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.

Balancing “Me” Time and Mommy Guilt

[http://personalexploration.blogspot.com]

  Yesterday morning I indulged myself with a visit to a day spa. I had received a gift certificate during the holiday season. I kept putting off scheduling an appointment because of kid’s illnesses, school vacations, tennis tournaments… you name it, my kids took priority.

So I finally found a day that worked for me when my kids did not need me. For the value of my gift certificate I was able to receive an herbal bath followed by a sixty minute massage. Ahh… the life of a SAHM. Isn’t that what we all do? At least when we are not watching daytime tv…

[http://spa-topia.com]

The bath should have been a relaxing soak, letting the jets loosen up my muscles while breathing in the aromatic herbal therapies my masseur threw into the bubbling water. Instead I kept wondering how much time had passed and whether I would make it home in time to bring a cooler of drinks to my son’s final “fun” practice.

Then the masseur transferred me to a quiet room with zen music and low lighting. I laid face down on the soft sheets while he worked his magic on all my tight spots. It was just what I needed to erase my stress and release my tension; but somehow I found it hard to focus on the moment.

[http://zantesalonspa.com]

I found my mind drifting into thoughts about how much my daughter would like this- how it would release the anxiety of her upcoming final exams. I tried to analyze the techniques my masseur was using so I could replicate them on her at home. I also contemplated the possibility of giving her a gift certificate to use as a birthday present. After all, I thought, doesn’t she deserve such luxurious treatment too?

I finally had to yell at myself (in my head, of course) and say: “What about Me time? This is supposed to be about Me! Can’t I stop thinking about my kids- either how much this would help them or if I will make it to their practice on time- for a mere 90 minutes?”

I don’t know if the fact that I am not working this year has put me on Mommy High Alert, or if I was always like this and didn’t realize it. Somehow I have to work out a more even balance between “Me” time and “Mommy” time.

[http://mamanyc.net]

I don’t know how she does it. Doesn’t she look calm and in control? Relaxation was the purpose of my spa visit. It seems ironic that it didn’t turn out that way.

The Strings that Bind us Together

Twenty one years ago, I was a single woman working on my master’s degree and trying to fit some fun exercise into my free time. I had always loved tennis- having taken lessons and played with friends or family throughout my childhood. When I learned that there was an adult tennis league I decided to join. While most matches were accessible via public transportation, there were a few that required a car. When the team captain asked if anyone could assist me, one member happily volunteered.

He picked me up in his red sedan and we drove off to our match. At that point I hardly knew anything about him; but as the summer progressed and he offered to take me to every match, we became very familiar with each other’s interests and aspirations. He was a much stronger tennis player than I was so we were never partners. He would usually play singles while I played doubles or mixed doubles. Nevertheless, we enjoyed each other’s company on the rides and would often go out for a bite to eat afterwards.

Inevitably our friendship evolved into dating. Sometimes our dates consisted of playing tennis and then going to dinner; but we quickly discovered that we had other common interests. Our favorite activites included hiking, boating and, eventually, cross-country skiing. We spent evenings at concerts or plays and introduced each other to new experiences. I’m sure you can see where this story is going… we got married less than a year later.

As our lives became more involved raising our family, we had less time to play tennis together; but we did spend some time teaching the game to our children. As they got older , they became interested in other sports – gymnastics, baseball and soccer took precedence over tennis. Soon we only had time to play tennis on our vacations. We would always throw our rackets in the car or suitcase and try to squeeze a few games in while we were away from our busy routines.

Then, last year, our son became seriously interested in playing tennis as a sport. He dropped all his other games and focused on improving his racket skills. This year he has risen to the number one spot on the Junior Varsity team. My husband and I spend a minimum of two afternoons a week watching him play. The other day, as we were driving to a match, I started to laugh. I felt like I was experiencing a deja vu. Here we were,  driving in our white family SUV, heading to a tennis match just like we used to. Only this time we were going as spectators instead of players.

We are both so happy that our son has found a love for the same sport that brought us together and started our family. Regardless of how far he takes his game, tennis will be a social activity he can enjoy throughout his life. Who knows, maybe someday he will have his own story to tell about how it changed his life. It certainly changed mine. This winter we will celebrate our 20th anniversary- one that might never have come to be if I hadn’t needed a ride to a tennis match.

Matzah Ball Soup

My fifteen year old is home sick today. For the most part she stays in her room and rests, but I know she appreciates me coming to check on her from time to time. When I went in a few minutes ago, she asked me to make her some Matzah Ball Soup. In our mixed faith household, matzah ball soup has become a comfort food. Even though my mother never stocked matzah meal in her house, I always make sure to have some on hand in my pantry.   It is not hard to make matzah ball soup, it is just time-consuming. My husband will make fresh chicken stock, but I usually use grocery staples to keep it simpler. I mix the matzah meal in a bowl with eggs and oil,      

chill it while I boil the water, form it into balls

and plop them into the pot, quickly putting the lid over it.

