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 Blessing of Adult Children

I have fond memories of child-rearing. At least I think I do. I had four children in seven years. What was I thinking?

My kids were interesting exercises in self-awareness for me. For example, I confronted multiple distressing character issues while cleaning poop off the child, the crib sheets and wall at 2:30 a.m.

I trained them to sleep through the night easily, but potty training was a different story. After several attempts, I decided they were training me to put them on the potty at appropriate intervals. I didn’t see the point of putting the child on the potty until they actually made a connection. And I didn’t want pee-pee on my carpet, either. So they wore diapers until they got it.

As a wise woman once said, “I never saw a kid start school in diapers.”

They are now, at ages 28, 26, 23 and 21 — potty trained.

Hormone-laden teens...my daughters a few years ago...

Adolescence took me completely by surprise. The first one to hit this phase was female, and hysteria-ridden drama punctuated our home for years. (Two girls + five years apart = wildly fluctuating hormones and unavailable bathrooms for seven years.) I wasn’t sure I was going to survive, because by nature I am not a patient woman.

The boys shrugged their way through adolescence by becoming as invisible and silent as ghosts. A conversation with an adolescent boy goes something like this:

“Hi honey, how was school today?”

“Mmmmph.”

Goes into his bedroom and closes the door. Mom follows and tries again. Sits on the bed beside him.

She reaches out and tousles his hair fondly. Bad idea. He jerks his head away and fixes her with the evil eye. She remembers the cardinal rule of all adolescent boys, which is to not touch them. Especially in public.

My sons in their non-communicative (mostly) stage

Gamely, she continues, hands safely in her lap, “Well, how are you doing today? Got homework?”

He sighs. Looks out the window. Decides he is trapped. “Yep.” He glances at her, silently communicating his desire to be alone. His eyes are steely. His mouth is set in a firm line. She gives up and exits, mumbling something about dinner.

At least I could get the girls to talk. The boys did not give me a complete sentence for three years.

Late last summer,  Wal-Mart was crammed with stressed moms filling their carts with school supplies, and my mind jogged back in time to buying this stuff for four kids at once. I grinned as I scuttled past the three-ring binders, folders with pockets, index cards and highlighters without picking up a single item. Moms began to eye me strangely when I raised both my hands and silently mouthed “hallelujah.”

Presently my kids live on each coast and in between. Three of them are self-supporting, which is downright magical. My girls call me constantly, and their hormones have stabilized. My boys call frequently and I cannot get them to shut up.

On any given day I am invited to participate in various segments of their lives that would have been fiercely guarded a few years ago. Each of them begs us to move closer to them. I am delighted to find they paid attention, at least sometimes, to rants of mine that did, indeed, contain seeds of wisdom.

I find the whole process highly entertaining.

I now have four gifted, beautiful and adorable grandchildren.

I can’t wait to see what happens when these kids hit puberty. I will  murmur things to their parents like “I understand,” or “NO! Really? How could that happen?,” or “The school counselor said WHAT? Oh my goodness!,” and then I will snicker silently into the phone and thank God that these issues  are over for me.

Seriously.