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Sounds of an Empty Nest

14 Jun

I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.

I lied.

Even my husband doesn’t know . . . well, I suppose he does now. Every morning when I leave my bedroom, music greets me and pulls me down the hall and into my son’s room. There, I stare at the radio, its soft alarm light blinking at nobody, singing to an empty room.

On the bed lies the black bow tie I rushed all over town to find for him to wear at high school graduation (please, not a clip-on, Mom). Now it’s been left behind with his dress belt in a heap atop the ceremony program, reminding me he didn’t even stay home for ONE night after graduation day.

A now-familiar lump builds in my throat and I find myself sobbing. Again.

Am I actually crying over an empty nest? How can that be, when I looked forward to this so eagerly after 32 years of having sons in the home? Why all these tears when I’m so genuinely proud of this young man and the path he’s chosen? He’s ready. I thought I was as well.

Yet, I can’t put my finger on this mysterious pain. Sure, I’ll miss him. I miss his older brother, who’s been on his own for many years. But that’s not it. We’re supposed to miss them.

Perhaps part of my confusion stems from the volume of personal items he left behind, taking only what he needs for his summer counselling job at scout camp. The numerous pairs of size-14 shoes take up a lot of space and make the room seem lived-in.

A haphazard collection of books and coins lies scattered around the room, and there are clothes in the laundry basket. The entire picture seems to whisper, “I’ll be back,” as if the door will open any moment and he will nudge me aside with a sheepish apology for forgetting to turn off the alarm setting. He knows I can’t work this technology stuff.

There was a day when I could do anything. Bring storybook characters to life, locate missing socks, rescue crumpled homework from the bottom of the backpack, bring home the right flavor PopTarts. He’d look at me with such joy, making me feel like a superhero. My primary job was to be there when he needed me.

When he needed me.

I keep going back to that silk bow tie, which I pick up and caress idly. With a fresh wave of tears, I finally identify my pain. It started with this tie, the day before graduation. I recall my frantic scramble to one sold-out store after another, mumbling to myself.

He might have mentioned this than a day before the ceremony. He has a perfectly good clip-on at home. If there aren’t any to be found, he can borrow one of his father’s long ties.

All of these musings were true, and if I’d suggested any of them he would have nodded and found his own tie, because he’s easy-going that way. To be honest, he really didn’t ask for the tie. He just hinted that he preferred to tie his own. Clip-ons are for cheaters.

But in my heart, I had a mission. He needed me one more time.

. . . which is how I ended up at the tuxedo rental store buying, not just a bow tie, but a silk one. An act of desperate love that has already been forgotten. A silk token lying in a pile of cast offs.

It’s both a joyous and a painful realization. His father and I have trained him up the way he should go, and now we’re reaping the consequences. He’s got this.

He doesn’t need me.

In fact, all I can really do for him now is pray, send the occasional care package, and turn off the alarm every morning. Of course, that third item wouldn’t be necessary if someone were to switch off his program settings.

Heaven help the person who does that.

——————-

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. – 1 Corinthians 13:11

 

Honoring Mothers, Even My Own

11 May

I usually don’t write about my mother.  As a “Daddy’s Girl,” I’ve dedicated three or four blogs over the years to my father, flawed as he was, but I steer clear of Mom. Perhaps I do this because some aspects of our relationship still need healing, yet they never will heal completely because she’s been gone for nearly 10 years.

Most of my more recent memories of my mother involve whiskey and tears. My mom raised nine children (well, the youngest four pretty much raised each other, but that’s another story) and she carried two girls to full-term, losing them in childbirth. I cannot deny she led a tough life, but a part of me still resents that she turned to the bottle for solace.

The most poignant words I ever heard her utter were, “I’ve been pregnant 99 months of my life and all I have to show for it are varicose veins and a mountain of laundry.”