We used to only have matzah ball soup with holiday meals, but Nana has been with the kids often enough when they were sick that she knew to pick up groceries at the local store and cook up some TLC with her more traditional recipe. For my daughter, the request for this soup translates into a subtle plea for attention. She needs me to acknowledge she is not feeling well and deserves some special treatment. I recognize this need but do not mention it. Instead I obligingly fill my role as mom and caregiver, one that does not come up as frequently in her teenage years. It is a tacit agreement that she needs me more than she cares to admit and that she knows I love her, even though she won’t say it.

The parent-child relationship changes so much over the course of a lifetime. We start as completely dependent on our parents and grow to break away from them. As we mature into adults, we reform our view of our parents and gain mutual respect. While we live independent lives, it is still reassuring to have a parent to ask advice of, or to give moral support when you are down. As our own parents age, we know they may need our assistance too. After a lifetime of pouring out love for us, we want to give some of that back to them.

Now I am in the role of sending that loving message to my own child. By taking the trouble to make her this matzah ball soup, I am letting her know how important she is to me and how much I care. I already know there will not be much of an exchange, other than a brief expression of thanks; but a lecture is not necessary to convey my thoughts. The matzah ball soup has become a symbol of comfort and love. It shows us that we are family and will do what it takes to keep each other well. And I know on another day it will come back from her direction. But for now, this says it all…

Day 9- A”Maze”ing Mykonos

Today we arrived in Mykonos, a popular Greek island for tourists. Everyone was excited to get out and explore after our previous day at sea. Hillary and Susan wanted to walk through the town together, shopping and sampling the local food. Mike, Amy and myself planned to take the kids to a beach for some swimming in the lovely blue Mediterranean waters.

We had done some research the day before and decided on a beach which was slightly farther away, possibly less crowded. Mike wanted to give David a thrill by renting a scooter for touring around. Amy and I planned to take Megan and Kate on the bus and meet up later.

We had all been informed by the cruise director that Mykonos was originally designed with natural foils- winding streets and alleys which were not laid out in any logical manner- in order to prevent capture by invaders. He promised us that we would get lost. Sure enough, while searching for the bus depot, we seemed to wander in circles, passing points over again until we got lucky enough to spot the buses.

The schedule was complicated to figure out and led us to believe we had just missed the bus to our destination and would have to make other plans. Just then we saw Mike and David filling up their gas tank nearby. We told them our new plan and they said they would meet us there.

When the bus arrived a few minutes later, we saw that it was in fact going to the beach we had preferred to visit. Oh well, so much for meeting the guys. At least they had a scooter and could get around on their own. We were stuck with where the buses went.

We had a comfortable ride up and down the coast of the island and could appreciate the layout of the different beaches. We arrived at our stop about 20 minutes later. The turquoise water was very inviting and the warm sand felt soothing between our toes.

We plunked our towels and backpacks down and went for a swim. Kate and Megan had a great time splashing and diving together. It was nice to see them having so much fun. And that was the point of taking a relaxing beach day where we weren’t focused on seeing the historic attractions. Amy and I lay on our towels, soaking in the smell of the salt air, the rolling sound of the waves and the glow of the sparkling sunshine on the waters.This was close to Paradise…

Unfortunately, our reverie would soon have to end in order to catch a bus back to our cruise ship. We collected our things and headed to the washroom. When we walked into the cafe, lo and behold, Mike and David were sitting at the counter having some sandwiches!  Apparently they had gone to the beach we told them, discovered we had not made it and decided to come here anyway. The funny thing is that they had not even considered looking for us on the beach,because we had stayed close to the moped parking area just in case.

We had to get going though, so we headed to the bus stop and then took the return trip back into town. Now all we had to do was rewind our steps through the maze to locate our loading area. At one point we came to a fork in the road. We were not sure which way to go and Amy suggested walking out to the water to get an idea of where our ship was. We passed through an outdoor cafe to the seaside lookout. We spotted our cruise ship and knew the general direction to head.

As we walked back through the cafe, Megan spotted her Grandma and Nana sitting at the table an arms reach away! They were so surprised when she gave them a hug! We pulled up some chairs to join them and told them about our earlier meeting with Mike and David. Of all the places where the reputation was for getting lost, we had some pretty remarkable encounters!

We spent a half hour or so, sharing our adventures over some Mojitos and lemonades. It was funny to think what the chances of meeting up were, especially if Amy had not insisted on looking for the ship. When we got our bill, we were dismayed to learn that our Mojitos were outrageously expensive (12 Euros each). Fortunately, the ambiance of our gathering- surprise, family, view- made the whole experience “Priceless”.

