Is it really ever empty? Last night I was looking at a picture of my boys- they were so young. I remember pointing to baby pictures of my son Chris and saying to him “I want that baby back.”
I didn’t realize then that the memories are what we hold on to. We look back at pictures or sometimes objects and they remind us of old times. Hopefully, they remind us of good times and happy days. I love that I can smell a certain food cooking and think of my grandparents cooking dinner in their home.
I look at pictures of my children or videos and relive the days when they were young and depended on me for everything. Today, someone said to me “how are you working full-time and a full-time student?” Of course my shoulders went a little straighter and I wanted to throw flour in my face and say “oh….one day at a time” (with a dramatic backhand across my forehead). What I did say was, “I don’t know.”
Then I went home and thought about the question and I realized at that very moment that I didn’t have that much responsibility at home. My children are grown and my husband is amazing and I just don’t have that much to do once I leave work. Yes, I do take a lot of work home with me, but I absolutely love my work and most of my friends work with me (or most of the people I work with are my friends). Life is good! My nest is filled with memories that I cherish. My children had to grow up at some point and I realize that they will probably not need me as much, but a whole new world has opened up for me. I can pretty much dance to the beat of my own drum! Isn’t that what I was complaining about all these years? Not really. I loved being able to do it all. I did it all and had the support of a great family. My greatest achievements are my sons. They all grew up to be amazing men. I am proud to say that none of my children were ever in trouble with the law or did I ever find that they tried drugs or other substances (notice I said “did I ever find out.”)
In the clinical sense of the words “empty nest”, described as feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents/caregivers after children leave their childhood homes- I am not sure I can claim that I am an “empty nester”. I think that more mothers work these days, enjoy the fact that they can (sure there are moms that enjoy working at home as well) and therefore feel less emptiness when their children leave home. In my previous blogs, I said that my mom couldn’t wait until we left home (married). I also told the story of my mother-in-law whose children all left within a month. Sure they (okay not my mom) had feelings of sadness but they also had lives outside of their children (work, choir, church etc) and those “empty nest” feelings, I can assume, weren’t as intense as they could have been. They also have their memories and THEY STILL HAVE THEIR CHILDREN!
I find peace in knowing that my boys are good boys and that they all continue to make awesome life decisions. They all aspire to be the best they can be and I think that is all we can ask for….and a phone call a few times a week to your momma is nice too.
Last week I celebrated 32 years of marriage to an amazing man. He deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor. He certainly does. I started thinking about my empty nest stories and remembered something that I hadn’t thought about in such a longtime. My husband is one of three boys. He is the “middle” son and in my opinion, the “pick of the litter.” I started going through wedding pictures. First I drifted to “did I really make the girls wear that dress?” “Did my husband really pick out that tux?” Then I found a group picture with our families. My husband’s younger brother was dressed in full Navy uniform. How could I forget…? Ronnie (my mother-in-law called him Reggie) had just, that month, joined the Navy. He just came home one day and said “I joined the Navy” and he left. I think of that now and can’t even begin to imagine how my in-laws felt. He was 19 – it was better for him, but still it must have been hard to let him go…
Then I remembered that my older brother-in-law moved away with his girlfriend. He just picked upend left. Gone. All three sons had moved out within a month. I never thought about the way that must have felt until I started this blog. Empty nest? I can’t even imagine having a “full house” one day and then complete silence the next. My mother-in-law is the total opposite of my mother. My mom changed the locks when we left and my mother-in-law would come to our apartment and do our laundry and have everyone over every Sunday for dinner. She loved being a mom and I can only imagine that her nest was rocky at best with only the mom and dad perching inside. She spent so much time preparing her children for independence and to be productive adults, but never spent time on preparing herself for the conflict she would feel within. How could they all go at the same time? I can’t get that thought out of my head…so I asked. She said it was confusing. Now she will tell you that she embraced the confusion. Confusion gets you away from “normal”. She looked for other things to do and she found them. Her youngest eventually came back and stayed for a while before getting married and that put her right back into 1st gear. She hit the ground running only to have him leave again. Her older son eventually continues to come back and forth at will… Her grandchildren do the same. She has a safe place where people can come and go, get a great meal, and lots of love. I see the hurt in her eyes though, when the giving is not reciprocated. She never says a word but you can see that she needs to be needed. Strange how some of us deal with things. My mom would be dancing in the streets. The funny thing is that my mom and mother-in-law are good friends. They seem to get along so well and yet they are so different. What do they say? That’s what makes the world go round. Personally, I think an “Empty Nest” is for the birds!
