Empty nester

Tonight I write with the winter ale, “Ursus,” as my companion. Ursus is a seasonal beer put out by a local brewery, Greenbush. This is a brewery that has known phenomenal success since opening just a few years ago, and has turned our tiny hometown into a destination. We have watched its’ growth in amazement, and hope the success continues. For craft beer lovers, (and foodies), it is pure pleasure. Ursus packs a punch at an 8.5% alcohol by volume. What this means for you, the reader,(and my husband) is that my inhibitions will soon take flight and I will probably need to do heavy editing later on. So be it, friends!

So now I have become a total cliche’ and am wincing at the thought. Our youngest son has been launched an hour away, at a community college, with new roommates, apartment, and a new routine. Of course, we have been down this road before with his brother, but it really was different with him. He was soooo independent, so irritated and chafing at the small time life here, that it was relatively painless seeing him off. So what if I kept the door to his room closed for weeks to pretend he was coming back? Eventually I opened it up so the cat could lay on his bed. And I just swallowed the pangs away. Probably with the help of the aforementioned local brews.

If you read one of my previous blogs about Danny, “The Road to Holland,” then you are familiar with our life’s path. It began with worry and I wonder if it will ever end. I worry that he is going to get cancer or a heart attack from eating processed food 24/7 and that he won’t wash his sheets for weeks and that he will give up on himself under the weight of demanding college classes and that his oddball roommate could possibly be dealing drugs. Did I mention there was a shooting in his complex? That was a nice bit of news to hear. My husband googled the incident only to learn we signed a lease in an area that is known to be a “hotbed of violence.” Great! I feel like I have thrown a newborn calf into a pen of wolves, although I know that is ridiculously dramatic.

He will be fine, though he doesn’t know it yet. His anxiety is palpable, and I must bury my own somewhere with those pangs I swallowed, lest his tiny seeds of confidence fail to take root. I have fought so hard for him to get to this point. I have to trust this growing process, let my Leo the late bloomer blossom as I always said he would.

He will be more than fine. The question I am asking now is, what about me?

Women my age are now in the prime of their careers, reaching salary peaks and desirable positions. My career is making his way in Nashville, and in western Michigan, while I sit and wonder if I gave it enough, or too much, and why couldn’t I do kids and a job like everyone else?

I did work in the early childhood field. But it’s always been on and off, and I never felt as if I could do a job and family well at the same time. Because when they were little and I tried to do both, I was a hideous, miserable multi-tasker. Upon further reflection, my husband worked long and demanding hours in those early days, and I was firm about not being an absentee parent. I have no regrets, and I had no qualms about knowing there was only room enough for one “career” in the house. Indeed, that career has been very good to us.


I really never thought about what would happen later. We tried hard not to be so child-centered that we neglected each other, and I think we succeeded in that. I don’t look at my husband and think, “who the hell are you?” No, now I am looking in the mirror and asking those words of myself.

Who am I, without “helping” with years worth of homework anymore? Without prodding and pushing and rescuing and morphing into a warrior for special education? And I torture myself thinking it was overkill. Did I neglect our older, so-competent son? Did I tell him enough how proud we were of him? What if boy number two crumbles like a cookie in the real world, because I didn’t teach him to rely on himself, instead of me? I pray feverishly this doesn’t happen. If I am truthful, which with Ursus’ help I will be, I will admit that this scenario scares me more for me, than for him. Because I will have the answer that who I am, is a failure. After all, from the minute they are born children are separating from us, and that is as it should be. We are supposed to be showing them how to become their own selves, not to glom onto them because we don’t know our own.

I know that what I am experiencing is a normal process and I will hopefully figure it all out sometime before I die. I have time to share and I am eager to serve. In the meantime, I just simply miss their boy presence around me, their boy smells and smiles, and I fear there is no amount of volunteer work that can fill the empty space of my heart.


The animals begin eyeing me warily as I chase them down for cuddles and comfort.

Humane Society, here I come.

Cheers to new beginnings, friends!





For all the holiday fairies

This post, like the previous one, is accompanied by coffee. But it is 8:00 on New Year’s Day, and I need it, because it’s not looking like I am going back to sleep. Ironically I did not have any beer last night. I opted for two lemon drop martinis, which were deliciously imbibed at the time, but could have something to do with a vague headache and rebelling bowels. And being up at 6:30. Ah…partying at 49 just ain’t what it used to be. Like a lot of things. And, that is okay. We had a nice dinner with good friends, and that is enough of a party for me these days.

