life after the birds fly the coop

Archive for the tag “family”

I’m Glad I’m a Woman, and Here’s Why

“A woman has to live her life, or live to repent not having lived it.” ~ D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover

Yesterday while walking, I listened to a podcast: “Be the Change” on The Hidden Brain. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Rather than being a telling of how someone started a non-profit, it was about a young couple who wanted to raise a non-gender child. Most interesting to me were the stories about the mother with her infant in a NICU who dressed her daughter in gender-neutral clothing and how people reacted to her newborn. Those who thought “she” was a boy, said things like, “Oh, he’s getting so strong,” and when the nurses (while the mother was home resting) dressed her daughter in head-to-toe pink, people said, “Oh, she’s so delicate and precious.” (paraphrasing here). Friends and family members struggled to know how to interact with this baby, and then child. At the end of the podcast, I wasn’t exactly sure I could name how I felt about the family’s story. I felt neutral.

This weekend in Atlanta, some friends of mine attended the Atlanta Pride festival. They made awesome signs and had custom made t-shirts saying “All Means YOU.” I’m proud of them and I am proud to say I am in full support of gay marriage and all things that support the LGBQT community. The most interesting picture I saw from a friend’s post was a picture of her in her t-shirt holding a sign that says (in Rainbow colors) Unity, Respect, Equality, Hope, Love.  Directly next to her was another woman holding a sign that said on one side: “Feminists are Whor–” and on the back side, “Women Belong in the Kitchen.” OMG.

These experiences led to me to spend some time thinking about my personal life, especially my life as a woman.

When I was a little girl growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I was terrified of war. The Vietnam War was happening and there was a lot of talk of war, the Cold War, bomb shelters, and the possibility of one day women being drafted. Chills. At that moment, I was not only worried about my older brother someday being drafted, but extremely glad and thankful that I was a girl. I was also extremely glad that my dad was married with kids and ineligible for the draft.

My dad served in ROTC and the US Army. He was also a PE teacher and hockey coach. He was and is truly a “guy’s guy.” Though he was a tough father and a strong man, he encouraged me to try every single sport known to mankind. Some I liked; others I hated (broomball). He brought home stop watches, skis, balls of every kind, and was always encouraging us kids to be active physically. I never once felt that I was hindered because I was a girl. I actually liked then, and to this day, physical activity. I must also mention that my mom worked full-time throughout my childhood. Yay, Mom! How you put dinner on the table Every Single Night still amazes me.

As I matured into young adulthood, don’t hate me for saying this, I wanted to be a teacher, writer, and very briefly, a nurse. I wanted to do these things because I loved to read and all things wordy, playing “school”( as long as I was the teacher), and was fascinated by the human body. But what did I really want? I wanted to marry someone and have kids and be a mom. (And if teaching fit, then that too). Well, I got what I wanted. I married a guy I loved and who supported us single-handedly for almost 20 years. Though I did work before kids, I stayed home until our oldest was in 8th grade and our youngest in 2nd.  Even then I worked out of the home as a freelance proofreader. The point? This was my choice. This was OUR choice. Even through the years when “overdraft protection” and “no-cost weekends” were my best friends.

The bottom line is this: I love to cook, I don’t hate cleaning, and I do not want my husband touching my laundry. He doesn’t understand “this needs to be hand washed, this only on gentle cycle, and the most important—do NOT put this in the dryer!” I feel happy when I make a great meal and the house is clean when he walks in the door.

The second bottom line is this: this works for us. My personality is such that I get enormous joy out of taking care of people. I feel strong and able when I can look back and say my primary job was raising our kids and making our home comfortable, happy, and peaceful. I am not ashamed to say this. I also enjoy my current work and get great satisfaction out of it.

The third bottom line is this: be who you are. I have a daughter who is fiercely strong, independent, and a feminist. She marches to her own drum and will accomplish much, much more professionally in life than I ever did, or wanted to, to be honest. I have two sons who are wonderful husbands, nurturing, caring, share in household chores, cook, do laundry, take care of pets, and support their hard-working wives.

