December 7, 2016

You ought to admire each other: Week 15

Now we're approaching winter break, I'll be bringing my younger daughter home for the rest of the month this Saturday. The older one will be home a week later and our nest will be full again. Additionally, we have family flying into town this year between Christmas and New Year's which means the house will be bustling with good will and cheer.

Something has happened in the past week that just really struck me, and it transcends the typical proud parent role that we cast ourselves into. Even when we don't always like each other, I've realized how deeply I admire my children and their peers. I admire the people they became.

There is so much negativity floating around about those spoiled millennials that I want to depart slightly from my personal empty nest journey and talk instead about the things I'm learning from this generation.

Gather at The Bean Chicago*First of all, our generation raised them. Yep, we're the ones who decided that they should all get trophies, we're the ones who let that attitude of everyone gets a prize sink in. But you know what? They see through it. They still know who is the best and they still have a work ethic. We didn't fool them with piles of cheap plastic awards and hollow accolades. We need to own our role in that impression. We left them a pile of trophies and overpriced tuition.

*Secondly, we may have stopped asking them to do chores or get part time jobs, but we started to expect them to be "well-rounded". We threw every possible activity to do in their direction, beginning with pre-school play groups and ending with things to put on your college application. Seriously? Our generation maybe did one activity, sports or music, or maybe something with our church group. But we didn't do all of it nor was it expected of us. The pressure we've placed on our next generation is astounding. And they have risen to the occasion. The book "Busier Than Ever!" is an excellent read why this isn't such a bad phenomenon.

*Third, they love their elders. They ask us for guidance and respect what we suggest. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the past presidential election, when their most popular candidate was
the "grandpa who gets them", an unlikely 74 year old man who paid attention to their concerns, Bernie Sanders. Now, this is not to suggest that we should adopt the political platform of Senator Sanders, at least not in its entirety. It does mean that if we take time to listen to their concerns, they will take time to heed our advice.

Enough of this "Them vs. Us". They are our children and we taught them everything they know. We have a duty and obligation as the people who pass the baton to them to pay attention instead of dismiss. We are required to care about what affects them. I admire them and I look forward to the day they have to take care of me, because I believe the future is in good hands. It's time for all of us to believe it.


November 29, 2016

You won't always like each other: Week 14

Just like that - the honeymoon is over. Well, not really, but it's time for a reality check. I spent months waiting to have the whole family under the roof and it was fantastic for at least 25 minutes. Then things got real.

Now, this is not to say I didn't love having my children nearby and didn't cherish every second. Rather, I'd like to say that going off to college doesn't make all those little personality nuances disappear or even fade. In fact, they seemed to come back stronger than ever. I'm still inclined to smother, one daughter is inclined to retreat to silence, the other inclined to know everything, and my long suffering spouse is inclined to immerse himself in busy-work to avoid the unending barrage of estrogen that suffocates him.

Suddenly, a swath of destruction and mess wove its way through the entire house. There were shoes where there had been none, jackets and sweaters strewn on chairs, empty glasses that never even got filled, a bathroom counter filled with toiletries. The invasion had begun.

The food got eaten, the dishes got dirty, and the house was in an unending state of disarray. And all that was good. The house bustled with energy.

Other aspects of the weekend? Not so much. For example, for several years now, I have not lived down the purchase of a brand of toilet paper on sale that wound up being scratchier than sandpaper, because I insisted we use it up. That was the break my daughter looked forward to going back to the dorm, because the toilet paper there was better. Apparently, my acumen for a bargain completely ruined what we had coined "the home field advantage". When I made sure I didn't purchase that toilet paper this time, jokes were made about who was the favorite child and that sort.
Scratchy or not, it got used.

Sometimes I just want to sue Norman Rockwell for false impersonation of the American Family Life. Because nothing in my mind matched the reality. We settled down for a friendly game of cards and a joke was cracked and within an instant one family member called another family member an a**hole. Yeah. Nothing Norman Rockwell about that. Although, in retrospect, at least it was a comfortable a**hole, due to the upgrade in the toilet paper that wiped it.

The weekend came and went without any notable event, food was eaten and enjoyed, laundry was washed and folded, friends and family came and went. Before we knew it, it was time to load the car back up for a trip that began at 7 AM and circled back until nearly 8 PM. Our chicks were back in their nests.

Now the mess is cleaned up and the house echoes somewhat forlornly with tidiness. No random dishes, no scattered shoes, no a**holes to be found.

For at least another two weeks.

Rewind - a weekend at home: Week 13

Here we are. Just before the Thanksgiving celebration, and I'm literally counting down the hours. I cannot wait for both my kids to come home, to be under my roof, to celebrate the holiday.

I think I was fair, I understand they want to see their friends, and honestly, social media makes it so easy to stay in touch, I am not desperate for face to face interaction.

Yet, knowing that at the end of those days they are here? They will be safely tucked under our roof? That I can peek at them sleeping, that I can delude myself into believing that the world will never hurt them. That I can protect them.

I'm all in.

It's a throwback. It's one I'm fairly certain we all are excited about. I know that when I was in college, going home always meant someone else took care of me. Interestingly, I've discovered that sometimes going home means you take care of someone, at least as you get older, but that's a different life phase, one not part of this series.

It's Thanksgiving. They are home, and I am thankful. (so are they).

(and I got so busy that I never published this post -- but I wrote it before the weekend).





November 21, 2016

Wow, I went all week without being sad! Week 12

This week's post is a bit of a reflection, because I got way behind and lost my goal of wringing out every ounce of emotion as I processed my empty nest.

