October 17, 2016

They Miss You, Too! Week Nine

I am halfway through my 18 week journey. Part of this live blogging strategy is that I intend to blog each week until the end of the year and then take those instant, week-by-week, reactions and turn them into logical chapters in a book. Capturing each week as it unfolds lends a sense of timely authenticity.

This past weekend was Parent's Weekend at my younger daughter's school. She attends school 400 miles away (versus 8 miles for daughter #1). We haven't seen her since August 13th. For those of you counting, that was 63 days/nine weeks. It was longer than when her sister went overseas for a summer study abroad.

With my older daughter spending the weekend dog-sitting for us, we headed west.

We didn't really care about the family picnics or the mixers, we just wanted to see our child. We left at the crack of dawn on Saturday and drove 6 hours until we arrived on her campus. She told us she had to work until 1:00 in the afternoon and so with accounting for the time difference, we had time to stop for lunch. An interesting side note is that the owner of our now favorite burger joint remembered us from both orientation and then move-in weekend. Made us feel practically local!

With full bellies and a care package in the trunk, we parked on campus to wait. Nervously pacing the last 15 minutes, anxiously awaiting the chance to see our girl, finally she spotted us from across the street and sprinted to us. Straight out of a movie, the hugs and joy and tears were obvious. She looks great and so so happy.

The rest of the day, we tagged along with her as she fulfilled some obligations. She was volunteering at a St. Baldrick's fundraiser and we met person after person that she has become friends with.

My mind raced backwards to all the reasons I was happy to leave high school behind. My daughter has blossomed into "the happiest person ever" (as the clerk who checks her into her dorm calls her). She found a perfect fit for her future. Yet, amidst all that newfound joy? She still loves the not so distant past pieces of home. She was delighted that we brought flowers from my garden and pints from the local ice cream store. She misses our park and our dog. In other words, home has not been abandoned.

What I realized this past week is that while your children are growing and moving forward, that we have to remember how much of home they still carry with them.

On our drive home, we touched base with our older child to see how everything had gone. Because she lives on campus so close to home, she asked, "Do you mind if I just stay here again tonight?" I practically yelled, "OF COURSE NOT! MIND??? This is your home!" She gently reminded us that as a college senior, she is making that transition to full independence and she recognizes that while this is our home, she is now a guest.

I thought about it and of course, yes, we no longer stock the refrigerator with their favorite foods if it's not something we eat. We don't have their activities on our calendar, and honestly, I'm considering alternative uses for their bedrooms. Life is in flux and we are moving forward as much as they are.

I remember one Christmas when I was in college, I picked up a kitschy little country-decor picture of a house and it had some cliche' saying in calligraphy writing about loving home. But I added my own words to the bottom of the picture. I wrote, "I'll never stop coming home." Now I understand on the other end of it.

No, I didn't, and neither will they.

October 10, 2016

Sleep, Glorious Sleep: Week Eight

In 1995, I gave up on the idea that I would ever have a decent night's sleep again. From pregnancy-bladder wake-up calls, to a newborn needing to nurse, to a toddler having a nightmare, the pattern for sleeplessness was set early in my motherhood career.

After the children were sleeping through the night, I began to value my late nights as "me time". Previously, I had never been a night owl yet I found myself staying up until midnight or even later, just so I could have time when someone wasn't asking me to do something for them. I would call other late night friends or chat on the computer or even just watch videos, just to carve out solo time.

I became friends with another neighborhood mom and the minute our kids were in bed, we would alternate houses and meet for a glass of wine, toasting another successful day of mothering. It was our way of pretending we could still go out like we did before we were mothers. We found ourselves substituting wine for sleep, which isn't exactly the healthiest decision.

The sleep deprivation did not end when my children reached high school. In fact, their own late night activities, be it school or social related, kept me up, waiting to make sure they arrived home safely -- only to turn around and wake up first thing in the morning to do it all over again.

getting eight hours sleep
For 21 years, sleep had become so rare to me that a good night's sleep was cause for jubilant celebration. The first time it happened in the past eight weeks, that was exactly my reaction, jubilation. I had come to expect a poor night's sleep as the norm. The gradual acceptance that I did not have to spring out of bed to get the day going, nor did I have to stay up half the night to make sure I had some solo time has been a delightful side effect of the empty nest.

