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My Empty Nest

Urban birds nest isolated on white.

I didn’t want to write about it. Writing makes me think, and this is something that is painful to think about. Okay, so maybe that seems melodramatic, but it’s how I feel. The little boy that I raised is no longer a little boy, and he’s no longer here. What’s worse is that little boy will never return. Ouch.

I know he’s a young man now and he’s where he is supposed to be.

I know he has a good head on his shoulders and I trust him to make good decisions, at least most of the time.

I know that this separation is not only normal, but desirable. He’s supposed to move on. I get it. But it still stings.

The other day I was packing my lunch for work and it dawned on me that I couldn’t recall the last time I packed him a lunch. He’s eighteen, a freshman in college, and quite self-sufficient. When did that happen? When was the last time I made him a sandwich, placed it in a ziplock bag in a lunch box, added raisins, carrots, and a granola bar, then a juice box and ice pack to combat the Arizona heat? Did he enjoy those lunches? Did he prefer strawberries or apple slices? Wheat thins or triscuits? Why can’t I remember?

Why can’t I remember the last time I read him a bedtime story or tucked him in? Why can’t I remember the last time I brushed his teeth or gave him a bath? I did all of those things hundreds and hundreds of times, but I don’t know when I stopped doing them. Why didn’t I pay closer attention? Now he’s gone, and it’s never going to be quite the same.

If getting divorced and ending up in a joint custody situation has had any upside, it’s this: at least I know how to survive without him. Those first few years were hell. Every time he was away from home was absolutely heart wrenching to me. When you have children and a marriage ends, joint custody is the norm, unless there’s a problem with one of the parents. In our case I had my son most of the time, but his father saw him weekly and kept him every other weekend. It was important that their relationship remained as intact as possible, given the circumstances.

My head understood this and supported it completely, but my heart was wounded deeply. I felt cheated out of my right to have my child by my side. How could I mother him if he wasn’t there? I hated it, but learned to live with it. That adjustment has been a life saver now.  I learned to trust that he was okay when he was away, and that if he needed me he had the means and opportunity to reach out to me. That hasn’t changed. I’m here if he needs me, but I’m confident that he’s okay.

Still, there are times I want that little kid back. The one I sang to at night, the one who made mini-golf courses in his bedroom and left his socks all over the house. I miss that kid, and I always will, but the young man he’s become is pretty great too, so I choose to focus on the here and now, and look toward the future.

 

 


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Alone vs. Lonely

I am home alone. This is a rarity. If the whole family isn’t home, I’m usually either with my son or my sweetheart. Occasionally I get home from work first on a day that my son is with his father, so as I’m puttering around, unwinding from the day, I may have fifteen minutes to myself, but they are full. I come in, put my work things away, let the dog out, feed her, use the bathroom, check the mail, and *poof* the alone time is gone.

On the days my son isn’t with his dad, I’m his driver. We walk out together in the morning, and we walk back in together in the afternoon. When he’s gone for the weekend, my sweetheart and I spend a lot of time together. We like it that way. We run errands together, we go on dates together, we do projects around the house together, and we just generally enjoy each other’s company.

55171_20130814_162130_tumblr_magk3i9S7I1ru61w7o1_500_largeMy family, however, understands that I’m a bit of an introvert, and that I need some time and space to myself.
I have a wonderful “studio” in our home where I can retreat for a bit. After a while one of them might wander in, and that’s fine. I’m not a hermit by any definition of the word. I love them both dearly, and enjoy spending time with them.

There’s a difference between being alone by choice and being alone by circumstance. I learned that lesson when I got divorced. I was okay with the idea of being divorced. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I understood it, and figured that in the long run it would be best for all involved. It has been. But what I didn’t understand, just couldn’t wrap my head around, was the idea that I should be forced to be 100% utterly alone as a result of circumstances that were beyond my control. I’m talking about my son’s time with his father, of course. My rational brain knew that they deserved to spend time together, and that my son needed his father in his life. It was the primal brain, however, that screamed out, “THIS IS UNFAIR!”

