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.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Almost Adults

They have now been home, give or take two weeks and we are all getting used to it.  As a family we a relearning to adjust to one another's schedules, demands for the cars, food needs and expectations.  It is the expectations part where we really are at the crossroads between adult and kid stage.

For the most part we are supposed to be in charge of food, except when they spontaneously decide to go out for dinner, lunch and maybe even brunch.  The food with friends activity is fairly often as this is a good way for them to catch-up with buddies.  As almost adults, they are better at giving us notice of their impending plans than they used to be and rarely have we planned on them being at a meal and not showing up. However, if we were hoping to enjoy a spontaneous family meal for us to catch-up, this is often scratched.  I also know they are not keeping track of the running tab they are building up from meal to meal. They just assume that this is a benefit from being home, an extension of their campus allowance. We have grown to accept it because we certainly didn't track their dining schedule when they were away.

We have observed real maturity when it comes to assuming responsibility for family chores.  Although I don't see a lot of initiative for taking out the trash or cleaning something up, there is much less resistance towards pitching in.  Coming off of a year of having to care for one's own laundry, shopping and room cleaning, they accept these as duties for when they are living with mom and dad, too.  There is far less complaining about requests for help than there was when they were permanent 365 days a year residents.  I must admin that once in a while, there is even a surprise empty dishwasher.  I would like to feel that the often repeated mantra about as a family we have responsibilities to one another is getting through as they leave their teen years.

We wrestle with the expectations of treating them like adults, enforcing rules and mandating judgments.  Curfews were never big in our world.  Even when they were in high school we didn't require that they punch a clock.  Our concern was more for communication, make sure we know where you are.  In college, life begins at 11:00 so we understand that is their perspective.  Scheduling hasn't really presented any problems because we have few expectations.  They pretty much come and go throughout the nights.  We have given in to the occasional beer, even for the underage because they did it when unsupervised in college.  Susan and I don't agree on this issue.  She comes from the view, not in my house.  I can't control what you do when you are away, but can here.  I on the other hand accept that it is part of their lives and will permit moderate imbibing, provided it is above board.

The challenge remains when to coach.  As almost adults they don't always get things done in the timely manner that we and sometimes the world--those authorities who have deadlines--prefer.  During the eight months that they are living on their own, they either get it done or figure out how to solve the problem they created.  Whether it is turning in a paper late or forgetting a notification or just not living as healthy as they can (lots of opportunities for that in college), they figure out how to deal with it.  Now that they are back home we are experiencing of the dissonance of do we try prevent them from making a misstep or let them live their lives?  We internally debate at what level do we interject (we are past the point of intervening).  Are you sure you want that ice cream today?  Why don't you submit those papers before you forget?  We have to fight that temptation to suggest (this is in contrast to the past when they were younger and we could require) and have to simply just ignore what they are doing and let them make their own decisions.  Fortunately, they mostly get it right. When they make good decisions we will claim credit, whether deserved or not, for good coaching during their youth.  And when they don't, oh well.  Sort of, it is still hard to allow them to screw up.  We are learning to manage our expectations of our almost adults.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

25 and Over

The other day I woke up to the news that Maria Shriver and The Arnold (easier than trying to spell his last name) split after 25 years. Of course I don't know them, but I am always sadden to hear about people separating after many years of marriage.  At this stage in our lives we too often hear about long unions that terminate (yes, selectively chosen) prior to death doing them part.  Like many at our stage in life, we have shared the searing pain with friends and close family members who have lived through this cleavage.  Watching and maybe trying to help the children cope, adjust, blame, and slowly move on is the most difficult.  Both individuals will always be their parents and the recipients of their love, even when there is confusion and anger.  In many cases we cannot and do not want to align with either side because the offspring maintains relationships with both. We are torn between our inevitable greater loyalty to one side, be it the family member, the closer friend or maybe the one who we felt was wronged.  Yet, for the sake of the children, we need to appear somewhat balanced.

For those of us who have been married for a couple of decades we know sharing life is hard.  Most couples have experienced financial issues, career setbacks, health concerns, unwanted parental intervention, child raising challenges and much more.  We have learned and accepted that life and marriage is not easy and compromise must be incorporated into our routines without resentment. Perseverance counts and only by figuring out together how to jointly do battle against the external forces that attack the foundation of the relationship does the marriage thrive.  There has to be a trust that my spouse contributes meaningful sacrifices, even if it doesn't feel balanced.  Marriages only succeed because both spouses work to make it a constructive union and they fail when the two have not preserved the chemistry to maintain the homeostasis of a stable organism.

A marriage that has survived 25 years has fought the fight and won many battles or it wouldn't have lasted that long.  So why are we witnessing the dissolution of so many quarter centuryish marriages?  I believe it relates to the transition or anticipated transition into emptynesterhood.  One or both partners have concluded that now that they have fulfilled their primary parenting responsibilities, it never totally ends, and they are entering a new stage; it is not excessively selfish to pursue life in a style that will make them most happy. No doubt that part of what motivates a fifty something person to decide to divorce is the acceptance of mortality. Hopefully it is not around the corner, but in the less distant future than when the union was formed.  It is not unreasonable to want to maximally enjoy the remaining days of one's life.  Deciding to accept the inevitable searing pain of separation after so many years means the couple concluded that prevailing against life's challenges together is simply too hard and that going it alone or with someone else will be more satisfying.  Obviously it is a gut wrenching decision and has taken years to reach.

