Monthly Archives: May 2013

I’m Not a Backseat Driver

Back Seat DriverI probably should clarify.

A couple of days ago, I wrote, “First, my two older daughters went off to college and found boyfriends and started talking about getting married and having kids of their own.”

To be clear, my daughters went off to college two years ago, and those boyfriends have since come and gone. I wasn’t contemplating present boyfriends (although if present boyfriends take the time to read an empty nest blog, they can’t be half bad).

Just for the record, my daughters aren’t planning to get married until they finish college, which is at least two years off. Life can change drastically in two days, much less in two years.

My point was that those choices are entirely theirs. They reached a point, nearly overnight, where they started contemplating a future mostly without me—unless I want to camp out in their back seats.

And that’s my other point. I don’t. They need their own cars, and I need a new one—in more ways than one. As much as I’ve enjoyed telling them what to do for much of their lives—and as much as they seem to now enjoy telling me what to do—it’s nearly time to drive in separate cars down separate roads.

I’ll accompany them as long as they need me, but I’m proud that they’re showing themselves capable of traveling alone. (Of course, not really alone.)

Soon it will be time to take the next exit. If I miss it, the next one may be a long way off, and that would be a waste. I want every mile to count.

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Who’s the Mom?

MomDaughter1These are the moments when I realize the tide has turned.

“Mom, that stuff’s not good for you. Here, drink some water.”

“Mom, don’t be afraid. God is in control, and everything’s going to be all right!”

“Mom, maybe you need to be a little more patient with Dad.”

“Mom, really?”

It’s not the usual teenager guff. It’s real wisdom being played back for me just as I originally presented it to them, only now I’m on the receiving end and feeling a bit rebellious. They stare at me with mature, pleading expressions as if to say, “I love you, Mom, and I really want you to get this—before it’s too late.”

My feelings are a broiling mixture of pride and incredulousness. I’m still the mom. I still know more than they do, right?

Sometimes I actually wonder. Some days it feels like they’ve taken the ball I’ve passed them and run with it much farther than I could ever dream of running. They do things I can’t do. They know things I don’t know. And I’m thankful. But I don’t want to give up my throne.

I’m still moving forward, but clearly not as fast. They will continue increasing in wisdom long after I start repeating the same stories over and over. (I’ve already started doing that.)

If I want to stay ahead of them, there’s only one way—I must continue to grow in grace.

This Is Not A Sandwich

SandwichsmallThis blog post was the beginning of my realization that the empty nest stage is uniquely challenging and often overwhelming. I cannot walk this path alone, nor can I continue pretending that I’m unaffected and that nothing has changed. It’s time to embrace optimism, but it’s also time to be honest.

Nothing could have prepared me for this. I’m glad I didn’t see it coming. Ignorance wasn’t bliss, but it was better than this.

I vaguely remember reading about the Sandwich Generation. Apparently, 1 in 8 Americans over 40 is raising children and caring for aging parents at the same time. Between 7 and 10 million adults are caring for aging parents from a distance. One commentator even divided the Sandwich Generation into categories:

Traditional – caring for children and aging parents
Club Sandwich – caring for children, grandchildren, and aging parents and/or grandparents
Open Faced – caring for anyone who is aging

No mention is made of aging, struggling, or health-challenged siblings, friends, or pets. Neither does anyone acknowledge the crushing stress that comes from knowing help is needed in five different places at once while knowing you’re helpless to provide it.

When it becomes apparent that someone you love is dying on some unknown but certain schedule, the grieving begins at once. And it continues indefinitely beyond the actual loss. An increased sense of helplessness is inevitable, but there’s more to do than ever.

You aren’t the one dying (at least not that you know of), so you try hard not to acknowledge your personal pain or paralysis. Work and kids and barking dogs are just constant reminders that you’re useless to those who need you most and that you can’t alleviate anyone’s suffering, including your own. Not to mention the bad EKG five years ago that you never followed up on. So you continue running in circles, trying to catch snowflakes before they melt. The word “deadline” takes on a whole new meaning. You’re well aware that more of life has slipped away every time you meet one.

This is not a sandwich. It’s a vice grip. My husband and I cling to each other, largely in silence, as the grip tightens. There isn’t much to be said, and it’s hard to breathe anyway. For us, it’s been slowly tightening for about eight years. Every vision of future happiness—weddings, grandchildren, the annual return of spring—is overlaid with the gray of imminent loss.

Maybe it’s frowned upon to acknowledge personal suffering. But God does. Why else would He reveal His future plans so vividly in contrast with current realities?

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Revelation 21.4.

I’m holding out for when a lifetime of current realities become the former things.

The Beginning of Goodbye

Off To Summer CampHow could I have known? The first time I dropped my kids off at summer camp was the beginning of a long goodbye.

I was thankful then for the break—thankful because it was temporary. But when my kids came home, something had changed. They had changed. They were more self-assured and had started talking about independent life goals.

I was proud of them. After all, I’d always wanted them to grow up to live joyful, capable lives without me.

Someday.

But not yet.

I only recognized in retrospect when “someday” actually came. First, my two older daughters went off to college and found boyfriends and started talking about getting married and having kids of their own. Then my son landed a summer camp job, leaving only my youngest daughter at home. She quickly began clamoring to join him. She’s a natural organizer and loves to work almost more than she loves to play. No doubt the camp will soon recognize her talents and snatch her up, too.

That’s where I am today. Perched on the edge of my almost empty nest, looking out at a vast and ever-changing world and wondering what to do next. I feel a deep sense of loss, yet I know I must keep singing and maybe even spread my wings and do a little flying of my own.

That means more than working. I’ve been doing that all along. It means redefining my priorities so that motherhood is on a more even plain with other consequential things.

I will always be a mother—but it’s time to be more.