I’m a Good Mom

My husband and I started identifying ourselves as “empty-nesters” in October, last year.  Daughter #1 was back from Guatemala, where she’d gone to learn Spanish, and had decided to live with her girlfriend instead of us.  Daughter #2 had exhausted her 2-year post-school allotment of free room and board, and decided she must move to Washington, D.C. if she ever hoped to work for the State Department.  Daughter #3 had finished her degree in Chicago earlier that summer and never came home.  She landed a job that most of her friends thought of as a “dream job” —  sales rep for a craft brewery.  And Daughter #4 had started college in August, technically not gone but now living, for the most part, four hours away. Stepsons #1 and #2 had moved out years ago and seemed unlikely to move back.

October to November was very peaceful and quiet.  I learned to like it a lot sooner than I thought I would.

December became very busy with all the holiday preparations.  My husband and I debated over whether or not we should bother with decorations.  We agreed on having a tree, without question.  The lights outside and the extra interior decorations made the cut only because the kids would be home.   Newly retired, we had our own agenda and we weren’t eager to squander our time on this.

Christmas was wonderful.  I love having my girls home.  The boys visited but didn’t stay more than 12 hours at a stretch.   Once they left, hubby saw he was greatly outnumbered and retreated to his man cave.  So the holidays were mostly girl time with my daughters and their friends and we had a blast.  At some point during this time, daughter #3 announced that she was quitting her job drinking beer so she could move back home and work on a new degree.  Say, what?

A food intolerance test revealed she has issues with gluten and alcohol.  Not only had she gained weight since starting this job but her gastrointestinal system was in revolt and she just couldn’t do it anymore.  I tried to talk her out of quitting.  Can’t you sell beer without having to drink it?  You’re the only one that’s not delivering pizzas or waiting tables.  Are you sure you want to give up 401Ks and FSAs?  I’d like to say I only had her best interests at heart but the truth is, I was just starting to enjoy this empty nest.

She wanted her room back.  I had just turned it into a guest room with twin beds.  Ah well, one step forward, one step back.  It won’t be forever.  Mind you, I only reached this Zen state of mind after a tear-filled, hour-long argument with her.  I didn’t want to undo my progress and she didn’t want to feel unwelcome in her childhood home.  Once I realized how this was tied to her need to feel secure, I was fine with her moving the furniture and repainting the room.

The truth is, I’ve always had this weird dream of keeping my daughters close.  I’m not talking about the marry-and-settle-down-in-the-same-state-as-us kind of close.  I’m talking about the I-wish-we-had-our-own-family-commune kind of close.   I’d also settle for owning a vast estate with a palatial home that allows each child their own private wing for their family.

I know this isn’t healthy.  We’d end up being this insular group of bizarre misfits with their own language who never come down off the mountain, always playing Guesstures and having themed dance parties .  I wouldn’t care.  I’ve lived a full life and my family are my favorite people in the world and dammit! I like Guesstures and dancing.  But if I keep my girls with me, they won’t get to do all the incredible things I know they’re going to do.  I didn’t raise them to be such strong independent women just to keep them by my side.  Besides, they’d drive me crazy if we all lived together.  There’s a lot of drama in a house full of women. (Let us pause here and take a moment to acknowledge my husband, the saint.)

So with one hand I push the kids away and with the other I pull them close.  I don’t make myself available for every phone call or text from them but when we’re together we spend whole days just hanging out together and talking.  If I were graded by parenting experts I’d probably receive an average score in child rearing.  I ‘m not consistent or wise.  I’ve overindulged them in some ways but neglected them in others.  But they all know without a doubt that they’re loved.

I always thought that if I were to be judged a good mom, it would only be because I loved my children unconditionally.  That’s all I can think of to recommend me.  But tonight daughter #3 was hanging out with me in the kitchen while I worked.   In the midst of juggling a few tasks at once, I paused to rhapsodize like a recovering food addict over the heavenly flavor of the pork roast I was making.  She laughed and told me what a good mom I was.  I asked her what I had done just now to deserve that praise.  She said it was because, not only was I nuturing my family by cooking for them, but I was doing it my own way, enjoying it and owning it, unapologetically.

Huh.  Well, it wasn’t the approval vote I expected, but I’ll take it.  If my daughter thinks I’m a good mother then I’ve done something right.  For whatever reason, the results are in.  It’s official and I will allow no take-backs.  I am a good mom.

Starting on the Bucket List

My husband and I balance each other out nicely most of the time.  Other times we balance each other out with frustration and unspoken questions like, “Why isn’t he more social?”  Or, “Why is he so gloomy and pessimistic so often?”  And I’m sure for his part it’s questions like, “Why is this woman such a hot mess?”  Or, well, no…that one question pretty much covers it all.

