What Now? (Part 1)

Move in day is over. All the dorm stuff that had been clogging every orifice of your home is now safely ensconced at the dorm/apartment where your child resides. You lived through the final good-byes and the quiet ride home. You unlocked the door to a newly empty house.

And a newly empty spot in your life.

A spot that was once filled by an energetic/excited/overly emotional (or not nearly emotional enough!) person. For better or worse, the day you had been dreading for months or years has come and gone.

What now?

In the best of situation, you prepared for this day. Realizing that raising a child is not a lifetime event, but marriage supposedly is-you have built a life with your partner outside of your parenting that will now serve you well.

But what if that isn’t your story? What if you and your mate just held it together long enough to see this day come and go-a thin veneer of civility in relations but after many years of cohabiting and co-parenting-you look at each other and realize that you don’t know the person with whom you have shared a life.

Maybe you’re a single parent who has poured every part of yourself into your kiddo (s) alone. I have utmost respect for those who have done that hard journey well. You are now qualified to run our country.

Not kidding.

Get your flyers up.

Our national debt crisis? Fighting in the Middle East? Immigration issues? These are small things compared to what you just went though.

Kuddos.

For you, dear single parent, this can be such a hard time. Loneliness coupled with loss of purpose has the potential to be toxic. I pray you link arms with other single parents and take care of each other, especially in these first few weeks when the loss is acutely felt.

Whatever your situation, married or single, we all have the same question.

What now?

We who have perfected the helicopter parent generation have to take a good, hard look at how we spent the past 18 years. We entered into every aspect of our kids lives, many times rescuing them from peril with friends, school and life in general.

They are now on their own (in some way or another) and we can’t see or know their every move. We can no longer intervene when we deem necessary.

It’s terrifying. It’s freeing.

It’s how it’s supposed to be.

Many people struggle during this transition in life. They believe that the most important part of their life, launching their child into adulthood is over and nothing they will ever do will compare to the importance of that event. Add to that fact, that all of this usually comes at the half time of our life when we naturally become more philosophical.

Bad combo.

It’s been 6 years since this was our story. 6 years since we dropped our third son, our “baby”, off at his dorm and drove away. This part of parenting never got easier-and bonus-this time there was no one waiting at home.

With that perspective, may I offer a few suggestions of how to navigate these new waters?

Part 2 (with all the good stuff) posts tomorrow. But for today-I’m tracking with your pain. And praying for your heart.

Blessings,

Stephanie

Posted in Faith, Family, Midlife Maze | 1 Comment

Meet Me on the Dance Floor

One of my best friend’s sons got married this weekend. It was a beautiful evening and the reception was a blast. One of my favorite parts of any reception is the dancing.

I love to dance at weddings. I especially love all the corny wedding dances: The Chicken Dance, The Electric Slide, The Cupid Shuffle just to name a few, and feel slighted when they are not included in the evening playlist. I have been known to ask the DJ to play them, most often, he says, “The bride explicitly said we can’t play those songs.”

OK, I will yield to the bride. But fair warning: I am trying to learn to dance to Thriller.

With complete abandon I spend most of the night out there with a group of gals my age, mixed with younger gals and sometimes my hub (on the slow ones!) dancing to almost every song. I sing with the ones I know (Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”, Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband”) and countless others that I don’t know the name of, taking countless moves of the young gals and trying them on.

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 It’s a spectacle I’m sure.

I know I don’t look anywhere near as cool as I think I do…being my age and all (especially the ALL!) My hub gave up a while ago glaring at me with a look that said, ”Really??” My boys do a mixture of shake their heads or join me on the dance floor. My DIL, Morgan, has been a constant dance partner for the past few weddings and I have to admit…it’s a bonding experience.

This weekend’s wedding had something that I had never seen before at a wedding, a Mother-Daughter dance. Towards the end of the dance they invited all mothers and daughters to join them on the dance floor. Now, this mother/daughter thing is an anomaly to those of us with only sons, but my heart leapt when I saw my sweet DIL walking towards my table and motioning for me to come join her on the dance floor.

She’s adorable and now I am a 100% convert to the idea!

