The Almost Empty Nester

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Every Stage Has Challenges

I just spent the week in Colorado visiting my mom and my sister and her family. My sister is married to her high school sweetheart and they have four boys. They are 23, 20, 17, and 16.

We went out to dinner with some friends and got to talking about the different phases of parenthood. Our friends shared that the baby phase wasn't their favorite, but they are enjoying the teen years with their kids. The Hubby and I said that the baby phase was tough, especially with twins, but we liked it. We don't want to do it again, but we liked it. And the teen years with our kids have been amazing. Too much fun. My brother-in-law said that he and my sister have also enjoyed each phase but that having adult children is really, really hard.

I've said before that parenthood is defined by seasons.

Each season has good and bad, and some are simply tougher than others. 

The baby phase of parenting is filled with diapers, bottles, 24/7 care of another human being, and doing it all on about 4 hours of sleep a night - if you're lucky. It has morning snuggles, baby shampoo smells, and watching kids change almost overnight.

The teen years are filled with drama (the level depending on your kids and how much they engage in it) as well as hormone changes and learning to navigate friendships and relationships. It also has nights filled with laughter as you play games around the table after dinner, talks beneath the stars of the years ahead and dreams wanting to be chased, as well as watching kids turns from kids to young adults, preparing to fly the nest.

The phase of life with adult children I haven't spent too much time in since my oldest is 19, but I ask my sister a lot about it since her oldest is 23. She says that the biggest challenge is finding balance between giving advice when it's asked for (and sometimes when it's not), and not nagging too much to where they won't want to come home and visit you. It consists of watching them make mistakes knowing they need to do so to learn life lessons, and guiding them through it as they go. It's about helping them build a life but doing so from beyond an arm's length away.

Every parenting stage has it's challenges. But it has it's moments of bliss as well.

I do know this. I wouldn't trade a moment of the journey. Watching my kids, as well as my nephews, navigate life, seek to serve God, and become awesome grown up human beings is something I will treasure forever in my Mama Heart. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Travel And The In Between

For Christmas, my husband gave me and The Girl Child a trip to Italy. We each took a friend. A girl's trip that we did a few weeks ago. For the first week back, I felt like I'd been hit by a bus. Jet lag is not joke, people.

Neither is the adjustment that goes with having a grown child home for the summer after living on her own for nine months in another state. Then go on an overseas trip with her where she wants to roam around in the evenings just her and her friend off on their own. It's like being tossed into the deep end with no life preserver or instruction on how to swim or even tread water.

I tried to give her some freedom while also keeping her safety and best interest first. And it worked. She had a blast and we had a fantastic trip. Not to say I wasn't in constant prayer or that we didn't have our bumps in the road. Life and travel aren't ever without those.

The In Between is a bit bumpy as well. In the same way that we are trying to adjust to having a grown child, our grown child is adjusting to still having parents and yet be independent. As I would mentally grapple with what I was okay with her doing on her own while we were in Italy, I had to remind myself that she lived most of last year on her own in another state without me approving or knowing of 90% of what she did. Now, I trust this child to no end so I wasn't concerned, but it's…weird.

To go from knowing everything they're doing to knowing very little of what they're doing and back to knowing most of what they're doing is quite the dizzying experience. Now that she's back, I know about most of what she's doing, and I don't get quite as big of a say in it. And that's okay. That's how it should be. But again...weird. It's amazing how much I've had to train myself to think before I speak. 

I will say this. The In Between has been way easier so far than when she initially left. The complete hole that left in our lives was difficult to navigate. It was hands down, one of the saddest, toughest times in my life. The In Between is merely a part of the adjustment to our relationship as it moves forward. The Hubby and I are becoming less parent and more friend. Which is wonderful. Truly. But it is a change. And we all know how well I handle change. ;)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Valuable Motherhood

I don't like to cook. I don't mind it, but I don't like it. And the main reason is that I'm not good at it. When the kids were young, I made dinner almost every night. My husband and I wanted to be intentional about sitting down together as a family no matter how little the kids were or how busy things got when they were older. We stuck to that and I'm grateful. We've had seasons where volleyball practice or football made it tough, but we did it. And if for some reason we couldn't, the kids said they missed it. Even now, The Girl Child comes home from college and asks for us to have meals together.

But cooking is not my thing.

It's been an interesting week. The Girl Child and I have been home from our Italy trip (which I'll blog about soon) for about a week. I woke up Monday dizzy. Having had an inner ear infection before, I was sure that's what it was. I went to the doc, and yes, I was right. So…I'm having a restful week with my kids driving me anywhere I need to go while waiting for this thing to subside.

