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.

Empty Nesting is for the Birds

I think it is only after the kids have flown the coop a parent finally has time and energy to devote to exploring the depths of their inner thoughts, dreams and desires.

I can only speak to this epiphany as a woman, of course. To all outward appearances, my husband doesn’t spend much time exploring his inner thought-depths. I sense this because he huffs deep sighs at me whenever I ask him to join me in exploring mine.

So for the record — this empty nest thing is driving me crazy. And my husband by proximity.

For one thing, I have way too much time on my hands. I find myself staring out the window juggling as many as ten different streams of thought at once, none of which seem in the least productive. I spend hours on my computer, checking e-mail and Facebook in an effort to feel connected.

Some recurring inner-thought themes include: my true purpose in life, microscopic examinations of my skills and abilities lest I die before I utilize them fully and how an excellent and caring wife is supposed to act. The latter listing boomerangs my thoughts to how an excellent and caring HUSBAND is supposed to act; which leads to inner-thought-depth-exploratory conversations with him around this topic. He has developed multiple strategies in order to deftly avoid these meanderings, primary among them: 1) pretend like he did not hear me and 2) change the subject. This does not get rid of me, however, because I am a patient and persistent woman.

In addition to multiple-thought meandering, I am finding I am becoming allergic to housekeeping. I mean, how much cleaning does a two-occupant home need? I am done picking up in about 20 minutes, and the laundry can pile up for two weeks and I can still get it done in an hour. So I let things slide, which gives me more time to inner-thought-process.

When my husband comes in the door after work, periodically he tells me he is worn out — at least conversationally — so he “doesn’t want to think about anything.” This is unfortunate, because at this time of day I am just getting wound up. My mind — muddled by mysterious empty-nest hormones — has triangulated around life’s meaning, how to improve our marriage and the strategy I am planning in order to optimize the years I have left on this earth. I chat at him relentlessly as he lowers himself into his leather recliner, stretches out and covers his face with his arm.

This does not matter. At least there is another person in the house, albeit an inert one.

I have had talks with other women going through the same interesting rite of passage. Our identities have been ripped away and replaced with a shroud of confusion. We no longer feel interesting, fun, energetic or worthwhile. This is just plain stupid, of course, and a delusional perception.

We have long, meaningful discussions around this topic whenever we get together for lunch or coffee. They haven’t got it figured out either. I have come to the conclusion it is all about adjustment. Being content. Not looking back — looking ahead, and all that. We nod our heads at each other sagely and stare into each other’s faces with a mournful gaze that screams, “THE LAST KID IS OUT OF THE HOUSE. WHAT DO I DO NOW?” We bond over the fact that we are recent empty-nesters and gain strength from each other that these particular hormones will release their grip on us at some point. In the meantime, we suffer. And we make our husbands suffer along with us.

Hormonal suffering is certainly an interesting concept… I can’t wait for my husband to get home tonight so I can talk to him about this.

Article first appeared in The Capital Journal, Pierre, SD, “The Lighter Side,” October, 2009