Archives for posts with tag: empty nest

little w

The other night after a phone conversation with W, I found myself thinking something I hadn’t thought for a while: “I have to write this in the jungle book.”

“The jungle book” is what I call a clothbound journal I got when I was pregnant with W. It has a brilliant leaf-and-bird print cover. In that journal I have written 20 years worth of memories, thoughts, and stories for W. Most of the entries describe tiny pieces of his life: words he learned, silly things he said, places we went and things we did together, his likes and dislikes and tooth configurations at different ages. That book of memories is one of my most vaued possessions. I hadn’t added any new entries since W’s high school graduation.

The other night I took it out and wrote:

You went back to ___ early for January term. You got there a couple of weeks ago and promptly got sick. Got over the fever/chills/dizziness quickly but, as you told me when you called, “As usual, my cough hung on. So I stole a couch.” You said this as if it were the most logical thing in the world. Actually you had dragged it into your room from a dorm common area – because there were so few people back on campus – so that you could sleep sitting up.

So today you called again, said that you were enjoying having the couch in your room, and that you had just gone through “a quite hermitish spell” which you had decided to break by calling me after “spider-crawling over to the window to see how many suns and moons had passed.”

W has recovered from his illness and returned the couch now, but I am still enjoying the jungle book. Excerpts:

Age 3 1/2, as I dried W off after his bath:

W: It’s not YOUR time, it’s MY time! Is not! Is too! Is not! Is too!

Me: Honey, what are you talking about?

W: My feet are arguing [about which should be dried first].

Age 4 1/2:

W: What are you thinking about, Mommy?

Me: I don’t want to tell you, honey.

W: Why?

Me: They’re private thoughts.

W (nodding wisely): Oh. I know. You’re thinking ’bout your penis.

Just before W’s 5th birthday:

You screen my calls for me. Once I heard your side of a conversation: “Are you a salesperson? [pause] Well, are you KIND of a salesperson? Then my mommy doesn’t want to talk to you – but you can talk nice to me because I’m a little kid… Hello? Hello?”

Just after W’s 5th birthday, when my sister visited with her daughters, W’s younger cousins:

You were playing Candyland with [cousin] and Grandma, and you were not winning. Stricken, you wandered out of the room wailing, “Is this how my life is going to be? Will I never smile again?”

Age 5 1/2:

Today you listened to an Alanis Morissette song on the radio and you said, “She sings with might and courage.”

Age 6:

I taught 3rd & 4th grade [Sunday school] last semester, and you and I always talked about our respective classes as we drove home from church. One day I told you my class had talked about Buddhism and the importance of living in the moment and not losing the present to worry about the future. Later (another day, I think) we were listening to your N Sync CD and a song called “Space Cowboy” came on, with the words “We don’t need all these prophecies / tellin’ us what’s a sign / ’cause paranoia ain’t the way to live your life from day to day / So leave your doubt and your fears behind…”  After listening carefully, out of the blue you said, “I think N Sync are Buddhists.”

Age 9 1/2:

Said by a giggling W after I “nagged” him to clean up a mess he had made: “You’re a meany – a big meany! You’re so full of meanness you’re – no offense – BULGING!”

Age 10:

Bellowed by you a couple of months ago as you charged backwards across the room at me: “Buttocks … of unspeakable EEEEVil!”

Every time I read from this book I see that little boy again, shaggy hair in his big brown eyes, huge grin, ready to take on the world. Writing a new silly story in the jungle book this week allowed me to see that that wacky child is not gone. He’s still in there and still delightful.   ❤

 

 

 

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A week ago today, my young cousin died. I went “home” to be with family… my aunt and uncle and 3 generations of their offspring. The visitation was packed; there had to be thousands of people in the hours my cousins stood greeting those who came to pay their respects. Hour after hour they stood, hugging, shaking hands, smiling, making conversation, holding themselves like sturdy pottery – solid but, I knew, still breakable. That day and the next, at the funeral, I saw an amazing thing I can only describe as a ballet of love and support. Seamlessly my cousins and their spouses and children did everything that needed to be done and said everything that needed to be said, while looking out for each other and for their parents. When one person would be momentarily overcome with emotion, another would fill in and offer a sheltering arm until that cousin would recover and be ready to do the same for the next one needing help.

