Another Empty Nest Benefit

So here it is, President’s Day. Most other years I would be on vacation with my family- during one of the most expensive weeks to travel. Blackout dates definitely apply and airports are crowded as families make their way to their week-long vacation. Instead, I sat behind my desk today- which was very undisturbed by the way- because all of my clients were on vacation- and accumulated holiday time that can be used at a later date.

I am looking forward to taking one of my few vacations (but I hope there will be many more), that are not driven by school timing. That is another great benefit of the empty nest- I can vacation on my own terms- not the schedule of the millions of school children!

cheerio

Adjusting to the Empty Nest

babies4613Today marks the second time in the last 4 months that my husband and I have been “Empty Nesters” for over two consecutive weeks. The first time was in September, when we dropped our son off at his freshman dorm and our daughter returned to her college a few days later. The house all of a sudden seemed very quiet. No jam bands playing in the basement, no piano improv going on the the living room, no late night doors slamming or microwaves and dishes clanking. Our meal sizes had to be adjusted as well. We realized we didn’t need to make such huge portions or we would be forced to eat leftovers for days. And just as we started to settle into our new patterns- our son came home again. He was unhappy with his choice and decide to withdraw. We of course let him come home until he found his way again. After a few months he accepted an offer to work for his uncle across the country. A few days after he moved out, our daughter came home for her winter break. It was great to spend time with her, but again, our pattern was totally disrupted. She returned to school 2 weeks ago and he is still in Texas  so at this point, we are readjusted to our “Empty Nest” lifestyle. We are finding new activities to do together on the weekends and making time for ourselves to take evening classes and socialize with friends. I am enjoying not having to coordinate schedules for everyone and be a little more spontaneous. Hopefully I will now find more time to write and share my experiences. But I will not take this for granted. I have no idea what my son will decide to do in the future, and I already know my daughter plans to study for her MCAT at home this summer. So my advice to myself is to enjoy this calmer, quieter period while I can.

Til Death Do Us Part

My previous post was about changes in family due to death or remarriage. Today I am going to discuss divorce.

Nearly half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. This trend was apparent when I was a teenager in the late 70’s. A high percentage of my friends were going through a parental divorce. By the time I graduated from high school, it had happened to so many peers that I was proud my parents were still happily married.

Little did I foresee that within ten years they would get divorced- just three weeks after my own wedding. Thankfully, their principles of marriage seemed unshakeable to me at the time and they did not reveal their intentions, knowing that my faith in the permanence of my wedding vows to my betrothed, would be swept away in confusion.

Couples divorce for many reasons. I know my parents still loved each other, but for some reason they felt a need to go their own ways. I appreciate that they are still friends today and we can have family gatherings together. Unfortunately, the six months after my wedding, when I learned my parents were splitting and my new husband suffered a heart attack (not fatal), were the most devastating moments of my life- shattering my rosy concept of marriage and “for better or for worse, til death do us part”.

The days I spent in the hospital, holding my husband’s hand was relieved by having both of my parents by my side. Because they could be there for me, together, and put aside their differences, I was able to heal the pain in my heart. It also made me stronger and more determined to keep my own marriage on track, through all the trials and challenges of raising a family.

I don’t want to repeat my family history and have nothing in common with my husband once the kids are gone. It isn’t always easy to find time to be together, to talk, to express our desires, our dreams- but we certainly make an effort. Even though my parents’ divorce was heart-wrenching, I was able to take away some lessons from it:

*Don’t ever take love for granted.

*Always make time to talk to each other. Whatever the troubles are, they are better handled together.

*Look beyond the horizon. The kids will be gone in a few years (in my case, 5). Reinforce our bond at least once a week so that we revel in each other’s company when we are on our own again.

* Remember why we fell in love in the first place and try to recreate that feeling at least once a year.

*Give each other space to do their own thing; but also find activities you enjoy doing together.

By following these steps, hopefully we won’t have to put the whole puzzle of our marriage back together when we become empty-nesters; but only will have to pick up a dropped stitch here and there. I have a picture in my mind of my husband and I, sitting on our front porch with a glass of wine in our hands and our walkers by our sides, enjoying the view of the sunset and reflecting on old times.

Baby Pictures

This morning I grabbed my camera and snuck out to the front porch to take some pictures of the Robins nesting there. I think I was inspired by all the beautiful shots of hummingbirds, grosbeaks and goldfinches that Carol has posted on her blog   (http://cjvl.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/it-is-after-all-bird-season/). Even though the American Robin no longer migrates from the Northeast during winter, they do become more active in the spring and the sight of them making a nest full of  bright blue eggs is a sign that Spring is finally here.

Every year, a Robin couple has returned to our front porch to build its nest. I can’t blame them. From the outside, the perch is well-hidden by a climbing hydrangea and sheltered from wind and rain by the roof and lattice-work. On the inside it is quiet and safe from predators. Even the nosy humans don’t pose too much of a threat. The worst thing we do is tear down the nest every summer so they have to start fresh if they choose to come back.

I don’t know where they go after they are done brooding, but somehow they always return, year after year. I find it fascinating that somehow they have a homing device in their brains.

The mother did not like it when I took pictures of her on the nest, but she must not have felt too threatened because she flew off a few minutes later, giving me an opportunity to catch some shots of the babies.  They looked so small and helpless- tiny little beaks with patches of fluff covering their exposed freckled bellies.

It made me think about the responsibilities of the mother. How she sits on the nest to lay the eggs and keep them warm. Then she must fly off in search of food to bring to her young ones. When she determines they are big enough to fly, she must force them out of the nest to spread their wings and face the real world. Warding off foes, hunting for food, seeking shelter and finding a mate are the challenges that lie ahead for these fledglings.

How much support can the mother give them once they have left the nest? And for how long do they stick together? Maybe an ornithologist could tell me in more detail how a bird’s life and social structure parallels humans; but from what I have observed or read I can see the similarities. The biggest difference is the importance of family.

While the bird parents are protective of their young, once they are a few weeks old they lose that connection. Will this Robin mom be sad when her last baby flies away? Statistically, 25% of them don’t even make it past two weeks. At those odds, it is not worth attaching yourself to a young living being. You raise them, send them off and start over again. It’s called the life cycle, right?

Humans, on the other hand, never stop being parents once they have children. Even when the children have offspring of their own, the parents still are bonded to them. Thanks to the average American life span of 78.5 years, we have more time to nurture our children, form strong families and friendships and create multi-generational bonds. The ties to our family members give us confidence and support. Knowing that they will always have our back encourages us to try new things.

It seems a lot more reassuring to a mom to know that even as she gently prods her child out of the home and encourages him to “fly”, he can always call her on his cell phone or hop on a bus and come home.