Empty House, Full Mind

Views of life from the empty nest

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A Child of Divorce – at 49

This past weekend I went to a bridal shower for my mother. At seventy-something, she is remarrying after nearly 30 years of being single. Her fiance is a loving and warm man whom our family has welcomed with open arms, and who has brought so much to my mother’s life. To see them together is to see the true meaning of miraculous – that they have found each other at this point in their lives, that they are healthy and can enjoy being together, and that they are making this commitment to each other with the excitement of two people decades younger.

But something odd happened to me after the shower, on the long drive home. I realized that despite the fact that my father had remarried twice and he and my mother had long ago both moved on with their lives, there was still a part of me that thought they might someday get back together.

Ridiculous, I know. I mean, besides everything else, my father has been dead for four years.

This is the plight of a child of divorce, even as I am racing towards 50. Even though I came to terms with my parents divorce many, many years ago. Somewhere inside of me, all these years, while my mother was still single, a teeny, tiny part of me always hoped they would someday be together again.

I guess that’s what most children of divorce would wish for, no matter how young or old they might be. I was very fortunate that my mother and father were (nearly) always comfortable being around each other, and most every family celebration included both of them. My mother showed enormous class and dignity when dealing with my father’s second – and third – wives.  My parents both always put myself, my children, and my brother and his family before their own issues.

I was surprised at this very odd thought when it popped into my head as I drove down the freeway – “Mom and Dad will never be married again.” As I mentioned, the fact that my father is dead was a big part of why this was an odd thought.  But also, I don’t remember ever considering that it was even remotely a possibility, nor was it a good idea. And yet the little girl inside of me was speaking up and this was what she was wishing for…mommy and daddy together again.

I am so happy for my mother. As everyone at the shower mentioned, there is no one in the world who deserves to be happy and in love more than she does. A psychotherapist, she has given thousands of hours of her life to helping others to feel better about their lives, and now she feels thrilled about hers. She has found love at a time of life when many people are losing their partners.

I’m not a “woo-woo” person. I’m generally a fairly practical thinker, with a pretty strong bullshit detector. But I am convinced that my father sent my mother her soon-to-be husband, as a way of making up for a lot of mistakes that he made along the way.

My family, circa 1968

Ridiculous? Most definitely. But then, so is the little girl who’s voice I heard as I drove home from the shower – the little girl who wished her parents were still married. Sometimes, our hearts overrule our heads, and we have a moment of emotion that we don’t understand – or maybe we do.

Congratulations to my mother and her wonderful guy. I know they’ll be happy forever, and I’m so happy for them.  And so is the little girl, deep inside of me.

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The “B” Side of Life

I recently went to my hair stylist, Gordon, as I have done every 5 weeks for 15 years. I wrote about Gordon previously after he was a survivor of the Salon Meritage massacre in October.  Gordon is an amazing person who has recently experienced far more tragedy in his life than he – or anyone – should have to endure. As we were talking about how he is getting through this uncomfortable and confusing time he said this:

“This is the “B” side of my life.  It’s not what I signed up for.”

I was struck by what a profound and perfect metaphor that sentence was for Gordon’s life at this point, and for, I’m sure, most people at some time or another.  The “B” side – the other side of the 45 record that was an afterthought, not really chosen, just put there to take up space.  The side that no one really liked, or cared about, or possibly even listened to at all.  The less than side.  The other side.  That’s what Gordon was talking about.

I’ve been to the “B” side in my life.  There have been moments that were so terrible, so awful, so sad, that I never thought I’d get through them.  Obviously nothing can compare to what my dear friend Gordon has had to endure, but my “B” side moments were, to me, pretty horrible.  I think most people, by the time  they reach the middle of their life, have had moments when they thought they’d never be happy, sane, safe, secure – ever again.  That’s where Gordon is right now.  He is on the “B” side and the record is skipping.  But eventually, as it did for me, and I’m sure for you, or someone you love, it will get better.  Eventually, it always gets better, even if it’s still awful.  Because we are human, we go on, we continue to look for things that make us happy, that will bring us up from the bottom, that will make the “B” side eventually become the “A” side.

This is a true fact:  Gloria Gaynor’s anthem to getting over it, “I Will Survive,” was a “B” side.  Look what happened to that song.  And what a message it sent.

