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 – #1 – Second Season

My youngest daughter graduated college a few months ago and yesterday she left to spend an extended period at her boyfriend’s apartment almost an hour away. They are doing a test run of living together, which when compared to me, is way more thoughtful and smart than anything I did when it came to relationships. But it has brought on a serious case of empty nest for me. The end of an era, twenty-seven years of having kids living with me. Granted she hasn’t moved out yet, but it’s soon and I’m a preparer, I need to figure out how I will handle the quieter home, the next or second season of my life.

They don’t really tell you that sometimes being a parent really sucks. They don’t have a good way to prepare you for life after the kids move out. The advice is all the same, pursue that career you always wanted (not applicable for me), take up a new hobby (I have a ton already), travel (can’t do that every day), take classes (maybe if I can find something I like) and so on and so forth. The thing is, I didn’t really put my life on hold when I was raising my daughters, especially the last ten or so years. I don’t believe you should give up your entire person to raise kids. Granted I had less time for hobbies and such back then when we were full on into school activities, etc. but I still kept time for me. I believed had I done that, lost myself to raise my kids, this moment would had totally crushed me since the majority of my identity would be wrapped up in being a mom. I’m still a mom, but it’s different and in some ways, it’s better because it’s a sense of freedom not being responsible for them and our relationship becomes more like friends.

So while I’m grateful I kept my own life while raising my daughters, I’m still a bit shell-shocked on this ‘second season’ (or whatever you wish to call it but I feel empty nest seems to be a negative term). I’ve been sitting here in my bed this morning, trying to sort out my feelings and thoughts when I decided to put them into my blog. Maybe someone else needs to hear this as well.

I am choosing to look at today as the start of my next chapter or season or whatever. Today is the first day of the rest of your life attitude. So lets start with my assets being 48-years old:

1. I’ve raised my family and am in awe of my daughters and their successes. They have done so much better for themselves at their ages than I did. Goal accomplished.

2. I own my home, need little materialistically. Household established. Live in my “dream’ home (though I am a bit of a simple person so I’m happy even without Italian marble floors). I have everything I could ever want and more. Very blessed.

3. My retirement is on track so I can retire at 67 and live comfortably barring any catastrophes

4. Have a good job with flexibility and excellent benefits. Pays well, not my ‘dream’ job but I believe in our mission, enjoy the people I work with for the most part, some are like family to me. Career – check. (PS – I have no idea what my ‘dream’ job is anyway)

5. Health – Could improve a bit, but overall good health. Very important.

6. Family and friends – Don’t have a huge family or friend group but I am close to my ‘tribe’ as they call it. I’m an introvert for the most part so this is exactly my style. I have a lot of love in my life and am very loved. Again, very blessed.

7. Hobbies – I have a lot of different ones. Interests – I pursue what I am interested in. I have the resources to take on new hobbies if I wanted them.

Reading that list, I am one very blessed individual. Granted, some of it is luck but most of it is hard work. Even with all the stupid decisions I’ve made in my life, I survived. And thrived. I am going to sit with that knowledge for a moment, soak it in. Sometimes we forget to stop and enjoy the moment, the present. I’m really bad about that. I always want to push forward to the next thing.

And maybe that is part of my problem. I’m always pushing for what’s next. What would happen if I just stopped that tendency and just live in the moment? Why do I feel like now that this ‘job’ as a parent is done, that I have to rush out and immerse myself in something new? Why not just stop and enjoy life? Why not just work on my writing when I want. I’ve been considering just self-publishing my last novel as is and then starting a new, fresh project. I’ve been trying to rewrite this novel for 6-7 times and frankly I’m tired of it. Who says it has to be some art of perfection? What if I just did what I wanted for once? Instead of always pushing myself toward some expectation from where I have no idea it came from.

What if I just stopped and allowed myself to breathe? What if I stopped expecting myself to have some ‘great, fabulous’ goal? Would the world end? Deep inhale, full exhale. Repeat. Let go. Just let go of all my self-imposed ideas of what I am supposed to be doing and let’s make a list of things I have to do at this stage in my life (I love lists can you tell?):

1. Feed and take care of myself. Aim to be more healthy – physically, mentally, etc.

2. Feed and take care of my two pets: Baron and Lexington

3. Go to work, make money – pay bills/ taxes

4. Take care of home/yard

5. Spend time with husband and family and friends. Be a better wife, mother and friend.

Really, just the basics of living are left. Is that such a bad place to be in? I don’t think so.