When my #3 son got married in October, for our dance we chose, “Wagon Wheel”, the blue grass song by Darius Rucker and we did a lively dance that we had practiced on our patio for days. It was such a highlight for me as our friends and family gathered around the dance floor and sang and clapped while we danced.

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 But, aside from just plain loving to dance, I dance for another reason. I dance for my dear friends whose time here on earth was cut short by cancer and will never dance at their daughter’s weddings. I dance for my sweet sistas, Sue and Pam. It has been 2 years since they passed on and it still feels surreal. Pam was one of the wisest women I have ever known. I still hear her words in my head. I hope I always do.

Sue was a sister soul mate. She was my walking buddy, and every Saturday breakfast companion. I couldn’t go back to our walking trail for a year after she passed. She left behind 3 beautiful daughters, amazing young women who live life with the same passion and vitality that Sue embodied. My darling friend won’t be there to dance at their weddings, but I will.

And so will another friend of Sue’s…we will fight over who gets to do the mother/daughter dance. Actually, we’ll probably just do it together and it will look like a mosh pit.

Sue would be so proud!

Posted in Family, Friendship, Midlife Maze | 3 Comments

Hurts So Good

In the spring of last year I went out to help my hub with the massive cleanup of downed pine branches and sticks from the big ice storm we had in February. He told me to just sit on the tractor and talk to him while he worked, but I’m just not one to sit when there is work to do. So I carried my rake out the pasture with me, raking not far from where he was dealing with the “big stuff”.

While I was raking, I was chastising myself for not bringing garden gloves with me. There was quite a bit of sap on the limbs that were too big to rake and therefore I had to carry to the pile I was making.

There was also some dead debris in one of the hedgerows that I had been meaning to clean out for several years, but by the time I thought about it, it was far too late into spring. The xylem and phloem had already returned to the vines and briars, and with their new strength intact, were too hard to deal with. I vowed to get to it the next year.

 And then the next.

I was almost giddy when I realized that this was the year that I was going to get the upper hand on that ugly mess.  I reached over and started pulling the shriveled, dry vines and quickly caught the dead briars as well.

With bare hands.

Ouch.

But I kept working and within an hour the whole area was clean and looked great. It was worth the temporary pain in my hands to finally be rid of that eyesore.

It hurt so good.

If you get a rush from cleaning brush and having a well manicured yard- you get it. Once you start into a project like this (or pulling weeds, which is euphoric to me!) it’s like getting tunnel vision. There is nothing but you and the weeds and the newly cleaned area in your focus.

It borders on obsession.

It’s the stamping out of their ugliness that pushed me to keep raking and getting ready for the new life of budding trees and plants that would be there in a few weeks, able to flourish free of the briars that held them back for so many summers.

When I got back to raking, I thought about how weeding a garden or cleaning out briars and dead sticks is kind of like how we keep our inner life in good health. In order to stay mentally, emotionally and spiritually in good shape, we have to be willing to “weed the garden” of our lives.

Spring does that to me. Makes me philosophical.

In truth, “the weeds” that I have neglected have most likely become bad habits or make areas in my life that don’t necessarily look so great. They can cause an underlying current of anxiety and fear. When left unchecked, those “weeds” creep into my everyday life, preventing me from fully appreciating those I love and seeking to rob me of daily peace. In seasons when those bad things are left to run wild they choke out the woman I desire to be.

Kind. Good.

It’s hard to tend to the garden of our lives, but it is vital to good health. Mentally and emotionally, pulling up old memories, old hurts is not for the faint hearted. Words remembered spoken by us or to us can cause a myriad of emotions. Pain. Confusion. Open wounds.

Some weeding is done easily, like pulling chickweed. One slight tug and the whole mess is gone. Others are like wild violets and dandelions..the effort to dig deep to get to the invasive root system is a real workout.

Unresolved past hurts can fester in the weirdest places of our inner life and hold us back in a hundred ways. It’s easy to spot the big ones-an inability to trust people fully, requiring constant affirmation from the important people in our lives and broken relationships.

All relationships, be it marriage, family or friendships are like gardens. They need to be nourished by time, attention and love, and weeded when needed by self-examination, forgiveness and prayer. Most of all with the reality check that the only person we can control fully is ourselves.

