THE PAIN OF THE EMPTY NEST

My grandmother gave birth to twelve children, and of those twelve she lived to bury three of them. Two died as children, and my father passed away as an adult. Of the remaining nine, all left home, married and settled in various areas of the country. She survived my grandfather by fifty years, which wasn’t uncommon for women in the South over seventy-five years ago. The one child who remained was my mentally challenged uncle, Curtis Quince.

As a child I would go to “Mama Lula’s” house with my brother, Patrick; we would sashay into her front door, sit down and talk for a few minutes, then get up and run outside to play. I loved escaping to her house because it was a breath of fresh air from the noise of my seven brothers and sisters. I’m sure the quietness and refuge that I cherished, she had come to hate. There were days I would come by and see her sitting on the porch with a forlorn look on her face: it wasn’t only a look of loneliness and despair, the look said, “no one is going to rescue me from this.” Even as a child, I sensed “Mama Lula’s” relief when Patrick and I would show up, I sensed her thankfulness, and I was equally grateful for the sense of history and peacefulness she had given to me.

It is true that we can spend all our lives as employees, parents, and productive citizens, and one day wake up to realize we are in the house alone. I realized my “nest” was empty after I dropped my youngest daughter off at college. My ex-husband had left a year earlier to build a new nest with a younger, new wife and two other children. I didn’t have time to be bitter; the time that I possessed was spent trying to find a career in post-mid-life and trying to keep two daughters in college.

I joined several meetup.com sites, became an avid hiker, a prolific dancer, and began to explore the singing skills that had lain dormant for a long time. I found the self who had been buried beneath the needs of children and the expectations of a neglectful spouse. I returned to school and acquired a certificate as a drug counselor. I got a job working at something that required skill and thought. It was a great accomplishment. My days were filled. The nights and the weekends became the gaps. I suddenly realized the children had filled the nights and the weekends until now: they had filled the gaps for ten years plus. Overwhelmingly, I began to crave sharing the most insignificant events. A sunset, a cup of coffee, a walk in the park, a walk anywhere; these things became monumental events set against a backdrop of emptiness.

The gaps are here and I refuse to fill them with minutia. I refuse to fill the gaps with things that I’m not passionate about. I spoke with a woman  I met and is in a similar situation with the children and the spouse gone;I said, “It’s amazing how much space another person takes up in your life, and when they are no longer there how much space is left.” So I must fill the gaps with Joan. I must fill the gaps with whom I choose to be with and what I choose to give my time to. Time is the most precious commodity of an “empty nester”; use it wisely, make it work for you and you will see the valuable return of your investment.

 

Lessons Mother Taught Me

wpid-IMG_20130506_215448.jpg

     It never occurred to me how much an impact my mother had on my life until I grew older. In fact, the older I’ve grown, the more of my mother’s life I see in myself. I  never knew that just by being around her, I absorbed countless life lessons that have carried me through my early years as a mother, a wife, an employee, and a citizen of the world. (truly the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world)

     Well, where do I start: I think the earliest lesson Mother taught me was to persevere in the face of adversity. I grew up in the deeply segregated South of the 1960’s. I was five years old when I began school in a previously segregated elementary school, and unfortunately the atmosphere I was thrown into was something less than cordial. My older brother, older sister, and cousin were the only Black children in a predominately White school which did not want to open its doors to four strange Black faces. Mother had made up her mind that me and my siblings were going to get the best education available; even if that meant facing intense opposition, and even threats. My father had died two years earlier and he had begun the process of trying to register Black citizens to vote in segregated Panola County. Mother wanted to continue the work that Dad had started, and their children were to be on the front lines of it all.( and this included going to the segregated school) I never had a heart to heart talk with Mom about why she allowed her children to go into an atmosphere where we were not wanted,a place that was hostile and even at times dangerous: but even though she seldom spoke of her reasons, the message she sent was loud and clear. Adversity is not a reason to give up; in fact, when faced with difficulties, that is the time to become stronger.

There were times I wanted to ask Mother, “why are you making us to go here?” I thought to myself, we wouldn’t be treated like this at the all-Black school in town. we would be safe. I now know what Mother was thinking; even though we would be safe, we wouldn’t break the barrier that was holding not only us back, but countless other children also-Black and White. I don’t think my mother even thought of all of the reasons that drove her to keep sending us to the formerly segregated school all those years; but she knew that she wasn’t going to back down.
The breakthrough came for me, my siblings, and the segregated system in Misissippi: it came in 1969 when I entered fourth grade. This was when the all-Black school shut its doors and the Black children enmasse were enrolled into all the formerly all-White schools. It had taken almost fifteen years from the time the Supreme Court had ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, but the day finally arrived in my home town. All public schools in my town had become one. This was just one of the lessons my mother imprinted in my impressionable mind.
In growing up, I saw my mother do without new clothes for herself for years to put a roof over our head and food on our table. LESSON- Sacrifice for your children
Mother went back to school at age forty to get her high school diploma so she could qualify to be a teacher’s aide at the newly integrated schools.LESSON-Get your education, education is important, never stop learning,never stop trying to improve yourself.
After my father died, Mother didn’t know how to drive a car or balance a checkbook. She was living in her mother-in-law’s house and she wanted a home of her own. She didn’t know what to do or how to go about financing building a home to live in for herself and her children. She went to my Uncle Sherman for advice and he told her how to go about applying for loans, and getting help with us; because my father had been an army veteran.LESSON- When you don’t know what to do, seek the advice of others for help.
Mother took care of my father when he was sick and before he was put in the hospital before he died. She was faithful to him, even under dire circumstances.LESSON-Love your husband, take your vows seriously, honor your comittments.
More Lessons: Always keep your hair nice, keep up your appearance even when you have little or no money. Clean your
house, live within your means, forgive others, take care of your health.
The list is endless. My mother wasn’t a talker, she was a doer.Yet, every other lesson that I learned from her wouldn’t have been possible, had I not known and understood the earliest one; the one that reminds me of her the most: Stand firm in the face of adversity. I think all the lessons I learned can be traced to this one. I was blessed to have a mother who even though she didn’t speak much, her actions took precedence over what she said. So Mom, I dedicate this post to you and to all mothers out there who may not understand why they do the things they do; but who know that they are doing it out of a mother’s love. God be with and bless you all.