Empty Nest

Tomorrow it will be two weeks since I dropped off the last of our three children at college. Phew. I did it! It’s a good feeling.

When I mention that I have three children in college, people are impressed. I can only compare it to the year when I had three children under three years old — all in diapers. Then, it was: “How do you do it? I mean, all the sleepless nights?!?” Now, it’s it: “How do you do it? Financially? Who can afford it?”

Well, the financial part is a source of pride. Almost my entire adult life I have squirreled away every bonus and every tax refund for my kids’ 529 accounts — the savings account earmarked for kids’ college. So they do receive scholarships but we have also saved some money.

My goal is to have the kids graduate without any debt. Not that it killed me, but I had students loans until I was about 35. And that $121 a month to Sallie Mae all those years definitely felt like I was paying alimony for a marriage I didn’t enjoy consummating.

In any case, the “how do you do it?” question is more profound for me on an emotional level. My darlings, as I refer to my children — inspired by the Darling children in Peter Pan books, have been in the front and center of my mind and heart for 21 years. Just about every decision I have made these last two decades, I have wondered: How does this impact the kids? And now, suddenly, I can let my mind be free from some decisions.

So here’s an example: Chris and I are shopping in Trader Joe’s the other day and we are in the frozen pizza department. I reach for the Pizza Margherita — not that anyone really LOVES that kind of pizza, but it satisfies the vegetarians among my darlings. It is the least common denominator. It’s fine.

“Hey, we can get that fancy French one!” I realize. We can get that one with the bits of ham and caramelized onions. So good (if you’re not a vegetarian). Chris especially enjoys that our clean up after dinner is done in half the time.

Another new discovery: we can make our own television selections. We have one television. And I often had to share my time with XBOX times. Now, Rachel Maddow and MSNBC can hold court. There’s no one waiting to use the television.

But our home is quieter. It’s lonelier. It’s less dynamic. There’s no coming and going. Yes, it’s tidier, but it’s got less soul. I guess we’ll get used to it. And we won’t be alone for long. School breaks and summers will fill the nest again. Pizza Margherita will be back on the menu.

One more thing: the reality is that when you live in New York City, many people love to visit. And we love to host family and friends. I’m not turning my place over to itinerant couch-surfers or AirBnB guests (likely, illegal in NYC), but I’m open to the next chapter. And I’m proud of my darlings, heading off to college.

I’m not alone. So many of my friends are in the same position. And one thing I know for sure:  although they are not nearby, they are loved and they know they are loved. And home is really where the heart is — not only where the XBox is played.

my girls off to school
First day of their Senior year (last year)
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Giving Up for Lent

I am not giving up wine or chocolate this Lent. I am looking at my life and making an impact – socially, spiritually, physically, creatively, professionally, politically, and family-wise. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a reminder that we are all going to die. And Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the night before Ash Wednesday, reminds us that we are going to live until we die. Lent is 40 days of intentional living.

Here are my aims, remembering that this life is but a whisper.

Socially

Speak with words of deep love and mutual respect
No gossip or judgment – Believe everyone is doing their best
If I’m on time I’m late; Arrive early

Spiritually

20130425-085137.jpgPray and meditate
Practice mindfulness
Celebrate the diversity of religions

Physically

Stay fit
Train for a 10K in June
Eat more greens (fruits and vegetables) and less whites (carbs)

Creatively

Make art, especially cards and my art journal
Write in my journal every day
Send work out to be published
Less time passively taking in social media, more time producing art

Professionally

Read about what makes for good teaching every day
Listen well to students and colleagues
Be firm, but loving with classroom management
Remain organized with lesson plans – organization is the key to success

Politically

Give to: the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, International Women’s Writing Guild, and United Methodist Women
Support women and children who are marginalized and oppressed
Honor the sanctuary movement
Write to thank the activists on the frontlines
Support independent and women artists and commercial establishments
Speak up about gender equality
Celebrate and preserve the freedom of the press

Family-wise

Remain true to Chris and the kids
Do not overparent but guide my nearly-adult children to independence
Listen to and encourage the dreams of my children and family
Play more board games

I know I should make these resolutions SMART goals — measurable and time-sensitive. But for now, this is where I am starting. This is the beautiful thing about Lent — it is manageable; we travel from winter to spring. The miracle of renewal and resurrection is right around the corner. Stay optimistic. Have faith.

More on mindfulness.

 

Turn Off the News

I told my daughters last night, “Do not watch the news.”

One of my 16-year olds asked, “Why? Did Donald Trump say something heinous about women?”

“Yes.” She had either seen the news or had seen similar comments from Donald Trump.

This morning, I clarified. “I did not want you to see the news because I do not want you to think all men are like that.”