Women, whatever path you choose, embrace it! Do what you want. Have no regrets. Love where you are. You be YOU.


The Grief of Losing a Pet

In the interest of brevity and the fear of losing readership, I will limit this blog to the grieving of pets I’ve lost in my “adult” life.

One thing I’ve learned is that each pet who passes on comes with a different envelope of grief. Having not lost a parent yet, (thank God), or a child (don’t even go there), I can say that grief is a learning process that is tough, but essential. It’s a letter we never want to open but we know we have to. Because loss is life. Life is darkness and light. There is no argument there. It may even be 50/50.

Our first pet loss was Carleigh, our very first dog as a “family.” She was our first experience into being a “dog family” where I was the primary “custodian.” Carleigh was 6 months old when I accidentally dropped an (one….I mean one small tablet) ibuprofen on the kitchen floor while trying to get two to help an ailing child. Carleigh was very eager and swallowed that sweet little nugget right quick. Not being too alarmed (being a new primary custodian), I wasn’t overly concerned, but decided to investigate the consequences. This was “pre-Google” and “pre-smart phone” days, so I think I called the vet? Well, turns out one ibuprofen is toxic to a dog under 10 lbs. Carleigh weighed in at a whopping 9. So then the work began. After multiple forced ingestions of hydrogen peroxide, she would not deliver that super delicious pill. So sick and sicker she got. You know the ending. I grieved her short life, her small but huge impact on our lives, my own personal guilt, and just the overall sadness of not seeing “what could have come.” We were so new into this journey.

So of course, we got another dog! Same breed, different color, different sex, ‘cuz who could compete with Carleigh? In comes Eddie. Eddie. With his strong temperament, cat-like personality, discriminating in every way, fussy in every way, barked at everything, and ignored everyone. Except Ben, our oldest son, whom he adored. Eddie was 7 when Ben left for college, so being the “now experienced pet custodian” I decided, “Eddie needs a playmate, because he’ll be sad when Ben leaves!”

Welcome, Biff. Biff. So not smart, so not discriminating, so not fussy. So easy-going in temperament, so eager to please. Eddie hated him. Literally cringed when Biff came around. (Did I mention Eddie was cat like?) Biff was the loyal soldier, trying to be like Eddie, but was just too sweet to be rude. Whenever Eddie barked (which was often and loud), Biff howled like a coyote. It was funny. And mysterious.

Eddie was plagued with multiple issues (stream in Felix Unger): allergies, skin issues, and then, ultimately, heart issues. We lost our Eddie, the “king” (he’d be disappointed with another title) when he was 10. I cried my eyes and heart out for the loss of such an exceptional un-human being. I missed the way he looked at me as if I was an idiot, the way he lounged on my bed all day as if it were his own, and how quiet the house was without his barking. (OK, that’s a lie, but still….we all grieved. Probably mostly Ben.)

But I had Biff! Biff changed went Eddie went away. He had no more competition for attention, and attention is ALL. HE. EVER. WANTED. Biff was all about kissing and licking, petting and walking. (and eating whatever it was you would share.) He never complained, rarely barked, never ran away, always staying close.

When the kids all left the nest, we moved to a new neighborhood, and my husband got a new job where he was gone all day and traveled a lot, but I was never alone. Because Biff. Biff was always RIGHT THERE. If I left the room for 30 seconds, he laid down wherever I went, because, again, he wasn’t “smart dog” and thought I’d stay for awhile.

We tried HARD, (and not just us), to get Biff to play with dog toys.( I mean, give me a break from the neediness!) Squeaky ones, plastic ones, super cute ones….didn’t matter. He had NO interest. All he wanted was US. And US meant whoever was there. He was indiscriminate toward whom he loved. He was INDISCRIMINATE TOWARD WHOM HE LOVED. He loved EVERYONE.

So, the grieving of Biff has been the hardest. I miss his neediness. I miss his sweet, loving face. But he gave me life’s greatest lessons: You are loved. You are wanted. You are never alone. And I love you no matter what.

If only I could be Biff. He truly lived! Life is darkness and light. But light prevails.


