Archive for the ‘Empty Nesting’ Category

Memoir? Yes Please

I went online.

I went on dates.

I went a little nuts.

I went and wrote about it.


The story? It’s written.


More to come….



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Here’s what someone said, somewhere, to someone else: You’re only as happy as your least happy child. Talk about a buzz kill. I don’t care how motivated and crazed a parent might be, or how loving and smothering: sometimes it’s impossible to extract light and joy from our beloved offspring. Not to flaunt my depth of knowledge about adolescent behavior, but I happen to know that sometime between middle school and college, the cheerful part of a teenager’s DNA shrivels and sulks. It takes time for the happy gene to grow-up, apologize, and come sit at the table like an adult.

Rather than admit defeat, I say change the battle. At least, that’s what I determined after experiencing the following epiphany: You’re only as happy as your least functional appliance. Put another way, I thought everything was fine until my dishwasher died. Unloading still-dirty dishes, however, underscored how powerless I was in the face of appliance adversity. I was distraught, and that’s an understatement.

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How do you trace genius? What’s the recipe for inspiration? When listening to an acceptance speech, who gets a nod and who goes unappreciated?

Put another way, how much credit does the home field get when the home team hits one out of the park? When Highland Parkers make it onto the world stage, how much of that success is happenstance, and how much is attributable to the zip code?

Consider The Princess Bride. William Goldman, the author, was born and raised in HP. We could lower our taxes if there were a residual paid to the town every time somebody said, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Were those words inspired while clowning around in line, waiting for the cheddar fries at Stash’s? They might have been.

Anne Farleigh, the English teacher who ran the now extinct HPHS Reading Lab, was the one who first handed me Goldman’s book. With pride she said, “See what our graduates produce.” And that was before it became a movie.

More recently, HPHS can lay claim to the creators of Amazon’s top selling game, Cards Against Humanity: A party game for horrible people. Much has been written about these boys and their humor, but what about their local inspiration?

“Everything was safe, sanitized, boring. High school was an awful place, a futuristic prison,” says Max Temkin, one of the eight guys who, for lack of a better phrase, are all warped wizards.


Pressed to come up with even one thing from Highland Park he misses, Temkin’s face finally lights up. “The egg-white salad from Once Upon a Bagel. It’s the best. How do they make that?”

My eyebrows shot up. These boys, three of whom graduated first, second, and third in their class, and who together are just shy of forming a minyan, do they give a nod to their mothers? A nod to their teachers? A nod, even, to each other?

“I hate David, and David hates himself,” says Temkin, explaining their distinctive friendship. It’s that charming and ironic connection that keeps the group bound together despite physical distance and divergent daytime career paths.

Still, ‘tis the season of giving, and I feel the need to express my appreciation to these HP natives for the latest and most demented reason to be proud of my hometown.

So to you, Eli Halpern, David Munk, Josh Dillon, Eliot Weinstein, Daniel Dranove, Ben Hantoot, David Pinsof, and yes, Max Temkin, here is my gift: direct from Oscar Garcia of Once Upon a Bagel, the recipe for their egg-white salad. “Take low-fat mayo, a little bit of black pepper, celery, onion salt, and just the egg whites from boiled eggs.”

“What makes it so special?” I asked.

“It’s the love,” replied Garcia.

Yes it is. And boys, remember this: It’s not just the hometown egg-white salad that fostered your creativity. Give a nod to your mothers here in Highland Park. They put up with all of you.



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ImageThe Cheney Gals, cooking up a foul brew.


Shakespeare was really the first to cash in on the idea of a cooking show. Complain all you want about those pesky reading assignments, but to a person we remember those three witches, standing around the cauldron, stirring with demented glee, and reciting their recipe faster than any of the groundlings could transcribe it. What’s shorthand for eye of newt and tongue of bat, anyway?

 Doesn’t matter. MacBeth is captivating, from the recipes right down to the ransacking. Of course, those kitchen-witches aren’t the ones fighting. In a play where unbridled ambition ruins families and fiefdoms, the three weird sisters seem to get along. Apparently, that’s what makes them weird. Don’t believe me? Ask the Cheneys.

 They’re helping to redefine Thanksgiving for the twenty-first century: food, family, and fights. Don’t even bother to send me your complaints. Save time. Send them directly to my mother, who agrees with you. She thinks everyone should get along, and she abhors the very concept of antagonism among siblings. Birth order dictates her point of view: That is to say, she is an only child.

