5 Tips for Mothers of Graduating Seniors

KatelynChariseI have a couple of friends with kids who graduated from high school and will soon be off to college. Their pride is tempered by gloom mixed with apprehension and rolled like a burrito in a wrapping of grief. Their children will leave them to rattle around the shell of what was once a rich life, clinging to memories of not so long ago.

I know what they’re going through.

KimJamieFor years, outside of my job, I did little except be a mother. I volunteered in classrooms, shuffled kids to and from activities, and enjoyed a house filled with their friends. My children were never far from my thoughts—even when I “ran away” to walk the dog. During those walks I encountered a mysterious woman in our neighborhood.

She was tall and lean with short sandy-blonde hair that wisped about her face and curled against a khaki sun visor. She had excellent posture. Her gait was slow and smooth like a runway model. I marveled at her apparent serenity, her solitude. I remember her as a creamy ivory color. She was older—the age I am now.

Her eye contact avoidance gave the impression she didn’t want to be disturbed. I ignored that desire by hollering “Hi!” which force a whispered, “Hello.”

I knew nothing about her which gave me free rein to imagine her life. Because she was older, I suspected she had no children at home. I envied her tranquility, but pitied her loneliness. Poor thing. How could she possibly be happy when the years of raising children were behind her?

She made me fear my future lonely existence. At the same time, I looked forward to the possibility of long, peaceful walks.

Twenty years later, my children grown and living far away, I view her differently. She was neither sad nor in need of pity, which doesn’t mean she might not have missed the hectic life she once had. Time gave her the ability to appreciate that tranquility I witnessed. She was probably grateful—as I am—for her life, then and now.

For those with kids poised to leave home, let me share a few things I’ve learned along the way:

1. You get kicked out of the “Parents Club.” It’s a horrible feeling of abandonment and betrayal. Scratch and claw all you want—you will never get back in.

2. You will be depressed. For months after our younger child went to college, I could barely vocalize more than a grunt. Whenever someone asked—and always with a smile—“How does it feel to have an empty nest?” I’d snap, “It feels like crap,” offended by their insensitivity and bitter to be forced to articulate actual speech.

During this period, it helps to connect with people whose lives are more depressing than yours. Watching Judge Judy did wonders for my husband Gary and me. I was also nurtured by episodes of Dog the Bounty Hunter and Breaking Bonaduce.

3. You get 100% of your adult life back. The problem is you’ve forgotten how to live that life. Raising children is like drinking just enough coffee to get a little hand tremor going. Their youthful energy, the company of their friends, and bonds forged with other mothers is addictive. Over the years, those little buggers turn you into a mother junkie. For six months after they leave, you will detox by sitting in rooms lit only by the glow of a television, rocking back and forth. You will cry—a lot.

DSC024954. You’ll have lots of spare time for self-reflection. Ugh—nip that in the bud! After our younger child left, I was so desperate to avoid reflection that I volunteered in a first grade classroom. I quit a few years later when my teacher transferred to the middle school, and I decided I’d rather suffer reflection than deal with that age group.

5. Six years into the new deal, after you finally have a handle on adult living, your kids will take pity on what they perceive as your boring life and give you a puppy. You will not immediately realize the merits of this gift, but after enrolling in a half dozen doggie classes, you’ll be welcomed into a new group—the Dog Owners Club! The wounds of being thrown out of the Parents Club will finally heal. You will become addicted to puppy excitement which will, thankfully, take away any time for self-reflection.

Yes, that's me on the far left with Lucy-puppy who interprets the command "Sit."

Yes, that’s me on the far left with Lucy-puppy who interprets the command “Sit.”

Any fantasies I once held about morphing into that ethereal woman from long ago have not materialized. When I finally had no one at home to run away from and could stroll at my leisure, a puppy arrived and put me back into the demanding feeling of caring for children.

I suppose I could run away from Lucy-puppy by taking walks by myself, but I’ve discovered that tranquility isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I prefer the hullabaloo.

 

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No Complaints

bethany

Bethany the Fierce

As my trainer Bethany puts me through exercise paces at the gym, we chat about one of my favorite hobbies—complaining. For the past several months, she has made a conscious effort to avoid the activity. “Do you know how hard it is to not complain?” she asks. I can’t imagine. Like parasailing, hang gliding, and scrapbooking, I’ve never tried it.

I take this as a challenge and declare that if I can go the rest of the afternoon without complaining, I’ll reward myself with nachos from Los Gallitos (with extra guacamole). It’s two-thirty. If I eat dinner early, I’ll only have a few hours to endure.

When I get home and click the garage door opener, the door stays closed. For several months, the door has mocked me in this way—just haphazard enough to keep me from calling someone to repair it. “Son of a—“ I suddenly remember my vow. I force a smile, make a conscious effort to not grumble, and park the car outside.

