Empty House, Full Mind

Views of life from the empty nest

Archive for the category “family”


He’s had an easy life, but his life hasn’t been easy.

Do I contradict myself?  Not really.  While we gave him every bit of support, love, and encouragement two parents could give, our son has had challenges in his 19 years that, for better or worse, complicated things.  They may be no more or less difficult than what other children go through, but somehow we believed he was in need of…more.  More of us, more attention, more patience, more protection.  

My son, 3 years old, and me
He woke up one morning at 20 months old with a crossed eye.  Besides my initial terror and fear, there was this horrible thought, that he would be “that” kid, the one with the crossed eye, the one who the other kids taunted and teased.  Fortunately he was young enough and was treated quickly enough, with surgery and eye patches and glasses, that by the time the other kids were old enough to be that mean, he looked fine…with his glasses on. It was hard when he went swimming, or to sleepovers. After 2 more surgeries, he now, at 19, has beautiful green eyes that are nearly 100% straight. 

For me, that morning, seeing his adorable face looking so different, was a game-changer.  It wasn’t until his most recent surgery this past May that I realized how overwhelmed I was by it all, that morning long ago – how my heart broke for him, and for me, and how I wanted to make things better, sooner, right away.

Then, at the age of 8, he was diagnosed with ADHD.  We sort of knew that was coming, but now we had to deal with it, with medication and tutors, teacher conferences and fights about homework.  Between his natural tendency towards inertia (much like his mother) and his obsession with all things visual, be it television, computer, or video games (something like his father), school was really, really tough for him. 

But he had a lot of friends.  And that made him really happy.  And since it made him happy, we encouraged them to be at our house, and so they did…growing boys who laughed and fought and ate and slept on floors and sofas.  We love those boys.  Maybe, just maybe we should have said no sometimes, sent the boys home, especially when his grades were poor or his attitude was bad.  

In high school, he found a level of commitment that he’d never shown before while playing football.  Finally, in his senior year, he was starting on the offensive line.  He was doing it, and doing it so well!  What a thrill it was to watch him play, to have him come home, stinky and tired and excited about the game that week.  And what a heartbreak it was when, after a couple of weeks of pain in his leg, we found out that he had a stress fracture in his femur.  He was out for the remainder of the season.  
My o-lineman and me 2009

Now, in college, he’s had a huge awakening of sorts.  He has finally, finally! figured out that he can study, and learn, and take a test and get a good grade.  Most importantly, it DOES matter to him if he succeeds.  Freshman year, he was so anxious, so tied up in figuring things out, that he never really found his people, never really found a place for himself at college.  

So now he wants to come home, continue college here, near his friends and family, in a place where he feels safe and understood, with people who have loved him for a long time.  We understand this, we really do.  But we won’t let him come home…not yet.

Our son is an incredible young man, on the verge of figuring it all out – for himself.  Where I think we went wrong while raising him was to figure out too much for him, and not let him fall and hit the ground without us cushioning the blow.  We weren’t helicopter parents…we were Sikorsky military copters, eagle-eyed and ready to do battle.  Yes, he was stubborn and careless about his schoolwork, but we were stubborn and careless about the amount of energy we put into helping him, about never letting him pick himself  up without us lending a hand.  

My son and husband, 2010
So we’re insisting he finish this year, even though he’s not very happy there, because we know that what he’s learned over the past few months is just the beginning of him learning about how to be a man, and how to be confident, and how to find his way in the world.  

We know he can do it…now let’s hope we can.


The Voice

We all have soundtracks to our lives.  At times, music has been so important to me. During my teen years there were hours spent listening to the same record album over and over, sometimes even the same song, convinced that the artist had written the lyrics especially for me.  “OHMYGOSH” my friends and I would shriek.  That’s EXACTLY how I feel!!!!” Neil Young, Elton John, Supertramp, Queen, Linda Ronstadt… it wasn’t until we got older that we realized – that was exactly how everybody felt.  In college, music became the backdrop for parties, the thumping beat at bars and clubs – it was the 80’s, after all, and the Cars and Blondie, the B-52’s and Toto didn’t make the kind of music that made you want to cry from the emotions their songs evoked.  We all just wanted to dance.

