Empty Nest Syndrome in the Baja

Thomas and Stacey in Swans, Dec 2012
Thomas and Stacey in Swans, Dec 2012

I had a great supper with Thomas – my youngest son – and his girlfriend and her parents at Swans.  I had a fantastic evening… Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

All this feeling relaxed and safe and comfortable is when my vulnerable thoughts sneak out to play. Yikes…

One by one, the words ’empty nest syndrome’ slipped into my mind. Not being quite ready to face them at that moment, I pushed them away and distracted myself – dancing and home decorating. That week, these words – empty nest syndrome – popped back into my head over and over.

Mom and Carl, December 2012
Mom and Carl, December 2012

I believe that every one of us has a ‘survivor’ in the oldest part of our brain, designed to protect us in whatever way it deems best. That we may not be in conscious control is scary.

My ‘survivor’s’ way of dealing with anything difficult, ever since I was very young, has always been to deny it off the bat… Or to deal with it in little pieces by facing it only for a moment and then distracting myself.  Often this looks like complete – and even over – confidence. Or dismissal. My ‘survivor’ ‘changes the subject’ in my mind, as it were, and intersperses fear or the blues with confidence and optimism and cheerfulness. (Like parts of this blog?!…)

Bit by bit, when it’s emotionally safe for me,  I face whatever it is I have to. This is my way of surviving… Everyone has their own similar but unique way to coping.

This whole two weeks was a pre-Christmas whirl of dancing and connecting, with friends and clients. Great! I had a busy time and achieved everything on my list of to-dos…

And yet…

I found myself having to resist the urge to call or visit my son ‘too often’. I threw myself into helping my hostess – thank you so much for having me!  We found and collected some great furniture and antiques and a large Christmas tree and generally beautified her new apartment.

It took me a while to realize that my decorating was also a cover-up and a distraction. More and more, as my survivor gained confidence,  I thought of the past and reminisced my days as a young parent. Moments of melancholy snuck in…

I was experiencing some empty nest syndrome.  Of course.

The little boy I tucked in every night, despite his complaints of ‘excess voice’…  And who later dragged his duvet and pillow into my bedroom every night, insisting, quietly, on sleeping on the floor next to me, is a very precious memory. The baby with wonderful-smelling skin and hair like dark silk, whose navy blue eyes gazed deep into my soul is now a young man.

All grown up.

It seems like just yesterday that he was snuggling into my arms, his little fists slowly unclenching and his body getting warmer and heavier as he fell asleep.

I’d been distracted (my clever brain?!) by his difficult teen years with loud music (I learned to love Tupac!) and breaking the rules (yes! I hate rules myself…)  I thought I wanted to be alone?!  Or so my survivor brain had me thinking.

Now there is no more distraction. Part of me feels sad and clinging to the past.  I know where those feelings come from and I can gently encourage myself to move on and explore this fabulous life.

I know how important and hard it is for a young adult to pull away from his childhood home and the last thing I want to do is to make it harder.

Somewhere in my mind I also remember it’s not easy for a mother either…

Mother and son in Nice, 1998
Mother and son in Nice, 1998

As a parent, watching all my sons grow has been an honour and immensely gratifying.  Not least of all, this youngest son of mine.

This moment in time feels so much bigger than just a moment?   It feels momentous.  And hard.  The end of part of me: the Mommy part of me.  For most of my life it’s been all of me. Now I need to gather strength for myself  –  I have seen strength there for others… And grow into middle adulthood.

How?

As with every change, one step at a time. It’ll be good. I must connect my unconscious mind to my conscious mind. When I’m feeling fragile and scared I must remind myself of all the strong things I have done in the past. I must be gentle with myself: gentle but firm.

Mind MedicineCreating my own distraction – with travelling and writing – was a lucky thing. Or maybe it was my clever survivor brain again, guiding me? I have a feeling that our brains take very good care of us and do far more than we’ll ever realize. I think in their well-meaning, they may rob us of opportunity too… If we’re not careful?

Along with growing into my new post-child life comes reminiscing and exploring and re-examining everything I’ve done and experienced over the years. I want to keep the parts of me I like and discard – work on and change – the rest and I wondered why I had brought all my photos and music CDs along with me in my motorhome!

CrossIron Mall, Calgary, Christmas 2012
CrossIron Mall, Calgary, Christmas 2012

This whole ‘Christmas’ thing is entwined with my melancholy? ‘The economy mirrors my own desire. Which as well as being a time for celebration is also ‘winter’ and the year-end of my being an active ‘mother’.  Over the years I have grown to dislike the whole Christmas season. Why?

When I drove downtown in Victoria, hoping to find a clue and looking at the Christmas lights, the stores were almost empty? And last month in Calgary I was able to visit Cross-Iron mall, all dressed up for Christmas, without being jostled by crowds. This feels like a big change from years gone by when I remember crowds and frantic shopping?  Somehow this feels more comfortable? Maybe this is the coming of a gentler and fairer Christmas, easier for young parents?