It will hurt so good.

Happy weeding!

Blessings,

Stephanie

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On Our Own….Again

Whew, we made it.

Through the first night of real, forever, lifetime empty nesting.

After a few years of trial empty nesting (college years, #3 working in NY for part of the week, then home on weekends) and with all the post wedding hoopla- which led into holiday coming and goings, we are finally on our own.

29 years, 4 months, 6 days and 12 hours…we were just the two of us again. I made the run to BWI in the snow to deliver the last one on his way back to the place where he now lives. I’m not calling any place more than 20 miles away from me their home.

 Not ever.

 I started the brainwashing while they were in middle school. In the boys bathroom I hung a little sign (its still there) in the top right corner of the large wall mirror that says: “Home is where your mom is.” And I’m standing by that.

The house is eerily quiet…it knows too-they are not coming back this time. It is bitter cold and there are 4 inches of new fallen snow outside so all sounds are magnified everywhere I go.

 I have known from the beginning, almost 30 years ago, that life as a parent would mark us as no other life experience would. Our perspective on the world around us opened as we faced life as parents of 3 little boys-from day one. Somewhere between the diapers, cooking meals, bathing babies, trips to the doctor, the sports practices (try to imagine year round sports for 3 boys!), church events, school outings—we grew old…older. The everyday living in this old farmhouse changed us from bright eyed youngsters to seasoned veterans who learned the cardinal rule of parenting teens: “Never looked shocked by anything they tell you.” You can go to your room, shut the door and shock yourself, but keep that, “I’veseenitall, theres nothingnewunderthesun” façade in front of your teen.

 The most surprising thing to me, as I sit here on this bright snowy morning, is how fast it all went by. And I say that a little teary, but mostly with a heart of thanksgiving for the mercy that God showed us by giving us the boys he did. Our boys are like their mom and dad—far from perfect—but we have not had to deal with nightmares of drugs, accidents and illnesses that have marked many others parenting journeys.

 Life is far from over and only God knows what lies ahead—parenting is a role that you start slowly and then gain speed and momentum as your kids grow up. Right when you hit your stride, you have to apply the brakes. Just let me be on the record saying—parenting adults is no picnic. Thousands of books are written on how to be a good parent to toddlers and teens, but not so much for adult kids. Because… let me tell you, young mamas and daddys of little ones…this part has the potential to be the hardest yet. It takes a lot of self- control to hold back the words of guidance that were honed so well in the teen years, when your kids become adults. It takes REAL effort to remember not to start sentences with, “I think….” Or “You need to…..” Or “You ought to….” and a hundred other things that were so common and NEEDED with younger kids.   That makes parenting an always learning experience.

 And if you are blessed enough to have kids that grow up to be independent and able to stand on their own two feet-you will have a day like I did yesterday. Just like the day they came into your arms….they will leave on their own-with a prayer of thankfulness for God’s goodness.

 My hub walked in from work on this dark, snowy night and greeted me with, “It’s just you and me now, baby.”

 I’m so thankful that he is enough.

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Me and the hub as a snow couple (I painted this!) out on our own. In the cold. All alone.  

Blessings,

Stephanie

Posted in Family, Midlife Maze | 10 Comments

Thanks-living

I just finished making my 4th “last trip” to the grocery store in preparation for the big meal on Thursday. Each “last trip” I thought I was really done.

Done.

But no. Somehow a new item mysteriously cropped up on the “still need” list. How can this be? I have cooked this same meal for almost 30 years and I still can’t get it down pat.

Determined to beat the shopping crowds….it’s only 2 days till Thanksgiving and they are calling for snow tomorrow (a recipe for disaster)-I set out in the predawn hours to make the 4th “last trip” to the grocery store.

I go to several different stores as I get ready for my favorite day of the year. Each store has items that are unique to them: honey brined turkey breasts, freshest produce, best pumpkin pies, etc.  (I can hear the condemnation now: “You don’t make your own pumpkin pies??” No, I do not. About 8 years ago #1 son released me by saying, “Mom, when these pies from ____ are so great, why would you ever want to make them?”)

