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.

 

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!

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.

New Blog Series – Memories of Mom – Introduction

I've been tooling around the idea of capturing memories of my mother who passed away in 3/2014 in a blog series, mostly to capture them for later use and I've found as I get older, I tend to forget more and more details. I had considered just putting them down into a Word document journal fashion but this way I can share these memories (good and bad) with other people who loved my mom, like my daughters, other family and close friends. The posts won't be in any chronological order and I will probably be guessing at the general date of occurrence and honestly, our memories aren't the most reliable so it may not be exactly accurate but simply the way I remember things occurring.

My mom's name was Anita Marie and she was born on Christmas Day 1941. After 8 years of bravely fighting cancer, she went to Jesus as they say, at age 72 just shortly after my daughters, husband and I's birthdays in February 2014. In 1970 she gave birth to me, the fabulous oldest child and in 1972, to my sister who ruined my only child gig (just kidding). My parents were married in Washington DC, the city in which they met, on February 18, 1966, and they split up in early 1983 following years of abuse due to my father's raging alcoholism and what I believe was mental illness stemming into paranoia schizophrenia later in his life. My father passed away in 2002. The divorce was final in 1984 and my mother never received any child support from Dad. So she ended up working long, long hours to barely support us.

Her parents helped us out from time to time financially and such, but only when my mother was desperate because she hated asking them for help. I'm sure knowing my grandmother, it was held over her for marrying such a worthless piece of trash (my grandmother's words) not realizing my mother had been more than punished for her choice. My mom wouldn't have had any idea my dad would end up being an alcoholic when they got married. He was handsome and very charming. The thing was, when the pressure of life came down on him, he couldn't cope and turned to alcohol. Maybe this was part of his growing mental illness.

Back in the 1970's, you didn't get a divorce, it was shameful and against her faith. Though had she divorced him early on when the drinking and abuse started, I think maybe she wouldn't have killed herself working so hard and maybe met another man who treated her better. By the time she got away from him, she was done with marriage and close romantic relationships. If she dated, she kept it quiet for the most part. She was just too afraid that she'd make a wrong choice and someone else would make her life a living hell. She never deserved what my father did to her regardless of the reason.

I get some religions' idea of the sanctity of marriage and you should stay married since this was done in the eyes of God, but I don't get why it would be upheld in the face of physical, mental, verbal and emotional abuse. Why weren't these men (and women in some cases) held accountable for their actions instead of excused back then? I have a hard time believing God would condone that kind of treatment of anyone and I'd think he'd given my mom a pass. As I think back, people excused my father's alcoholism, trying to hide it because it was embarrassing as if they didn't call attention to it, then it would go away but it only got worse. Using religion to trap women into horrific marriages was criminal.

Oh, poor, Larry, he struggles so much. Oh bullshit, he should have been held accountable for his actions. I loved my dad but I think he should have been in jail for the physical violence and domestic abuse to my mom and also to my sister and I on a smaller level. Unfortunately, this all happened before the domestic violence laws were established. Even today, it happens all the time. Don't stay, get the hell out and get safe. This person may love you and you love them but you don't deserve that kind of terror, pain and abuse. It is their responsibility for getting well and if they refuse to do it, then you don't have to stay with them and be a victim. Stop this shit! And honestly, some people just can't get well or we don't have the ability yet to treat whatever is going on with them which I believe many times stems from mental illness that has just now started to come into the light.

Anyway, my mom's life wasn't always easy and she spent 29 years working herself into the grave essentially with all the stress and long hours. The problem with the way she coped with the stress, was by smoking and drinking too much (until she quit smoking in 2000), and her health took a serious hit. People wonder why I don't want to rush into a high pressure job because I could easily be good at more than what I do for a living, this is why. Life is too damned short and I don't want to make it shorter if I can help it. I still may get hit by a bus crossing the street, but I just saw how unhappy my mom was in the midst of all that stress and I just could never bring myself to go there. I think my husband would be happier if I made more money and worked some high-powered job but I wouldn't be happy at all. I'd rather do with less than kill myself the way my mom did.