After our trip last week, I came home not only jet-lagged, but also with a terrible cold and fever. So I babied myself. I slept and napped, I went to bed early, and stayed in bed late. I didn't have to soldier through being sick as I had in the past. Also, did you ever notice that your colds would linger for weeks upon weeks? This time, I succumbed to feeling sick and have really rested.

It feels so luxurious to give myself time to feel better, something I had not allowed myself to do in over two decades. Oh how mothers are masters of dispensing advice we don't follow! I always made my children rest when they were sick, but never did the same for myself. I used to let my kids sleep in late knowing how critical sleep was, but somehow thought myself immune from that need.

The lesson for week eight has been a valuable one. I've been getting plenty of Vitamin B-E-D. I still have someone to mother and that is myself.

October 3, 2016

Change the Scenery: Week Seven

Caudebec-en-Caux, France
photo by: Kim Urig 2016
For as much as I had to write in week five, I didn't post at all last week, primarily because we were on a vacation. Which leads me to what I recommend from a firsthand experience. Plan a trip. Get out of Dodge. See something new.

For the first time in however many years, you don't have to worry about who is going to watch the kids or what you would actually miss if you went away. Your children are going forward with their lives and it's your turn also. They aren't the only ones who are now independent.

If you are worried how in the world to juggle tuition payments as well as a trip, it doesn't have to be an exotic trip, but it needs to be a change of scenery. I found myself watching all the fall school activities my friends were posting about and swirling deeper and deeper into a sense of longing and loss.

Walking away from everything that had kept my life so busy a year ago and filling it with something so different than my regular grind was exactly what the empty nest ordered. In our case, we took a river cruise in France along the Seine River. This isn't meant to be a vacation showcase article, but rather a suggestion why getting away was such a mental health break.

My husband and I had been planning a big trip for our 25th wedding anniversary, which was last year. We delayed it a year because it was our daughter's senior year. While our trip was rather grand, the bigger takeaway is that the change of scenery was really what helped reset my emotional state.  We had limited internet access, we were in a different place, and were interacting with different people.

On our trip we met several other couples, many of them retirees, who upon finding out our last child had just gone to college were practically high-fiving us and saying "empty nest is best!" It certainly wasn't what we thought we'd hear, but truthfully, it helped us get some perspective. All last week, we socialized with new friends in different stages of life and remembered that this is only one of several more stages to explore as we age.

Here are some ideas for a trip regardless of what your budget may be:
  • Explore local hiking or biking trails. Getting the adrenaline pumping out in the fresh air is an incredible rush and you'll slow down and see things from a much different view than the typical mom taxi view. 
  • Plan a weekend at a bed and breakfast or look into weekend specials at state park lodges. Go somewhere that you won't get news from home unless you really work at it. 
  • Visit a friend you have been meaning to catch up with for ages but couldn't make time.
  • Go camping. Fall rates are very reasonable and the weather is still temperate. You can find nice cabins if you'd rather not completely rough it, but getting outdoors and unplugging from reminders is incredibly soothing.
  • If budget isn't a consideration, consider planning a trip to somewhere you've never gone. Don't go back to a family vacation destination, which will only make you nostalgic, but instead, visit a new place, plan a dream trip. Start planning it while your child is still home so when that one month itch is really getting to you, you already have the time away planned. 
Over the last week, my husband and I hiked and biked across the French countryside, we drifted along the Seine River, reverently explored the D-Day shores of Normandy, and made new friends. I returned, jet-lagged, but with a completely new outlook and energy.

September 22, 2016

Letting it all hang out: Last installment for Week Five

Sad moodYesterday I had, to borrow from the children's book, a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I was at my wit's end with a wave of emotion that had been building for two days. I couldn't snap out of my mood and just kept crying. 

I thought about my idea for live blogging and wrote out everything I was feeling. By openly discussing what I am feeling when I'm feeling it, the framework for the book becomes more honest and organic. This is how I felt, with no apologies. 

The mood passed and if I can offer any advice to people experiencing these moods, reach out to people. Talk about it, write about it, ask for help. I did and wow, I sure received it! So many notes of friendship and encouragement. I'm incredibly blessed with fantastic people in my world.