Breathe in, breathe out, let go. That’s what I am going to work on right now. Letting go of the urgency to find the next big thing now that I have raised my kids. Allow myself to decompress, get off the hamster wheel, and just live in the moment. I will admit, this idea of letting go the need to always be achieving something makes me incredibly anxious. It feels as if I stop this track, I will fall apart and I don’t know why I feel that way. Old habits, old expectations, or being busy is my way of coping with hard things? Probably the latter.

I have a hard time just sitting with my uncomfortable or sad feelings. I’m learning to be able to do this and have found that each time I do, I feel better in the long run even if it does feel like I will drown in my emotions or feelings when I experience them. Considering the fact that I am still breathing, still here to write this blog, that’s an overreaction on my part. I have not drowned from experiencing my feelings. No matter how yucky it feels, I will survive by facing them down, by feeling them, by allowing them to pass through and go on their way rather than holding them inside, stewing on them for years. Not good.

The bottom line is, I’ll be fine. I just need to let go.

Empty Nest (Phase 2) Monologue – Debunking the Advice for Empty Nesters

My youngest just graduated college but she hasn’t left home as of yet but the act of her graduating is like slamming a door closed on a major part of my life. Most of my life due to dysfunctional family circumstances, I have been taking care of someone. Now for the first time, I have no one to take care of except my two pets. I’m not complaining, but it’s a bit of a shock when you reach this point especially when it has been a major part of your life and you have no clue how to live for yourself. My youngest graduating college is like turning the last page of a good book (with it’s ups/downs in the story) and shutting the back cover. You hug the book to your chest, shed a few tears and put it gently on the bookshelf with your other treasured tomes.

For eight years since my oldest moved away to college, I’ve been preparing for this moment by reading books and articles, while pondering “what next?” What I want to be when I grown up and so on. I’m going to be honest here, the books and advice I found on ’empty nest’ which I prefer to call ‘Phase 2′ (pick whatever number feels right to you – Phase 3 or 4 even) , to be bullshit to an extent. Patronizing crap like “get a new hobby’ or ‘go back to school’ or ‘find a new career’. Granted this may help other people and maybe I am just the crabby exception but I bet many of us have already developed our hobbies or are in the career they worked for and so on. I know there are people who do this, go back to school, start a business and so on that they didn’t have time for when they were raising kids. I just am not in that demographic. Here’s how I feel about all the advice I read in no particular order:

1. Go back to school, start a new career. I went to school off and on for ten years while raising my kids and finally finished my degree two years ago. I was on campus with all three of my daughters at the local branch of OSU at some point or the other. I could go back to school now and go into a new career path but none appeal to me because I already followed what I wanted. It took longer than if I had not had kids and a sick mother at times, but I finished my college education. I wish I was one of those people who had a great passion they never fulfilled. Outside of publishing a best seller (which really isn’t a goal of mine), I’ve done everything I set out to do just in different ways than planned. Again, raising kids was the most rewarding job I’ve found, I have yet to find something that sparks me. Seems a bit unfair though. This job had early retirement with no promise of a promotion into a new just as rewarding field. Maybe I just haven’t found it yet but I’ve been looking for 8 years.

2. Dedicate more time to your hobby or find a new one. Here are my hobbies: writing, blogging, travel blogging, cycling (road and mountain), hiking, swimming, yoga, going to the movies, dining out, reading, gardening, wildflowers, bird watching, photography (mostly landscape), charcoal drawing, watercolors, baking, cooking new recipes, travel, our Corvettes, the arts (museums, concerts, exhibitions etc), refinishing furniture, antiquing (though more looking than buying), outdoors in general, flower arranging, and so on. I don’t know if I need a new hobby honestly. I have plenty of hobbies or interests to keep me busy. I’m not adverse to learning new things and probably will keep involved in workshops or classes when something interests me but I didn’t neglect my interests while raising kids. If I found something I loved, I dedicated what time and money I could. I didn’t immerse myself into just being a parent, helicoptering over them 24/7. So this isn’t much help.

