Monday, August 31, 2009

And Here I Stand Naked Before You

Each year as summer vacation comes to an end, I suffer from separation anxiety. I woke up this morning to an empty household. My husband left for work and the kids were off at school. I wanted to jump back into bed and throw the covers over my face. I felt so alone. The house screamed with silence. It was just me and my thoughts. Never a good combination.

As the blood began to circulate back into my muscles, I realized that this year my anxiety must be tied to Kyle leaving home for good. The end of summer has always represented the end of relaxed family time. This joyous time of no routines, no bedtimes, no schedules, and endless long wonderful, blissful days has ended. And with it, I come face to face with the realization that time marches on.

But this year, it is so much more poignant. I am fully aware that Kyle will be leaving home for good way too soon. And just like the end of summer vacation, I hate it!

But, I can’t stop time nor do I want to. My dear friend’s voice pops into by head, “Stay in the moment.” Her strong and calming voice rings in my ears. She is at peace even though her eldest son just left home for college. She is truly and solely celebrating his independence. She is unequivocally happy for him. This has gotten me thinking. I am projecting how I am going to feel when Kyle leaves as a way to protect myself from feeling the pain I think I am going to feel. I am spending my time worrying about my feelings of loss when I haven’t lost anything. What if I just enjoy today and then when Kyle leaves for college deal with those feelings then? Does that leave me too vulnerable?

Why not be vulnerable? So here goes. As I approached college age my father was sick. He died when I was a freshman in college. I lived at home because I was intuitively aware that time was precious. I never separated in the normal go to college and leave home sense. My separation was so much more permanent. My family clung tightly to each other forever after that. And then my sister got sick. I lost my best friend the day she died. Soon after, my perfect mother got Alzheimer’s and I started taking care of her. Soon she would be lost to me too. The family that I had treasured was all gone. All I had left were the glorious memories of my childhood and an unabated feeling that wherever I was they were with me.

But I was blessed. I had already started my own family. And together with my loving husband, we raised our children with the same close attachments, the same delirious feelings of “us against the world, “ the same values and moral compass that my family had passed to me and his to him. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I had lost my family but I got another one. I have been a part of two of the most loving, inspirational families I could ever imagine. But it comes with a price. The price is the fear of separation.

Two things flash into my mind. One is that separation does not always mean loss. The other is the ever-present fear that real loss could be around the corner. I recognize that what I have to do is know that I have the strength inside of me to survive. That’s the tricky part.

Is recognizing the problem helpful? I don’t know. But at this minute I am actually looking forward to the adventures that lay ahead for both my boys. May they just stay healthy and strong? I can almost imagine myself planning my first adventure with Tom when both boys are out of the house. I have never been able to even dare imagine this before. Lookout Tom, we might end up living in Aix en Provence.

So, here it is. On the first few days of the rest of my life I stand naked before you, and although it is not a pretty sight it is honest. As I move forward I hope to bring you more humor and less tears in my quest for the rest of my life. Laughter has seen me through many a trying time. I like to think that the day my sons leave for college I will have some witty and inappropriate things to say to them. I hope I won’t try to tell them how much I love them, how much I’ll miss them, how much I’ll worry about them. I’m sure they will already know all that.

And I Cried...

I few days ago, I received an amazing e-mail from a friend. She let me into her world with a beautiful letter she wrote to her son before she dropped him off at college. It made me cry. I read this sipping my green tea in one hand keeping my other hand free to wash away the tears blurring my eyes. She generously and lovingly sent it to me letting me know that she understood my sentiments. She is always a step ahead of me. She is willing to share this with all of you who might be reading this Blog.

Dear Son

Today I realized you were leaving for college.
But, wait, it was just yesterday I was dropping you off at Kindergarten.

Those days where physically exhausting. The hardest thing was tying everyone’s shoes only to turn around and find your little brother had kicked his off. Aaaaa.

Then I realized that physical exhaustion was a luxury compared to emotional exhaustion. There was factorial dynamics, emergency hospital visits, vacillating hormones of all ages. Teasing, screaming, nerves, frights….

