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, 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.