Saturday, January 17, 2015

"Trials of an Empty Nest," Ch. 14, BUT...AT WHAT COST

Beth graduated from high school in 1984, so the autumn of that year was the beginning of my life as an empty-nester. Randy was a senior in one of New York State’s best-known party schools (Oneonta) and Beth was a freshman at SUNY Albany. Thank goodness Small World Decorating was still doing well.

We were busy, but not so busy I didn’t miss Beth every day. After a lifetime of hanging out on the fields and in the gyms of Orange County, I was pretty desperate to watch some games. I even missed being a chauffeur. One might think less laundry would be a welcome change, but it just reminded me she wasn’t home. I had somewhat adjusted to Rand’s not being home, but Beth’s being gone intensified that feeling of loss.

The kids and I had always been the primary wood-movers and fire-tenders. After Randy left, Beth and I had to do it. Ash did the heavy work: the sawing, hauling and splitting. Beth and I stacked the wood in the shed, brought the wood inside and kept the home fires burning. I doubt she has any fond memories of those times, but I do. She was my right arm for the wood chores and most projects I attempted. There’s a lot to be said for sharing misery… and we shared a lot of it! We also did fun things, though. At least I thought they were fun; maybe they weren’t for her. Moms, after all, aren’t as much fun as peers are.

Beth was overweight as a teen, so wasn’t Miss Popularity. She had some “brainiac” friends and friends from sports, but she was shy and often sad. She didn’t flit from event to event, nor date much, nor talk on the phone all the time like most teenagers, but I think she wished she did.

I didn’t know how to help. She’s since said she wished I’d have made her lose weight, but at the time, I was more focused on making her feel good about who she was and what she could do, than how she should look. I had bought into the emphasis on building and preserving a child’s self-esteem. My bad, I guess.

Anyway, Beth didn’t enjoy high school or her home-life. I was very worried. I knew she would succeed academically in college, but I also knew the social adjustment would be hard for her. It was – but only for the first year.

Beth found her first good friend near the end of her first year away, and things started to look up. Linnea took Beth under her wing and built her confidence – something I was never able to do. Beth always could be assertive, but was never socially confident. She was sort of the opposite from me; I was usually confident, but not assertive. Ashley was both – in spades. Randy was both, but not in spades. Interesting.

Linnea and Beth went on a diet together, and that did it. A confident Beth emerged from the chrysalis… and her assertiveness grew to rival her father’s. They locked horns at nearly every meeting – and still do.

Time made my empty-nest syndrome more manageable. I really, really missed having them around, but Intellectually, I knew they were ready to fly. I would not have to worry about these kids. They were successful, highly competent, productive and generally happy adults. BUT, I found it to be very tough not to be needed anymore, and I still do.

Randy still valued my opinion, but Linnea had replaced me as a confidant and advisor to Beth. My little girl, under Linnea’s tutelage, became her own person and (I think) sought to release her inner child from its past. Linnea was a counselor and was present the first time Beth confronted me with hostility. In fact, Linnea initiated the conversation. It is only now, in hindsight, that I have connected Linnea’s counsel with Beth’s behavior changes. I could be completely wrong, but that was the time frame when I started to feel Beth’s hostility. Before that, I hadn’t felt it at all. She was still my “roll with the punches” little girl.

It wasn’t all the time or even most of the time, but there was a definite change in Beth’s demeanor with just about everyone in the family starting somewhere in her junior year of college (I think). As I’ve said many times in many chapters, there are a myriad of influences that can determine any choice one makes, but I think whom one wants to please at any given moment usually influences the choice the most. In Beth’s case, at that moment in time, she wanted to please Linnea.

It is natural and expected for kids to grow up and change their priorities. Moms must be left behind, but damn it’s difficult when you are!

We are serializing Judy Axtell's memoir, But...At What Cost. It is available through on-line booksellers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and its publisher, Outskirts Press. 

I am proud to have coached Judy and edited her book. You are invited to see my writing-coaching-editing site,

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