Okay, a week has passed in this historic time in our nation. It’s been emotional, sad, exciting, scary, happy, or devastating, depending on which side of the “aisle” we are on. It’s brought out the best in people (those desiring to bring change to our nation and those who spend their lives defending our human rights), and it’s also brought out the worst in people. I don’t think I need to expand on that. A very ironic thing happened to me yesterday morning. Because my feet are so very far away from my eyes and I’m getting old, and because I was simply throwing on some comfortable clothes and not paying attention, I put my new pair of sophisticated socks on the wrong feet. Did you know socks were partial to left or right? Evidently someone in marketing has figured that out! When I first got these socks, I thought they were super cool, and as soon as I put them on the designated feet (left and right, clearly labeled), I felt serene and happy. Don’t we all love that “new sock” feel? But after a few washes, honestly, my feet nor I could tell the difference. But yesterday afternoon, as I sat down to read a deposition, I laughed out loud when I noticed my “mistake.” And then it dawned on me how truly ironic it was. Left and right confused, and remarkably, I didn’t notice. I took it as a sign. A sign to me that through all the division and confusion and anger, life goes on. I will still walk (humbly and thankfully). I will still not be able to see as well as I used to. But mostly, I’m lucky I have clean socks, or socks at all. The feet are a part of the body, as all parts of our body work together to help us function and get through life. So I started thinking about my own “body”, which includes myself, my children, my husband, my extended family, and my friends. (in essence, my world). All of us are different and all of us have things to share with our common “body” that makes us unique and whole. I couldn’t walk with one foot. And the left foot is no more important than the right. (well, maybe when I’m driving…). And I couldn’t be physically “whole” without either in my life. My family and friends, as my socks, have been divided by R and L. Each of us is passionate about which side we are on. I could see this as a negative, but I choose to see it as a positive. Once again, we wouldn’t be whole without each other. In the end, whether those I love are R or L, I will love them just the same. They keep me whole, and warm, like my socks. “Politics makes strange bedfellow,” I believe is how the saying goes. And it’s true. And politics and passion, on either side of the aisle or foot, is what makes our free world a truly free world. Not to be simplistic, I see this strange analogy based on a “wardrobe malfunction” as an ironic, humorous, and poignant incident that encourages me to remain united, as a body, as a family, as a community, and as a nation. I choose to celebrate my freedom. I choose hope. I choose peace. I choose unity. What will you choose?

Holiday Funk

“When you’re in a slump, you’re not in for much fun.  Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.”  ~ Dr. Seuss                                              

Ahhh….today in Georgia was a small slice of heaven for me.  Waking to temperatures in the 20’s and hearing the gentle hum of the furnace, reminding me that yes, it’s working, and untangling myself from a heavy blanket… the beginnings of a perfect day.  Add to that bright sunshine dappling through trees, lighting my kitchen with that early morning, nearly blinding brightness only found this time of year.  Knowing that I was going to make a big pot of butternut squash soup and take the dogs for a late afternoon walk in the field near our home, dressed in my favorite stretchy, warm sweater.  A perfect, perfect day. Winter is near. I can feel it in my bones. Count me in the weirdo group who loves winter. Fall will always be number one, but winter is a close second.  Last weekend, Brian and I were walking on a beautiful trail nearby and he said, “This day reminds me of you.”  It’s this time of year, 31 years ago, that we met and fell in love.

 Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is two weeks away. I love the food, the preparation of it, the savory goodness of turkey and stuffing, harvest vegetables, and pumpkin pie.  Reminders of the earth and this country’s beginnings and all we have to be thankful for.  I love having the kids home for the long weekend, roaming in and out of the kitchen.  I don’t even mind doing most of the cooking myself. I kind of lose myself in the busyness.

 And what about Christmas?  Love it too.  Love the music, the cold, the church services, the traditional food, the opening and reading of holiday cards. I especially love photo cards and letters from far away relatives and friends. A lit-up Christmas tree on a dark night is a beautiful thing.

So what’s with the “funky feeling?”  Why, with Thanksgiving two weeks away and gorgeous, literally breathtaking sunny days with vibrant leaves cascading across lawns, do I year after year find myself in a funk right about now?

