A Community for People Who's Children Have Outgrown Them

This is a blog for people who are reflecting on life after their children have flown the coop.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

An Unexpected Letter

"Dear Parents" was the traditional salutation.  It was the letter informing us of the graduation activities and schedule.  Even though it is almost a half year away, we know it will really be here tomorrow.  I could have sworn it was just a couple of months ago that we loaded the SUV up to the gills and brought him to Freshman orientation.  Since the letter was written by a classmate it referenced the highlights of their college years in a small liberal arts institution.  He referenced the traditions that we heard about sports triumphs, rites of passage, famous lectures and other traditions.  Yes, it brought a tear.

So where did it go?  Yes we have asked ourselves that question at many other milestones.  People warned us that the college years go by in a blink, it was true.  These four years just seemed faster than others.  Maybe it was because we weren't sharing the experiences directly but living them vicariously.  Or perhaps because he was away we got used to it and became more focused on other parts of our lives.  Possibly we just tracked life differently, 6 weeks until Fall break, 3 weeks until Thanksgiving, 5 weeks to enjoy Winter break.  Life was broken down into chunks and before we knew it we got to another planned date.  Well, it is just about over--the college years.

This milestone is truly different, he is an adult and about to enter the real world.  Gosh, he's going to be working, 9-5, or more.  He's never moving back (probably).  Those chunks, they are something of the past.  There won't be a long summer break at home.  The hours of just hanging out be it watching TV, playing games or just chilling are over.  When he comes to visit the hours will be special and we will try to pack it in with "quality time."  Since he is starting his career and determined to make a good impression there probably won't be much free time left for the parents.  After all, there is the job, the friends, social life, regular workouts, and more.  Now he will get two weeks vacation just like the rest of us working stiffs. It is no longer student life with 15 weeks then a break. That is reality.  What makes this even more of a transition is that it appears that the job will take him 1,000 miles away, a plane flight.

One way to look at it is that the college years were a weaning period for the next stage.  Isn't that how life is? Parts of one period directly prepare you for the next one.  So, the letter was our four month warning.  Graduation will be the official demarcation between parenting our kid and sharing life with our adult child.  The letter really didn't have to come this early, I didn't need or want the reminder.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Simple Pleasures are the Best

Well blogees, we are beginning to get this empty nester thing down.  The kids are now ensconced in school and we are back to being alone.  Leading up the weekend I was wary, we had little on the docket.  Being the compulsive planner, boy has that been the source of squabbles over the years, I expected a boring weekend.  Why can't we take advantage of all the great resources in this city and DO SOMETHING?  I will try to chill.

Happily, I was wrong.  I got home from work a little late on Friday because we had a send-off party for one of our staff people.  I was so pleased that there was dinner on the table.  It was nothing fancy, but tasty and a chance for us to catch-up on the day.  I then had to deal with a mini work emergency for an hour and then called it a night. Before we got bed we got a call from one of the kids and had a chance to touch base.  I woke up Saturday, with low expectations.  We started the day going to services.  When we returned a message was on the machine from good friends, "how about a movie tonight?"  We're on.  We worked together on a few chores, including shoveling out the driveway from the first snow of 2012.  Then it was time for a nap.  I had an outdoor paddle tennis game in the late afternoon for some exercise.  It was then a quick shower before gobbling down a dinner of left overs.  We picked up our friends and made the movie.  It was back to their house for ice cream and fruit salad.  Having had modest expectations, they were greatly exceeded.

Sunday was a work morning while the wife had her personal training session.  I got to watch some of the morning talk shows in between emails and  planning for the upcoming week.  Along the way, I snuck in a long phone call with mom.  Once she finished working out, we decided to break out the cross country skis.  Before we could go out, we had to head to the basement and dig out all the ski clothes.  We made it a shared experience.  As beginners we attempted to glide around the golf course at a pace comfortable to both of us.  My wife put up with my stopping a couple of times and dragging out the camera to memorialize the experience.  There was one "take it already."  It was probably deserved. It was time for another nap.  Then she graciously went food shopping while I watched some football (and wrote this blog).  We are then off to another friend's for dinner and taking in the evening football game.  The plan is to the finish with our favorite TV show, The Good Wife.

As I have lived longer, I have learned that life doesn't have to have a major event every weekend.  My instinct is to find something special, but when it is not possible make the best of the little activities.  The reality is the variety of activities are special in their own right.  The growth of our empty nester relationship is that we are finding ways to enjoy and share the little pleasures, and they can be the best.

Plus, it only cost us 24 bucks to go the movies.

