Empty-Nest Queen Misplaces Crown

She is packing up the kids, the dog, the clothes, the suitcases, the diaper bag, the car seat, various life-easing baby gadgets and exiting the building.

In the wake of my daughter’s six-week visit – which included a 14-month old, an eight-year old and a German Shepherd, I am left with remnants of a vicious sore throat I contracted from the baby, a sore back from picking up discarded food, toys, diapers, homework, dishes, half-empty bottles of water and soda; a vacuous solitude-deprived disgruntlement, and a wave of relief that I am sure will be short-lived because I will miss them immediately.

Is there humor in this? Irony, maybe? A little wisdom?

The empty-nesting, entitlement part of me has been mortally wounded; body-slammed into submission. This is not a bad thing, because to love well does include sacrifice and a choice to commit to do whatever the situation dictates. I know this in my head, but to get this little morsel of profundity into my heart has been an arduous undertaking these past few weeks.

Backward-looking reflection, in my experience, is always rose-colored and draped in rainbows; because I tend to forget the bitter shards of reality that stab the entire experience. In this case, since I am writing about it before the experience is fully over (there are still baby toys on the floor, tiny socks under the couch, a nearly-empty bottle in the sink and I can hear my daughter packing upstairs), I am dead center in the throes of fresh and gritty insight.

I find myself probing starkly the statement my daughter made a couple of weeks ago, which was: “You think more of your carpet and furniture than you do of spending time with us!” This declaration was made through tears, as I was, for the fortieth time, beseeching her to pick up after herself and the children (which she did, mostly; just not always in my anticipated time frame), and that no, the baby could NOT carry around food or anything that leaked on the off-white carpet. Unfortunately, I forgot that diapers leak, too, but I suppose this is a foregone conclusion. Eventually I just packed a can of spot-remover in my back pocket. I should have bought a house with tile floors.

The conclusion I have come to thus far is that I am not, and never have been, a grandmother-ly person, in the image of, for instance – Aunt Bea of The Andy Griffith Show.

My daughter and her giant, energetic German Shepherd, Cale

This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is good, because I am youthful and energetic and style-conscious and can hold an interesting conversation with my daughter about things other than child-rearing and cooking. It is bad, because I no longer have the fire in my belly to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner every night or run after children or dogs to train them about this and that. I will love and play with them, change diapers, and help with homework but that’s about as much as I want to do. I had forgotten how much actual physical work goes along with children.

Two cuties

Boy, had I forgotten.

In my defense, I did cook occasionally. But sometimes, they simply foraged in my refrigerator. I cuddled with them incessantly. I read to them. I played with them. I dressed the baby in cute clothes. I did a lot of grandmother stuff. I am not totally un-grandmotherly, but I am overly-orderly, and the inevitable mess children cause almost put me over the edge.

I think there is a place for compromise between mothers and daughters with young children when they come to visit for an extended length of time. However, the conversations that ensue over differences in lifestyle, housekeeping, care of children and the like – are difficult and apt to be riddled with emotion. But if one is willing to talk through (i.e. stay connected instead of abruptly ending the dialogue due to emotional stress) challenging situations, even though it is extremely uncomfortable, there is a richer relationship on the other side. Understanding each other’s feelings and perceptions is important.

There are things that imprint a child firmly – both good and bad – when they are growing up. When the child becomes an adult and is stuck in a situation where they must spend extended time with a parent, monster issues that were supposed to have been laid to rest a long time ago, may spring to life and grow teeth.

I found myself wondering, through several challenging conversations with my 29-year-old daughter, who had planted those lies in her head. I was mystified by some of her perceptions.

I suppose we can all point to relationships that ripped apart because of misperceptions, but I have discovered if a person articulates a misconception about me, I’d better listen, because there may be a grain of truth there. I am not very accurate in my assessment of myself. So I took a self-inventory after our difficult conversations; as did she, and think that both of us have become a little wiser; and hopefully, our future visits together will bear it out.

As King Solomon said in Proverbs: “Wisdom is the principal thing. Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7

The very best thing is to be teachable; to get wisdom. To run after it.

In the midst of poopy diapers, sick, cranky baby and wet dog smell, I have to confess that I didn’t run after wisdom. I crawled toward it reluctantly, simultaneously trying very hard to keep spots off the rug, the house picked up, the grandchildren and my daughter happy, and the dog out of the house.

At least I kept the dog out of the house.

The Chainsaw Conspiracy

The buzz of the chainsaw sounded like thousands of  angry mosquitoes, effectively quashing my quiet afternoon on the deck. I closed my book, glanced over my shoulder toward our adjacent property, sighed, and scooted my chair around to make sure my husband did not cut off an arm or a nose instead of a tree branch.

