It has been sixteen years (oh my gosh I hate to admit how much time has elapsed) since our last child launched his college career. I’ve been having flashbacks hearing stories from friends whose nests are about to empty as their children embark on their own college adventures. The following is a blog I wrote post our college drop-off experience: My husband and I had deposited my youngest son on the doorstep of George Washington University mid August of 2001 – we were empty nested for the first time in eleven years of our marriage. (a second marriage, needless to say) My daughter was in her third year of college in North Carolina. We like to say we were empty nested for less than an hour when my daughter called to say, “I’m coming home, Mom, I’ve decided to drop out of school. This way you won’t have to worry about having an empty nest”. This conversation occurred as we were driving back to our Florida home. All I could say was, “Let me call you back, honey”. We pulled over at a rest stop and I bought a pack of cigarettes. As it turned out, my daughter was suffering from a love affair gone bad. Her panic about her future, and ours over the Al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11 made for a stressful fall that year. In the midst of this upheaval, my son, newly ensconced in his freshman dorm in DC, was kicked out of school on the first day of classes for smoking pot. In spite of appeals, he was sent home for three semesters. During the fall of 2001, as I was spending time in bed with the covers pulled over my head, I worked with a group of friends to create a pilot program we later called the Jeremiah Project. (I needed a survival kit, as was the case with many of my boomer friends) The Jeremiah Project, currently in it’s 14the year, is an after school and summer creative arts program targeted to reach under served middle school aged kids. I realized I needed something positive to focus on in the midst of an extremely negative and fearful time. I was a potter and I loved the idea of introducing kids to clay. While it would appear we were helping the kids, they were really the ones healing us. Now back to 2017. I don’t know how helpful this story is to those of you perusing the aisles of Bed Bath and Beyond for twin XL bed sheets, Tide-To-Go sticks, and closet organizers, but I’m here to tell you my kids managed and somehow so did we. Update: My daughter not only finished her undergraduate education but went on to receive an MFA- Masters in Fine Arts. My son now has a Ph.D. as does his wife and is the fabulous father of two children. I guess my strategy for coping with family/national crises and ENS (Empty Nest Syndrome) was to focus upon something bigger than my immediate world. Maybe identify something that pleases one of your passions- pet rescue, sewing/knitting for a cause, art, or nature. Consider starting your own non-profit or something entrepreneurial. Whatever you decide it will certainly be better than watching Antiques Roadshow with the covers pulled over your head.
Lady Boomer Moms- Our Families Ourselves
As a Florida native, I’ve had the luxury of escaping to the beach on short notice. The oceans on either side of me are virtually only a movie’s length distance away from my doorstep. There are pictures of me at four plopped contentedly amid mounds of white confectionary sugar-like sand. (And, unfortunately there are also pictures of me at 64 virtually doing the same thing). I was thinking about this as I lazed away in a low beach chair beneath a Tommy Bahama umbrella recently. (The umbrella was rarely if ever present in my four year old beach days when sun screen and shade weren’t deemed essential by scientists or Moms alike). Even though I’m older and heavier the beach still offers a place of acceptance and equality regardless of size, age, income level, color, or even species. I write a lot about the plight of Lady Boomers (women of the baby boomer generation). Women of this generation have and continue to wear a lot of hats and are simultaneously professionals, Moms, daughters, grandmothers, volunteers and board members alike. Multi-tasking all of these roles can lead to “multi-taxing” our spirits. So my Rx for quieting our chatter-brains and addressing all this multi-tasking is a retreat to the beach or whatever destination affords you a place for meditation and contemplation. Imagine you are driving across the bridge to the beach. Feel and smell the humid, salty air as you allow the ocean breeze to penetrate the schedules, to-do lists, and deadlines that live inside your overworked brain. During your time in the sun, envision yourself.. *reading a novel (non-fiction not allowed) *frolicking in the water, delighting as you dive into the foamy washing machine waves, just like you did when you were a kid *scouting for seashells and sand dollars *walking along the water’s edge at low tide Escaping your to-do list should be on your to-do list this weekend. Now, why don’t you go from imagining this scene to acting on it? What would you ideal day off look like?At least ten years ago I created this clay sculpture which I entitled, "Beauty and the Beach".
