Wednesday, September 26, 2012


"Life is so unnerving, for a servant who's not serving. You're not whole without a soul to wait upon..."
---Lumiere, of Beauty and the Beast, singing about  Empty Castle Syndrome

There's an expression in baseball, meant to urge on the batter: "You've seen it now." 

I thought about it, and I'm going to post about Empty Nest again. I've seen it now. It's bigger than I am, this transition, and so I'm pretty sure it's big for other people too, and at this point in my Personal Life Transition (formerly known as Empty Nest), it's best to share.

There are several things worth mentioning about the Personal Life Transition and this post will be about not ignoring them. This post will be about respecting your inner crybaby. Frankly, this post will be one I'd read myself if I weren't writing it.  

Last night I had dinner with a friend who will soon face daily life without children at home, as I did a month ago. We discussed this transition for a while. How empty nest begins with missing the children, but then quickly, at around the time when you're telling everyone how well you're doing, (go over there and click on a "A Friend in Time" and you'll see what I mean)  becomes a Personal Life Transition. With each passing day, it has less to do with the child who has left, and more to do with you, who have stayed behind watching a YouTube of Alan Jackson singing "Remember When" even though you know you  hate lack an appreciation for Country music.

Some of  us, if we're being honest, own up to the feelings of loss and disorientation that come with this transition. We see each other at the grocery store and obscure traffic by the broccoli stand talking about it.  We go out for dinner and share  sad/happy then/now stories. We post comments to each other on Facebook.  Others, the ones who are tough-loving themselves through it, consider it self-indulgent and self-fulfilling to dwell on this passage.

I say, dwell.

This is more than a passage. This is one big-ass transition.

It's not just because there are multiple parts to it (the summer-long goodbye, the shopping/packing, the remember when-ing, the wistful gazing, the clean house, the quiet TV room, the tidy bathroom) it's also because it isn't quick. For weeks after the last child leaves, there are aftershocks that can be felt, even if, by then, there is not a stray sock or empty coke can or overflowing trash basket in sight.

From what I observe, I'm about a third of the way through. I've shored up the social calendar, planned some travel, picked up my writing life, and considered where I'll put my altruistic self a few hours each week as a volunteer.

The harder part is addressing the unfamiliar feel of familiar life. You can get up at the same time, leave the house at the same time, do the same daily stuff you always do, but there is a strange, counter-intuitive feel to no longer planning your life around the habits of someone else, even if subconsciously. There is a confusing feel to parenting, too, which remains who you are, but becomes less what you do. And, while I grew used to our son's absence quickly, I am still wondering how to replace the playful spirit in the house that made me take myself a little less seriously each day. I'm still working on the unfamiliar feel of that one.

It's tempting to compare this search for new footing to walking across a frozen pond in sneakers without falling down, but even I think that's a stretch.  It's much more like  roller skating through a dark room without bumping into the furniture. Yes, that's it. That's what it's like.

I'm not quite there yet, in the new life. I'm not unhappy but I'm not serene. With complete freedom, I've become undisciplined; starting projects I don't finish, rushing to be on time for everything,  bouncing from spot to spot looking for the writing location that grounds me every day. But... if I shake my head to think of how well my day ran back when I ran a family,  it's occurred to me more than once that each of those days was framed - from beginning to end  - by the habits of others. 

When I meet them, I am positive my new habits and I will hit it off.

Alan Jackson, who
 Remembers When
So take heart, fellow Personal Life Transitioners. However you do it, whether you roll, slide, stumble or leap to the other side, you will land in a place that has been waiting for you,  is what Alan Jackson and I believe. Look what happened to Belle.

In the meantime, dwell. 

For a short time, shelve the fact that there are bigger problems than having a completely free schedule and  a child who was ambitious and lucky enough to make it into college. Appreciate that the exit of the last child has the same potential to take your life in a new direction as the arrival of the first. As therapists suggest, "embrace" the transition for the real and unique life event that it is. Find it interesting. As you would not want to be crushed by an elephant walking through the yard, you wouldn't want to run away and miss something so mighty and powerful up close either. Same thing.