A chainsaw in my husband’s hands turns him into a swaggering, spitting, beady-eyed wilderness-subduer.

Unfortunately, he recently located a chainsaw and bought it, against my better wifely judgment; but it was inevitable and only a matter of time. A man that is the owner of a little bit of property in need of subduing is hell-bent on becoming a chainsaw owner. At least my man is.

He asked me to go with him to look at the chainsaw, which he’d found on Craigslist. I went, wondering what sort of person would be selling a chainsaw. We drove about twenty minutes north of Westminster on winding, hilly roads, past cultivated fields and acres of baby crops that I cannot name and eventually arrived at a tidy house on a hill. It was a bright, sunny, breezy Saturday morning and a wind sock on the property was perfectly horizontal. Before I had time to consider why anyone would have a wind sock on their property, the chainsaw-owner, who was mowing his yard, interrupted his task and headed in our direction. He was tall, thin and intellectual-looking. As he and my husband connected over chainsaw lore (for which I had no interest whatsoever, other than safety issues) I noticed the man was articulate and interesting and was moving to the City and hence had no need of a wilderness-subduing machine anymore. I guess I had expected a squat, muscular, non-verbal, kind of hairy guy chewing tobacco. A sweat-stained John Deere cap on his head. He would look at us with obvious disdain; spit, ask us if we were serious about buying the chainsaw.

Fortunately, this was not the case. The tall, thin man and my husband, both preppies of a sort, had an interesting male-ritual conversation that went something like this:

My husband: “Hi. Are you the guy with the chainsaw?”

Tall, thin, intellectual man: “Yes.” Expectant pause.

My husband took this as his cue to give the man a  comprehensive background about us, his job, our property and all the reasons he needed a chainsaw at this point and has not needed one before, and why he is looking forward to become a chainsaw owner. The man responds in kind, and I wonder if they are going to bear-hug each other as a nod to past and potential-chainsaw-owner bonding. I resist smiling and look away.

Finally the tall, thin, intellectual man says, “Ya wanna look at it? Try her out?”

My husband: “Sure!” His eyes gleamed in anticipation.

They strode over, perfectly united in their maleness, toward said chainsaw. The tall, thin, intellectual man held the (rather small and bright green) chainsaw aloft proudly. My husband paused to appreciate the raw power in his hands.

Tall, thin, intellectual man: Hesitantly. “Do you know much about chainsaws? Umm, I mean…have you…?”

My husband tap danced around this question: “Yes. Well. Yes. I have USED chainsaws, but it’s been awhile. I probably don’t know much about THIS chainsaw, but oh yes, I am familiar with chainsaws, but…”

Tall, thin, intellectual man: Nodding in synchronistic understanding, “Well, maybe I should give you a little instruction…chainsaws are different, you know.”

My husband nodded. His demeanor suggested he is something of a chainsaw expert, but not this particular chainsaw. He stepped forward, crossed his arms and resisted touching the chainsaw.

Tall, thin, intellectual man: “So you have to push this button about seven times. Then you have to pull this string two or three times. Then jiggle this. Sometimes it starts, sometimes it won’t, but usually it does.” He successfully started the chainsaw, and over the buzz shouted, “I am going to give you the instruction manual! “ Then they shouted at each other about gas and oil or whatever it was that made the darn thing work.

My husband reached for the chainsaw as the tall, thin, intellectual man shut it off and motioned my husband to start it. He did. Relief flooded his face.

I suppose that to be unable to start a chainsaw that had just been just started would be tantamount to a masculine failure of some sort. I am 58 years old, and still do not understand the complexities of the (largely unspoken) male code. I found it humorous, though, in a cute sort of way. My heart did a little thumpity-thump of adoration toward my husband after he started the chainsaw. We women love the little boy part of our husbands.

They walked in lock-step, the buzzing chainsaw between them, in search of something to slice. The branch they targeted fell uselessly to the ground, killed by the chainsaw. They smiled at each other. I looked at the wind sock, which was now un-breezed and hung limply, and hoped the men didn’t notice me rolling my eyes.

My husband, after felling the branch, looked at me questioningly. I recognized the look as, “Do you think this is a good decision?” I obligingly responded in the affirmative, thinking, what the heck do I know about chainsaws?

And, I hope you do not cut a hand, arm, toe or leg off and that I do not have to deal with blood spurting out of a severed limb!

I smiled, then, because I knew this is what he expected and to react differently would be to damage his male credibility as a husband-wilderness-subduer-chainsaw-owner in front of the tall, thin, intellectual man.

I am a good wife.

The two men – one a former chainsaw-owner and one a proud, first-time, chainsaw-owner – disappeared into the house and finalized details. They emerged after ten minutes, and we chatted as my husband reverently placed the chainsaw in the trunk like a precious piece of china.