I've got a case of the sighs. You know the ones originating from somewhere around the solar plexus (if that is really a thing) as a release for the emotional weight sitting elephant-like on your chest. Indulge me while I take you on the journey of this past week and the situations responsible for these weight-releasing sighs. My husband and I were excitedly anticipating a beach retreat at the conclusion of a hectic summer creative arts program I direct. Days before our departure we received news that our 47 year old nephew, who has battled a kind of blood cancer for years, was critically ill and dying. Vacation on hold, we traveled to Atlanta to grieve with David's family. Our roles were to provide strength and support to our bereft brother and sister-in-law who have outlived their child. Only days later am I realizing our personal grief was put at bay so we could support those closer to the nucleus of the tragedy. We returned home following the funeral, our postponed beach retreat feeling more important than ever….but….arriving back in Central Florida we ran into hurricane-like weather conditions. Undaunted...beach bags/chairs/umbrellas in tow, we ventured to our favorite Atlantic beach site. I will say the 23 hours spent at the beach were glorious, so much so I have the sunburn to prove it. Our intended leisurely morning sitting on the balcony enjoying hazelnut coffee and French pastries from an authentic NSB bakery was interrupted by the sound of drilling. Two floors below a jackhammer was busy breaking up tile; we were advised this jarring sound would continue throughout the next couple of days. We packed up and left. The hour’s drive home provided space for contemplation of other fun options for our day. I’m not sure who suggested it… but we both agreed and…we ended up spending six hours in a Subaru dealership after which we were the proud owners of a 2017 Forrester. Ok, so we needed to replace the car we were losing as our lease expired. So we left feeling productive and even a little excited. Entering the garage I realized the helpful salesman, while having explained the Bluetooth functions, audio system, and driver seat positions had failed to tell me how to turn off the car. Amid the excitement and confusion of the car I received a text telling me my step-mother’s significant other and committed life partner had experienced a heart attack and was in critical condition. Gene subsequently died leaving Beth in utter shock and despair. While we may be steps removed from these deaths, we nevertheless are reeling from these losses. It has been a bazaar week as a friend described our last 8 days. Agitated and anxious, I made my way to a yoga class this morning. As is often the case in yoga sessions, the instructor asked what motivated us to attend the class. “What is your intention for being here?” What popped into my head was the phrase “bitter-sweet”. Life as we know it is comprised of the bitter and the sweet. I just did not really expect for my taste buds to be quite so inundated all in one week.
My father-in-law, though never personally impacted, used to say something was wrong in the world when a parent outlived a child. He said he never wanted to be a member of such an exclusive club. Our nephew, his grandson, died this week at the age of 47. David is (I can't bring myself yet to say "was") the son of my husband's brother and sister in law. His passing leaves behind a wife of 25 years and two college-aged daughters. Mary, Kelsey, and Emily comprise his immediate family. They lived through his six-year battle (although at times it felt like a full on war) to hold his cancer at bay. This past spring his sweet girls surprised their parents with a trip to the Dominican Republic for a wedding vow renewal ceremony. The event was a demonstration of hope for the future of this man and his family... now it will go in to their arsenal of precious memories. I've been thinking of the domino effect caused by a death. It's like the proverbial ripple effect from a stone thrown into a body of water or more aptly the seismic waves emanating from the epicenter of an earthquake. The initial impact is at the center, the nucleus- the nuclear family. Then come the ripples- David's parents and sister are left to struggle with this loss, people who have known him all his days. Their brothers, sisters, husband, and children who not only love David, but grieve for the pain of their parents and siblings. Followed by cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles, and an array of friends who comprise outer ripples in this sea of love. My husband and I, my step-son and his wife, are members of the outer band of ripples and waves. We have fretted for years about the impact of the stress and strain of this ugly illness on Joe and Sue, David’s parents. At the funeral service I overheard low whispers of - ”But for the grace of God there go I”. I don’t know and don’t want to anticipate how I would handle the loss of one of my children or grandchildren. It’s an exclusive club to which I don’t want to ever be a member. It defies the natural order of life. I don’t know how David’s family will cope with their loss. All I do know, however, after observing the Standing Room Only crowd at the funeral service, is that there are a lot of ripples emanating from the epicenter of that Kitchens Clan and a lot of love. So much love. I am hoping that love and support from those ripples can carry them through.
