Extreme empty nest solutions

On Sunday I received a phone call from the foreign exchange student coordinator a couple hours after my daughter moved out.

Sunday was a bittersweet day.

On Sunday, my best friend became a grandma for the first time.

On Sunday, it’s been a year and a day since my close friend lost her daughter in a fiery car crash.

On Sunday, my daughter moved 4 hours away and is not planning on living at home again.

I was feeling down as you can probably imagine.

My oldest daughter moved out, my son is off pet sitting this week, and my youngest daughter is volunteering this week as a camp cook. I’m feeling the empty nest kick in. I realized that I may have a harder time with this whole empty nest thing than I thought.

I’ve been a caregiver since I can remember. I was my autistic brother’s “second mom”. I also helped with my other two younger brothers.

In college, I was a caregiver for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s and a middle aged man with Paranoid Schizophrenia. I took care of my brother Matt up until after I had several kids of my own. I also took care of my Aunt Grace when she had dementia. I provided day care for several children when my kids were little.

I don’t know what it is like to not take care of someone and the thought is a little scary.

As I was crying and feeling sorry for myself, the phone rang. The foreign exchange program coordinator called and said she had an emergency situation. One of the host parents for a student from Germany ended up getting into a serious motorcycle accident and broke her back. This student was really into music and needed a home.

I was wondering what to do with my daughter’s empty room. So we filled it. Now we will be hosting two foreign exchange students starting next month, Estelle from France and Clara from Germany.

I feel like my life has meaning again. I suppose most people get another pet once they start emptying the nest. Not me, I guess you could say I am rather extreme.

Even though it might be stressful having 3 teenagers in the house again, I am going to enjoy this last year of chaos before I have an empty nest.

By the time next year rolls around, I might actually be okay with only taking care of me.

 

My life with a teen driver

I wonder if Arabella will ever get her license. She is 16 now, but I am hesitant to set up her driving test appointment because I don’t think she will pass.

My life is in danger. Just yesterday, she blew through a stop sign. She almost ran a red light. I had to yell at her to stop. Generally a relatively patient person, I screamed an obscenity as I watched my life pass before me as she changed lanes into another car’s path on a roundabout. The other driver pulled over as if my daughter was driving an emergency vehicle with sirens blaring. I simply screamed as I saw myself going towards the other driver as if in a nightmarish bumper car ride.

But that wasn’t all! Yesterday she cut off a driver on the highway almost causing an accident. The elderly man drove past her wagging his finger at her violently. He must’ve been a nice man. Most drivers lay down on the horn screaming what I can only imagine are obscenities while shaking their middle finger at her.

Maybe if she goes one week without someone flipping her off, then I will schedule her appointment. Even if she passes her test, I will worry about her driving. It doesn’t help that a close friend’s daughter died in a car accident last year when she was 16. Having a new driver is one of the most horrifying steps of independence for a parent.

To make matters worse, Arabella has zero sense of direction. I have to give her directions to places that she has been to a million times.

She also knows everything about driving and doesn’t want to listen to my 30 years of experience. Even though I never got any tickets or was ever in an accident. I didn’t even hit a deer which is unheard of around here. I did run into a septic tank cap up north a couple weeks back that I didn’t see which caused some front end damage to my car. But we won’t talk about that today.

I wish I could help Arabella be a better driver. It’s really no wonder I feel anxious. Maybe things will get better…

The boy with the face tattoo

The last several weeks have been very unsettling for Paul and I. We reached a fork in the road and we don’t know what way to turn.

We both feel that by being blessed with financial security, we have an obligation to help others living in poverty. We currently sponsor 4 children in third world countries and help supply for their most basic needs. We can send a check in the mail every month and pat ourselves on the back for the children we help but will never see. It seemed so easy until the boy with the face tattoo shattered our perception of what it means to really help others.

How can we help others far away yet turn away someone in need in our own front yard?

He ran away/got kicked out of his house mainly because of the poor decisions he was making. Do we really need another teen in the house with issues? Why do we feel like it is our responsibility to provide for his care? We discussed being foster parents to this boy, taking him in as a surrogate son. Yet, we have a problem with him being alone in our house all day while we are at work and the kids are in school.

He was living at our house off and on for a good month. He also has been staying at the houses of different friends.

Do we take him in or do we let him sink or swim?

He needs so much help, probably more than we can provide.

