Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ch-ch-ch-changes by Jenny Gardiner

I guess our theme is "transitions" which is fitting for my life right now because it's riddled with transitions, the biggest being my recently becoming an empty-nester. Now, I long dreaded this particular transition; I had no idea how I could morph from living a life that has been all about my kids to releasing control for the most part and letting them take over the reins and having no one for whom to be accountable on a daily basis. But it's a part of life and we all have to go through it, like it or not. I've tried to tell myself this will result in plenty of freedom in my life, though I guess with that comes the potential to simply become unmoored, adrift while you try to figure out how to redefine your life.

Perhaps it was a little more dramatic how this unfolded, because not only did we send our youngest off to college a few weeks ago, but a week before that we sent our middle one off to study abroad in Europe, and then just last week bade farewell to my oldest (who graduated from college in May), who left for a year-long adventure in which he'll be off-the-grid, incommunicado, in remote stretches of the world. So not only are my kids gone, but two of them are essentially unreachable, and sadly I can't just pick up the phone and call, or text or email just to touch base with them. I've sort of gone from immersion in my kids' lives to extrication, in one fell swoop.

As an avowed extrovert, I have been wholly unprepared for this screeching halt to my world of a perpetual buzz of activity. As a mom first, writer second, I learned long ago to pick up and go with my laptop and write when I could, be it soccer practice or pick-up line at school or roadtrips to soccer matches in different cities. At home I worked at my desk in the middle of all the activity, with homework and friends of the kids dropping by and the television blaring. I became used to operating in "putting out fires" mode, jumping from one urgent, pressing situation with the kids to another, squeezing my writing in when I could. On top of that, I never quite realized how much of my social life centered around being at school-related functions, where you're around parents of kids your kids' ages. When all of a sudden you don't have that outlet, you realize you have no one with whom to hang. My close friends either have school-aged kids so are still very involved with their kids at home, or have already departed for the post-empty nest world and aren't even around. Or else they're now stuck in jobs and are completely unavailable. I'm thinking I might soon have to chat up the mailman just to have companionship by day. I was thrilled to have had all the kids (and their respective girlfriends/boyfriends) around much of the summer, so this meant we had much going on, with little free time for writing. Truth be told my life hasn't allowed for much writing at all since last winter, what with my youngest child's travel sports schedule and trekking all over the east coast while deciding colleges for her, and in between that road-tripping to my other kids' schools for various awards and events.

So all of a sudden this week I was faced with the deafening silence of being virtually alone. Now, I'm not completely alone because I have this menagerie of demanding pets (two dogs, a parrot, a bunny and a cat). So it's not silent like a normal person's house, but rather silent with a lot of barking, squawking, and still a huge mess even though no one is leaving a trail of dirty dishes and laundry about the place. Instead it's mounds of feather, fur and animal poo, thanks. To top it off my husband went out of town. And I was left to be alone with myself. And I hated it. It's sad because I vividly recall times when my children were young when I probably would have paid to be alone at a Greyhound bus station for a few hours, I craved solitude so much. But now that I've found solitude, I don't particularly like it, and I am anxious to be around people. Which doesn't happen as easily when your office is the desk in your kitchen and the only ones around with whom to converse have fur or feathers. I fear I'll turn into a cat lady.The unfortunate hallmark of my weekend alone were bouts with unbidden eruptions of tears and a half-hearted pity party thrown in for good measure. I guess it's a good thing I didn't resort to watching home videos of my children as babies. I blubbered enough without that, thanks.
As if this week during which loneliness seemed to be defining my life wasn't bad enough, with my husband away I decided to have the dogs sleep with me in the bedroom. Nothing worse than being home alone with a dog barking in the middle of the night downstairs to unnerve you. So I figured I'd keep them nearby to avoid that. So instead, at 3 a.m. Saturday night, I was awoken abruptly by the unmistakable sound of a dog throwing up. I hastened the dog into the bathroom to keep the mess at bay, but she followed me back to the room only for me to realize she was about to have a seizure. Knowing what that would entail, I scooped up my nearly 80-pound dog and lugged her, completely deadweight but for the onset of her seizure starting to overtake her, and laid her on the bathroom floor, trying to settle her in as best I could. Carrying her resulted in my being accidentally scraped up by her claws, and yeah, covered in dog wee wee, which I'd been trying to avoid by sticking her in the bathroom in the first place. Just as her seizure finally ended, I heard my other dog start to throw up. Seriously. So while I have tried to tell myself "Hey, the upside of the empty nest is no kids to wake me in the middle of the night!", the reality is I have animals who somehow can't help but do so. I was up cleaning the dogs and their mess till after 5 a.m. and couldn't fall asleep till 7 a.m. Yep, my first week as an empty-nester left me too tired to even do the one thing I now have all sorts of time to do: write.

I'm hoping week two of my transition will result in a much more productive week. The stress of the past month of preparing my kids for their various departures left me in a state of inertia, just sort of treading water as I clear my head and try to get a grip on my new life.

I know at some point I will relish this newfound "freedom" (bound though I am with these crazy pets, one of whom is a talking parrot who has repeated "Goodnight, I love you" ten times in the past fifteen minutes). I'll be happy to be able to settle down and focus on my writing again, once I actually learn how to focus with no distractions (wish me luck). In the meantime, I guess I just have to ride this wave, see where it takes me, expect to feel sad and at odds with myself and allow myself to be unmoored, adrift in a new world I don't quite know how to navigate. This happens when life is in transition.

  Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Where the Heart Is

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street
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  1. You're making a huge adjustment, so be kind to yourself. It may take a little while, but you'll get used to the change and you might even discover you kind of like it. ;-)

    In the meantime, journal or blog about your experience. Somehow I believe you'll come up with some story (or character) inspirations.

  2. Dear, sweet friend. I think your next short should be exactly about this! My other empty nester friends talk about these same sort of things and it's fascinating that as a writer who you would think would love and need solitude to write - has built her writing career writing amongst the chaos and the transition that it brings. I know you'll find your mojo and rock it. xo

  3. Thanks Malena for your vote of confidence! And Roxanne, i do hope once I settle into this it will be a good thing. And yes, i need to channel this into writing!!!! Butt to chair, fingers to keyboard; butt to chair, fingers to keyboard; butt to chair, fingers to keyboard!

  4. My "baby" is now 26, and all five of my kiddos are gone. I love, love, love the way they fill my home when they visit. They all live in Houston, so getting all of us together is a feat in itself. (Gosh, I didn't mean to sound like Debby Downer!)

    The point is...we've come to truly enjoy and appreciate our time together. And in a weird way, they've watched me grow into empty nest mom, and they've cheered all the things I'm learning to do on my own! Guess we really do come full circle.

  5. That's so nice to hear. Yes, I am with you--I absolutely love the mayhem of having family around and I love the adults my kids have grown into. And they too are so supportive of me, which is nice. Just a little lag time right now with most of my gang completely out of contact, just as I'm acclimating to their not being around

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