I Consider My Nest Half Full

The day your youngest child leaves for college is something like the day your eldest was born: you know the day is coming, but you aren’t completely sure how you’ll handle it when it arrives.

When I was pregnant with my first child, dozens of people warned me, “your life with change forever!!” When you are 25 years old, those are scary words. Just one person said to me, “everyone tells you your life will change … no one tells you you’ll love how it changes.”

I held on to that, and it turns out, I agreed.

Before becoming an empty-nester, I heard the naysayers, too. The media seems to only mention this phase of our lives with the doomsday phrase “empty nest syndrome.” But one day, nearly a year before “the day,” I was running a quick errand in the business district of my Midwestern town and ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time.

“How are you?!” I asked. “Oh, boy, your youngest must be in college. How IS it? I’m right behind you!”

She missed her daughter, she admitted. She’d been afraid her home, without both girls, would be a place she wouldn’t want to be. But, she told me in almost an apologetic whisper “it’s not bad!”

Here she was on a Sunday, leisurely wandering the city’s downtown – something she never did during the years her athletic daughters were involved in sports. She and her husband were going out to eat on weeknights, sometimes, she exclaimed. There were pluses.

This woman was a lot like me, and I trusted her. I thought about her often in that last year as I savored my daughter’s senior year in high school.

When the day came and we drove our daughter to school and left her there, we drove back home – pretty quietly – and walked into an empty house. It was sad, but I remembered my friend’s words.

My husband went back to work the next day. Just like all of our corporate moves over the years, big changes didn’t really change his life much. But I had been working for years from home — a home where children lived.

I started out coping with denial. Not much has changed, I told myself. She was gone so much the past couple of years anyway. This is no different than when she was at volleyball practice after school. I’d just tell myself, she’ll be home at dinnertime, and pretend it was true, going about my business as usual. That worked for the first few weeks fairly well.

Luckily, I’d thought ahead. I had a couple of outings with friends planned and they were as distracting as they were meant to be. One was a girls’ weekend at the lake. Another involved high school friends arriving from out of town. It was great to catch up – and that group had the added benefit of making me feel 17 again.

I got pretty good at pushing the big transition to the back of my mind. Other than the 10,000 times I got phone calls from the daughter, that is. I wasn’t prepared for that. When the boys each left, they called occasionally, usually with questions or needs. But she called just to talk! It was fun! And, truly, it mitigated the feeling that I’d lost her. She was still around, and now I could carry her around in my purse!

I got lucky in another way, too. Parents of college athletes get special permission to stalk our children at school. We attended as many of her matches as were humanly possible and got to see her, if not spend as much time with her as we’d like.

What made the whole experience easiest yet was how happy she was. She loved her teammates and her school. She smiled even when we left. We tried to do the same.

So as she flourished there, I tried to flourish here. I’d been prepared for this for a while – I’d been making lists since her two-years-older brother left. There were so many things I’d always pushed aside, things I didn’t want to do yet — “not while the kids are still here!” I had written those down. Projects and plans, both fun and chore-like, related to work and to home. I went to that list whenever I felt a little lost or sad and picked a project.

My husband and I took a ballroom-dancing class with some other couples. I started horseback riding lessons. I joined a book club. All things I’d wanted to do, but wanted to first enjoy every last minute with the kids.

I’d written a newspaper column for 12 years and when it ended, I took a year off to enjoy my daughter’s last year home. With her gone, I started a new newspaper column – not weekly this time, but monthly. I began looking into countless other work projects I’d considered too time-intensive when my mothering-in-residence years were waning.

So between the extra reading and working – oh, and remodeling our master bathroom, another really great post-children diversion – I didn’t have much time to notice my nest was empty. In fact, with a grown son 30 miles away who stopped by occasionally, a younger son studying abroad and returning home for several wonderful weeks at home before our daughter’s winter break and our daughter on the cell phone three or four times a day, our nest didn’t feel empty – in fact, I liked to look at it as half full.

My life, meanwhile, was blessedly as full as ever, just in different ways. I spent more time on and with my friends. My daily walks and several days a week Pilates classes became sacrosanct instead of hopeful. I didn’t rush home from places and I learned that if you go shopping at 3:30 instead of getting home to intercept the ready-to-talk-when-they-walk-in-the-door-and-no-more kids, you get great parking spaces.

