Friday, July 14, 2017

Independence days

Believe it or not, this is a new entry to the Window Over the Sink. The word independence was a prompt at this month's writers' group meeting, and when I got to thinking of all it meant just to me...well, it was a lot. It made me think it doesn't mean the same thing to everyone and I'd love to know others' thoughts on it--so if you'd like to share, feel free. Other than that, thanks for coming by--have a great week. 

      I love the word Independence. It’s a strong word, like knowledge or excruciating or warrior. It elicits strong feelings in the same way as make my day, pilgrim—never mind that I’m mixing my cowboys--or adventure or love you, too.
          When I grew up, way back in the late middle of the last century, I craved
independence with a yearning I later saved for things like Marlboro Lights, longhorn cheese, and Pringles potato chips. I knew with no doubt whatsoever that somewhere out there in the land of jobs and no curfew and never again having to watch television was Independence.
          I was right. And I embraced it. I made every mistake an 18-year-old girl could think of to make and then some. I made decisions that changed my life forever in ways I could not have foreseen. I did every single thing I wanted to do—and then some.  Smoked way too many Marlboro Lights. Ate a lot of longhorn cheese on whatever crackers were available. Said love you, too to the wrong person more than once. I married the right one, and didn’t promise to obey. A good thing, too. An independent thing then.
          Independence as a young mother meant different things. It meant going to the bathroom by myself and sitting up late talking to girlfriends while our children slept. We were living lives we chose and loved, and we didn’t admit until much, much later how overwhelmed we were. We were working moms when it wasn’t popular, expected more emotional support from our husbands than our mothers ever would have dreamed of, and even expected help in the house in exchange for pumping our own gas and changing our own tires. These weren’t always things we got, you understand, but that didn’t stop us from expecting them. In turn, we got some Independence. Our own money, checking accounts, cars, and even credit. Later, we agreed, we would get some sleep and be able to go to the bathroom alone more often.
          As a “hear me roar” feminist, I was always proud to do my part at work—
and then some. I did my crying in the restroom, didn’t ask for help unless I was desperate, and didn’t flinch from hearing the language I still don’t like. It was hard occasionally, watching a few other women play the age-old game between the genders that meant they didn’t have to carry heavy objects or do unpleasant jobs. I’ll bet they didn’t know how to change their tires, either, but that could just be me being…you know, independent.
I was masterful, I can admit now in long retrospect, at cutting off my nose to spite my face. If I had it to do over again, perhaps I would…no, no, I wouldn’t. I would still do my best to not play the game, still cry in the restroom, still not ask for help unless there was absolutely no other way.  It was a legacy I owed to my daughter and daughters-in-law and granddaughters. It was how not having to play the good-old-boy game became much more common than it used to be.
Now, in my semi-retirement, independence has taken on yet other meanings. My husband’s and my at-home jobs have become more traditional. He mows. I cook. We both clean. Some. We make the bed together from opposite sides of its king size. We are at the life stage when, for the most part, we are only spectators at workplace, political, and relationship games. It's not that we no longer care; it's that we've learned our limits.
I will not deny that some things still hurt, that anger still scrapes along every nerve, that every now and then a regret will create an itch I can’t quite scratch. But—and here’s the good part—I know and sometimes even accept that which I cannot change. I know more than I want to about life’s costs, but also know the payoff it offers; that is, for every worst day, a lot more best ones will follow.
This, then, is Independence.



Friday, July 7, 2017

Endings and beginnings

This is from 1992, in the fall, I think, before the youngest left for college. I've learned a lot since then, about redefining myself, about how cool it is having adult children, about how right I was to look at endings as beginnings. I've always said that my favorite time is Now, and it's always been true. Still is. But it's fun to remember other favorite times.



“When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.” - Erma Bombeck

It's sneaking up on me. People have gone into therapy over it, gotten divorces because of it, lost or gained weight, started or stopped smoking--the list goes on and on. I'm pretty sure some movie star is going to write a bestseller about it, then an expert with initials after his name is going to write another one explaining the deep, hidden meaning of the first one.

Women have bought new wardrobes, changed their hair colors and even their professions because of it. Men have spent more time on golf courses and their jobs and their appearances because of it.

Are you curious yet?

What "it" is, of course, is "Empty Nest Syndrome." I'm not really sure if it should be quotation marked and capitalized like that, but since I'm the one facing it, at almost the same time as my 42nd birthday and in the same time period as wrecking my car and my annual trip to the gynecologist, I think it deserves big letters and quotation marks.

Laura Wray & Jock Flaherty in high school in the early 1990s. Now they've been married 19 years. 
For the first time in more than 22 years, I will not have to do laundry every day, cook enough for an army, or be the voice of authority. I won't have to share my shampoo, my package of razors, the only pieces of my wardrobe that are new, or the full-length mirror in my bedroom. A gallon of milk will last longer than the time it takes to open it, a box of cereal will make it to the cabinet shelf before it is decimated, and no one will eat all the middle pieces out of the brownie pan.

I will be able to take a shower without someone knocking on the bathroom door and saying, "Mom, are you about done?" I can lay a book down and find it in the same place when I go back to it. I can rent a three-Kleenex movie without anyone bagging over it. I can play Nintendo (note from 2017--remember this is 25 years ago, okay?) without anyone coaching me or beating me so badly I have to go to the kitchen and pout. I could, if having two children in college allowed me to have any money, spend it on myself without feeling guilty.

Whoopee.

It will be fun, in a way, my husband and I agree, to have the house to ourselves. We will, for the first time since we've lived here, have the biggest bedroom in the house as soon as our son moves out of it. We'll have better meals because the picky eaters will be being picky at school instead of at home. We'll be able to used the big thick towels instead of the little thin ones that are all that's left when everyone is home. We can both take classes or have dinner out if we like, without worrying about missing an important school function.

The possibilities are endless. Endings are something I'm not to fond of and I avoid them by looking at them as beginnings. That's what I'm going to do now, when the house is too empty and the phone is too quiet and being "Mom" is no long all-encompassing. Letting go of any child is hard, and I think letting go of the last-born is going to be the hardest of all. However, releasing the kid is allowing yourself to begin to know the young adult.

So I've decided I'm going to look forward to all the endless possibilities, to the beginnings. I am. Really.