I am amazed at how ingrained I am by the experiences of my first 40+ years in the northern Midwest. The day it snowed here, I was caught instantly in a vortex of mixed emotions. I appreciated the beauty of fresh fallen snow but as soon as I started walking uphill on the un-shoveled sidewalk I caught myself grumbling and angry as if this was the foretaste of a long, cold, wet and messy winter. My head was telling me to enjoy it. It’d been three years since they last saw snow and the forecast meant it wouldn’t last the week. My response to the snow was instinctual, born from years of living with an ever-changing wintry mix that made enjoying life outdoors (the way I like to enjoy it since I’m not into snowmobiling or skiing) difficult if not impossible. It was a weird feeling to struggle with these conflicting emotions…logic having a hard time overcoming a lifetime of repeated experiences.
I see a bit of a pattern lately. For the last 22 of our 25+ years of marriage, I’ve been juggling the responsibility of parenting in all its evolutions with work (mostly full-time all those years) and schooling. I’ve been in college (undergrad and graduate) for 11 of those 22 years. My children and husband have been in school (at all levels) for 17 of those years, which added yet more dimensions to my role as wife and mother. All I’ve ever known is being full out busy. This is the first year we’ve had the house to ourselves and I haven’t had nearly daily burdens of having work or homework I should be doing at night. I’ve been reading, taking short classes for fun (one on writing, another on improv and currently a Spanish class). I’ve been able to (because of time and weather) keep a consistent routine of exercise for maybe the first time in my life. My husband and I have tried new restaurants, gone to art museums, been checking out the local music scenes and watching more movies than we’ve ever been able to in the past.
This new empty-nester life has been going on for five or six months, but only recently have I started to realize and embrace this new life. I am truly entering the “second half of life.” I was unaware that my gut had been wary, waiting for the shoe to drop, waiting to exhale. It’s been so long since I’ve been unencumbered by many responsibilities. So long since I had this much true control over my own time. I simply didn’t recognize the door I’d walked through. My head was telling me I was an empty nester, but years of holding it all together had trained my brain to be ready for the unexpected and urgent need to instantly change my plans.
Now, I’m both excited and anxious. I’m excited that this is real and we can truly reinvent our lives. What will we do? How will we take charge in a bold and exciting way to realize dreams and interests we’ve each been holding for a long time or even recently acquired? I’m also anxious because along the road of life I’ve picked up mental scripts that I must not be selfish with my time. That sitting around reading and watching movies is okay occasionally, but if I’m not volunteering or donating or giving blood or building houses, I’m really not honoring God and ensuring my life has meaning. My head tells me I’ve earned some time to regroup. But my gut says, “how much time are you going to take? Don’t waste your life.” I’m trying not to drive myself crazy. I’m trying to embrace this new stage of life and trust that everything will make sense in time. And the next time it snows here, maybe I’ll appreciate the moment for the beauty it brings. Maybe I’ll even follow some coworkers’ examples who took the day off to make snowmen and go sledding.