My husband and I went out to dinner and to movies on weeknights. We found out which couples wanted to join us on those outings. As my friend had told me the year earlier, “it’s not bad.”

It’s all in the way you look at it. They say you can look at a glass as half-empty or half-full. A nest is no different.

 

 

When I last bought a TV set for our family room, my eldest son was not quite 4 and he had to ask me before he was allowed to turn it on.

When that once state-of-the-art 36” Mitsubishi housed in an oak cabinet would no longer turn on no matter who tried, we replaced it. But being that it took 22 years, I now have to call my son to figure out how to get the sound to work.

I can at least turn it on myself. My husband is still figuring out how to do that, between the three remotes and the receiver, whatever that is. And apparently the sound isn’t working correctly because we haven’t yet installed our center speaker … or is it a middle speaker? Woofer?

We also haven’t yet installed the television, exactly. The beautiful old set used to sit on the floor, as God intended. This new thing seems to hang in space, but since we have no place to hang it, we ordered a new shelving unit. It has not arrived, so we placed the new TV on its stand on top of the old TV. Can you picture it?

I think it makes the old TV sad and jealous. It makes me miss the old TV more.

Years ago, various friends and relatives began laughing at our antique set, asking when we were going to replace it with a flat screen. For a while I said, honestly, “when it breaks.”

Then it broke. It was really bad timing and I didn’t have the time, inclination or cash flow to get a new, expensive TV. So I called a TV repairman. (Yes, Virginia, there still is a TV repairman.)

For the relatively small sum of $300, he fixed the set. I could have hugged him. Meanwhile, he told me many people are surprised he still exists, and that the set he fixed – the first “big” tube TV, the 36” Mitsubishi, was the most popular set he fixed. He couldn’t guarantee how long the fix would last – months, years maybe. At the time I didn’t care, he’d revived my TV.

That was 5 years ago. Not bad.

In recent months, both of my sons have been telling me that the TV’s color wasn’t looking right. That the picture was fading. I just ignored them, as usual. My husband, thankfully, isn’t too concerned about TV and didn’t mind, either.

So last month, when he tried to turn on the TV and told me he couldn’t, I just laughed and figured he wasn’t using the new cable remote correctly. Turns out, he was right. (Has to happen occasionally.) The TV wouldn’t turn on.

“Probably the picture tube,” we laughed, showing our age.

I waited a day or two,  just to be sure it REALLY wouldn’t turn on, then texted the kids. “I think the family room TV has finally died. I thought you should know.”

They responded characteristically.

“Finally!” said the eldest son, the one who helped us (read “chose it himself”) pick a new TV.

“Awwww … I LIKED that TV,” said the youngest, a girl who apparently takes after her mother more than she’ll admit.

No response from the younger son. Not unusual.

So, we went about the hassle I’d avoided for years … I called someone to reconstruct our old shelves to accommodate a new TV. Our son sat with us looking at TVs online, then called to order it for it, speaking a language the sales guy understood.

He actually thanked our son for calling and told him it was a pleasure dealing with someone who knew what he was talking about. “You have no idea what I usually have to go through,” he said, referring to his usual job working with people like my husband and I who haven’t bought a new TV since you could buy one speaking plain English.

The TV arrived and our son came over to set it up. He rarely comes over to visit, but for some reason couldn’t wait to see the new TV. He actually remembered which day it was going to be delivered – the young man who does not use a calendar and never knows when anything is going to happen – and asked if I needed help setting it up. Help, ha!

He came over and did what he’d been doing since he was about 10 – put it together. The guy who usually can’t get out of the house fast enough was agonizing over why the receiver wasn’t turning off using the TV remote. Whatever, I said, I’ll turn them both off.

“No!” he said. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to work!” Luckily, I didn’t find the problem with the sound until after he left.

So after all this … after 22 years of enjoying the early 1990s version of the latest TV, after I started to get used to using three remotes instead of one, I opened the newspaper. (The newspaper – remember those?)