I find myself thinking about other moms. Not other “parents”. My husband has a different perspective of “empty nest”. I remember putting away the playpen after my last son no longer used it…I saw it as my “baby growing up” and letting go of “the momma”. My husband saw this as another step to freedom for us and independance for Chris. Anyway, I started to think about my own mom and dad and how they handled our exits. There were five of us growing up in the house (later we found a 6th who had been adopted out – another story) and it just seemed that we would be there forever…until my younger sister decided to fly the coop and move in to an apartment. I remember that mom didn’t handle it well. – I think because Nancy wasn’t married and moving out.
In 1979, you should have been married to leave the house. She left and then there were 4…
One by one we all took turns leaving and getting married. I was first, then right in birth order, Nancy, Neil, Christine and Charlie. Mom was a trooper? No way, she couldn’t wait until the day we were all flying away…although we weren’t allowed to move too far away. My mother told anyone who would listen that she would have the doors of the churches electronically locked after we entered – in case we changed our minds. All the way down the aisle my father said “You don’t have to do this, you don’t have to do this.” I often wonder what it must be like to have so many people in the house and then so few. So I asked her today, and she said “Are you out of your mind? I couldn’t wait to have my house to myself.” She was telling the truth, she really couldn’t wait. It’s not that she didn’t want us, she didn’t need us to be there all the time. She would always be there for us in case we needed support (my mom is the type to throw a few bucks our way instead of a hug – dad’s the hugger). When I asked her to how she handled it, she said “In case you forget, each one of you came back with a spouse to live in the apartment downstairs.” I did kind of forget that. We all came back at one time or another to pay cheap rent and steel mom’s toilet paper and paper towels (as she reminded me). Now that we are all well established she finds it comforting to know that she can call us whenever she wants and continue to dole out orders without having to live with us. She is almost 80 and says that she will never live with any of us. I tend to believe her. I’m grateful to my mom for pushing us to be independant. It is the process of life and we all need to experience the independance of making our own decisions and mistakes. Mom is a strong woman with some strong ideas about how people should conduct themselves. She claims “I’m Italian, that’s how it is supposed to be. You are supposed to live on your own. We won’t be here forever!” And that’s how it is..
I am lucky to still have my mom and dad and siblings. It took a lot of years to appreciate the people who are around me…friends and family. I hope that my children have learned from this and have taken both the good and bad that I have taught them. ( Yes, there was certainly some bad sometimes.)
Introducing Tim. He is my second of three boys. Tim is 24 years old. He was born on April 20th 1987, the day after Easter Sunday. He was born two days after my older son and I was involved in a car accident in front of our home. I was turning into our driveway and an ambulance broadsided my car. It was pretty frightening and I was nervous because I was 6 months pregnant. My son TJ had been with me and he was upset so I put on a happy face and continued on with my plans for Easter dinner. Dinner went off without a hitch and things seemed to be okay. The following day I woke up and knew that I had to get to the hospital. My husband had already gone to work which left me no choice but to get in the car and drive to the hospital. Tim arrived 13 minutes after I got there…via an emergency C-section. It was such a crazy day. Not only were we not expecting Tim, but a puppy was arriving at the airport on the same day. The poor puppy was waiting at the airport for his new owners while we were waiting for doctors to tell us if our son would make it through the night. So many thoughts ….so frightening. Tim was smaller than most Cornish hens at the supermarket. You could see right through his skin. Tim’s gestational age was 28 weeks. The doctor said if he made it through the first three days, it would be easy sailing. A priest came on the second day and performed an emergency baptism and a nurse who happened to be there was now his godmother.