  1. He quit going to school and studies online. Someone needs to monitor that he is doing his work in order for him to graduate.
  2. Rehab at the very minimum counseling. I’ve seen him completely wasted several times. The last time we saw him like that, we thought that his path was going to lead him to addiciton or ODing. How can he afford drugs? Is he selling them? Do we want to invite all of that into our house? Can we demand sobriety? Is that even attainable for him without professional help?
  3. He needs to learn very basic life skills such as cooking and budgeting. He needs clothing.
  4. He needs basic doctor and dental care. What happens if he gets sick?
  5. He needs to learn how to drive in order to get a job and maintain independence once he becomes an adult.
  6. This is a big one. He needs to have his tattoo removed from his face. Tattoo removal costs a lot of money, but he will have a really hard time finding a job without it removed. Who on earth would agree to tattoo the face of a minor? It makes my blood boil to think about it.
  7. This boy tends to make bad decisions and gets into fights, although we’ve known him since he was little and he is basically a good kid. The odds are really against him for succeeding. He was raised by a single teen mom and also has a disabled sibling which really pulls at our heartstrings from our similar experiences. They have nothing which is really not much to run away from. He might rather live in our house. Do we allow that?

If we take him in are we enabling him not to work things out with his mother? Do we really want to accept that kind of responsibility? Do we have the energy to deal with this? Will he have a bad influence on our other children living in our house? Why do I feel like I need to fix him? Is that realistic or do I just want to feel like a heroine? Why do we need to take him in or cast him out? Why can’t he just stay once in awhile if he needs to?

We need to make hard decision and have firm boundaries. Sometimes we have to confront. Why is this so unsettling? Maybe it would be for anyone not used to dealing with these issues?

We don’t have a problem with him staying at our house when we are home. But the other day he was at our house without our permission. We felt angry and violated that he snuck in. What is he doing by himself in our house?? What do we do?

Do we call the police? Do we drop him off on his mother’s doorstep? He is her responsibility, not ours. I feel angry that she is shirking him off on everyone else. Is it her fault or did he run away? I can’t blame her for not wanting to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean I want to either. Could she get in trouble with the law? Will her other children be taken away? Would our son ever talk to us again if we turn him away? Could we be in trouble if he stays? Does anybody really care anyway??

At this point, there are more questions than answers. This has really pushed us over the edge. Paul set up a first meeting with a counselor to help us deal with all this crap. We also have a lot of inadequacies as parents from growing up in unhealthy and difficult homes. We are very high functioning broken people. I wish we had all of the answers, but we keep striving to grow and improve which is all I can ask for.

It has been stressful, but little did I know more difficulties were on the way…

Parenthood watch

We saw the first snowfall at our new house when the parents of Alex’s friend arrived on the chilly autumn Saturday afternoon. It felt rather ominous of what was yet to come, but at the same time brilliant and beautiful.

The other parents were concerned about how much partying our sons were doing. We decided to get together as a group with another set of parents and just talk, a support group so to say for parents of wayward sons. These boys are all good kids really. They just took a detour down the wrong path. They are partying and failing classes. They aren’t picking fights, stealing, destroying property…

I am making an effort to stop lying to myself. Part of that means facing the fact that my son may never go to college. I thought up to a month ago that he was going to college after graduating. Back when he was in grade school, Alex wanted to be an accountant. I had to ask the teacher to give him more challenging math. Then in middle school and high school, he barely passed math. In fact, he is failing his math class as we speak.

I lied to myself. I’ve been lying to myself for a long time. I’ve been telling myself that he is still that boy in grade school that needs more challenging math. But he really is the party boy that doesn’t give a crap about school. If we come down on him too hard for partying, then we fear that he will leave home and not even finish high school. It is very heartbreaking to see him waste his brilliant mind. It is so much easier to lie to myself.

I don’t have any control over the path he decides to take when he leaves here. It has been causing us a lot of grief. I hope and pray that he matures and grows out of it. Until then, now we have a group of parents that are just as concerned as we are. We might not be able to keep them from taking the wrong path, but at least we don’t have to deal with this alone.

Last night we had our first parenthood watch meeting. We shared our stories about our sons which were remarkably similar…

We are going to have a parenthood watch meeting once a month and exchanged numbers. It’s time for us to work together and do what we can to make things better. It’s not a lot of fun to deal with this alone.

 

perspective

This morning I paced the floor. I felt anxious and stressed. Only 8 1/2 months to go. But who’s counting?