Kids in the Hot Tub

Ever since I booked a Mediterranean cruise this past summer, I have been receiving a newsletter from Cruise Critic.com.   I usually just read the headliner and then move on. In the last week though, something caught my eye. Apparently, with the increasing number of families taking cruises the lines have become blurred over the rules about kids using the hot tubs and who is responsible for enforcing them. As the author of the blog, Jodi Thompson, said this has become a “hot button topic”. Reading the responses to the article was quite dramatic. People strongly had an opinion on either side of the argument. So here is my view, having been on a Holland America cruise this summer with adolescent children, for what its worth.

During the first two days of our cruise, the Lido pool (aka the family pool) was closed for maintenance. The only option for the children (of whom there were plenty) was to swim in the Aft pool (labelled as adults only). Obviously, it would not have been fair to prohibit children from using the only available pool on the ship and I had no problem with that plan. However, once the pool was reopened the rule did not seem to be enforced. The first day I used the adult pool was our day at sea. It would have been very relaxing to lay on a lounge chair by the pool or soak in the hot tub, except for the fact that both were teeming with children- some wearing only a swim diaper!

Hygiene and health issues aside, don’t I have the right to enjoy some peace and quiet if I am at what is called the adult-only pool? My own children always went to the family pool. They were old enough to know polite manners and how to be safe. Besides, at 11, 13 and 15 they needed their own space as much as I needed mine. Even though the Lido pool was crowded and noisy, it looked like the kids were all having fun. There were plenty of families hanging out there…except for the few who chose to ignore the rules and allow their children to play in the adult pool.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have been a preschool teacher for 10 years and I love little kids. But this was my summer vacation. I came here to get away and relax. I tried to ignore them for a while, but every time I wanted to swim, I got splashed in the face. And whenever I wanted to use the hot tub, there was a crowd of them horsing around in there. Finally I could not tolerate it anymore. I felt like a terrible curmudgeon, who everyone must think hates children, but I approached one of the parents. I politely pointed out that this was an adult pool for relaxing and that the other pool had reopened and was meant for families. She didn’t look too happy with me, but she went to check it out and within fifteen minutes moved her kids to the other pool.

Apparently, I was not the only one who was annoyed. A little while later, a staff member asked the kids in the hot tub to leave and by the next day, signs were up everywhere reminding people of the age restriction. Of course, there were some teenagers who ended up using the adult area, but as long as they were just talking and not fooling around no one bothered them. I couldn’t really blame them since their only other choice was to go in the noisy kids pool.

Maybe what these cruise lines need to do is rethink their on board entertainment areas in order to accommodate the growing numbers of young families as well as the retirees who tend to travel. There should be a reasonable way to provide an appropriate swimming area for different age groups and a willingness to enforce their rules. Parents need to be responsible as well. The last thing I want to do is be policing other people’s children when I am on vacation.

Torn in Three Directions

How do you know if you are a member of the Sandwich Generation? When you feel yourself being pulled in opposite directions at the same time.

Like today, for example.  My husband and I had plans to meet with our financial advisor while the kids were in school. After the appointment, I had  made a lunch date with my father and was going to assist my mother with her car battery. I was also trying to keep to my routine of yoga followed by some writing. None of this plan felt outside of my realm. I am very organized and had everything under control. But, as anyone with kids knows, well-laid plans can quickly change.

This became apparent when  my son woke up with a migraine and nausea and has needed my attention.  Instead of putting him on the school bus, I have been trying to soothe him and give him medication to ease his pain. In a few minutes I will bring him some warm broth to drink. All the while he is so apologetic for causing me trouble. How do I answer that? Isn’t caring what moms do best? I just want to be there and make him better.

But now I am torn. I feel badly leaving him on his own when he is so miserable, but I have already rescheduled with our planner twice; and my father is leaving for his winter residence in another week so it could be one of the last chances to see him. How does the middle generation keep it’s head on straight? Talk about multi-tasking…. I’m even trying to squeeze in this blog. Finding the right balance in life is complicated. I care so much about everyone and I love my family deeply. It so hard to take a deep breath and step back,  line up our priorities. And how do we do that? How do we choose which tasks are more important? Are they the ones that involve caring for people or accomplishing things? And what do you do when there is a time limit?

It all comes down to choices and doing the best you can. You can’t give your all to everyone, but you can strive for quality over quantity. So how is this for a solution? I’ll care for my son until I have to leave (he’s asleep right now so I can do my blog); I’ll head to my meeting (which I do not want to cancel for a third time), and then keep my visit with  dad short but sweet. If I don’t get to the battery, I can probably find another day to do it. I’ll feel better getting back home to check on my child.

Previous Older Entries