It’s funny how quickly things change. Take my sadness over my girls’ dual departures for boarding school and college last fall. We went from a bustling household of homework, free flowing snacks, and constant carpooling, to a quiet, empty—and tidy—house. For weeks, I fought off the tears, bemoaning how quickly it goes from crib to college But as an older friend told me, “You get used to it pretty fast. And, let me tell you, it’s not so bad.” She was right. It wasn't so bad.
Well, guess what? The chicks are back in the nest for the summer. And guess what? The nest is a mess. Perhaps it has been messier, but with the girls gone, clothes were actually put away—in actual drawers. Closed drawers.
Imagine walking into a room and seeing the drawers closed. Or closed cabinets. Yeah, I’m trying to imagine that.
“Peyton, please pick up your towels,” I say, as if on a loop.
“Katherine, please don’t leave your shoes in the kitchen.”
“Peyton, please put the dishes in the dishwasher,” I say, adding, “and close the dishwasher door.”
You’d think closing a dishwasher door would be as automatic as the dishwasher itself? Does something happen in college where students learn everything but how to close things? Or clean up after themselves?
Hmmm, I think I’ll get a snack and leave every kitchen cabinet open. I mean, you never know when I’ll need another pita chip. I might as well leave the door open for easy access.
Or, let’s bake chocolate chip cookies and leave at least four pans in the sink for Mom to scrub. She particularly loves the glass measuring cup with the congealed melted butter on the sides.
And then there are the clothes. My clothes—and shoes. Last week Peyton sent me a text about not being able to find shoes for work. When I told her she would most likely find her navy wedges under the wet towel she left on her bedroom floor, she texted an enthusiastic response: “Nevermind. Wearing your new ones. They are so comfortable!! I love them!! I’ve already gotten two compliments!!”
Good to know. I’m sure I will find out how comfortable my new shoes are when I get a chance to wear them.
Will I cry again when they leave in late August, leaving closed cabinets behind? Probably. After all, my house won’t be back to normal. It will just be clean.
It’s funny how quickly things change.
I’ve been dreading turning 50. I knew I was scraping rock bottom when I shelled out $131.82 for Cindy Crawford’s “Meaningful Beauty” skin care line after watching an informercial. Yes, an informercial. Somehow, I identified with Cindy because, well, she turned 50 this year. Of course, that’s about the only thing we have in common.
I hate to admit it, but face cream has become a bit of an obsession. I poll pretty much every woman of a certain age, ignoring the overly injected ones. In the end, I know it comes down to using sunscreen, slathering on moisturizer, drinking plenty of water, and good genes.
But more than that, meaningful beauty comes from the inside, not a face cream. It’s about living a meaningful life—and having fun.
My parents are the best role models I know for what it takes to live fun, meaningful lives. My mother’s career as an artist took off in earnest in her 50s, and continues to thrive. Now in her late 70s, she is coming off the heels of a museum retrospective, with work constantly selling in galleries. When she turned 50, she took up French and started going to France to paint in the summers. And she did this on top of volunteering as an art teacher in a women’s prison and raising three unruly teenagers.
At nearly 85, my father is still working as an environmentalist and dabbling in politics. He also can shoot under his age in golf! And like my mother, he loves to sing and dance, a genetic trait that has been passed down to me and now my children.
On a recent visit to see my parents with my teenage girls, we all ended up dancing in the living room after dinner. At one point, Frank Sinatra’s “Young at Heart” came on. Dad sang along and I was struck by the poignancy of the moment.
“Fairy tales can come true
It can happen to you when you’re young at heart
For it’s hard, you will find
To be narrow of mind if you’re young at heart….”
So as I end one decade and begin another, I will probably continue worrying about skincare and looking my best. My vanity runs pretty deep, after all. But I will also keep this song and this scene in mind: Dad and the girls laughing and singing in the living room, with Mom twirling about like a teenager in between them. It’s a reminder to be grateful and notice what we have right now. And to be open and hopeful for what is to come.
“And if you should survive to a hundred and five
Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive
And here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart.”
There’s no more “meaningful beauty” than that—at any age.
I love most Christmas carols, particularly if they are sung by Ella Fitzgerald. But “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is the most annoying song of the year. Depending on my mood, this song just seems like a slap in the face. Actually, it makes me want to slap someone in the face. This time of year is not always the most wonderful.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Trust me, I know how lucky I am. Though divorced, I have two healthy kids, healthy parents, a house, “the most wonderful” dog. I am, as is so often hashtagged, “blessed.”
But sometimes, even when we are #blessed, a funk sets in. And frankly, you feel a little lonely—even if you’re not alone.
As a first time empty-nester, I felt a little (okay, a lot) sorry for myself getting our Christmas tree alone. Like anything, the hype is bigger than the actual process of picking a tree. It’s really not as big a deal as I made it out to be. The whole shebang took less than an hour. I drove up to the lot, parked my car, hopped out and went straight to the one I wanted: a seven-foot, narrow Fraser Fir that would fit perfectly in the dining room, giving us enough room to pull chairs around the table without getting impaled by a branch.
Driving home with the Christmas tree stuffed in the back of the station wagon I flipped on the radio. Oozing through the speakers was that “most wonderful” song, that “hap, happiest” song. Was this a cosmic joke? This was most certainly not the song I wanted to hear. I turned off the radio and began humming the song that matched my mood: America’s “This is for all the lonely people.”
Who doesn’t love everything by America, particularly when you are throwing a pity party for one?
This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up
Until you drink from the silver cup
You never know until you try
I realized how ridiculous I was being, complaining about being alone while passing a homeless man shuffling his way up Wisconsin Avenue, wrapped in a gray blanket that wasn’t even a blanket, but a scratchy carpet pad. I’m feeling sad about buying a Christmas tree alone when so many people A) can’t afford a tree, or B) don’t have a home—let alone, a room—for one?
And full disclosure: my boyfriend had offered to help me with the tree, but I secretly wanted to go it alone so I could maintain my I-am-woman-hear-me-roar mode. Was I intentionally being a martyr? Even my ex-husband kindly offered to help. But it was as if I had something to prove. I can do this by myself. I really don’t need help from anyone—children or men. Though I was grateful Angus was around for moral support. The dog, I do need. That’s not debatable.
After parking on P Street, I half-carried, half-dragged the tree across the street and up the few stairs to my house. I pulled it through the doorway, positioning it on its side in the corner of the dining room. I decided it would be easier to attach the stand to the sawed-off trunk before standing it upright. And then a Christmas miracle occurred. I pushed the tree upward and it stayed. The tree stood there like a soldier standing at attention. No Leaning Tower of Pisa. No swaying. It seemed to be calling out to me, “What are you staring at? String on the lights and let’s get on with it.” It was an easy as that.
That’s when my own little lightbulb turned on. I no longer felt lonely. I felt empowered. And grateful my girls would soon be home to help with the decorating.
Of course, I don’t need a song to tell me how “wonderful” that is.