So here’s to making the “B” side work, turning an afterthought into a megahit, a mistake into magic.  It can happen, and it does happen.

My Guilty Pleasure – at 25% Off

Today, I indulged myself in my guiltiest of pleasures.  I planned for days to enjoy my hours of pure, unfettered enjoyment, with no fear of being caught, no laws being broken, my health intact – and, if I was very lucky, not too much money being lost.

Today I went shopping.

 

I know, you’re probably thinking this is no big deal – or maybe you’re thinking I’m a shallow, empty human being, if shopping makes me so happy.  But on both counts, you’d be mistaken.  Because for me, shopping is not just about buying stuff – it’s a quick and easy way to escape reality by just driving 20 minutes down the freeway to    South Coast Plaza, the mecca of shopping for those of us that live in Orange County.  I have a well-traveled path at the mall – though “mall” somehow seems demeaning for this place, which houses everything from Cartier to Saks to Ferragamo to Louis Vuitton and Chanel, just to name a few.  Not that I actually buy anything at the priciest of the stores, but still, it’s fun to walk by Bulgari and drool over the jewels.  I have a lovely woman at Nordstrom who knows me by name and helps me find just about anything I need if I ask her.  And of course, there’s something quite wonderful about the makeup counter where you get a quick shot of  “you’re very special and I’m thrilled to be your salesgirl.”  I buy something every time.

But there’s nothing like bargain shopping, and there’s nothing that gives me a bigger thrill than this sign:

 

I take my time, surveying the racks.  I roam a bit, picking up things here and there.  As I gather my selections, my pile growing larger and larger, eventually a saleswoman will take pity on me and ask if she can get me a dressing room.  Inevitably she will make this comment:

“Wow, you’ve got a lot of things to try on, don’t you?”

I just smile and thank her, because she’s absolutely right.   It’s the hunting and gathering that are exciting, the discount found, the perfect item at the ridiculous price, buried in a rack, missed by the other poor fools who moved on before discovering this gem…I swear it’s like a fever comes over me.   I do have a large selection of things to try on, because, well, that’s just how I do things.  I only go into the dressing room once, but if I’ve done my work properly, once is enough.  At this point in my life, I’m kind of an expert at this.

I am ruthless when  I try things on and dismiss 10 items for every one that I remotely like.  I grow disgusted with my reflection in the mirror until I find IT – the one item of clothing (or two, or three, or more) that looks good, doesn’t cost a lot, and I know I’ll wear.  I think of my extra 25% off coupon and smile – it’s a great day.

I used to shop a lot, but now I rarely shop anymore.  Partly its economics – who among us isn’t trying to watch what we spend – and partly it’s just that I don’t really need as much as I used to.  Now that I am an empty-nester,  I’m not going to as many functions, meetings, activities, luncheons, auctions, Bar Mitzvahs, and on and on, and I spend a lot more time at home reading, writing, blogging, where what I’m wearing is rarely an issue.  Also, when I do shop, I tend to do a lot of it online – though I have to say, it’s not nearly as much fun as wandering around a store, pawing through the sale racks -though I have to recommend Shopstyle.com – it’s almost as good as a mall.

So now you know what my guilty pleasure is.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  It may be brainless and mean nothing, and it may be as substantial as cotton candy, but I enjoy it immensely.  I’ll bet there are a few of you reading this who feel the same way.

I Read, Therefore I Am – Chapter 2


I confess, I haven’t been very enthused about the books I’ve read recently.  It’s been pretty disappointing for me, as I always like to have a book in progress.  There were a few books that I was especially excited about this fall, and a few just didn’t work for me.

First up was “The Night Circus” by Julie Morgenstern.  I don’t know why it didn’t hold my interest, but I just couldn’t stick with it.  A story of two young people who have magical powers and become part of a mysterious circus that only appears at night, it sounded like something I would enjoy – a little bit of fantasy, circus animals, and a big sprawling story that traveled around the world.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.  So I sold it on Amazon (a great idea for people who buy books but don’t necessarily want to keep them) and moved on.


The last time I blogged about books I mentioned that I was reading “What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty.  I liked this book a lot.  The story of a woman who loses her memory of the previous 10 years after a fall at her health club, it raised some interesting questions: What would life be like if the last 10 years had never happened?  For Alice, there was so much that had changed in the 10 year period.  It’s a good story with  thought-provoking ideas.

