This morning, I took a walk. With a heavy heart of shame, embarrassment, and sadness, — shared by half of my country — I needed to feel the sunshine, the brisk November air, see the trees, hear the birds. And I had a talk with myself: Choose love. Choose to rise above bigotry, injustice, hatred, and judgement. Choose love, courage, and gratitude with every breath, every step, every action, and every word. Today and each day. Choose love.
Come, my spirit,
we’ve been to dark places that seem to be the end.
Come, see the red-gold flutter of trees
against a blue enamel sky.
Come, hear the solid thunk-thunk of a woodpecker
searching; the crispy crunch of leaves shed
like so much dead skin.
Come, smell the spice of just cut grass.
Come, feel the cool breeze that sends
a quiver of living across your cheek.
The house is quiet. Now. It wasn’t yesterday. It hasn’t been for the last few weeks. But today, I’d like to say we are officially “empty nesters”. Is this a permanent state? I have no idea! I used to think that this would happen one day and I’d be done — free to move on. But I’ve learned it’s not that simple. Is this just my personal soap opera or does it reflect a societal shift in this current climate of overwhelming student-loan debt and high housing costs? In many cultures, multi-generational homes are the norm. We, as a society of independent, fast-paced, tech-dependent, and perhaps overly self-centered people, expect to reach and maintain this plateau of an empty nest as our deserved reward for parenting well done. But, is it a realistic expectation? I think not.
Five years ago, on Labor Day 2011, we dropped off daughter #3 (kid#4) for her freshman year of college. Our middle daughter (kid #3) had already left for Australia for a semester abroad. Our oldest daughter (kid #2) was working at a publishing company in Manhatten and so was living several hours away. The house was quiet. Five days later, our son (kid #1) broke up with his girlfriend and moved back home.
College kids have a way of traipsing home for the summer, for school breaks, and even for long weekends when they need the solitude and security of their old bedrooms. If there are no other kids still living at home then parents can get a small taste of an “empty nest” while they’re at school. But, it doesn’t last; they do come home.
In 2013, I remember posting a Facebook status that read something like: “It’s 10pm, do you know where your children are? I do. They’re all upstairs.” Kids #3 and #4 were home from college on winter break. Kid #2 had recently moved back from New York and was job hunting. Kid #1 was still here.
In 2014, kid #3, who had graduated from college in 2013, found a job and moved out, then relocated to San Fransisco. Kid #2, who had gotten a job and moved out, got married. Kid #4 was finishing up college, while kid #1 found an apartment with friends and moved out. Again.
In 2015, kid #4 graduated from college and moved home. She spent a year or so pursuing theater jobs which were more contract work than steady income. She switched gears this year to find something permanent in order to fulfill a promise to share an apartment with a college friend who wanted to move to this area for his graduate studies. With a little parental help, in the past month, she has signed a lease and accepted a full-time job. She has moved out.
Meanwhile, kid #3 moved back from San Fransisco with her fiance to a temporary living situation nearby. An unexpected creepy-crawly problem (I’ll say no more) prompted them to move in here while hurriedly searching for a new apartment. They found one, signed a lease, and started packing.
As it turned out, at the same time, kid #1 was coming to the end of his lease and was done living in a tiny room in an old house with his friends. He and his girlfriend were ready for their own place. They found one. There was only a single small glitch: the new lease began four days after the old lease ended. They (and ALL their stuff) needed a place to stay, temporarily.
Yesterday, in the muggy heat of this strange New England summer, we packed up a UHaul truck and the back of my minivan and moved them out of our house and into their new apartment. Whew! Kid #3 and her fiance left this morning to sort out what had been moved to their new apartment so far, to get their gas and hot water turned on, and to presumably start living there.
So, I repeat: the house is quiet. Now.
Will it last? I have no idea!
Three down and none to go. No…I’m not checking things off my to-do list. Nor my bucket list. Nor any other list for that matter. Instead, I’m coming to terms with the death of our third cat, Leo.