Another serious - and wonderful - little girl...
Another serious  little girl who reminds me so much of me…

Somehow, over the years, Christmas became a time for me to buy and wrap like crazy and concentrate on the commercial? Big meals; lots of gifts, looking after guests and paying the horrendous bill afterwards. Faster and faster I found myself spinning, stores seizing the opportunity to capitalize on my natural desire to give to those I love. I lost the ‘me’ during that time. Completely. I felt like a slave. Now it’s like I’m thawing and starting to find joy and beauty in parts of Christmas again. Thank goodness…

There’s more… I was a very serious little girl, often sitting with the adults rather than playing with their kids. At a young age I was aware of the insanity of constantly increasing wages, inflation, population, healthcare and standards (and costs) of living. I was very much aware of sustainability and I worried how the world could possibly sustain a continual increase?  It was a heavy burden for an 8-year-old.

Was it true that riches in the west were paid for dearly in developing countries? I had heard this several times. It horrified me that my comfort may be on the back of someone’s discomfort or hardship. I was happy to see (I thought) a slight rise in the standard of living in Africa when I visited a few years ago, compared to when I lived in the Middle East?  And a corresponding decrease in standards in the West…

Yes, I’m sad to see my sons having to work so hard. Maybe that’s more real somehow? Maybe the feeling of  ‘spinning’ that I had was the price of my luxury?  The economy was getting tougher and I was trying to stay my ground, hence the feeling of running to keep up?.  Store closures and hardship in some of the towns I pass through is sad.  But…

In the bigger scheme of things I have hope now that our world will be more sustainable and fair for everyone, without huge discrepancies in the luxuries we enjoy. Just how many electric toothbrushes and crock-pots do we need?!  Personally I feel more at peace?

Christmas 2012 in my motorhome
Christmas 2012 in my motorhome

So this Christmas and travelling has been a time of reflection and a time to accept and embrace my now-empty nest. I trust completely that whilst some changes seem unpleasant,  often there is good in them.  Every answer to any question that I might have is within me.  I can trust that.  And there is ‘enough’… Food, shelter, health, money, time… My needs for fairness and justice are finally being addressed.

The ‘stretching’ of my comfort zone to include anxiety-provoking thoughts and other unpleasant feelings is an important part of ‘re-setting’  my life.  I can allow the anxious thoughts to come forward: in fact I can welcome them. This is the very stretch I need to make the most of these empty-nest challenges and the opportunity to explore and see the world through my new middle-adult aged eyes?!

VW New Beetle flat towed behind my old - sustainable - motorhome
VW New Beetle flat towed behind my old – sustainable – motorhome

My little car is safely installed with a new tow bar behind my old motorhome and I’m off!  Finally… A quick last visit to my Mom and her friend Carl – get well Carl – and warmer weather here we come!

As I drive down, I look out of my windows and see BC with the majestic Rockies standing guard, wherever you look… Like the ever-present love of family and friends – which, for me, makes changing a little harder?

Driving south, Washington State looks exactly as BC does – grey, mountainous, cold and rainy in keeping with my need to mourn the past a little? Washington also has excellent rest stops every 50 miles or so, welcoming you. Like the best of hostesses, facilitating change.

A rest area in Washington State - excellent hospitality
A rest area in Washington State – excellent hospitality

The rain and the grey continue, the mountains are slightly more distant but I can’t feel any change in the weather yet? In Oregon the landscape changes slowly and becomes flatter and wider.  It’s still cold but the air is full of the promise of ‘warm’ somewhere further south. Then suddenly you are in mountains again: don’t be complacent.

I lost my camera cord and had no internet so a few more days have passed… I wanted to write this blog.

Volunteers providing free cookies, Christmas cheer and a hot drink...
Volunteers providing free cookies, Christmas cheer and a hot drink…

Christmas Eve saw Grants Pass pass which, despite the altitude (over 4000 feet high) was cold but clear. Then, at night, we hit Ashland ski resort, complete with snowstorm. Wearily we pulled over and stopped in a rest area as soon as possible, covered in the slush and salty gravel thrown up by passing trucks. Would we never reach warm weather?

Mr Shasta in Northern California
Mr Shasta in Northern California

The next day we woke to a beautiful Christmas Day. California is very long and it took forever to reach LA with it’s crazy-fast traffic and bad, pot-holed roads. Then, an amazing treat. A firework display whilst in a traffic jam as we passed Disneyland made it all worthwhile.  Cornish game hen and roast potatoes baked in the tiny motorhome oven to go with sprouts, carrots, broccoli, cranberry sauce and gravy tasted great! The rest area in San Diego was the best – and oceanfront. I great Christmas.

Turning inland on boxing day and travelling east, the landscape changed and became ever more desert-looking. In El Centro, with huge, rounded mountains before going south again to Mexico, the motorhome had an oil change and my bug had a carwash.

San Diego rest area, on the edge of the ocean
San Diego rest area, on the edge of the ocean

In Mexico, gone were the other fancy motorhomes that made my little rig look ‘ghetto’… In fact the border guard commented on my ‘very nice home’ as he checked my cupboards and drawers for contraband! Somehow I find the simplicity and lack of commercialism, without massive stores with aisles of unnecessary merchandise, comforting?

It was late when we pull into an RV resort and I fall asleep listening to the waves, excited to be here and to explore in the morning. I can’t wait to try out my Canon Rebel camera and post some pictures…

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