Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Early Report From the Home Front

It’s been a couple of weeks now, this whole Empty Nester thing that is my life now, and you know what?  Not really my thing.

I knew that going in, to be honest.   

In some ways you could argue it’s not all that different from last year.  Tabitha had already left for college – she comes back for breaks, but she’s long been her own person and content to hang out on her own so we’d often go most of the day without seeing her even when she was here.  Lauren spent the year doing everything in her power to make good on her promise that as soon as she got her driver’s license we would never see her again.  She has a good group of friends and they would get together at pretty much every opportunity, and really how can you complain about that, even if it means she’s right about us not seeing her.  Kim and I were both working full time, and for most of the year it was actually more than full time.  We’d all go long stretches of the day without seeing each other anyway.

But it’s different now.

It’s hard to put a finger on just how.  But it is.

It hits home mostly at dinner time.  However busy we were over the last two decades, however many other plans we had, we almost always had dinner together as a family.  Breakfast was pretty catch-as-can.  Lunches were all over the place.  But dinners were where we gathered around a table, if only for half an hour sometimes, and caught up with each other.  Not every night, of course, but most of them.  I think that matters, sharing food and conversation that way.  I got the impression that we were the weird ones in this regard these days, but so be it.

It’s just me and Kim now.  And the cats, of course, who always want their cut of whatever we’re having.  But their conversation is pretty limited and mostly to do with snacks and hairballs and the best places to sleep, and so is rather forgettable.  Mostly it’s just us.

I think the key for it all was Kim’s comment that we used to be more than enough, just the two of us.  We filled each other’s hearts and worlds, and that was all we needed.  But when you have kids your heart expands to take in these new people, and it never shrinks back, not even when they leave.  We still have what we had before, what once filled our world – that hasn’t changed – but that world has gotten larger. 

Your heart shouldn’t shrink back, though.  It’s not meant to.

Whatever your personal religious views, there is some wisdom to be found in the Bible.  I never really understood “take not this burden from me” until I had kids.  There are burdens that make your life complete, that you wouldn’t trade for any so-called freedom, and you miss them when they’re gone.  That’s how it works.

The thing is, though, they’re not gone.  They’re not here.  But they’re not gone.

They’re right where they’re supposed to be – off in the world, doing the things they want to do, becoming who they will be, which will in some ways be very different from who they were back when.  As I’ve said before in this space, a lot of parenting is just making yourself progressively less necessary so that they’ll come back when they want to rather than when they need to.  This is how it’s supposed to work.

It’s not a bad thing, even if it does take some getting used to.


LucyInDisguise said...

Melancholy may seem to be an appropriate emotion at this time in your lives. However, It truly is not. The next little while should be viewed as a vacation - a reward for a job well done. An opportunity to reestablish your bonds with your soul mate. A time to rediscover those things which bond you to each other. And, just perhaps, find new ways to build an even stronger relationship together.

Cherish this quiet time between phases in your roles as parents.

Trust me on this one - because the toughest times, and requiring your most important skills, experience and decisions still lay ahead, oh ye olde parental units.

"The thing is, though, they’re not gone. They’re not here. But they’re not gone."

[Channels Arnold] "I'll be back." And lo, they too shall return.


Parental love shall prevail!!!* May Odin grant you the strength of thousands. Or at least hundreds.



* There is a practical, life-preserving reason Freyja made kids and kittens cute.

David said...

I've long maintained that babies are cute so you don't toss them in the river some night when they refuse to sleep and your mind stops working. It's a last-ditch defense mechanism they have. Freyja is a smart god.

I suppose you're right about this being a vacation and an opportunity, but still. I'll figure it out as I go. Part of it is that we're both academics and the last two weeks have been absolutely frantic - more so than usual - with getting ready for the semester. That will probably calm down a bit after next week, though.

What's really going to be interesting is that next year Lauren will come back from her year abroad and try to squeeze back into her old box of "Local High School Student" - that's going to be hard. At least it will only be a year before she can move on to college and spread her wings again.

LucyInDisguise said...

… and and try to squeeze back into her old box of "Local High School Student" - that's going to be hard. At least it will only be a year before she can move on to college and spread her wings again.”

Your parental instinks* are strong. Please stand by … (Consults with resident Viking)

[Shit. Okay, she says it’s ’Been there - done that’ time. All in lighthearted fun, of course!]