Without further ado, I present my emotional breakdown. 

I’m so tired. I just am not sure I can do this. I don’t know what to do with my days when someone else hasn’t planned them for me. And that down time is horrible. I spin my wheels trying to find new ways to fill my time.

I’m lonely. I wish I had a job. I thought I missed the kids when they went to school all day, and I did. But this is different. I have nothing that makes me get up in the morning. I have no reason other than to cook a meal, iron a shirt, or vacuum a floor that matters.

Nobody needs me for anything. I don’t know how to ask for help. Children grow up all the time. I’m embarrassed that I am so lost. I spent a month frantically filling my time and that became more work than working. It doesn’t come naturally and curling up alone feels natural, but way too quiet.

I feel so unproductive. I invent things to keep myself busy. I tidy and fix stuff. I box things. I sell things. I make food. I do laundry. I walk and count steps, I exercise. It’s empty. Nobody is asking me to do a thing and so I feel useless. I hate not having a schedule. It ruins my brain and motivation.

My daughter turned 21 yesterday. For 21 years I’ve defined myself as a mom. I took care of people. I barely know how to take care of myself. I’m not even sure I was a good influence on my kids. I actually think that they grew up determined to be as much the opposite of me as they could. I don’t know if I really did anything well raising them. I tried, I wanted to do well. I just wonder if my demons took over too often.

I am in a tailspin. I’ve disappointed my family repeatedly and sometimes cannot even face them. I am not even sure I know how to really make friends. I cry most of the days and quickly put on a happy face before my husband gets home so he doesn’t know how lost I am.

Because he hates his job. He doesn’t know how to get up and keep going and I wish I had a reason to get up and keep going. I envy his obligations. I do. I suspect he envies my shiftlessness. That’s what I feel my days are filled with. Nothing. Time killers. I want to tell him that I would give anything to have a reason to get up and out the door every day. An expectation, an obligation. A reason.

After processing that mood with words, it slowly began to dissipate instead of build. If you don't name it, you cannot defeat it. A sad mood is okay, but you shouldn't wallow. Work through it and get someone to talk to. Seek professional help if you need to. Don't let the mood linger and keep you in a dark place. I learned that your friends are going to be valuable resources and they will reach out to you, but also you ought to reach out to them. Don't sit in silence. Call the people you want to see and make a plan to do something.

I want to thank everyone who helped me through a rough day. You're all the best, truly. I appreciate your encouragement to share these thoughts in my book. I cannot wait for it to finish coming together!


The Roller Coaster of Emotion: Week Five continued

Emotional Roller CoasterOn the tail of finishing my list of things I don't miss, I made myself chuckle a few times and then a wave of emotion washed over me like a tsunami. I became overwhelmed with unexpected sadness and grief.

I've spent five weeks chronicling all the things I was doing and feeling so I could be as real time as possible. I debated if I should share such a raw emotional state. It seems so dramatic and self pitying. I am as embarrassed as I could be that I couldn't hold it together. A few emergency calls to close friends and writing it out really helped me process my pain.

What I learned yesterday is that it won't always be simple and straightforward. If you're like me, a lot of things are going to be happening simultaneously in your world, besides the empty nest. In my case, it is menopause, a milestone birthday, the loss of a parent all within the past few months.

This sort of thing is to be expected around our stage in life so there is a lot going on mentally and emotionally, besides the empty nest. I found myself walloped with a mood I couldn't climb out of... so I didn't. Instead, as I promised, I wrote it all out and I hope that you see how very normal and natural these sort of feelings can be. It's not uncommon, I discovered. I would like to not just share my words, but the wisdom so many friends offered up.

I feel so much less alone after sharing my thoughts and now want to put them out there for anyone who may read this. I have such wonderfully wise friends in my world.

Lori, who is a booster mom friend from band, choir, and drama, had this to say:
Milestones, good or bad, are designed to get us to the next phase of our lives. In [your daughter's] 21st birthday and her "official" entrance to adulthood, you've forgotten that kids need us in a totally different way as they get older. You may not be schlepping them from place to place, but your advice, life experience and just being their mom keeps you close, although some days it doesn't feel that way. Who told you that you had to productively (society's term) spend your days doing what society deems acceptable passages of time? Who cares if you spend all day writing in your pajamas, reading or doing whatever makes you happy? Cleaning, fixing, selling are all things people expect a newly emptied nested mom to do but if they don't make you happy then why do them. I'm close to empty nest hood, have begun the adjustment phase and it isn't easy. Take the time to come to grips with the new dynamic of your family. The right answers will come to you in time, I'm sure of it. Maybe for all of us parents making this adjustment, I pray it is. You've got a grip on this- it just hasn't revealed itself.