It was 1984 when I first fell for Sinatra.  And when I say fell, I mean really, really fell.  There was a period of about two years when he was virtually all I listened to, with a little Bruce Springsteen and old Motown mixed in, plus some Elvis Costello to stay current.  But Sinatra was the soundtrack of my early twenties, keeping me company on cassette after cassette as I drove around Los Angeles for my first job out of college.  Falling for Sinatra was an enormous undertaking – his catalog of songs is huge, and he recorded over 50 albums in his lifetime.  I zeroed in on the albums from the fifties, when his voice was strongest and his phrasing was impeccable, when you could hear the joy and sorrow in his voice as clearly as if he was speaking to you, which is what makes his music so appealing – that and the promise of something – love, romance, I don’t know exactly what – but there was promise in his voice. 
Sinatra became a passion for me to share with my mother, my grandmother, and especially my grandfather, who as a young man had been a big band singer with Tommy Dorsey, and had known Sinatra.  My grandfather had a voice kind of like Sinatra’s, deep and warm and lovely, and he would sing to me frequently while I was growing up.  There was always singing going on in my family…as strange as it may sound, we would often sing song lyrics to each other in lieu of speaking sentences.  We were big fans of musical theater, and there was always some soundtrack or another on my mother’s turntable. Those were the years of  Bacharach, Barbara Streisand, and Neil Diamond.  We listened to “A Chorus Line,” “Promises, Promises,” and “Funny Girl,” among many others.  My grandmother liked to play the piano and sing after we’d have dinner at her house. Fortunately, we were all fairly good at carrying a tune.
But Sinatra…he became the voice I chose to hear as often as possible.  The first year out of college was not easy for me, adjusting to being on my own, commuting to work every day, trying to prove myself at my job and find myself in the world – but Sinatra was the soothing voice of reassurance for me, as I learned each and every trip and lilt and turn of phrase he used on the songs I loved best.  From “Young at Heart” to “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Love and Marriage” to “My Funny Valentine,” there was a song for every mood, every time of day, every event.  I, like a million girls before me and a million since, fell in love with Sinatra through his voice, and what a voice it was.
I continued my love affair with Sinatra, and my children were raised on him…there’s nothing quite like a 4 year old girl singing “The Lady is a Tramp,” as my daughter did one evening, delighting us all.  I saw him in concert at the very end of his life, but it wasn’t great – he was old, and his voice was wobbly and weak, and the teleprompter had letters that were at least a foot high – but still, it was Sinatra.  We even considered naming our son Francis, after my husband Peter’s grandfather…and Sinatra.  I think Adam is happy we chose not to, though we would have called him Frank, of course.
On the morning Sinatra died, Peter woke me to tell me the news before I heard it anyplace else.  He knew how sad I would be, and I was.  But I listened to his music, and of course, that made me feel better – which is, I suppose, what Sinatra was all about – making the world feel better through his music.
Sinatra was fond of saying, at the end of his concerts, “May you live to be a hundred, and may the last voice you hear be mine.”  I like that idea!


I mourn the loss of Steve Jobs,along with the rest of the world.  He was one of the world’s greatest visionaries ever.  However, I know that far more eloquent people than I will be eulogizing him, so I will pass on the opportunity to share my thoughts about this brilliant man. However, his death did get me thinking about something that is sort of overwhelming  – how many people’s lives he touched, and, in a much, much smaller way, how many people’s lives I’ve touched – and how many have made a mark on my life, too.  

Have you ever given this any consideration?  Do you remember the kid you used to wait with at the bus stop in 3rd grade?  How about the lunch lady you and your friends would harass in junior high?  Do you remember that boy that had a massive crush on you in 9th grade, the one you just wanted to “be friends” with?  Imagine what kind of an impact you might have had on his life.    There was your RA in college, the one you thought was such a dork, but who probably had to work his tail off just to pay the bills and tuition.  There was the waitress at the Denny’s where you went with your friends after parties and ordered coffee and split one dessert between 6 people. Hmmm.

One thing facebook has done, for better or worse, is take away a lot of that “whatever happened to” mystery- wondering about old friends, romances, roommates, co-workers, even family members – pretty much any name a person can dig up. You don’t always actually connect with everyone – sometimes its just enough to see their picture and where they live.  Now you can find out, basically, where most everyone you’ve ever been curious about is, and what everyone is up to.  And, of course, they know all about you too.  