I know men — with husbands, brothers, students, old boyfriends and lovers, coworkers, pastors, etc., I refuse to accept this is the norm — that ‘boys will be boys.’

I do not believe that men talk about abusing women or see us solely as sex objects.

I cannot believe that men talk like this in the locker room or the boardroom.
Even though this man is running for president and the leader of a political party, I do not believe that he represents me or the American people.

This morning, I followed up on the conversation with my daughters.
“He talked as if consent does not matter,” I said. “Do you know what consent is?”
“Yes, it must be verbal.”
“And if a person can’t give a verbal consent then there can be no consent,” one of my girls said.
Thank you!

We have to look out for each other. I feel empathy for the actress that the men on the tape were talking about. As women, we have no idea what men were saying before we enter the room. I hope to God that when a woman appears, the men were discussing the Cubs versus Giants game or anything that is their own truth. And not the size or shape of our bodies or how they can exploit or abuse us. This is all so reprehensible.

The men were talking about women as if they were things.
Hey, you foul-mouthed men, we are complicated, creative, intelligent people! We make contributions to our families, workplaces, society. We are not toys for you and your buddies to grope. Blech. I cannot believe I have to say this. It is 2016.
People must decide if this man jibes with their own vision for leadership.

But as a mother and teacher, I would not let my children nor my students — nor my friends or family — talk like this or act like this.

I believe  our leaders should  help us lift one another up. We ought not put one other down. I have yet to hear any single way that this Republican candidate has lifted anyone but himself up.

People are richer for helping one another, for serving one another, for speaking highly of one another, for making the world a little better. I am trying to live this. I am trying to be a role model of kindness and compassion.

I have to turn the news off. I have to show my daughters and my son ways to make a positive difference — doing good, being good.

PS My friend Joanna got me in to see Samantha Bee on Wednesday night. She is so good. So while it’s true, I turned off the news, I turned on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.


 

A Crowded Elevator at the Hillary Fundraiser

When my husband I attended the Hillary Clinton Victory Fund Party after Secretary Clinton won the Democratic nomination this spring, we got the cheapest seats at Radio City Music Hall. Still. We were psyched to be there and were, of course, blown away by the performances of Elton John and Katy Perry and the words of Jamie Foxx and Chelsea Clinton.

at-radio-cityAnd after the concert, my husband Chris who has started using a cane/walking stick to get around, saw the open elevator and tried to moved towards it quickly, although due to his Parkinson’s Disease, he moves slowly. The doors began to close.

A girl, about ten years old, who held the hand of a woman who appeared to be her grandmother, put her other hand in front of the closing elevator door.

“We’re waiting for you,” the girl said to Chris. She looked around the crowded elevator and said confidently to the strangers near her, “We can wait for him. We can make room.” Her grandmother smiled patiently at us, then proudly at her girl. We made it.

These are Hillary supporters — a confident girl who holds the elevator for a disabled man, a grandmother who takes her granddaughter to a Hillary event, a semi-retired man with Parkinson’s Disease, a middle-aged woman — me.

I do not see the likes of us represented in the mainstream media. It used to be that popular media cared what soccer moms thought. And truly, in the past two presidential elections, I have literally been a soccer mom so I appreciated the attention. But this year, none of my darlings are playing soccer. So I’m moving up the demographics ladder — apparently to a spot where I’m not really noticed anymore.

In a way, it doesn’t matter. Because, although the media may be more concerned with the views of Trump’s deplorable white supremacists, I know — and that little girl knows, and that grandmother knows, and my husband knows — that Hillary and her team will wait for us. They will hold the elevator for us, even those of us with the cheap seats, and especially those of us who move differently or slowly. And they will make room for us when we get there. And our leader will not be an older white male who spouts hate.

No, our leader will be a good and kind, hopefully confident, girl who includes everyone. We may not be represented in the evening news, but we are looking out for each other. We will look out for you too. Take your time. We’re holding the door open for you.

A Piece of Me

I love to run to the Britney Spears song “Piece of Me.” But I haven’t been running lately.

Like Britney, everyone wants a piece of me — a piece of ass or a pound of flesh. No one seems to add to me. No one but chocolate and wine and cappuccino. They give without asking and I love them for it.

My kids want the $20s in my wallet. I’m the bank. My husband wants me to replace the ink cartridge in his printer — because now that H. has gone to college, I’m Tech Support. Yes and when H. comes home, he wants clean laundry; I’m the laundress. He also wants a dinner bigger than Trump’s ego. As for work — my writing job wants my stories written last week and at my teaching job, my students want to be entertained and given straight As.

Don’t they all know I could be fricken’ Hemingway if only I had the time?

Well, let them extract their pound of flesh, I could use to lose a few pounds. But take from my hips, not my brains or heart. Not my wallet. Go ahead, take. I still have a lot to give. I am not a placemat. Do I mean doormat? In any case, I am not a mat that you put dirty dishes or dirty boots on.

