Empty House, Full Mind

Views of life from the empty nest

Archive for the month “August, 2011”

THE RETURN OF THE EMPTY NEST

Tomorrow, my daughter Katie returns to Boston University to start her senior year.  The fact that she’s a senior in college is almost too much for me to believe.  Not that I ever had any doubt that she’d succeed in college – she’s the kind of person who sets her mind  on a goal and makes it happen.  And the amount of maturing and growing she’s done in the past 3 years has been right on course with what I hoped for her – she is really becoming a fully formed adult, which makes me happy and proud, but also, today, very nostalgic.  











My brother has seven year old twins, and he said something to me the other day about how hard it is for him to imagine them at Katie’s and Adam’s ages – 21 and 19.  I told him its almost as hard for me to believe that my kids were ever as young as his – that’s what time does to us.  I remember the sweetness of summer with them at that time of their lives – the days of going to camp, then coming home and jumping in the pool, the wide open feeling of July and August, when everything moved more slowly and I could just be with them, watch them, no lessons or school or homework, no baseball or softball practice – just the kids, here, with me.  This summer I had a chance to do that again, in a way.  Adam came home from Tucson and worked, but he was here most evenings for dinner, and we would sit around and talk, watch some tv, just be together, which was such a nice feeling – no worries about college for a brief time, just family and friends and grilled steaks.  Then for a few days they were both home – and that was really something.  They bickered like they were kids, we went out for a lovely dinner one night – but it was brief, and bittersweet, since they would both be leaving again soon.



Tomorrow, when Katie gets on the plane to go to Boston, we will once again be empty-nesters, starting the process of adjusting to the quiet of just two of us once more.  While I was grocery shopping yesterday I felt a longing for those summer days when they were little, when I was buying juice boxes and gummy fruits and grapes and pasta salad, knowing they’d come home hungry and thirsty.  I miss those days when they were still young enough to be thrilled with little things like a stop at Blockbuster for a new movie to watch, or a visit from their grandmother on a warm Saturday.  Now it seems to take so much to get them really excited, but who can blame them?  Their worlds have grown so much since those summer days, and that’s the way it should be.  But still, sitting together and watching “Jeopardy” can make all of us feel, for a little while, like we’re still that family – which we will always be, whenever we can.

WEIRD, BUT NICE

After reading my blog, a friend asked me “is the empty nest weird?”  And it struck me that weird is the perfect word to describe my life without my kids in the house.  Not bad, not lonely, not sad, not even empty…but definitely weird.  Its as big of a change in our lives as it was when our first child was born – nearly everything we had been doing was no longer relevant.  Our points of reference, our focus, it all shifted.  Although the parenting never ends – your kids never stop needing your guidance, even if they don’t know it all the time – the day-to-day-ness of it is over.  For me, as a stay at home mom, the change was as subtle as a ton of bricks falling on my head. BOOM your full-time job is DONE!!!


To start, its so incredibly clean.  I mean, other than a little dust here and there, there’s no more random stuff lying around – wet towels, empty water bottles, dirty dishes, just to name a few – these things have disappeared from my house.  Its orderly, organized, and neat, which makes me so happy, I can’t even tell you.  But its weird, because the detritus of my kids lives, though incredibly irritating, was somehow comforting to me – they were here, and this was proof of it.  Its as if, other than in their bedrooms, they never lived here at all.


Also, its so quiet.  No loud music, no blaring tvs.  I know this sounds obvious, but its really symbolic, too – when they come home for vacations, there’s a rise in the decibel level that is, in a way, shocking.  And this leads to another thing that I’ve come to realize – I’ve definitely gotten older.  Obvious, right?  But remember back to when you were young, and think about how there was always some noise in your world – I mean, who ever drove in their car without the radio on when we were young?  I savor the quiet, though I know others in my situation can’t stand this part – it feeds into my appreciation of solitude.  I don’t feel the need to fill the quiet with noise…at least not all the time.


There’s a lot less people around.  If my son Adam, the last to leave the nest,  had friends over, which he did A LOT, it wasn’t just one or two.  His group of 8 traveled in a pack, and if one was here, they all were.  I love Adam’s friends…they were a fixture in our lives all through high school, and I enjoyed nothing more than making a big pan of baked ziti for them and watching them demolish it.  If there’s anything I miss, its having all those boys come in and out of my house, ransacking my kitchen, sitting in our jacuzzi, and just laughing and yelling at each other.  Peter and I spent many a night sleeping with earplugs when they were here, and there were countless mornings when they were sleeping on every available bed and sofa.


I buy way less food.  Enough said.


