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.

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…

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.

Cruise Day 3- Split Croatia

The compelling thing about a cruise is that you tour the land by day and travel great distances on water at night. So by the time you wake up the next morning, you can be far away. In our case, we had travelled across the Adriatic Sea to Split, Croatia. Neither Croatia nor our next stops in Turkey were places I would have considered making a separate trip to, but that was the appeal of the cruise. I couldn’t imagine getting there any other way.

Split looked like a charming little town with a historic palace, market place and some museums to explore. Mike and I took the kids to the tourist attraction, the Diocletian Palace, while the other three adults visited the museum and market.

The palace was crowded, but once we climbed up the tower, we had great views of the town and out to sea. Unfortunately, the height of the stairs, as well as the rickety construction, gave Kate second thoughts about ascending. I felt bad that I had gotten her into this situation again. However, she bravely waited with me or Mike at one of the lower landings, while we took turns climbing. We were very proud of her ability to deal with the crowds and her appreciation of the old buildings we were seeing.

Next we had fun wandering the market. David, always the animal lover, spotted a woman selling rabbits. He bent down to pat them, just as he had with the pigeons in St Mark’s Square. They took to him immediately. For the rest of the trip, he tried to convince me that he should get a pet rabbit when we returned home.

After our tour, we stopped at a restaurant for pizza and salad. We sat at an outdoor table where we could watch the pedestrians from many countries walking by. While we were waiting for our food, I had my niece call home. I knew my sister would be anxious to hear from her and it was hard to get cell phone reception on the ship (not to mention very expensive).

Predictably, Kate only gave her mom minimal answers; “yes”, “no”, “cool”; so when she was done, I took over the conversation, filling her in on the details of our trip so far. I remembered how much I had longed to hear from my daughter when she was away with her Nana last summer on the Baltic.

My sister could not thank me enough for calling her. “You just made my day!” she exclaimed. I am sure Kate knew her mom would want to hear from her; but, as children do, wanted to draw the lines between her life experiences and her parents’. Fortunately, she had no qualms about sharing this experience with her aunt- so we had plenty of fun moments together, which we will remember for a long time.

Day 1- A Venetian Family Reunion

The various members of our group arrived separately, from Boston, New York, Tucson and Victoria BC. Everyone was exhausted from the trip, but excited to connect and begin our vacation. Hillary had flown from Tucson to pick up her granddaughter, Kate (11), whom she was escorting to Venice with her daughter’s blessing, envy and set of instructions. I had flown with my husband, Mike and children, Megan (15) and David (12) [a.k.a. the Cruise Family]. We had all crossed paths at JFK the night before and exclaimed “See you in Venice in 12 hours!” before went to our separate gates. Susan had flown in from Boston and, unlike the rest of us, managed to get a row of 3 seats to herself and was able to catch a few winks. Amy would not be able to join us until the following day, but her arrival from British Columbia was much anticipated.

The Cruise family landed at Marco Polo airport  and were excited to see a familiar face awaiting them on the other side of Immigration. Mike’s mother, Susan/Nana, held her arms open as Megan and David ran to greet her! Then we all boarded a bus headed for Piazza Roma in Venice.

We decided to walk to our hotel  – advertised as a mere 10 min walk from the bus stop. Each person had one suitcase to manage, but David quickly realized his Nana was having trouble with her large upright. He offered to take charge and gave her his much smaller, towable bag. Needless to say, he provided plenty of entertainment on the walk (which was much longer than 10 min btw). Crashing the suitcase in to walls and tripping over it when it skidded on the cobblestones in the narrow alleys. But his efforts at lugging it up and down the bridges were much appreciated by his Nana as she could not have managed it by herself. “Next time I need to get a more portable suitcase!” she proclaimed.

We finally arrived at our hotel, Al Duca di Venezia, and were more than happy to freshen up in our beautiful rooms. Hillary and Kate had arrived earlier and were eager to get out and explore Venice. Within an hour we were ready to head out. We decided to go to Saint Mark’s Square – an obvious tourist trap, but a must see.

It was as beautiful as we had remembered (the Cruise family had been there 2 years earlier on a tour of Italy), but the lines to enter the basilica were so long that we decided to ascend the bell tower instead. Kate very much wanted to go up, but when she discovered there was only an elevator, she confessed that she was afraid of elevators and could not bring herself to do it. Her Uncle Mike thoughtfully patted her back and told her they could explore St. Mark’s square instead. Conversely, Hillary and Susan had assumed it would be a climb up the tower, which their knees would not be up for. They had already taken off to walk along the canals and people watch together. They were excited to use this trip as a chance to get better acquainted. They had always declared they would be best friends if they lived closer to each other.

That left me, Megan and David to ascend the bell tower. When we got to the top, we took in the breath-taking views of Venice! We looked down on the moveable clock and crowded Saint Mark’s Square and across to the dome of the basilica. All the way out to sea we caught a glimpse of our Holland America cruise ship. We became very excited to think of the long adventure that awaited us tomorrow.

    

Megan was looking forward to visiting many historic sites. David was determined to take full advantage of room service on the ship, and I was looking forward to spending some quality time with each and every member of the family.

When everyone reconvened at the bottom of the tower, it was time to head to dinner. Mike had looked up a favorite restaurant which the Cruise family had visited last time we were in Venice. He printed out a step by step set of directions which led us through 42 twists and turns on back alleys until we arrived at Casa Mia- only to discover it was closed for the day.

Shrugging off our disappointment (and hunger pains) and demonstrating how flexible everyone in this odd group could be, we wandered for a few blocks until we found another place to eat. At that point some salads, Margarite pizzas and a bottle of Chianti  (or Fanta) were all it took to make everyone happy. We finished off our first day with authentic Venetian gelato and fell into our comfy beds-  exhausted but relaxed. All the stress of planning this trip was over. Now we could enjoy the next 12 days!

A New Year for Growth and Change

   My kids have been back to school for almost a week now. They are getting adjusted to their daily routine and I am trying to find my own rhythm. For the last 9 years, I have enjoyed teaching pre-school. Four and five-year olds can be so inquisitive and eager to learn new things. It was a great experience for me and I occasionally run into a student or parent who remembers me. I love to hear how they are doing and think that I played a small part in their lives.
    Every September, I started out with a fresh crop of students-all of different personalities and levels of readiness. By the end of the year, they were very comfortable with themselves and ready to move on to kindergarten. I was proud of my accomplishment.
    However, this year I decided to step back for a time. I feel there is something else I want to do, more people I want to reach. So here I am blogging my thoughts on this webpage as I attempt to determine what the next steps in my career will be.
    I decided to name my blog the Middle Generation, because like many of you I am a mom with older parents. My kids are now teenagers and my parents are very active in their own lives. However, I feel as if I am juggling my attention between the needs of my kids and the obligations I feel to look after my parents.
    My parents are dealing with cataracts, knee replacement, insomnia, arthritis and weight, as well as some nerve-wracking blood tests as they age. At the same time, my kids have reached a stage where their grades actually count. My oldest one will be driving in a year and looking at colleges in two. My younger one is gaining his independence on his bike or online (I’m not sure which is more dangerous).
    I plan to use this blog as a way to talk about subjects on both sides of me, and figure out how to find time for myself- both  physically and emotionally. Thanks for joining me on my journey.