Empty Nesters in Training

As I mentioned yesterday, the kids were gone last week.

The week was entirely too short and went by way too fast.

On Monday, we met up at the skating rink and played pick-up roller hockey for a couple of hours.  It was a blast from our past and simply exhilarating.  We stood around and visited with folks – because we could, and thus it was well after 8:30 before we started thinking about what we might do for dinner.

If the kids had been in the equation, we would have had little choice but to stop at McDonald’s to grab something for them to eat in the car on the way home because we were rushing past bedtime.  But the kids were not in the equation and we opted to do the responsible thing and go home and fix dinner, rather than pick something up.

There was nothing special about the evening.  We fixed soft tacos (cooking the tortillas) and unloaded the dishwasher and cleaned the kitchen and fed the dog and took her out.  We simply existed in each other’s space and got things done.  No one had to tell anyone to take care of something.  No one came in asking inane questions.  No one picked a fight.  No one tried to get someone else in trouble.  No one rolled her eyes at me.  No one peppered me with details from his video game.  No one demanded my attention.

It was quiet.

It was peaceful.

It was heaven.

The next day, a co-worker and I were talking and I mentioned that my kids were away from home.  “Oh, I bet you are already ready for them to come home, aren’t you?!” she gushed.  “My sister cries when she drops her daughter off.”

“Not really,” I responded, ignoring her shocked expression.  “I’m going to guess my kids are a bit older than your sister’s, but no, I’m not ready for them to come home.  I’m too busy enjoying myself.”

I don’t know if I’m an oddball or if too many parents feel compelled to act the part of a loving, devoted parent.  As if admitting you enjoy your time away from the kids somehow paints you a monster.  As if you can’t both love and cherish them and want time away from them.

There have been studies that have shown that people without kids report being happier than people with kids.  I think there are reasons for this that are more complicated than the media summary that kids make you unhappy, but still – there it is.  Let’s face it.  Parenting is hard work.  The hardest job you’ll ever attempt.  And sometimes?  Those little demons you are trying to raise into productive citizens?  They are just plain mean.  And irrational.  And demanding.  And baffling.

It’s true.  And trying to pretend you love every moment of parenthood doesn’t change that.

So maybe I’m an oddball.  Or maybe my husband and I have managed to keep a sense of “us” that isn’t defined by our children.  We still know each other and like each other and are interested in each other when the kids aren’t there.  It doesn’t mean we don’t love them and don’t look forward to seeing them again.  It just means we don’t depend on them to feel whole.  To define who we are.  And it means that in thirteen years when the last one moves out… we’ll be doing just fine.

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Packing for Thanksgiving: A Child’s Priorities

Hal took it upon himself to pack a suitcase for Thanksgiving. When I got home from a half-day at work Wednesday, Daryl dragged a suitcase big enough for both his and Hal’s clothes to me and said, “This is Hal’s suitcase.”

No one else had packed. Daddy had not yet told them to, so of course, the older two had not done so.

“He’s not getting an entire suitcase to himself,” I told Daryl. “Here, let me have it.”

I opened the suitcase and started taking out clothes. If you’ve ever wondered what a five year old would pack for a three day excursion without parental guidance, here it is:

4 pairs of socks
1 undershirt
1 set of pajamas (mismatched top and bottom)
5 T-shirts
5 long sleeve T-shirts
5 pairs of long pants
1 very large water bottle, full, with the straw tucked in the air hole

No underwear. The omission made me smile as I remembered one of my little brother’s antics when he was even younger than Hal. We were going on a float trip down a river with some of my stepdad’s friends. He and my mother had been dating for a fairly short time. My brother was maybe three years old.

The group was packing the cars in our driveway. Most people were leaving that day although my mom, brother, and I were slated to join them the next day. My brother was excited by all the commotion. He started begging to go so Bill said, “Well, go pack your bags!” My brother ran into the house, grabbed a paper sack, and stuffed a single pair of underwear and his swimsuit into it.

Obviously, Hal has other priorities. The undershirt struck me as odd since he never wears one. They are for wearing under button-down dress shirts and he had packed none of those. Jane later entered the room and remarked that all the clothes sitting there looked like the laundry she had folded and asked Hal to put away.

I repacked with fewer shirts and pants and a full complement of underwear. The next morning, as we prepared to leave, I was frantically looking for my travel phone charger. As part of the search, I looked in the side pocket of Hal’s (now his and Daryl’s) suitcase and discovered that he had packed that pocket as well.

There were half a dozen Hot Wheel cars, a Batman action figure, a couple of action figures I didn’t recognize, and a few other small toys. But something else was in there that impressed me very much. I had added a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a hairbrush to the suitcase when I repacked. I had not, however, remembered to grab his allergy medicine. He had.

The boy has his wits about him. And he knows what’s important to him. Allergy medicine that minimizes his coughing at night: important. Clean underwear: what’s wrong with the pair I’m wearing?

Teenage Priorities… or… What I’d Rather Do Instead of Laundry

Jane is a very busy girl. It sometimes seems impossible for her to get everything done. This should be a great opportunity to learn about setting priorities. For some reason, however, I don’t think the teenage brain has yet developed enough to set reasonable priorities.

Take last night, for example. Jane had a tremendous amount of homework. I reminded her that there was also a lot of laundry waiting to be folded – laundry being her primary household chore. She also needed to clean up her mess on the dining room table from her murder diorama project.

“Ok,” she said. “I also plan to clean my room.”

“That’s a laudable goal since your room is a mess but I don’t think you have time for that tonight. You have a lot of homework, a lot of laundry, and the dining room table to clean. Those need to all be higher priorities for you.”

“I know.”

When I returned from my women’s group at church, the mess was still on the dining room table. The laundry was still waiting in baskets by the couch. And she was in her room.

I tried to open the door but she had shoved a dozen large blankets (previously used as a pallet during a sleepover) up against the door. She tried to wave me off. Instead of leaving, I poked my head in and said, “Don’t forget you’ve still got laundry and the dining room table.”

“Yes, I know. I’m almost done in here.”

“You really didn’t have time for this.”

“Are you saying that I didn’t need to clean my room?”

“Yes, it needed to be cleaned but not tonight. You had other chores you were told to do.”

“Ok. I’m almost done!”

At least half an hour later, I tried again. When I mentioned the laundry, she exclaimed, “Oh! I forgot about that!”

“Ok, so it’s twenty minutes past your bedtime and you said you planned to shower tonight. Daddy will not be happy with you if you don’t clean up your mess in the dining room. And there’s still the laundry.”

She finally went to bed after cleaning up her mess and taking a shower but without touching the laundry. The next morning, she walked into my room in her socked feet and said, “See! This is why I never clean my room. I can’t find my shoes!”

She never cleans her room, she says. I guess she means unless she has other, even less desirable chores to do. I wonder if she even noticed the irony of complaining indignantly about doing a chore she had been told not to do.