Pets have a way of worming into our hearts and becoming ingrained in the rhythm of our lives. And that rhythm changes when they leave us. It takes some getting used to. Leo came to us only five years ago, when he was thirteen years old, adopted from a friend who was moving out of state. In the five years since, we’ve lost our other two cats, while each of our four children has moved in and out (and in and out). Leo lived through it all. His passing leaves a hole. We’re on the brink of being empty-nesters and, for the first time in twenty-two years, we are pet-less. I have mixed emotions. Kittens are so darn cute and it’s tempting to fill the void. But we’ll forego another cat adoption for now. We need some pet-free living for a while.
When I brought Leo to the vet for the last time, I didn’t expect to feel sad. He’d been in a lot of pain and it had become a real chore to take care of (and clean up after) him everyday. After I buried him, I didn’t expect to miss him. I only expected giddy relief at not having to clean up puddles of cat urine any more. But I am sad. There’s an emptiness here. At eighteen years old, Leo suffered from dementia on top of arthritis and thyroid disease. Today, when I don’t see him sleeping in his favorite spot, my first thought is, where did he wander off to now! I still expect to hear him meowing at the bottom of the cellar stairs, asking to be carried back up. I woke up this morning with an odd feeling because I didn’t need to hurry downstairs to see how he fared overnight and to administer his morning meds. And something feels very wrong with leaving the cellar door closed all day. It’s been left open for twenty two years to allow the cats access to their food dishes and litter boxes. Change isn’t easy.
He barely survived another month after Leo joined the family.
Gir was only a few years old then. She came to us via our son who rescued her off the streets of the city he was living in. He then ended up moving back home with us for a while. My son moved out, but the cat stayed.
She was a quirky little thing and we never really knew how old she was. Last August, she seemed “off”, but without running a bunch of expensive tests, the vet couldn’t find anything obviously wrong with her. We took a wait-and-see kind of approach. She went downhill in a matter of days and was gone in early September.
So now we are cat-less. Now, I can vacuum up the cat fur, rip up the cellar rug that smells of cat urine and odor-cleaner, dump the litter box for good, and close the cellar door. Now, I can go on vacation without worrying about who will take care of my cats. Now, I can slowly adjust the daily rhythm of my life and maybe miss them a little less each day.
Last year, my husband and I travelled to the Burlington, Vermont area for a week. You can read all about it in Biking, Birding, and Brews. This year, we went back to the same area again. I considered calling this entry “Second Annual Biking, Birding, and Brews”, but even though we did mount the bikes atop the Subaru again, we didn’t ride this time. And our birding adventures were carefully planned around beer delivery times. So, really, let’s call this four-night trip a thinly disguised beer run. I’m not complaining, mind you. (If I feel the need to say that, does it mean I actually am complaining? Hmm.) Anyway…I did get a chair out of the deal! Stay with me here…
We arrived in Burlington just before dinner on a Saturday and serendipitously (gotta love that word!) met our nephew and his girlfriend in our hotel parking lot. Their brewery tour van was delivering guests to our hotel before bringing them to their hotel. We made dinner plans for the Farm House Tap & Grill. Once there, I enjoyed a delicious piece of salmon while my husband savored Hill Farmstead’s “Edward” on tap. 🙂 Our nephew described all the spots they’d visited on their brewery tour and recommended Zero Gravity Brewery. Of course, we dutifully checked it out the very next day…
Church Street in downtown Burlington is lined with small shops that range from chain stores to novelty, one-of-a-kind places. After our late dinner, most of them were closed. I remembered being disappointed by that fact last year, too. So, we peered into a few windows on Saturday night and vowed to come earlier on Sunday so that we could actually browse in the shops. Which we did.
In Ten Thousand Villages, I found a chair. I was first attracted by its colorful woven fabric which turned out to be recycled saris. But when I sat in it, I fell in love! I stand a whole five feet tall, so a chair small enough to allow my feet (not just my toes) to reach the floor is special. And the front edge of the seat curved downward rather than cutting into the back of my knees. A rare quality! The price seemed a bit high, but my husband suggested it would look great in my “meditation room”. The room he was referring to is my spare bedroom/ sewing room/ craft room that I also use for meditating. I’d painted the room “spring leaf” green several years ago — a bright green that makes me smile every time I see it. And my husband was right: the chair would be perfect in that room!
