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)

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.

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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.

A Message in a Bottle

Have been co-leader on a (write the love letter to your teenage daughter) life coaching call for three Saturday mornings over three weeks. It’s been wonderful to stop and look around.

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Char dancing at a dance concert at the end of year.

Sit for a minute on life’s journey to assess where you are and how far you’ve come.

Maybe like me, your June is a shifting kaleidoscope.

My son graduated from high school, got a job, wants to buy a car — all in less than a week.

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Mom and Me and an Act of God.

My mother came and went, visiting from Chicago. We walked and talked. She offered unasked-for advice. She also offered unasked-for love. We picnicked in Riverside Park, walked the High Line, wandered in Central Park, took in a Broadway Show (“An Act of God with Jim Parsons).

One of my 15-year old daughters set off for 12 days of kayaking in Alaska last night.

The other daughter came home at 1 am last night, causing me to worry with a heart attack. (She was repentant. Blamed the West Side Highway traffic!)

Chris gathered some of his friends from First Grade for a reunion dinner party at our house last night. It was lovely. When I first met Chris, I was deeply attracted to his friends and the way he loved them. Funny, isn’t it? This is such a lovable quality — having nice friends. But Chris is slowing down a lot. Because of his Parkinson’s, he seems older or frailer than his friends.

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We went to the Museum of Natural History. We went to see Nature’s Fury. And then, as usual, lay under the big blue whale. Meditation. Ah.

When? Why? How did we all grow older? Why did my kids grow up? I told them not to! I said Stay Little! They were the cutest little darlings. Does all this mean I am ageing too?

The life coaching call reminds me to embrace the memories; celebrate the moment; choose joy; stay true; stay present. We make mistakes; we make amends. We hang in there. We have a family motto, “Jones Kids never give up.”

In the midst of my busy family life, the life coaching call is a breath — a slowing down — to take it in. Celebrate this moment. We have so much. Gratitude wins. Love wins.

I jot down my thoughts and dreams and hopes for my family. I send them like messages in a bottle. Hope they reach the shore. Hope my daughters and son (husband, mother, extended family, friends) know I love them. Believe that love is enough.

PS Remember to join me at the Irish American Bar Association’s Bloomsday June 16th! Another busy week. But this one will be less family-centered and more friends, work, writing-centered. Thank God.

Am also getting psyched for my trip in July to Ireland with the Dublin Writers Retreat.

 

Make your day count

let it go.
be silly. have fun. get out of bed in the morning. make your bed.

get out of your own way.

too much to do. every day is a new beginning. this is the season of the new. leading to Christmas. to new life. to a new year.

disappointments are natural. my son’s college application process was too easy. last night he hit a glitch. don’t want to go into the details. (the kids tell me, “you post too many facebook pics!” “you’re too obsessed with social media.” “you tell everyone everything.” yes. yes. yes.)

tell a story. make it good.
make it meaningful.
it’s enough.

it’s today. today is all.
i have it all. i have today.

i have been subbing. and i heard that one of my students, one who causes me no trouble, a nice kid, has something seriously wrong. (like, really serious!) why does this happen? not that i would want it to happen to one of my mischief-makers but maybe that would explain why she doesn’t listen or why he shouts out. but why the quiet, kind one? it so sucks. makes me not believe in God. makes me hurt for all the stupid injustice. life’s unfair.

why the shooting of unarmed teens? of one mother’s son? why, God?

when I get to heaven, i need a lot of answers.

until then, i will make today count. tell a story. make it meaningful.

then, let it go. have fun.

i’m choosing a word for 2015. it is happiness. what’s your word? what’s your story?

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We took the ferry from Essex to Charlotte. From New York to Vermont on Thanksgiving weekend. So beautiful.

 

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Coco can’t believe the sunset. It happens every single night. The sun sets. I want to notice the sunrises and sunsets.

 

Bucket Filling

One downside to sending our kids to a very elite private school is that they don’t always feel proud of the fact that we are solidly middle class. Some of their friends have mansion-type apartments.

At a conversation on race at their school the other night, an African American male teacher, Mr. V., said that throughout his whole high school experience as a student at the school, he never once brought a friend home.

I told CoCo that. She said she doesn’t bring friends home either. But. ahem, she does. We are a fun family. I mentioned a half-dozen times in the last month her friends have stopped over.