Friday, December 30, 2011

24 Hours and 24 Years

We just celebrated our 24th anniversary and spontaneously decided to escape for 24 hours.  We left midday Saturday after hearing a friend deliver a speech and returned in time to have dinner with other friends.  I would call it a conjugal sandwich, but that would get me in trouble;  so let’s say a marital adventure.  We actually reenacted something we did before kids, take a ride for a couple hours and stay in a B&B.  This was the first time we experienced this empty nester rite of passage.  When the second child left our veteran friends told us you relive your pre-child lives, this was our first real try.  Since we lived in NYC our first 18 months we periodically chose to wander out to the hinterlands.  These trips were more exploratory and offered quality time to develop our relationship.

The trip two decades later was different.  There was no agenda or itinerary.  When we would take off during our newlyweddish years we were still learning one another’s likes.  There was an unspoken concern about whether the other will enjoy this activity?  Can we antique together?  In which stores should we dawdle before boredom sets in?  Is a hike a good idea?  Where should we eat?  Now, it easily flowed.  We did her things and his things and most became our things.  We know what each other likes and tolerates. Neither was measuring if this was more what I wanted or she wanted.  The best part was there wasn’t any pressure or tension.  When the special dinner restaurant we chose ended up being disappointing in both selection and quality it didn’t both either of us.  We knew with 100% confidence it would not matter to our spouse either.  On this day in our lives we achieved real relaxation and simply enjoying being together, not worrying what we did.  We had confidence we would make the right decisions for the two of us.  We can see how far we have come in 24 years.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 -- I Lost a Child

This year's Thanksgiving started like most, Wednesday night we give a giant sigh that the week is over and we are going to begin a long, relaxing family weekend.  The next day we get up, fight about how quickly we can get out of the house and drive to Philadelphia.  Then the reality sets in, my son is celebrating his 21st birthday, the official demarcation between child and adult.  (Now an aside, what does this really mean?  He could have enlisted and voted and  been prosecuted as an adult since he turned 18.  I guess it simply means he can now consume alcohol legally.) This milestone does feel like the biggest emotional transition in my parental life.  Not that anything specifically happened like when we drove away after moving him in to college as a freshman and knew he would probably not permanently live under our roof again.  Our relationship is officially changing.

What will it mean now that he is an adult?  I am confident that he will continue to seek my advice, but might be more selective in what he accepts.  I hope that he will continue to seek my approval, but know that there is more responsibility on me to earn that privilege.  No doubt, there will be more times when he won't care if a agree.  As that occurs more often, it demonstrates the sign of passage from child to adult.  To me this is a natural stage of maturity.  The young adult successfully transitions into this stage when he make his own decisions, hopes the parents accepts it, but proceeds forward with confidence with or without their blessing.  Women talk about being friends with their daughters. I don't really see that as my relationship with him.  We have shared many good times and experiences just the two of us, and hopefully that will continue.  I don't think I will ever classify that as friends.  As he has matured intellectually I genuinely respect his opinions and solicit his thoughts.  After all, thankfully, he has learned a lot in almost four full years of college.  Here we are more peers, although I do have a few more years of learning behind me.  I am always his parent and he my son and that is the relationship.  

As I reflect back on my 30+ years of being an adult progeny of my parents, we have always shared our lives.  Over the years it has ebbed and flowed a bit, depending on life's demands, feelings of self confidence and maybe laziness or selfishness.  I am sure at times my parents wanted to know more or be more involved.  However, they respected me as an adult.  Because we live 100 miles apart, we don't see as much of one another as we would like.  The phone, email, and recently Skype make connecting easy.  We share most things, I find more good than bad, why burden them with my stuff.  Over the last bunch of years, solicitation of advice has been a two way street.  We seek out and respect one another's opinions, even when we don't always agree. The best part is that there is always unconditional love and support.  I hope the adult relationship with my son will be similar.  

I do think this birthday more than any other, including when he turned 16 and was about to drive, prompts more fear and worry than any before it.    This milestone makes it official that he is preparing to move into this next period in his life.  He will come back to visit when it is convenient, not necessarily when school is in recess.  But, he will be consumed in his professional pursuits and a social life and a community service commitment.  There simply won't be as much time.  The biggest psychological change is I won't be the provider (not that I don't welcome tuition relief).  Once he settles in and gets a job (hopefully sooner rather than later in this difficult economic climate) he will be on his own.  He will be responsible for his own existence, paying the bills and taking care of all of life's chores.  Maybe I should be thrilled that I am released of this burden.  Truthfully, it has been a part of my identity, as a married team we shared the responsibility of financially supporting our children.  (Now we get to worry about retirement.)  I, too, am entering a new stage gone is the satisfaction of being a good provider and with it brings fear of change.