We talked about the weather, professions and life’s stuff for a few minutes, and discovered the tall, thin, intellectual man wrote dictionary meanings for a living.

Seriously?

I was astonished. My perceptions about chainsaw owners forever obliterated. If a tall, thin, intellectual, DICTIONARY AUTHOR owned a chainsaw and did not sever a limb or a digit, then I should not have to be anxious about my own husband’s limbs and digits. And I should not fear that he would start chewing tobacco, wearing sweat-stained hats and belching involuntarily.

As of this writing, my husband and son have successfully utilized the chainsaw to cut down a couple of small trees and flatten a stump. I have allowed myself a few tentative sighs of relief. Perhaps they will proceed with chainsaw wisdom as they wield the buzzing green monster.

I find myself wondering, however, if the chainsaw, when lying dormant  in the shed, is plotting to seduce my husband into buying more power tools. I don’t think I could handle what might happen if he bought a wood chipper.

Leaving, Cleaving and the Twilight Zone

I am now entering Week Three of my daughter’s family’s visit as they transition to life after the Navy, and I am forced to slow down, smell the diapers…oops, I mean daisies…and ruminate. For those of you that do not know what ruminate is, you should, because it is a great word, and worth looking up.

Bonnie is my oldest daughter. She turns 29 this week. She and her husband have been stationed in Sicily the last two and a half years. Thanks to Obama – for whom I nurture many well-rehearsed and aptly-aimed negative thoughts – Bonnie’s husband Jeff was drummed out of the Navy due to defense budget cuts. So they are flailing a bit trying to find their ‘legs’ after 11 years in the Navy; e.g. finding civilian jobs and a new – as yet unknown – place to live.

In the meantime, while Jeff is completing his obligations to the US Navy, Bonnie, her 14-month old and eight-year old daughters, plus a huge, energetic German shepherd (did I mention energetic?) made the trip across the pond and are staying with us for six weeks. And before every grandparent out there recoils in horror at the thought of a German shepherd and two young children and their mother in the house after supposedly becoming empty-nesters (empty nesting is reality in word only. Well, actually it is reality in two words only but the point is, I am not sure it ever really happens); I will relieve the tension by telling you that I have a huge, FENCED, backyard; the dog has been relegated to the yard and only comes in to sleep in his kennel at night. I asked my daughter if we could keep the girls out there too, but she refused.

Mostly, I take it a day at a time, have deleted the month of May from my calendar in favor of babysitting; and marvel that things seem to be going better than expected. I have compiled a loose list of ongoing ruminations while adjusting to life with more of them and less of me; and enumerate them here:

Rumination Number 1: When one is in a fresh marriage (under five years old) one has inklings of stress and tiny spats if adult children and their children visit for a prolonged length of time. After all, one supposes he or she was marrying an empty-nested spouse. When one does not raise, or even know very well, one’s new spouse’s adult children, prolonged visits are sometimes challenging. Especially if the spouse in question has a home office. So it was a God-thing, really…that my husband’s company unexpectedly flew him to Denver for a new project. He is less stressed, I am less stressed, and my kids and I are able to enjoy conversation at varying decibel levels amidst the occasional baby shriek, my daughter yelling instructions to her older daughter, and everyone yelling at the dog to HUSH! when he barks; without me worrying about disturbing my husband. In between panic attacks, I am getting used to it.

Rumination Number 2: Relationships change between mother and adult child when they “come home again,” but not as much as one might think, really. Over a period of time, I can see the child in the woman and the woman in the child and it is quite an interesting juxtaposition. When things are going well, she is the woman-child. When disappointment, fear or stress escalates, she becomes the child-woman. Right now in the midst of international relocation and the ensuing nomadic lifestyle and wondering where they are going to live and how long it will be before her husband finds another job while staying in her mother’s house with two kids and a dog until things are settled is about as stressful as it gets. For both of us. So the child-woman is around a lot, and I find myself reverting to the IBM (In Between Marriages) “Momzilla,” when I was raising four kids by myself.

Fortunately, my ruminations have revealed personal progress in self-control and the ability to repent quickly, and my daughter and I have resisted the urge to give each other a sound kick in the behind. We instead have maximized opportunities to discuss issues that have arisen while trying to merge two very different lifestyles for six weeks. Which, although difficult, brings us closer together. Kind of. Maybe. We should do a mom-daughter check-up when the six weeks is up.

Rumination Number 3: Without this situation, I would not have gotten to spend copious amounts of time with my granddaughters, which has been near-impossible with a Navy family. I love getting to know them and feeling them in my arms. And tripping over them in the kitchen. And giving up any thought of my personal schedule in preference of theirs.