My husband and I met on the job.  He trained me to be an air traffic controller and I’ve never seen anybody better at working airplanes than him.  He retired from the FAA in 2007 and then sat around the house for three years playing World of Warcraft, gaining weight and being depressed while he waited for me to reach retirement eligibility.  He finally admitted he needed something to do and he got a job in the field of vitamins and supplements.  I retired eight months ago and he retired for the second time five months ago.

At last!  Time to do all those things I hadn’t been able to do before.  I’ll sleep late.  I’ll finally unpack those last few random boxes from our move 13 years ago.  I’ll clean and remodel the whole house!  And I’m going to become the most productive little suburban farmer — the neighbors will gaze with envy and awe as they pass my garden.  Of course, the hubby and I also looked forward to traveling.  We had even discussed becoming semi-nomadic, moving each year from place to place until we find where we want to stay.

So many possibilities, some of them eliminating others, but no matter.  Whatever I did, it would be my choice, right?  Au contraire, mon frère.  I had conveniently forgotten the other person on this seesaw (balancing me out, remember?) who had his own vision of retired life.  The man who answers to the pet name “my little black cloud” saw retirement not as The Golden Years but as The Beginning of the End and felt a burning need to do something epic since, you know, death loomed and all.

Unlike my husband, I’m not organized enough to have a written bucket list.  I have some vague ideas about my must-dos, such as build a house with my own two hands, but he has given this serious consideration.  He asked me to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail with him.

My inner child wanted to throw a tantrum.  I knew what he was asking.  Would I please spend six months of my newfound freedom, walking 2,189 miles with 35 pounds on my back, through rain and snow, up and down mountains, worrying about bears, rattlesnakes and ticks, sleeping on the ground, pooping in the woods, eating dried foods, going without a bath for a week at a time and trying not to drown with every river crossing or die in a fall?  I love this man more than myself and I want him to be happy.  He doesn’t ask for much and so I don’t refuse him if what he wants is within reason.  And though he’s asking for a lot on this one, I can’t say it’s unreasonable.  We both like hiking and camping and I’m capable of doing what he asks.  I can’t even tell him that he’s wrong about death breathing down his neck.  Cancer took his mother at least 20 years ago and his father died of a heart attack in his early 60’s.  My beloved is 57.  I knew I would agree and I was determined to be enthusiastic about the idea but I definitely wanted to stamp my feet and scream, “BUT I NEVER WANTED TO DO THAT!”

Now we’re two months from our departure date of March 15, 2015.  We’ve amassed our ultralight gear and tested everything on trial hikes.  Our stores of trail food that we dehydrated ourselves, fill the chest freezer and are piling up in mason jars on counters and in grocery bags stashed in the mudroom.  I quit smoking.  We walk at least 3 miles a day and hike 10 miles once a week (except in extreme cold) and those numbers will increase.  We even made a video and entered it in a contest to try to win some freebies for our hike (see it here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVKEdit8t0c).  Oh, the things I do for him…

And I’m getting excited.  This is no longer his dream that I’m just going along with.  This is going to be our incredible adventure and I’m impatient for it to begin.  I’m grateful that he balances me out.  It would be too easy for me to fritter away my days just feathering and re-feathering my nest only to end up protesting on my deathbed, “Wait, there are things I was going to do!”  But this seesaw tips both ways.  When my darling suggested that after the Appalachian Trail we could hike El Camino Del Rey and maybe the Pacific Crest Trail I told him he was out of his damned mind if he thought I was going to spend all my retirement years in solitude, tucked away in remote parts of the world seeing nothing but trees and bushes.  I’ve added an entry to my mental bucket list and I’m thinking we’ll be backpacking around Europe after this.

High hopes

I’m a little late to this blogging thing.  I’ve never been one to keep a journal and my childhood diary remained mostly blank with long gaps between the dated entries.  It’s not that I’m not introspective.  As a child, I’d spend hours laying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, lost in thought while England Dan and John Ford Coley crooned from my record player (intending their music for an audience at least ten years older than me, no doubt).  The luxury of all that free time, time to just think, trickled away with a full-time job, four children, divorce and remarriage.  My attention focused externally so often, for so many years, that I’ve lost the ability to turn it inward for more than a minute or two before I find myself thinking, “I really need to cook that salmon in the fridge before it goes bad,” or somethink like it.

But here I stand, 51 years old, recently retired, with the nest usually empty.  This is the “me time” I’ve been waiting for.  I think this calls for some introspection — an assessment of where I’m at and where I want to go.  I mean, time’s tickin’ here, so let’s make some plans.  What was it, again, that I always wanted to do someday?

That’s what brings me here today.  This blog will be my repository of thoughts.  Perhaps, in the end, it will only ever be a dumping ground of old memories, abandoned interests and worthless ideas.  But my hope is that, over time, my random musings will act as fining agents that settle out the particles in cloudy wine leaving it sparkling and beautifully clear.