Just this week, I had a cousin – well, the granddaughter of my grandmother’s sister – (and if you know what cousin that is, please let me know!) contact me.  It was such a great moment, reading her email, in which she talked about her memories of my grandparents – just that little connection meant so much to me.  Then we became facebook friends, and looked at each other’s pictures, and who knows if we’ll ever talk again…but that’s ok, because knowing that she was thinking of me, found me, and wrote to me was enough.  With facebook, this kind of think can happen often, but it never fails to give me a little thrill, finding someone I once knew, or, even better, being found by someone who was looking for me.

Sometimes people come back into my life who I barely remember, but who vividly remember me.  That’s kind of an odd experience.  But it’s ok too, because everyone who remembers you, even in a small way, is somehow keeping that version of you alive, their interpretation of who you are, or who you were, for better or worse.  And what more do we all want, ultimately, than to know that, out there, people are thinking of of us, remembering us – that we had, even briefly, an impact on their lives.

There’s no doubt Steve Jobs will be remembered, written about, and revered for decades, if not centuries, to come.  And though the memory of who I am will certainly fade away from this world long, long before his iconic persona does, at least I know that I’ve made an imprint on some of the people whose lives I’ve passed through. And, more importantly, I know I wouldn’t be who I am without the hundreds of moments shared with others –  both important and fleeting.


A year ago today, there was an accident on a nearby freeway, and a friend of ours was killed.  It was a terrible, terrible thing – he left a wife and two teenage children, a large circle of friends and extended family, all of whom were shocked at his untimely death.  But that story isn’t mine to tell – it belongs to those closest to him.  What I do want to tell you is the way our little community came together to support, help, mourn, and ultimately remember with love this man we lost too soon.

My neighborhood is small.  Though we are part of a very large suburban sprawl, this is a very insular place.  With only one high school in our community, it’s easy to get very involved very quickly, sometimes to a level that can be intrusive or overwhelming.  No matter where you go, if you’ve lived here a while, you’ll run into someone you know – the local fitness center is practically a social club, and grocery shopping can take twice as long as you plan if you run into a few acquaintances. The high school football games are packed every week with parents, alumni, and students.  This is what drew us here 20 years ago, and this is what sometimes makes me want to flee – though I can’t really imagine ever leaving here.  This is home.

While thinking about this day a year ago, I see so clearly a parallel to the tragic events of 9/11,  the anniversary of which we are all thinking about this week.  I remember the strong sense of patriotism and compassion that came to define our country for a time because of the destroyed towers, and how everyone was a little kinder and a lot more emotional for a long while.  The same sort of thing happened here in my community.  This loss, so shocking and unforeseen, had a very similar effect on all of us who know this family, and also many who didn’t, but were touched just the same.

When the accident happened, it was as if every person who ever knew this man or his family was compelled to do something…anything.  From bringing home cooked meals to buying dog food, his family was taken care of and comforted  by the closest of friends and distant acquaintances.  I watched it happen and participated in it all with such a sense of gratitude and amazement – all petty differences fell away, and various groups mixed and mingled each evening at the family’s home, offering comfort to each other, to the family, and probably to themselves most of all.  Because what struck us all was, of course, that it could have happened to any of us. Truth is, it’s just luck and good timing that it hasn’t happened to any of us before or since then.

The most touching thing for me was seeing the children’s friends gathering around each of them, as if to form a human wall against the pain they were feeling.  They had all grown up together…most had known each other since kindergarten.  The level of commitment and caring these teenagers showed was beyond anything any of us could have expected, and it was a beautiful thing to witness and, by being around them, be a part of, too.  

There have been many times over the years when I’ve wondered if we made the right decision about where to raise our family – sometimes, it seemed as if this little place presented too narrow a view of the world, and other times, when my kids were struggling, it offered little in the way of options as far as friends were concerned – but a year ago today, and for some time after, I knew without a doubt that this community, the people and the sense of closeness and familiarity, were a gift we were fortunate to have been given.  We miss this friend, especially today, but he will always be part of this place, just as those who died on 9/11 remain part of our country’s collective memory, whether we knew them or not.


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.



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

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