just ponderin'

… on an empty nest, temporary ocd, and calvin and hobbes

IMG_0410.JPGI’ve written about being a mama bear, even a bristly one.  Protecting cubs, advocating for cubs, and the occasional mauling of a particularly obstinate threat.

Oh! And the tree thing.

Shoving them up trees so that they can escape danger is my favorite thing.

Just watching my little cherubs scurrying up a tree trunk after an unfair grade or bad call by a referee does my heart good.

I can remember when my nearly perfect husband and I found out we were about 8 months away from having our first child and…

Wait. We were not only one month pregnant at the time, we were about TWO months pregnant. Why, then, did I say we were about 8 months away from having our first child, when everyone knows it takes 9 months to bake a human? Because it’s not true! When you get to your first appointment, they tell you that they are estimating “about 40 weeks” to get to your due date, and they are counting on math being the last thing you want to do at that moment because you want to be ‘glowing’ instead. But you know what that pregnancy ‘glow’ is people? It is the burning, festering rage that shows up in the face of a pregnant woman – eyes a little brighter, skin a little flushed – who has just found out that 40 divided by four is TEN months, not nine months (she has also probably heard her physician or midwife mention the term “give or take” and only heard ‘give’).

But I digress.

Again.

So the parent thing. I’ve done that. Well, I do that. Because you are never really done parenting, and every parent knows that. I mean, you hope you will be done, but then…

Wait, what?

You don’t hope you will be done?

You actually want these little parasites hanging around for, like, evah?!

I don’t get it.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a very close friend who once said, “Oh my Gawd (she said the other ‘G’ word but I’ve already explained how my lapsed Catholic guilt makes it nearly impossible for me to type that one).  Anyway, my friend said, “Oh my GawdTM, don’t you just want to rewind the clock and do it all over again?” and I looked at her as if a twin-engine plane had just catapulted off the top of her head, but then I realized she was completely serious and all dreamy-eyed, and I didn’t want to burst her little dream bubble so I just smiled and stared at her as if she’d just broken out with leprosy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I look at old photos of my kids and they are so dang cute and I would love to have a conversation and maybe a hug from a two-year-old Mac or a three-year-old Sam (not a three-year-old Gabe though, because he became ‘spill boy’ right about then – spilled everything, all the time, everywhere – so he was always sticky). By the time Gabe was about five, he was still quite spill-y, but he wasn’t as sticky.  So I would  hug five-year-old Gabe.

But I don’t want to go back and do it all over again!

Well, because diapers are gross, so we can start there. Oh sure, when the kids are little and you have no choice, you convince yourself that capturing someone’s poop and pee in a plastic bag taped to his or her bum is somehow normal, but I’m telling you now that it is not. And I get that human beings are excellent at denial and the re-branding of less-than-desirable experiences (especially Americans), so I completely embrace that – when there is no other choice but to go with the flow – you do it. But now that there is a great deal of distance between my children and diapering my children, I can admit to you that diapers are yucky. And before you point out that diapers are, in a way, life’s bookends, I should tell you that I will not be wearing adult diapers when I am very old.

I will wear ‘Depends’.

Because that is the type of rebranding I embrace.

Where was I?

Oh, so no. No, I do not want to go back to when my kids were puny. I loved them when they were puny (and not sticky), but I also loved them as they grew out of being puny.  Every stage was better than the last. Actually, every stage is still better than the last.  And I’m so glad for that.

And now I’m 2/3 of my way to an empty nest. And I have to say, ever since my oldest – that would be Mackenzie (Mac) – was getting ready to head to college, folks around me have been issuing warnings ranging from the mildly concerning (“What will you do with all your time now?”) to the downright terrifying (“This is the beginning of the end,” pause and sigh “but maybe someday you’ll have grandchildren.” (not kidding, it happened).

And folks also said things like that as Number One Son Sam headed off to college two years later. And someone the other night, while I was scooping pulled pork onto my plate at a soccer gathering, said I needed to enjoy these “last couple of years with Gabe” because then it will be – and I quote (wanted to say that, in addition to quotation marks for emPHAsis), “all over“.

All. Over.

allover!

What?!

