August 29, 2016

Redefining priorities: Week Two

Winter Warlock's first steps
I feel much like the Winter Warlock from the
1970 Rankin-Bass Christmas movie,
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.
It is now a full week of an empty nest under my belt. After a day or two of over-the-top pity partying (yes, I confess, I really overdid it), I took a deep breath and started moving forward.

A strategic plan was needed. When I last blogged, I recounted many of my past accomplishments and activities. Things that somehow were shelved for the past 20+ years. I revisited those dreams and thought about whether those were still goals I had.

It turns out, while I still have the same values that motivate my choices, I really don't care to go to Washington DC and lobby our government about anything. My youthful idealism has been replaced with healthy skepticism. I feel like a lot of my ability to affect change will be better realized locally, not nationally.

It's also important to say that many of the issues that sparked my interest when I was in my 20s are much different now that I'm in my very early 50s. I care deeply about education and children. Much more so than the 20-something who still took much of my upbringing and zest for learning for granted.

tree brancesThis has me narrowing my priorities moving forward. Though this is specific to my own experience, I think the bigger takeaway is that the first step is to remember what you always enjoyed and the next step is to determine if that is still something you would enjoy.

It's okay to realize that your goals change with time. It's easy to think like Terry Malloy from 1954s On the Waterfront, and think "I coulda been a contender" , but it's not healthy to think about things you cannot change.

I could have been a lot of things, but I chose to be a parent. I've got a lot of time left to figure out all the other things I still can be.

The spark of inspiration is that the nest isn't so much empty as the tree has many branches.

August 25, 2016

Now is Your Time: Week One continued

"This is your time," they said, "now you can finally do all the things you wanted to do!"

What those platitudes never took into account is that I did want to do what I was doing. I was raising two incredible children. I loved every single minute of watching them grow and become young adults. I love seeing their faces and bodies change, I love hearing their newly formed opinions and thoughts on the world, I love meeting the people they surround themselves with and I bask in their accomplishments with pride. I had a front row seat to their transition through every phase of life and it was fascinating. I cannot imagine anything else I would have wanted to do.

Additionally, after years of putting the needs of other's first, I am not even positive what my own needs are. I'm no martyr, but I'd become a bit of an accessory to my kids' lives. Think about it. I was a band mom, a drama mama, a choir chaperone. I have a well worn shirt that says CollegeU Mom, and a corresponding mug from my second child's college.

baby feet

Our generation of children may have had the most over-educated moms in the history of parenting. By over-educated, I mean in the art of parenting. We devoured books like they were pickles and late night ice cream runs. I can say the word Ferber and I am certain everyone of my peers remembers that technique. I can say What to Expect when You're Expecting and expect a bevy of dog-eared books and several people who also bought the accompanying sequels for the first year and subsequent toddler years. We all had an opinion about James Dobson's Focus on the Family books, and probably giggled a time or two, but owned a copy of Everybody Poops to help our little ones learn to use a toilet. If not a book, a VHS tape with the potty song.

If there was a PhD in parenting, we'd all qualify for it. Not so much with our parents and theirs before them. We were parented by instinct and discipline. Our mothers began to enter the workforce in record numbers, to the point that it was never a question of whether or not I would have a career, but rather what it would be and for how long. Then the question of whether to stay home when we had children.

With each choice, we became more determined to justify it with reams of studies and education. We educated ourselves as perhaps a way to defend our decision to "go backwards". I know that my personal sparks of feminism were really challenged when I went the traditional route. I felt like I had proven my elders right and only went to college to get my M.R.S. degree and have babies. Rather than diminish the education I wanted so badly, I wanted to prove that parenting could be an academic pursuit as well.

Now 21 years into a career which I prepared myself relentlessly for, that job has been outsourced to my children themselves. The things I wanted to do before I became a mother loom as an utterly unachievable pursuit. There was a time I wanted to become a lobbyist and use my communication and political science degree to work in Washington D.C. I wanted to make the world a better place for all people.

