Shrinking Household

My oldest son is moving out today.

Here’s the thing. Ours has been a very full house for a few years, and I think we are all ready for this change. I love Jaeger dearly, and I’ll miss seeing him on a nearly daily basis. I’ll miss his presence at the dinner table, and the way he helps cook and clean up afterwards. I’ll miss watching This is Us with him every Tuesday, and the laughter that always seems to accompany our time together. But it’s time.

You see, he’s been out on his own before, and this was his return trip to the nest. I know I’ve said this a hundred times before in my years of writing, but I wasn’t ready the first time my kids left home. I got married at twenty-one, and had Jaeger at twenty-two. Ryker and Chesney came along two and four years later, respectively.

I used to say, “Jack and I will still be young when they graduate. We’ll have time to travel. We’ll be young grandparents when our kids have kids.” Except as it turns out, Jack and I are not big travelers. And there aren’t any grandbabies yet, though I don’t doubt they’ll come along eventually. Most importantly, I’ve realized, as my parents and their parents before me must have realized, the world doesn’t necessarily cooperate with the plans you make when you’re young.

When Jaeger began nearing high-school graduation in 2007, it hit me like a ton of bricks that the time had passed in the blink of an eye. I thought about all of the time I’d spent wishing my kids out of diapers, for them to sleep through the night, feed themselves, and start walking. I remembered how I couldn’t wait for the day when the house was no longer cluttered with toys, for them to help with chores, start driving, get jobs. I’d wished away my babies’ childhood, and when it was over, I missed it incredibly.

Jaeger went off to college in a neighboring state in the fall of 2007. For the first two years, he came home to visit a few times during the school years, and moved back home over the summers so he could earn money. I cried every time he left home to go back to school. By his third year, I’d stopped crying so much and Jaeger got a job in Fargo, living on his own for the duration of his college years. He secured a full-time job there after graduation and got engaged to a great girl. They had a dog by then, and she was the four-legged baby in their little family. By all accounts, my oldest son was about to embark on the rest of his life. Until the girl left him.

In the long run, we’ve realized it was probably the best thing that their life together was over before it really began, but it was hell at the time for my boy, and my own heart broke plenty too. I wished he was closer so I could keep an eye on him and make sure he was okay.

He continued on his own for a couple of years after the girl left, thankfully with his loyal dog by his side.  He fought for “custody” of her, and I’m not sure he would have survived without his fur-baby. His heart began to heal, and my mind eased a bit. And when Jaeger lost two grandfathers in two years, he decided it was time to come back home, closer to family. Last year he packed up his stuff and came back. His plan was to stay with us just for the summer while he got acclimated in a new job, and then find a place of his own. That was a year and a half ago.

I’ve loved almost every minute of it, but it’s time. Especially because our twenty-seven and twenty-five year old kids are either still – or back at home too. Stories for another time, but really, I’ve realized that our stories aren’t all that uncommon these days.

It seems now that life just isn’t as black and white as I’d thought it would be when I was envisioning it at twenty-two years old with a new baby in my arms. In spite of my best intentions, I couldn’t ensure that my children had perfect and easy lives, where they easily merged into a secure life after checking off all of the expected boxes.

Luckily, the older version of me now realizes that even if I could have protected my kids from every fall and every disappointment … they never would have become strong enough to carry on day-to-day in this world. And in spite of the fact that I sometimes wonder what people think when they learn that all three of my adult children are living at home, two of them with college degrees, I don’t really care. I love that they know they are welcome here, and that we are happy to help them until they get solidly on their feet. I love that they seem to enjoy hanging out with me. They’ve all made it abundantly clear that they have no intentions of staying forever. But I’d let any of them stay forever if it came to that. I would. But I truly want their lives to be strong and healthy enough for them to soar on their own. And I know they’ll all get there in time.