This whole convo started because CoCo had been saying, as she does fairly regularly, “We need new floors. Let’s get those dark brown wooden floorboards.” She’s fixated on the inadequacy of our apartment floors.

“Honey, we need so much more than new floors. We need to fix that patchy paint job where the super fixed a leak two years ago. The laundry area is a mess.” I could start a to-do list but that’s not what I wanted to say.

Our apartment is so pretty when it's tidy. I was getting ready for book club dinner here.
Our apartment is so pretty when it’s tidy. I was getting ready for book club dinner here.

We have a beautiful, big apartment. We make it more beautiful all the time. I wish I was more dedicated to interior design. We have Anna come once a week. But we need more household help. Chris cannot really pick up like he used to.

I have been working a ton. I feel a sense of frustration at the amount I work and the little I get paid. Yet. Yet. I love my work. I love what I do so much. I love teaching and writing and editing. And my clients are amazing. I learn so much. And so, in this way, I am a little like CoCo, wanting more, wanting nicer, loving those luxury brands. Yet. I want to feel grateful for all that we have. Not all that we don’t have.

When I was doing the art handling work, I told my friend David Pullman who was working alongside me I couldn’t do the work any more because it paid too little. He said, “Every drop fills the bucket.” I love that.

Every drop of gratitude fills my bucket. My bucket gets filled, not by things, but by kind words and encouragement. Not by criticism, but by specific praise.

Check out this prezi on Bucket Filling

 

A Month of Blogging: Day 29

I have blogged nearly every day of October and I’ll be glad to NOT blog every. single. freakin’. day.

I learned that I have something to say. That surprised me. I thought I’d run out of ideas, but no.

I wanted to repost some old stories, but I didn’t. The one story I did repost — about an educator whom I love, Geoffrey Canada, received very low traffic. The story with the highest traffic this month (470 readers!) was about Bridget and Amanda’s wedding. Everyone loves a love story.

I thought I might just post pics on Wordless Wednesdays, but I didn’t.

I wrote a couple of posts on my phone.

I thought I’d write about writing. You know, I was hoping to get all professional and writerly with you. I wanted to share tips and tricks and be seen as an expert. But no, I didn’t. I wrote mostly about family matters.

It wasn’t the writing that was hard. I’m a fast writer. It was finding the time to write. I have a crazy busy life — Coco’s ruptured cyst, jury duty, wonderful freelancing, substitute teaching, afterschool artist, doctor’s visits, housecleaning.

Yes, housecleaning! That always gets in the way of my blogging. Must stop cleaning.

Tomorrow, I’m back on jury duty. I hope there’s nothing from the criminal courts to blog about.

I will leave you with today’s pic from my beautiful Riverside Park.

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You win some. You lose some.

During dinner last night, one of the darlings was waiting for the email on whether she had made it onto student council. Five people ran for three spots. Her speech was very funny, slightly quirky, personal, and poetic.

For example, in her speech, she mentioned, “I’m deathly afraid of squirrels. But I love whales.” A mom wonders (worries).

My other daughter said, “She’s going to win.”

“Whatever the outcome, you’re a winner in my book,” I said.

We started talking about rejection.

My husband talking about running for Actors Equity Council several times and not being elected.

I said, I can’t count how many of my stories and novels have been rejected.

My other kids talked about not getting parts in plays. Or not being chosen for a school leadership program or a semester exchange program.

Wow! I thought, as a family, we’ve really put ourselves out there. It takes courage to send yourself, your work, your potential leadership out into the world.

And the anxiety is intense — as you wait to learn yours or your work’s fate — from elections, an editor’s perspective, a director’s choice, or a program committee’s discretion.

So, we’d had no word yet on the results. Four of us were watching Modern Family. My daughter got the news.

She walked into the family room: “You’re looking at one of your 9th grade student council representatives!”

We can.
Yes, we can. Take a risk.

We cheered! Those moments of putting yourself out there pay off.

You’re no longer commiserating about rejection, but celebrating a win! We were so happy for her.

How do you handle rejection? How about those wins? Let’s celebrate our courage as we put ourselves in the arena.

Every risk — no matter how small — pays off. In some way. It may not even be the way you intended, but it will pay off. Today, take a risk to make something better.  

Ready, Set, Done. (I started this blog post in my journal and then finished it on my blog.) I am also a part of #31daysofwriting.