Category Archives: empty nest

Traditions

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Snowfall by cocoparisienne via Pixabay

December is the month that reminds me most of traditions. Traditions are the maps we create as individuals and as families to guide us through the days, months and years of a life together. They are signposts for those who are coming behind us to teach them the legacy and the stories of a family’s history. Traditions come in all forms. They can be food or the preparation of food or rituals or trips to special places. They can be secular or they can be religious. In fact between mid November to early January practically every world religion celebrates one ritual or another, making it a true holiday season. Traditions also remind us of our humanity and keeps memories alive.

When celebrating weddings, Christmas, birthdays or milestones, certain rules should apply! They are traditions after all. That word has always had a weight and a gravity, a suggestion that something momentous is about to come around and we don’t just pass it by. Traditions give life structure and we look forward to them eagerly each year.

One of the traditions of my large extended Italian family is making homemade ravioli to eat on Christmas Day. The eating itself brings us all together but for me the actual tradition happens weeks earlier when the women of the family get together to make the ravioli. There are mothers teaching daughters, sisters exchanging tips across the miles, cousins using the old recipes as we all strive to make the tradition our own. The preparation of the dough and the filling and the meticulous sealing of each little meat filled dumpling has a certain reverence to it and is often accompanied by several glasses of wine as the hours long process takes patience and energy. Yet on the day of feasting, the work and the love put into the effort is all worth it. And yes, wine must accompany that too.20171217_115048

So many families have special traditions. They recreate old family recipes for special cookies or treats, they decorate their homes or trees like they remember when they were young while adding something new for their own children. It’s the way of traditions. They strive to stay the same but they must grow and evolve with the people who are recreating them.  When I had my own children, it was time to create our own traditions. We made it tradition to open one gift on Christmas Eve and after we would get the plate of goodies ready for Santa and the reindeer. A favorite Christmas story was read with the warmth of two small bodies tucked up against me. Then as they slept, I kept the fantasy alive by leaving nibbled cookies and chewed carrots on Santa’s plate (with a thank you note from the jolly old elf himself), special writing on Santa’s gifts and full stockings by the chimney. It was as much a tradition for me as for them and Christmas morning was always magical and joyful.

Last spring an old southern tradition was recreated the morning of my son’s wedding. In the south, where the wedding took place, the women of the bride and groom’s families gather that morning to celebrate the bride’s wedding day. It was an amazingly beautiful and spiritual event. It was a time for us to welcome a new woman into our fold. I have been blessed with the women in my life: sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins, friends. My sisters and our daughters were there with me and we symbolically and truly brought my daughter in law to be into our family with lovely food and champagne and the blessings of the women who were already married and those who would be future brides. The women of my family had all come to stand for my son and to bear witness to this joyous union.

But Karma is a harsh mistress. This Christmas our son will be starting his own traditions with his new wife. Their first Christmas together, our first Christmas apart. I left my home when I was 22 and have only ever been back for Christmas one time since then. I think of my own mother now that I too will have an empty seat at the dinner table. It’s never easy letting go of your chicks but it is the right thing to do no matter how conflicted emotions might be.

And yet I feel at peace. I have to trust that things are as they are meant to be. This weekend my husband helped me make the ravioli we will eat for our Christmas dinner. Some traditions never change. We will have another mother’s child who is far from home, our daughter’s friend, stay with us and celebrate. We will honor traditions new and old and look forward to a new year of possibilities and challenges and indescribable joys. We will give thanks as we celebrate yet another tradition. And yes just maybe we will start a new tradition that is waiting for us in the wings. I will welcome that one too.

May your own traditions bring you and yours comfort and joy this season. Merry Christmas.  Aid Moubarak. Happy Hanukkah. Blessed Solstice. Happy Kwanzaa. Peace on Earth. Namaste.

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Candlelight by Myriams-Fotos via Pixabay

Dads

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DSCN1081I live with a pretty great dad. He’s so great that sometimes I forget that not all dads are like this. Even though we now have an empty nest, this dad stays in touch daily with his children. He shares jokes and stories and texts to show he is thinking about them and to let them know he is there whenever they need him. Like me, he has had to learn diplomacy when often what we really want to do is rush into a situation they are dealing with and take over, not because we don’t think they can handle it but because that is what we do as parents.  Dads, like Moms, know that parenting never stops.

Dads sometimes get a bad rap. Often when we hear the word “dad” it is joined with negative words like “deadbeat” or “authoritarian”. But just like motherhood, fatherhood does not come with a training manual. My own husband grew up where only women tended to babies and children so changing a diaper was uncharted territory as was bottle feeding a baby. But he was willing to jump in and do it if it meant more time spent with his children. I recall joining the first baby sitting co-op I was in and sitting around with other mothers who commented on how devoted my husband was with our children. I jokingly asked “aren’t all new dads, this is the 90’s after all!” My comment was met with incredulous silence as they looked at each other and then one of them said “no, it’s not”.