Like all things, it is right now, and then it will be gone. What won't be gone, for a little while anyway, is the song "Be Our Guest" which I put in your head on purpose to make you happy.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pet peevish

Right after I finished the post I wrote for this space,  I decided to submit it as an article. Good for me, but blog-wise it left me empty-handed, so this will be a cereal-for-dinner kind of post. Not especially compelling, but not about empty nest again either.

Today, I had to choose between: The man who flirted with me in traffic recently (and how long it took for me to realize he wasn't trying to alert me to a problem with my car), or pet peeves.  I'm still a little embarrassed by the man-in-traffic story, so I'll go with pet peeves.

I'll  put these in order of their potential to be irritating.  Peeve number 1, for example, has the power to change my mood, whereas number 4 barely qualifies as a peeve at all and is actually a little amusing when it occurs. Feel free to comment about your own pet peeve.  It means you're a nice person. Negative people are  peeved by too many things to have pets.


1.Unruly, unsupervised children in expensive restaurants.

I will initiate a round of peek-a-boo with a stranger's child who is on the verge of a meltdown if the parent is trying, too.  But in a nice restaurant, where I've paid extra to avoid unruly children, and where the parent is not trying,  it's a mood buster. I once watched an upscale child of upscale people slide off his seat and travel from table to table banging a spoon and bowl together. The mother looked at the other diners and smiled. "Look," she said. "He's thinks he's playing in a band."  This should happen more rarely than it does.

2. People who observe the no smoking rule in public places by stepping outside to light up, twelve inches from the entrance.

Atrociously parked car
3. People who park atrociously and at enough of an angle to encroach on the space of others on the left or right.  

Oh wait, that's me. I do that. 

4.  Phrase abuse.   It's tiring  to think about  how often and  in what situations the phrases "It Takes a Village" and "Perfect Storm" and even "Schizophrenic"  have been misused/misquoted/misapplied/misunderstood .

a) Yes, it takes support and resources and responsible parenting to raise a child. But the whole village to make the child do homework, go to bed, find a summer job and stop texting during dinner?  The whole village? Many people I respect use this expression, but it's still almost-irritating.

b) It is a perfect storm when a situation is aggravated drastically by an exceptionally rare combination of circumstances, or if it is a movie starring George Clooney. It is not a perfect storm if it starts to rain on the way to work, in a traffic jam, on a day when your alarm didn't go off.

c) While I have heard forecasters characterize it this way, the weather  is not schizophrenic because it changes abruptly. The weather is schizophrenic if it manifests itself with auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or is disorganized in its speech and thinking. 

5.  Word abuse, to wit: "surreal" and "ironic" and "empathetic."

a)  Surreal does not mean amazing or surprising or unexpected. It means to have the disorienting, hallucinatory qualities of a dream.

Example:  If you see someone walking down the street who looks like Johnny Depp, that  is not surreal.  If you are walking down the street and an image of Johnny Depp floats before your eyes, that is surreal.

b)  Ironic also does not  mean amazing, or surprising, or unexpected. Ironic refers to the incongruency of simultaneous events.  Or, things that are paradoxically true.

Example:  If someone says to someone else that they saw a person walking down the street who looks like Johnny Depp and the someone recalls that they recently read an article about Johnny Depp in People magazine, that is not ironic. If a person thinks they see someone who looks like Johnny Depp across the street, and heads over for a better look, and is run over by Johnny Depp himself, that is ironic.

c)  The word "empathetic" crashed the dictionary party, it was not invited. It was misused by so many, so often and  in so many contexts the Webster people finally got frustrated enough to deem its useage acceptable. The correct word is empathic.

Example:  If Johnny Depp  is questioned by the police and is charged with negligent driving after running you over and is clearly humiliated, and you can relate because of the humiliating time the police came to question you about all of your outstanding parking tickets (which were mostly paid) what you are feeling is empathic, not empathetic.