I am thinking that these people may have, historically, had a little trouble with transitions. And I’m not saying that big transitions go unnoticed in my household. Including kids going off to college.

When Mac went off to college, I cleaned her room.

Happily!

Are you kidding me? This was a room I was waiting to get my hands on for years. Suddenly, gone were the clothes strewn on every surface. The bed was made. Her knickknacks and other stuff were dusted and placed lovingly onto her nightstands and desk, awaiting her return. But in the mean time, the room was clean and bright and I could open the door to allow the sunlight from her windows to spill into the hallway.  No longer did I have a mysterious teencave as a part of my house. Her room had come back into the fold.

Okay, I also alphabetized my DVD cabinet and spring-cleaned the frack out of my entire house even though it was fall. But, people, this was all a positive channeling of my transitional energy! What did I get in return? A kid who transitioned to college happily, with very few bumps in her road. And, believe it or not, I would much prefer a kid who calls and texts once in a while to tell me all the cool things going on (reflecting her ‘happy’) than one who calls super frequently lamenting how much she misses me and home. I’d be so bummed-out if that happened!

When Sam joined Mac on the college trail, I cleaned his half of the room (he and Gabe share), re-alphabetized the DVDs, and learned how to clean the stone floor in the hall (it was so clean…I should do that again…). He and I tend to be in touch more often because of our ongoing philosophical discussions (and the fact that the world needs the results of them.  We have a responsibility and take it seriously.)  But, again, if he is happy, I am happy for him (and me!).

I’ve never really feared or worried about an ’empty nest’.

I think there is a difference between a close family, and a close-knit family. We are close. We care about each other. We cheer each other’s successes and support and try to help when things aren’t so great. But we are not so knit together that we cannot separate ourselves as individuals, with our own hopes, dreams, and lives. I don’t ever want my kids to feel that they shouldn’t leave my nest (look at that, I moved from ‘mama bear’ to ‘mama bird’ in one swift sentence!), or that my life will end when they leave. That’s an awful lot of pressure to put on them.  Also, it is my experience that folks want to spend time with people who accept them for who they are and want to be.

And who are happy.

My job has been to raise them and launch them. All the love and happiness and laughter and stories of great successes and absolutely crash-and-burn failures have been the bonuses of parenthood and childhood alike.

The transition to an ’empty nest’ is my (and my nearly perfect husband’s) next great adventure, as is my kids’ transition to, through, and beyond college. I love them. They are my kids. But another bonus is that I like them. I like being with them. I like hearing about what’s happening with them as they transition. Not because I’m obligated to, but because I just do.

Hopefully we’ve raised good humans. I hope they are the types of people who other people want to be around, and can trust, and can love because they can all do the same (and I hope they are awesome at it). I also hope I am the type of person that they, and maybe one day their own kids, want to be around and learn from (I am certainly lucky enough to say that about Granny and Grampa. John and I were back for Saturday beans and hot dog dinners within two weeks of moving out of their house way back when, and I love that my kids grew up with them in the same house.)

I have raised kids and my last will head off to college in a couple of years and it is up to me to embrace the fact that I am moving into a new and exciting phase of my life. A creative time, a loving time, a time to discover what my and my nearly perfect husband’s lives are and will become. I’m so excited.

At the beginning of this column, I said that every phase of my life has been better than the last.

I wonder if it’s because that is the way I expect it will be.

The other night, I heard from someone who was lamenting her empty nest. It sounded like her children had gone to college or otherwise moved away, and she said she was left with only a broken heart. And I thought, no. I owe my kids so much more than that. I owe myself so much more than that. My mind wandered to the cartoon below. It is the very last of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, published on December 31, 1995.

calvinandhobbes

This is the way I feel right now.

Well, except for the snow.

If you ask me what my favorite phase of being a parent has been? Well, because I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy each phase more than the last one, I’ll going to go out on a limb and say, ‘the next one’.

And in the mean time, so much is brand new in this new phase of my own life.  It is a magical world out there, and I’m goin’ explorin’.

Thanks for readin’

smiley-face-button-14267615As always, you can come on over to Just Ponderin’s facebook page to comment or just hang out!

Elena Peters

midlife blogger & pinterest master

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