To which I told Lori that I had a lot of really silly ways I had been killing time. This is the quite embarrassing way and I even realized why it has been such a crutch for me. I've been binge watching an old television show on Hulu. As long as I'm keeping it real, I will also admit that I have truly terrible taste in television. I don't do culture or thinking shows. I personify the term vegging-out when I turn on the television. The last time in my life that I didn't have children, there was a show I watched every week religiously. My husband worked nights so I would come home and flip on this show with a bowl of popcorn. I even watched it when I was waiting to give birth to Daughter #2. Watching the adventures of Dylan, Brenda, and the rest of the gang from Beverly Hills 90210 has kept me company for several weeks. It really is as bad as I remembered, but I don't care. It entertains me. I've watched so many episodes that Dylan & Brenda aren't even on the show anymore. I'll let you know how it turns out. I never saw the end of the series, because I had children and stopped watching TV near that time. My friend Jackie recommends Gilmore Girls when I'm done with 90210. I think I'll do that.

Thoughts from my friend Denise who vacationed with me as a teenager:

[My husband] and I go on a retreat every year. We learn, in a group setting, that a woman's bond with her husband often gets lost raising children. At the same time, a man gets caught up in furthering his career at the expense of quality family time.
Reconnect with [your husband]. Rediscover why you married him in the first place. Marriage constantly needs attention at all stages of life. ...include him in making your decisions about your future. You just may be happier as a result. 
Denise really helped me understand that this is a team project and decision. I need my husband to know what is happening and to rekindle what we let slip away. Maybe he just needs to see more boobs. Err, eggs.

Kathleen, who was a fellow band mom with me had this to say:
This is the start of my 3rd year without my girl--and although I always wanted her to fly-soar even, I miss her and I wonder if I spent enough time with her? Every time I see [our marching band] or hear certain songs, I tear up. It does get better -but it is a strange feeling. I love the freedom and I love that [we] can be "free-wheeling"-but there are still times I think of that little girl I had and my eyes fill. You are so busy-and enrich so many lives-be patient with yourself. Cry, reminisce, and take your time to get to wherever your next step will be.
Kathy helped me realize that we don't have to "get over" anything. It will be there and that's okay.

From Liz, my former co-worker, whose daughter is the same age as mine had these words:
It's like losing a job- our biggest job that we're the most proud of-being a mom. Every time [my daughter] brings up that she's not going to move back home after graduation in April, I cringe. I look forward to when she's home - there's more for me to do. All this in spite of the fact I work a very demanding full time job. I know how you feel. We're used to being the overachieving parents of our overachieving kids.
Liz and I worked side by side for several years. We found ourselves sharing notes through our children's high school years and discovering how very much we had in common besides a common employer. So I know she understands how very much this does feel like a job loss.
With a final reminder from my friend Ellen, who I became friends with right after I graduated from high school, wrote this about her own experience:

I was a whole person before I had children. I was a woman, I was sexy, I was beautiful, I had words, I was a someday novelist, I had intelligence, I was a singer, an artist, I had my voice, I loved deeply. I had goals and wants unrelated to motherhood. I was a force. I was an individual. I planned meals, I went to the store and bought things. I sifted the cat box. I drove a car across the country. I loved. I watched others die. I had a lot of great sex, completely unrelated to procreation, before I was a mother.
I was a whole person before motherhood.
I love being a mother. But it is just one part of me.
They deserve a lot.
But not every single second of my time.
Not my every resource.
Not my every thought or consideration.
Love doesn't mean the destruction of self, or it shouldn't.
I was me, before them, and that's not a bad thing.
I was a whole person before I was a mother.

Ellen, we still are whole people. Thank you for the eloquent reminder.

What exactly did I write to get such an outpouring of wisdom? That will be my next post.  Week Five is a big one!