But back to the point, I have faced this moment 5 times;
1) When you were 2 at Club Med and “they” took you away to your kids club. I watched from behind a palm tree as an iguana barked at me
2) When you went to Montessori pre school and “they” tore you from my arms and clapped on my car window to move on out of the carline.
3) When you went to Kindergarten, holding tight to my hand and then launching bravely forward with your best friend. The lump in my throat couldn’t hold down the tears. “They” slammed the door and shooed us parents away. So we cupped our hands on the window and peeked in like a Norman Rockwell painting.
4) When you went to private High School separately from all of your middle school friends so torn and strong. I wanted more than anything to take you into my arms and keep you home so “they” would not hurt you. You were too young to feel pain like this.
5) And now. At USC summer orientation. Today I was coincidentally jogging several feet behind you (I was late for lunch) when you were walking off for registration. Your shadow touched me and then pulled away. I stopped cold. “They” are so many here in LA. The big city. The unknown. The unfair….

I didn’t cry at your graduation. I didn’t know why.
But today as I hold a damp, salty tissue filled with so many emotions,
I do know why.
I have been on autopilot.
There were logistics, SATs and college appts. paperwork and health checkups.
There was the sacrifice of allowing you to be with friends and others your “last summer”.
There were knee ops and wisdom teeth.
There was baseball, proms, graduation.
And endless “things to do” ---and I knew you weren’t reading those todo list emails.

I’ve been clanking up the old wooden rollercoaster in Santa Cruz that was your first rollercoaster ride.
Now I’m at the top.
There are no more safety nets.
I’m about to drop and my stomach hangs in anticipation.
Now I’m on “Top Gun” at Great Adventure with its spins, speed and 0 gravity effects.
Now I’m crying.

I have this anxiety of unfinished business.
What did I forget to tell you.
What lessons did I not pass on.
Did I tell you how you’ve surpassed every expectation I’ve ever had of you.
Did I tell you I loved you enough times. Did I tell you I loved you enough times. Did I tell you I loved you enough times…..

Why am I thinking about buying mango juice, going to Harmony Chinese restaurant or making oatmeal pancakes and then realizing these are the things I used to do for you. And realizing I won’t need to do them for a while.

Why do I tell complete strangers my son is going away to college?
Some of these people don’t even speak English like the gardener.

But now I have to believe that I spent the last 18 years teeing you up for this moment.
Now I have to realize you are a man.
And I have to believe in you.
I truly trust you will be successful.

Our choices together have brought you to this great place and time.
Now its your turn to make choices.
You’ll be making big decisions
In a big city
And I’m going to worry about you so much.

I and everyone at home will be going through a transition with you.
Lets give each other the license to be distant, emotional, supportive and communicative.

There’s a sadness that you are leaving.
But I’m so blessed we’ve reached this point together.
And I that I am around to see it.

I have, now, new hopes for you.
And I will still be scared, brave, proud and involved (whether you like it or not.)

Of course call and tell me about the highs and the lows.
But Please, also, just call—or hey, videotext-- to say you’re OK.
When you call I promise to try and listen and ask and help you think.
I hope you’ll always see me as a resource and a partner.

The house will feel like
…AT&T Park after the All Stars game is over and the bleachers are empty
0The TOC championship little league field after we went home with the trophy
…Wimbledon after the Federer match when the stadium echoes
...the Kentucky Derby after the hoofbeats have stopped
…The Zelda game when you complete the Triangle
...Phantom of the Opera after the chandelier is pulled back to its place on the ceiling and the doors are locked
...The World's Fair after closing day when the popcorn bags are blowing across the dirt like ghosts
…The Harry Potter movie when the lights come on
…Sun Valley when the sun melts the snow in the Spring

Your room will be very very empty
The silence will be very very loud
(But, hey, the trash will be less)

None of us, want to say goodbye—so remember,
invite us to Disneyland!!

I love you so much,

PS: People said it would be easier when the kids go off to college. But I liked it the way it was.
PPS: You should know that I got an F second semester English because I dropped it after the cutoff date. Think about that we’re all human during the tough times.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What Are You Thinking?

I have been receiving some wonderful e-mails from you. I wanted to share a few of them. Soon I will figure out how to make this BLOG a more open forum. Not to worry, I have cleared the use of these e-mails with the senders. The last thing I need right now is to lose friends! Thank you all for taking the time to read my thoughts. I know I love hearing yours.