The funeral was held in the church of my childhood, a soaring space of light and marble and stained glass and music. The minister spoke directly to the young man who had died, asking him to share his new-found peace with his loved ones left behind. My cousins led the songs, read the readings, acted as pallbearers, and above all supported each other. They enfolded me into their midst as though I had not been away for years. Somehow in their pain they found time to welcome me. I listened to the hymns, singing the ones I knew, and one line stood out to me: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.”

There is more than one way to lose family. Until this week I felt I had lost much of mine. Death and distance, differences separating us like wide rough rivers, lack of patience and lack of time together… People who had once been everything to me had begun to seem like odd and unkind strangers.

When my little sis and I were young, family visits were the best things in life. Knowing that someone was coming to stay meant delightful anticipation and delicious foods, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee in the morning, the sounds of laughter and voices drifting upstairs, comforting and exciting at the same time. We never wanted to miss a minute of the fun, no matter who was visiting. Once I slept on the dining room floor, sick with bronchitis but unwilling to lose any time with the family. Another time, my sister and I rode our bikes to the end of the street to watch for our older sister’s family car which was bearing her and her husband and our nieces and nephews to us. When finally it came into sight, little sis and I raced our bikes back to our house at the dead end, unbearably eager to tell our parents, “They’re here! They’re here!” But little sis skidded out on the grass and fell, landing on the handlebar of her bike, so that big sis and family drove up just in time to see little sis vomit into the grass. Our brother-in-law tried not to alarm us but he was clearly concerned at the large amount of red liquid issuing from little sister’s mouth; he didn’t know she had just had a big glass of wildberry juice.

Big sis and her family and I are estranged. I don’t know what to do about that; I don’t know what I want to do about it, or if I want to do anything about it. Even before we were estranged, my branch of the family didn’t have that skill of our cousins – that ability to be both strong and vulnerable and to be okay with being both. We seemed to divide up those qualities among us as if we were each limited to one and had to choose. Some of us chose to be strong all the time, which was of course ridiculous and impossible, because we’re all really just pottery, breakable no matter how much we pretend to be stone. Others of us chose to be permanently vulnerable – always wanting comfort but not offering it to others. My siblings and I never perfected that ballet of strength and support… I don’t remember us ever even all trying.  But that dance is a beautiful thing and the people who can do it – my cousins included – are beautiful and amazing people, not because they are always strong but because they trust that they don’t always have to be. Sometimes they lose each other to death, but the rest of the time they hold on, determined to keep each other from falling and breaking.

❤ ❤ ❤

SeussianHair     I get to see my sweetie soon! He has just finished his freshman year and is probably in the passenger seat of a pickup truck bound for his dad’s house right now, trailing the stuffings of his dorm room behind him.

By all accounts he has had a wonderful year at THE perfect college for him. His professors have made him work and laugh and fume and think, his work/study job has taught him tele-marketable skills, and he has made friends he will keep for life. After visiting him on campus one weekend, my 17-year old niece reported that W knows everyone and that he occasionally, upon seeing someone on campus before they see him, will hide behind a tree or building, call them on their cell phones, and say in his special-creepy demon voice, “I see you…”   They respond by laughing and saying, “Oh, W…!” as if it is an everyday occurrence to receive a telephone call from an unseen creepy-stalker demon.

Some branches of my family would not find this funny or amusing at all; to them demons are very real, extremely malevolent, and omnipresent. There is no joking about demons in a world over-populated by demons.  Once, at a reunion of sorts, I learned that I had been eating eggs seasoned with exorcised salt every morning for breakfast, on account of the cook’s strong belief that demons had been singling out her family for special horrid treatment.  Upon hearing this I was speechless. I wasn’t sure whether I was being given the salt out of love and a desire to protect  or whether I myself was suspected of harboring demons.  It was probably a bit of both (I just want to go on the record here and say that I did not hiss, yowl, melt, curse, or have any head-spinning pea soupy reaction at all to said exorcised salt. In fact, I found the eggs yummy.).