3. Volunteer. This is a great option but it doesn’t replace the affection, love and hugs/kisses I got from my kids. I miss that. Helping others is a great way to fill your time if you find it rewarding. Right now, I’m more likely to volunteer for one time things rather than tying myself down to doing it all the time. The beauty of this time in my life is more freedom. Not having every minute of every day planned out for you. Maybe I will feel different when I get older but for now, I’ll stick to occasionally volunteering unless I find something that really speaks to me and I want to tie myself down to it on a regular basis. Maybe that sounds selfish but damn, this is the first time in my life I can focus on me for more than an hour at a time.

4. Join a fun group. (I’m rolling my eyes). I’m an introvert – not a fan of groups. Groups don’t ease me missing the people I love the most. Having other people around me doesn’t ease my missing them. Groups feel like a commitment. To others who are socially inclined, this is a great option. For me it’s a bit of hell I’d rather pass on. No offense to those extroverts but I really just feel drained after most group things. This isn’t an option for me.

5. Meet new people and make new friends. But I like the friends I already have and people drain me. I’m not closed to this option but I’m not jonesing for more people time. I don’t mind meeting new people but I may not bring them fully into my life. New perspectives and ways of looking at things always interest me but I don’t see myself adding much to my small but wonderful friend group.

6. Travel. Already do. Thanks anyway.

7. Adopt a pet. My husband will mutiny if I wanted to bring home another animal.

8. Blah blah blah. I’m going to stop here. The rest of the advice is on the same vein. Nothing clicks and nothing seems particularly helpful for me at least.

Frankly, I find the advice given out to the Phase 2 crowd to be overly obvious. Don’t we already know that we will have more time to do what we want? I didn’t need a book to tell me what to do in this phase of my life. Seriously, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out no kids at home = more free time. Really? You can’t be serious (yes I’m being sarcastic).

I needed a book that told me it was okay to feel what I feel. That it’s okay to cry and feel sad about the parting of Phase 1, not to fill it with a bunch of stuff you might already be doing or planning on doing. It’s normal to miss your kids a ton but still don’t want them to move back home. It’s normal to feel lost when you find this extra time to be a bit overwhelming. It’s normal to miss these people you created, nurtured and loved. It’s normal to be unsettled when your life returns or for the first time gets to be more about you. It’s okay to enjoy this “you” time of your life and you don’t have to be doing something productive or helpful every moment of your life. It’s okay to be selfish and spend the night eating crap and watching horrible movies. It’s okay to be blissfully joyous that you don’t have to go to one more high school football game or boring parents meeting. It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do with all this time. It’s okay. It’s all okay. Don’t stress it so much (note to self).

It’s all okay. I will find my way. Actually I’m not lost, just figuring out some things. I just don’t want to sleepwalk through these last years of my life. The average life expectancy of a US citizen is 78 years old. I’m 48. If I live to life expectancy, lucky enough to live that long, that’s only 30 years left. That is a sobering thought. You only get one life and how you spend your time starts seeming more critical when you realize there isn’t as much left, not that any of us have a guarantee of tomorrow.

Bottom line. It’s okay how we feel. We don’t have to always be brave and straight-faced. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to then jump for joy because the house is clean all the time, it’s all okay. Unless you find yourself depressed and having difficulty moving on, then seek some help. That’s okay too. Take care of yourself, you actually have the time now. Grieve if you need to grieve. This is a mixed time in your life. We will find our way.

Name That Emotion!

Growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic family, you learn quick that your emotions are BAD. Don’t be upset, don’t be mad, don’t be scared, are all things I heard. I wasn’t allowed to have emotions, to respect my own feelings as it was always about the addicted person who was my father. Everything in the family dynamic becomes about placating this person and hiding the craziness from the world. The problem is, I have difficulty sorting out what emotions really are even though my father has been dead since 2002 and I’m 48 years of age.

Case in point, my husband and I work opposing shifts some weeks and on top of that my nest has pretty much emptied leaving only my youngest daughter at home. My older two daughters live in our town but they work second shift while I work first so I pretty much only see them on the weekend. I realize I am lucky they live close as many people’s adult kids scatter to the winds after school. My extended family is small, my choice of close friends even smaller as I have become very picky about who I spend my time with since my mom died in 2014. I think once you reach mid-life, you realize your time on this earth is more limited than you ever imagined so frivolous interactions are no longer your cup of tea. Also, evenings alone have been more difficult for me than days alone. I’m guessing this is because for most of my life, there’s always someone home with me at night.

