Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Empty Nest Syndrome Surfacing in Unlikely Place

So I'd just hoisted two gallons of Minute Maid orange juice (with extra pulp) into my cart at Sam's Club. I was wheeling past the frozen entrees when an unexpected thought entered my head: What'll it be tonight--pueblo pie or vegetarian lasagna? That thought seems innocent enough. Only thing is I haven't purchased ready-made pueblo pie since...well, let's see...1994? Wow, I had time-traveled back to when the kids were 5 and 7.

1994, that was a lean year. The gallery wasn't in the best of locations, business suffered, and so Bennie took a job selling electronics. When I could orchestrate it, I swapped child care with other parents. When I could find an affordable, nurturing family day care arrangement, I consigned the kids there. When I had to, I would pack up Flan and Oaks and carry them to the gallery with me. Labor-intensive, homemade meals were not a regular occurrence. Defrosted pueblo pies were.

Do I want to go back to those days? Not on your life. But, despite myself, that afternoon at Sam's I found a tear rolling down my cheek while I remembered the good old days. Must have something to do with Oakley leaving the nest. Never mind he's at UNM, an hour's drive away. Never mind he's a thoughtful e-mailer. Never mind I've seen him twice since he moved out and that he's coming home in a couple of days for autumn break. In a warehouse club, in Frozen Foods, I experienced a pang of Empty Nest Syndrome. What's next? A head-banging episode in Home Depot?

Why do they call it Empty Nest Syndrome? I mean the Empty Nest part I get. But doesn't syndrome imply a group of symptoms? As in The China Syndrome? Or irritable bowel syndrome? I looked it up. A syndrome doesn't necessarily include a bunch of symptoms. It can just be a pattern of behavior that is associated with a certain situation, as in sadness associated with kids leaving the house.

According to the Psych Today website, "feelings of sadness are normal at this time. It is also normal to spend time in the absent child's bedroom to feel closer to him or her." I'm not at home right now, so I'm doing the nest best (get it--nest best?) thing: I'm posting a picture of Oakley's room. When he comes home for autumn break, he will see it just as he left it. Well, maybe a little neater. The scream poster still pulls the colors of the room together--pumpkin, cobalt blue, and jungle green. These were colors of his choosing and yes, they SCREAM. As does the painting of the flaming Volkswagen van Oakley salvaged from the reject pile of Santa Fe High's art department.

Then there's Dave Archer's reverse glass painting of outer space, won by the future Empty Nester in an art sales contest in Sausalito in 1982. "Galactic Moment" is a reminder of a still more remote past. A time when I went about my business winning sales contests and ordering lattes at midnight and sleeping in until 8 a.m. A time when the persons I now know as Oakley and Flannery had not even come into existence. Way back when I had no way of knowing what I was missing. Now, that, friends, is an unbelievable thought, a truly galactic moment.


Lee said...

San, I'm sorry you are finding moments in which to miss your kids. It's normal but it doesn't feel good. It's a great thing they still like coming back to visit. You used to never be able to get me away from my folks home for long. Now, sadly, I can't find time to visit when I feel like I really should. May your kids always be eager to come home to see you.

I like your play on the words "nest " and "next". An old friend used to say, "Do the next right thing." It is something that I'll always remember and believe it is a good motto to live by.


Flannery said...

This made me tear a little.

San said...

Thanks, Lee, for your thoughtful words. When I looked up the Psych Today article, it said that the sadness doesn't seem to be as bad when the parent has a good relationship with the children. I feel really blessed that I do feel close to my kids. And I also relate to your feelings about your own parents. Although my dad is deceased now, I've always felt quite close to my mother. Still, it is a challenge to find time to travel to be with her. The last time was in May and that was to see her through cancer surgery, then rush back to see Oakley graduate from high school! All of us did spend last Christmas with her, but the visits are few and far between, and her health doesn't allow her to travel to Santa Fe these days.

San said...

Flan, don't get me started again. xoxoxo

Daphne said...

I feel sad when I think of my children leaving too. And they're only 2 and 4.

But they never stop being our babies do they?

I'm not surprised that your tears caught up with you...

murat11 said...

For most of my adult life, I was (I thought gleefully) committed to life as a childless adult. At 45, life turned wonderfully upside down. I now experience ENS when our 8 soon to be 9 year old is off for two days with his best bud. Because of my "slow learner" curve, I feel this huge desire to live at least until I'm 110, just to give the man his due as a present father. I'm counting on Mr Iyengar to see me through.

On a smaller note, San, thanks for the shout out in your blog list. Favor returned. Mil gracias: paschal

San said...

Daphne, truth be told, it is so fulfilling to see our babies come into their own as individuals. It seems that this happens, one blossom at a time, with occasional big bursts of bouquets. But it's important also to acknowledge our sense of loss with regard to their past selves.

Murat, your desire to live long resonates with my own. I've never done Iyengar but I do have my own little bag of spiritual pracitices that open my eyes to the richness of life.