For years I’ve admired Michigan Blue, a gorgeous regional magazine celebrating our third coast. So I’m very excited to have an essay of mine included in the Fall 2014 issue. “Restoring Wright” chronicles our decision to purchase a Frank Lloyd Wright home in St. Joseph, a beach town on Lake Michigan. The magazine is available in many bookstores, including Barnes & Noble, in the upper Midwest.
To read more about our Frank Lloyd Wright home, please visit the Schultz House Web site. If you “like” its public Facebook page, you’ll get regular updates and photos of our ongoing renovation projects.
Come fall, I can’t resist the maternal impulse to shop for back-to-school supplies, even though it’s been a while since I’ve had a student at home.
My only child did exactly what most parents hope their kids will do: He grew up, earned a degree from the university of his choice, found a place of his own, and started a grown-up job soon after.
I’ll never forget the day his dad and I helped load his possessions into the back of his SUV, then followed him west across I-94. After unpacking his clothes and computer equipment, we waved a tearful good-bye in front of his new flat in Chicago and drove back to Detroit as official empty nesters.
Today, five years later, we still reminisce about our early years of parenthood and marvel at how quickly they flew.
Even so, our empty nest transition wasn’t nearly as wrenching as so many magazine articles had led us to believe.
Just as menopause isn’t a disease to cure, the empty nest isn’t a syndrome to overcome. Sending children to college, helping them move to their first apartments, and watching them exchange wedding vows are natural rites of midlife passage.
Better yet, many of my Boomer friends are happily redesigning their lives after raising families. One is booking exotic cruise trips with her husband; another started violin lessons. Others are busy refueling stalled careers and sluggish relationships.
Rolling with the changes
So maybe we need a better term to describe our empty nest years?
“A word signifying a void or a vacuum is an unfair way to describe a time when life can be full of growth possibilities,” note Laura Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt in The Launching Years (Three Rivers Press). The authors also remind us that young adults fare better on their own when they know their folks are adjusting to the changes, too.
In other words, helicopter parenting doesn’t benefit anyone. Letting go means allowing our kids to score their own victories and learn from their own mistakes — without our hovering.
Still, it’s normal to grieve the loss of your old parenting role. And there’s no shame in admitting you’ve got an achy little tug on your heart when you first unload your grocery cart and notice you’re buying half as much ice cream as you did when the kids were home. When that happens, indulge yourself (like I did) in a private meltdown in the car. Or adopt another pet (like I did) from the local shelter.
But don’t make your child feel guilty for leaving you with an empty bedroom to redecorate. Let her know you’re proud of her independence – and celebrate the life you are crafting outside the boundaries of parenthood.
“There’s a trick to the Graceful Exit,” wrote syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman in her farewell piece. “It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on rather than moving out.”
Even if your kids have flown the nest – and even if you don’t have grandkids — treat yourself to some new school supplies this fall. Grab a fresh notebook and a set of pens in every color. Start taking notes on everything you want to do with the rest of your life.
This column originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Michigan Prime.
Like many flood victims in Oakland County, we’ll soon have a dumpster in our driveway and a construction crew in the basement. Watching our contractor haul rolls of soggy carpeting to the curb this morning, I recalled the following column, which I wrote in 2003. The full version is reprinted in Writing Home.
Zen and Remodeling
We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem. – Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun
The construction crew hasn’t even started yet, but I’m already bracing myself for several weeks of chaos and plaster dust. Half of our clothes and most of our toiletries have been temporarily stashed in other regions of the house. With the exception of our master bedroom, in fact, everything upstairs is in a state of minor upheaval. I hate living like this.
It’s all in preparation for our next remodeling project, which includes new plumbing, tile, and fixtures for our circa 1926 bathroom, plus expanded closet space and a paint job for the spare bedroom. The crew is scheduled to begin this week, but that’s just what they tell me. Until I see trucks in the driveway, I know better than to count on anything. Being married to an architect and having survived several remodeling projects, I now have a grasp of what I call “building trade ethics.”
Even in the most professional situations, building trade ethics bear little resemblance to the Protestant work ethic. For starters, people in the building trades do not follow a nine-to-five schedule. These guys have their own system, and it’s up to you to figure out what that is.
They also speak a different language. For example, if the plumber who’s installing your new toilet says he’ll be back to finish at noon on Friday, it’s possible that he really means maybe sometime on a Friday next month.
With few exceptions, though, the results are worth it. If you love your old house as much as we love ours, you realize that a disrupted schedule is a small price to pay for the lifestyle improvements you’ll get eventually.
