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chicken soup for the empty-nest soul

13 Mar

Once upon a time there was a young and beautiful debutante-etudiante who led a charmed life with a future filled with such promise.  She skated right through law school and married.  Through sheer magic she bore three charming, bright, inquisitive, active, precocious, intelligent, gorgeous, conscientious, kind, active, chatty, talented, brilliant, funny, thoughtful, clever, active, busy children.  Two princes and a beautiful dancing princess whose feet and mouth were just never still.

Her days were filled with seeking justice for the citizens of her kingdom, the Great State of Texas.  The remaining and even intervening hours found her scheduling appointments, driving, planning, observing practices, paying bills, finding lost items, reimbursing the children money they had lent her so she could take them out to pizza places with arcades, supervising baths and teeth-brushing, refereeing bedtimes, preparing meals, trying to instill some values, remembering appointments, running late, and collapsing from fatigue at the end of nearly every day.

One day, the Queen of the palace found herself alone in a quiet castle.  Only the non-verbal subjects remained in attendance.  Multiple dogs, several cats, and a particularly resilient goldfish.   

After nearly ten years of placing everybody else’s needs, wants, desires, and plans in front of her own, the Queen took to her bed.  She read over an entire year’s journals and writings and questions and thoughts and observations and notes about hard times and big questions and nostalgia and so many entries that began “Today was a really good day” because sometimes you just need to be reminded.  She read over notes she had taken on all her readings and realized how her thinking had evolved.  She drank multiple cups of coffee, forgot to eat, overslept, skipped the one plan she had made for herself all weekend, and then, finally, she dragged herself from her cozy nest and walked some dogs for a long, long time.

Her thoughts vacillated between thinking that ten days alone was not going to be nearly long enough and that she would never make it without them.  Somehow, in spite of wide swaths of inconsistent thinking, she still managed to live happily ever after.

the end.


post-holiday report

30 Dec

I have so much to say, and good sense would dictate that I not publish it all.  I think that I will try to be vague, even though I hate not being able to say what I want to. 

I have a friend who was seemingly healthy one month ago and now she is in the painful grips of pancreatic cancer.  This is bad.

Another close friend is also sick and in the hospital.  He can’t afford an infection as he does not have a strong immune system.  I am very worried about him.  He deserves his own page in my blog under the category of gentlemen I have known.  He is absolutely exquisite and accomplished and he means the world to me.  He has given me some of the best dating advice I have received so far, specifically: “don’t.”  I will draw him out about that when he is released from the hospital.  Or maybe he’d like an inquisitive, soul-searching visitor, asking all the hard questions to distract him from his illness?

The children are home!!   (I am sorry, but this does call for 2 exclamation points)

I have the nicest children ever.  No disrespect is intended for any of you who also have children – I am sure that I love yours, too, and sometimes, late at night when they are finally asleep as mine are, you think they are the best kids ever.  That’s all this is.  Appreciation from across the house while they sleep and don’t talk back.  Wade received roller blades from Santa Claus and has been wearing them non-stop around the house.  Janet Jackson played Tootie on the 80’s TV show, The Facts of Life (which we only watched when my parents were away).  Tootie was always on roller skates, and Wade reminds me of her.  This evening, we walked Hattori, Jack and Curry.  Wade was on skates and Henry and I were just in regular shoes.  In just a week away from me, though, Henry has grown up.  He is so vocal and bossy and busy and no-nonsense.  He fussed at Wade and me the whole way.  But the dogs like him.

Then I took them all out to supper and made them share entrees, as I often do.  Nobody complained.  I love them when they don’t complain.  Then we toured the Christmas lights one last time before they take them down, while listening to 1990’s country music – my personal comfort food.  I built them a playhouse-garage (from Pottery Barn, but it had to be assembled) so that Wade can have his own space, but I don’t think Henry will allow it.  He said “Yade, you’re my best friend, aren’t you?” and Wade said “of course I am, Hen.”

Anna has been dancing every step of every part in the Nutcracker.  Even the big girl dances, like Kissy doll.  I never knew how much that wild thing was absorbing – I always assumed she was too distracted, but she has really got this ballet thing down.  I don’t know whether I will be able to avoid Nutcracker 2011.  As much as I want to.

We are about to enter January, the month preceding Annie Get your Gun!  It is going to be wild, but the Civic Theatre is just down the street and not in the hinterlands of North San Angelo, so I think we will be all right. 