The rest of Thanksgiving weekend had two other highlights.  Saturday night we threw a birthday party for our friends who knew him since he was little and about 70 of his friends.  For this birthday we didn't have to arrange for an entertainer or plan any sports activities.  All we needed was many six packs and a few long tables for beer pong.  It was great to see so many kids (now adults) who we have known since they were little.  The other treat, was that for many years, my son and I had a tradition.  Every Thanksgiving weekend we would take out the chain saw and full ax and march into the woods to collect fire wood for the winter.  I still remember the first time we did this when the full ax was taller that we was.  (his contribution was limited to kindling then.)  The week before he came home from school for the long weekend we were talking on the phone and he said, "we are going to do wood this weekend, aren't we, Dad?"  We did and he operated the chain saw.  

Happy Birthday, Son.  Here's to the next phase and starting new traditions as two adults.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

They're Gone and I'm Back

The kids are now back to school and we are now true emptynesters.  Once again, it is a little strange after sharing our lives together to suddenly have a quiet house and less to do.  It is the less to do that brings me back to the blog.  I didn't stop writing out of lack of desire or a feeling like I wasn't a legitimate emptynester this summer, but with one and for a shorter period of time two kids home there wasn't as much time.  I was able to be an active part of their lives which I can't be when they are away.  I made a conscious decision to not squander this time (writing a blog is not squandering the time, but I can always do that when they are away) and be there with them. We hung out.  That meant sitting around watching TV, talking about the day's events or actually doing something together.   Much of the shared activity was low key.  We we together.

Their being home afforded opportunities for spontaneous, meaningful conversations about something significant in their lives.  I was able to be the engaged parent more easily. These were not opportunities to miss.  How did you handle that situation at work?  Is this changing your thinking about a career?  How do you feel about a situation?  Sitting around the kitchen table I could more easily judge if they were in the mood for this conversation.  It was less of a gamble about whether they would want to engage and the odds were higher that I wouldn't be shot down about wanting to talk about life.  I am not saying that these conversations can't be had when they are away, but rarely is the situation as fresh, the time as convenient, and the conversation as involved.  We simply can't know as much when they are away.  You gotta play the casino of life with the kids, double down whenever presented with the right situation.  

As I reflect back on the summer it was a mixture of emotions.  When they arrived home it was excitement of being a whole family together again.  Then we faced of the uncertainty of how would the maturing, formerly independent young adults readjust to being under their parents' roof.  Would we squabble of little stuff like crap being left all around? This is not a dorm room, you know!  When one left and other was home for the summer this was a family dynamic we never experienced, it was kind of fun to have a different only child.  Next was a brief return and back to whole family.  Then sadness, the anticipation of their leaving.  We spent the last week of the summer together on vacation.  That was the only downer, knowing that when it ends, they are off.  Here we are.  We return to our more adultcentric lives, that will be fun, too. Be prepared for more blogs.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Life's Competing Demands, in Perspective

This week was bookended with A.L.S., amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gherig's disease.  I started Sunday as I do most in the summer playing softball with my son and a bunch of guys, one of my special pleasures.  At the game I learned that a neighbor, former player and dad of kids my kids' age passed away from ALS.  Of course we knew it was inevitable, but very sad nonetheless. That began my typical emotionally and physically demanding empty nester week. 

I find that this period of life is more complex and exhausting than other stages.  Carousing in your twenties was self selected sleep reduction; midnight feedings and chasing two year olds was uncontrollable sleep deprivation but complemented with the joy and excitement of young parenting; and delayed bedtimes while raising teenagers that was simply payback from the fun we had being with them when they were little kids.  These days our interrupted sleep is due to so many worries all ganging up on us at the same time, if one issue doesn't wake you up in the middle of the night another one is sure to get you.  This feels like a great concept for an Ambien commercial, the modern day plop, plop, fizz, fizz.  Can't you see all those images attacking a peacefully sleeping middle-ager.  Gotcha, you're up again. :-)  Seriously, this a period when at any given time we have to manage many demanding responsibilities.

For me, this week symbolized it clearly.  After softball and then two sets of tennis, I needed a nap, a hot shower, alleve and my elbow still really bothered me.  Okay, I know I am lucky to be able to still play like a teen, but it didn't used to ache like it does now.  For me, I put this in the category of very minor worry, more like a kvetch.  However, this is symbolic of many of us having real health issues that we didn't in the past.  In our generation the health challenges are supplemented by the anxiety stimulating advances in medical technology, colonoscopies, mammograms, stress tests, eye exams, dental check-ups, and more.  Anticipating the results is always good for a little less sleep, but the tests are good for you, like cod liver oil.  

Then the week really begins with work.  We are living in stressful economic times.  The phrase I hear from so many of my peers is that we are working twice as hard for the same amount of money.  I know my business is as challenging as it has been in years.  Consumers are not spending and this effects all of us.  No one seems to have any good answers on how to fix the recession, so it feels like it will be very protracted.  For those friends out of work it is really depressing.  These are the issues that keep me awake the most at night. The problems are multifaceted and hard.