The beautiful thing is, when we realized our kids who had once left home were coming back, I saw it as a second chance. I knew it wouldn’t always be easy, but I saw it as an opportunity to make up for all of those times I wished precious moments away. I could go on to explain why Jaeger’s three-month plan to temporarily live at home turned into eighteen months, but the details aren’t all that important. And I was never in a hurry for him to go again anyway.

During the time Jaeger’s been back, there have been five adults and two dogs under our roof. We’ve kept the situation pretty healthy. Everyone works full time, pays rent and everyone contributes to maintaining the household in some way.

adult-kids-living-with-parents-5b8e3afc18670__700

We’ve had so much fun together … and we’ve been so annoyed with each other. The dinner table has been filled with contented conversation … and sometimes voices are raised in anger. The hardest part has been remembering how much more worried I can be when one them is out late at night and I’m waiting for the sound of them coming back through my door.

I’ve been given my second chance to be ready for this. This phase is incrementally coming to a close and at this point I’m more worried about the dogs’ ability to adjust to their pending separation than I am about Jaeger. But we’ll all be just fine. And I am ready this time.

Aunt Shirley and the Thankfulness Lesson

It’s Thanksgiving day, a day set aside to reflect on all for which we have to be grateful. All week long, my mind has returned to the idea that thankfulness, as a practice, fosters an attitude of gratitude. It’s something I’m constantly striving for, always working on with varying measures of success, depending on the day.

My Aunt Shirley has inspired me this week. Ninety years young, she has spent her life giving of herself. She was a June Cleaver type of wife and mother, spending her days raising four children, keeping a beautiful house, and volunteering in her small-town community. Her days haven’t all been rosy. She lost her oldest son to a nasty cancer long before his time, and she’s been without my uncle, her husband for twenty-three years now. And this past May, she moved from her home of sixty-five years to a senior apartment, adjoining to an assisted living facility and nursing home. She made the move reluctantly. Her kids were worried about her safety, navigating the old two-story house and its steep, narrow stairways with bad knees and other health issues. Aunt Shirley wasn’t thrilled, didn’t want to go through a lifetime worth of belongings and decide what to part with and what to keep. She didn’t want to leave the place that created so many beautiful memories, didn’t want to leave her neighborhood, neighbors and friends.  Up until the time of her move to senior housing, one of her volunteer activities included visiting “the old people” at the nursing home. Still, she made the best of this change in her life.

Aunt Shirley is slowing down a bit. Last year she began having some problems and doctoring for what was eventually diagnosed as Multiple Myeloma, a cancer that forms in a plasma cell. Due to her age, she has purposely limited the amount and type of treatment, and so far, she’s done pretty well. But the weekend before last, there was a scare. Her grandsons came by to have lunch with her, and found her in bed, unable to get herself up. The boys called 911 and Aunt Shirley’s family thought they’d be planning a funeral in the next few days.

My sister and I try to visit Aunt Shirley somewhat regularly, but even with the best of intentions, I don’t get there often enough. With work, my own household and responsibilities, plus an aging mother-in-law who needs help, it just doesn’t happen as much as it should. Those are all just excuses anyway, and after her recent episode, we were antsy to go see Aunt Shirley again as soon as we could get there. You know the feeling … “What if we don’t get another chance?” So last weekend as she was recuperating after her hospital stay in the transitional care facility adjoining her apartment complex, my sister and I set aside all other plans in favor of paying a visit.

A dark cloud seemed to hang over my head. My mom was the youngest of four girls. Last November, we lost the third of the four sisters, Aunt Elaine. Then came February and Mom left us. Aunt Shirley is the oldest and it seemed that she wasn’t long for this world either. It felt to me like too much loss in too little time.

My sister and I arrived at the senior housing complex after lunch time on Sunday, as requested by Aunt Shirley’s family. As we navigated our way through the hallways of the transitional care wing, searching for our aunt’s room, we saw a group come around the corner. There was Aunt Shirley, wheeling her walker across the floor, a beaming smile on her face and talking animatedly. She was surrounded by her youngest daughter, son-in-law and three of her grandsons and she looked absolutely amazing! I could not get over how good she looked and sounded after days of envisioning her as weak and frail, and fading away from us. The sight of her looking so much like her old self simply filled my heart with joy!

