HORIZONTAL MYSTERY SHIP when you leave at seventeen rarely home more than two weeks at a time months, years and decades can be surprisingly unreliable markers of adulthood only once in the summer of ‘88 a recent college grad wide-eyed and wanderlust-fueled my tonsils required more I stayed a whole month once healed, packed, and in possession of necessary visas off to the southern hemisphere a young pioneer in search adventure and different stars now, when visiting after a lifetime lived elsewhere grey hairs visible no matter my efforts I find myself sliding into a peculiar second adolescence of sorts driving Dad’s truck windows down, hair blowing mile after mile of expansive, wild beauty the prairie a determined cellular homesteader forever staking a claim in my blood and bones I want to sneak out to the bar play Space Invaders sadly, no longer a standard unlike 1982 drink beer, eat junk food and avoid the endless expectations of being a grown-up Looking back with midlife sensibilities I realize those late nights in high school tenth grade, I believe laser focused, playing Space Invaders provided a surprisingly valuable education initials entered, quarters stacked protect the bunkers, defeat the aliens monitor the horizontal mystery ship with vigilance my peripheral vision unknowingly trained to notice things beyond immediate scope bonus points pinged while friends waited impatiently twenty more minutes, please under a waning August moon only one lunar phase ago I was still my father’s daughter a middle-aged, South Dakota teenager pretending time actually plays tricks wanting desperately to disregard reality one more visit on the calendar one more phone call cheeseburger or ice cream cone one more evening watching Everybody Loves Raymond M.A.S.H. or Mayberry RFD twenty more minutes, please quarters stacked no longer Space Invaders the nearly forgotten teenage relic of a heartbroken fifty-something fatherless daughter once again, I am protecting my bunkers monitoring a new horizontal mystery ship paying very close attention to what's just beyond my immediate scope just twenty more minutes, please
I’m writing a work of fiction about a middle-age woman, newly empty-nested and figuring out her next stage of life. This week my husband, Jeff and I dropped off our twin daughters at college—Lucy at American University & Willa at Wheaton College in Massachusetts.
It won’t take you too long to figure out who “Alice” is in my excerpt.
“Although, she didn’t have the feeling so many of her friends described of instant familiarity with their babies…some bullshit, mysterious, ancient connection. She felt something else, far less magical, perhaps it was a twin thing.
Alice remembers how immediately after holding Frankie and Pearl for the first time she had a feeling that she was ignoring one baby whenever she turned her head and looked at the other. I’m already screwing this up. She couldn’t possibly have known in that moment that this feeling would never leave her. Alice’s head and heart already on a constant swivel, less than an hour after giving birth to twins.”
As many of you already know, it’s quite an emotional roller coaster to send the last of your brood out into the world. I’m only 16 hours in, so this is all still pretty raw for me.
I believe whenever my wholeheartedness is required,
the process just can’t be rushed.
In the remarkably funny (and raunchy) Netflix series Big Mouth, the character of Jessie’s mother, Shannon has the best line to describe what I’m feeling right now.
“Let’s finish basic training before we go to Fallujah.”
She was describing using a maxi pad, when her daughter asked about tampons. A great line for lots of situations though.
BIG MOUTH was created by Jennifer Flackett, Andrew Goldberg, Nick Kroll and Mark Levin. The voice of Jessie’s mother, Shannon is Jessica Chaffin.
(PLEASE NOTE: Do not watch BIG MOUTH with young kids.)
The Ideal Mother is a Terrible Parent
I stumbled upon this article recently, which helped knock back some of those ever present parenting “should haves”. Thank you Erin W.
“Eventually I smothered the ideal mother. I killed her dead. I introduced myself to my kids and started practicing “organic parenting.” I yell, I curse, I kiss and I hug. I hold onto them and push them away. They hold onto me and push me away. Together, we horrify and delight each other, all the time.” (I love this line wholeheartedly.)
My solace will come from many sources. I’m riding the unpredictable waves as they roll in and I’m trying to listen to my inner self . I know she’ll guide this process far better than any outside sources ever could. I have to be willing to actually listen though.
Hang in there fellow empty nesters.
anxious: characterized by extreme uneasiness of mind about some contingency
contingency: an event that may but is not certain to occur
READ THIS OUT LOUD TO YOURSELF:
extreme uneasiness of mind about an event not certain to occur
Why are we spending so much time thinking about our hypothetical futures?
Anxiety is at epidemic proportions in the world. I’m personally having far too many sleepless nights lately. I want to get a handle on my it before it affects my health, my choices and how I respond to events in my life, both big and small.
Research always makes me feel settled down. I dug in this morning.
FAST COMPANY ARTICLE BY HALEY GOLDBERG: “When we stare into a fuzzy crystal ball, it’s easy to start to worry about what’s inside, like a present we can never unwrap. And it feels productive. Studies show that we often believe worrying can prevent negative outcomes or it can help us find a better way of doing things.” FAST COMPANY ARTICLE
These three words really stood out to me…it feels productive. “FEELS” is the cue I needed to settle my brain down a little bit. Feels implies it isn’t productive at all, our brain has been tricked into thinking that the act of worrying is somehow keeping bad things from happening.
