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.

September 7, 2016

You Can't Go Back: Week Three

When my children were in school, my nights and weekends were spent at cross country meets, band and choir performances, speech tournaments, and theater rehearsals. My free time was defined by how I could support the activities that my children were doing. I would step up anytime I was asked and felt it was my duty because as a stay-at-home mom, I realized how much more flexible my calendar was.

In addition to helping my children, these same activities became my social life and entertainment. I knew I'd see the same folks and we'd have the same stories to share. What I didn't realize was how much of my own identity was lost in the process. I was "so and so's Mom", and my clothing choices indicated as much, with my different booster shirts emblazoned with "MOM" on it. Many of us veteran moms still have to introduce ourselves by whose parent we are.

As they move onto new horizons, their identity is no longer tied to mine, at least in reference to my socializing. I helped out a friend of mine who still has children in school chaperone a recent band event. She was short a parent and offered to help out.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening, but found myself explaining to several puzzled people why I was there and that I didn't have anyone performing. I wasn't there with my ever-present camera or watching for anyone specific in the show. I just was enjoying the music. It was quite a different dynamic.

Later that week, out of habit, I picked up the local weekly newspaper and realized I didn't have to scan it for school lunch menus or school start times. I wasn't looking for any articles to save for the time capsule of my child's high school years.  I just read it for local news happenings and learned about other community events.

What I realized this third week is that even when I am doing the same things, there is a different lens for how I see it and what my involvement will be. It's a nice place to visit, but it's not somewhere to stay forever.

Think ahead and start to cultivate your own interests with a different group of friends. Find something that defines you independently. If you cannot find a group to join, start one. You'll be surprised how many other women you can find that share your passion and you'll feel much less rudderless.

book clubI started a book club in January this year, by soliciting friends on Facebook for interest. We rotate from house to house each month, taking turns selecting the book and making refreshments.

We're all in different stages of our lives, some of us have children, some of us do not. Some are working, some are retired, some are married, some are single. I've expanded my social circle one book and one strong woman at a time. The friendships are built around mutual respect for each other, not how involved we are able to be with our kid's lives.

I'm reminded that we have many titles and mom is only one of them. Go forward and thrive, because as the saying goes, you can't go back.


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