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.