He overslept. Things were going so well the whole two days since school started, until today that is. He left at the time he should’ve been at school which is problematic since we moved further away. He had over a half an hour drive before picking up two friends on the way.

My son will be the death of me. If I disappear from the bloggosphere someday, you’ll know why.

Being late stresses me out. But since I am not one to be late, I am stressed out vicariously through my kids.

It put me in a really negative and anxious mood. I know I shouldn’t let my kid’s tardiness affect my day. But it is hard to just let it go sometimes.

Then I opened up Facebook this morning and saw a memory from a race I ran several years back with Lisa and her teen daughter that recently passed away in a car accident. We all placed in the small town race and were showing off our medals. Lisa’s daughter won’t be going to school today. She won’t be graduating, going to college, having a family…any of that. Maybe if she overslept she would still be alive, instead of falling asleep behind the wheel.

It really puts things into perspective.

Will my son’s tardiness be something that I will think about next year? It is incredibly frustrating today. Sometimes I need the little reminders to be thankful for the days we have together. I only have a few months left with him under my roof.

I’m trying to let go and not let his mistakes ruin my day.

 

The pharmacist

When he got expelled for selling drugs in middle school, his mother said that he had aspirations of becoming a pharmacist. 

I saw his mother this past weekend. I don’t know if she noticed me. Maybe she pretended she did not, like I did with her. In all honesty, I feel disgust towards her mixed with a strong dose of pity.

Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have allowed my kids to have sleepovers. But I still fondly remember childhood sleepovers…popcorn and movies…staying up all night…laughter and friendship. Why would I take that from my kids for no good reason?

Did she know back then that her son was the pharmacist??

He seemed so smooth, so friendly. Almost too nice, too charming. He always used terms like Mr. and Mrs., please and thank you. Is being too polite now a warning sign?

Who would’ve guessed? For the record, Paul always had a bad feeling about the boy. But he was so young then, only 12, when he dragged the neighborhood boys off the straight and narrow down a deep dark path.

He left them somewhere along the way and kept going…deeper, narrower, darker…DMT, heroin…pills, needles, pipes…I heard he is in juvie now.

Sometimes, when it first begins, it’s hard to see the sole’s first tread off the path.

I didn’t know why he left school at the beginning of the school year. He went on ‘vacation’ for a couple of weeks after leaving. Something about going to visit a relative out of state, but his mother stayed home. Then he started homeschooling because his mother did not like the school anymore. Then there were the Saturday morning community service projects. The warning bells rang like sirens in my head.

I felt angry with his mother for not telling us what was really going on. But is it her fault her son is the way he is? Did she know what was happening in her own house?? Was it already too late when she found out?

Eventually, the neighborhood moms found out what was happening. Their boys were banned from seeing the pharmacist early in the path. But what happened while we were at work?? He only lived a couple houses down. It was a hard time. Teenagers sometimes need as much supervision as toddlers.

Could it have been prevented? We already made sure we had conversations with the parents before allowing our children over for sleepovers.

Keep vigilant when things seem off.

Don’t tell yourself that the empty Benadryl wrappers you found were from your child treating allergies when you don’t carry those pills in the house. You will second guess yourself at first especially when you are not ready to face the truth. Don’t tell yourself, he is only 13.

Then start hoping and praying that your child did not enter a path that they have a hard time finding their way back from.

The internet is a double edged sword. It’s sickening how much info is out there for kids who want to experiment. But on the flip side it can also be a great resource to parents, like me, who have no clue.

Keep talking, eventually the truth comes out. When the truth comes out, don’t expect it to be pretty. Whatever you do, don’t act out of anger towards your teen if they tell the truth no matter how hard it is to hear.

And don’t expect an apology from the mother. Expect to hear that her son has aspirations of becoming a pharmacist.

 

New endings

I was planning on writing something inspirational today. But, hey, it’s a stormy Monday and I’m just not feeling it. I feel sad and tired today.

This past weekend Angel left to start her junior year in college. She really doesn’t need us anymore. Her boyfriend helped move her in. I guess I always feel sad this time of year. But with each passing year, it does get easier when she leaves. It is also hard to think of summer ending when we know the harshness that lies ahead.

Angel left on a good note. Even her brother Alex and her are getting along.

We’ve been struggling with Alex. We have a college tour scheduled in a couple of weeks and he just said that he is no longer interested in going to college. The only thing he wants to do with his life is music, which will be a difficult path even if he does go to college. Now that he is an adult, he is ready to move out. We have been talking to him and giving him advice, but he has no interest in listening.