That’s not to say I don’t have any demons, and this first year of W’s college adventure has certainly resurrected them for me. Sometimes I hear someone else’s voice echoing around in my head and it ain’t pretty. It is a voice from my past that has, at different times of my life, taken up residence with no invitation and no welcome, completely comfortable in its entitlement to my skull and private thoughts. This voice likes to bludgeon me into submission, drain every drop of blood and every ounce of good feeling from my heart and my veins.  An internal Dementor, I guess. It lives to make sure I know just how awful I am – worse than worthless, really, because at least worthless does no harm. What I am is vile, poisonous, contemptible, utterly unloveable and grotesquely flawed in every measurable way, a walking burden on the earth and all its occupants. I’m not sure why the voice has been around more than usual this year, but I suspect it moved in to take up the space that used to be filled by my daily interactions with W. It’s not an actual voice from my actual past  but it contains all my child-time interpretations of people’s reactions to me, and all the feelings that came from those – the observations that I used to build my sense of myself.

As you can imagine, I don’t LIKE my new roommate. In fact, I am mostly sick to death of her and desperate to evict her – as forcefully as possible – forever. Don’t know if that’s possible, but I have developed a way to keep Demonella at bay.  It involves inviting even more characters to take up residence in my head. I invented these others and I call them the protector women. They are a little younger and harder than I but fiercely loyal. They are armed with bats and are very skilled at wielding them. They lounge around being funny and sardonic until Demonella pokes her head around the door frame to say something snide; then the protector women turn to me, eyebrows raised, and ask hopefully, “You want we should shut her up?”  The protector women have a kind of working class New York accent; I don’t know where they get that but I like it.

So, demons everywhere, some good, some bad, some being dealt with. It’s okay, because Sunday is Mother’s Day and I get to bring my boy home.

ChristmasLeaves“You shoulda named me Joyful Noise,”  said W a few days ago before he went back to campus. I couldn’t answer, laughing as I was at his singing, dancing, stomping, and clapping, or whatever it was he was doing that was so dang loud.

My semester ended a week before his. W’s dad B and I had worked out that B would get W to his house after W’s finals week  and would keep him there until Christmas day. Then I would bring W back home with me.

I had decided that I needed to see family, starting with sis P 1200 miles away. After my students turned in their final papers and exams, I hit the road, driving 4-500 miles per day, stopping in a hotel and grading for several hours, then sleeping before getting up and repeating the process.  I coasted in to P’s driveway on a cloud of frigid snowflakes on the 3rd day.

Her youngest daughter, a true sweet earth child, was out by the road celebrating the snow when I got there. The house was lit up, pointy windows glowing. The building was old and had been a church, a bordello, a different church, and then a family home for 30 years before sis and her husband bought it. It perches at the feet of mountains and gets semi-regular visits from bears seeking P’s wild-growing concord grapes  and from cougars seeking the family’s smaller pets.

The three girls had grown so much since 2005! The oldest is now a little taller than me, confident, funny, capable and beautiful. Middle niece is quieter with a simple ballet dancer elegance and a wicked dry sense of humor. Youngest niece is always moving, always sharing, and always smiling. Sis P’s house is comfy and welcoming like a favorite pair of shoes. Sliding in on a cold snowy night it seemed the perfect place to go for holiday warmth. P and her husband are the ideal hosts for me, making me feel welcome and comfortable and not like a visitor at all.

We had four lovely days together filled with fun excursions, good food, and a lot of laughter. We celebrated Christmas together before the real day and it was lovely. Then I headed east and, after driving all day, arrived at big sis (P2)’s house. She hadn’t known I was coming and held me so tight we both just stood and cried for a few minutes, swaying and hugging. Big sis had had a really tough year and her youngest child was to marry in a few days. I met her fiance for the first time. Turns out he had been offered a job up near W’s college and they would be moving up there in mid-January. Big sis and I sat and talked for hours in her big pretty old farm house around which a city had grown, and two of her other children came over to join us, bringing spouses and beautiful sweet children I hadn’t yet met. That too was lovely and warm and perfect for Christmas.