On some levels that’s a bit funny, however, because she believed it, those words pierce my heart to this day. If she could see us now, and I think she can—certainly more clearly than she could here on Earth—I know she’d be proud of her children. We’re not wealthy doctors and lawyers, but we’re all good-hearted people who work hard, and who believe in doing right and helping others. Among us you’ll find a teacher, a fisherman, a carpenter, a deacon, a store manager, a truck driver, and three very-small-business owners.

You’ll also find varying degrees of anger and resentment toward Mom. The variation comes with differences in birth order, proximity to the problem over the years, and depth of understanding regarding our Dad’s role in her demise. (Yes, there’s a book here—working on it!)

My personal struggle is with wondering how much of my childhood experiences were necessary to make me who I am today? How much of that gave my oldest brother such a compassionate heart that he relentlessly collects food and money for regular relief trips to an impoverished area of West Virginia? How much of that imbued my youngest sister with the stubbornness to pursue her college degree, one and two classes at a time over many years, after the world told her she would never be a teacher? (Today, she’s pretty much Teacher of the Year every year in my book—take THAT world!) How much of what we went through as children drives each of us to pursue dreams instead of merely money?

And mostly, I wonder how much of what we went through is Mom’s fault? She did what she thought she had to do. She made good and bad decisions, like all of us. She became trapped by some of those decisions, and it affected us. To an extent, it defines us today, but it does not define our futures. We each have a say in how much we will allow our childhoods to drive our adulthoods.

Why do I bring this up now? Lately, it’s become trendy for people who don’t celebrate Mothers’ Day, for varied and quite appropriate reasons, to assert those reasons into the conversation as if to lessen the joy of the day. In some circles, people are becoming cautious about wishing each other Happy Mother’s Day for fear of offending. I’ll admit, although I have two wonderful boys, Mother’s Day always brings a twinge of sadness for me. And I cannot imagine what the day is like for someone who has lost a child. Whoever you are, please know that my heart aches for you, not just this Sunday, but every day. For you, and for me, this is just not our day.

Taking offense is a decision, however, and I choose not to.

Because Mothers’ Day IS a sweet and special day for others. I’ve learned to appreciate a beautiful story about a wonderful mother and not feel envy, but gratefulness, because that mother created a fantastic person. I celebrate with you, mothers everywhere, for the job you’re doing. I honor you, whether you’re making good decisions or fumbling the ball right now, whether your house is spotless or a cluttered disaster, whether your kids eat Pop-Tarts or home-baked bread for breakfast. My prayer for each of you is that your children absorb your good examples with sponge-like efficiency, and learn from (but see past) your failures and short-comings. I want to encourage you to keep trying, to push forward, and to be awed and inspired by this task you’ve been given—to influence young minds and create good adults.

young mom

“And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
 That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.”

(Emily Dickenson, Hope is the thing with feathers)

Happy Mothers’ Day. May each of us find something about mothers to take joy in this Sunday.

And to my own mom, I honor you as well, for all it cost you to be my mother, our mother. I’m glad you’re no longer suffering. I want you to know we didn’t break. I’ll never understand, this side of Heaven, what that was all about, but I kinda’ like how we all turned out. We’re a tough, stubborn, witty, resilient people. Thank you for my life and for each of my siblings.

I miss you.

————————————

Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice. – Proverbs 23:25

Narcissus Dies Again

14 Mar

Narcissus. Pronounced: nar-SIS-əs. Latinized form of Greek Narkissos, possibly derived from narke meaning “sleep, numbness.” Narkissos was a beautiful youth in Greek mythology who stared at his own reflection for so long that he eventually died and was turned into the narcissus flower.

“But Father, we want this so much!” The children leapt from their beds and stretched. “The sun is warm, the robins are singing, the earth is calling, please let us perform today.”

“I’m telling you, the time is not yet right.” Father gathered them in his loving arms and set them resolutely back in bed, pulling the soft brown cover up over their heads. “Just a little while longer, I promise.”