We are out of touch and don’t know anything. Wait! I thought that was my parents, not me!!

I suppose it is the natural way of life. You have so much wisdom and experience to share with your adult children, but they just want to do it their own way. No one ever told me it would be so hard to see them making the wrong decisions. It’s laughable actually. I thought that when my kids became adults I would be done with this. But it is actually one of the hardest parenting times ever. For the first time ever, you have to learn to walk away.

My youngest daughter Arabella will be starting a new school next week as a sophomore. She decided that she wanted to get up early this week and prepare herself for having to get up early for school. She stays out of trouble, gets good grades, and has a job. She is very responsible. But will that all come to a crashing halt in the next couple of years?? I am afraid of that, but this time I am totally prepared for it.

I feel disappointment and sorrow. Maybe I need to change my focus from all that is going wrong to all that is going right. I have to let go and move on with my own life. I did everything that I could do.

 

siphon

Last week my son was supposed to have his senior pictures taken. Supposed to is the key word…A couple of hours before the scheduled appointment, I noticed that my son had a black eye. Seriously??!? How did that happen? He said that he was boxing with his friend. That is just how things go with him. Some day I will look back in laughter, but today is not one of those days.

Last summer Alex had a full time job doing demo work for a flooring company. It was tough work and it paid well. This summer my son is unemployed. One of the main reasons for this was that he went on a school trip to Europe and was gone 3 weeks in the middle of summer break. That makes getting a summer seasonal job rather difficult.

My son also wants to hang out with his friends. He said this will be the last summer before they graduate from high school and go off into the real world. I get that, really I do. We have been very generous with our adult children. We pay for their cell phones, insurance, and gas for the cars we’ve given them to drive. I really don’t mind doing this as long as they are in school and are responsible.

But lately it has become too much. We feel taken advantage of. Paul said that we are no longer going to give Alex gas money just to run around with his friends. He is the only friend that has a car, so he is the taxi service to run around his friends on our dime. They never chip in for gas. They go to parties and have fun. They even went camping in Upper Michigan.

Maybe if he appreciated us or even kept his room clean, it probably wouldn’t be a huge deal. Yesterday he decided that he wanted to siphon gas from his car that wasn’t working to the car that was. I was totally against this idea.

We had another couple over at the time. They are newer friends, but have the potential to be really good friends since we have a lot in common. My friend asked about my hobbies and I mentioned that I like to write. She wants to write a book and also has a blog on WP. Most people reply ‘that’s nice’ when I say that I like to write, but she asked so many questions that I ended up telling her I have this blog. This is where things got a little awkward. Sorry, I only share very personal things about my life with total strangers and not friends.

She said that when I was ready, she would love to read my blog. I want to share my life with the people I care about, yet I don’t. It has been a real struggle over the years. The more followers I get, the harder it is to keep this hush hush and private. Maybe some day I will tell friends and family, but right now I’m too afraid. You see the things I write about! Why do I feel so guarded, so private about my life? It doesn’t feel safe to share these things. Sometimes I feel conflicted about sharing anything with anyone at all.

Anyway, they were over and my son’s friend comes over to help him siphon gas. I told him that I really had a problem with him doing that but still refused to give him money. I took time away from my friends to deal with the situation which immediately threw me into a bad mood. It ended with one of Alex’s friends saying that he could borrow some money for gas.

Our friends were joking around about the situation, which was fine. They said that if he tries to siphon gas and then smokes, part of his face would be blown off. I never thought of that! My anxiety went through the roof! A black eye and part of his face blown off really wouldn’t look good for the senior pictures.

Some day this better be good for a few laughs…But as of right now, I’m going crazy!

Luke’s visit, part 3

Today is my mom’s 70th birthday. She also decided that she was ready to retire from her career. It was almost getting to the point where I thought that I would be retiring before she did. My siblings and I threw her a party at the cabin up north this past weekend. We invited relatives, co-workers, and some friends that my mom hasn’t seen for years.

My dad thanked me several times for throwing my mom the party. She seemed so happy. I don’t think he ever thanked me before for anything. I didn’t see him get off of the couch. His feet were swollen and propped up. Paul said that I needed to start working through my issues and talk to my dad before it was too late. I haven’t felt the need to do that like my brother Luke did. Am I making a mistake?

Our friends Lisa and Tom came to the party with their daughter. Lisa did an internship for my mom a couple years back. Once Tom and Lisa arrived, we pretty much ditched everyone at the party and talked to them only. It was the first time that we were able to speak to them alone since their oldest daughter died.

