Category Archives: The Empty Next

When Good Is Good Enough

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I have been the MAD Goddess for so long now I have to dust off my math skills to figure out that this alter ego, the Middle Aged Mouthpiece in me, has been around for almost half my life.

At early 30-something I was, maybe, inching my toes into the stream of midlife. Never-the-less, the MAD Goddess voice was strong and she had a lot to say about aging while female in our American society. She still does at 60.

I may have been young in years then, but I felt old emotionally, if not physically. I had aging parents, three children and a husband. I worked part-time and honed my writing skills in whatever minutes were left over. I was always in the middle of something and being pulled in more directions than I cared to follow.

I came of age during the first wave of women told we could have it all. I’ve often said women were not having it all, so much as we were doing it all; and most of the time we were doing it all by ourselves, despite spouses and extended family.

For women in two career households, there might have been extra money for living the good life, whatever that might be. But more often than not, it ended up being spent on childcare and hired help to do the domestic chores—formerly housework, still largely women’s work.

Even now we continue struggling to figure out the pros and cons of all this upward mobility, and don’t even get me started on how the prevalent middle class dream paints a pretty picture of white-privilege America, while brushing over the class subjugation of people of color.

But there is something else on my mind today. Prompted by a social media post, it’s something I’ve been noodling over for a while now. I call it the ugly duckling syndrome, the idea that we have to undergo personal transformation to be shiny, happy, better people than we are.

As with much in our society, there is a money trail to follow. The pursuit of perfection is big business in America. We’re told daily that we must have perfect, white smiles, fit bodies, eat super-foods, wear dazzlingly laundered clothes, live in Pinterest-perfect homes and shit in sparking toilet bowls.

If it isn’t bigger, better, new or improved, it isn’t good enoughAnd that includes us. So, not surprisingly, with the arrival of middle age for the women who’d been doing it all, came a new industry—personal reinvention. Now that he kids were at least old enough to be somewhat self-reliant, possibly even old enough to leave home, middle class women had a sliver of time on their hands and money in their designer bags.

Instead of forking out their hard-earned cash for child care, they could hand it over for courses of self reflection and personal development that encouraged them to re-imagine their life, presumably one that was better than their current situation. There was a lot of misdirected belly button gazing going on, a lot of faux spiritual connection and self-care than translated to spa services. We were all supposed to come out virtually glowing with the outward perfection of inner enlightenment.

As the MAD Goddess, I was on that bandwagon for a while. I became a certified personal coach, a midlife midwife. I developed a four step process for achieving desired, measurable outcomes, whether a client wanted something as straightforward as finding a better job, or as esoteric and finding deeper purpose.

Being the rebel that I am, or that the MAD Goddess in me is, I focused my coaching on finding the right fit, not changing to fit in. I didn’t work with clients to reinvent or reimagine themselves, as if they were somehow inherently flawed or a broken thing that needed to be repaired. Instead, I encouraged them to rediscover who they’d always been,  to remember what gave them joy—or at least satisfaction if joy wasn’t in their emotional took kit. I led them in returning to their core values and embracing good enough.

Self improvement is not a bad thing. I think we all secretly desire to be better in some aspects. I’d like to be a better artist, I want to play an instrument, I want to write a best-selling novel, I’d like to eat healthier, be more physically active, and dress better. I think I should be a more patient wife, a less demanding mother and a more involved grandmother.

Some of those desires are to please me, and some are to please others.  The motivation behind both is the desire to meet some standard of my own design that is a combination of gut feeling and what I’ve been spoon fed to believe. Bottom line? I believe I should make changes that would presumably make me a more likable and lovable person to others. Pressure!

One thing about moving from middle age into Crone, is that I’ve stopped obsessing over what others think of me, if they like/love me or not. My circle of loved ones is growing smaller all the time, because I no longer have the inclination for wearing many masks or doing the exhausting work of pleasing everybody.

Because I love my husband and kind of want him to stick around and keep loving me, becoming more patient and understanding is worth the effort it takes. Same with going a little softer on my daughters and being a more hands on grandma. And as much as I like being all hermity, writing, painting, gardening, foraging and wildcrafting with plants and herbs (basically being village witch), I nudge myself to make time for my friends, because they are an important part of my life that I don’t want to lose.

And here’s the thing, these people who I love and who love me, they know my house is a mess most times, they know I’m a sort of absent-minded professor too focused on my projects, they know I’m mostly low energy and would much rather sit on the deck and share a bottle of wine these days, than go out to make a show of having fun.

These people don’t care that I’ll never play an instrument, that my art is mediocre or that my novel didn’t make any lists, let alone best seller. I’m good enough for them just the way I am.

More and more, I’m finding I’m good enough for me.

 


Christmas 2.0: A Holiday Made for Two

Once you’ve feathered your empty nest, the reality of  spending your December Holidays with you, yourself and maybe your significant other (if you have one)  can be a real slap in the face. How many years did you exhaust yourself conjuring up holiday festivities, traditions and gobs of gifts for your children, only to have them tell you now that the family dynamics and dysfunction are just too much?

Take a deep breath, love them for who they are (ungrateful little twits), and take a few pages from their Book of Me to help you plan the perfect Christmas without them.