The disconnect from the community is probably the weirdest thing of all.  After years of volunteering for every activity they participated in, it was a huge loss to suddenly not be part of the football boosters or the show choir parents group.  That was, for me,  the most rewarding part of being a parent – seeing my children working hard at something they loved, then watching them do it – Adam on the offensive line, Katie singing and dancing.  It was SO MUCH FUN.  I miss that a lot.  And the truth is, as soon as they graduate from high school, you’re completely finished with it all.  I have to say, though,  whenever we see parents out and about wearing “Los Al Softball” or “Los Al Football” t-shirts, we have to laugh…it was kind of ridiculous, how completely we were consumed by our children’s activities, but that’s just the way things are done around here.  Which leads me to the weirdest thing of all:

Happy 22nd Anniversary! 8/26/11



We have a lot of free time.  


Our weekends are wide open – free to do whatever we want to do with hours previously spent watching, coaching, driving, feeding, cheering and adoring our kids.  You’d think we’d be running here and there, doing all the things we never got to do – movie matinees, museum trips, walks on the beach – who knows.  But the truth is, most of the time,  we like being home, in the clean, quiet house, sometimes not talking for hours, but just knowing that its the two of us – and its really, really nice.  Weird, but nice.

THE GREAT INDOORS

No one who knows me would ever, by any stretch of the imagination, describe me as “outdoorsy.”  In fact, I am very much “indoorsy.”  From my love of reading to my amateur passion for interior design, my aversion to the sun and my great appreciation for air conditioning, its pretty clear that I belong inside most of the time.  I have tried over my lifetime to become more appreciative of nature, of hiking and water sports, but its been more or less a big fail every time.  As a child I went away to summer camp every year for eight weeks, and though I swam in the lake when I was supposed to, I was never, ever able to get up on waterskis.  My humiliation knew no bounds.


Once, Peter and I went on a walking trip through Napa Valley, which was a fantastic experience…except for the walking. The food was incredible, the hotels were luxurious, and of course the wine was, well, intoxicating.   I was terrified the day we were to hike 2 miles to the top of a mountain – not a terribly steep or difficult climb, but nevertheless I was overwhelmed with fear that I wouldn’t make it.  Of course I did make it, but to be honest, it didn’t really make me all that happy or proud – I was just relieved.  We sat at the top of the mountain and took in the views, which were pretty spectacular – and all I could think about was the chore of walking DOWN the mountain after lunch.  So, see, not so outdoorsy.

It’s kind of too bad that I live in Southern California. Though there’s a lot to love about it here, it is just about the most outdoorsy place there is – which for me, can be a challenge.  I love when it rains here – its a treat for me to have a day when staying in the house with a stack of magazines or going to a movie is perfectly acceptable.  I sometimes feel inadequate because of my lack of desire to get sand between my toes or walk the trails at one of our regional parks, but then I go in my backyard, sit under the umbrella, open a book, and read.  For me, that’s about as outdoorsy as it gets.

PAST AND PRESENT MEET FOR LUNCH

Me, 1981

 I recently had lunch with a boyfriend from college.  Another friend of ours was there too, which probably helped to make me feel a little less nervous before we met.  After all, I hadn’t seen or talked to him in nearly 30 years.  Of course, like most of the population, we had reconnected on facebook, but in person is a whole different experience.   Since we are both happily married, there was nothing the least bit inappropriate (though I can see how it could be for those who are unhappy…so sentimental!), and  it turned out to be a really lovely afternoon for us. We took turns sharing the paths our lives had taken, the way we’d gotten where we are – and I think each of us was happy to be able to report that we were, to be trite, in a good place.   The best part for me was knowing that I am still 19 in someone else’s memory – still the girl I often wish I could go back to and say “ENJOY being young and effortlessly attractive, don’t rush so fast into the future, and be grateful for the experience of being in college, and having your whole life ahead of you.”  Come to think of it, this is what I tell Katie all the time!  

San Diego State University

Before we met for lunch, I spent a lot of moments remembering that time in my life, a time I have lost track of as other, bigger moments have happened to me along the way.  Snippets of things came back to me, things I had forgotten about – but mostly what I remembered was the feeling of being at the edge of my seat a lot of the time, anticipating the next event – party, road trip, whatever – a feeling that is exclusively the territory of youth.  Though I did get a little sad, I also found myself feeling profoundly grateful for the stability and security that my life now gives me.  Yes, it was always pretty thrilling back then to meet a new boy and wonder what would happen next, but what I was always searching for is exactly what I have today – a husband I can count on all the time, no matter what, to be there for me, to whom I will be married 22 years this Friday.  So thank you, old boyfriend, for sharing an afternoon, reminiscing, and sending me home knowing that nothing could be better than what I have now. And I’m so glad you’re happy too. 