Next, I was so excited to read Alice Hoffman’s most recent book, “The Dovekeepers.”  I adore Alice Hoffman’s books, and I’ve read every one of them since “Seventh Heaven,” which was published in 1990.  You can’t imagine how upset I was when, after about 100 pages of “The Dovekeepers,” I had to stop reading.  In the book, Hoffman tells the story of Masada through the eyes of various women and how they came to be there during the time of the Roman invasions.  If I said it was a dreary and depressing book, that would be an understatement.  Nothing good happened at all, and I mean nothing, in the pages I managed to get through.  It was one tragedy after another.  I can only hope that her next book takes us back to her world of magical realism and interesting, odd people who usually populate her stories.

I can, however, wholeheartedly recommend “The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides.  How many books are there that combine 19th century British Literature, Christianity, the study of yeast reproduction, mental illness, suburban angst, 1980’s music and semiotics?  Not to mention the characters are fully formed, and, though a bit too self-indulgent and stereotypical, pretty interesting.  I was completely absorbed from beginning to end.  It’s very wordy and super-intellectualized, but if you can get past the discussions of Nietsche and Jane Austen, you’ll be ok.  I’m looking forward to discussing this book with my book group – it should generate some lively conversation!

 

Coming up, I’m looking forward to:

“11/22/63” by Stephen King:  My first Stephen King book ever – but I’m a sucker for time travel!

“Then Again,” a memoir by Diane Keaton

“Come Back to Me” by Melissa Foster

“Ed King” by David Guterson

 

Happy Reading!

As featured on 12most.com – 12 Most Positive Things About Being an Empty Nester

http://12most.com/2011/11/18/12-positive-empty-nester/

500 Ladies Who Lunch- NCL Tournament Day

Today I went to Tournament Day, an annual fundraising luncheon attended by over 500 women from our community.  The purpose of the fundraising is to support a variety of local charitable organizations and provide college scholarships for girls in need.  Tournament Day is put on by National Charity League (NCL), a national mother/daughter organization that consists of 6 years of commitment to charitable work by both mothers and daughters, plus social activities.  Our chapter, NCL South Coast, was founded in 1962, and at the event today there were a couple of founding members – truly inspirational women who are still active in supporting the chapter.  Our chapter raises more money than any other chapter in the country, and we are proud of that fact.


At first, I was reluctant to join NCL.  I thought it would be too much of a time commitment, and to be honest, I was a little put off by the idea of the presentation ball for my daughter Katie, which happens at the end of the girl’s senior year, and requires each girl to wear a white ball gown with petticoats – a concept I had a hard time taking seriously.  But I went ahead and joined, and it was a terrific decision.  Though Katie wasn’t able to give a lot of time to NCL due to a variety of other commitments, I became an enthusiastic member of the organization…and in fact, chaired Tournament Day my second year, and also served on the board of directors.  I made great new friends, grew closer with women I had already known, and felt that I was doing something to give back to my community.  And to my surprise, the presentation ball was a lovely and enchanting experience, and seeing my daughter all dressed up in her white gown was something really special, despite my inital misgivings. 


I’ve continued to attend Tournament Day each year after my tenure as a member was finished, and it’s always fun to see old friends and enjoy a lady’s lunch, while buying silent auction items and trying to win opportunity drawings (which I never do!).  It’s amazing to see the power of women working together and raising money – anywhere between $80,000 – $100,000 each Tournament Day over the past few years. The generosity and enthusiasm of the women who attend is inspiring, and the amount of hard work and time that goes into putting on the event is huge.


But something happens each year that’s a little unsettling.  As each group of girls graduates, and new, younger women join the organization at the beginning of their daughter’s seventh grade year, The demographic shifts to a younger and younger group. There area fewer and fewer women that I know who are still members. Of course this is the way it should be, the way it has to be – but there’s a bit of melancholy for me in seeing the younger women, and thinking of all they have ahead of them – not just in NCL, but as mothers of teenage girls. It seems like just a minute ago that I was one of the “young” moms, and now I’m definitely not – young – but I wouldn’t go back there for anything.  Katie has grown into such a terrific young woman, and middle school is such torment…I’m glad to be where I am, but wistful that time has gone so quickly.

