Empty Nester

Today is part two of a three part series featuring the other members of my writing group.

Frank is the oldest member of our group. He has often had to sit around and hear the rest of us talking about our young children. He enriches our group through his wealth of life experiences and dry wit.

Frank is a certified financial planner in Roseland, NJ. His interests include Jewish studies, sports, and investing.

My wife and I are living at home alone for the first time in almost thirty years. OK, our little shitzu keeps us company, but I’m referring to real live human beings, namely children. The kids have come and gone over the past ten years, only to return home for an affordable and comfortable place to stay, but this time I think it’s the real thing. Last week, my 26 year –old daughter, Shula, moved to Israel to start a new life after going through a difficult divorce and moving back home for a year. My 24 year-old son, Manny, got married last month, and he moved into an apartment with his wife. And my 28 year-old musician son has been mostly out for the past ten years, but he came back for almost a year until he moved out again a few months ago. I guess you could now call us “empty nesters,” but the banality of the term leaves me cold. I’m searching for a better definition that, ah, really hits home.

The first thing that struck me this past Presidents’ Day weekend was how quiet the house was. The Ipod and Ipad music, the phone calls, the electric guitar, silent. The joking, the screaming, the long showers, the creaking of the steps according to each kid’s unique rhythm, silent. The wind howled outside and the cold pierced the thin 100 year-old walls of our five bedroom colonial house. The pipes wooshed as the hot water heater automatically refilled. My wife snored as she took an afternoon nap, the dog by her side, lonely and defeated. I wandered from room to room as the dim afternoon light faded. Pictures hung on the wall like sentinels frozen in time.

Meanwhile, my wife wakes up from her nap. “Wanna go to a movie?” she asks.


Looks like we’re going to spend more time together. I’m a little concerned.  After all, despite the fact that we haven’t exactly been babysitting for many years, even an adult child lends some diversion. I’m comfortable with moderate doses of intimacy. Of course I won’t tell my wife that the long weekend is weighing heavily on my mind. But we’ve already tossed back and forth a few “empty nester” jokes. So we agree to go see “Lincoln.” I notice that the theatre seems to be filled with fellow ENs. Hey, this might not be too bad. We are transported to the Civil War era for a couple of hours and agree that Spielberg hasn’t lost his touch.

We drive home without talking much. My wife wants to stop at some type of home furnishing store in the mall, but when she sees me squirm, she relents. I guess her hopes of a husband released from the shackles of active parenthood and willing to go shopping have been dashed. Some things never change.

We enter the house, half expecting to find somebody home, but only the dog is waiting. I run upstairs to catch some sports. Oh, I forgot, the NBA All-Star Game! My younger son and I have been watching together ever since he was six. The pre-game show features former stars like Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal discussing the greatest dunkers of all time. A clip comes on with Chris Webber interviewing Bill Russell, one of the greats from my childhood. My wife enters the room.

“You have a game?” she asks.

“Yeah, the All-Star Game.”

“Oh, maybe Manny will come to watch with you.”

My phone bings. A text message.

“What’s that sound?” my wife asks.

A text.

“Who is it?”

“Awesome interview on TNT”, the text says. “C-webb interviewing Russell. Russell is really an interesting person. Awesome interview.”

“Who else”? I reply.

Something tells me that this will turn out OK.


A Quest for Zero

It’s a long weekend.  I do love the Presidents. I’m sure many of you planned to go away for a few days, or maybe catch up on sleep, or spend quality time with friends, or handle something that you have been putting off. Me? I am on a quest for zero!

I am an organized person. Some might say compulsive.  They have not met my wife. Yes, we are an organized duo.  Anyway, I believe in drawers and closets.  A brilliant invention they were. (My wife is more of a “throw it away” person but this is not really about her.)

You see, I’m as a sentimental as the next guy. I have stuff that I want to keep (George Carlin had a great bit on stuff – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac) but that does not mean it has to be scattered all over the place. Organization, neatness. Just saying these words brings me a sense of tranquility.

I get approximately 125 emails a day to my personal account. Truthfully, I never counted, but this seems right. Now, the majority of it is junk. SIDE NOTE: As children we were happy to get mail. Right? Now, it is mostly junk. Ten years ago, we were happy to get email. Now, it’s mostly junk. Prediction, soon, we will be saying the same text messages. Back to the point. While a good chunk of my email is junk, there are still plenty of emails which I feel a need to read and some of it needs to be read carefully and requires a thoughtful response.

With email there is an efficiency. You type it, you send it, and it’s received.  It is meant to be quick and an entire exchange can occur in just moments.

Now, some emails require me to ruminate. They are not of the yes/no, chocolate/vanilla, pizza/macaroni & cheese variety. In fact, sometimes I prefer to let an email sit in my inbox for a day, so I can truly consider my response whether it be of the thoughtful, heartfelt, or encouraging kind. I like to get the words as close as possible to the sentiment I am feeling.

Currently, I have 14 emails in my in inbox. Some have been there for months. The emails vary but generally, they are not of the type that I must respond to. Instead, most of them have information which I find practical and turn to with some regularity. So, I have kept them in my inbox. However, I am tired of seeing them there.

What, dare I dream, would it be like to have zero emails in my inbox? It’s the email version of a spotless house, a clear desk, a clutter-free mind. It’s the holy grail of organization. If it were an object, Indiana Jones would have gone searching for it.