Just kidding about that last part.

I do not wholeheartedly embrace the inconvenience my children and their families bring with them when they visit (extra cooking, extra picking up, extra shrieking and running around the house, changing poopy diapers…overly populated bathrooms…you get the idea) but lately these thoughtful meanderings (alert to those of you that did not look up “rumination,” the two previous words are the definition!) revealed that I had become complacent; selfish, even…with my time and myself. Not a nice revelation. What is life about anyway? A clean house? Order everywhere? My routine undisturbed? Not having to cook every night? A husband devoted to my every wish instead of closeted in his office or a remote location, away from the chaos?

Absolutely.

“Wifezilla comes to the forefront…”

But I am trying to put this stuff on the back burner while I make the choice to grandparent first and housekeep second. Since my husband is out of town, I do not have to deal with that pesky “wife” stuff. Nice timing, Lord. This, at least, keeps the occasional stirrings of “Wifezilla” mode at bay.

Wives, can you imagine a husband in the mix during this situation? Really? If so, maybe you are a better spouse than I am. Please feel free to give sanity maintenance suggestions, all you fellow pseudo-empty-nesters out there.

Rumination Number 4: A grown child may be a completely different person as an adult than the kid you raised. I know my daughter well and we talk on the phone often, but I have not seen her so up close and personal with her kids and a (big, and did I mention energetic?) dog as an experienced mother and wife. A new respect for her is burgeoning in my chest. “Burgeoning” is also a great word to know. You should look this one up too, if you are unacquainted with it.

However, respect is not the same as this attitude:

“I want you and your kids to live with us forever! And the dog, too! And oh yes, the cat that I asked you not to bring because I felt it would push me over the edge! It wouldn’t, really, I know that now! So please, by all means, move in! Empty nesting is not all it’s cracked up to be!!”

Are there grandparents that have this attitude? If so, this is troubling. But back to the respect issue…

Respect for the darling young woman she is becoming does mean that I understand my wonderful, generous, warm-hearted, strong daughter is making her own path and that because of this we butt heads over stuff when we hang out an overly-long time together.

So what? She is amazing. I am amazing in my own way, too, of course. We are just not incredibly amazing for very long, together, in the same house, at this stage in our lives. In fact, I think to inadvertently resurrect the mother-daughter dependency thing after she has “left and cleft” as the Bible says; is to deconstruct some of our amazing-ness in the face of it. It will be reconstructed as time goes on, because we are trusting God to intervene when tempers are short. Our prayers are a little strained, but we know God understands.

My husband absolutely agrees with this, as he has witnessed my amazing-ness disintegrate right before his very eyes as I morphed into “Wifezilla” when my daily routine, housekeeping tasks and cooking avoidant behavior was blasted to smithereens three weeks ago. When his company asked him to be available to come to Denver, he scampered onto that flight nearly skipping toward departure with his bags, barely disguising his delight.

But I knew. I could see relief all over him. He smiled broadly as he waved good-bye at the departure gate. He never smiles broadly as he waves good-bye at the departure gate. He is usually kind of sad to leave me, actually.

In conclusion, this has been, and continues to be, a kind of a Twilight Zone experience. I have no time to do much of anything but be available to the baby and her sister; their mom, try to find time to play with the (big, energetic) dog, look for my cats who are a little freaked out and try to make sure they are eating and using the litter box instead of my carpet due to cat-stress; feed the baby, put the baby down for a nap, change the baby, meet her sister at the bus (if I remember) when she comes home from school, help her with homework, think about dinner (again?! We just cooked last night! Did I mention I do not like to cook?), and etc.

Very Twilight Zone. But somehow very organic and appropriate in a rite-of-passage way. (The organic part meaning I have no time to put on make-up and this is a pretty good word to describe my look lately.) I adore my daughter and her children, in spite of the uptick in activity and stress. Absolutely adore them. I am not, however, enchanted with the dog.

So the good thing about my ruminations is that I think I am coming to the end of my passive-aggressive, puny attempts at control because controlling everyone’s contentment level is impossible, and not my responsibility anyway. I am stating firm boundaries, simply and clearly communicated, when I feel “Momzilla” climbing out of my body and onto my back to shake her hairy fists and yell at someone. I am finding direct, kind communication strangles“Momzilla” into silence. I am also finding my daughter has legitimate reasons for things she does that may stress me out, and there are compromises waiting to be hammered out, umm…worked… out that will satisfy both of us.

I will do an internal system check at the end of the six weeks. There will be further ruminations, further realizations, and hopefully; growth in my own personal development. After all, I have two adult kids that are not even married yet. I hope that I remember all the stuff I am learning right now, for their sakes.

Note: I am so NOT going to have a big dog, ever.