was moving almost an hour a way. Her sisters both work second shift which is opposite of mine but they live ten minutes from me. My husband works a swing shift so 7 out of 28 nights, he works. OMG what was I going to do with myself with so much time alone? I was going to be this big loser that sits around her house feeling sorry for herself because her kids were all gone and her husband was working nights that day. As I type this, I realize I really can work things up in my mind, can’t I? I go to the worst case scenario and work my way out. It’s how I am wired. Then whatever it is that I’m afraid of happens, I recover after a few days or weeks, then I’m fine. I think it is more the fear of the unknown.

So I’m alone more often. Big deal. I’m also freer, with less responsibility and a lot less mess in my house. I’m spending less time cooking and cleaning now. Grocery trips and expense have significantly reduced. More time and more money to do fun things or buy myself something frivolous if I chose. I’m mainly an introvert though I hover close to extroversion on the tests. No, I’m not socially awkward or painfully shy or afraid to talk to people. That isn’t necessarily introversion. Introversion just means that people and noise, etc. drain me where extroverts are recharged by these interactions. Hence, I need a lot of quiet alone time compared to an extroverted person. I’ve just recently accepted this is who I am and stop beating myself up because I’m not a fan of group activities, loud parties, a lot of social interaction (social media is a blessing for me), and so on. I’m not a loser because I prefer to take a journal to a coffee shop and write rather than gather up a bunch of friends and go out to dinner. Bottom line: More alone time – good for me.

In preparation for my empty nest, I had joined some social media groups for Empty Nest. Which was depressing. It was either people trying to convince these heartbroken (mostly moms) parents to buy into whatever business they were selling to ‘fill the void’. That pissed me off. Nothing like preying on people who are hurting. Yes, I grieved a bit the passing of that part of my life but on the flip side, it’s wonderful in it’s own right. I’m not saying there won’t be times where I miss my girls or that I feel wistful for the past but that’s normal.

When I miss them, I just open my messenger app and shoot them a group message. One or all three will respond. Thank you messenger app. It’s not like twenty some years ago where you might get a call once a week. We can be in touch all the time if we want. But I’m also lucky in the fact that the fours of us are extremely close. I read posts in the empty nest groups and so many people don’t have this kind of relationship with their kids so I am fortunate.

So no “Empty Nest”. I’m not an “empty nester’. That’s not a label I want to put on myself or my life. I’ve allowed myself to grieve that passing phase of my life. It is a big change after 28 years to not have kids in the house. But I did my job, they are out there in the world being responsible, contributing adults who are for the most part happy. It wasn’t easy, it was pretty damned tough at times. And I’m sure the future won’t be all roses and kittens but for now, it’s all good. My life has changed not ended. It is all part of living, seasons come and go. I need to learn to embrace change better.

Make your own path in this life. Decide what you are willing to accept and not accept. I’m not accepting that my life is empty because it is actually full. I accept that I am fortune and blessed. I chose not to put any label on this part of my life either. I just am, life just is. The end.

Introversion – Not a Disease – No Cure Necessary

What is an introvert? Per the dictionary – shy, reticent person. Eh. A definition of introversion – the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life. Again, eh. I don’t find either of these definitions to be really accurate. It’s like they can’t really figure out how to describe or define a person who in many ways, prefers solitude some of the time, may or may not be shy, may be outgoing at times and other times quiet or reserved. I’m more of an ambivert which is the middle of the road version of introversion vs. extroversion. Is one side better than the other? No, I don’t think so. I prefer to look at it as how you were made, end of story. If you would rather spend Friday night home with a book and Chinese takeout, have at it. If your ideal Friday night is a big rave type party with 100’s of your friends, more power to you. It’s just a difference in how we are made. There is no right or wrong way to be.  Why must we force our “way” on others?  Can’t we just all get along?  Just accept there are differences and go with it.

Why do we all have to be the same?  Could you imagine a world of nothing but white, Christian Republicans (I’m registered Republican but would register with the Common Sense party if I could) who dress, eat, look and behave the same way?  UGH.  How boring!!!!  There would be no ethnic food, no different religions, no different cultures, no nothing…  I can disagree without feeling that the other person is ‘wrong’ and I’m ‘right’.  Someone might believe that the man is the head of the household based on religion or culture where I believe that men and women should have equal footing.  Does that make me right and them wrong?  No.  It means we have different ways of thinking and living.  As long as the person(s) in that situation are happy and that’s how they believe, Namaste.  It’s not hurting me even if I believe a woman shouldn’t be subservient.  But seriously, I’m not asking a man if I can cut my hair.