To clarify, I am not afraid to be alone, I’m an introvert and I enjoy my own company. Which when I started to feel very anxious, sad, and what I thought to be lonely, I started to get frustrated. Last week, my husband left for work at 430 p.m. I knew my youngest daughter would be home in 3-4 hours from her job. I literally had people around me all day, I am not isolated. Between work, my family, pets, friends, and activities I enjoy, I really don’t spend a whole lot of time completely alone. I had even talked to my therapist about why do I feel so lonely? And then when I tried to do things to get me more out of the house and among people such as a writer’s club, I resisted fiercely. No, I’m not a socially awkward person. The writer’s club looked like a nice group of people on social media and I have 0 issues interacting with strangers. I simply did not want to go and ended up in my fave coffee shop writing in my journal while watching big snow flakes hit the sidewalk from their big plate glass windows. I was contented alone but I couldn’t shake the feeling of loneliness.

Then finally last week, it dawned on me as I watched my pets stare at me sadly as I was putting on my shoes to go pick up some dinner. I’m like them – Don’t leave, I’ll miss you! I’m not lonely, I’m missing my hoomans. I’ve been telling myself I’m lonely because it sounds better than I miss my grown daughters and my husband when he goes to work. I simply miss the people I love most in this world when they are not around me. That is a lot different than being lonely especially since I was frustrated because I’ve been trying to fix lonely and getting upset with myself when I don’t want to take the ‘cure’. Rather than listening to my internal cues, accepting the fact that I miss my fave people, I just kept fighting the truth. I can join 100 things and still have that same feeling because it’s not loneliness.

I can tell myself things like The kids are grown and this is normal. Stop being a woos. Or You’ll see your husband tomorrow, think about those spouses of deployed military personnel, stop being a big baby. But by berating myself for my feelings, I am invalidating myself which is exactly what I experienced growing up. I should honor my feelings no matter how ‘babyish’ they seem. It doesn’t mean I wallow around in them, but I need to acknowledge that I’m sad and missing my family and then do things to make myself feel comforted. The next night I was supposed to be home between 430-1030 p.m. alone. Everyone was working but me. Since I now knew my feelings weren’t loneliness but missing my family, I didn’t feel all out of sorts. I did things to comfort myself like snuggle up on the couch in a blanket watching movies no one wants to watch with me (OMG not that!). And the funny thing is, my daughter got home early so I wasn’t even alone very long. But the weird empty, unsettled feeling wasn’t there. Just like magic, after several years of fighting it, the feeling dissipated as if it had never been there. It may come back but I will know how to deal with it.

Every time I have ignored my gut feelings or my emotions in general, I have paid. When you meet that person and all the red flags are flying, big ones, like the US flags over dealerships but I covered my eyes to pretend I didn’t see the signs. You knew in your heart that person wasn’t good for you but yet you let them berate you, put you down, and just take out their insecurities on you even when you didn’t do a damned thing to deserve it. You thought you loved that person so much but really when you peel back those dysfunctional layers, it wasn’t love but the familiar pattern of abuse and dysfunction. If they truly loved you, they wouldn’t have been so narcissistic and brutal. This doesn’t even have to be a romantic relationship, I’ve had friendships like that in the past. You get all caught up in their drama that they want you to believe is your fault. But you’re scratching your head like WTF? Then you start thinking you can change them or they will change, so on and so forth the cycle of crap continues.

That first feeling, the gut feeling was the one telling you the truth. It was screaming RUN! Run you idiot! But nope you slogged around in the foggy woods while the murderer snuck up on your dumb ass. We have the choice to honor our feelings and our emotions even if we may not like them. And if you feel like you are beating your head agains the wall over the same issue, step back and make sure you’re really seeing the whole picture. Are you denying the real problem? Maybe. I sure was.

So hint to myself – when I get stuck, step back and look at it different ways. Stop assuming. Maybe all I need is just a hug and a comfy blanket.