Aunt Shirley greeted us as she typically does … as if we were her favorite people in the world, she hadn’t seen us in years, and our visit was cause for celebration. I kept marveling at this healthy-looking person before me, as opposed to the withering woman I had pictured in my mind. And other than being embarrassed about the fact that her hair was a bit wild, she was absolutely radiant. Rather than all crowd into her little room, we decided to take our gathering to a table in a community area, then spent the next hour or so talking, reminiscing, and laughing. It was beautiful.

Aunt Shirley

Way back when – Aunt Shirley and my cousin on the left, Mom and me on the right

Aunt Shirley’s youngest daughter, who is just a month older than me, has always been one of my favorite cousins. We spent a lot of time together growing up. She was talking at one point about her younger days and what life was like, and maybe something about what a challenge she may have been as the youngest and spoiled child who came along as somewhat of a surprise after her three siblings had been around for a few years. Whatever it was that she said, it prompted Aunt Shirley to express “You are my joy. All of my children have been such a joy in my life. And my grandchildren too.”

She went on to say that she just feels so grateful to have lived the life she has. Then she looked at my sister and me and added, “And you both too! I just love you to death. I’m just so happy you came to see me today.”

It’s not often that someone gushes over me in such an unabashed way and I found myself blushing while my heart just filled with a feeling that’s hard to fully describe. It was love, of course, and happiness too. But there was something else – a reminder that not much else really matters in comparison to being a part of a family this way, staying connected, taking care of each other, and loving one other. I am so fortunate! Most importantly, Aunt Shirley reminded me of the importance of not assuming others know how we feel, and making it a point to show – and tell each other. After weeks of fretting about problems others might be happy to have, my aunt reminded me how blessed I really am.

She went on talking, effortlessly expressing her gratitude about so many things. Whereas the move from her home of many years was not made easily, she elaborated about what a nice place it is she now lives. The spaces are bright, the care is compassionate, the food is delicious, the view out of her window is beautiful. And having lived most of her life in a small town, she noted how happy she is that many of the residents are people whose paths have crossed hers through the years and how lucky they are now to reconnect on a day-to-day basis.

So many times, she repeated, “I’m just so happy you’re all here! I just love you all so much!” She went on to tell us that with her recent health scare, she thought her time here on earth might be over. But she said she didn’t feel ready yet, and that God must have more for her to do. I told her I was so glad she wasn’t ready. I’m not ready to let her go. None of us are.

As I have been stressing lately over the new job, feeling overwhelmed with a host of new challenges and responsibilities while trying to balance it all with my home life, I thought how I could take a serious lesson from my aunt. I have been complaining a lot lately. Even if not out loud, there’s been a litany of frustrations running a loop inside my head. And it occurred to me … when am I not worrying or feeling anxious about one thing or another? Now that is a skill that I’ve honed. And as much and as long as I’ve been working toward making a habit of gratefulness, I saw that I have a long way to go. I just need to keep working at it. I suppose I should cut myself a little slack. Gratitude seems to come easier with age. My younger days were too preoccupied with a sense of entitlement to make room for it. But I’m learning. Every day that I have the privilege of living, I’ll keep trying.

So here it is, Thanksgiving Day, and I get to step off the hamster wheel for a few days. My aunt has showed me that every day is a chance to remember how in the grand scheme of things, I really have nothing to complain about, and conversely, I have so much for which to be thankful. I have a roof over my head. I’m surrounded by loving family – both immediate and extended (quirky though they may be!) I have a job and one that I enjoy, and it helps sustain our lives. I have a comfy bed, plenty to eat, good friends, an adorable dog (who could also give lessons in gratefulness,) and a million other blessings in my life. It’s really just a matter of focusing on them.