September 20, 2016

Five Things I Won't Miss: Week Five

Today's post coincides with my firstborn child's 21st birthday. She is a full-fledged adult person and, barring anything beyond reasonable control, on a good path for the rest of her life. It's only natural that today I find myself reflecting upon her past birthdays and discovering one glaring thing that I Do. Not. Miss. In. The. Least.

Making birthday party treat bags. How I loathed filling bags of junk to give to kids as some sort of birthday trade-off. That is something that became a phenomenon for my generation of parents. The ubiquitous treat bag that our kids brought home after attending parties that rivaled some weddings. (Speaking of another thing I don't miss? The escalation of a child's annual birthday to some sort of major rite of passage - complete with DJs, photobooths, smoke machines, and limo rides). It doesn't leave much to look forward to as an adult, in my opinion.

I do miss planning the party but we always had them at home. They were "do-it-yourself" events, that my children had as much input into as I did. They picked a theme of based on one of their interests and we brainstormed theme-appropriate activities. One year, we had a backyard camp out. We borrowed a huge tent from an Eagle Scout friend I knew, made s'mores, went on a scavenger hunt, decorated flashlights, and painted magnets that looked like campfires. Another year we had a "diva party", where all the guests were invited to prepare a karaoke song and we had neon hair extensions and singing all night long.

Tacky Pink Frosting
But as if attending a fun evening with friends eating cake and drinking punch wasn't enough? We were expected to come up with a gift to send all the kids on their way. I do not miss that in the least. It bothered me up until the day my kids outgrew birthday parties. (Incidentally, I also loathed receiving bags of junk for attending a party as well).

I've always had the opinion that a birthday is the only day all year that is a "selfish" day. The stress of trying to make it a special day about every single guest as well grated on me. But that's just one of the things I won't miss, and I think it's healthy to remind myself that parenthood isn't always one big happy-fluffy-rainbow-sparkled journey. After the #1 thing I won't miss, I will round out my list.

2. I will not miss everyone getting a trophy, and I wish I knew what to do with all the trophies that everyone did get throughout the years. (actually upon pondering this, I did a search and found a GREAT idea,  a trophy recycling company, that will re-purpose all your old trophies. (and even donate them to 501c3s). They can be like fruitcakes, and eventually, there will only be 100 trophies in the world that just keep getting regifted!
Everyone gets a trophy

3. I will not miss clothing that becomes dorky and therefore completely unwearable before it's even been washed the first time. It winds up languishing in a closet until the pronouncement that my child had nothing to wear and would seemingly prefer to go naked rather than wear that hideous apparel that they chose only a month ago.

4. I will not miss finding out about a school project the night before and being asked to run to the all night printing store to do the last minute touches or a 24 hour superstore to pick up one last supply. I despised projects. What ever happened to just writing a report or taking a quiz? Why does replicating an entire village inside the lid of a pizza box check if you read the book? The only people who like projects are the people who own posterboard companies.

5. I will not miss the need to buy a t-shirt at every event and performance, as some sort of souvenir, because that trophy (see #2) wasn't enough.

I am going to keep this list handy for those days I feel really lost. I think it's healthy to reflect on both the good and the bad. To be clear, I loved hosting the parties, I just hated the treat bags. I loved the activities that my kids got to do, I hated the unending parade of trophies. I loved shopping for their clothing, but hated when fickle fashion taste ruled over practicality. I loved seeing them excel in school, but I hated projects that were more a test of how much you could spend at the craft store. And I love their diverse interests, but I hate the pile of tacky t-shirts.

Tonight, we forward to celebrating the dawning of adulthood with our elder child. I also look forward to the simple, tasteful gift we're giving to our young adult and an elegant dinner, without any food that smiles at us or has neon-colored frosting. It's a good trade-off.

September 16, 2016

Time to start dating: Week Four continued

Yeah buddy! We are going to town with this post. The nest is empty and we can get back out there. Or in there. Or just there. Watch out world, I am dating again!!!

I am dating a really great guy. He is the sort of guy you marry. So much that sort of guy that I did, in 1990. But I haven't dated him since the early 90s. The day we had kids, we changed. We shifted our focus to our future and the kids we brought into the world and how we were going to make sure that we gave them the best life we could imagine.