I’d already heard in a TV interview that Steve Jobs had wanted to reinvent and simplify the TV set before he died. “I wish he had!” I whined to my husband. I’ve had and loved Apple computers since 1988.

But this day, the newspaper had a story that perhaps Jobs DID invent a TV before he died. One may be in production in China. A rumor, sure, but that’s how the iPhone and iPad started. There’s a TV out there made by Apple that is going to make SENSE.

I wait 22 years to replace my TV and a better one is coming out made by Apple?! Oh, the irony.

So, now what? The cabinets arrive  and if I can bear to part with it, the old Mitsubishi will be completely unnecessary and out the door. Then I spend the next few months figuring out how I can put that new TV somewhere else and wondering whether Apple’s new TV will fit in my new shelving unit.

Meanwhile, the flat screen is so complicated, I’m just watching the shows I enjoy on my Apple laptop.

 

 

 

 

Is Revenge contagious?

I’m pretty sure “Revenge” is contagious because the vast majority of those who have been exposed to the new ABC show are hooked. But the concept itself? Maybe not so much contagious as apt to spark delicious daydreams.

So far, I haven’t been able to imagine any vengeful plans nearly as flawless and devious as Emily Thorn’s. But she has great writers, not to mention a small detail called fiction to  make certain her plans come off flawlessly.

If it were as easy as Emily makes it look, on whom would I take my own revenge? Even more importantly, how to best retaliate?

No question, on the boy (now grown) who mercilessly made fun of one of my kids when they were in 3rd or 4th grade. Until now, I’d only been able to stare at him from afar and wish bad things upon him. But What Would Emily Do? Most likely find a way to out him publicly — perhaps with an embarrassing video at a sports bar  where he’s drinking.

I can’t help but wish I could turn the screws to just two horrible — out of dozens of dreamy — bosses, both long-ago and briefly in that position, but nasty enough to inspire venom. I’d add to that list two more recent bosses, not mine, but able to wreck plenty of havoc to the lives of loved ones. Emily is avenging her dad, after all, so I’m allowed to right wrongs to loved ones. How to best get back at them? Emily’s advice would likely be to put them in the position of those they bullied, with some tragic twist.

What about the bigger picture? Revenge against terrorists? Too serious, but yes. Revenge against most of Congress? Ah, I’d love the Revenge writers to come up with something filled with just the right dash of poetic justice. A sequel to the show would be necessary for this category.

Many would suggest Revenge upon mothers-in-law … but now that I know so many friends who fall into that category, I’m learning a little compassion.

Bankers? Egomaniacs? Teachers who are just plain mean? Cashiers who chat with coworkers and ignore customers? The young man or woman who carelessly broke your child’s heart?

Who’s on your list? Something to contemplate during the too-long  hiatuses (hiati?) of “Revenge.”

Perhaps it could be a new game show: Who Wants to Get Revenge? If you come up with a great recipient and a dastardly plot, you’d make the cut and get on the show. An emcee briefly recaps what the culprit did to you and we get to observe the comeuppance, Candid-Camera style. This is an idea whose time has come — therapy for an entire nation. This decade’s answer to Funniest Home Videos.

It’s no coincidence the only new show to pull in such big numbers of viewers is about the fantasy of getting back at people who have hurt you. This show isn’t just filled with wonderfully wicked characters, and perfectly concocted and executed schemes,  it hits the currently-universal theme that life’s unfair and we need to do something to fight back.

But the best part of Revenge — perhaps its saving grace, the details that makes it better than just nonstop payback — are the boy and the puppy. Well, the man and the dog. Jack and Sammy. They make Emily human, something more than the robotic witch she might have been. She was hurt deeply.

The show, too, has found more depth each week. Though it began knocking out targets with gleeful precision and pace, the complications have begun and they are mind-boggling. Just what we all need to keep our minds off reality.

It’s odd, really, that just as actual reality in the U.S. became so stark, the genre of “reality” shows took off. What we need instead is more Revenge-like escapism. Sort of a throwback to the excessive 80s with “Dallas” and “Dynasty,” “Revenge” is indicative of its decade. While I got a kick out of Krystle and Alexis, I’m reveling in Emily Thorn.

So sue me. But don’t try to get me back, because I’ve watched every show and I’m learning.