That’s the moment I realized how lucky my children were. They not only had a dad who was a good provider they had a dad who would prefer to spend all of his spare time with them. We took our children everywhere with us because we were a family but also because we lived far from our extended family and we didn’t trust our babies with anyone else but ourselves (no offense to the amazing women in my babysitting co-ops!) What that did was expose my children to a myriad of life situations like music festivals, sporting events, camping and road trips exploring art and nature. And lots of time with their hard working dad.sunset-934865_1280

I have been fortunate to grow up around some pretty great dads although I lost my own when I was 17. I was given a gift however. I had always felt as a child that  I could not please my dad or make him proud of me for who I was. But the summer I was 16 found the two of us home alone together for two weeks as my older siblings left for school and jobs and my younger siblings traveled with my mom. Suddenly we had common ground and things to talk about. I confided in him about teenage joys and concerns for the first time and he listened. Little did we know that was to be his last summer. He was a good provider to his family so we always had food and a nice home and clothes. But this was a different thing. This was his time and his attention. After his death I could not have been more grateful to have had those two weeks to myself.

I then had the great fortune to have another man step in to be a father figure. A beloved uncle with whom I was blessed to spend more years with and who always had time for me and my siblings and then for our husbands, wives and children. He was the consummate dad, full of life and wicked humor and love, love, love. It was because of his example that I learned what qualities would make a good husband and a great father. We lost him last year in his very august elder years but were lucky to have a had a strong father figure in our adult years. Not only my children but my nieces and nephews have some pretty great dads as do my cousins children and my friends as well.

silhouette-1082129_1280But now I look at my children’s dad as we grow older. Our hair is getting grey and we have aches and pains that were not there 10 or even 5 years ago. Our children are adults now and parenting becomes an ever evolving thing.  There are times we want them to listen to what we say even as we realize they may or may not. We worry over them. This great dad still jumps into action whenever he is needed; at our son’s wedding he was full of pride and joy and was on hand for whatever task needed to be addressed; when our daughter moved to her new place, he was the first to schedule the U-Haul. He showed up with his tools and ideas to help her furnish her own little nest.  He will always be a pretty great dad not matter what age they are. And for that I am grateful.

 

Tattoo

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20170613_192600I have a confession to make. I just got my second tattoo. It’s the symbol of a  lotus flower with it’s roots deep in the mud. I chose that symbol based on the Buddhist belief that without mud you will not get a lotus flower. In other words, the beauty of our life is grown out of the proverbial mud we must slog through to find what is truly important in our lives.

As a younger person I never thought I would be one to get a tattoo. Tattoo’s have certain stigmas attached to them. The person who decides to get one must be wild and even a little dangerous. There are actually some tattoos that scare the heck out of me and I would never want to meet that person in a dark alley. For some reason the tattoo says more about the person then any other attribute. But mostly it is the fact that those with tattoos agree to have a small needle jab ink into our skin to create some amazing works of art that seems to set those without tattoos apart.

Tattoos have been around since the beginning of the human existence or at least for several millennia and possibly longer. Mummified skin has been found in countries spanning the globe and in almost all societies. Tattoos could be status symbols, amulets against evil or for safe childbirth, the product of religious ceremony and culture or the result of the drunken longing of a homesick sailor for his mom. They can also be a symbol of personal rebellion against the status quo or maybe a badge of honor after a life changing experience. If life’s battle scars make one a warrior then maybe getting a tattoo to mark that battle is like a signpost on the road of that person’s life. I have seen tattoos that illustrate the struggles and triumphs that person must have experienced. Of course I have seen just as many butterflies, flowers, skull heads and hearts, random symbols that can only have personal meaning to the one wearing them.

Our family faced a crisis when my son was in high school and it was news that devastated us and thrust us into an alternate reality where the norm was long hospital stays, endless drug therapies and days on end when family members resided in different cities as we fought off that specter. We had just begun to recover from that year long event when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. We faced another year similar to the one before but this time I was angry and determined to avoid the disruption we had previously experienced. That was easier said than done. Halfway through the 8 month treatment, I was not so defiant as I fought just to stay above water day to day. My son had moved on to college by that time and carpe diem was the philosophy I watched him follow. So I was not surprised when he called to tell us he was getting a tattoo. Nor was I concerned. In my mind, we had just had the very hard lesson for the past

IMG_1491 (1) two years not to sweat the small stuff and getting a tattoo was definitely in that category. My daughter started her tattoo journey by celebrating her high school graduation and then again for her college graduation.

I got my first tattoo the year after I finished breast cancer treatment. It is the Celtic symbol for healing and that’s just what I wanted for myself and my family. I often forget that I have it because it is located in a place I only see in a mirror. But I recall the prayer I offered up when that ink was being needled into my skin. And I think of the prayer I offered up when the lotus was being tattooed on me as well. Now that is in a place I can see daily so that I can remind myself on those tough days that at the end of it I am likely to find a lotus blooming. Or at least have the faith that there will be one.

Everyone has scars, the worst of which are often hidden. Perhaps tattoos are a way for some to reflect the focus, the work, the energy it takes to move beyond those scars to continue on that long and winding road of life. Tattoos are not for everyone, no doubt. There are many other ways to mark the signposts of our lives or symbolize the fights we have survived. Or to celebrate life’s beauty or the birth of a child or yes, to honor your mom. My family has chosen to wear tattoos and we all have at least one. Maybe that does make us rebellious or wild. I am okay with that if some get that impression. I see it more as my children marking the signposts of the life they have lived and are living, including that time we all traveled together to the edge of the abyss. Thankfully, there was a gloriously blooming lotus flower waiting for us there.

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Photo by vibrantskys via Pixabay