Monday, December 10, 2012

December in the empty nest

When we were little and felt sorry for ourselves, my father used to help us keep perspective with this gem:

 I cried because I had no shoes. And then I saw someone with no feet.

Or words to that effect.

I got the point.  Of course, it trumped the point to picture my barefoot father having a calm  conversation with a man whose legs ended above the ankle, but it resonated.  To this day, I am not comfortable with self-pity.

With some exceptions.

So I will apologize in advance for the self-pity you will come across in this post by mentioning the "feet" for which I am truly thankful every single day:  

  • Children who are happy, healthy and making their way in the world with grace and appreciation for their own feet.
  • Work that is not-income-producing-at-this- time but which makes me complete.
  • Larry, who supports this and all of my dreams.
  • Family who knew me when I was at my most wretched and love me anyway
  • Friends who call when I haven't been around and suggest lunch.
  • An existence that  teaches me new things about life and love every day.
 As I've posted before,  my nest did not empty with gentle exits, but with a gust of wind which blew up from underneath and tipped it all over. Two sons moved out within a week of each other. Two weeks later, Larry started an assignment and was gone five days a week.  Gus, my empty nest cat, and I were left to blink at all those tail lights together.

Gus, empty nest cat.
Everyone asked how I would handle this sudden change - the loneliness - but I wasn't worried. I had plans, and, after being everyone's administrative assistant for a couple of decades, I rather liked that I would be thinking about me, me, me for awhile.

Before mid November, not only had I grown tired of  me , me,  me,  but knowing the kids would be home, I regressed altogether and looked forward to creating the holiday home they experienced as children: At Thanksgiving, pumpkin bread, favorite dips, casseroles.  In December, cookies with red and green sprinkles,  letters from Santa, notes on closet doors reading "don't look in here" with a stern face.

In my excitement, I lobbied for an earlier tree  than usual - say December 1 - suggesting to Larry that with everyone gone it might help keep my spirits aloft.

I will pause here to say that very responsibly, Larry objected to this on the basis of dry needles and fire hazards before saying, hero-like, on November 30,  "So who feels like getting a tree?"

On December 5, I  looked around. An unopened package of sugar cookie mix sat on the counter where I'd placed it days ago.  On my wrapping table no boxes waited for me to find the time to wrap ... there was music in the air that I wished would end already, and across the room a fire flickered which just seemed out of place.

I thought of two empty nest friends and their recent remarks about the new feel to such a traditional season.
"I'm not a fan of Christmas these days," said one.
"I don't really like anything about December, now." said another.

I didn't want to understand the sentiment, but here I was, the Christmas Eeyore I never thought I'd become, relating completely. 

So, before my fully decorated November tree I sat and waited for something to happen without knowing what it should be.  I looked around at the decorations - Santa on the piano, snowman on the table, deer and tree thing by the fireplace - and wanted to put them back.  Certainly, I realized that  I was missing my kids and husband, but it was more than that.  No nostalgia touched my soul, no sudden thought for a long lost friend or loved one drifted through my heart. No sweet memories in connection with all those ornaments, ours now for nearly three decades, rose before my eyes.

I waited a long time for my spirit.
I tried again the next day.
Finally, I stopped expecting it and avoided the whole festive scene.

There's your empty nest.

There's your missing shoes.

It used to surprise me to hear our kids say,  even in the last days before a holiday reunion with each other, "I'm just not in the spirit, but I will be as soon as I'm home." This holiday season, I get this. I am reminded of when I dated Larry on the weekends, and how very little spirit in December I felt until I sat across from him in a restaurant on Friday night, whether there was a tree to look at or not.  Spirit to be spirit, must be shared. Somehow. 

Next year, I'll remember:

I can't summon my sluggish spirit by putting up the tree,  rearranging the furniture, and putting the deer and tree thing near the fireplace early. Next year, in the absence of others with whom I  have always shared these surroundings as well as my spirit, I will instead, change things around a bit;  create new traditions, maybe put up the tree no earlier than December 15 and in a different part of the house, decorated only with ornaments that we buy in places to which we have started to travel, maybe do these new things  every year after that.

As for this year's shoes:

Tomorrow, Sam will come home for the long holiday break. I'll pick him up and we'll dine in the city - something we both love. On Wednesday, I will meet a favorite new friend of mine for a holiday drink. In a few days Larry will be home and over the weekend, we'll entertain and be out with our oldest friends.  The cookies will be made and the gifts will be wrapped and I will leave signs that say "do not look in here" with a stern face.

Old traditions and rituals are wonderful as long as they free the spirit and don't leave it trapped in the past. When that happens, perhaps it's just time to find another kind of November tree to look at.

Maybe even an artificial one that the kids would hate, but which is there for you when they can't be.

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