We had been married about 4 years and thought at the beginning of 1995 that my genes and his would make a pretty incredible child. I became pregnant 20 seconds, possibly 21, after that conversation and on September 20, 1995, our lives as a couple ceased. We were joined by a beautiful child who quickly became the center of our universe and topic of all conversations we had going forward.

Thus began the motherhood journey. My life changed forever. I stretched my maternity leave out as long as possible under the guise of taking time to decide what would work, but the truth is, I wasn't going back to my job. I look back now and wonder. Maybe I could have, but at the time, it just seemed more trouble than it was worth.

Our lives had many many ups and downs over the past 20+ years of parenting. It's not necessary for me to recount all the times he and I didn't see eye to eye. But we stuck it out because we had a family to raise. You see, whether you are single or married, since our children were born, we suppressed our "romantic" (euphemism for sexy) sides the entire time we had children in the home. I realized this the other day because I didn't need to cover up "in case the kids walked in". Quite the opposite, in fact.
egg cracked open
Egg or boob? You decide. 

I was getting ready to make breakfast and had a dozen duck eggs. (Acquired during a catch-up-with-friends road trip). I showed my husband the eggs after I cracked them in a cup to point out the difference in both color and size. His reaction was typically male. He said very matter of factly, "They look like boobs."

What? My mind reeled. Had it been that long since he saw boobs that he confused them with duck eggs? There was only one logical solution. He needed to see boobs quickly to remedy his confusion. I quickly undressed and continued to make breakfast topless.

As silly as it sounds, the duck egg incident marked a playful moment in our rediscovering each other. I didn't worry that the kids would walk in and see me topless. In fact, I actually am imagining the horror they are likely to express and the embarrassment experienced that their mother was topless. Not only was I topless, I told the world about it. Or at least as many people as will read this post. (have fun with me... make a comment if you go this far so we can keep a running tally of how many folks know I cooked breakfast without a shirt). 

My husband and I are dating and wooing each other again. It's pretty fabulous.

September 13, 2016

Pacing Yourself: Week Four

By now, I've had an empty nest for nearly a month and WHEW!  I am exhausted. There is a certain irony to the fact that now my time is my own and I have attempted to do everything I meant to do for the past 21 years in one month.

running ragged with tasks
How I envisioned my free time
Here is a short list of activities I've started:
  • Cleaning out all the toys and closets
  • Losing that weight that slowly crept onto my frame
  • Joining a gym
  • Writing the book I always wanted to write
  • Making a business plan to market and sell that book
  • Finishing up the plans for our vacation of a lifetime
  • Catching up with all my friends I haven't seen
  • Committing to new volunteer opportunities
  • Looking for a job and sending out over 20 cover letters and revamped resumes
  • Updating my blogs
  • Making doctor appointments for my milestone year of 50
  • Canning and freezing seasonal food
  • Substitute teaching
trying to multitask household chores
The reality, minus the cat and baby
Those are the new undertakings, not to mention that there still are the daily jobs that must be done to keep a household running, such as paying bills, cleaning, cooking, yard work and laundry. And frankly, I'd neglected a number of those as evidenced by (shhh, please don't tell my spouse) an overdue bill notice. Yikes!

I actually decided one day to mow our lawn completely by hand so I could combine my exercise with yard work. As I was mowing, I got to thinking, maybe that could be my job, killing three birds with one stone. A job, exercise and yard work. My brain was drawing up a business plan how to get lawn mowing clients as if I were a teenage kid, not a 50 year old empty nest mom. Scratch that moment of entrepreneurial spirit, especially when I nearly collapsed after I was done with the lawn.

Nobody can accuse me of wasting my free time, but I am completely inundated by a monster of my own doing. Years of a hectic schedule, juggling multiple commitments for a houseful of people has me thinking that is the best way to feel busy.

Instead, I feel overwhelmed and less productive. A 2014 study by the University of Sussex indicates a link between multitasking and lower grey matter density in the brain.

What I have realized is that I don't have to cram in everything I still want to do. I can do every single one of those items on my list, but not simultaneously.

I need to pace myself and focus on one mission at a time. Quality, not quantity is what will help me fill my time and feel purposeful. Reminding myself that every runner knows the best way to finish the race it to pace yourself instead of sprinting full speed ahead.


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