Empty Nesters

We recently helped our eldest daughter and her boyfriend move out of our house and into an apartment of their own. This officially makes us “empty nesters”. The fledglings have flown. Yay!

It reminded me of seeing my first Robin’s nest in a birch tree outside our dining room window when I was a little girl. It was exciting to watch the adult birds build the nest and then fill it with those tiny, blue eggs. We had to be careful not to startle them so the eggs wouldn’t be abandoned. And then one day, lo and behold, one by one, the eggs cracked open.

My mother said that eventually the mother bird would kick the babies out of the nest and make them fly. I thought this was a horrid thing. What kind of mother kicks her kids out of the nest?

A number of years and a whole lot of experience later, I understand completely. It’s not that either of my daughters were difficult to live with. But there comes a time when they need to take flight and find a life for themselves.

The thing is, these days many of our children remain in the nest for a lot longer. I was 18 when I moved out, and I more or less expected the same from my offspring. But now kids often stay home until their late 20’s, or into their 30’s and beyond.

For some, it takes awhile for them to get on their feet. And many of them live at home while they are going to college or university if the schools are nearby. But the reality is that it’s not easy for any of them to afford a place to live right now, especially if they have lower paying jobs.

And never mind actually BUYING a home for the first time.

My husband and I were lucky to be able to purchase our first house on Cook Street in 1983 for $66,000. These days you might get an SUV for that money. A used one, anyway.

In 1988 we sold the first house and bought a bigger one for our expanding family. That one cost $112,000. You can’t even get a “no bedroom” condo for that right now.

Sure, we went through periods of poverty, like most first time home owners do. There were some months that we just barely got by, struggling with the upkeep and repairs. But it was our home sweet home, and as long as we could pay the mortgage, we could always eat KD.

It’s not a surprise that housing prices increase over time. That is pretty much expected. But there has been a growing disparity between the cost of living and today’s average wages, especially more recently.

High demand and low interest rates are among the many reasons real estate has become pretty much out of reach for many younger people. Not only that, but house flipping and the popular trend of listing properties on places like VRBO have changed housing dynamics considerably. The B.C. Speculation and Vacancy Tax shows how concerned government officials are about the lack of affordable housing.

It took awhile for my daughter and her boyfriend to find something, but in the end they got themselves a two bedroom apartment in Langford through the Capital Region’s Housing Corporation. Their place is a newer unit subsidized by the CRD, whose mission is “a commitment to the development, management and promotion of affordable housing that is essential for the well-being of the people and communities in the Capital Region.”

I think it’s a wonderful thing. No foreseeable renovictions, no fear of outrageous rent increases. Well maintained and operated.

There are certain rules and criteria that have to be met, such as a minimum and maximum income. But they can have pets and it’s also a family friendly building.

And one day they’ll have their own little fledglings.

Not that I’m trying to rush them or anything…

Be Willing To Change

There have been three significant times in my life when I’ve had to go through a transformation of some sort, and not necessarily because I wanted to! The first was when I was 14 and my mother died. The second was when I had my children. And the third is happening now.

The first two changes left me feeling completely alone, but they also lead to a liberation of sorts.

When my mother died from Hodgkin’s disease in 1972, I had no siblings and my father and I were almost strangers, since he had left most of the parenting to my mother. For a burgeoning teenager, facing the idea of death for the first time was terrifying enough, but to lose the one gentle, guiding light in my life was absolutely devastating. When you’re that age, the changes you face physically and emotionally are already overwhelming. Although I got through school okay, I struggled when my father remarried only two years after my mother died, another big change. So I think I did the only thing I could to take charge of my own life; I moved out at the age of 18 and from then on, took care of myself. Big Change Number One.

I lived alone for six or seven years until I eventually moved to another city, Victoria, and married my husband and had my first child, which brought on the second big change. Although I had my husband, who had no trouble adapting to being a father, I really had no one else around me to help me cope through the unbelievable transformation it takes to become a parent for the first time. There were no strong, female forces in my life; the female friends I had who had children were more like acquaintances, and my other good friends didn’t have children of their own. I had a long, drawn out bout of postpartum depression that lasted for months. Sometimes I think it actually lasted until I got pregnant with my second daughter a couple of years later, where my body kind of corrected itself hormonally. Being so alone in the dead of winter with a child for the first time, no siblings to share it with, no mother, not even in-laws because my husband’s parents didn’t live around us either, was very difficult. I felt like I had lost myself.

It’s funny how a female can be so focused on the marriage and kids idea at first. But what happens after that? I loved my kids to pieces, but was not content to just stay at home and be a mom. I had a part-time job, but most of what I made went into paying for daycare, so with the encouragement of my husband, I decided to quit that and get back into my music. At first I played pubs and coffee places and anything else I could find. I finally recorded some of my songs and sold my tapes whenever and wherever I could. And I started teaching guitar. That way I could still be home with my kids while I was teaching during the day, and my husband was home when I was out performing a few nights a month and whatever else I could find. Big Change Number Two.

And now I am at the precipice of Big Change Number Three.

I have been reading Dr. Christiane Northrup’s book “The Wisdom of Menopause” over the last while, having only discovered it after catching a PBS special of her’s by accident a few weeks ago. The book has been out for years, but for some reason it never caught my attention. I think I would have benefited greatly had I found it earlier in my peri-menopausal state, but nevertheless, it finally came to my attention and has already given me great insight into the changes that have been occurring in my life and the ones that are about to come.

So who will I be now?

