On a sauntering walk with friends along the Los Gatos Creek Trail one of my companions says, “I’m having a hard time adjusting to this stage of life.”
“I don’t think my husband and I fit together the same way we used to?”
“Thank God, because I can no longer sleep in the spooned position, and I have no interest in fantasy football (I know what you’re thinking – fantasy anything for that matter).”
“We’ve become such different people.”
“This is what happens after three decades of marriage, a gaggle of unruly kids, and sun damage.”
“It’s like starting all over again.”
“It’s now an eldership with benefits.”
Long walks are perfect when you need the name of a good manicurist, or an easy crock pot recipe, but the mystery of the empty nest defies resolution, especially when you discover the dude you married is on a completely different path! What the hell? I totally missed the fork in the road and now I’m enjoying my weird little journey?
“We keep making decisions, every day, half without thinking, half against our will. If we don’t fight back, if we allow ourselves to change, to be changed, then once it’s done we have to do other things, and on and on until the person we wanted to be is so far away in the past that we only remember her, longingly, as if she were a beloved stranger.”
Couples have such unique ways of being in the world, what works for one, can be catastrophic for another. So you have to honor that which is uniquely suited to you and yours with the realization it will not be the same for everyone. It’s as if we have to reinvent ourselves?
We’re in what I refer to as a liminal stage of life, a transitional position if you will, between launching the kids and figuring out retirement. Many of us are still working, some out of necessity, or simply because it continues to give our life purpose, but some of us are in a holding pattern, because we’re absolutely petrified of flying out of formation. Maybe I need to reread Jonathan Livingston Seagull?
The reality is you come home to a much quieter house, with fewer obligations, and a table set for two. For some reason Larry and I have not spent a lot of time discussing the what, where, how, and why of this particular stage? I marvel at all we’ve done to arrive at this day, sitting across the table from my fifty-nine year old boyfriend, wondering what the hell we are going to do with the rest of our lives?
I’m sure you’ve heard of the empty nest syndrome?
Characterized as a time of loneliness, depression, redefining ourselves after the children have moved out, but if we spin it the other way it also can be a time of enormous growth and potential. Right? I don’t have to give birth to anything, potty train the dog, figure out how to keep fresh milk in the house, or feel guilty about all the disposable diapers I use (a gift from God herself I believe).
It’s as if someone has opened the door to the birdcage but for some reason we stay on our perch whistling the same old tune. I have to admit I’m enormously fearful of letting go of the familiar. We’ve spent so much time juggling a plethora of balls my hands have no idea what to do when empty.
Joyce Maynard argues, “it’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.” And hope they notice!
A nest being a modified structure serving as an abode for animals especially while raising chicks is an interesting metaphor for a home don’t you think? That’s why my kitchen needs to be redone, our chicks were rather destructive, but the truth is nests are seasonal, and often abandoned after the work of rearing children is done. There is a deeper mystery embedded in the idea of home, not so much a fixed location, but maybe more closely aligned with a place you carry within you? See that thought right there gives me indigestion.
It’s sappy I know, I call it tree humor, after you hold the thought for a while, you might need to wash up.
I think it’s interesting that birds make their nests from things that belong to us? I’ve seen nests constructed from cigarette butts, colorful curling ribbon, bits of wire, newspaper, and twine. Sometimes we find our feathered friends nesting in a table decoration on the back porch or taking up residence in a hanging plant. They’re rather creative and I allow myself to believe maybe I could be that way too?
It seems our worlds intersect, that of birds and humans, the sharing of our habitat, the allure of keeping our children safe until they can fly on their own, even if you have to let the air out of their tires, and the enormous sadness caused by the empty space their needy, chirping bodies once occupied. I still carry gummy worms in my purse, force of habit, you just let me know if you’re hungry. I’ve got you.
“Children are our crop, our fields, our earth, they are birds let loose into darkness. They are errors renewed. Still, they are the only source from which may be drawn a life more successful, more knowing than our own. Somehow they will do one thing, take one step further, they will see the summit. We believe in it, the radiance it streams from the future, from days we will not see.” James Salter
If you knock on the egg shell of a chick about to hatch it will respond not unlike that of a child in the womb who responds to the sound of it’s mothers voice or heartbeat. I believe the nest I created for my children was as well thought out of that of my bird neighbor, meaning I made adjustments for immediate needs, never considering how this space would be utilized in the future? Therefore I’m left with five rooms, four baths, and no she-shed.
“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
Today I find myself standing in a temperature controlled space, monitored by a nest of all things, trying to remember what it was like to harbor a child in my womb? Something that had not known air or light, but would be born into this home, created with scraps of this and that, who would one day fly the coup, leaving me alone with this man, plus thirty, who has been faithfully bringing us worms all these years, and now has ruthlessly taken over my kitchen? This so works for Cheryl.