“Not fair,” they wailed. “You never let us do what we want to do! We’re ready.”

Father smiled. “My little ones, it’s not about just you, and it’s not just about what seems good. It’s about what’s best. Trust me. You may think you’re ready, but I’m not. I’ve seen ahead. I have great plans for you and for those who will be blessed by your performance. Again, I say trust me. Something else must happen first.”

To Narco, the most brash among them, Father’s words were insufficient. “I don’t see why you can’t just tell us what’s going to happen.”

“Because, my dear Narco, I shouldn’t have to prove myself to you.” Father’s gentle voice had already soothed some of the younger ones to sleep. “I’m inviting you to trust me, not because of what you think you know, but because I’ve never let you down before.”

Ignoring the whines and protests of those still awake, he kissed the row of budding children and closed the door, resuming his business.

In the darkness, they stewed with a sullen awareness of the warmth radiating above them. Narco pulled back the covers.

daffodil1

Take THAT!

“I don’t care what he says. We’re missing everything. Life is too short to spend it in the dark. I’m ready NOW. I’m going up!”

With that, he sprang from the bed and shot upward. His glorious mane unfurling as his arms stretched for the sky. He lifted his face toward the sun and beamed, drinking in its bourbon-like rays from head to toe.

“Take that, Father! I told you so!”

One-by-one, his siblings followed, peeking shyly out from their covers and then, gaining courage, unfurling to greet the sun. A collective, joyful sigh filled the air.

Settling down after a sweet opening-day performance, the children felt a slight chill in the air. As night fell, the winds began to howl. The little children cried and searched desperately for the way home, but the doors had all closed.

“Just a minor set-back,” shouted Narco over the din. “Stay together. The sun will be back in the morning.”

daffodil2And so, they huddled together in the cold, sobbing through the night, as layer upon layer of snow settled over them, each heavier than the last. At some point in the night, Narco felt a sharp pain in his waist, which caused him to bend nearly double.

When morning came, they could no longer stand. Their frozen hearts could no longer sing. Their beautiful manes had shriveled and hung limp.

Narco shed a single tear, which dripped from the cup of his face onto the snow-covered ground and froze on contact, merging his lovely petal to the earth.

“Oh, Father, why didn’t you stop me?”


Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. — Proverbs 19:2

Grandpa’s Laugh

6 Mar

I met Jerry L. Fitzsimmons, Sr. under unusual circumstances. I’d been engaged to his son for less than a week and we’d been driving through Kansas on our way to McCook, Nebraska in our ’66 Mustang to meet his grandparents. From there, we planned to drive to Denver to meet his parents.

We never made it to McCook.

Instead, we hit black ice in Hayes, Kansas and my fiancé was hospitalized in a tiny clinic in nearby Colby. His parents arrived in Colby the next morning, just as young Jerry was being loaded into a plane for emergency transport . . . back to Denver.

So, I got to know my future in-laws by myself, on the drive to Denver. I ended up staying with them at their house for the remainder of my 30-day leave, visiting my fiancé at the hospital every day and bringing home reports for them at night. They visited their son when they could, but the day-to-day pressures of life and raising two small children at the time seemed to tug at their time.

I hit it off with Jerry, Sr. right away, not knowing the extent of his brokenness. His son had never expounded on the depths of the chasm between the two of them, only telling me they’d had a “rough time” in his teens. I called him Grandpa and Old Man from the start, long before we even knew if his son would survive, or if we would, indeed, marry and actually make him a grandpa.

During those 30 days, Grandpa and I bonded. I could make him laugh, and I enjoyed doing so, because his laugh was deep and booming. He never said “yes,” but instead said, “that’s exactly right,” which tickled my ear for some reason. We spent hours each night chatting and laughing. During those 30 days, I never saw him drink to excess. Nor did I see evidence of the bridges he’d burned between himself and his children, or the extent to which they’d continue to burn.