In some ways, this feels like the most sober, conscious and calming change I am about to face. The last few years have been the tumultuous part, just as my mother’s death and my first child’s birth were for me. I am not sure that I knew I was re-inventing myself the first two times, but I am very conscious of that now.

Buddhist teachings have been my refuge in the past four or five years, and I am not sure I’d be as sane as I am now without them. They have given me a lot of insight into the workings of the mind and of the world, and some practical ways of thinking which have grounded me. They have also taught me about the process of rebirth.  Much of what the last few years have been about is letting go, a subject I have written about in past blogs. What I haven’t realized is how much I have to let go of my old “self”. Buddhism teaches you that there is no perpetual, permanent “you” to begin with, so there’s nothing to cling to anyway. But your ideas about yourself are the hardest to let go of. We like to categorize ourselves, to define our personalities and preferences in clean and tidy ways and that’s that. But sometimes our circumstances and the events in our lives force us to reevaluate: Is this really me? Do I really believe this?

I used to think that the idea of reinventing the self came mostly from those who were bored and restless. Maybe so. You could even say that living at home with my new stepmother made me bored and restless, or being at home with the kids did that. But I think it was a much larger and more powerful driving force, something I can’t really specifically identify; like giving birth, it’s more or less out of your control as the body goes into automatic, baby-making mode. It is, in fact, a rebirth.  You can’t stop it, it’s going to happen anyway so don’t resist!

In the last few weeks I have been able to remind myself of all that I have. And I have a lot. Dr. Northrup’s marriage fell apart as she went through menopause, mine is as strong as it has ever been. Some women need to find their true calling for the first time as they are heading towards menopause, I already found my calling after my children were born. I have no desire to be a rock star now 🙂 Thank goodness! Whatever I become, I will make the transition with my eyes wide open and carrying within me a real sense of peace.

Yesterday I went on my usual 2 kilometer walk. To my surprise and delight, it was almost balmy outside, the birds were happily singing and I could smell every fresh bloom as I passed it. I haven’t felt that happy in a long time.

Whoever the new me is, bring her on!


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We Must First Set Our Hearts Right

Leave It to Beaver (season 2)Image via Wikipedia

My daughter often jokes that my mother, who passed away in 1972, was a real “Leave It To Beaver” mom, and that I’m nothing like that. My mother was the typical housewife of that time; she was a great cook, kept her house spic and span, took care of me and my Dad, and we were her whole life. Of course, there was a lot more to my mother before her life with us, and I found out some things about her long after she died that gave a much more complete and realistic picture of her. But in the years before she became sick, I had a wonderful childhood, and being an only child I was the centre of my parents’ universe.

I guess my daughter is right, it felt like a “Leave It To Beaver” life. I was lucky!

Realistically, families are nothing like that idealized 50’s version from TV. Partners split up, certain members don’t get along, and in some cases become permanently estranged. There are family secrets, disagreements, jealousies and it can get worse from there. More often than not, divorce takes its toll, kids get shuttled around and life gets very confusing.

In my case, after my mother died, my father remarried and we became a blended family, which is quite common. I inherited a different culture, different traditions, and a whole bunch of new family, many that I have heard of but to this day have not met. I had two new siblings but they were older than me so we never lived together. However I can imagine that when the kids of two families suddenly have to live in the same house and share everything, that can be challenging.

But even in families that remain relatively intact, there can be many problems. Personalities clash, circumstances change, fortunes come and go. Good relationships can occasionally become stressed by the changes that are inevitable and even the closest of families have their burdens to bear. Not long ago my sister and I were sitting over coffee discussing family matters, and we reached the same conclusion.

Family relationships can be complicated, and this can become much more evident when big changes happen such as older members becoming sick or passing away and decisions having to be made because of it. The cream rises, but so can the crap! True personalities suddenly come to light, loyalties change, and it can be a very trying time for everyone involved.

All of you out there reading this are probably nodding your heads in recognition of the disappointments that happen in families. You likely find yourself closer to some family members than others, maybe you feel you have to put up with someone who you would never have chosen to associate with had they not been in your clan. And for some of you, it has been necessary to estrange yourself from an unhealthy family situation completely.

Over time and since the idealistic Leave It To Beaver days of the 50’s, we have learned to accept that there is really no such thing as the perfect family. Or have we?

If there is one occasion, one time of year that brings out the familial disconnections and disappointments, it’s Christmas. For many, there are people in the family you love to see at Christmas, and those you have to see. There are great expectations and devastating disappointments that occur every Christmas that have nothing to do with getting the gift you really wanted.

And now I’m finally getting to the point of this particular blog…expectations. The psychologically healthiest people in the world are the ones who have let go of expectations and found a way to appreciate the family they actually have. We can’t allow ourselves to be sucked into the happily-ever-after Hollywood view of things, it simply doesn’t exist. A “picture perfect” family can mean many things now; for example, it can be comprised of people you choose to be with whether you are related or not. There may be only one parent, there may be two of the same gender. Children can be of mixed races, religions and cultures. And sometimes you have to accept that a member of your family, doesn’t want to be.

For years I used to refer to my siblings with the word “step” in front. And yet, they had no trouble simply calling me their sister. One day I found myself questioning why I had this difficulty, and realizing it was because I STILL harboured this idealized view of my old family, the one I had until I was 14. Maybe that’s a natural reaction…it wasn’t my choice for my mother to die, and it wasn’t my choice for my father to re-marry. But that is what happened. And in the last few years as our parents have aged and we have become more involved in their care together, without any demands or expectations, my sister and brother have taught me what family is really about.

To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” – Confucious

No, blood isn’t always thicker than water.
Thank you DL and DC.

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