Anna brought up her one line, and said, “mom, I am afraid this is setting a bad example, but my only line is ‘yeah.’”  I told her that theatre is art, and we make allowances for art.  As long as she knows to say “yes ma’am” in real life, she can say “yeah!” from the stage and I won’t hold it against her.

I’ve had some disappointments that I won’t discuss here no matter how much you beg me to.  You’ll just have to call me if you want the personal stuff.  I hate being disappointed.  Especially about something important to me.  But I have been so low before that the only thing holding me together was gratitude for how much I really do have – materially and in my friends.  And while it feels pitiful and painful, it’s not a terrible state.  It can give birth to a unique way of approaching the world and a determination not to let the small things pass you by unnoticed.  I now try to notice everything and see whether there is anything good about it.  Or at least whether it means anything.  Or maybe it’s funny?  The absurd can be redeeming, too.  It is such a rich life.

Joyeux Noel de la Nouvelle Orleans

28 Dec

Now that was a great trip.

In the year since my separation from my children’s father, my parents have come to the rescue and invited me to some of the most wonderful places in the Americas.  We went to Puerto Vallarta for Thanksgiving last year, New York for my 40th birthday in a snowstorm in February, Chicago in May (oh the flowers!), my alma mater, Sewanee, Tennessee along the Cumberland Plateau in July, nowhere this fall (can you believe that?), but Christmas in New Orleans. 

I have been on some other wonderful trips in 2009/2010, mostly in Texas, but those listed are the parent-planned trips, and they have been a lot of fun.  Of course, the need for them to take me in on holidays and special occasions arose during a parent-participation trip in Florida last August, but we just don’t think we are going to go back there for a while.  Until certain memories have been overlaid by many more good times.

New Orleans was fabulous.  The last time I was there was several years ago for my Dad’s 60th birthday.  We stayed at the same location – the Roosevelt Hotel, but since that occasion, Katrina intervened and shut down the grande dame of New Orleans hotels, and she has re-opened as a member of the Waldorf-Astoria, and the change has been positive.  I thought the hotel was wonderful then, but now the linens and baths are first-rate.  The rooms are large and elegantly-decorated.  For the first time in my memory, the Carters reserved a suite.  That is how you know it’s a special occasion.  Of course, my mom and I noticed how the living room would have been the perfect place to make pallets on the floor for the grandchildren, but they will just have to come on the next trip.  The existing children came on the last New Orleans trip, and it wasn’t nearly this much fun.  They were two years old and five months old.  Not exactly great travelers, but now, they would have a ball.  Especially that Anna.  She could really get into the spirit of the crescent city – she is a party girl.

We had our first dinner at the Grill Room at the Windsor Court.  The food was so delicious, and such a beautiful dining room.  I have heard stories about the Grill Room, but I had never been invited to dinner there.  This was Christmas Eve, and it was such a treat.  After supper, we walked through the French quarter.  You just haven’t reached full maturity until you are partying with your parents on Bourbon Street.  And we were not the only people out.  Lots of Santa hats. and other interesting accessories.

On Christmas Day, we had a nice late breakfast in the hotel dining room.  My mom and I then took a tour of hotel lobbies.  We only made it to the Ritz-Carlton and the Westin, but both provided great places to sit and watch the people.  We are not city people.  We come from the kind of town where everything closes down for Christmas and everyone stays home in their pj’s opening presents, so it was wonderful to see the brunch and pastries set out at the Ritz and to watch the people dressed to the nines – and some dressed in ways that make you scratch your head.  But the point is that it was fun to watch them.

We had dinner plans starting in the late afternoon with friends.  Their home is elegant and old and lovely with modern touches like a wine cooler (essentially a walk-in refrigerator) and hot tub, but still so elegant and uptown. 

We retired early to our hotel, had a few drinks in the Sazerac bar and went to bed.  On Sunday, it was once again time to have another brunch – this time at Commander’s Palace.  It was perfect in every way – from the bloody mary to the eggs sardou.  Then my mom and I shopped while my dad saw a movie.  We reconvened at 5 p.m. for supper at Galatoire’s before an 8 p.m. seating at Snug Harbor – Ellis Marsalis’s jazz club.  The lineup was amazing.  All the artists live in New York and play regularly in the house band at the Lincoln Center, but hail from New York, and loved getting together at home.  Nicholas Bennett, Hurlon Riley, Victor Goynes – they were amazing and finished the evening with funeral procession tunes. (edit: please check my dad’s comment below for their actual names!)