I enter the house to find my husband Gary, who’s been presenting flu-like symptoms all morning, in his recliner. He asks if I’ll go to The Purity to get him Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup and some juice.

A whine starts in my brain and threatens to erupt into foot stomping. (Just so you don’t think I’m heartless, this would be my second trip to the store for him today.) My tantrum is quickly squelched by the memory of my pledge. I like going to The Purity. And I won’t have to mess with the garage door opener because the car is parked outside. I happily go to the store.

cat(7)The afternoon progresses swimmingly until the cat Little Mister appears, screeching at my office door.

Oh no. I’d forgotten about the demanding cat.

I think of Jesus and how He maintained serenity despite His many trials and tribulations. (Note to self: ask a theologian if there’s mention of a fat gray cat in the New Testament.)

During the past several weeks of our dog Lucy’s recovery from knee surgery, Little Mister has been sorely neglected. Instead of my usual annoyance (I have work to do!), I muster compassion and pet him as he rumples the paperwork on my desk. When he tries to climb onto the computer keyboard, instead of yelling, I gently pick him up and spend a solid five minutes settling him on the rug.

By this time, it’s three-thirty and I’m feeling quite pure of heart. I wonder if four o’clock is too early to eat dinner, but remember that’s the time for Lucy’s second rehab walk of the day.

CGCAfter countless obedience classes, Lucy and I are pretty adept at our walks. However, her limited outside time during her weeks of recovery makes each walk a challenge. The resident blue jay taunts her, the kitten who has taken over the field in the back needs to be chased, the cat poop buried under bushes must sniffed out and eaten.

She’s very strong and singularly focused when she wants her way. Given the fragility of her knee, I have to be careful not to pull on her. I must be ever vigilant to avoid distractions and coax her with treats. A twenty-minute walk is exhausting. (Or I should say was exhausting until I stopped the habit of complaining.)

I take deep breaths and determine this will be the best walk ever. I evade the bird, kitten, and cat poop pitfalls while carrying on a stream of light chatter—telling her she’s the best girl, so smart and wonderful. We pass a guy sitting in his truck. I say hello and he offers the kind of wary smile one gives a crazy person.

At four-thirty, I receive a text from the house sitter that she’s not available over Mother’s Day weekend. It will be the first Mother’s Day in three years I won’t spend with my kids in San Francisco. Part of me wants to cry and thrash about, but the new well-honed saintly part suggests I’ll find another way to celebrate Mother’s Day.

By five o’clock, I’m on the phone with Los Gallitos. At five-thirty, I’m sitting in front of Judge Judy scarfing down nachos. By six I’m stuffed with a feeling of wellbeing—a combination of yummy food and a successful three and a half hours of avoiding the traps of self-pity and martyrdom.

I must admit this was an enjoyable afternoon. I’m thankful to Bethany for bringing enlightenment. I might even try this non-complaining thing—and definitely those nachos—again soon.angel

Us & Them

1924362_10103430412757143_4183416246044040538_nOur daughter Laine lives in Oakland; son Harrison in San Francisco. One of the ways we stay close is through frequent phone calls.

Laine: Nitro treated us to high tea at the Fairmont.
Me: What fun! Little Mister [the cat] got another abscess from fighting and I had to drain it.
Laine: That’s gross! I don’t want to hear about it.
Me: Then you shouldn’t have asked.
Laine: I didn’t.

1620594_10103430411918823_3624933991290096877_nMe: I pulled what I thought was one beet from the garden and it was actually three that had been planted too close together and grew into a monster three-headed beet!
Harrison: I can’t talk right now. Kasi and I are about to get on a boat. We’re taking a brunch cruise on the bay.
Me: (sigh) I should have taken a picture before cutting it up.

Laine: I’m at Coachella. What’s up?
Me: I was just wondering what you were doing.
Laine: I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you. The music’s too loud.
Me: That’s music? It sounds like a disaster preparedness test.
Laine: I’ve gotta go.

Harrison: Last night, I met up with some guys I used to work with and had dinner at Plouf. It’s a restaurant wedged between two buildings in the Financial District. The food is delicious. What’d you and Dad do last night?
Me: I don’t remember.
Harrison: Liar.
Me: Okay, we got takeout from Los Gallitos and watched three back-to-back episodes of Judge Judy.
Harrison: Isn’t that what you do every night?
Me: We don’t eat Los Gallitos food every night.

10850178_10152612650162478_7497662941202048975_nLaine: I just got back from the Keith Haring exhibit at the De Young. It was amazing.
Me: That’s wonderful, sweetie. Little Mister left us some guts on the back porch this morning. No carcass, just a little pile of what looked like a stomach and intestines.
Laine: Gross! Why do you always tell me disgusting stories about the cat?
Me: I thought you liked cats.

