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!

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No More “Empty Nest”!

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

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

2 vacant; unoccupied: an empty house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Empty Nest – Sorta…

I don’t technically have an “empty nest” by definition.  All three of my daughters are still living at home though they live their own lives.  Two of them work a second shift full time job so I don’t see much of them and the youngest is going to the local college full time and working with an active social life so I don’t see her much either.  Which is how it should be.  This is what we parents train them for, going out and getting on with their own life.  What they don’t really tell you is how that is going to affect you.  When I say something about it to people who haven’t gone through it, they roll their eyes and say well you knew they were going to grow up or something equally as helpful.  I always think in the back of my mind, well, you will be here one day too and I will offer you the same grand advice and sympathy.  Okay, I’m a little vindictive at times, I’ll admit it.  

Recently it has become more acute for me because my middle daughter who worked with me went to the second shift job at the place where her older sister worked.  It was a great move for her, better pay and opportunity for her to advance.  As much as I was excited for her, I dreaded the fact that my “buddy” wouldn’t be around to keep me company because she’s more a homebody than I am.  So essentially it was rare I was alone in the house with all the different shifts and people coming and going.  Until now.  

Add in the fact my husband works a swing shift, I’m finding myself home alone much more frequently and not really sure of how I feel about it.  One moment I am ecstatic I can hog the tv, the couch and play my piano as loud as I want.  The next moment, I look around and think, this is weird.  Where is everyone?  For ten years of my life, I lived with seven people in my family.  You were never alone and you never were in the bathroom alone.  There were days I couldn’t wait for this day when I had the house to myself and could pee without an audience.  Now it’s here, I stand in the silence of this house and I am not really sure what to do with myself.  

What I’ve read about empty nest from experts and people that have been through it, we all feel somewhat the same.  I’ve been lucky because it’s been a lot more slow process than some of my friends where it has been very abrupt.  But much of the advice I read, falls short with me.  Volunteer.  Get a hobby.  Travel.  All good suggestions but I am finding myself wanting more purpose than that though volunteering is a great thing.  I often feel like the girl interrupted.  My life went in a completely different direction than I had hoped.  Almost hijacked by narcisstic husbands and poor choices on my part but it’s straighten out.  The chaos and craziness those relationships provided were like white noise that I did not have to face my own life and what I wanted to do.  If you are too busy surviving, then you don’t have time to think about your dreams and hopes or your life purpose.  

My oldest daughter is twenty-five and she is at a similiar cross roads.  She had hoped to get into grad school and further forgo having to choose a direction for her life.  As she said, much of her life has been orchestrated.  You go to school, graduate high school, go on to college and then get out and get a job.  She had taken a hiatus after my mom’s death Becuase we were all pretty shell shocked and needed time to heal.   A little like me, she is asking the question, what does she want to be when she grows up because the old things just doen’t seem right to her.  She is starting to look in directions and for paths she had never considered.    

However, she still has most of her life ahead of her.  She may marry and/ or raise a family.  I’ve done that part.  So check, family done.   I try to imagine myself back in high school when counselors, teachers and parents are asking me what I want to do after I graduate.  The biggest difference is I am established in life and when you become middle-aged, you start feeling that it is really important that you don’t fritter your life away.  But the problem with that line of thinking is that you forget to enjoy life because you are too worried about making a difference, reaching that goal because you feel like you only have so much time.  The flip side is you can become so concerned about making the wrong choice, you make no choice at all so you are stuck in limbo.  Which is where I think I am at times.  

When I was younger, early 20’s, I had a million ideas for businesses and actually had the balls to even go for a few of them. Now I come up with 100000 reasons why I shouldn’t do something.  In a way, youth has the upper hand here because ou are more likely to take risks, even if they are stupid.  The older you get, the more you learn and the more you think, I have to be crazy.  I could lose my house, investments, savings, cars and the like.  When you are just starting out, you have much less to lose usually.  On the other hand, if I don’t ever try or reach for my dreams, I will regret it on my death bed.  I feel much like I am frozen, paralyzed.  

At the end of last year, I wrote down several goals and have achieved several of them or am on the verge of achieving them.  Going back to school has given me a sense of purpose I did not have before and has also eaten up a lot of my free time.  Now I am less than two weeks away from finishing and I am thinking, okay, now what?  Having a goal and a purpose felt good.  I was doing something for myself, just as if I was much younger without a family.   This tells me that after graduation, it will be time to sit down and think up my next moves in life.  In a way, this is daunting and exciting at the same time.  Learning to spend more time alone is different but not a bad thing.  It is much like being single and living alone when you start out, something I didn’t really experience. 

Sure, my life is slowly changing and there are times I’m excited and other times I am sad or dread the change.  Just like anything in life, any real change, there is positive and negatives but middle-age isn’t the end of the world.  I will learn to adjust to this time, just as I learned to adjust to all the other times of my life.  Some easier and others harder, but I always come out just fine.

In some ways, “empty nest” is like being given a second chance to find your path in life, your new path.