The weekends he was away were torture for me. It felt like the most horrible type of punishment I could imagine. I went from what I considered a normal family life, with a husband and a son, to a completely single entity for those ghastly weekends. How could I be a mother for x number of days a month, but not a mother for the rest? Oh sure, I was still his mother, but I couldn’t parent him. I tried not to think about it too much. I tried not to be critical of his father’s parenting (he’s not a bad father at all, in fact there are a lot of things that I think he does really well in terms of his relationship with our son). I tried to just separate myself from the whole situation when he wasn’t with me. I was always available for my son, but he didn’t need me when he was with his dad. It’s been several years now and to this day I rarely speak to him when he’s with his dad. It’s not that I’m not interested in what he’s doing, but I don’t want to infringe on their time together.

That first year or so of that utter and complete aloneness when he was gone forced me to make some decisions about how I wanted to handle myself. I could have spent those entire weekends in front of the tv, binging on movies and ice cream. I didn’t. I started to find things to do and people to connect with. It started to hurt less and I started to find peace in the alone time. Still, I didn’t like it. I loved having a family. I loved going on outings and sharing family dinners and playing in the pool together and watching movies and celebrating holidays and going on vacations and all of those things that families do. I was heartbroken that it all came to an end, both for myself and for my son. I felt like we were being robbed. Still, I had to make a decision to either wallow in it and make myself even more miserable, and take my son down with me, or deal with it. I’m a grown up. I dealt with it.

Time has passed, and there is a new man in my life, and family has a new definition. No, we’re not married, but the three of us are a family, just as my son’s father and his extended family are still part of our family. It’s not what I expected, but it seems to be working out okay for us.

Long story short, I enjoy those few hours alone at home when nobody is around, but I enjoy them because they’re not forced on me. I’m alone, but I’m far from lonely.

 


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Daily Prompt: Connect the Dots

Scour the news for an entirely uninteresting story. Consider how it connects to your life. Write about that.

The news is full of all sorts of stories from the horrifying to the absurd. The story I chose caught my eye because it was about a father’s unwillingness to take his child to McDonald’s and the fallout from that decision. Really?

In a nutshell, it’s about divorce, choices, and outside interference from psychologists, lawyers, and judges. It’s not about McDonald’s at all. Here’s the story: Dad gets almost 5 year old for dinner once a week. fast-foodBoy wants McDonald’s for dinner. Day says no. Boy tantrums. Dad says anything BUT McDonald’s or no dinner. Boy chooses no dinner. Dad returns boy to mom. Dad deemed unfit parent. Dad’s visitation with son is on the line and Dad sues psychologist who recommends limiting visitation. Big. Ugly. Mess.

How sad that a parent can’t say no to his child without being accused of something sinister. Of course this isn’t about going to McDonald’s or not going to McDonald’s. It’s about finding an in, a chink in the armor, the Achille’s Heel, of your adversary. I’m sure son was upset at being taken back to mom without dinner. I’m sure mom was unhappy that son was upset and unfed. But somewhere, she had a flash of brilliance and used the incident to further her own agenda of limiting son’s exposure to dad. Maybe she has good reason. I don’t know these people. Maybe dad is an awful person on another level. But this isolated incident is not indicative of anything troublesome. In fact, I think it’s decent parenting. Sometimes we say no, and we mean it. That is an important lesson for an almost five year old.

I’m so glad I was able to teach those types of lessons to my son when he was small without any fear that his father would somehow twist them and use them against me. Would the incident where I walked out of the grocery store with a screaming three year old, my full cart stashed in the beer cooler (at the manager’s suggestion) have caused me to be labeled unfit? Would the scolding and swat on the bottom after running away in a busy mall have labeled me abusive? I don’t know, but those incidents could have been twisted and transformed into something ugly and harmful.

I think we are too quick to want to further our own agendas without looking at what is best for the greater good, in this instance a boy who really needs love, guidance, and limits from the adults who love him.

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