It’s the same with the introverts vs. extroverts.  Why is extroversion pushed?  Can’t we just accept people as they are and look at their strengths rather than say oh, they don’t speak up in meetings all the time like Joe Blowhard so they must be stupid.  Introverts normally don’t speak unless they have something useful to say and we are quietly observing while formulating solutions to problems, etc.  Each camp has its weaknesses and strengths.  Introverts actually make excellent employees because they are quietly dedicated to work.  They are there to work not to sit around the water cooler or schmooze with the boss.  Give us a task and it will get done most of the time, probably better than you expected.

Forcing people to be social at work is ridiculous.  Open offices are a nightmare for the introvert who needs quiet to focus and concentrate, to survive.  Constant noise overloads our sensitive systems.  My husband paid over $300 for Bose noise canceling headphones for me because my area was constantly abuzz with noise and drama that I would come home in tears from being overstimulated.  My system is naturally über sensitive.  I can’t help it.  I was making stupid mistakes at work because I couldn’t focus and then getting criticized for it.  This was incredibly frustrating for me as I take my job seriously and want to do the best job I can.  When someone is pacing behind your cube like a caged animal all the time, you notice it and feel uncomfortable.  Another person was causing incessant drama for no reason other than they enjoyed it.  Your ability to focus on your detail-oriented project is compromised by all the chaos.  I started working at home more especially on sensitive projects so I didn’t mess them up.  Luckily my boss is understanding of this and supports me.

The stereotype of introverts are that we are painfully shy and socially awkward, that we spend all our time like a hermit but that isn’t true either.  Yes, some really struggle with social interaction and some are shy.  Just like some extroverts are shy as well.  The biggest difference is that introverts are drained with most social interaction outside of their close circle.  We can do it for an hour or two but then we want to retreat for the quiet, the solitude to recharge.  Extroverts are charged by social interaction, it feeds their energy and soul.  Again, is one right and one wrong?  Fuck no.  It’s a difference that’s all.  If I’m invited to a party that I feel important to go to, I will arrive for a while, make my excuses and leave.  It’s really not personal at all.

As an introvert, I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life.  That I was weird because I just wasn’t as into things as my friends.  I hated group sleep overs but I went so I could be ‘normal’.  I preferred to go over to one friend’s house and sleepover.  I’d rather sit on a blanket in my backyard and read a book than go to the pool with a bunch of friends.  Recently, I’ve been faced with a ‘crises’ of the empty nest as my youngest graduated college and is preparing to move out an hour away.  My husband works swing shifts, my older two daughters work second shift so I was suddenly faced with having a lot more time alone for the first time in my life.  Not to mention since I’ve been young, I’ve been caring for people all my life.  Now my list of things I must do is small:

  1. Work and pay bills/taxes
  2. Feed and care for myself
  3. Feed and care for 2 pets
  4. Keep up house/yard- Groceries/Cook

Suddenly, I felt panicked because I had no idea what to do with all my time.  My youngest and I hang out and do things together a lot.  Now she will be an hour away living her own life.  Not that we would never see each other, but it was a change.  I felt as if I needed to fill that time.  Should I join group stuff?  Make a bunch of new friends?  Start a side business?  Volunteer?  Save the world?  Become famous?  What??????  I didn’t want to be a weird loser who sits at home and reads, isolated.

Then I picked up the book The Secret Lives of Introverts by Jenn Granneman and read it.  The more I got into the book, the more I realized that I was not accepting myself and was trying to force myself into a more extroverted existence.  I realized my tendencies to want to be alone and do things alone wasn’t ‘weird’, it’s just how I am made.  When I stepped back out of my panic cloud and looked at my life, I realized I was being silly and worrying about nothing.  I really recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand introverts and how we operate.

Recently, I’ve had a few nights at home alone all night and here’s what I did:  Picked up Taco Bell for dinner and read a new book all night, took a bubble bath (fought my cat who likes to attack me in the tub), had a glass of wine, listening to the Ella Fitzgerald channel on Pandora.  OMG, not that.  Not all that enjoyment and decadence.  The next night was a big more the same, except I started a new book, had leftovers at the dining room table, and curled up on the couch with more wine.  Last night I took the dog for a 3 mile walk and got some great pics of the country landscape as the sun prepared to set.  My daughters messaged me off and on during the evening, a few of my friends did too.  My husband texted me in between work crises.  My loyal pets were at my feet at all times keeping me company as well.  I didn’t even need to save the world.  I could relax.  Enjoy myself.  Recharge.  I’ve been struggling with thyroid issues lately that make me exhausted anyway, so resting probably is a very good thing.  I don’t have to push myself every waking hour.

After forty-odd years of feeling like I have to be different, more extroverted even though I’m not shy or socially inept or fearful, is over. It’s time I accept myself as ‘normal’ as ‘normal’ can encompass many different qualities.  And who cares about being normal anyway?  We don’t have to cure introverts, just accept them as they are.  You want us to accept you right?