I am the same woman who marched on a picket line when I was eight months pregnant, carrying a sign that said, 26,000 AND ONE reasons to shop union. I am the same person who won a class action suit for our employees and who worked for pay raises as well as benefits during the contract negotiations. I am the same person who chased shoplifters out of our store. I have gotten countless volunteer awards in community organizations. I need to remind myself of all the things I know how to do that didn't require me to give birth to two children 21 and 18 years ago.

Now is the time to revisit that line of thinking and start to ask, "Why not?"

*this is an opinion piece, not intended to speak for all women, but rather to reflect on my own experience* 

August 23, 2016

The Nest has Emptied: Week One

The Empty Nest

After nearly 21 years of stay at home parenting, the second child has gone to college. When we said goodbye to her in Chicago, the excitement and pride was so strong that there was no time to be maudlin. But now it's not just the quiet, it's the anticipation of unending quiet.

It's the understanding that there will be no more back to school photos. And that all the things that kept my days and nights busy will still go on, but not with my participation or my child's. I thought I was ready for this. I knew it was coming and I had several plans in motion to manage the quiet. Though I've never cared to be asked if I was going back to work (mostly because I don't feel like I ever was not working), I planned to begin working full time again.

An opportunity had come to me a year ago and I tried to juggle work and the last year of active parenting, but ultimately wound up resigning for several reasons, though one of the unspoken ones was that I just couldn't miss any more of those last moments. The luxury of staying home with my children was something I never took for granted and I enjoyed every day of it. Well, almost every day. There were times in any parent's job that could be trying, but I was lucky that my children never gave me grief or worries. Being their mom is the best thing I could have ever done with my past 21 years.

Now, while I'm not fired, my worst fear seems realized. I don't feel needed. I know my kids will always need their mom, but not in a necessarily useful, ongoing, daily way. I talked to a friend of mine last night who doesn't have children and she helped remind me that people get married to have a life partner and that I still have that, even if we are no longer raising children. It made sense and has lifted some of my overly indulgent feelings.

I am very proud of the young adults we raised. I don't want them to need me for their every move, but I just don't know what *I* am supposed to do. Those instructions didn't come with the What to Expect When You're Expecting book. Which I devoured and could have memorized, but honestly, I've about forgotten what it felt like to have a swollen tummy because a baby was inside, not because I gained weight in my 40s. In the absence of that, I suppose I'm substituting my swollen eyes or something equally silly.

We chatted with my daughter the other night and she mentioned her leaky window (which I noticed the first day). I asked if she had talked to maintenance about it and she said, yeah, but they won't do anything. I started to talk about sending caulk, or weather stripping, a million and one solutions, but the fact was, I was creating a problem to solve mostly so I could feel like I had something to do. I realized the absurdity of it when my daughter kept insisting, "Mom, it's OKAY", not to worry about it, etc. I think it was more my way of finding something useful to do.

Yesterday, I started to take photos and post things for sale online. That should keep me busy for a while. It will pay for some textbooks and it will help keep those long forgotten items moving along and finding a new well-loved home. The trumpet is gone, the hand-painted play table & chairs is on its way. Those items will bring joy to new families.

I don't recall the last generation making such a big deal out of the "empty nest". My parents took me to college and were happy I was somewhere I loved. I certainly don't recall any grief, but maybe that was also an era where we weren't encouraged to spill and talk about our every last thought and emotion. Feels rather self-absorbed the more I go on.

I'm writing this because that's how I process my world. That's how I communicate best. I'm an outgoing person, but I still feel like I organize my thoughts better in writing than speaking. I also figure if I put this out there, I will find some kindred souls who understand or can also tell me how silly I'm being. I do feel silly, to be honest. I know that I did my job and now am seeing the rewards of that job first hand. But for now, I'm going to mourn and beg indulgence as I work through all this.

I am going to post as I traverse these new waters, with the hope that in a few months I have a really solid guide to perhaps publish as a book. I am inspired by a friend of mine who turned her own journal into a book, Diary of a Future Ex-Wife: Yeah, I'm Pissed.


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