But anyone who knows me knows that rest is not my MO. I have to work hard at it. Really hard. And forced rest only makes me fussier. But, after much prayer and tears of frustration with God, I accepted my fate and settled.

Yesterday, I had a chiropractor appointment, which my son graciously drove me to, then we strolled the grocery store and got ingredients to make dinner. Now… I have to share that The Hubby is a phenomenal cook. Something that has worked well in my favor, but there are many times I feel bad that he goes to work all day then comes home and cooks for me. (I don’t feel too guilty about it often, but I did this week.) And to be honest, it felt great to have time to prep everything, to organize the fridge and have what I call a "domestic day."

So, I got what I needed to make carnitas in the crock pot. Easy, right? One would think. But not for me. I prepped it all, chopped tomatoes, etc. for burritos and was SO excited I had been domestic amidst my dizziness. Images danced in my head of The Hubby coming home to a house that smelled amazing, everything prepped and ready to where he could just make his burrito and relax.

Around 5 o'clock he called and asked if I wanted to meet him near his office and go out for dinner. (With teens, we are able to do this about once a week. A perk of an Almost Empty Nest.) I told him I had dinner planned and lifted the crock pot lid to check. Instead of pork that fell apart, tender and ready to toss into a tortilla, I found a mound of meat I could hardly stab with a fork. What in the world?? How could I have possibly ruined something so simple?

I accepted his offer to go out and the kids hugged me and said they'd make some ground beef and do burritos that way. By the time I got to The Hubby, I was fuming. I was so upset. I try and I try and I try to get better at this and I just, plain suck.

Over dinner, and through tears, I spewed to him that if I couldn't cook and I don't work outside the home and make much money, I had zero value. None. Why was I even here? Being the amazing man he is, he listened and comforted and reminded me of all that I do as a mom and wife that matter to this family. But of course, his words went in one ear and out the other. I wanted to pout over all I CAN'T seem to do right.

I can't seem to find my value.

Sadly, this is not a new conversation for me and The Hubby since The Girl Child went to school and Thing 1 and Thing 2 started driving. My list of mom duties is dwindling - fast. I always swore I wouldn't be that mom where she'd poured so much of herself into raising her kids that she was lost when they flew the nest. I know deep down that I'm not that mom, but man, lately it sure feels that way.

This is also not a new struggle for me. Even amidst diapers and bottles and even long days at sporting events that took 8 hours to pack and prepare for, I questioned whether or not my presence was needed or valued. With three quasi-grown children now, I really wonder. I mean, at least back then there was a ton to do, right?

Motherhood is something that gets very little feedback. As my kids have gotten older, there have been moments of affirmation that we've done a decent job with these 3, but it's a pretty thankless existence with few kudos and nothing too tangible to show the extent of your efforts.

However, I see in these moments how God reminds me that these three amazing people are the tangible outcome.

I am beyond proud of the people they are. Yes, God as it work in their lives and that is a huge part of who they are, but He gave them to us to guide and care for. And there is much value in that. Much value.

The Hubby also reminded me that we are here to love others. That I’m being way too hard on myself - to give myself some grace. And I love my kids. I love my family. And that love is manifested in going to the grocery store and preparing a meal. The outcome wasn't what I desired, but my heart was in the right place.

The status of my heart is where I find my value.

I may not be a good cook. And that's ok. Don't get me wrong. It still frustrates me. But it doesn’t determine my value as a mom. It doesn't determine anything other than cooking is not a strength of mine. But I have other strengths. And my heart determines my value. And God has my heart in His hands so that must be pretty good. :)

What about you? What things have you struggled with as a mom that you don't tend to give yourself grace for? Talk to me….

Saturday, May 20, 2017

She's Home

I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, but The Girl Child is headed home from her first year at college. I can honestly say it feels like a mere few weeks ago we drove her to school and left her there, a piece of my heart staying with her. The Hubby flew to get her and they're driving home right now.

I'm glad I can say that it gets easier, but I'd be lying if I said I’m 100% over this whole Almost Empty Nest thing. I’m not even close. I can see now that until Thing 1 and Thing 2 leave, and even for a while after that, I’m going to be adjusting to this.

And that's okay.