I have learned not to criticize either party for choosing this path.  But am always saddened because I have witnessed the hurt that both partners, the children, the extended families and the friends share when an established relationship is terminated. Regrettably this is life and none of us likes this aspect of it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

They’re baaaack

My wife went down and picked-up our daughter to bring her home and unemptynester us.  She arrived early to make the 2 PM scheduled “pick up” slot so that we don’t tie up the streets of the busy urban environment and disrupt the city.  “Don’t worry mom, I’ll be ready.”  She was.  There were seven neatly packed garbage bags (I believe that’s a non sequiter) filled with clothes, books, supplies and stuff.  The two girls loaded the small SUV to the gills and returned home.  I am not allowed to comment on the incident about the key, but let’s just say that both questioned how much fun it would be being around one another for the next few weeks.
When they arrived at home in the early evening there were hugs all around and immediate greetings with pet names, all affectionate, most flattering.  We all pitched in and unloaded the car, one garbage bag at a time.  When I passed the laundry room, I did hear a groan.  It came from the washing machine.  There was a mumbling about another 5 loads within 24 hours.  That will make it twice within 3 days.  Doesn’t an appliance get a break?  The offer to help with laundry was expressed with sincerity, but we parents knew it was really vacant.  I know, I know, you did it all year.  However, there is little doubt that inserting into the washer, moving to the dryer and then folding will conflict with reconnecting with high school friends.  After all which is the priority?  What is the big deal, if the garbage bags lie around for a few days and create a steeplechase course in the hallway?  Needless to say, mom started the first load before dinner.
Speaking of which, we had sushi for the second time in 3 days.  After all, we cannot have a tradition for one child and not the other.  This time we brought in rather than go out.  As we sat around the table, the bantering/teasing between the siblings began.  They compared stories and exploits, who had harder courses, greater conquests, or funnier friend stories.  We laughed a bunch, at times it was us AT them.  Eventually we finished eating.  Almost in unison, gotta go Mom and Dad, have to see my friends, you don’t mind cleaning up, do you?
Then in a flash, it was like it was 3 days before, an empty house, although there were two fewer cars in the driveway.  We settled into TV and went to sleep. 
Around 3 o’clock I awoke with an urge.  This was a fifty something urge, not a twenty something urge.  So, I got up to attend to my business and noticed the light on.  I opened the bedroom door and saw both kids’ rooms ablaze with their respective inhabitants behind their laptops.  One gave a little wave as if greeting me for the first time for the day and then returned to the movie or Facebook.  I shook my head, closed my bedroom door, finished my mission and went back to sleep. 
The summer begins, all empty nest routines are abandoned for 4 months.

Monday, May 9, 2011

One Home and One Arriving

We are halfway there to being reunited.  This 3 days is weening us back to nuclear familyhood.  With the arrival of #1 child, I must publicly state that this is not the favorite, only the first born who happened to finish finals first, we continued a recently established tradition, the first meal back together.  It is off to the Japanese restaurant for sushi.  There is nothing like catching up over raw fish.

The first conversation is filling in the blanks of the last six weeks since we were last together.  It is nice to have undivided attention, to celebrate successes, commiserate about disappointments, hear funny stories about friends you only know by name, and plan for the summer.  For a few minutes during the meal I withdraw and reflect on how my former T baller is now a rising senior.  A year from now, we will be watching the processional of caps and gowns.  Back to reality and we will plan for this summer and enjoy as much of one another as possible.

The next day we get to share one of my favorite activities, playing softball together, father and son.  I am so grateful for having this experience.  It is a gift to do something jointly that is fun and relatively carefree.  The only stress is to avoid embarrassing myself with an error or strikeout.  I am way past the emotion of his being selected higher order than his old man.  I can watch his exploits and being accepted and one of the men, totally on his own merits.

Then, the next ritual is picking up breakfast at the local bagel store.  Gotta give the kid the food he likes, this is still a parental responsibility and pleasure.  Whitefish or lox spread, Dad?  Whatever you want son, it is good to have you back home.  Both if you want.

The next night we had a taste of what is to come in a few days.  Wanna skype?  The three locals huddle around the computer staring at the missing member who is packing up in anticipation of moving out in a couple of days.  Let the laughing, teasing and rivalry for parental affection begin.  No one escaped unscathed from the loving abuse.  Buuut, it wasn't quite the same as all being together.

That will happen tomorrow.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Anticipating an Hiatus

It is now May and finals are just about over.  That means the dranos will be returning and our empty nest lifestyle goes on hiatus.  Our lives become less couple self centered.  No more walking around with minimal clothing.  Fewer spontaneous, "let's just go out to dinner."  I doubt we will lounge around in bed on weekend mornings because we will want to hang with the kids.  The new found routine is disrupted.  Even though we know it will be somewhat short lived, we need to prepare to adjust.

I really look forward to being a more active part of their lives and sharing my daily experiences with them.  Meeting for breakfasts and catching up at dinner will be fun, real family-like.  I am curious how their thinking and maturity has changed after a year of college, living with different people, being stimulated by the world's events and maybe not enjoying quite as many creature comforts as they do at home.  Will they be more independent? or will they appreciate the family dynamics more?  Anticipating and wonder, how will our reunited family interact?

I also ponder how it changes our marital interactions.  Being together and alone together has brought us closer.  We talk to each other more. We have started watching TV together, sharing meals and just hanging out.  With the return of the interlopers how will this change our dynamics.  No doubt it will because we will be sharing time with the kids that would have been devoted to one another.  The real question is, can we retain some of the closer interaction and still get quality kid time.

Overall, these are mostly good issues and bring no real worry.  Simply as I think ahead, I wonder, how will the first, un-empty nest summer be and should I do anything to prepare.  Nah, like with every other change, we will figure it out as we go.