And if you really want to feel smug, you can tell yourself that your renovation project is also for posterity. Fixing up an old house is a gift to the community – which is why I cringe every time someone tears down a perfectly decent old home, only to replace it with a brand-new Big Foot palace. But that’s a topic for another time.
Right now, I’m trying to focus on the positive. Compared to one of our last projects – a kitchen makeover and a sun room that took nine months to complete — this next effort should be … less of an effort.
Still, every time our walls give way to a sledge hammer, I’m reminded that change is messy. More often than not, you must tear something apart and disrupt your routine to make things better. You can’t install a new shower, for instance, without uprooting the old one. You can’t hang new wallpaper over old wallpaper and expect to end up with a smooth, bubble-free finish. And you must never varnish a hardwood floor before sanding away its stained or splintered imperfections.
Likewise, you can’t sugarcoat the rigors of self-improvement.
Come January, everyone wants to be thinner, healthier, wiser, smoke-free, and less wrinkly. And we’d like to achieve these goals as quickly as possible, preferably with a single-dose pill that works while we’re asleep.
But self-improvement takes time and willpower, which is why some of us give up before we’ve hit the target. As every dieter knows, the “in between sizes” stage – the first plateau — is the trickiest. The process is ongoing, arduous, and more than an act of faith.
My dear old house is also a work in progress. It has taught me how to be patient and how to make sense of the chaos that precedes any kind of transformation. With a little luck, I think we can survive another month of plaster dust together.
So, bring on the building crew. Whenever.
Americans are hard on aging women. If fashion and beauty editors aren’t ignoring us, they’re constantly reminding us that we need lifting or correcting. In my August column for Michigan Prime, I share some thoughts on how I’ve learned to embrace my changing body image and to seek out role models who demonstrate healthy aging. The print edition was delivered August 10 with the Sunday Detroit News and Free Press, or you can click here to read the column online.
Artwork by Cindy La Ferle
Apparently, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Pick up any women’s magazine and you’ll notice the terms “anti-aging” and “age-defying” are used to market products to girls who’ve barely graduated from high school. In television ads, surgically altered actresses tout the wonders of lifting serums and other “miracle” creams.
We get the message: Aging is shameful and must be fought at any cost. She who looks youngest wins.
The anti-aging movement has spawned a new crop of books addressing the “surgery vs. product” faceoff.
“Both the subliminal and obvious messages of the beauty trap are designed to make you dissatisfied with your looks — and to make you go to great lengths and expense to change them,” notes celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer in Younger: The Breakthrough Anti-Aging Method for Radiant Skin (Grand Central; $27). “That being said, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your appearance.”
Lancer advises women to focus first on skincare and nutrition, reserving dermal fillers or cosmetic surgery as a last resort.
Years ago, I swore I’d never waste a minute worrying about under-eye bags or any other flesh that was starting to head south. I promised to age gracefully; to make peace with the inevitable march of time and the pull of gravity.
I was kidding myself. Today, my medicine cabinet proves I’ve become another foot soldier in the war on wrinkles. Armed with an arsenal of products, I’m constantly battling the encroaching lines on my face.
Of course, expensive creams are easier to justify than cosmetic surgery. While fillers and facelifts have gone mainstream, there’s still a feminist stigma attached to “getting work done” — especially if you end up looking like an homage to Joan Rivers.
“Cosmetic surgery all over the world is becoming almost a religion, and many people worship at the doctor’s office till they are stretched like a too-tight blouse and bear frozen smiles,” writes Mireille Guiliano in her new book, French Women Don’t Get Facelifts (Grand Central; $25).
Guiliano reminds us that mature women are still considered sexy in France – and that cosmetic surgery isn’t as popular there as it is in America. French women might “partake in a little Botox or another filler,” Giuliano reports. But for the most part, she says, they rely on good skincare and cleverly tied scarves to enhance their seasoned beauty.
A second look
Sadly, miracle creams really don’t work miracles. This morning I caught a glimpse of my tired reflection in the bathroom mirror, and for a moment I considered booking my first Botox treatment. Then I felt guilty for being so hard on myself.
Yes, there’s more work to be done.
For starters, we all need to stop judging the cosmetic choices of other women. At the same time, I believe each of us should choose carefully, whether we opt for a facelift or fillers, or simply settle for an attitude adjustment. And short of moving to France, we must keep challenging our own culture’s ambivalent views on aging.
As Dr. Lancer notes in Younger, “True beauty is being the best you can be in all aspects of your life.” Beauty is as beauty does.
Original artwork by Cindy La Ferle; collage with borrowed detail from Botticelli’s Primavera.
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