All of these activities were designed to keep my mind off the fact that I was away from my children.  And it worked.  I have heard that when you are digesting food, your blood supply actually diverts to your stomach and you can’t think very clearly.  That was true, because I hardly thought of the little tikes at all.  Rather, I did think of them, but I didn’t weep and mourn about it  – I trusted that they were having a wonderful day with presents and parties in San Angelo.

It was difficult at certain times – such as when I saw any other children dressed up with their bows and shiny shoes.  But I can’t say that I didn’t appreciate having my own bed and not getting up early.  It was a real, grown-up Christmas, and if I am forced to suffer such hardship every other year while the children have Christmas with their dad, well, I will simply have to endure it.  It was all very civilized, but still, I can’t wait to have them at home tomorrow!

Merry Christmas, y’all.

good tidings of great joy

15 Dec

The first requirement (or would it be a goal?) of successful parenting is the survival of the parent.

I really dislike whining.  Just ask my children.  And my friends.  And so I have lost patience with me and my sorry emotional state.  I tell myself to buck up.  You wanted them to be in Nutcracker.  You love Ambleside and its drop-dead gorgeous Christmas worship service.  You love three year-olds wearing reindeer antlers and snowman overalls.  You are thrilled that St. Luke’s sanctuary is standing room only when a few years ago enrollment was precipitously low.  Preschoolers singing “Up on the Housetop” with hand motions makes you weep tears of sentimental joy.  It’s that sehnsucht again.  Beauty has smiled again, but not necessarily at you.  Just in your presence, and now she’s gone.

The Lakeview auditorium is just beautiful and state of the art acoustically and for viewing.  Every seat is a front-row seat.  You love watching Helen Clare Kinney, home from Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, dancing Sugarplum Fairy.  You loved watching her as a little girl as Clara.  It’s sheer poetic and artistic justice.  And, of course, years of dedication and training.  Whatever. It’s just lovelyto see.  You love that you have set boundaries and just said no to supervising the dressing rooms.  (even though you feel selfish doing so).  You love that you live in San Angelo, and that the furthest distance to the most remote hinterlands in Lakeview is still only about 10 miles away, if that.  You love that your boss has children in Nutcracker, too, and hasn’t fired you yet for poor job performance due to maternal exhaustion.  You are even secretly thrilled that the children’s father is away on a hunting trip and can’t exercise his visitation this week or attend any Nutcracker performances, because the children will be all yours during this very difficult and very rewarding week.

You have ALL THIS AND MORE to be happy about.  But sometimes, you still feel like crying.  In the dark at Nutcracker practice.  Is it the beauty of the dancers?  The dedication of even the littlest angels?  The sheer love of Miss Meghann for her etudiantes?  Is it that she is just as likely to correct their grammar as she is their arabesque? (“You had eaten, Molly, not you had ate”).  “Have any of you had supper?  No?  I can tell.  Please, eat something, and then let’s do finale again.  I know it’s late.  I’m sorry.” 

Is it Christmas itself?  the errands undone and gifts unbought or even thought about?  Is it gratitude for your own mother who will drive twelve hours to leap from the frying pan of her own Christmas into the fire of your chaotic single-parent home?  Is it the sinus infection or sheer fatigue?  Is it knowing that soon enough the chaos will give way to silence?  Just you and the dogs as the children accompany their dad and his family to the beach for a pre-Christmas vacation?  What in the world will you do then?  Probably cry.

It may be the three year-old who asks you to read the Bible to him.  So you read him the Christmas story from Luke and he wants to hear it again.  We have some special time together every night around 9:30 p.m. when he has to be removed from his bed so that poor, exhausted, sick Wade can go to sleep without being harassed and assaulted by Henry.  Once Wade  has succumbed, I can put Henry back in bed.  If Wade isn’t awake to protest Henry’s onslaught, Henry gives up quickly.  We have a mandatory, Christmas story-reading time out every night.  Just another step in the routine.

I am sick.  I am tired.  And sometimes it feels like I may be depressed, but I don’t really think so.  I think I am just exhausted and overwhelmed with what it means to be this fortunate.  It is a rich, rich life.

the reason for the season

30 Nov

In an effort to instill some values in my progeny, I started talking to them tonight about Advent.  I wanted them to know that long lay the world in sin and error pining til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.  But all that sin and error is a little bit heavy for a three year-old and an eight year-old, who were all I had with me tonight.  Wade was at Boy Scouts picking up enough popcorn to ensure that he is busy delivering from now until Christmas Day.