I remember just praying for a miracle and thinking that I wouldn’t be able to get through this if we lost him. Well, he did pass the three day milestone (which seemed like an eternity) but easy sailing never entered the picture. Tim had so many problems. Doctors would come, then go and shake their heads. We just wanted answers and all the doctors could muster up were bills. I was medicated most of the time so I would sleep a lot. I’d wake up to find invoices on my night table….invoices from doctors I had never even met. Thousands of dollars in bills and I had no idea how to pay them. Each morning the pediatrician would come in and give me a brief run-down of Tim’s health. It was always solemn but he was still with us. His lung had collapsed and emergency surgery was performed to insert a tube to help him to breath. He was so tiny and so fragile, in an incubator with so many tubes and wires connected to him. Doctors would huddle around him, write some things on his chart and then leave him to the care of the nurses…the angels of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I don’t know what we would have done if not for the nurses. For sure, we would not have Tim today. Tim was in the hospital for three months. He had 13 blood transfusions (when AIDS was rampant), 3 surgeries and countless blood tests. His tiny little feet looked like pin cushions. One surgeon (intern) took it upon himself to perform a “cut-down” so that an intravenous line could be put in place without having to change it all the time. Tim almost lost his leg in that battle. Nurse Kathy came and told us what was going on and my husband stopped him from operating again. Lots of drama…but the nurses saved him every time. Things started to look up in June and the doctors told us that he could come home when he reached a weight of five pounds. The nurses told us that they needed us to take him home before July 1st because a new round of interns were coming in and they didn’t want Tim to be there for the new regime. On June 30th Tim was released from the hospital weighing (what everyone thought was) five pounds…nurse Kathy had put 3 quarters on the scale when she weighed him and sent us off into the world. He came home in a Cabbage Patch preemie outfit and was the same size as a football…that was 25 years ago. Seems like yesterday…..
Where has the time gone? It seems like yesterday when I was trying to figure out if I could possibly be pregnant. How could this happen? (I only know of one way but …) We already had 2 children, one was severely disabled and this wasn’t planned. Decisions weren’t easy but we decided (or rather I decided) that I was going against all rational thought and having our third child. That was yesterday (or so it seemed) and today he is driving himself three hundred miles away to college. He has been dubbed (by the entire family) as my sweet baby boy. ….and that’s exactly what he is.
The first five years was difficult, pushing a carriage and a wheelchair but things changed and soon he was pushing the wheelchair and catering to his older brother’s every need. So strange that at the age of two, I was talking about saving bail money for this boy because I had just caught him killing his goldfish and I remember thinking that he might have a problem. Today he is an avid fisherman and studying environmental science. Whew….that was scary. My boys all turned out to be good kids. I am so proud of each one of them. The oldest is a teacher at a local grammar school and my middle boy works at CUNY. I used to attribute this to luck but I have changed my mind. It was good old fashion parenting. We also surrounded our boys with great role models and a lot of activity. Boy Scouts, Rotary and sports. My husband and I both worked (too much but…). Sometimes we gave them too much and sometimes we didn’t have anything to give them but we always gave of ourselves. My husband gave so much of himself and I think that is the key. He just loves his boys. His role model? His dad. Sure we all made mistakes, but we moved on and learned (well not all the time). We laughed a lot…at ourselves mostly.
Chris (sweet baby boy) has given us so much to be proud of in his life. He works hard at school and hard at work. Everyone he meets is in awe of his good hearted nature and honest being. His brothers boast about him to friends and his friends boast about him to their families. He is such a gift to us and I am so grateful that I made the decision that I made. It certainly took a lot of sacrifice but at the end of the day…it was worth it. They say it takes a village but in this case it took more than a village.
He just pulled away from the curb and I can’t seem to control all of my emotions….except one….J am so proud.