If my brain can be TRICKED, then my brain can also call bullshit when it notices the trickery. Not every time, but with practice, at least increase the frequency of noticing.
Today, I feel anxious about a few big things happening in my life right now…my father is in the hospital, my three young adult children are all in transition and my life is going to change quite dramatically in the next few months. And yet…
“I know what to do, even when I don’t know what to do.”
I’m trying to remind myself that, even though THE FUTURE IS AND ALWAYS WILL BE UNCERTAIN, I believe I can handle whatever the universe throws at me.
Handling it, might mean falling apart, calling upon my team to steady me and going through a period of deep grief and sorrow.
Correct me if I’m wrong, that’s still handling it, right?
I try to remind myself of this often.
On this Mother’s Day, I really wanted to be honest with myself about it all. Mothering my kids has been heart-shatteringly beautiful and sometimes just plain heart-shattering, without the beauty part to soften the daily blows.
I can’t change anything and regret is a waste of energy anyway. If I try to tamp the regrets down, I know they will leak out in uncomfortable ways at inconvenient times.
Recently I noticed the TOP RACK ONLY button on the dishwasher. “Jeff and I will be a top rack only couple probably a few nights a week when the girls leave for college.” When I said this to myself, it made me cry inconsolably. Damn, that’s bleak.
These episodes are getting more frequent now as our nest nears it’s emptying…clearly a time for a little extra grace.
When Ellis, Lucy and Willa were growing up, I often did a quick review at the end of the day, asking myself one simple question: Did I love them more than I was pissed off at them? I don’t remember ever answering, NO. It was all the encouragement I needed to wake up and mother them another day.
Happy Mother’s Day 2018!
I know I have to get out of my comfort zone more often, especially in this current political & social environment. Doing so might actually be an act of revolution now. On a long drive yesterday I caught up on some podcasts. The first one I listened to was: TED radio hour: comfort zones. I highly recommend it for everyone at every stage of life.
Here’s the link: comfort zones/TED radio hour
Last week my daughters and I traveled to Washington, DC. Lucy participated in the admitted students overnight at American University. She slept on the dorm floor of strangers, introduced herself to kids from all over the world and wondered how her skills and talents stacked up. Talk about a seventeen-year-old stepping out of their comfort zone, right? She stepped way out, which provided rocket fuel for her growth and made me think about my own.
Human beings tend to stick with our own kind. It’s soooooooo much easier. Hearing other people’s perspectives or learning something that doesn’t gel with what we’ve held to be true requires intellectual agility. It’s hard work and requires lots of practice. That’s why we often end up sticking to what’s safe and familiar.
In adulthood, if we don’t force ourselves into unfamiliar situations, we can get really stuck.
As an artist, I’ve worked mostly alone for years, with very little feedback or performance reviews of any sort. If I want to grow, I need to be told when my work is bad, uninteresting, needs far more research or is hard to understand.
I’m truly grateful for the encouragement over the years from my friends and family regarding my creative work. The LIKES and comments have been very supportive, but it’s not enough.
True critical feedback is hard for people to give who are close to us. If we want to grow, we have to actively seek it out ourselves from other sources. It’s easier to hear when there isn’t an emotional risk involved. NOTE: I need to keep this in mind with my nearly eighteen-year-old girls now. They aren’t asking and I have to quit offering constant feedback now.
In the podcast, a social scientist says that possibilities come from reaching out to our “loose connections” NOT our friends & family. This makes sense to me especially when thinking about professional opportunities.
It’s time we all take off our fuzzy slippers, put on some sturdy walking shoes and start exploring the world way outside of the comfort zone.
My twin daughters are graduating from high school on Thursday, June 14th at 10am and nostalgia along with a handful of other complex and occasionally irrational emotions are settling into my midlife psyche. For so long photographing my girls was my muse, something creative I could do all the time. However, as they got older (and had cameras in their pockets) I photographed them less frequently together. I have plenty of travel and birthday photos, but I can see now as the years progressed, they increasingly grew into their individuality, less of a unit and I followed their lead. Now, every photo has to be “approved” which I can understand for a 17-year-old coming-of-age in this era and about to graduate from high school.
Here’s to honoring nostalgia however it surfaces in your life. I know for me, it’s helping the transition to an empty nest to take a look back. I’m less anxious that I could’ve been a better mother and prepared them more by seeing these photographs through a slightly different lens. A pleasant byproduct of middle age wisdom, I suppose.
When my three kids were young, to offer a little grace at the end of those seriously ass-kicking days, I would ask myself:
“Did you love them more than you were pissed off at them today?”
The answer was always the same. I can live with that.
There are so many photographs to sort through, here are a few of my favorite black & white shots of Lucy and Willa.
I’ll post my favorite color images next.