Now, I recognize that this state of perfection may not last long as I get many emails a day. Still, zero is a goal worth having. Full disclosure — I have checked my email three times since I started writing this.

Anyway, I am a quest for zero. Those emails which I don’t really need? Delete. For the others, I have folders – emails version of closets. I can do it. I can get organized. While I would be happy to read your response to this post, just know the response won’t stay in my inbox long.

The Aftermath

It’s Friday and I am fortunate to have another guest blogger. My guest today is Penney whose blog authenticlifejourneys.com centers on her life as a working mom. She is a divorcee and raising her son Jake on her own.

Journey on her blog for a little while and you will discover her inner weirdness. I have enjoyed a number of journeys on Penney’s blog. I especially like those posts that focus on her sports obsessed son. I have found that he and my son have much in common (sports obsession is not one of them.

For those interested in learning more about Penney’s professional services, check out her website – www.innersocialmedianess.com site

It seems that enough time has passed since the tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that the feelings wouldn’t still be so raw. However my emotions remain frayed. I can’t seem to get past this tragic event. I continue to feel the aftermath of what happened in that tiny town.

Before the shootings occurred, there were some days when I felt like Bill Bixby from the old TV show The Hulk. When my 9 year-old son wouldn’t listen, I would repeat myself to the point where I would end up screaming to get his attention. There were many days when I would say under my breath, “Don’t make me mad. You wouldn’t like me when I’m mad.” The situation would escalate from there.

I never laid a hand on my son but boy could I yell. After the yellingfest ended, the guilt would set in. I promised myself that I would work on my behavior. But within days, something would set me off again, and I would yell. I felt terrible for reacting that way towards my son. “What are you teaching him? What is he learning from this behavior?” I wondered.

I tell you what he learned. He learned how to yell back at me.

So, while in the end, I always got what I asked for, I paid a cost. Was it worth it to feel this guilt to make sure he stopped messing around in the shower or finished his homework?

But then came the Sandy Hook Tragedy

I cried for days after it happened and was shaken to my core. I felt pain for the loss of children I didn’t know. I had to stop listening to the news. I couldn’t look at the pictures of those sweet innocent children who were just 3 years younger than my own son. And when I looked at my son, I could feel the tears starting to swell up in my eyes. My nose would start to twitch with that familiar feeling of a big cry coming on.

About two weeks after the incident, something inside of me snapped. I took a good look at my behavior and how I was reacting towards my son.

We were spending a Saturday together at a busy park, and my son was trying to get my attention. I can’t remember what I was trying to do, but my son was trying to grab my arm to hold my hand. I kept swatting him away while I was doing whatever it was that was so important at the time.

And then came the aftermath. I thought about those Sandy Hook parents. How many of those parents acted like this before they dropped their kids off to school that day? How many of those parents wish they had their kids trying to get their attention?

I could feel my nose twitch and the tears coming up. I stopped whatever it was I was doing, and I reached for his hand.

That was the day things changed in our house.

No, that moment has not turned me into a perfect parent. I still get mad and feel like The Hulk. However, now I remove myself from the room to cool myself down before I say something I’ll regret later. And if I do find myself yelling at my son, I do my best to apologize to him immediately for my behavior.

I have come to understand the effects the Sandy Hook tragedy had on me. It’s like the father from the Expedia travel commercial said “… and in that moment I realized … that’s my boy … this is my life and I’ve only got one of each.”


Not Routine

Yes, I know it’s Valentine’s Day and so I am supposed to be romantic. However, I am not into this holiday – never have been. I don’t like being instructed on how I should behave/act because of the calendar. My wife is not so into the holiday either though she would never turn down flowers.

I want a quiet day. I need a quiet day. And I am sure wife shares my sentiment.

You know when you lose something and you are desperate to get it back? Maybe you lost your keys, or wallet, or phone, etc. Sure, it would be a pain in the ass and an unwanted expense to have to replace these items. However, ultimately, it is simply a pain, and there are no long-lasting effects. Yet if you find these items, you feel so lucky. You promise yourself you will maintain your newfound appreciating for the mundane. And you do. For a few days. Then, you slip back into normal.

Do you know how when things get crazy, you long for normal? You, or your spouse, or your children or everyone has been sick for a few days. Or the house is getting painted and everything is out of order. Or you have a project at work that is necessitating extra hours/stress. You have something like this going on and you long to be back in your normal routine.

That is where I am today. I armed myself with soda and chocolate to ensure my strength and energy. It’s days like these that I wish I sat in a cubicle and I stared at a computer all day. I would have been happy to have a slow day at work where I could have zoned out a bit.

Not the case.

Anyway, I am thrilled that my last class has ended, and I was relatively effective. The students may have learned something and no one got hurt. No huge goals or accomplishments.

There’s stuff going on with my older son’s school. If I was true to my blogger/writing self, I would provide details, but I don’t feel like sharing. I’m not in the mood. Maybe in the future.

My son is clearly bothered. He crawled into our bed last night. My night of sleep which began after 12 a.m. ended at 3:30 a.m. My wife is frustrated and angry. Me, well, I am longing for the routine and for everything to be fine. I want to hear my son’s typical monosyllabic replies to my question of, “How’s school?” And I want to believe his reply.

So, I hope you are enjoying this Valentine’s Day however you want to. May it be a normal day for you. Enjoy your routine.