There was only one problem: the Subaru was full of beer coolers and bike tires and we needed room for our backpacks and suitcase, as well. There was no room for a chair. Could we make room? We weren’t so sure. Ten Thousand Villages has stores in other locations a lot closer to home, but even if one of those had a similar chair in stock, chances were the colors would be different. I really wanted this one. I think the clerks were as sad as I was when we left the store. But we had a few days to figure something out.
The cool, wet weather of Saturday and Sunday gave way to warmer sunshine for the beginning of the week. We scored several cases of Heady Topper
from Route 7 Liquors, the Beverage Warehouse in Winooski, City Market Onion River Co-op in Burlington, and even a local gas station. We also picked up some Lawson’s Super Session #2. The coolers were filling up. But the outlook for chair-purchasing was bleak.
We visited the Ethan Allen Homestead two days in a row for some early morning, pre-beer-delivery birdwatching. We heard more birds than we saw, but the trail was pleasant.
We did see the usual sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, woodpeckers, goldfinches, robins, nuthatches, and even a lone mallard floating in the swamp. We also spied the back end of a deer that was snacking on swamp grass and a colorful frog attempting to hide near the path. It was hard (for me) to leave all the wildlife behind to go stand in line for beer, but that was the deal. Meanwhile, I found myself brooding over the chair…
We spent a few hours one day hiking a 4.5 mile trail around Shelburne Farms. The trail started behind the farm’s street-front country store, and led us back over a hill to the farmhouses hidden from view, through the woods behind the farmhouses, and along a mowed path through the fields, stretching to the edge of Lake Champlain.
The views were breathtaking!
We met a few people along the way, but not many. We spied a few birds, sheep, donkeys, chickens, and goats, too. But mostly just the two of us walked through the expansive fields under the huge sky together. It almost took my mind completely off the chair. 🙂
On Tuesday, we knew we’d be checking out of our hotel the next morning. It was our last chance to figure out if we could fit the chair in the car. Maybe we could squeeze the large suitcase on top of the bigger cooler, which was already full of beer. I was willing to move my passenger seat forward and upright. Heck, I’d carry stuff on my lap, too, if it meant we could maneuver a chair in behind me.
We drove into downtown Burlington one last time. I carry a small tape measure in my purse which comes in handy every once in a while. So, we measured the space we’d made in the car, parked a block away, fed the meter, and headed to the store. When I saw the chair again, I almost laughed. It looked so small! It had grown bigger in our minds as we tried to imagine stuffing it into our cooler-laden vehicle! A different clerk greeted us and asked if we were the ones that the whole staff had been talking about and were hoping would come back for the chair! We were. She invited us to drive up to the back door and actually try to fit it into the car. If it fit, then we could buy it! And guess what??? It fit!
On Wednesday morning, we packed up the car, carefully storing smaller bags under and around the chair. I was so thrilled to have my chair that I hardly minded spending most of the day in the car. First, we drove northeast to Hill Farmstead in Greensboro for the limited release of Damon (an imperial stout named after a dog). Then we drove several hours south to Treehouse Brewery in Monson, MA for some Alter Ego and Green. Finally, another couple of hours brought us home. And at the end of the day, my chair was home, too. 🙂
In the past week, my life has been touched by two deaths. The first was a 93 year old woman who had lived a long, beautiful life, as attested to by her six children. The second was a 57 year old man whose body had been ravaged by cancer and whose children are the same ages as mine. We’ve all felt the loss of loved ones. If we’re lucky, we hold onto their smiles in photographs. If we’re blessed, we hold onto their smiles in our mind’s eye. These recent losses prompted this poem:
Your smile is a bird
perched on the porch railing
peering in my window —
our eyes meet
outside of time
and then it flies
perhaps to where
it most belongs
and I am left