Harrison: I’m going to Cirque du Soleil tonight. What are you guys doing?
Me: “Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.”

Lucy & the Luxating Patella

cuteAt 17 months, our puppy Lucy was diagnosed with Luxating patella, a genetic condition that sounds like a fancy hi-tech washing machine but actually refers to a displaced knee cap. It can vary from mild to severe. Her case was severe.

Surgery after-care included keeping her confined either to the living room or her crate for eight weeks. She could only go outside to potty and only if on a leash.

bedsWe were sent home with three types of drugs—from mild sedation to the doggy equivalent of oxycodone. After witnessing the dramatic way the oxy pill relaxed her, we named it after a local street drug dealer. (Don’t ask me how I know him, I just do. In my wanderings around the streets of Fort Bragg, I see things.)

In the event you ever find yourself dealing with this type of surgery, let me offer a few survival tips:

DSC03343Diagnosis: Your puppy is an orthopedic wreck. You need to subject her to a horrendous surgery and lengthy recovery. Cry and whine to anyone who will listen. When they respond with sympathy, pretend that you’re handling the situation with courage and grace.

In reality, you’re a wienie. The universe knows this and accepts you unconditionally.

You hate the universe.

Life sucks.

Surrecoverygery Day: Do not waste a moment worrying about the outcome. It will all go well. Enjoy your time away from your dog. It will be your last moments of peace for the next two months.

Rearrange the furniture in your living room. Everything that can conceivably be jumped on has to be blocked. By the time I finished, our living room looked like the morning after a drunken frat party—overturned ottomans, dining chairs blocking sofa access, an air mattress leaned against the front windowsills.

After Surgery: This is the worst. You dropped off your happy girl in the morning. Late afternoon, you pick up a drugged, confused puppy with no hair on her right leg and a sutured gash along the side of her knee.

When Lucy saw me in the waiting room, she cried and dropped to her side on the doormat. Vet tech Phil crouched down, petted her, and cooed as she involuntarily pooped on the mat. It was heartbreaking. He carried her to the car where she leaned against my husband Gary in the back seat and screamed out her bad-awful-horrible experience on the ride home.

JJ

Let her watch as much Judge Judy as she wants.

The First Night: Sleep on the floor on an air mattress next to her. No matter how many times she tries to climb onto the mattress and cuddle (i.e., force you off), maintain that this is your space by saying, “No. Leave it.”

Wake up out of a deep sleep to find that you’ve rolled onto the floor and the dog is sleeping comfortably on the air mattress. Curl up on her doggy bed and finish out the night.

Days 2-29: Life as you knew it has come to an end. Your puppy’s mobility is restricted to being in a room under your supervision or confined to her crate. Each time she has to potty, take her out on a leash and coax her to get her business done so you can go back inside. As she gets better, she’ll realize these are her only outside moments and will procrastinate as she sniffs the entire yard. This becomes even more fun when it’s raining.

Begin to longingly eye her drugs.

napDay 29: After four weeks of sleeping on her doggy bed, move back to your own bed upstairs.

Days 29-55: Each night, gently coax your puppy into her crate. (Lucy required a tractor pull to get her out from under an end table.) It helps to use candy as a bribe.

Don’t tell me that candy is bad for a dog. You’ll earn that right when you’re in the midst of an eight-week stint of recuperating puppy lock-up.

(Lucy’s “candy” was Canine Carryouts. After purchasing, I discovered the second ingredient—after chicken—is corn syrup and the thirteenth ingredient—before beef—is sugar. Ingredient number nine is something called animal digest. Yummy!)

After four weeks, you’ll be told to stop the pain killers. (This applies to the dog, not you.) However, in a couple weeks, she’ll start feeling a whole lot better. She’ll think she’s training for the circus as she races around the living room. Slip her a half Doggie Oxy in the evening so you can have some quiet television time. (Don’t tell the vet.)

She’ll also start spending many more hours in her crate. At six weeks, you won’t allow any misstep to harm that fragile knee.

VET1

Vet techs DeeDee and Phil help Lucy celebrate her recovery.

Day 56: Take your puppy to the vet for x-rays. When she shows them to you, say “Oh. Hum. Aw,” like you understand what you’re looking at. When she says, “She’s good to go,” blubber your thanks. At the car, instead of lifting your puppy, let her jump in.

When you get home, take her on a short walk. Watch her trot down the alley, tail held high, like it was only yesterday—not several weeks ago—that she sniffed along this path.

You and your spouse have risen from wienies to survivors.

You love the universe.

Life is good.

Go inside and undo the wreck of your living room.