The choices Grandpa made over the next 10-15 years would pull him even further from his “first” family, as he and Grandma divorced. Over those years, my by-then husband still didn’t discuss the chasm, and we rarely seemed to have time to visit. Only recently have the wounds between them begun to heal.

Granpa and the boys3

An old and rare photo of all my boys

In the years to follow, there were a few visits, stops during cross-country treks, “as long as we’re in the area,” but never specific trips to see him. And he came to see us in Virginia at least twice that I recall. All those visits were way too short. From those few moments spread out over 35 years, I must now draw all my memories of him. I already regret that I haven’t more, but we each chose, first through stubbornness and then through inaction, not to be closer. Because of that, his grandsons missed out on what could have been a sweet relationship. So did we.

Now, Grandpa’s laugh has been silenced. I’ll miss it tremendously, and will do everything in my power to remember the way it sounds, because it’s all I have.

Grudges and hurt feelings are tools that the world uses to keep us from enjoying love in its purest form, particularly among family. I think the greatest sadness to that truth is that restored relationships are often even more sweet than those with people we’ve loved freely all along, and so often we miss that. However, it takes tremendous courage to take that first step. While I’m glad, for my husband’s sake that he took that step, I will always mourn the years they lost.

I truly hope Grandpa left this world knowing that we do love him, that although we only understand a small bit of the battle he fought, we hold no grudge, and that, in our hearts, his booming laugh lives on.

Peace to you, Old Man. I pray you’ve found what you were searching for.

————–

 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. — Ephesians 4:32

To the Moon, Alice! (But Take Me With You)

12 Jan

Tomorrow marks my 33rd anniversary of marriage to a wonderful man. In previous years, I’ve used this event as a reason to wax over the ordinariness of our marriage or to tell you why my husband is my hero (much to his discomfort). By now, you pretty much know all there is to know about us . . . we’re not exactly Buzz-feed material.

However, I’m sad to say, there are still volumes to be written about double-digit anniversaries, because successful marriages are becoming increasingly rare in this fast-paced, me-first society. That is not to boast about “making it,” because, frankly, I sorta’ stumbled my way here. Given that I spend at least 70 percent of my time living in my own head and the rest judging with surprise that which has transpired while I was gone, I easily could have stormed away at many junctures along this merry adventure. I hung in there because I’m too lazy to cook and I can’t do math and Jerry is a master of both. I think he hung in there because I make him laugh—usually unintentionally.

Marriage is easy. All you have to do is say “I do,” sign the papers and ride off into the sunset. There ends the romance novel. Then comes love. Choosing to love, day after day, despite muddy footprints on clean floors, arguments on Christmas morning, less than angelic children, bounced checks, cars with mysterious dents, flannel pjs, temper tantrums, and all the other unromantic cogs that jam themselves into the wheel of bliss, now that’s the hard part.

I keep a reminder of what I believe is real love close to my heart. It came from an interview with the late Jessica Tandy and her husband Hume Cronyn, who were married 52 years. When asked the secret to a happy marriage, they replied in unison, “Frequent separations and partial deafness,” then smiled at each other in that all-knowing way. In case you missed it, the “real love” part is in the knowing look. I’ve always considered them the ideal couple. After Jessica passed, Hume compared living without her to being a quadriplegic.

My image of Jessica and Hume can only remain pristine as long as I never look too closely into their lives. I’ve learned enough about them to know they had place in their home called “the sulking room,” where one could retreat when they couldn’t stand another minute in the other’s company. I’m not saying a room like that would get much use in my own home, but I think I’d visit there a time or two.

mom-and-dad

Mom and Dad–A story with many twists and turns

So, how do we know what a good marriage should look like? My parents’ marriage lasted nearly 30 years, until my father passed away at 64. Those of us nine children who spent any amount of time with them in those final years would have called it an unhappy marriage, judging from the tears, the tiredness and the brokenness we witnessed. However, as I delve into old letters, I’m seeing traces of a different story, which I hope to share with my siblings one day soon. We’ll never know for sure, but, come on…nine kids?