I hate to say this, but I've been disappointed in the lack of understanding I received this past year. I began to feel that people's response to me saying I was sad my Girl Child wasn't at home anymore was either a "Oh, I’m sorry" from those who still have kids at home (and wouldn't understand so that's cool) or a pat on the head from those whose kids are in their 20's and they're on the other side of the sadness. I've met only a choice few who hug me and say they love me and just listen. I adore these people.

Don’t get me wrong. I'm not upset with those who have responded otherwise. I get it. I really do. But I am trying hard to be sensitive to others like me. Moms who struggle with the change and sometimes just need a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear.

I think the biggest lesson I’m learning is that there really is no finish line on this. I imagined that as soon as the last kid is gone, I'd be sitting there sipping a yummy beverage with The Hubby, the two of us toasting a job well done - and we very well may do that - but I can see now that the relationship with my kids will forever be changing. It always has, it's just more noticeable now with them having their own lives. 

I'm excited to have The Girl Child home, but I know that this summer will look different than the last. She's a grown woman with her own life. Yes, she's living under our roof for a few months, but she's lived without our daily help for almost a year now. This changes things.

And we all know how I feel about change.

But I’m learning. I'm seeing the positives in the changes. Our conversations are so rich, full of insight and wisdom and life stuff. Not that they weren't before, but even with all it's drama, high school life is different than college. There's quite a bit more for her to handle.

And I’m happy to say she's handling it beautifully. I could not be more proud. She's adulting like a champ. The woman who will walk through my door in a few days will not be the same as the girl who left eight months ago. And quite frankly, I’m not the same either.

But, she's home. And I’m going to soak in every moment. I'm going to embrace the changes, and thank God that I get to have this precious person in my life and call her mine.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Slow Simplicity

I've been having trouble with my hip. It has slowed me down. And I don't like to be slowed down. I have a friend who says I'm a shark because I never stop moving. He jokes that he's never seen me actually sit down, at least not for more than a few minutes. And he's right.

But sometimes things like trouble with my hip slow me down. And I'm learning to see the importance of that. 

I'm embracing the slow simplicity of my life. 

I've mentioned in previous posts that my daily schedule changed quite a bit recently with my boys going to online school. No more carpools, no more getting up super early, no more crazy afternoons. I was listening to a friend of mine recently tell me about her schedule. I sat and listened and said nothing. She took my silence for what it was - I couldn't commiserate with her anymore because my world has simplified. She teased about hating me and we laughed over it. 

I'm also seeing what's important and what is not.

Spurred by various things I've been reading lately, I sat down about a week ago and literally wrote in my Bullet Journal what was a priority in my life. If something didn't fit into the five categories I have, then it got tossed. It's been fascinating to see how much smoother my days go, how the ebb and flow of my schedule is not stressful. I'm still getting a lot done, I'm just not stressing. It's huge

I'm enjoying the slow simplicity of my days.

By prioritizing, I'm seeing what goes and what stays. By making things go, I have more time for what stays. And it's a learning process. I had to re-work things again when I saw that I had put one category higher than another and it really needed to be the other way around.

I was able to get away with The Hubby last weekend, just the two of us. We had a lovely dinner with a gorgeous view. We went on walks where I used my new camera and actually stopped and took in the beauty around us.

I'm adjusting to slow and simple. And I'm finding I like it. A lot. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

All That We Love Is Fine

A few weeks ago I had my sister guest blog here. It was a letter to her sons a year after one of them went through brain surgery. She has four boys - my amazing nephews. I love them as if they were my own.

My brother-in-law visited recently. In the midst of us trying to get ready to go to dinner and beat the traffic and crowds, he stopped and said, "Hey. Everything we love is fine. All the kids are good. We're good. Let's just relax."

Sound advice. And a comment I've been thinking about quite a bit since he said it. I'm not sure if I'm a product of my generation in that we are programmed to go, go, go, or if it's my wiring as a forward thinker, mover, always ready to get on to the next thing instead of embracing what's right in front of me.

The Hubby and I were talking about it later. We both mentioned how my sister and her family had gone through the tremendous stress and uncertainty of the months during my nephew's surgery, as well as the summer before having to evacuate their home because a fire raged near their community.

This is real stuff of life, people. The stuff that makes you see what really matters.

All that we love is fine.

I hate to admit it, but it's all too easy for me to get caught up in thinking that what matters is making sure we miss the crowds when we go to dinner, or not go through the stress of traffic. But really? Come on, Lara. Piddly, little, nothings are those things that don't deserve one moment of thought or concern.