On a happier note, my mom was resilient and she found joy in many things especially her three granddaughters. Though I regretted my first marriage and having kids so young, it worked out the best because they had more time with their grandmother. My mom was always a survivor, a fighter and she always wanted to see you do your best and get what made you happy. She spoiled the girls, with the kind of Christmases she couldn't give my sister and I when we were younger. She had a strict work ethic and liked to do things by the book so her job in quality assurance kept with her personality. She loved Tennessee and while she only lived in Knoxville for a few years before my dad's alcoholism forced us to move to Missouri near his parents in the late 1970's, we returned most years starting in 1997 for spring break vacations which gave us many happy memories.

Mom and Corrinne on 1997 Tennessee Trip

My mom lived modestly even though she could afford a more lavish life because she was terrified of being poor again. She sunk back literally almost a million dollars in 30 years in investments which would have been more if not for that market downturn. I've always regretted she didn't spend more of her money on herself but she did what she wanted to do, which was pass on a safety net to my sister, my daughters and I. She didn't want us to ever have to live off of cases of Campbell's chicken noodle soup my grandparents brought to help us get through the leanest times right after her divorce.

Though growing up in the 1980's where designer jeans and such were the metric in which your worth was determined in school (and I fell way short because I didn't have most of these things), I never felt poor. We had enough to eat, we had the three of us (my mom, my sister and I) and we were making it day by day. Actually it was a source of pride for me. I was 13 when my parents split up and I had long been taking care of myself admist the chaos of dysfunction but once my dad left, it quieted down considerably and I stepped up to do what I could to help my mom. When we had plumbing issues in our rental house and the landlord couldn't get to it right away, I found my dad's toolbox and fixed it myself.

I took over being the 'housewife' because my mom had to work such long hours to support us. A lot of times I did the cooking and cleaning, making sure we were all fed. This gave me a sense of accomplishment that I never resented. No I didn't have much of a childhood and was bitter and angry about it for many years until I realized it helped make me who I am today. There isn't much I can't do or learn to do. I can take care of myself and I've passed this down to my daughters who are also very independent. My mom and I became this team, even working together for about 13 years until she retired. I also looked after her during her cancer (along with my daughters and husband) fights. I was there beside her when she passed, holding her hand. My mom was not only my parent, but my best friend. And when she got more sick, the tables turned and I took on the role almost of parent to her, though god knows, she fought me on damned near everything until the last few weeks.

Losing her was the most devastating thing in my life so far. She was so influential (good and bad) in my life. I walk around some days still, pretty lost, wishing I could call her or go over to her house, to sit on the couch and eat some dinner she put together. Though I hate shopping, I'd give anything to have her drag me around the mall and Kohls for long hours again thinking how bad my feet hurt. Or when I went to her house when she was still working in that jungle of her gardens, to have her walk me around her yard to show me what she weeded or what flowers were blooming. I notice when I visit my oldest daughter's house, we do this as well. Walk around to see what she's planted or is blooming and vice versa when she visits me. But this seems to be a family tradition, because all the women on my mom's side of the family garden and we all walk around the beds admiring their handiwork.

My mom was tough but she loved even tougher. She was always in my corner even though I made two poor marriage choices and divorces. She looked out for my girls, being more a parent to them than a grandparent. They spent their school years walking to Grandma's house after school because her house was closer to the different school buildings especially once my oldest daughter was of age to watch them and we no longer needed a sitter. She'd buy snacks to keep in the house for them as they huddled up at her house doing homework, playing video games and watching tv, until we came home from work together. Sometimes we would stay and eat dinner together at her house. I'm grateful my girls have so many wonderful memories and had so much time with their grandmother. She helped shape them into the amazing women they are today.