Dear Terry

One week down, and our son is doing GREAT and Fabulous! He does however want to come home Saturday -- for a little while -- : ) My husband was going to dissuade him, but I put a BIG KABBASH on that idea!!! : ) He has to pick up some necessary items he forgot: a comb... although he says finger combing has been successful... a jacket -- the heat wave is over -- (thankfully) (and a Hurricane is a coming -- no rain gear)... a pencil sharpener... and most important, a Latin Dictionary. He already has 60 lines to translate, from Ovid, and hasn't a dictionary to assist him.

Well, my friend, so far, emptying the nest is more like a great picture show, or bird watching. It is great fun to watch the fledglings spread their magnificent wings and take flight for the first time. It's beautiful to see them explore, take charge, and experience. I recommend it. You too will wonder, worry, and keep tight reins until the last moment, then it is a freeing experience to open your hands and gently blow on them to release the special miracle -- your son -- and watch him take off into the atmosphere and joyfully flitter about.

Take care,
Your Friend

This makes me want to cry. But will I be this brave?

Another friend wrote:

Hi Terry,

That last blog was a little tough to take. Don't really like thinking about this phase of my life as afterbirth, but here is proof you might be onto something.

Yesterday, Nick called from college to say 'hi' and mentioned he had lost his wallet the night before. My mind went into the fight or flight mode as I grilled him what was in the wallet, what immediate actions he needed to take and what could be put off until tomorrow. Just after I hung up the phone, a man named Ben called to say he had found Nick's wallet and was trying to contact him so he could return it to him, I gleefully took down Ben's number, then called Nick with the good news and texted him Ben's number.

Moments after completing this joyous transaction, it occurred to me that Ben might be some creep. Why was he so persistent to return Nick's wallet in person? Why not just keep the wallet? I knew my paranoid protective side was taking over and I resisted the overwhelming urge to text Nick--"Only meet Ben in a public place" or "Bring a friend with you when you meet Ben."

It's embarrassing - my mind keeps parenting him like he was 12 years old. Further, it has turned the Good Samaritan into a villain who could potentially harm my six-foot tall, college-aged son---pathetic.

So even thought those boys will be off to college in a few short years, your crazy mind will keep you busy for years to come with helpful suggestions you can send their way.


Bertha is always honest with me. She is a wonderful Mom with the patience of a saint. But, will she get sick and tired of my constant questions and complaints?

Another wonderful friend is always a step ahead of me. She is generous of spirit and always there to both understand and support.

Terry -

I felt the same way when my daughter left for school - but I talk to her more now (nice conversations - never arguments) then ever before. She is my best friend - and when she is not visiting or I am not visiting we are planning our next visit. She recently got a dog and I feel like a grandma - I find myself shopping for puppy toys. I know when my son leaves I will even be busier - a happy busy - planning when we can all get together - and visiting them both. It has been a truly positive experience - and I am so proud!

Thank you all for your words of encouragement and wisdom!

You might want to check out this article about dropping your kids off at college that appeared in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

Friday, August 28, 2009

When you get sick and tired of reading my blog please check out for a breath of fresh air. She is really an inspired writer and someone who I so admire.

And She Ate It...

Did you know that there are four, not three, stages of labor? The first, of course, is the painful contractions ending in a lovely ten centimeter dilation, the second is the whole painful pushing part, the third is the birth of your beautiful baby, and the fourth is delivering the placenta, romantically known as the AFTERBIRTH!

This got me thinking about life. Is life divided into four stages? The first stage beginning with the innocence of childhood and ending with the awkward and sometimes painful high school years. The second stage starting with the whole college thing and then ending with the big push for the perfect career as you try to find yourself while searching for your perfect soul mate. The third commencing with the decision to marry your soul mate and ending with the creation of a family of your own. And the fourth beginning with those children you raised and happily gave your life to, flying the coup, leaving you in menopausal hell with every ache and pain imaginable, reminiscent of the lovely AFTERBIRTH, and ending in, well, death.

Great. In this scenario that leaves me with the AFTERBIRTH stage to look forward to. Have you ever seen 'AFTERBIRTH?' To my recollection, it isn't pretty. My husband, Tom, turned his head, and I still heard him gag.