nana-and-paw-50th

Never met a more gentle soul than my Old Poop of a Grandfather

My maternal grandparents were married almost 50 years. To her dying days, she called him the Old Poop. I never quite knew what to make of that, nor did I know for sure whether they were happy. They spent every minute of their 20-plus retirement years together. If ever a couple needed a sulking room…

Truth is, there is no perfect marriage, only imperfect people trying to live up to the ideals and values they’ve set for themselves and to honor their chosen mate as best they can with the imperfect tools they’ve been given. We can emulate our parents and grandparents, but without knowledge of what they endured off stage, it’s like reading every third page of a novel. Not the best how-to manual.

However, there is a perfect love. We see that in Jesus, who put others before himself and sacrificed for the greater good when the situation called for it. He showed us how to love, and, when we’re not being obstinate, it’s easy to see how loving His way can build up a marriage into the rewarding, blessed union God intended it to be. It’s something to strive for. I confess that I have, I occasionally, I often usually miss the mark, but I see my failures as blessing my husband with an opportunity to wield another useful marriage-building tool: forgiveness.

All kidding aside, I do take great delight in my marriage and my sweet husband, and I see him as a wonderful gift from God that means more to me with each passing year. I look forward to sharing with him the joys and trials that lie ahead, because I cannot imagine going through them with anyone else.

Jerry, you are my love, my rock, my steadfast friend, and my mathematician. And who knows, play your cards right and one day I might tell our grandchildren that you’re also my Old Poop. Here’s to 33 more…and a sulking room.

—-

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life, and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. –Ecclesiastes 9:9

New Year, New Page, New Start

1 Jan

On this, the seventh day of Christmas, I received a most precious gift, as did you.

I stayed in bed this morning as long as I could, savoring the opening of it the way one unwraps a much-anticipated present—instead of tearing into the wrapping, I glided my metaphorical finger just under point where the paper overlaps and I nudged the tape until it released its hold.

Then I pulled back the wrap and lingered over the newness of it all, inhaling the scent of promise and potential.

It is here.

sunriseThe new year has dawned like a magnificent sunrise over an expansive ocean, with a freshness of clean linen, the newness of a tighly folded flower bud, and the secrecy of a locked treasure chest. I’m giddy over the endless possibilities of what lies ahead.

In my heart, I’m staring in wonder at a book that contains 365 blank pages, and my heart can only smile.

Right now, the pages are unstained, unblemished in any way. I haven’t hurt anyone with my sarcasm all year. I haven’t said any words I cannot take back. I haven’t judged someone for being different. I haven’t broken a promise to a friend, or missed an opportunity to put aside my work to take a long walk with my husband.

At this moment, anything is possible.

In time, the pages will fill, some with heartache, others with joy and victory. I pray for more of the latter but understand it’s not my decision, just as I also know that, when the year ends, page after page will contain absolutely nothing—a chronicle of hours burned up on mindless tasks.

I resolve to turn the pages more purposefully this year. I pray I can record at the end of each day that I smiled more, laughed more, and loved more on that day’s page than on the one before it. I pray this year my focus is not on how I can better myself, but on how I can make life better for others. Forgive those who hurt me, reignite waning friendships, write encouragement for others. What does that mean, exactly? I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll learn.

This year I will write a book, see more family, and meet new people. It’s going to be a blast.

How about you? What do you hope to put on your blank pages? Imagine the unimaginable with me, would you? Set your sights on the seemingly unattainable and laugh, because you can do it. Believe and make that first mark on the pristine page.

For no yearning is too big, no dream impossible on this, the first day.

—-

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! — 2 Corinthians 5:17

Play Ball! Nationals “Fan” Dares to Hope

13 Oct

Five hours and counting.