So in closing, I look forward to bringing different memories of my mom to my blog. My mom was so influential and so much a part of our lives, that this is a way for me to feel closer to her. It's always a good way to get these memories down before I forget them. I can't think of the times I wished when my family had told me stories, I had jotted them down because you do forget. Not all of the stories will be positive, but life isn't all good. Though I think I will dwell more on the positive than negative. I prefer to keep the happy memories close and let the painful ones drift into oblivion of the forgotten. Though the good times wouldn't have been so important without the bad times. C'est la vie.

The Best Birthday Ever… 

The other day I was going through some of my saved emails and I found a Lowe’s e-gift card that had been sent to me on my 44th birthday in 2014 by my mother.  I opened up the email and it displays the “gift card” with her message.  The message said:

“wISHING YOU THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.  LOVE YOU.  MOM”

Yes she had written it in all caps on her iPad while sitting in her hospital bed with just one month and five days of her life left.  She was on heavy pain killers, couldn’t walk by herself any longer and needed 24/7 care but she still insisted on doing everything she possibly could by herself until the end.   That was just my mom, independent and head strong and a hella stubborn woman.  

 I can’t tell you what I used the gift card for anymore but I remembered I printed out two copies of it.  One to use at the store and one to save in my keepsake box.  Because it was the last birthday I would celebrate with my mother.  I remember feeling incredibly sad when I presented the cashier the card because it felt as if I was losing another little peice of my relationship with my mother.  As if I could hold onto that gift card, that it was keeping her a little bit alive.  Keeping her love for me alive but it really doesn’t work that way.  

Now it’s two and a half years later, my life has adjusted to not having my mom around.  Not that you really ever want to adjust to the loss of someone you love but it happens over time.  You still feel their absence every day but it is not as acute. There are times you want to hug them, sit and talk to them and instead you end up talking out loud to yourself hoping that they will hear you, that they know.  Sometimes I wrap the yellow, ivory and brown crocheted afghan she made me around my shoulders and look at all the stitches to remind myself that she made each one of them out of love for me.  Or put on her worn red Ohio State pullover that I now wash with the care of my most delicate clothing item so it lasts for years and years.  

I sometimes look at pictures, or put on a peice of her jewelry I gave her to feel closer.  I don’t care what anyone says, she may still be with me in spirit, but it sure does suck not having her here in person.  Especially last week when I finally got a promotion she thought I deserved years ago but didn’t live long enough to see it.  No it wasn’t any big new title or a bunch of new responsibilities and money.  Simply it was just the next level in my current job position which I have been doing since 2006.  She retired from where I work in 2010.  Moments like that are stark reminders that she is absent from my day to day life making that accomplishment just a little bittersweet.  

My sister, Dad, Mom and me


Back to the gift card and my 44th birthday.  I reread her words several times.  And I realized that it had indeed been a difficult birthday.  My daughters, my husband and I all have birthdays in the same month so after my birthday, I bought a lemon cream cake from Olive Garden because this is what she wanted and we had a little joint birthday party with her in her hospital room.  We shared the leftover cake with the nurses who were giving her really great care.  And I don’t think one of us has eaten that cake since.  

On my actual birthday, she had employed my middle daughter who had quit working and school to take care of her, to be her legs and get me a card, a potted mini rose and my other gift.  As she laid heavily medicated in her bed, I opened the gift which was my grandmother’s wedding rings.  Of course I started crying and hugged her frail frame tightly.  Simply this was my hardest birthday ever.  My last one.  There was no doubt that she would not be alive for my 45th birthday.  But looking back it was also my best birthday just like she had wished me in the E-gift card.  I can’t look back on any of my birthdays and pick out a more memorable one.  