I agreed and I embraced the freedom.

OK, I’m off on a tangent here. This is not about pies. Or turkey. Or anything that will happen two days from now.

It’s about what happened in the check out line on my 4th “last trip” this morning.

I was at my local grocery store, the one closest to my house, my mainstay for the past 33 years of married life. If grocery stores were like that bar in Cheers (where everyone knows your name) this would be mine. The owner passed away on Saturday and he was a character! We were telling “Ralph” stories in the OR yesterday.  I know most of the longtime cashiers (vs. the college kiddos) and my favorite one is Lillian.

Lillian works the first shift, when the store opens at 6am. Since the store is next to the surgery center where I work, I make many, many early morning stops so I can head right home and not fight the afternoon crowds. Over the years of early morning interactions, Lillian and I have gotten to know each other across the counter.

She lives in the north county (like me), has adult kids (like me), loves Jesus (like me) and sings on her worship team (not like me). She always asks about my boys, the weddings and knows about my AZ boy’s ministry. She knows the hard road we walked for a while a couple of years ago. I know the hard choice she made to leave the huge church she loved to go serve their church plant in PA.

We do more than idle conversation. We share life, in snippets. When Jesus is your common denominator stuff gets fast tracked.

This morning as I explained to Lillian that this was my 4th “last trip”, she told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was going later this morning to learn the tumor staging and plan for surgery, chemo and radiation.

Gut punch.

In the midst of my hurry scurry, came a reminder of what is truly important. Who cares if the pumpkin pies are not homemade? My friend is dealing with life and death. I walked around the counter to hug her, pray for her day and the choices she would be asked to make today. Underlining the unknown ahead of her, was a countenance of peace. The kind of peace that comes when you know the One who holds all your days.

Not just the 4th Thursday in November.

Lillian said over and over, “I’m just so thankful”…for early detection, for a wonderful doctor, for church family holding her up to the One she loves above all. She has a great list for Thanksgiving.

Thanks-living.

This is the holiday for counting blessings, counting things we are thankful for…the basis for Thanks-living. It deserves so much more than just a once a year day of Thanksgiving. That’s what my friend was doing this morning.

Thanks-living.

I am thankful to have been there this morning to see the results of such living in Lillian. And for the reminder to practice it in my own life.

Daily thanks-living.

Starting today. Not Thursday.

Happy Thanks-living, friends!

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The Ministry of Chicken Pot Pie

I come from a long line of comforters. Mostly through my mom’s side…the Simmons were/are great comfort – givers. My nanny, my mom, Aunt Paula and even the gals that married my uncles are great at dishing out love and encouragement. Many times we comfort through our words, acts of service, prayers and hugs. However, almost immediately, our thoughts go to, “What can I cook for them?”

It’s the curse of those of us who are comforted by food and therefore show love through cooking comfort food.

One of the first recipes I got from my Aunt Paula, a world-class Southern cook, is a tried and true, easy recipe for a delicious chicken pot pie. Emphasis on easy, double emphasis on delicious. It ranks as one of my mom and sister’s go to meals as well.

This dish is #1 son’s favorite meal, the one I have ready on his first night home. He has a predicable 3 helpings and then eats the leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

If there is any leftover, that is.

This has been my “go to” dish that I take to friends when they have sickness/ new baby/death in the family/down in the dumps/whatever ails them at the time for the past 30 plus years. This comfort dish is a no fail success every time. I had a girlfriend tell me once that it was worth having a baby just to get one of these pot pies brought into her house.

It’s that good.

It didn’t take long to learn to keep the ingredients for the chicken pot pie as staples in my pantry. Those items, as well as cooked chicken in the freezer, are always ready for whatever blessing/calamity come to those we love. The way our family has eaten chicken pot pie has changed over the years. First we paired it Waldorf salad, now we like it with a side of organic applesauce. Many years back, my dad started dousing his portion of chicken pot pie with Worchestshire sauce (nectar of the southern gods) and then #1 son took to doing the same.

Now we all do. Yum.

With the holiday’s coming up, it’s also an easy meal for those nights when you have to hurry out to school concerts and Christmas plays. It can be made the day before (except the crust) and put in the oven while you get everyone ready to head out the door.