I am a doily — a small, pretty, lace thing. Delicate and grandmotherly. I survive this period of my life because someday, I’ll be a grandmother. By then, maybe my kids will no longer pick my wallet or expect a meal or clean laundry. They will see in me the things I am really good for. And do really well. Play. Tell stories. Make jokes. Sing silly songs. Write poetry. Walk (not run) in the park. Sit on a park bench.

I do look forward to growing old and returning to my childhood. A second childhood when no one extracts a pound of flesh.

What Am I Forgetting?

What happens to your son’s favorite spot on the couch when he goes to college? Nature abhors a vacuum. Someone else plops down there.

jupiter-ascending
Mila Kunis is Jupiter.

On Friday night it was me. Chris, Cate and I were watching Jupiter Ascending, which, incidentally, has a theme about seeking and punishing the mother of adult children. Never mind that. During one of the intergalactic battle scenes, my mind wandered. The thought occurred to me — as it does on every weekend night — Where is Hayden? When will he be home? (And will he surpass his curfew (again)?)

The remembering was not unlike the time he was in the old-fashioned pram on the side porch at Skenewood, the big family house in the Adirondacks. Hayden was an infant asleep for his afternoon nap. I went to the kitchen, made myself a roast beef sandwich, sat at the table, and wondered, What am I forgetting?

Oh! The baby on the side porch!

You forget that person you love for a minute. Then you remember them more deeply. Rushing back to the pram, he was fine, sleeping soundly.

My 18-year old assures me he now is sleeping well, despite the area heat wave and his lack of air conditioning in the dorm room. Yes, I’ve talked to him twice and written him a card too since we dropped him off on Wednesday.

My heart has an invisible string connected to my son. This heartstring travels across states, time zones, and galaxies. Just like the evil queen from Jupiter Ascending, who wasn’t actually evil at all, she was just very lonely and wanted to do the right thing. Or possibly, she wanted to live forever and stay young through her attachment to her children. I’m not sure.

It was a cheesy film, but his spot on the couch was pretty sweet.

Communicate Happiness

I was off and running and wanted everyone to do exactly what I said. Wait. Pause. I downshifted. I sat in my favorite chair and read the New York Times.

I have tried this gear shifting, simply letting others be, this whole week. With my son Hayden around the house only for another couple of days before college, I have thought, Screw it! Don’t pester him to load or unload the dishwasher. Let him “beach out,” as he calls it.

Beach out.

Let go.

Quit trying so hard, I tell myself. Life is not a contest. It doesn’t matter who works the hardest or struggles the most.

Make yourself a simple life.

Although.

My three children had been planted in front of televisions, laptops, iphones, screens for HOURS! I finally said, That’s it! Outside! I threw a big bouncey ball at them. They took the frisbee.

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We never had so much fun as we did on the nearby field of Riverside Park. We played Monkey in the Middle and the Witch in the Well and yes, Tag.

I hope that when they look back at their childhoods they remember playing in the field of grass. I hope I too remember laying in the grass and staring at the blue blue sky.

A few days ago, when I met my bf Jolain in Central Park, I could not get two words out of my head – Ample. Sunshine.

Last month when I was in Dublin for ten days, I had a beautiful time, but I never had days upon days of ample sunshine. Many days we had a bright blue sky with white-grey clouds. And a sprinkling of rain.

Now I have days and days of sunshine. That’s New York for you.

Growing up in Chicago, it was more like Dublin. I remember the winters — if it was grey, it was grey the whole day. When I was Hayden’s age, I moved to New York for college. I could not believe the light. Growing up in the suburbs I needed more light.

In the Presbyterian faith, churches that support the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, trans, bi families and partnerships are called more light churches. I like that.

Yesterday I was looking through my TimeHop app which captures my tweets, posts, updates from my past. I read something I had written a year ago.

Praise more. Complain less.

I think I had been inspired by skimming a book called A Complaint-Free World. I vowed to live complaint-free for one day.

Today, too, I vow to beach out, let go, have fun, find the places of ample sunshine, more light.

So far, so good.

Incidentally, a wave of joy and pride has come over me about my son heading off to college on Tuesday this week. I do not feel sad, I feel happy for him and for us as a family.

We have had a good week, shopping for his dorm room, going to Coney Island, being extras in a Greg Kinnear film. We are making memories. And we are beaching out.

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This post was written at the Ecumenical Library Writing Group. We were asked by Regina to meditate on two words, Communicate and Happiness. Then we sat silently for one minute silently as if we were in the midst of Lectio Divina, a spiritual practice of deep connection with the word. Our writing group meets next on September 14th at the Interchurch Center for 45 minutes at lunch time.