Then there are the kids.  This week each had work related issues, now that they are employed for the summer.  Learning to work with bosses and peers while being at the bottom of the totem pole is a real adjustment from college life.  They both experienced that personal relationships get more complicated when responsibilities are interconnected, performances are jointly evaluated and colleagues have competing agendas.  As the dutiful and loving parent you spend time talking through the issues and offering advice.  Then later you worry if they are blowing a good opportunity.  

The week wouldn't be complete if there wasn't the phone call from a close relative looking for assistance. I got mine from a loved one asking me to help with their spouse who was struggling with a situation.  The couple was going through one of the standard marital, "you don't get it" situations and one partner needed a lobbyist.  Since you care for both of them, pitching in to assist in working through a minor conflict but important issue, is not too much to ask.  This does require some strategic thinking to avoid pissing off either party and figuring out how to be most constructive, perfect for 3 AM.  

We all have lots of daily stuff that we have to deal with every week.  This week it was making sure a leak in the bathroom was fixed, arranging for proper insurance coverage, and car maintenance.  These are the annoying, aggravating and time consuming activities.  Dealing with home maintenance, reconciling bills, fixing cars, planning meals and even arranging a social life never end.  It seems like we have more stuff or possessions are older/breaking or the accoutremps of our lifestyles require more service than in the past (who ever heard of a router before) -- it is more complicated.  Yes, sort of, these are good problems, but very annoying.

Collectively, these issues prey on our minds and for many keep us awake at night.  I enter this weekend a bit exhausted and feeling like the proverbial hamster on the wheel.  Even though all stages of life have been busy, this period feels like work, kids, parents, friends and stuff is more demanding than in previous periods.  

Now, back to A.L.S., I just read an article this morning in the Times about an empty nester recently diagnosed with Lou's disease.  He chose minimal intervention and accept that death is near.  It keeps it in perspective.

Friday, July 8, 2011

There is Nothing Like Old Friends

Tomorrow I have the pleasure of a special treasure, my annual Big Chill weekend.  Named for the movie when old friends reunite at another's funeral, this 20+ year old tradition brings me together with 4 high school friends and their spouses.  Before there was Facebook we were connected.  Despite busy schedules and potential conflicts, we always managed to get our annual reunion.  Many years we just hung out at someone's house.  A few times we went on adventure.  That is what this year's will be, a trip to Allentown, PA to go skeet shooting, hiking and dinner.  Since it is central between Philadelphia, Harrisburg and NY everyone is traveling comparable distances.

What makes this special is that now that we are fifty somethings we have shared so much over the years.  Our lives have progressed fairly similarly.  At the first Chill we were the only one's married.  Over the years we welcomed 4 new spouses -- all have been enthusiastically embraced and each has learned to accept us.  All couples but one have 2 kids, the fifth was brave enough to have a third.  Our kids are the oldest and the youngest haven't quite hit double digits.  For a bunch of years, these were family affairs, changing diapers, watching kids in the pool, and continuously dealing with food.  Later, overnight camp started pulling the kids away.  Over the years we tracked the milestones, walking, sports triumphs, bar mitzvahs, learning to drive and college plans.  Now we are back to how we started, adults only.  We have gone full cycle.

There are a few interactions that make these reunions special. Since we have grown up together we know one another's siblings, parents and other friends.  When together there is thorough check-in on the extended families.  We want to sincerely know what is happening in everyone's lives.  How are the parents holding up? What's new with your brother or their kids?  We can pass hours just catching up on everyone's gang.  Another classic characteristic of old friends is the undeserved, unsolicited and uninvited abuse that everyone heaps on one another.  Long forgotten hairlines, old flames, inappropriate bodily functions, rumored ED, and previous stupid behavior are all fair material.  Truly us boys are worse than the girls, but a jab from the distaff is not uncommon.  One of the most special aspects of our group is the free exchange of advice. Since we don't actively participate in one another's daily lives, the suggestions represent a more removed and objective perspective.  There is universal acceptance that the intention is to help and it is proffered without ego.  We share parenting challenges, health concerns, financial worries and marital issues casually as if it was a recap of yesterday's baseball game.  Everyone helps and tries to be constructive.  As a group, we are also accepting of indiscretions.  Months without contact doesn't spawn the finger pointing, "I was the last to call."  A missed birthday is chalked up to everyone is very busy.  Never has anyone said, "I do all the work to arrange these."  Whether it is a HS alumnus or a spouse, we have become an extended family, covering one another's backs.  No one is immune from abuse and all are included in the actual and virtual group hug.  It works because everyone is committed to making it an annual part of their lives.

I always look forward to Big Chill weekend because I know it will never be a disappointment.  Maybe everything doesn't go perfectly, but we really are chill with one another.  In our case, old friends are like that favorite, old flannel shirt just very comfortable.  I have been given many gifts in life, but this is one of the greatest.  Here's to Old Friends.