 As one of four, I understand a little rough and tumble family fun. I have older brothers, and trust me when I tell you no sentence instilled greater fear in my bones than my parents leaving the house and my mother waving and calling out, “There are TV dinners in the freezer, and the boys are in charge.” (Full disclosure: I loved those Swanson TV dinners.) But putting older brothers in charge? Why not save everyone a lot of time and trouble and just let Betsy and me lock ourselves in the bathroom?

 The point is, of course, that siblings don’t always get along. That’s why the NYTimes put the feud between the Cheney sisters on page one. Liz and Mary aren’t talking to one another, unless you count social media jibes and news conference accusations as communication.

 At issue is same-sex marriage, which Liz Cheney vehemently opposes. Meanwhile, her sister, Mary, is married to Heather Poe, and together they have two children.

 Here’s my favorite sentence in the NYTimes article. “Things erupted on Sunday when Mary Cheney, a lesbian, and her wife were at home watching Fox News Sunday – their usual weekend ritual.” Does Fox know Mary and her wife are regular viewers? Do Mary and Heather realize they are watching Fox?

 Channel selection aside, what about the Cheney Thanksgiving? How will they get through the fair-is-fowl, foul-is-family fest when Liz’s bid for the senate trumps her family fealty? Ambition compels her to opt for expediency over loyalty.

 Sound familiar? Shake out those mothballs between your ears. It’s the story of MacBeth. And it is a tragedy.

 If only Shakespeare’s witches could cook up a spell to help Liz recognize the legitimacy of her sister’s relationship. It’d be a brew to help her accept her brood. That’d be a cooking show worth watching, and a recipe worth replicating. Instead, what she’s asking voters to swallow is poison.

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Let the heavens weep. Oh hell. I’m weeping. People Magazine has declared Gwyneth Paltrow the World’s Most Beautiful Woman. Thanks, People, for confirming that beauty comes in one shape and one size: Toothpick-Thin and Double Zero.
Apparently, having no breasts, no hips, no butt, no thighs, and no apologies for exercising two hours every single day is the standard of beauty in this country. Where are the Dove executives when we need them most?
Whatever progress in accepting our bodies and our shapes and ourselves we might make has eroded another little bit.
Next year I expect to see Olive Oyl make the list, too. Assuming she dies her hair blond, of course.

Gwyneth the Thyneth

World’s Most Beautiful Stick

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Fun sized candy? This is more like it.

After years of looking, I’ve finally found candy that I would deem “fun sized.” Now who’s the Smartie?

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Talismans of Youth: A scooter, stilts and a pogo stick.

I was minding my own business, hoisting the bottom half of  a couch out of our garage  in preparation for the AmVets truck pick-up, when Tim suggested that we give away a few other things. I nodded approval, because my idea of a good time includes getting rid of everything, and my idea of a great time is sweeping out a newly emptied garage.

Tim carried out a couple of brass floor grates, a rusted wrought-iron table, and my heart.

He didn’t actually hold my heart, of course. What he held was a set of stilts, a scooter, and a pogo stick. These were our younger daughter’s favorite toys, symbols of a childhood spent in constant motion: balancing, careening, and bouncing.

Twelve years of soccer, six Varsity letters, and one Alaskan NOLS expedition later, she’s still a force of nature. But as she grew up, I grew accustomed to her adult pursuits, running and biking and exploring her way through life.

One glance at these Talismans of her younger self reduced me to a nostalgic mess. That’s what parenting is, I guess. A series of matter-of-fact rituals occasionally interrupted by moments of overwhelming emotion.

My husband took one look at me at chalked it up to menopause.

But it was more than hormones gone awry in my sleep-deprived middle-aged body. Two days earlier, I’d spent the night in the hospital, keeping my eighty-year-old father company in the ICU  following his hip replacement surgery. A life-long athlete at the national and even international level, my father’s hips and knees and ankles are now failing him, taunting him later in life after having served him so well.

That night in the hospital, from the discomfort of my not-fully-reclinable Lazy-Boy bed, I found myself looking not at my father, pale from his surgery, but at his electronic monitor. Those brightly colored zig-zagging lines and beeping numbers offered more reassurance to me than the faint snores and coughs coming from his bed.