 Could it be that I’m anticipating winter so much that these up-and -own temperatures of Georgia, 70’s one day, 50’s the next, keep me in flux?  Because the season can’t decide what to do, is that why I can’t?

Winter is a time when I get a renewed sense of energy.  I like to start new projects after the “mess” of Christmas is put away.  I’m excited about new resolutions: fitness plans, personal goals, second (and third, and fiftieth) chances.  But for some reason, the eve of this season finds me in an abyss. There’s a silent ache that is unexplainable, so I just hang on and ride it out.

 The beauty of being older, though, is that I know that as the seasons change, so will I.  I know this feeling of darkness is temporary.  I know what to do about it too.  Get outside.  Go for a walk, even if takes extra effort.  Make a pot of soup. Write about it. And not to belabor or trivialize what we are bombarded with every day on Facebook during November, count your blessings.  Name them one by one. And then your sorrow will be undone. (I know there’s a version of that out there somewhere – this is mine.)

 In two weeks, it will be Thanksgiving.  I will be blissfully happy and genuinely thankful that all 3 of my grown children will be home and I have people to cook and care for. I will be thankful for all of my many blessings, my friends, and my family whom I love, but are too far away to spend the day together.  In the meantime, I’m appreciating and accepting this blip in my blissfulness. I am embracing this season, as well. Let me share a quote from Anne Bradstreet that sums up my “funky feeling”: 

 “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”

Embrace your season, whichever one you are currently in. 

Surely I’m not the only one out there who knows what I’m feeling? What gets you out of your funk? 

A Gift of Solitude

Eleven years ago my husband, Brian, gave me an unexpected gift.  Unexpected in the way that I didn’t realize it actually was a “gift” at the time.  After a recent camping trip to Savannah, Georgia, close to our new home in Atlanta, where I encountered chiggers for the first time in my life, I quickly learned that camping in the hot summer South was not for this Northern Girl, raised in Minnesota.

When the family, my husband and three kids ages 13, 11, and 9 at the time, wanted to trek a few weeks later in the Appalachian Trail, I was resistant.  No, I flat out REFUSED.  “Go, guys.  You’ll have more fun with me,” I said, still suffering a month later from disgusting, itchy, and other-words-non-publishable chigger bites on my “inner thigh area.”

They were reluctant to leave me alone.  They wondered what I could possibly do for three days by myself.  We didn’t even have a dog…yet.  Frankly, I was a little concerned myself.  I hadn’t spent a night alone, let alone a weekend, since giving birth 13 years prior.  We were new to Atlanta and I didn’t yet have a network of friends.  Nor did I have a job outside the home.

The first night was the worst.  I planned a nice, quiet evening alone, rented a movie, and bought some beer.  So popcorn popped, ice cold one popped, I plopped down on the sofa and looked for the remote.  A half hour later, popcorn cold, beer warm, I was frustrated but ready.  The movie sucked.  That’s all I remember.

The next morning, after a solid night’s sleep, I glanced at the bedside clock.  9 a.m. !!  I hadn’t slept until 9 a.m. since college, and even then I was an early bird.  I set out for a walk through my neighborhood, stopping by the tennis courts to say hello to a few ladies I’d recently met.  I realized it was the first time I’d said a single word in 24 hours. 

The rest of the weekend is a blur. I’m sure I cleaned. A lot.  That’s become the first thing I do on these now annual “stay-cations”.  The family has since made an annual trek hiking and backpacking all over the U.S. sans me.  This is my gift.  I get to do what I want, when I want, answer to nobody, and reflect.  On my children, my marriage, and now, my future. 

This year’s trip to Alaska comes on the forefront of my foray into true “empty nest” living, as my oldest finishes up medical school, my daughter leaves for graduate school, and my baby enters his second year at Georgia Tech.

It’s a new stage of life for me.  These “gifts of solitude” have prepared me, I hope, for the challenging, unknown, and hopefully meaningful ways I welcome this new stage. I will be okay alone.

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