But what about all my wonderful friends who have decided for one reason or another not to have children? Do they have a much more highly developed second stage of life? Recently, I had the wonderful fortune of reconnecting with a dear friend of mine living in Manhattan who never had children. She is beautiful, graceful, smart, witty, and kind. And she is also completely and utterly interesting. She will never have to worry about 'afterbirth!' And, may I add, she hasn't aged a day in the over twenty years I have known her. Is it to late for me to become like my friend and basically get a life?

I awoke early this morning, covered in sweat, just another wonderful aspect of womanhood. I lay there trying to fall back to sleep. My mind shifted to something Kyle said earlier in the evening. We were all watching the last episode of the season for a new television show called ROYAL PAINS. At the end of the program, the announcer said in his announcer voice, "ROYAL PAINS WILL BE BACK NEXT SUMMER!" Kyle screamed at the TV, "I'll be a senior next summer." And there it was again...his resounding benediction that he is growing up and leaving home, real soon. The countdown begins and it seems to be marked by the announcer in my television set.

So, I tossed a little and thought some more. It was also my youngest son Will's first day of school yesterday, and he bought his own ice cream from the ice cream truck (I did make him a mint chip milk shake for dinner) instead of our annual ritual. And then, after he came home, I had made an appointment with an orthopedic masseuse for my aching back. Now, normally I would have never done this. Number one, I hate any kind of doctor-like appointments and number two I would never have scheduled something on Will's first day of school. Was I getting a bit of my independence back? Is this really the first days of the rest of my life?

This thinking got me focused on a real AFTERBIRTH. I just read an article in Time Magazine by Joel Stein. The poor sucker had to collect his wife's afterbirth following the birth of their son, then bring it home and watch his wife eat it! Of course, they called 'a placenta lady' to come over and fix it all up in their kitchen with all kinds of herbs and then freeze dry it into little capsules. Are you grossed out yet? They say it helps with postpartum depression and milk supply. And Mr. Stein's wife is going to save some for menopause. It seems the placenta is also good for fighting pain.

So, I come away thinking that for the AFTERBIRTH stage of my life, I should have saved my AFTERBIRTH. Perhaps. But, I also recognize that the placenta has so many wonderful nutrients and proteins. It is filled with wonderful things. I hope my AFTERBIRTH stage will be filled with everything good for me, and, maybe, just maybe, a little of its painkilling effects. That would be useful right now.

(c) 2009 Terry Castle

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mommy Needs a Play Date!

My young son began his last year of middle school today. Yesterday he made his way to school on his own to pick up his schedule and figure out where his classes where held. In the past, I have always been a part of this journey. Yesterday, he did it by himself. I encouraged him to go, without me. I so want him to leave middle school with his own voice, his independence, and his self-esteem in tact. I tried desperately to cling to the moment as I watched him walk out our front door, confident and happy. I was proud of him. He was growing-up. As soon as I regained composure, my mind raced to a disturbing thought, next year he will begin high school! The voice inside my head began to scream, 'high school goes so fast! In a blink of an eye, he will be leaving home too.'

Late in the day, Will pulled me aside and sweetly looked into my eyes. "We need to make you play date for tomorrow, Mom," he informed me. I looked into his powerful eyes and knew he understood how hard the first day of school was going to be for me. Shouldn't I be worried about the first day of school for him. We all know how difficult middle school can be. Yet, he was worried about me. Isn't he too young to be parenting me? What have I done? Will this put him on the psychiatrists' couch in years to come?

As much as I fear the day the boys leave for college, I hope with all my heart that they leave happily, with no regrets and with no fear. I want them to know we will always be a family, I am always here for them, but when the moment is right, it will be time for them to step out in the world and figure out who they are and how they want to live their lives.

Yes, it will be difficult for me but I don't want this to impact them at all. For once in their lives, this is no guilt trip. A mother is only as happy as her least happy kid. It is up to me to find my own happiness when they are gone. They will always be the center of my world but perhaps not my whole world. This is the part I have to work on.