That's it, that concludes the post about pet peeves.  Next week, I'll talk about the guy in traffic.  

And what is the topic of the piece I'll submit as an article? Empty Nest, of course. There are a few things I forgot to say about that. If I put it in the blog though, it will start to sag on one side.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The dinner party vote

Every four years, the presidential election season rolls in like fog and I become anxious. It is the same anxiety I felt in school when there were not three months before the final exam, but three weeks, and I realized I had to stop fooling around and pay attention if I still wanted to have friends worth knowing.

I'm going to go off topic for a moment to say that one of the most kick-ass things about being in your 50's is that you no longer need to prove you're mentally compelling.  If the words "Romney" or "Obama" never come up over a two hour lunch with your best friends, you can still feel brilliant in their company.   


As a rule,  I host or attend enough dinner parties with intelligent people to know that if I can't discuss what-all has happened in politics since 1788 , I should at least be able to toss a sound-bite grenade over my shoulder as I clear between entree and dessert. I also know I must have at least one person present who feels the country is falling apart, and one (preferably their spouse) who feels the people who live here are falling apart, and hopefully another who drives this chicken-egg debate into the ground. Like this:

Liberal:  You think the country's in big trouble now? Wait until Planned Parenthood gets wiped out.
Conservative:  Planned Parenthood will never be wiped out. It just won't be funded with my tax dollars anymore.  
Me:  "Who wants dessert? Also, who thinks it's true that Obama wants to gut welfare reform?"

I've observed that  while many people are politically savvy,  some are just  politically emotional and like to take a shot at someone who is being bombastic. But eventually, someone, tired of the exchange, will wander into the kitchen to talk about the school official who got charged over the weekend with assault and battery, while the others debate whether or not Mitt Romney really does eat middle class citizens for breakfast.
My kind of dinner party.

Still, I know what I know, but not what I don't, and because I don't respect headline mentality, I owe it to myself to stay in the loop in a left-brain way, to dig  into those headlines a little, visit a few fact-checking sites, read the editorials in respected (if super-biased) publications, listen to my heart, feel my feelings, be who I am,  trust in the power of me, and turn my frown upside down. I make it a game. No shopping at Hannaford for appetizer ingredients until I've read something in the Boston Globe that does not flatter Obama.  

But there's more. Now that our youngest child is able to vote, I owe it to him to insist passionately that he do that:  take a stand and, if only in his own heart, if it is never even vocalized, believe passionately about something bigger than his own concerns enough to represent it with his vote.  In other words, care. 

And, there's more. I owe it to my husband who isn't just in the loop, all of the time, about all-things political, with every fiber of his being, but lives in the loop with his blanket and pillow and thermos  during the political season. I believe he's taught  himself to leave the room if we veer toward politics before he can feel his own feelings about my lack of attunement. Thankfully, even if  God made him a politically tenacious dog and me a politically distracted cat, God also made me a quick study with good research skills.

So all things considered, this year I realize I have to adjust my own mask before assisting others. This year,  I need to make an example of myself. To that end, I will endeavor to stop fooling around and pay attention.

Perhaps I'll don my goalie mask at breakfast and start with this:

It's not true that Obama is gutting welfare reform and intending to "hand everyone a check even if they don't work."  Under the new policy, states can now seek a federal waiver from rigid "work-participation" rules which would allow welfare recipients to engage in “work activities" instead. This could mean college or other training so that career options for an undereducated family breadwinner are no longer limited to a couple of minimum wage jobs.  (, don't make me sorry for believing this.  Don't let it turn out that one hour of work activities can mean circling job openings in the paper before doing the Jumble puzzle for twenty minutes. Don't let it be true that work activities logged are like, say, driving miles that are logged by a student  in Driver's Ed.)

I'll roam the articles and I'll  keep at it, because already, the summer is over and it's almost October. Election day's a comin, and happily, so is my favorite time of year to host one of those contentious dinner parties.