Larry turned twenty-three on April, 1 1983, forty-nine days later I turned twenty-three myself, one hundred and eighty-four days later we married. Every year it happens the same way: Larry ages up one year, I get ‘slightly’ older, and so does our marriage. You can plug in your dates but the formula remains the same. As you can see I excelled in math.
I’m comfortable with the patterns we’ve establish, the obligations we’ve taken on, and the compensation that comes with such regularity. I know it’s ridiculous the way I avoid change. I do not transition well. It’s seems the leap into retirement is going to be much like the leap into marriage, you just do it, and take the chance it’ll be the ride of your life.
I for one need a little more structure, a seatbelt if you will, so I’ve been brainstorming the future.
What have I come up with?
I’m so glad you asked, because I’ve been making a list, you’re welcome.
Ten Things to do Post Nest that won’t land you in jail:
- Travel! Start planning, researching and scheduling your adventures. You’re not getting any younger. Like Jane Tara says, “whenever you get depressed about your age you can always go to Paris.” Even the Dali Lama says “once a year go someplace you’ve never been before.” It might be the grocery store for some, maybe you’ve found a new center of being, or discovered the endless possibilities of virtual reality. I’m thinking of spending some time in Portugal but that’s just me.
- Entertain your friendships. Now that many of my close friends are scattered about, impromptu dinner parties are a thing of the past, start scheduling your fun or it won’t happen. Refer to Dinner Unfiltered if confused.
- Start a blog, find your voice, tell your story, because the world wants to know what you’ve learned along the way. Publish it under a false name if you must, but get into the practice of writing everyday, the benefits are extraordinary. Not only do you preserve your history just the way you want, but people actually behave better when they’re with you, and that’s all I can think of except for it adds clarity, discipline, and once you put it out there…you can let it go!
- Get your butt in shape, start walking, jogging, join a club, take a yoga class, go to boot camp. Make it a priority to move everyday, stretch out (this helps with flexibility of body as well as mind), get your heart rate up so you have the energy to travel, entertain, claim your eldership benefits, and blog for hours on end.
- Update your wardrobe, this is my favorite, I hate to admit it, but my style has changed, I no long want skimpy, tight, and revealing because I NEED longer, looser, something with more coverage! That’s why they have Nordstrom’s and Bloomingdales available on-line, it comes right to your door, with free returns, and you don’t have to try things on under those horrible florescent lights, which adds ten pounds, and emphasizes your lumpy parts. Do it in the privacy of your own home, with tailored lighting, and no witnesses.
- Forge new relationships with your adult kids. They are launched, on their own, and ready to enter into a parental alliance without curfews, expectations, and repercussions. I think our adult children are the most interesting people I have ever met and when they start procreating – Booyah!
- Discover a new passion and go in hot pursuit. Have you tried ballroom dancing, welding, cooking, bee keeping, mentoring, working part-time, beer making, rock collecting, finishing your PhD, coaching, fishing, cannabis sales, photography, stamp collecting, hiking, knitting, or stand up comedy?
- Read! Read! Read! It’s time to tackle the books piling up on your nightstand, stacked against the wall, spilling out of the bookshelves! Because a reader lives a thousand lives before she dies, says George Martin, and the one who never reads lives only one. “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly,” says
- Reconnect with your family of origin (if you are so blessed to still have them with you). My life is immeasurably better because of my sister, she’s my pearl of great price, my greatest treasure! I have wonderful nieces, nephews, cousins, second cousins, aunts, and uncles, time passes quickly, don’t live with regrets!
- Strengthen your relationship with your spouse, the one you used to spoon with, the one you risked everything to be with, the one you might be taking for granted? Get out the mower and forge a new path together, you might find you have more in common now then ever before, because to be fully seen by somebody and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous says Liz Gilbert.
Rekindle the love – are you foodies, adrenaline junkies, music lovers, travel bugs, wine connoisseurs, antique shoppers, motorcycle buddies, Netflix N Chillers, bridge players, or lounge lizards – it doesn’t matter, it’s what lights your fire, strike the match, watch it burn.
- Okay, one more because I’m on a roll, make sure you have your shit in order. Talk with a financial advisor, get your trust together, let your children know your intentions, and trust them to carry out your wishes as if they were they’re own!
- I saved the best for last, play with your grandkids (anyone’s grandkids), love them up something fierce, they’ll be flying the coup sooner than you think, and we’re better for every moment spent in the company of a child.
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll Kondo the nest!
And this: “And so, if this man next to her now was not a man she would have chosen before this time, what did it matter: He most likely wouldn’t have chosen her either. But here they were, and Olive pictured two slices of Swiss cheese pressed together, such holes they brought to this union—what pieces life took out of you.”
One more: “To be half a century plus is wonderfully exciting, because I haven’t lost any of my past, and I am free to stand on the rock of all that the past has taught me as I look to the future.”