I've been thinking a lot lately about priorities. I even sat down and wrote out in order what really matters, numbering things from 1 to 5. In my Bullet Journal I use, I wrote in the first page the order of what matters to me in life. So now, as I write out my daily To Do list, I number things. What is most important? What is least important? In only a few days I can see how much this is changing my thinking. The little things remain little, the big things I give time and attention to.

All that we love is fine. 

A picture from a stroll I took on Sunday with The Hubby. :) 

Our pastor has been preaching on Matthew 6:21. Where is my treasure? What do I value most? These are good questions to ask, and also good to be brutally honest when I answer them. I try to ask myself all the time, "What is the goal?" Is the goal to have a perfect day? Nothing going wrong? Skip through tulips from sunup until sundown? Maybe, but that's not realistic. At all. Is my goal to have kids that never mess up? Also highly unrealistic. I'm not perfect. Why should expect that of them?

Would it really be all that bad to get stuck in traffic on the way to dinner? Irritating, maybe. But on the whole, no big deal. And if I choose a good attitude, I could see it as more quality time with the people I'm in the car with. The ones I love.

Because all that I love is fine.

And that's where my treasure is. That's what truly matters.

Friday, March 10, 2017

There Is No More

I walked with a new friend the other day. We connected in Bible Study over mutually questioning whether or not we were doing all we could/should be doing in a day. (I'd like to say right here and now that I broke up with the word "should" years ago, but it still tries to have a relationship again every now and then.) 

Anyway, we talked about the basic ongoing struggle as a mom to realize our value when the world goes Mach 2 and we are able to, or choose to, go at a slower pace. To the Mach 2 world, we can look lazy. (Another word I loathe). But we don't want to operate on what others think of us so we chatted about that too.

The bottom line is, we doubt our value when we wonder if there is more. 

And I've decided that there is no more

There is what God has placed in front of me today. And I am enough. All that I do is enough. Who I am is enough. 

I'm reading a book right now called A Millions Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman. I'm highlighting so much of it the pages look as if they were meant to be yellow instead of white.

"We are not trying to become a better version of ourselves. Instead, we begin to uncover the person whom we have forgotten we already are."
I honestly cried when I read that line. It was as if a two ton weight was lifted off my back. I am always striving for better, for more. When who I am, what I have, all I do, is enough.

We live in a world where it's easy to see pretty much everything people are doing. As my brother-in-law says, "We are all our own PR department now." Man, do I agree with that. It's easy to think that our neighbor's efforts to better the world are more important, more noble than how we care for our family and home. Or that our simple act of taking a friend a meal when they're sick pales in comparison to the next person's grand gesture that got hundreds of likes on Instagram.

"But there is a difference between embracing your smallness in the presence of Christ and feeling like a nobody in the presence of others."

Am I doing now what I'm supposed to be doing? Yes. Even if my pace seems slower than the rest of the world? Yes. I may have an Almost Empty nest, but I'm still raising these kids. And it's enough.

Please don't misunderstand me. Every effort to better our community, our world, is worth it. But for myself, I need to not get caught up in the comparison game or I start to think there has to be more and I lose my focus on what is.

There's a scene in the movie As Good As It Gets where Jack Nicholson's character stops in the waiting room at his therapists' office. He looks around at everyone and says, "What if this is as good as it gets?" Great movie. Great line. But it's not what I'm talking about.

I'm not talking about a ho-hum existence that's wrapped up in only things about myself. I'm talking about embracing what God has put in my life right now, throw my energy and resources into that, instead of always thinking I should be doing more. Something different.

There is no more. If I'm honest with myself, I don't need more. But the incorrect tapes in my head say otherwise. They say I could volunteer here or give more of my time there. Why?  I know deep down that all I'm doing is enough, but why won't I believe it? Embrace it?

It's time to re-program the tapes in my head with truth.
It's not about me. "If I sink hard into God, he will buoy my soul on top of the water."

I won't always be doing the same thing. (My nest will empty) "I don't believe there is one great thing I was made to do in this world. I believe there is one great God I was made to glorify." 

Be myself. Right now. Right where I am. "I can't imagine anything more dangerous to the enemy of our hearts than people who know who they are."

That last line gives me chills. I want to know who I am in Christ. I want to be that person. I want to get up each day and live for him, knowing that I can make a difference in this world for Him in a million little ways.

What about you? What is the "more" in your life you'd like to let go of? Or what do you love about your day that you want to embrace more?

*All quotes are from Emily's book. :)