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Grace and Johnny in Paris

 

I have decided not to call myself an “empty nester.” You see, I have chosen to view my nest as “half-full.” Literally, with two people gone (23 year-old Johnny and 21 year-old Grace) and two remaining (Steve and myself) I can accurately describe my nest as “half-full.”

I choose to see my stage of life from an abundance mentality (half-full) rather than a scarcity mentality (half-empty). This may seem like a matter of semantics, but to me, this distinction makes all the difference in the world. It is the difference between feeling that something is lacking to one that appreciates that much is happening.

To be sure, I miss my children with a sweet, hard sorrow. But, I treasure the experience of watching them become – even if it is most often from a distance. Yes, I wish I was more woven into their daily lives and experiences rather than being the landing zone for the holiday/in-between times. Note to children: CALL YOUR MOTHER!

But I appreciate what I have, and choose to focus on it, rather than what I lack. And I will trust that my children are maintaining the distance they need to “differentiate” (a hefty psychological term meaning to become one’s own separate and unique person). I want them to have a core certainty that they have become their own selves – not merely images of their parents design.

How do I accept this separateness from the two beings that emerged from my own body, whom I nursed at my own breast? I have my faith, my trust, my optimism, my memories, and my rituals.

Steve is often traveling or working long hours. Of late, I have enjoyed an end-of-the-day practice. After work, coming home to a vacant house (except for the eternally generous welcome from our Yellow Lab Winston) I pour myself a glass of wine. I climb the newly carpeted stairs, walk down the hallway, and sit for a bit in Johnny’s room and then Grace’s room.

The rooms are now cleaner, sparer, clutter-free, and lacking the lively chaos and material signs of the mercurial moods of adolescence. But to me, these rooms are alive with memories. I celebrate this through pictures and amulets from Johnny and Grace’s many activities and accomplishments. Some might call them shrines, but as a mother, I feel entitled to my sentimentality.

I sit in each room, decorated by pictures commemorating their lives. Each one tells a story and generates lovely memories. These pictures showcase highlights of our years together and their emerging selves. For each child I have selected a poem that speaks to my feelings for them as they grow into adulthood. I look at the pictures, and re-read the poem chosen for Johnny and Grace.

I sit a while, tired from the day’s work. I am glad to be in a quiet, serene, and clean house. I sip my wine. I look around the room and remember the often wonderful and sometimes difficult times we had as they grew up, and I read the poem celebrating each of them.

I cry a bit and smile a bit. I feel gratitude and love. And lots of hope … for who they are and what they bring to the world. Alive, free, loved, and out on their own. And I feel, in my half-fullness: resolute, expectant, proud, and most of all, curious …

I wonder, what’s next?

 

A Poem for Grace:

THE GROWNUP  by Rainer Maria Rilke

Grace at “World Youth Day” in Rio De Janeiro

All this stood upon her and was the world
and stood upon her with all its fear and grace
as trees stand, growing straight up, imageless
yet wholly image, like the Ark of God,
and solemn, as if imposed upon a race.

As she endured it all: bore up under
the swift-as-flight, the fleeting, the far-gone,
the inconceivably vast, the still-to-learn,
serenely as a woman carrying water
moves with a full jug. Till in the midst of play,
transfiguring and preparing for the future,
the first white veil descended, gliding softly

over her opened face, almost opaque there,
never to be lifted off again, and somehow
giving to all her questions just one answer:
In you, who were a child once-in you.

 

A poem for Johnny:

ENTERING THE KINGDOM by Mary Karr

As the boys bones lengthened,
and his head and heart enlarged,
his mother one day failed

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Johnny in Argentina

to see herself in him.
He was a man then, radiating
the innate loneliness of men.

His expression was ever after
beyond her. When near sleep
his features eased towards childhood,

it was brief.
She could only squeeze
his broad shoulder. What could

she teach him
of loss, who now inflicted it
by entering the kingdom

of his own will?