Now that my kids are mostly grown and halfway flown, I’ve been wondering: what’s the point of anything?
barn window time capsule
For the last twenty-plus years, everything I did — all the cooking and baking, gardening, writing, homeschooling, projects, trips, books — revolved around either: 1) taking care of my family, or 2) escaping my family. I thrived on being needed, the pressure and excitement, the chaos and relationships, the freedom to do what I wanted within specific parameters. And I still do! This is who I am. But now that my family is disintegrating (not to be dramatic or anything but: FACT), the activities I love are no longer necessary.
Example One: I enjoy big-batch cooking and making my own staples and freezing garden produce, but absent a pressing need, what’s the point? It’s certainly a whole lot easier to just pick up a jug of milk at the store.
Example Two: I used to crave uninterrupted solitude but now there are long stretches of time when I’m home all day by myself, free to write and read and do whatever I want. Without the need to escape, the thrill of solitude is diminished. So again, what’s the point?
These five acres where we live were the stage upon which we built our children’s childhoods. This land, and the animals and house, gave us something to work on and bond over, together.
But now that the kids are peeling away, my husband and I have to decide how much of this lifestyle we want to maintain. Neither of us are farmers or gardeners — we do these things because we value them, not because they’re our passion.
Maybe this matters, and maybe it doesn’t. Either way, it’s something we have to figure out.
off to PA for a week with friends
The house feels so big now. It’s not huge huge — only 1800 square feet — but it’s plenty. More than plenty, really. What to do with all the space? How to use it in a way that feels meaningful?
“Can’t it just be our home?” my husband asks. “Can’t that be enough?”
Which is reasonable enough. But I can’t seem to stop wanting it to be more. Wanting more.
leaving for a week of camp orientation and training (kitchen staff)
Is my urge to burn everything down — leave everything I know and move to another country — a side effect of approaching fifty? Of climate change? Of perimenopause? Of empty-nesting?
Absent my normal rammy exuberance, I move gingerly. No sudden movements, I tell myself. One foot, then another. Eventually things will sort themselves.
heading north for a couple weeks
Recently, I’ve started thinking about adulthood as three, twenty-year chunks. In the first 20 years we made a home and raised a family — my husband and I had our kids right in the beginning and all in a rush precisely because we wanted to parent while we were young and then be done with it — and in the third set of twenty years, I hope to be available to support our children, however they might need us. (I have a hunch that grandkids, if and when they come, will bring a renewed sense of purpose to our home. My parents’ place is a second home to the grandkids — they go there for meals, lessons, stories, ice cream, sleepovers, fort-building, advice — and I want our home, and us, to be similarly available when the time comes.)
But this second set of twenty is all ours. We are still relatively young. We have energy and good health. And we are free! We can sell our house, go back to school, volunteer, hike the Appalachian trail, travel.
What are our goals? I keep asking. What’s our focus? What’s our purpose? What do we want to accomplish in these next five years, ten years, twenty? What do we want to experience? Is there an unidentified dream lurking just beneath the surface? Some task, or some people, that needs us?
I don’t want to wake up one day when I’m sixty and realized I just frittered this time away. I only have one life, after all.
(There is a chance I may be overthinking this.)
Recently, when I unloaded all this on a girlfriend, she asked if I was depressed. (And then another friend asked me the same thing. I have good friends.)
I don’t think so, I said. I wake up excited, in a mellow sort of way, for the day ahead. I smile and laugh. Mostly, I’m pretty much okay. Just, there’s an emptiness, a not-knowing.
I never wanted to be the sort of mother who lost herself in her children so all along I was intentional about both investing in my children and doing the things I wanted to do, like writing and acting and baking. I was fiercely, selfishly protective of my time and energy, and proud of it.
So it’s caught me off-guard, this unmoored feeling. I mean, I expected empty-nesting wasn’t going to be easy, but I thought my drive for newness and adventure, coupled with my independent streak, would be enough to power me through, unscathed.
The other day I had an epiphany: it’s like I’ve been fired.
For the last 20 years, mothering was my job — heck, I made it into a freakin’ career what with homeschooling and gardening and fostering and volunteering in other countries (and I am so glad I did) — so the fact that I’m at loose ends doesn’t mean that I somehow lost myself to my children. Rather, I lost my job, that’s all. Of course I’m adrift. This is normal.
When I told my husband about my epiphany, he was quick to correct me. “You didn’t get fired, Jen. You just got your hours reduced.” (I think he was worried I might do something drastic.)
And he’s right, but the job-loss analogy has still been helpful. And because this particular sort of job loss is gradual, there’s no abrupt endpoint from which to pivot, it’s all the more complicated.
And that’s okay.
To be clear, I’m not pining over the early years when my house rocked with little ones. Not at all. I very much want my kids to grow up and move out. I love being with my husband, just the two of us. (That we have been having more fun than ever has been a huge surprise. I had no idea our enjoyment of each other could ramp up so much!) I’m just . . . I don’t know . . . idling.
It’s like I’ve been kicked out of gear and now I’m stuck in neutral and can’t figure out how to work the clutch.
In every crisis, there’s an opportunity. This isn’t a crisis — not by a long shot — but it’s definitely an opportunity.
The trick is just figuring out what, exactly, the opportunity is….
somewhere in upstate New York
Wish me luck! xo