My aunt gets it. And every day, I hope to get better at getting it too. Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. I love you, and I am grateful for you.

(Also, check this out. You’ll get a kick out of it!)

Fifty-Two

It’s my birthday today. I’ve managed to stay alive for fifty-two years so far!

I’ve been celebrating, sort of, since Friday when I took the day off work at the request of a good friend. A week ago, she sent a text saying, “Since it’s your birthday weekend, you should take the 9th off and we should go to the holiday boutique at U.S. Bank Stadium.”

So I did. And we did. We met in the middle and rode the light-rail into downtown Minneapolis. I’ve never been on the light-rail before and found it to be rather enjoyable. We got to spend the time talking and catching up instead of nervously navigating one-way streets and searching for expensive parking. We got off the train just across the street from the stadium and it was easy-peasy!

The boutique itself was massive and interesting. We saw a lot of fun stuff, but I didn’t buy much in spite of being overly amused by the abundance of novelty socks and dish towels making use of the f-bomb. They were funny. I just don’t feel the need to display curse words in my kitchen or on my feet. Not my style. I did purchase a couple of Bloody Marys for the two of us, and some over-priced eye cream. I would never have considered the eye-cream except for the young, handsome, Italian salesman who worked his sales pitch hard and gave us a trial run. Seeing for myself how my friend’s eye creases disappeared before my very eyes, I couldn’t help but be sold on it. And also because – you know. Fifty-two.

Anyway, we had a good time, the two of us, just hanging out together, solving the world’s problems, checking things out, and laughing. All in all, a good day.

The weekend was filled with more events and activities than most typical weekends. Some were in celebration of my birthday, some not, but it all contributed to my feelings of being very blessed.

We had dinner on Friday night with my brother, two years younger and his family. His birthday is one week before mine and he turned fifty this year!

On Saturday morning, we caught up with good friends over breakfast. It’s been much too long, and as we parted ways afterwards, she reminded me that good friends always come together as if not a day had passed, no matter how many actually have. She’s right. And we are so lucky to have friends like them!

When we returned home after breakfast, there was something sitting on the living room floor that caught my eye. As I wondered what the heck it was, it took a moment to register that there was a silver bow and a “Happy Birthday” message on top of it . And then my brain realized that what I was contemplating was a robotic vacuum! Shark

Now there may be some who would be offended with such a gift, but not me! I was thrilled! I literally jumped up and down with excitement when I realized what it was. (Have I mentioned that there are two dogs living under my roof? Do you have any idea how much time I spend vacuuming, Swiffering, and vacuuming again?)

While we were away at breakfast, Shark was plugged in and charging. I set him loose after a quick review of the instructions and then we proceeded to watch him do his thing, sort of defeating the purpose of having a robotic vacuum as we continued to marvel for much too long. I was skeptical at first. The pattern of movement seemed very random, but as I continued to monitor the progress, I saw that it was covering all of the necessary spaces. The dogs watched with mild curiosity but otherwise were not bothered. Shark is quiet and moves gently, not like that big, loud, scary Kirby that lives in the closet underneath the stairs. And Shark did a spectacular job! I love this thing! I can even download an app on my cell phone so that I can have the house vacuumed while I’m away from home. Best. Gift. Ever. The hubby and kids definitely hit a home-run with this one!

The only draw-back? Shark kept reminding us of a current, ridiculously popular children’s tune and we could not stop randomly bursting into song. I’m sure we’ll get over that soon! Mmm-hmm.

On Saturday night, Jack and I bowled with our league. Son Ryker bowled with us, subbing for an absent team-mate and boosted our standings with his awesome bowling skills. Jaeger and Chesney and some of their friends came too, to cheer us on. It was fun and only added to the celebratory mood!