The next day (Christmas Eve) I drove to the house of my brother and sis-in-law  who live only a few miles from W’s dad. They welcomed me into yet another warm fragrant house and we too talked for hours, exchanging funny stories and catching up on each other’s lives. We had a very laid back Christmas morning. It was quieter than most of ours because their son and his wife and their new baby had gone to visit the baby’s other grandparents. The weather report promised a snow storm. I called W’s dad (who has a second job clearing parking lots of snow) and arranged to get W a few hours earlier than planned so that we could head home well ahead of the storm.

Even before I had W snugly beside me in the warm car driving the few hundred miles home, this felt like the best Christmas in a long time. I hadn’t cleaned the house before leaving and hadn’t set up any holiday decorations. Didn’t have a single gift for him except one Terry’s milk chocolate orange I had happened to see in the grocery. Instead of setting a day to celebrate Christmas with wrapped presents and favorite family foods, we went out to eat and had an after-Christmas shopping trip.

W had a nice long break – just went back yesterday – and we spent it going all our favorite places, doing our favorite things, seeing our favorite people, and talking about all our separate adventures. He snuggled and sweet-talked his furry sisters, hugged me a lot, and told great stories. He shared his thoughts on his classes and his work/study job and the books that he’s reading. We rented movies and caught up on our favorite tv shows. There was a lot of Joyful Noise.  It was wonderful.

I have been worrying (not a lot but some) that W will be bored out of his skull when he comes home for winter break. He will be trading days full of interesting classes with heavy workloads, several-hour shifts at his job in the school’s Annual Fund office, evenings and weekends with a wacky and varied group of friends, and his new addiction to foosball    for a quiet sunny house, his mother, and two adoring cats.

Yesterday we were email chatting and he confessed to feeling ‘world weary.’   He was tired and overloaded, his cough was back, and he had called in sick to work and to the teacher of his one Thursday class. I wrote, “If you were home I would make you a nest on the couch and bring you blankets, hot soup, and kitties.”

He replied, “I know you would. I am jealous of my old life.  I was a lucky bastard.”

I knew it was a comment born of his tiredness and his need of pampering. I knew it didn’t reflect any real desire to be anywhere else pursuing any other path than the one he has chosen. I felt sad that he was unwell and exhausted …. and I felt good that, however fleetingly, he was thinking of his ealier life with me as ‘the good old days.’

Earlier this week in an email conversation with D, a friend from my youth  who is recovering from a heart attack, he was telling me of the difficulty of adjusting his life, his diet, his very personality to a new way of being. He lamented this ‘rusting’ of our bodies that brings unwelcome new rules and limitations as we age.

The old days seem so effortless, looking back from this distance. In our teenage years, D and I and a big bunch of friends used to gather in the parking lot of our employer after closing the place for the night. We brought Frisbees, blasted music from our car stereos, and tried to see who could throw the farthest, who could most spectacularly chase down a far-flung disc, and who could do the fanciest most complex catch of a close throw. We ran at full speed, never thinking of injury.  We leapt and twisted and stretched and threw, and our bodies uncomplainingly did whatever we asked and didn’t punish us later. Those were definitely good old days. Of course for me and my friends, they were also sometimes the bad old days. Parents fought and sometimes divorced, heartbreak lurked around every corner, and teen angst became intense self-loathing. Some of us self-medicated to dangerous degrees. A few didn’t survive to adulthood.

This morning I read the blog of another friend. In it he expressed a hope/wish/prayer that next election season would be kinder, less full of rancor and the snarky words of people believing they know more than others. I agree with him wholeheartedly … and yet I am one of the people he was talking about.  I DO often believe that I know more than people who express opinions which differ significantly from mine. I responded to my friend’s blog with a musing question: Was life better before I became interested in politics? A lot of relationships were easier for me then, but were those better days?  And was I doing my share of citizenship work, back when I didn’t know anything about the issues?