I started with Christmas.

“What is Christmas really all about?” I asked the crew in the back seat.

“PRESENTS!” Anna shouted gleefully.  My worst nightmare.  A spoiled, ungrateful, materialistic child.

I decided to try another approach.  “Whose birthday do we celebrate on Christmas?”

“MINE!” Henry exclaimed. “It’s MY birthday!”

You would think they had never set foot in a Sunday school class.  And yet, they have starred in 5 Epiphany pageants, playing angels and lambs and shepherds.  They are all baptized Episcopalians.  We have read all the Christmas books and attended church on Christmas Eve as well as all through Advent.  We have nativity scenes set up in our house this time of year.  Did I mention that Ambleside is all about teaching an enduring love for Our Savior, Jesus Christ?  And Henry attends St. Luke Methodist Church Christian Child Development Center.  He goes to school at a church.

I think I am going to ask for a refund on all that tuition.

How to get a good night’s sleep

14 Nov

That was a whole lot of mothering I did today.  I cooked; I drove and drove and drove.  I coordinated 3 children and 2 different theatre productions’ practices; shopped for baby necessities; bought legos; hosted two additional children for long playdates; arranged for a babysitter for Henry; and then took 4 children to a nighttime showing of Secretariat.

I also bought baklava and spanokopita at the Greek church bake sale and left 5 children at home unattended while I went running in a tight circuit around the neighborhood.  (If you are any of their mothers, please don’t be concerned – I instructed them to call you if there was a problem.  No news was good news, right?)

I also tested the older children’s independence by sending them out to breakfast alone.  They walked several blocks to Mr. T’s and charged their own meals to my account – a skill I will surely regret teaching them.  The alternative was my getting up, driving to the grocery store to buy eggs, thinking about whether it’s morally wrong to purchase bacon when you are an aspiring semi-vegetarian, considering whether my semi-vegetarianism ought to be imposed on my children or whether they should be able to be able to choose their own food philosophies or whether, by virtue of their being children, I am obligated to convey what will be their eating preferences, and then wondering whether I really have any control over that.  Nature vs. nurture.  Which came first -the chicken or the egg?  The eggs?  Isn’t that why I drove over here in my “are they or aren’t they pajamas?” loungewear.

It seemed less mentally taxing to just send them out with a reminder of my account number and instructions to “fuel up – you have a lot of dancing to do today” while I cuddled in my toasty bed with the still-sleeping three year-old.  They made it back and swore that they ate eggs.  they are becoming so big and grown-up – I should have asked them to bring me a large coffee with one cream.  I think they could handle it.

One last note as some day this blog will be all that’s left of their childhoods and I will look up and they will be 16:  I will want to remember that Miss Elena said “your children pick up steps really quickly.  This choreography is very hard for the little ones, but they get it.  And they are so well-behaved.”  Thanks Miss Elena.  That just makes all this nonstop mothering worthwhile.

Why I write and why I run

7 Nov

Oh look, Mary Carol!  All my concern about being too tranquil and blissed-out was for nothing.  Luckily for my interesting-ness, the absence of angst was but a temporary condition!  Now I shall have to see if I can find a way to channel it for the good.

So far the answer is a resounding YES.  I have been on at least two walks every day this week.  Several of those walks have been along the beautiful Gun Club road aka the KOA.  It’s a 2 mile loop that overlooks Lake Nasworthy and is a challenge with its constant hills and ridges.  It’s also very gratifying to walk the road and run up the hills.  It hurts your legs and your lungs and when you’re finished, you just feel so relieved and worn out.  And your legs will surely start to show the contours of seldom-used muscles from the uphill sprints.  I can’t think of a single negative about having pretty legs.

The other walk is the ordinary, daily cemetery walk with the dogs.  They enjoy it so much.  I look like a New York City dogwalker on the way over with such a motley assortment of unruly hounds, but it is the highlight of their day, and I am driven to fit it in.  I am tormented by guilt if they don’t get in a good romp.

So the walking and running are helping with the overactive nerves.  Writing about all the chaos and craziness of my life helps with the angst.  It makes me laugh at myself, and if it makes you laugh at all, then I feel in some small way valuable to the world.