Last one:“How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before that you were stepping into high school, and an unhooked brassiere was as close as you ever hoped to get to paradise. Only a fifth of a second before that you were a small kid with a ten-week summer vacation that lasted a hundred thousand years and still ended too soon. Zip! They go rocketing by so fast.”
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This is beautiful. So often you hear about people “drifting apart”, but change is natural and something we should embrace. We don’t have to be the same people we were 10, 20, 30 years ago to stay connected with our spouse for a life time.
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So true Brewed! Even though we change in the process of living I truly believe we can find new common ground! Keeps life interesting for sure. I appreciate your thoughts, thanks for the comment.
Such a very good read. Very interesting and very well written. I can see a book here.
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Thank you Mike! I never considered a book but now you got me thinking? Maybe a collective with stories from all the different paths people have taken? Thanks so much for the comment! I’m inspired!
I love this. I’m watching my mother go thru the aging process and it’s really a relearning of self… again. I also love getting to know ur adult children. Trust me, as one of the adult children it’s so appreciated!
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Thanks so much for the comment W.D., you sound like a delightful adult child, and one that appreciated being in relationship with your parents. Believe me that is the best gift you can give your parents. Hope you stop by Living in the Gap again, love to hear your thoughts and insights. All my best to you.
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This is a beautifully written article with very interesting perspective.
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Thank you Heidi! I appreciate your comment, feedback is essential for a writer, we thrive on the comment button lighting up! So thank you for lighting up my day!
Hi Cheryl! Hope all is well. Never thought I would be reading a blog about fantasy and the “spoon position” without feeling a little guilty. I guess times have changed. 😊 Eldership with benefits! New concept! Ahh, but those benefits can be sweet. I hope it works out better than friends with benefits as those relationships never seem to last (from what I hear.)
This entry seems to briefly touch on dealing with personal change and growing apart? and then how to cope with the emptiness that one may feel when one’s home is no longer Grand Central Station. I trust that as you have spent the last 30+ years together, you are growing closer to your beloved and not apart, so I won’t dive into that topic. I do love the analogy of the opening of the birdcage but not flying out to the obvious freedom. I think it is hard to give up the feeling of responsibility and importance. The free time can feel a little hedonistic.
I totally love your list of things to do. In fact, I think you made them with me subconsciously in mind (except of course # 5, update the wardrobe though mine needs it). Love it that you dropped some Bacon! Was Shakespeare really his nom de plume? And yes, reading books is very underrated.
I would like to add # 14 (skip 13 of course): Join a FANTASY FOOTBALL league so you can kick your son/daughter or husband’s ass at something he/she/them thinks they are good at.
Lastly, Gail and I have had this kind a debate about this post. What do you mean by spoon? Is it merely laying in a certain position? (If you can’t do it anymore do you just need more pillows and a better mattress?) Is it some sort of physical activity that might decrease with age (Gail’s (not really) opinion not mine, as there are medical options!?)
Anyway, again love your writing. I would say it is a gift, except you seem to be getting better which implies that it is a learned activity.
When I think of spooning…….. To be listened to at a loud volume.
And of course for die-hards only.., the ending is pretty cool.
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Hi Mike! So I have you feeling a little guilty about interacting with this topic! Haha! Good – mission accomplished. I was hoping to disrupt the apple cart so to speak because I think this issue is largely disregarded by many when it’s something we should crack open and figure out if we want that happily ever after thing to be true! This topic came up organically on a walk with friends but my intent was to make it relatable to as many people as possible. I’ve heard from a lot of friends off the record on this one, who feel a sense of disconnection with their spouses at this stage of life, and are hesitant to talk about the elephant in the room. I get where this stems from as in many cases husbands and wives can live very different lives while raising kids depending on their occupations? I was at home but my friends that stayed in the work force also had very different responsibilities and experiences. This is what shapes our interests and passions – right? So when the work load starts to decrease we’re left with much more together time! I was lucky because Larry and I continued to prioritize our time together right through the madness of kids and those interests remain strong today. We love to travel, explore, hike, make a little whoopee, and most importantly enjoy good food and wine! That’s enough common ground to make things work for us but it’s not the same for everyone. Writing this with that in mind was a struggle! But the good news is it’s quite easy to ignite our common passions after the next is empty if we’re not only open to each others interests but stay true to our own. I think we’re more interesting when we continue to develop ourselves.
Okay, the spoon dilemma, it is a position couples often sleep in, my back to his stomach, as if spoons in the drawer. It might be a California thing? I’m not sure but it does not require medication or serious intervention, just a willingness to sleep in such close proximity – not my thing!
Love the songs Mike but most especially the engagement! So glad you are willing to deal with the guilt and dive into these topics! Brave you are. Say hello to Gail, miss you guys.