My husband, who turns fifty-two today always has said, "At 18, they are out the door." Ever since Kyle was born he has said, "At 18, he is out the door." This has been our standing joke. I of course say, "They can stay until they are ready to leave!" He looks into my sad and playful eyes and repeats, "18 and out the door!" Bless my wonderful husband with whom I have had the pleasure of celebrating 21 birthdays. He recognized all those years ago that I would have trouble letting go. He has always reminded me that before kids there was Tom and Terry. And Tom and Terry is good. No, Tom and Terry is great. We have laughed about growing old together. I tease him that he will be chasing me around our rocking chairs when we can barely walk, still trying to grab my ass. Well, we are getting closer and closer to this time. I hope I am right and he still wants to chase me around those rockers. And bless you Tom for giving the boys the balance to know that leaving home is what they are suppose to do and it will be the best time in their lives. Thank you, Tom for not letting me 'mother' them too much, for still wanting to grab my now overly bodacious bottom! Bless you and Happy Birthday.

Today I must prepare for a birthday feast of Coq au vin. I can't wait for Will to return from school and tell me all about his day. Just for today, I will worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

(c) 2009 Terry Castle

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A priest, a minister and a rabbi were talking about when life begins. The priest said:”Life begins at conception.” The minister said:”Life begins when the fetus is viable.” The rabbi said:”Life begins when your kids move out and your dog dies.”

Could this be true?

Two Scoops, Please!

As I placed my head on my pillow last night, I tried to reflect on the first day of the rest of my life. How had it gone? Did I feel any different? I felt oddly quiet. Quiet was good, real good. Anxious thoughts were not ricocheting in my overcrowded brain. But the day had not been all good. What was making me so 'mellow'?

I picked up my 16-year-old from school and watched him saunter over to the car. It looked like he was talking to himself. I could see his mouth moving but heard no words coming out. He was all alone on the sidewalk and when I looked for his cell phone, it was not in his hand. My heart jumped a beat. Kyle has always handled stress so well, has the first day of Junior year broke him already? Did I need to rush over to a yoga studio or make an acupuncture appointment for him to detox? He opened the car door and gave me one of his gorgeous smiles. His pulled tiny ear plugs from his ears. "I'm just listening to some music Mom," he said probably noticing the worried look on my face. "I had a great day," he offered up. "I love being an upper class man. I can't wait to be a senior." Oh boy. I could wait. I could wait another twenty years I thought at that particular moment in time.

He can't wait to get on with his life. I remember those days. The days seemed so long as you rushed toward something unexpected and exciting. Selfishly, I think about myself. The only thing I am rushing for these days is more grey hair, hot flashes, and inexplicable fits of rage. But I stay in the moment. It's a very MARIN kind of moment.

I ask Kyle if he wants to get some ice cream. I could tell by his answer that he really just wanted to go home, but he said fine. I think he realized that we have a silent ritual. The first day of school we always get an ice cream. I don't know if he realizes that we have done this for the last eleven years. I was delighted to drive up to the ice cream parlor and stand in line with my six foot four son. All around us were little kids with their moms licking their cones or waiting to be served their own precious scoop. We stood next to each other and I looked up at him and felt proud. Really proud. I had raised a good son. For goodness sake, he still lets me take him for ice cream. I remember, long ago, when he would hold my hand. I thought about it for a second but thought he would probably check me into a mental ward if I took his hand. So, I was content just standing next to him waiting for our turn.

When he was little he would have to check out all the flavors to see which one he wanted. He always wanted to make the right choice afraid he would be disappointed if he got a flavor that he didn't like. On this day, I could tell he was more interested in the 'hot' girls dishing out the scoops than the scoops themselves. But, he wasn't embarrassed to be with me. We seem to have passed that stage. I wondered if he would treat himself to ice cream his first day of college? I hope he will. I wonder if I should get an ice cream cone on his first day of college. Should I should treat myself and celebrate his independence? It makes me cry just thinking about it. There will be a lot of salt in that ice cream cone.

For a few moments yesterday, all did feel right with the world. Kyle sat on the kitchen stool and began his homework. My 13-year-old, WIll, was in his room reading. He never reads. It was a miracle.

Then the old calendar came out. The tiny squares began to fill up very quickly. I have prided myself about not over booking the kids. So, how did this happen. We were yelling back and forth about schedules, and hot lunches, about SAT tutors and fencing lessons. Will wants to play the bass. Kyle is directing a play. We could barely squeeze everything the kids need to do into those tiny squares.