The hubs and I are seasoned empty nesters. After seven years, we can say, “So far, so good.” We enjoy our quieter, cozy home for two. We appreciate not worrying about the comings and goings of teenage or adult children. We even like each other’s company. There’s just one tiny, annoying fly in the figgy pudding around this time of year — Christmas with just the two of us.

Spend just a few minutes listening to any group of young adults as the winter festivities draw near and you’ll get your fill of bah-humbugging. The only list longer than the gifts they’d like Santa to put under their tree is the one enumerating all their complaints about expectations, obligations, family dysfunctions and the stress of it all (cue melodramatic music).

I did a quick search of the internet, hoping to find other empty nesters sharing their thoughts on creating new holiday traditions after the birdies have flown the coop. There were a few, a snowflake or two lost in the blizzard of posts, tweets and blogs written by the under 40-somethings who pine for solitary holidays — dreaming of their food, their tree, their decorations — all of it their way and preferably by themselves.

OK, I get it. Over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house isn’t as much fun once you become the parents in the middle. Coordinating schedules to accommodate split families, blended families and geographical distance is a practice in the logistics of monkey business. Even when we are willing to take any day in close proximity to the 25th of December, it still means our kids are dragging their kids to and from four or more Christmases in as many days. Talk about too much of good thing spoiling the sentiment.

The idea of happy Christmases with all the kids and grandchildren gathered round the tree, all on the same day at the same time, are as old fashioned as black and white television to these Blue Ray, HD connoisseurs. They’ll laugh until their stomachs hurt watching Home Alone, The Christmas Story and Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation, but the thought of actually participating in the multi-generational, extended family Christmases that we cut our teeth on, leaves them trembling in their pricey Ugh boots.

Even though there is a perverse side of me that would like to rent a hall, invite all the grands, all the exes, and all the steps to one big family free-for-all (with a well-stocked bar), I realize there is as much chance of that happening as there is of hosting a snowball fight in Hawaii.

Like I said, I get all that, but it still leaves hubby and I with a Christmas day all too quiet and more than a little bit lonely compared to the attendance not optional Christmases our parents and grandparents commanded.

So be it. If the second half of life is all about embracing change and finally doing things our way, then we can take no better cue than from the generations behind us. Let family gatherings and activities swirl around us before and after; our Christmas Day will be perfect just for two.

Sleeping in and then lingering over morning coffee, instead of getting up at the crack of dawn, sounds like a fine start to me. There’ll be time to relax and enjoy each other’s company with no distractions, no siblings sniping at each other, no grandchildren whining, and no explosion of wrapping paper when presents are opened in two minutes, flat. I’m thinking a dinner that includes a bottle of wine and a couple of medium-rare filets beats the heck out of crowd pleasing ham and scalloped potatoes in the crock pot.

Maybe we’ll take a ride to see the Christmas lights and then return home to watch all of our favorite movies. We’ll eat only the best cookies on the plate and not worry about setting a bad example for the grandchildren. Without our kids to roll their eyes and mock us, we might even sing a Christmas Carol or two — because it’s all about us and that’s what we like to do.

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Living the second half of live with Passion, Purpose & Pizzazz.


Bluebird of Happiness

I have a bluebird nesting box at the corner of my garden. Every spring, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds shows up around my birthday (a few weeks from now) to set up household. I don’t know if it’s the same pair every year, or even if they are offspring fledged from the nest the previous summer.

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Sam watching me . . . watching him.

No matter, I named them after my maternal grandparents and each year, same pair or different, I welcome Sam and Betty back to the corner of my garden sanctuary. Then I sit back to watch the show of nest building, predator smack downs, food gathering and baby fledging.

Until this very moment, I’ve never questioned why I find so much joy in watching these birds in their dance of procreation. I think, maybe, it’s the reassurance they give that all is right with the world, that minus human weakness and drama, the earth keeps spinning and life continues on.

Who better to remind me not to sweat the small stuff than the harbinger of happiness? The association of the bluebird with the emotion of happiness is found in numerous cultures and dates back thousands of years, the oldest evidence being found on oracle bone inscriptions in pre-modern China. Interestingly enough, in the Tang Dynasty the bluebird evolved from a fierce goddess into a fairy queen, the protector of singing girls, novices, nuns, adepts and priestesses – women who dared to step out of traditional roles. Now that’s a legend the MAD Goddess can appreciate.Image

Happiness is based in many things including a feeling of contentment, fulfillment and purpose, in relationships and life circumstances.  In the traditional roles of women, we often spend more time and give more effort to ensuring others’ happiness; parents, partners and especially children. This isn’t to say we aren’t happy in doing so, but then one day, we find our nest empty and ourselves wondering, what next?

The empty next lies before you with all the promise of a new Spring, just waiting to be seeded with  your wildest dreams. How will you manifest your happiness and watch it grow in this second half of life?

If you are joining me in the *Dark Moon Lodge, we are stepping out and stepping into spring – the season of stirrings. We’re planting our seeds and nurturing our dreams into growth. You can find out more about the journey by clicking here (use the password darkmoon).

*When the moon is new, and associated with beginnings, growth and increase, it cannot be seen in the night sky – this is why it is also known as the dark moon – a void, not to be feared, but to be filled.


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