I don’t know the answers to those questions and I don’t know if I ever will or if that matters. I don’t know if the politics-less years were better than these more recent political ones for me. Life is different now. Things have changed. I have changed. My friend D and his world have changed; now his wife and daughter watch him anxiously to assure themselves that he is really okay. W’s world has changed; he has many more obligations and opportunities and choices and people clamoring for his attention. My world has changed; ‘home’ has become quieter and cooler and rattlier and the rest of life looms outside, pressing in more obviously and insistently than before. Old things rust and we have to decide whether to try to sand and oil them in an attempt to make them new again, to replace them with new things, or just to let them go.

Today I’m thinking that to ask which times were better or worse  is to miss the point. There are good things and bad things at every step in our lives. Some of the bad things we have to deal with; to try to ignore them would be irresponsible or foolhardy. My new goal will have to be to not lose sight of good things past and present. I know good people, I have a warm house equipped with 2 furry critters who love to crawl onto my lap and nap, purring. I have a job I love and a son whose company I cherish. I have books and music and interesting things to do.  I too am a lucky bastard. Always have been, probably always will be. No matter what happens.

Did you ever find  after a tense or scary event  that you had been clenching your hands into tight little fist balls?  And then when you tried to unclench it really hurt?

I think I need to unclench  and it ain’t gonna be pretty.  This past week I realized just how constricted my life has become … how small my world is. It first struck me as I was talking to someone about finally getting my passport renewed. It struck harder later, as I was explaining to someone else that my unwillingness to fly is no longer all about fear of flight, it’s also about fear of FWF – flying while fat. In my mind I see myself going to the airport, already scared about leaving terra firma and desperately needing some kind of medication to quiet THAT, and then having the airline clerk(s) treat me as less than a full person, and yet somehow more than a full person, necessitating the purchase of a second ticket for the other half of my fat self. That would be humiliating and awful enough. Even worse, the scene always ends with me being dragged away screaming and cursing by TSA officials  to spend the rest of my life in a dank anonymous cell somewhere, never able to use my new passport which wouldn’t be possible anyway on account of me being on a universal no-fly list.

Sorry. Got carried away with my neuroses. Perhaps I also need medication when NOT trying to fly.

If anyone had asked me when W was a tiny ball of a baby  if I had a bucket list of things I really wanted to do with him before he grew up, one item I would have listed is ‘Explore Europe with him,’ showing him all the places he has read about in the history books he so loves.  He’s gone now and we’ve never done that. His first view of the Eiffel Tower and the Waterloo battlefield and the Acropolis will probably be with someone else.  We’ve never flown anywhere together.

We HAVE driven all over much of the US from Utah to South Carolina and Boston to Florida. Also to Canada twice. When childless I drove everywhere by myself without a worry. Then I was blessed with my little bundle of boy and from that point on  my major goal was to keep him alive and safe and screw him up as little as possible. Suddenly driving seemed much more dangerous, as the possibility of wrecks and car-malfunction strandings loomed menacingly over us. I drove anyway but the carefree fun was gone. Still, I’d buckle my little guy into his child safety seat in the center of the backseat and surround him with all the necessities (snacks, drinks, book bag, toy bag, blankie, pillow, sweatshirt, kiddie road maps, kiddie shades), turn on music or recorded stories, and off we’d go. W told me years later that he sometimes cracked open the back window just enough to toss out one of his tiny plastic toy soldiers without me noticing. Their mission was to scout and report back to him.

Those trips were pretty wonderful: a dinosaur tour through Utah and Colorado with my sis and her daughters, a drive to marshy Point Pelee (on Lake Erie in Ontario) with my mom, and conference trips to St. Louis, San Antonio, Boston, Chicago and Montreal. In the cities we would use our hotel as the starting point and each evening choose a different direction to walk, exploring and eventually having dinner before heading back to our room.

W is a wonderful travel companion. He’s a good navigator, funny,  helpful, interested in exploring, and not picky about food. He loves meeting people and talking to them and he likes learning new things and discussing it all later. I’m a little jealous of his future travel companions as they are in for a treat. He has unfolded beautifully over his 18 years, unfurling from a little ball of life wrapped tightly in a favorite blankie to a young man whose height stretches beyond mine and whose horizons are limitless. His world is opening wide and, unlike his mama, he seems not to find that painful at all.