Then I stopped dead in my tracks. In a few short years, those squares will be empty. I will have nothing to fill them with. I want to run to my bed and hide under the covers, but I force myself to go to the market to buy dinner. As I mindlessly walk the isles, I think about the impending emptiness of my life. What am I going fill those squares with. Kyle can't wait to be a senior, and I haven't got a clue what I am going to do with my squares. This is what the rest of my life is going to feel like. An endless abyss of empty squares.

I come home and check my e-mails. So many friends have sent me reassuring messages as a result of this blog. This helps fill the void for the moment. I think about my friends here in Marin. Many of them started a "mommy group" when their kids were young. I was not a part of this group because I did not know it even existed. Are they going to start an "old mommies group? " And will I be part of it? Are we going to sit around and talk about how our kids are adjusting to college, where they are going to spend their year abroad, what they are majoring in? I imagine for a nano second the possibility of talking about literature and politics. The slight hope of dissecting art installations and theater openings. But I know I will just want to talk about my children. How utterly pathetic I am. Get a life, I think. Grow-up. And there it is. The first day of the rest of my life, and I realize that it might be time for me to really grow up.

(c) 2009 Terry Castle

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cramming it all in!

The other night my two children and I took my husband to dinner for his birthday and to celebrate the last wonderful days of summer vacation. As we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge we witnessed a police car ahead of us turn on his lights and make a u-turn on the bridge. He stopped suddenly, jumped out of his car, and ran to the side of the bridge. We all watched in horror knowing the likelihood that there had been a jumper. Living in the Bay Area you hear about this frequently. It must be the majesty of the Bridge that brings desperate souls here to take their final leap. Of course, as a Mom, I see this an opportunity to impart a life lesson. I have a tendency to do this, at nauseam, I'm afraid. It is my duty as their mother to guide them. I want there to be my voice in their head when I'm long gone or nowhere around. So, I begin. "You know kids, if you are ever depressed and have thoughts of suicide there is always someone to talk to. You can always call the suicide hotline. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." I feel that I have done my duty and hopefully in times of trouble they will remember what I said. But, as soon as I have completed my sentence I hear giggles from the back seat. I ask my 13-year-old what's so damn funny. He tells me I have told them this before. The words verbatim. Yes, they know that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. They giggle at me some more.
I realize that I have been busy cramming every life lesson imaginable into their little brains. I think I have a limited time to teach them everything they will need in life. But here I am on the first day of the rest of my life and I haven't a clue what I need to do. Where is that voice in my head telling me that when the time comes and you are in the throws of menopausal hell, and your kids are growing up and getting ready to leave you, this is what you are suppose to do! I want a voice. Of course, mine would probably be diagnosed as schizophrenia!
It is August 25, 2009 at 11:26 am and my oldest left for the first day of his junior year of high school a few hours ago. I woke up with that awful pit in my stomach. The house would soon be so quiet and all I would be left with was the laundry, marketing, bed making, and my resounding thoughts. But thank God I remember that my 13-year-old is still asleep and has another two days of summer vacation. I can put off the inevitable despair for another two days.
But I claim today as the first day of the rest of my life because I am preparing for summer to be over. For me to be left at home alone. And ultimately for my oldest to be going off to college. I am beginning my mourning process. I know that this year will be filled with anxiety, tedium, fears, hopes, dreams, broken hearts, and lots and lots of homework! I alway dread the beginning of the school year. For me it is more significant than January 1st. It is a new year and I approach it with my fears intact. But this year is different. This year I have begun the countdown to the rest of my life. The most important job of my life, raising my sons, soon will be coming to a close. I know I will always be their mother and they will always need me. But the truth of the matter is that I love to be with them. I love our family. I love being all together. And soon I have to do what I don't do well at all. I will have to let them go.
So, as I write I realize that I am getting ready for the day they leave me. Just like I got ready when I was about to deliver them, what seems like moments ago. I cleaned the house, cooked up a storm, laid out their layette, put together their crib. Nesting they call it. Well, what do you call what I am doing now? Unnesting? Empty Nesting? Those are ugly words. Can't we come up with something better for the first day of the rest of our lives? Well, in the next two years I sure as hell am going to try.

(c) 2009 Terry Castle