Birthdays in my family have always been fairly quiet occasions.  Sometimes family would come for dinner and cake when I was kid depending on where we lived.  There were no big parties like I did for my daughters though in today’s standards, their parties would be quite simple.  A few friends over for games, cake and balloons.  Later they would have sleepovers and in their teen years even bigger sleepovers.  Usually I didn’t have the space or the money to give them a big party.  Their birthdays being in the winter, it was hard to have a lot of kids at our house, cooped up in its cramped spaces.  We never do surprise parties either.  I don’t like surprises so that has never been an option.  

Keeping to tradition, my 44th birthday was a quiet affair celebrated with family.  Except it was celebrated with two of my daughters absent for school or work and at my mom’s hospital bedside.  It sounds bleak but really it will be the one birthday I always remember.  I will remember the presents because they are etched into my memory.   I will remember my mom’s smile as I opened my grandmother’s wedding rings.  Simply there was nothing more meaningful she could have given me and she knew it.  I am sure she knew just as I did, this was our last birthday together.  


Dying of cancer sucks.  Knowing you are going to die has to suck even more.   A close friend of mine and I have both lost parents to long battles with cancer and we have decided that our preferred way of dying is to dimply drop dead of old age.  No warning, nothing.  Though it is a shock to your family, you don’t go through those agonizing days of wondering how long you have together.  Or wondering how much time you have.  Or the pain, the helplessness.  It is agonizing for everyone, especially the person dying of cancer.

Out of the suffering, the nightmare of pain and sadness, there are some of the most beuatiful moments borne of reality of the fact that we are indeed mortal.  None of us lives forever and death is a slap in the face reminder that you need to cherish every moment of every day no matter how mundane that moment feels.  That you need to put your head up and look beyond the routine for ways to show love and e kind to others, to enjoy another precious moment with someone you love even if it is as simple as sending a text message to them reminding them you love them.  We only have so many moments.  The only guarantee in life is death.  

No my best birthday ever wasn’t spent on a Carribean Cruise or in a five-star hotel.  It was spent with my mother in a dull hospital room.  What I wouldn’t give for 44 more birthdays together but that is not how life works so I cherish the memories of the ones I did have knowing I was fortunate to have all those years with her.  

Mom circa 2002 four years before cancer disgnosis

Father’s Day for the Dysfunctional Family

Today is Father’s Day, the day where dads receive ties (not so much now) and get to blissfully barbecue.  They are admired by their spouses/ partners and their children.  They are the dads who play video games, teach sports, cook, clean, chauffeur, reluctantly discipline, have the hard talks, teach defense, work hard, fix things, fix more things (or call someone to fix them), drink beer (or wine) but who are always there for their kids.  Or so the ideals and greeting cards want you to believe.  And I know there are a lot of dads out there that fit that bill, probably the majority of fathers do.  Oh, they aren’t perfect, just like Mom’s, they mess up once in a while but it is a mistake and not a pattern.

I’ve mentioned before I grew up in a very dysfunctional, alcoholic home.  By the time I was 12, my parents had divorced and my father had migrated back to Missouri.  I was relieved though saddened, that he was no longer part of my life then.  From then on, it was my mom, my sister and I.  My relationship with my father was to say the least dysfunctional.  He has also been gone since early June 2002.  For the most part, my life has been without a father there for me.  I know that kids grown up without one all the time.  They may have lost theirs early on to an accident or illness, it is very tragic.  However, I had one for years and well, I was never much on his radar, he was fighting his own demons.

I did have my maternal grandfather as an example.  He was more “dad-like” than my father.  My uncles.  I had Dad role models.  Though none of them lived close by.  We would see them occasionally.  Am I worse off not having a strong father figure?  One that was caring and involved in my life?  Who honestly knows.  I made poor choice in men however until later in life.  Was I seeking someone who was emotionally unavailable to mimic the relationship I had with my father?  Probably.  Would I have picked someone better for me if I had grown up in a more “normal” home?  I have no idea.  Maybe or maybe not.  Children of intact homes get divorced all the time, so that really can’t be determined.