Katie at presents rehearsal



 One of the most interesting things about NCL is watching the girls in each grade grow and change – it’s fun to compare group photos of the  awkward 7th graders with the later pictures of confident seniors on their way to college.  Some of the girls really embrace the philanthropic activities, finding true reward in helping others, and some of the girls are more enthusiastic about the social aspect of the organization, but overall most of the girls, though they may have grumbled as they were going through it,  wouldn’t have wanted to miss their time as NCL Ticktockers (as the girls are known) for anything.  Though they may not all be close friends, there’s definitely a bond that develops with each group, as they spend time together –  and especially as they prepare for the presentation ball.  One of the most poignant moments comes when the girls gather for the presentation rehearsal, wearing their petticoats and sporting their future college sweatshirts. 

Katie in her white gown – Presents 2008



Sharing an activity like National Charity League is a good thing for mothers and daughters to do through the teen years.  For some teens, there’s very little they want to do with their mothers, and participating in NCL keeps them connected to their moms, if only for a few hours a month.  It’s good for the girls to learn about how difficult life can be for some people, including some of their neighbors and classmates, and it’s important for them to grasp the value of giving back.  But most of all, what I think NCL does for the girls – and some of their mothers, too – is instill confidence.  By participating in something bigger than they are, and seeing how they can make a difference, they realize that they are valuable members of society, not just because of who they are or what they look like or where they live, but because of what they can do for others.  And though the presentation ball may seem like an unnecessary indulgence to those not involved in NCL, it really is a magical night, when the girls are honored for all of their hard work, not just for the hundreds of hours given to NCL but in school, in sports, and in extracurricular activities. It’s impossible to be there, and hear about each girl as their brief bio is read, standing in front of  hundreds of people in their white gowns, and not feel a great sense of pride – in the girls, their mothers, National Charity League –  and a job well done. 

THE PACK IS BACK – SIGH.

Last night in my house life began anew. The Green Bay Packers were back on tv.  Peter sat down to watch his beloved team, and I tried, really I did, to watch with him – I could tell that he wanted to talk about the plays, the players, the emotional intensity of seeing “his” Packers again, after many football-less months.  But I just don’t get it.  Saying this as a member of Peter’s family is punishable by banishment from Christmas morning – they are a deeply committed group of Green Bay fans, having grown up in Milwaukee.  Vince Lombardi is their hero, Bret Favre has deeply disappointed them, and they have attended 2 of the last 3 Superbowls the Packers played in – they only missed the third because they thought they would buy scalped tickets at the San Diego stadium, and that didn’t work out so well for them.


I have never really understood the intensity with which people connect to certain teams.  I get the love of the game, the thrill of the great pass, the heroic interception – but watching my normally even-tempered husband completely lose it if the Packers don’t play well is a mystery to me.  And, of course, he’s passed this on to our kids, especially my son, who is a huge Packers fan, though he’s never stepped foot in Wisconsin.


I am not completely immune to the excitement of a great football game – I loved every minute of watching my son play in high school, seeing him and his teammates working together. There was nothing quite as exciting for us as seeing his face after winning a hard-fought competition.  But for me, it was about knowing the players, how hard they worked, how much time and energy it took for them to be ready to go on the field and succeed.  It was personal.  This connection to a team filled with players I don’t know, in a place I’ve never been – I just don’t get it.


Competition has never held much interest for me – I don’t know why.  When my kids were young and played sports in the community leagues – Adam played baseball, Katie played softball – I would cringe at the parents yelling and criticizing the players, as if their children’s lives depended on winning of losing.  For some, I suppose it did, as the parents pinned their hopes on college scholarships based on their children’s athletic skills.  I just wanted to see the kids have fun and feel good about being part of a team, but that inevitably was the last thing a lot of the parents – and kids – cared about.  Winning was great, and losing was awful.

Lambeau

Of course there’s a lot more riding on the Packers winning their games than there was on the 10 and under all-star softball team winning theirs.  Football is big business, and keeping the fans engaged and excited is what drives the economics of sports – I can’t even count how many Packers t-shirts, mugs, jerseys and, yes, cheesehead hats we’ve bought over the years. And ultimately, watching football is a communal experience best shared with other fans – and that’s where I feel like I’ve let MY teammate down.  Because try as I might, I just can’t find it in me to get passionate about much about the Packers – except of course for our dog Lambeau, named after the Packers home stadium.  Now there’s something for me to love!

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.

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. 

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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