I thought about the heart-stopping fear I used to feel, watching my daughter climb and jump and race through life, missing corners and edges and danger by the narrowest of margins. And I thought about the heart-stopping fear I felt now, worrying that my father’s heart would, in fact, stop.

That’s what being a daughter  is, I guess. A lifetime of counting on the presence of a parent, interrupted by the overwhelming emotion of acknowledging the inevitable.

Nope. I reject that. Dad’s going to be fine. He’ll move from the hospital to rehab to home. He’ll swap the hospital bed for a walker, the walker for a cane, and then even the cane will be gone.

That’s what being an optimist is about. The stubborn belief that moving forward is always good.

I let the guys from AmVets take the stilts and the scooter and the pogo stick. But not before I snapped a picture. A gal needs a photo every now and then to remember these little moments. And then I rode my own bike to the hospital to visit my dad, who really is getting better.

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ImageIt’s so, so hard being an empty nester. Nobody warned me.

For one thing, I don’t know how to grocery shop anymore. Big cart? I don’t think so.  Two-for-one pricing on those end of season strawberries? Sure, it’s a bargain, but we’re going out of town for the weekend and probably won’t finish them before they go bad. Roast a whole chicken? For the two of us? It would be so wasteful.

Milk presents its own dilemma. Actually, I feel like I’m breaking up with the dairy department entirely, and it’s not going smoothly. For decades I’ve just assumed that whatever else is on my list, a couple of half gallons of skim should always come home with me. Open my sister Betsy’s fridge, and behold the tableaux of a house with children:  homage to milk. When I was last there, she had nine half gallons of skim, a carton of whole and a pint of half and half. 

Tim and I just pitched the remains of the skim we couldn’t finish before it went sour. It’s just so sad.

Here’s the good news: I have cooked dinner since the girls left. Once. Here’s the truth about that dinner: only one person complained about the meal. I’m not mentioning names, but I thought it was delicious.

Television is turning out to be a problem, too, which is surprising. We spent decades portioning out screen time for our kids. Yes, I’ll admit that “Not on a school night” turned into “Only after your homework is finished” which descended into “Okay, but just for the play-offs.” Still, there was a sense that the screen needed to be restricted until the final diploma had been received. 

Not any more. No kids. No school. No rules. Every night is a no-homework night. I am absolutely convinced that if television had existed at the time Greek mythology was being codified, there’d be a companion to Bacchus. She’d be named something like Comatessa, Goddess of the Screen. Her sly gaze would lock your eyes and fix your head into a stoney paralysis, where you’d remain for the rest of eternity. Sure, it’d be fun in the beginning.  But inevitably the good shows would end and you’d be stuck watching the Kardashians for the rest of forever.

My point is we need to resist the allure of the screen. I did not see that coming.

What’s been most surprising is my discovery that the world is divided into two types of people: those who feel sorry for me, and those who won’t talk to me.  

Let’s start with those big-hearted, sad-eyed, going-straight-to-heaven types. I run into them all over town, and when they realize that both of my girls are off to college, they stop.  They lean in toward me. They clutch my arm, my shoulder, my hand, gripping me tightly to show their support for what surely must be a dark and empty time in my life.  

“How are you doing?” they ask in husky voices, tinged with the dreaded reality that one day, too, this fate will befall them.

“It’s totally awesome. I don’t know how to buy milk anymore, but otherwise, it’s great.” 

I can’t help it. The more earnest their tone, the bouncier I become. It’s a character flaw.  

Of course, there’s another set of people I didn’t know existed. They’re the ones who won’t talk to me because I made it to the finish line and they’re still mired in carpool lanes and packed lunches and back-to-school nights.  When I see them around town, they’ve made it clear that they don’t want to hear about where Tim and I had dinner or what movies we’ve seen or how few shoes litter my hallway. I’m allowed to smile, but only for a short time. 

In truth, this empty nester gig only lasts for a short time. Why? It’s because of the new-fangled college calendars. A thousand years ago, when Tim and I went to college, we’d say goodbye in September and then counted the days until Thanksgiving.

It’s not like that anymore. Now there are Fall Breaks, and Fall Reading Weeks, and Parents’ Visiting Weekends (which always happen to be scheduled within a week of the Fall Break, by the way).  You want to know what I really do with my time these days? I make travel plans for my girls to come home and for us to visit the girls.  

I also call. And text. And email. And send packages.

After all, I’ve got a little time on my hands.

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