I think I’ve let myself get old and my world get small  way too soon. Have passport, will unclench. Don’t mind the noise, please; that will just be me shrieking in (temporary) pain.  It’ll be better when I get to Europe…. and certainly quieter for you.

  I detest roller coasters. The first (and only) time I went on a big one I was 14 or 15 and felt certain I was going to die. We inched clacking up the first big hill, came over the top and there was nothing below. As my car dropped over the edge into the abyss I opened my mouth to scream, not in pleasure or enjoyment but in terror, and maybe to make some noise that would mark the end of my life in this world (I wasn’t particularly concerned about what would happen when I/we hit the ground at a million miles per hour because I knew my heart would stop long before that point.).  No scream would come out; instead I rode, whipping around sharp curves, up and down violent hills, open mouth issuing staccato  “Ah!  Ah!  Ah!” sounds, harsh, forced, and totally unsatisfactory for proclaiming ‘I was here, however briefly!’

I have a similar dislike for emotional roller coasters, so the past few weeks have not been particularly enjoyable here. I did get a paper written and submitted for consideration by a journal, which is important and kept me busy and involved for quite a while – a good thing when trying to avoid drops into nothingness. Now, however, there is nothing of substance between me and the hill drop. I’m thinking desperately, trying to conjure something to get me through the weekend. Maybe a long walk in the mountains? A drive to the shore? Window-shopping somewhere fun?

W has brilliantly weathered several important firsts at his end: his first illness, his first close-up view of alcohol poisoning, his first birthday away from home. A week or two ago he came down with a bad cold. His voice dropped an octave, he couldn’t stop coughing, he was dizzy, and he sounded as if someone had held him down and stuffed his nose full of wet wipes. As I sat helpless at home, fruitlessly searching the web for health food stores and/or restaurants that would deliver hot chicken soup and cold remedies, his friends rallied ’round, providing him with EmergenC and ginger crystals for hot tea, checking on him when they hadn’t seen him out in a while, and making sure he had what he needed. He got himself to the student health center for cough medicine, slept and ate well, and … got better. Without me.

One night he sensed something amiss on his floor…. some commotion in the dorm bathroom across from his room. He checked to see if he could help. A young man had alcohol poisoning. The students summoned the RAs, the RAs summoned medics and the boy was taken to the hospital. He’s fine now, W reports, and actually thanked W for spending a couple of hours comforting his friend who had felt terribly guilty for encouraging him to drink. I think the whole experience was eye-opening for W, as much of college has been.  And he weathered that just fine without me.

His birthday – his 18th! – arrived and I had again been online for hours, searching for places that would allow me to pay for dinner for W and his friends by either buying a gift certificate for him over the phone or giving them my credit card number. Turns out he and his friends had already made plans. I told W if he bought them dinner, I’d send him a check to cover it all. They went to a local Thai place, had a great time, and W really enjoyed his birthday ….  say it with me, now  … without me.

All these firsts, and he’s managing wonderfully. He’s doing exactly what I had hoped he would be able to do out on his own: building relationships, making his own decisions, taking good care of himself and others, and enjoying life. All the things I wanted for him!  I feel proud and comfortable in his abililties and very happy for him.

At the same time I feel lonely on days when I don’t have a plan or a distraction. I’m an introvert – don’t care to mingle or chat or go out much unless it’s with someone I already know and enjoy. W is doing much better than I am in that regard; he does what he is supposed to be doing, and does it well.  Now it’s my turn to show some awareness of what *I’M* supposed to be doing.  I need a plan.

After the big roller coaster near death experience, my friends who had enjoyed it immensely  teased and teased me. They badgered me to go on it with them again but I wouldn’t. I DID go on the great splattery log flume ride, repeatedly, and enjoyed that a lot, and I eventually discovered that I could go over into the kiddie ride area and enjoy the Scooby-Doo (the coaster for little kids). That was the perfect amount of thrill for me. My friends laughed at me and I laughed at myself too. But I did NOT go back on that monstrous clacking ride from hell. I knew what I needed, and that was not it.

Now I just need to figure out how to handle this different type of coaster.