Lisa said that they believe their daughter died in the car crash from falling asleep. The night before, her daughter had a sleepover with a friend. Lisa went to bed at 10. She told the girls to go to bed by 11 since they needed to leave early the next morning for work. They didn’t listen. The girls were giddy and giggly that night. They were on social media with friends until 3:30 AM the next morning. They might have had only 3 hours of sleep before leaving for work. It is assumed that both girls fell asleep when they ran off the road and hit the tree bursting the car into flames.

Lisa’s daughter told my daughter that her last words to her sister were ‘I hate you, go to bed’. The whole situation is very tragic. Everyone is having a hard time with it. Lisa told me that she doesn’t want to live anymore without her daughter. It was heart wrenching. I told her that she needed to do everything she could to stay strong for her other children.

That night after everyone left, the extended family talked. I felt rather alone because I was the only one in my immediate family that stayed overnight at the cabin. With the whole family there, sleeping space was rather limited.

They asked about Alex and his new car. I told the story of how he pissed off the wrong people the day he got his car and how they damaged his vehicle with a metal pipe. Since then, he hit a deer with the car and smashed the front end. Plus the car is leaking oil everywhere. I also spoke of miscellaneous fines.

I felt like almost everyone blamed and criticized me for being a crappy parent. That is what my family does, blame and criticize versus support and encourage. I am guilty of this too. The one who gave me the hardest time was my sister-in-law that doesn’t even have kids. I felt frustration with my family and with my son. Raising teenagers is excruciatingly painful and stressful. We feel like we are making the best decisions that we can in regards to our children.

I was starting to feel miserable about all of it. But then I thought in the scope of things, does it really matter?? Yeah, my son trashed a car within a month after getting it. Most of it wasn’t his fault, but some of it was. Yes, I am feeling really frustrated as a parent right now. But, he is still alive. I can still hug him and tell him that I love him even if he decides to make a mess of his life. That is an opportunity that not all of my friends have.

The next morning Luke apologized to me for being negative and critical. He said that he was sure that Alex would turn out just fine. He said that he was trying to turn his life around. He wants to be more supportive and less judgmental.

I told Luke that I was under the misconception that if I provided the right kind of home for my children that they would make the right decisions. It is very painful as parents to see our children make wrong choices, especially when I feel like my family is blaming me for the wrong choices my children make.

My life has been changing so fast lately. So have the lives of everyone around me that I am close to. I feel like everything is moving too fast. I want to be able to slow down and just catch my breath for a couple minutes.

Fortune cookie wisdom #14

You never suffer from a money problem, you always suffer from an idea problem.

Before we start today, I want to tell you that this is not my fortune. My daughter Angel received this on her 20th birthday. My fortune was so boring I left it behind. Paul’s fortune said that his life would be filled with happiness and peace or some crap like that. He is always the luckiest! I mean, he does have me after all…Ha ha…anyway..

So as of this past weekend, my oldest is no longer a teenager. Wonderful news! Now I only have two teenagers. But I am not about to change my about page anytime soon.

Angel was a great teenager to raise…although there was that little blip right at the end that really showed she was a teenager. At times she was a little mouthy, but she also is an endless optimist, has leadership skills, has charisma, woo, maturity, and is beautiful both inside and out. The good far out weighs the bad. She is so charming that the rest of us have a hard time keeping up.

Most days go well for Angel, but her birthday was a little rough. She wanted to go sailing to the beach but the weather was not favorable. It was windy, rainy, and cool. Rumor has it that a sailboat capsized at the sailing club that very day. So we sat around home and didn’t do much which was a mild form of torture for me.

I did pick up a new hobby though..Weeding! How come none of you gardeners told me how therapeutic it could be?? I weeded for hours, until my carpal tunnel acted up.

Anyway, back to the birthday…Angel wanted Paul and I to take Dan and her out for sushi. Dan never had sushi before and it is one of Angel’s favorite foods. Dan totally hated it. He stayed out late with friends the night before, was crabby, and fell asleep once we got back home. Angel played her music, an opera song that she is hoping to be able to sing by the end of graduate school. Dan said he didn’t care for the song. Oh boy!

Other than that, things have been going well with Dan.

We are hoping to take Dan and Angel out sailing to the beach before she has to go back to college…We’ll see what happens.

I hope she doesn’t run out of time, ideas, or money.