Remember the 60s? The 1960s that is... when outta sight referenced something cool and hip? In the 60s that "something" could have been a Baby Boomer girl/woman. Well, that ship seems to have sailed and now we are just plain "out of sight."Last fall I visited New York City with four other similarly aged Moms. Since that time I’ve pondered the societal status of Baby Boomer women. On one hand, Baby Boomer women (Lady Boomers as I’ve dubbed us) are nearly 40 million strong and enjoy much focus from the media, marketers, and merchants. On the other hand, baby boomer women tend to be invisible. I realize I'm not the first to say this, but being in hip, cool NYC brought this fact into full relief for me. Now, let me be quick to point out, I, at 63, was the oldest among - a former lawyer, television anchor, pharmacist, and practicing lawyer. However, for the sake of this column, I'm lumping our 57-63 selves into this same age cohort. The first clue I had about our invisibility status was at a comedy club- Carolines On Broadway. Our table virtually abutting the stage, and thus, became a convenient part of the show, and, the butt of many jokes. According to the young male hosts and comedians the five of us share the same hairstyle - "just like Hillary's". First of all, I would love to have Hillary's hair or at least her stylist at my disposal. Not one of the five of us believe our hairstyles resemble each other, but you be the judge (see adjacent photo). The comics dismissed us as women who were well beyond child-bearing years (quite true, but nevertheless, a stinging retribution). There were other clues- cab drivers ignoring our hails and ticket takers our stubs. But...there were and are advantages....our age and various infirmities enabled us to jump the queue in the 45 minute line to enter the 9/11 museum, a big help escaping the cold wind and rain; we always had a seat on the subway. Melissa Swann's 31 year tenure as an anchor on the CBS Affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky, enabled us to get a tour of the control room and set of the CBS Morning News show, meeting Charlie Rose and Gail King. One of the Mom's in our group was able to obtain backstage access to a Broadway play because of her daughter's relationship with the female lead.One of my travel companions said the following about the freedom afforded us by our invisibility... "We could smoke a bong on fifth avenue and the police would assume someone else was blowing smoke in our faces". (Not that we tested this theory). I guess while our sex appeal may have waned, the experience and freedom afforded us by all these life years is irreplaceable. And let's say it...Being in our 60s is priceless. Check out this book- Calling Invisible Women. Jeanne Ray describes a woman who awakens one morning to discover she is invisible and her family doesn't even notice.
First we were the children; then we became parents; then we became the parents of our parents; then our children became the parents; and at some point our children may end up parenting us.Given these intertwined and interdependent relationships gaining clarity about them, regardless of our age, can have a positive impact.
When we bond well with our parents, we're able to feel connected, comforted and secure about our place in our family and the world. On the contrary, to feel less bonded to our parents is to experience a relationship far more precarious.” (Taken from Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. Evolution of the Self.)Now, I would argue it is never too late to get healthy (mentally or otherwise). I don’t care whether you are 63 (my age) 83, or 33, I think a periodic examination of parental relationships can only lead to healthy outcomes. The following exercise affords just such an opportunity. In a previous post I wrote about 6 word stories as the perfect little drive-by of emotional expression. (And let’s face it the parent-child relationship is positively pregnant with all kinds of emotional dynamics. (Sorry, I’m addicted to alliteration) Read the following description of the 6 Word Story exercise. According to legend, Ernest Hemingway bet fellow writers he could write a short story in just 6 words. His companions had their doubts and wagered 10 dollars each to put Hemingway to the test. As the tale goes, Hemingway believed the resulting story to be his finest work ever: For Sale, Baby shoes, Never Worn. Whether this legend is true or not it helped inspire a whole genre of literature sometimes called Flash Fiction. The constraints of choosing only six words is freeing and could turn us all into writers. It relieves the pressure of writing a perfect story. They are a great way to capture anxiety, joy, even pain, in a succinct way. According to an article in the Huffington Post, “ “These abridged yarns do not fall into one genre, or even one tone, their only similarities being their strict adherence to the mandatory word limit. Some anecdotes are funny, some are introspective and others are down right heartbreaking.” These story prompts are parent and childhood focused, and are intended to elicit emotions, which can be written about and/or discussed.
- A funny story about one of your parents
- A story about your earliest childhood memory
- A story about something that made you anxious
- A story about something that made you mad
- A story about when a parent disappointed you
- A story about something that gives you hope.
- A story about your relationship with your Mom
- A story about your relationship with your Dad
- A story about your relationship with a sibling