I implore you to try it just once. You’ll be hooked and if you do have the opportunity to start your own ministry of chicken pot pie-you’ll thank me. (And Aunt Paula.)

Here’s the recipe for an 8 x 11 dish.

 

Aunt Paula’s Chicken Pot Pie

 In the bottom of a greased dish layer:

3 cups of cooked and cubed chicken breasts

Mix together:

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 cup chicken broth (either reserved from the cooked chicken or store bought)

1 large can of peas and carrots (do not drain)

Pour over chicken.

Topping:

1 cup of self rising flour (very important…don’t use plain flour)

1 cup of buttermilk

½ cup of melted butter or margarine

½ tsp black pepper

Mix this together and spoon over chicken mixture. Bake at 425 degrees for 40 minutes.

Enjoy!

Blessings,

Stephanie

Posted in Family, Food | Leave a comment

Today’s the Day!

Hey there. Remember me?

Today is gonna be the day.

The day that I finally get back up to speed with my blog. It’s not that I’ve forgotten that I have a blog. Something that I used to love and care for, but in the blur of the past few months the blog has had to take a back seat.

I only hope it hasn’t died from neglect.

There have been so many times in the past 2 months that I have thought, “I need to blog about this”, but there were just not enough hours in the day due to wedding preparations, packing up for his move to Denver and starting back to work. It was the perfect storm.

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 My nurse mind has thought of it in terms of electrical impulses trying to pass through synapses in nerve cells. Too many jammed up caused a shut down. Bone tiredness which expressed itself in one thought…”later”.

And so, today is “later” for the blog. And me.

This is the day that I try to convey some sense of the range of emotions that have consumed me the past few months as we married off our baby son and became true blue empty nesters.

Except our nest is still not quite empty.

That is God’s mercy to me. With holidays coming up and already planned for out town company (GO NAVY!) arriving next week, the house will be hotelish for the next couple of months. There will be lots of activity in the kitchen, laundry to do, lists to make…my kind of wonderful.

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Around the second week of January the truth of the situation will set in. But unlike the half generation before us, my people seem to be embracing this new stage of life. I am blessed to still be crazy in love with my hub and since we both work and are gone from each other during the day, I look forward to time with him in the evening.

However, I need to be honest here.

I have caught myself a couple of times this week walking over to “the fraternity”. That’s what we call the part of the house where the boy’s rooms are.

Were.

Now they are guest rooms. Beautiful, clean and neat, nothing out of place. Waiting for life to fill them up again. I always knew this day would come. Truthfully, in some of the more chaotic, messy years of mothering I dreamed of this day and how great it would be when rooms would always be clean and pillows straightened stayed that way. Like in a magazine.

In our real empty nest, so far, life still gets messy. Fall is becoming chillier by the day and drafty in the old farm-house at night. So..while we watch political pundits free of the grumbling and complaining kids, we still pull out blankets that I’m too tired to put away at the end of the night and look messy the next morning when I come downstairs.

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My hub is embracing his inner Amish and taking to making butter (in our Ninja) from raw milk which is a HUGE messy ordeal. I don’t even go in the kitchen while he is working (or churning). The glass milk bottles are piling up on the sun porch, ready to returned to the Amish farm.

Here are some other misconceptions I had about what life would be like when the boys were gone:

Laundry would be a twice a week occurrence. Untrue. Not with “I can only use a towel once” hub. Turns out the real laundry maker isn’t moving on. For 32 years I have tried to break this man of this habit. Guess it’s here to stay.

The food bill would be less. This might be true, once we get past holidays and guests. And we stop eating out….it’s only two of us…right??

I can finally do what I really want to do. Wait a minute, let’s be honest. I have been doing that for a while now- when the last one left for college.

Turns out what I really want to do is….have a house that is full of people and teeming with life and the mess that comes with it.

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 A house and life that looks like a magazine can quickly grow stale and lonely.

I’ll take a mess, anytime!

Blessings,

Stephanie

PS….It’s great to be back!

Posted in Family, Farm, Midlife Maze | 3 Comments