Not that I am counting, but if I were, five is the magic number. Five hours and seventeen minutes. Give or take.

…because counting would imply that I’m some sort of fanatic. That I’m somehow invested in the outcome of tonight’s baseball game. That I care, for some reason, whether Max Sherzer slept well last night.

Pshaw! It’s just a division title, give me a break.

He did sleep well, didn’t he? Is there a press release on that?

But then, why am I writing this instead of working on the myriad assignments vying for attention on my desk? Why am I doodling “Go Murphy” on the thesis I’m editing? Why am I secretly giddy that the Red Sox are out, knowing a certain fan living in New Mexico might be crying in her baked beans tonight?

To be clear, I’m not giddy that she’s crying, but when my Broncos faced her Patriots during the race to the Super Bowl in January, the FBosphere started getting uncomfortable, and I couldn’t cheer as loudly as I wanted to. It’s hard to yell “In your face” when someone’s Gronk is riding the stretcher to the locker room, you know? So, I’m happy to have that obstacle on the side of the road.

No, I’m not a fanatic. I can quit watching Nationals Baseball any time I want to. Then again, if that were true, I may not have sat up so many nights when we went into extra innings…Like that six-hour, 16-inning, suspense-a-palooza against the Twins last April when I couldn’t sleep until Chris Heisey’s walk-off put me out of my misery. Lots of coffee the next morning.

Lots.

It’s just that I admire this team, their dedication, their coach, and their creativity. They are fun to watch. You’ve got Espinosa hitting home runs as both a left- and right-handed batter in the same game, a rookie named Turner who can fly, and Harper stepping up on his supposed day off to pinch-hit a game-tying home run in the 9th inning. And there are six players on the team with 20 or more homeruns this season. SIX! Even the second-string players are phenomenal. Although our hearts were crushed when The Buffalo re-shattered his knee in the team’s first post-season game, Jose Lobaton stepped up to fill his cleats and got our hearts beating again.

My favorite player is Jayson Werth, for whose T-shirt I relinquished a few tenners. Not the jersey. I imagine if I were a true fan I wouldn’t let a measly C-note stop me from sporting the colors, but struggling writer budget trumps style. Werth, to me, epitomizes the game. He plays hard, pushed through a lengthy slump this year to emerge as one of the team’s top hitters, and he’s absolutely awful in front of the camera. I love it when “MASN Dan” dares to approach him with the mic—the more glorious the moment, the more colorful the language.

Four hours and 33 minutes.

nats

Even if they win, I promise not to get a big head over it.

And while we’re on favorites, I even like The Big-headed Presidents. Well, not Hoover. He’s a tad creepy. Teddy is the coolest, because he just looks as if he’s there to enjoy the game. I decided that if I made it to a game this year, I’d wrangle a photo-op with him in case I ever blogged about the Nationals. Sigh…then when my big moment finally arrived, Teddy kinda wandered away, leaving me with Willy Taft. I’ll take what I can get.

I do have a life outside of baseball. And the Broncos. And the Caps. It’s just that I can’t quite remember what’s in it. By this time tomorrow, I may get a glimpse, because my nights would be baseball-free, but I hope not. This series against the Dodgers has been a nail biter, but all the Nats players seem to be playing on high octane (and I’m betting Harper is just reserving energy for an upcoming dramatic save). So, I’m fully prepared to put off my meager social life even further to cheer the Nats through the World Series.  Starting in four hours and ten minutes.

I’d better double check the schedule to make sure the time hasn’t been moved up. Not that I’m a fanatic, mind you.

Criminy. There’s also a Broncos game on at 8:30. And the Caps play at 8.

Now what do I do?

***

Morning After Report:
Nationals lost.
Broncos lost.
Capitals lost.
I must really be a fanatic, because it hurts so very much. 😦
#GoNats2017

——————————-

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. – Proverbs 13:12