While managing the empty nest is not always going to be linear, I realize that I finally am moving forward. I desperately scheduled dozens of things to artificially stay busy back in Week Four, and those things came to fruition lately. But they didn't feel contrived, they felt normal. They felt like an answer to "this is how I spend my time." 

In keeping with my goal of losing weight (who doesn't have that goal on a regular basis, just curious?), I have been avidly walking my dog. There is a bit of a second tier motivation as well. Our family dog is now almost 12. Last winter was rough for him & he was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy. Selfishly, I cannot bear to lose my canine friend at the same time I'm getting used to an empty nest. In order to keep him nimble and strong, I'm walking him like crazy.

Additionally, I took up a job as a mystery shopper. It's all self assigned, and it gives me a regular reason to get out of the house. I look at cars, dine at casual restaurants (and get to treat friends to lunch!), and visit retail establishments. It fills in the time when I'm not writing for a client or waiting to hear back from a freelance inquiry. Oh, I also get to write reports and share my opinion. Win/win.

Lastly, I was recruited to coach speech for a local high school (not one my children attended). I am able to spend time with teenagers a few hours a week and dispense all sorts of ideas and advice. My mom gene is fulfilled.

All these personal tasks I've taken on have filled my time perhaps to a fault. I have been busy! I like it. I'm not having meltdowns because I have nothing to do, and my time is spent purposefully. I'm helping my pet, general consumers, and other teenagers.

I'm happy. This is the point of this Week 12's belated post. Make life happen instead of waiting for it to happen to you. Enjoy what you can put on your plate instead of standing there waiting for a plate to fill itself.

My plate is full. And so is my heart.

Navigating those waters between adult and child: Week 11

This week, I learned how very difficult it is to redefine that new relationship between yourself and your child who is now an adult.

mom fixing thingsIt became patently clear one night when my child who lives pretty close to home (but still on campus) came home for a mental health break. The first day, I pretty much parented. I did laundry and made food. It was task oriented and fulfilling. Then the wheels came off. The following day was still stressful. Our child contacted us and said that she needed a day away from campus. She came home and tried to tell me about all the stress she is under as she tries to figure out what is the best move forward.

Now, recognizing that my (s)mothering hadn't magically fixed everything the day before, I went into hyper-adult mode, but still didn't leave the mother side behind. I figured that some brutal honesty, adult stories would be useful. They didn't particularly pertain to my daughter's dilemma and stress, but in my grasp to be helpful, I thought that some stories from my lifetime of experience would help her find some perspective. I couldn't have been more wrong. It was the last thing in the world she wanted to hear and she made sure I knew that. With silence.

I screwed up because sometimes there just isn't a magical mom answer. There isn't a way to fix things the way we kiss a boo boo or snuggle under a blanket. Life is hard and it won't get easier for our young birdies who are flying the nest.

And that's how it goes.  We are going to redefine our roles as each milestone happens. The fact is that my children are going to face things that I never faced, partially because they are different people, and partially because this is a different time. My advice and experience will only go so far, and what I've realized is that now, when they come to me for advice, I'm not nearly as qualified to give it as I was 10 years ago. Or even five.

Learning what our roles are as parents when are children are adults is no easier than trying to figure out how to transition from adult to parent. It's a life milestone that is only mastered with experience. I recently told a 13 year old girl I know to be kind to her parents, they've never had a teenage daughter before and everything is just as new to them as it is to her.

Now I need an adult to tell me the same thing. I never had an adult child before and I'm figuring it out as I go along. You will, too.
             

October 28, 2016

We're all adults here: Week Ten

Over the past several months, and even years, since our firstborn went to college, we have seen the gradual shift in our relationships. It took longer with the oldest, probably because we had never done it before, so it took us more time to concede that indeed she was an adult.
first adult home

Today, our visits and conversations are about adult issues. It really hit home when we found ourselves encouraging our younger daughter to go to a frat party. All the years we spent discouraging her participation in any party that would involve underage consumption of alcohol flipped. Having raised a responsible young woman, we knew that at least by attending a party, she would see what she was missing.

The next morning, she gleefully called us hangover-free to tell us how much fun she had playing beer-pong, but with water shots.

Their lives are moving at an adult speed. Our oldest is at an out of town conference and gleefully messaged us that she has an interview with a well-known company, She drove her own car there across another state. She has taken several long road trips, solo, back and forth to internships, grad expos, and now this conference. The younger one is enjoying living in a city, taking the train to different parts of town, all without having to check in with her parents or abide by a curfew. She is going to the store to pick up her favorite snacks all by herself and even considering staying on campus for summer classes.

Our conversations are now on equal footing. We still are helping out with the bills, but more often than not, they are managing their day to day finances, their schedules and their lives. Which means when we communicate, it reflects their complete independence. Not to say there aren't times they call and ask for advice or encouragement. And we've spent the World Series texting back and forth throughout the game. You know, like a couple of buddies would do. We spent many years reminding ourselves that "We are your parents, not your friends", and now we can finally say, "Hey, let's be friends, too!"

I reflected back on that critical shift with my own parents, when I became an adult in their eyes. For me, it was probably when I got my first apartment and was living off campus. Suddenly, I had a place I could entertain my folks. I could have them over for lunch or dinner. I still had a lot of growing up to do, but I knew that I was managing life on my own terms.

It's funny today, but because dreams are such a jumble of our subconscious, whenever I have a dream about an adult sort of decision, the location is still in my first apartment. I can still mentally walk through that space with photographic memory accuracy. As I remember the pride I felt the first time my parents treated me like an adult, I wish the same joy for my children.

Because now, they are adults. I really am glad they are also my friends. 

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.





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