On Sunday Jack and I attended another memorial service in which my mom was included among those being remembered. My parents were involved in several churches during the years of their lives, and this was the last church where my dad served as a deacon. I think my parents were members there for fifteen years and it’s the church where we held both of their funerals. Father Joe is the priest and he was very good to my parents. He has become very special to our family, especially in the time since my dad passed away. He greeted us when we walked in and said, “Welcome home.” That gave me a warm feeling, and in spite of my lack of attendance in an actual church lately, made me feel like I might want to go visit a bit more often.  And it seemed appropriate to  remember my mom in such a formal way over my birthday weekend. I was surprised to find myself crying. I thought maybe it has been long enough that the random bursts of sadness would have started fading away, but I guess not. It’s okay though. It’s only been nine months. And being there, remembering Mom on my birthday weekend made me feel as if both of my parents were closer to me than usual.

So today is my actual birthday and I’m off work again at the request of Chesney who suggested a mother-daughter day. I have PTO to burn before the year is over, and I love spending time with her, so it wasn’t a tough decision. She’s still sleeping as I write this and our day is loosely planned, but I know it will be a good one.  I have a feeling the entire coming year is going to be a good one, no matter what.

Eating Greasy Food in Memory of Loved Ones

 

I woke up this morning with the realization that standard time is back in effect and a whole extra hour had been added to my Sunday. That was such a blissful feeling considering that I rarely feel there are enough hours in a day.

A glance out the window revealed wet, sloppy snowflakes falling down from the sky. I wanted to get out there, go for a walk, breathe the cold, fresh air into my lungs. The new job has solidly kicked into gear and I’ve been busy trying to keep up and trying to prove that I’m up to the task. I find myself looking for ways lately to combat the anxiety that comes along with all of this. A walk was just what I needed.

Lucy Pie could sense my intentions this morning and followed me around like a shadow while I gathered up leggings and a sweatshirt, ear muffs, a warm jacket and gloves. She whined quietly a few times until she saw me reach into the garage for her harness and leash. She joyfully bounced around the foyer waiting for me to put them on her.

 

It wasn’t the first time this fall that it has snowed, and there’s not much chance that it will stick today, but those days aren’t far away, I’m sure. Lucy was in seventh heaven as we traveled along the walking path, sniffing all the smells in the blankets of leaves and keeping an eye on squirrels busy gathering their winter rations. She nearly took my arm off a time or two, trying to chase them down!

It’s been a good weekend. Last night we went to mass at St. Casimir’s Church, the church of my dad’s upbringing, where my parents were married, and where Dad eventually served as a deacon for several years. Recently, my sister received an invitation in the mail for a memorial mass in honor of those in the parish community who had passed away in the last year. Mom was among those being remembered.

I’m not a regular in the Catholic church anymore, but there was something about the experience that felt like being home. I remembered times as a child when I spent the night at Grandma’s house and we’d walk from her old house to mass at this very church. It felt so big back then and the pews were filled with people, their voices echoing against the high ceiling as we all sang the hymns and said the responses that have been solidly ingrained in my mind by now. I remembered Grandpa’s funeral there when I was just eleven years old, how hard that was, how big my sadness felt. I thought I’d never be able to be truly happy again. But of course, life eventually taught me that I would.

There were too many empty pews at mass last night. The neighborhood is aging and the size of the parish has dwindled. But I was glad to be there and envisioned Mom and Dad sitting with us in the empty seats next to my sister. At the end of the mass, we sang Let There Be Peace On Earth and it brought tears as I heard Mom playing the song on her old piano.

Some of the rest of the extended family attended as well. Afterwards, we gathered for dinner at a place where my parents often went after their weekly attendance at five o’clock mass. The restaurant is an old place, a neighborhood favorite, and one where you can sit around the bar watching a game, or find a table and order up a Juicy Lucy, or anything else fried, greasy, salty and tasty! I ordered the shrimp basket in honor of Dad. It was one of his favorites.

At the 5-8

We had so much fun remembering, eating, laughing. It was good. So good. My heart was so full and I was simply grateful to be where we are right now in this life.