Sometimes I’m filled with excitement at the big changes ahead. At others, I feel a stony dread at the thought of the jasmine blooming. That’s when I go outside and check our sycamore. And when I see its still-wintry silhouette against the darkening sky, I’m relieved.
In 2007, we came up with a 6 year plan and announced it blithely to anyone who would listen:
“When Eliot graduates from high school, we’re leaving LA.”
I’m not sure anyone believed us. The kids didn’t believe us. I’m not sure we believed us. It seemed impossibly far away. So easy to say.
But days and seasons passed and the six year plan became the 5 year plan, then then 4… And if you say something for long enough, the whimsical becomes the inexorable.
As last May approached, Eliot became increasingly horrified at the thought of us decamping to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance.
So we turned it into a six-and-a-half year plan. “Fine” I said, relenting. “We’ll have one more Christmas at home and then, when the jasmine blooms and the sycamores green up in the canyon, we’re gone.”
Here’s what I saw driving into our canyon today:
Jasmine. Almost blooming.
This morning, first thing, we took Sylvie and hiked into the mountains to an old oak tree that, like a queen, rules the ridge between Sullivan and Rustic canyons. It’s our favorite hike.
Seven years ago, we agreed to leave Los Angeles when Eliot graduated from high school. What once seemed impossibly far off is now near – something that will happen as soon as our canyon’s sycamores leaf out again and her jasmine blooms.
My New Year’s resolution is to lighten our load, to let go of everything I don’t want or need so that I just carry the things that matter when we set out on our new path.
Wherever it leads us.
This morning, on our way out hiking, we passed a tow-headed neighbor sitting cross-legged on his driveway, waiting for his Dad. He was clearly ready for the pre-school day ahead. He had his lunchbox in one hand and his umbrella, of which he was clearly proud, in the other. Seeing him took me way back, heart clenched with longing, to Eliot all geared up for the long trek to the playroom…
After duly admiring our young neighbor’s umbrella, we continued with our walk and the topic of the day. Money. There’s something about the chicks leaving the nest that makes you look around, dazed, wondering where all the money went. Today, I was too busy doing calculations in my head to notice the mist hanging in the canyon, too intent on laying out a new, more parsimonious, plan to stomp in a puddle just to make a splash.
On our way back, we passed another neighbor, out for his morning stroll. Though he clearly doesn’t need it, he always uses a cane. It adds a jaunty flair to his walk. After he passed, we talked about how smart he is. By the time he needs the cane, we agreed, he won’t need to fight it, or feel, as some older people we know do, that using a cane is somehow a failure or a deep loss. By then, it will just be part of who he is. A good part.
Note to self: while planning, plan on aging jauntily.
It has taken the emptiness of the nest for me to notice that embedded in every present day are pieces of the past and the future. I think they are there to remind me of what matters, and to show me how I really want to walk through my one and only present.
Call us neurotic, but when the kids were growing up and we travelled without them, we flew in separate planes. Yeah, I know. Statistically, we were at greater risk driving a car together. But in the car, I had the illusion of control. And car accidents just happen. In a plane, I’d have those long, horrible seconds before impact envisioning my children being raised by my Alaskan Uncle Ned and his four dobermans.
But with the boys grown and gone, we started flying together again and got reacquainted with our old travel habits. (1) She has to have an aisle seat. So do I. (2) She enjoys the airline menu. I live by a code that prohibits the consumption of airline food, street food and anything that’s pureed. (3) She likes to chat with the person next to her, and rent romantic comedies, and laugh uproariously. I travel in the Sam Bubble, ear plugs in, buried in a book. A lively chat about how much we annoy each other while airborne led to our decision to book seats across the aisle from each other, where we’d each be free to engage our favored travel habits. If we couldn’t book the desired aisle seats, well, we’d just fly separately again.
In many other ways we flew separately when we were raising young kids, each of us handling different aspects of parenting, one cleaning up the mess while the other put the baby down, one doing the bills while the other did the yard work, one being primary wage earner while the other was primary caregiver. So this new reality called “empty nest” has become not just a transition in parenting, but a transition in marriage, a time to get reacquainted with my spouse, learn to fly together again, and accept the fact that sometimes we’re going to end up in different parts of the plane.
Packed airports. Sold out car rentals. Granny’s diverticulitis. Fights over who’s going to cook what. Ah, Thanksgiving.
Last night, I had worked myself into a state of psychotic anxiety around Thanksgiving arrangements when I remembered something my eldest son, Henry, said years ago as we were preparing to schlep across the country for the holidays.
“Let’s ride the fun plane!”
He was referring, of course, to airplanes that had TV’s in them, but I’m adopting it as my new holiday mantra.
When over-cooked-turkey-psychosis sets in, I will take a breath and say these words: Book a seat on the fun plane, Sam.
With the kids gone, I’m finally getting to the task of tossing the stuff they left behind. Old clothes? Gone. Paintball gun and accessories? Out. Pokemon cards? Please. And then I found this piece of Kid Art under a bed…
When the kids brought art home back in the day, my partner and I extolled their vast talents, then retired to a private chamber to appraise the piece. If we decided it was worthy, it went in “The Box” (each child has a box designated for his childhood treasures, including art). If it was unworthy, it got shit-canned. There wasn’t much sentimentality involved because, well, how many popsicle stick sculptures can you drag through life? So, here I am, suddenly thrust into the role of Kid Art Appraiser again. As you can see, it’s nicely painted, but it’s round, and it’s on thick piece of plywood, and it’s mostly purple. After deliberating for an embarrassingly long period of time, I decided it wasn’t worthy of The Box. But on my way to the shit can, I turned it over and saw this…
Which is why it’s now hanging on my office wall….