You really need to learn how to turn that Spidey Sense OFF. Seriously. Your primary job is done. It is now “Win, Lose, or Draw”. Litter-ally**.

Hardest parental lesson I had to learn was to pass on full agency to our newly minted adult daughters and trust that we had given them enough knowledge and experience to make their own decisions, and mistakes, and had taught them sufficiently well how to live with the consequences of those decisions - and mistakes.

My mother taught me this. My wife’s father taught us this. I know that you know this. However, my wife insists that it still needs to said out-loud, because hearing it (or, in this case reading it), revives those repressed lessons from our parents that we have long dreaded facing.

Who am I to argue with a Viking Berserker?***

“And the hardest part
Was letting go not taking part”

The very first time I had to tell my daughter “No, I can’t help you” was the single hardest act I ever had to pull off - simply because I knew that I could help - but that doing so would do so much more harm than good. Cutting that last apron string was, well, I don’t think I need to draw any hieroglyphs. (Mostly cause I can’t draw worth shit. ��)

So take advantage of this time. Enjoy these days and weeks and months ahead! Believe me when I say that they will be back. And That is when your job gets really tough.

You and Your Soulmate are up for this. (Notwithstanding the fact that you are both Academics!)



*Not a typo
***Do Not Argue with a Viking Berserker. Nothing good can come of it.

LucyInDisguise said...

I give up. I will no longer attempt to embed text links in Blogger.


David said...

Oh, I'm not planning on running their lives forever. I haven't got that much energy, for one thing, and for another I know how that turns out. The success rate for students who bring their parents to meetings with me in my Advising Job is zero. They need to run their own lives.


1) Lauren will still be in high school when she returns - that's still within the Parental Guidance Zone. It's going to be hard for her to readjust to her life here after a year abroad - culture shock is a two-way street and she will be a very different person then. There is nothing much I can do now - literally the first thing the Exchange Program People told us at the parent information session was "You can't solve problems from here. Let us handle that." She will grow on her own and my role will change accordingly - she was already pretty independent and I expect that she will only be more so next year. That's a good thing. But the bottom line is that she will still be a minor and a high school student when she gets back.

2) My job, as noted in the post, is to become less necessary over time. They should be able to live without us, but if we've done it right they'll still want us in their lives. But I'm still going to be there as a safety net if they need one. Having that net is good for taking leaps you might otherwise shy away from - that's one thing my parents taught me. I knew I wouldn't end up on the streets if I failed, so I tried a lot of things. Oddly enough, some of the worked and here I am.

I will be fine. Kim and I will be fine. We will move on to whatever phase comes next. It is an adjustment, though.

LucyInDisguise said...

We are on the same page, of that I am certain. Like I said, "I know you know", etc. - however, looking back and re-reading my previous comment I can see where you could read more into that than what was intended. Not in any way trying to tell you how to be parents, or even offer advice. Merely sharing experiences from our past, that will eventually be your experiences in the future.

I'm starting to recognize that there is are a couple of necessary, vital, fundamental components missing in some of these exchanges that we have here in this space: Body Language, and Facial Expression - just a wee bit difficult to do the whole "nudge nudge, wink wink" thing here. If we were sitting in a little sidewalk cafe somewhere having this conversation over a nice hot bracing cup of coffee (or in your case, tea), I really do believe it would have an entirely different tone.

For me, trying to stay on the light side frequently falls flat in this medium (print). That's actually an understatement. Sometimes I wish ...

Well, I'm just gonna let this one go. πŸ˜€


David said...

Oh, I appreciate the advice - I really do. And you're right - there is a lot to be desired about communicating through this space, a lot that gets left out.

Someday we will have conversations at that cafe, and I'm very much looking forward to that.

LucyInDisguise said...

To be clear about this point - it is definitely not "advice". I'm not qualified.

And I have a limited number of data points (two daughters) on which to draw what could only be, at best, flawed viewpoints.

And judging from the currents state of our daughters' lives (eldest is a Frump Supporter and dyed-in-the-wool refucklican), our parenting skills were far from ideal, and I know better than to advise anyone regarding that.

Let's just agree to call it a 'Heads UP' and leave it at that.

Oh, and you're on. And I'm buying ...

:ixy <<< (this is what happens when you get excited and jump off of the home keys ...)

David said...

Heads up it is. :)

And you're buying the *first* round.