I am horrifically late with this writing, but I will take the easy way of blame and place it squarely on the season’s shoulders. Truthfully, I love celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas…and give everything over to the decorating, the cooking and cleaning, and the gathering of those dear. But equally truthful, it takes a lot out of me. Every year I wrangle with supposedly twistable  evergreen garland, and every year a chain of obscenities escapes my mouth as I force the unyielding stuff into place. Mounds of storage bins to be transported flank my sides. I make yearly vows to Pare. It. Down.  Of course I do get help, but afterward I will stand there sweating and cursing basement stairs and wonder why do I do this to myself?

I bake batches and batches of yummy cookies, peering through my cookbooks for weeks ahead of time to plan my annual giveaway to neighbors. I work into the wee night making pies and other delights until my back and neck ache unbearably, and even my son asked me why. Since I had so recently asked this of myself I was ready. I answered, “because someday I won’t be able to. ” I also add to myself, “because the minute I don’t make grandma’s powdered sugar balls and corn casserole and my peach jello you will all ask where is so and so?” And, it’s true. Whether it will be due to failing health, memory, energy, or maybe all three, the day will come when I will probably opt for a little tabletop tree and someone else will be the hostess.

I remember when this moment came for my mother. One Thanksgiving as we were cleaning up, she stopped and said, “I don’t think I can do this anymore. At one point today I couldn’t remember what to do next. I couldn’t remember how to make the gravy…” her words faded away as tears threatened. “Do you think one of you girls can take over?” I hugged her and said of course, I would be happy to…and would have done so earlier if I had known. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask, as she seemed to so thoroughly enjoy all that a holiday dinner entailed. Not only was she a superb cook and welcoming of guests, she made it seem utterly painless. One has only to put on a simple dinner for a few, to know that even this takes work to do it well.

As a child, you take all of this for granted. Children are too busy dreaming of turkey and gravy and making up lists for Santa, or fretting about teenage breakups or college and getting jobs, to give much attention to behind the scenes action. Didn’t the long banquet table adorned with the finest dishes and the painstakingly wrapped gifts just appear by themselves? Well, no…but that is how it seems to them.

But children grow up, and then they see. They see that it takes more than a fictional holiday fairy or chubby guy in a suit to make it all happen.

My mother was not an emotionally expressive person. Relationships were difficult for her, often strained and tense for a variety of reasons. The family complaint was that she was a hypocrite, going all Norman Rockwell come November, when where was this person the rest of the year? Where was all the warmth and acceptance and elaborate planning that she threw herself into with such fervor?

The answer, of course, is that it was always there.

It’s just that it went into hiding for much of the rest of the time, I think  due to a crippling mix of depression and martyrdom. Unlike many whose depression skyrockets during the holidays, hers went underground until January. It was as if she then had permission to show us the love she had for us, through the Herculean efforts of cleaning, baking, and enough food for an army.

The truth is, it’s why any of us do what we do at this time of year. Not for Martha Stewart accolades, not to outdo anyone else, or to convince anyone that lookhowgreatIamIcanmakefourpiesfromscratch. We do it out of love for our families, and if we do it right it is without complaint and of free will. We are trying to create magic that escape us at other times of the year, even if the stress of  it all while juggling a job just might erase a few years off one’s life.

Through all my mom’s imperfections, even as a youngster I sensed what November and December meant to her. I couldn’t wait for them either, because it was as close to Norman’s paintings as we came. And I was going to take it, dysfunction and all.

I didn’t thank her nearly enough.

For the piles of homemade treats, the miracle of endless food made in a kitchen the size of a large bathroom, the invitations to those who had nowhere to go, the cleaning and table set up and re-organizing and the list goes on.

But I think from wherever she is, she knows, as she watches me try to make my own magic with the same traditions.

And so it will go, until the day comes when I look up and ask someone else to take the reigns, and the holiday wand. And I will be more than okay with that, because I will probably be tired. Until then…I will clutch my recipe folders and magazine clippings full of snowmen, reindeer and Santa cakes close to my heart. And hope I still have a few year’s worth of yuletide fairy dust to sprinkle.

Happy New Year, friends. And may all of your kitchens be bigger than your bathrooms.