FINGERS AND TOES GO AHHH

I go for a mani/pedi every two weeks or so, which means my nails look good for a week then not so good for a week.  I’m not terribly vain, so it doesn’t bother me too much.   I actually love the smell of the nail salon – the mix of lotions, acetone, and polish, which mean relaxation to me.   The place I go to get my nails done is called Happy Nails – a great name for a nail shop – descriptive, accurate, and inviting.  I am fascinated by the nail salon culture, which is utterly female.  There are two groups in this girly place – the customers and the technicians.  I don’t do anything at all while I’m getting my nails done, except watch the people, which is one of my favorite things to do anyplace, anytime – if you’re a people watcher, you never get bored. There’s a wide variety of women that come in, from young moms with their little girls (do you want a flower with that?) to the elderly women who live nearby in Leisure World, accompanied by their caregivers.  Its inspiring to see these senior citizens, using walkers, canes, or holding on to their companions, making the effort to feel beautiful and cared for, just as its delightful to see the little girls getting purple toenails and pink fingernails, so excited yet sitting still, fingers spread apart, so as not to smudge the polish.  The techs are busy, filing and lathering and massaging gently, all the while chattering happily in Vietnamese amongst themselves as they work. I’m curious about the circuitous paths their lives have taken that led them to this little place in my neighborhood, but I don’t ask – I like the anonymity and quiet too much. 

ANGRY BIRDS AND LIFE LESSONS











When Peter bought his ipad, I bet he never thought that I would take it away and never give it back.  Actually, I never really thought I’d have much interest in it – after all, we have plenty of desktops and laptops to go around.  Unfortunately for him, among the other great uses I found for this amazing gadget was the insanely addictive game Angry Birds.  Katie introduced me to it, though I don’t think she knew what she was doing at the time…turning her mother into an obsessed pig killer, slinging those birds over and over into the sky.  I play a lot, mostly when I’m watching the news (it keeps me from focusing too much on what’s really going on in the world).  Though it may seem like a complete waste of time to many, I’ve found a kind of Zen space when I’m in the world of exploding flying objects. I do a lot of thinking while I play.  And in a way, I’ve learned a lot from this silly little game, about patience and taking my time.  Some of the levels are easy, and I’ve mastered them quickly, while some are nearly impossible, and have taken literally hours to complete.  Again, I know this sounds like a waste of time, but stay with me here.  In my real world – the world without the sound of birds going “ca ca ca ca” in my ears – I’m learning to wait and let things happen in a genuine and organic way.  No business explodes overnight, certainly not an organizing business, which can be a luxury for many small businesses, no matter how much they may need my help.  Children don’t become responsible young adults just because they leave home…they need to find their way on THEIR terms, and we need to give them the room to do so, painful as that may be.  People don’t always show up right when you need them – but if they love you, they come around sooner or later, and I am so thankful for that. And sooner or later, those Angry Birds will kill all the nasty little pigs, and on to the next level I’ll go.

BLAME IT ON THE DOLLHOUSE

colorized!










When I was 5 years old, my parents got me a doll house for Christmas (yes, we were a Jewish family that celebrated Christmas, but just for the gifts…a whole other blog topic).  I thought that doll house was the most magical thing I’d ever seen.  I spent hours in the pretend world of the perfect little family and their pretty little furniture.  The future was written on those teeny tiny walls – my goal in life was to have a family, a house, and the imaginary life I saw in those miniature rooms.  Though not everything in my life went smoothly (honestly, whose life does?), this dream did.  Peter and I created the doll house family that I had imagined when I was five – “a boy for you and a girl for me,” a la the song Tea for Two.  We bought the doll house – well, it needed a lot of work, but it was our doll house nonetheless. Here I was able to indulge my compulsion to organize, sorting itty bitty socks and color coordinating closets.  
FALL, 1993

JUST A THOUGHT

ADAM

KATIE

My first entry on my blog. If you’re wondering about the name of my blog, emptyhousefullmind, let me explain. After 20 years of being a full-time, stay-at-home, carpooling, laundry folding, volunteering, grocery shopping, care taking and most of all fully enjoying it all mother, my job ended. Ok, maybe it didn’t end completely – with my kids Katie and Adam both in college, there are plenty of phone calls, BBMs, texts, facebook chats, google chats, and a few emails here and there to keep me fairly involved in their lives. Over the past year, while Adam slogged through the muck of learning to be a college student during his freshman year, coming up for air every so often to check in with me and his dad and relate the horrors of being a student and the escapades of parties at University of Arizona, I learned the value of distance and the terror of the ringing telephone in the middle of the night (MOM! This girl is PASSED OUT! We need to call an AMBULANCE!). At the same time, Katie spent her spring semester in London, and practically every weekend was traipsing off to some country or another (MOM! The pasta at this restaurant in Florence LITERALLY made me CRY it was so AMAZING!!!), while my husband Peter and I cut coupons and played with our dog Lambeau and went to movies and mostly just enjoyed the quiet and tried to save money. It was a difficult year for me (and when I say year I mean SCHOOL year…do we ever stop thinking that way?) in a lot of ways, as I had never in my life given any thought to what the heck I would do after my job as a full-time mother was over. I suppose I had some vague idea that Peter and I would give lovely dinner parties, go on weekend getaways, do a little shopping, a little napping…I don’t know. What I didn’t count on was my need to DO something!


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