Then there is my children’s father.  MIA as usual.  We divorced when our youngest daughter was 2 almost 3 after a year of separation.  For awhile, until I remarried 6 years later, there was every other weekend though for them it wasn’t joyous.  He had gone on some new religious tear, the one that doesn’t allow Harry Potter or trick or treating.  His new wife didn’t appreciate the girls invading her space and referred to them as ‘guests”.  The pair seemed determined to tear down their self-esteem so they could feel better about themselves.  Then when I remarried the 2nd time, their dad decided to move to South Carolina.  The girls felt rejected and unwanted.  He moved back for awhile but they never reconnected even remotely.  Then he returned to South Carolina where he has stayed.  He never calls, messages, texts, IM’s or even likes their stuff on FaceBook.  He didn’t bother to show for our youngest’s high school graduation even though the date had been set for several years, they were vacationing in Myrtle Beach.  His priorities are quite evident to all.

I feel bad about picking someone like him to marry.  I have amazing daughters but I feel bad that their father is so self-centered.  But is it all bad?   Maybe not.  They are very fierce, very independent and very outspoken girls.  I used the adversity of their father trying to preach to them and tell them how they were wrong for drawing dragons, that women could not be preachers and all that other rot he wanted to impart on them, to stand up for themselves, to be themselves and to never be afraid of authority.  If he had been the perfect dad, we had stayed together and everything been like it is portrayed in the movies, would they be the amazing women they are today?  I can’t answer that either but when I watch one of them stick up for someone else who is not able to or too shy to do it, I think maybe it was meant to be this way.

They haven’t clung to boyfriends or rushed to get married.  My youngest the other day has a serious boyfriend and she was talking about how he wants to live in a city when he graduates college.  She looks at me and says Mom, I told him that if we are together, I am not living in a city.  He is just going to have to compromise to be with me.  I smiled at her and said yes, it’s about compromise. She continued on about possiblites of living near a city so they could both have some of what they want.  Compromise is great, but what I loved most about that was she isn’t like me at that age.  I moved to the city to be with the boy because it is what he wanted.  I was miserable and ended up depressed.   I ignored my needs to be loved.   She isn’t willing to do this and she expects nothing less than compromise out of both of them.

Now my daughters are not without a “dad”.  Their stepfather of seven years is here every day for them.  He grills and fixes things, he helps to provide a good living for all of us, he watches over them even though they don’t realize he does.  And he loves them very much and has always quietly looked out for them and their needs.  He is the example I wanted them to have of how a man should treat the people they love.  What it is like to be with someone or have someone in your life who unlike their biological father, puts them first at times rather than puts themselves first at all times.  So their biological dad may be MIA, but the dad that chose them and their mother is here every single day because he wants to be, not because he has to be.  He has no blood relation to any of them.

Dads come in many shapes and sizes.  Your biological father may have been MIA in your life for whatever reason.  The hardest is when they choose to not be part of your life or have an addiction/ mental illness (such as mine) that makes it impossible for them to be a father.  But “Fathers” come in many different ways.  Grandparents, Uncles, a stepfather, an older brother or cousin, a family friend.   Sometimes you just can’t get hung up on blood and you have to embrace the men who willingly step into that patriarchal role out of choice and out of love.

My Dad may be gone for 13 years now but I can remember some good times, some good memories.  Enough time has passed that I can understand that he hadn’t willingly rejected me, that he struggled with something bigger than himself.  I can be upset with my children’s biological father for making choices that ensured he was not part of their lives but I have decided that is simply his loss, and maybe their gain as they were never happy around his judgments.  That I was brought together with a man who loves all four of us and takes care of us without us ever having to ask.  We are really blessed to have him in our lives.

Happy Father’s Day, to all the myriad of types of ‘Dads’ out there.  Go grill something, drink a beer, watch some sports, and pretend you like the gifts we got you.  You’re freaking awesome!