Winter Blast reflections: on toddlers, teens and an empty nest
Listening to the hum of the refrigerator. Sipping coffee. Watching the snow melt. This is how the last Saturday morning in February has been treating me. It's "Winter Blast" weekend, which means my girls are gone on a youth retreat, and Tom and I are enjoying our own annual winter blast.
Happens every year around this time. Well, at least for the past six years, since our youngest has been in youth group...Tom and I have found ourselves alone, at home, for a weekend retreat. Feeling a bit of guilt for having never volunteered as a Winter Blast chaperon, we secretly look forward to this quiet, kid-free weekend, and profusely thank our youth leaders and the other chaperons when they return.
Our own retreat usually begins with a romantic dinner at home. Last night was no exception with some red wine and cheese, sushi, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, and sirloin steak for two. Follow that up with a no-alarm Saturday morning, and a no-agenda Saturday afternoon, and you have the recipe for total relaxation...and lots of silence.
The first time we had one of these glorious weekends we must have been giddy with delight. After all, at the time we had kids in 6th, 8th, and 12th grades and one in college. By then we had already been through twenty years of parenting, and most of parenthood's various stages. We had a few anniversary getaways and vacations without children, but our winter weekends at home always revolved around kids, and all that entails.
There were those Saturday mornings when the babies needed to be fed and the toddlers jumped on us in bed because they were just happy we weren't running out the door to work. Back then, the kids actually liked cleaning. They helped Daddy push the vacuum, or played "pick up" with Mommy...pitching Duplos, trucks, cars, and Marbleworks pieces into toy bins while singing, "clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere..." When they were bored with cleaning, we kept them occupied with Blues Clues or Veggie Tales videos ("Oh where...is my hairbrush?").
With four kids, our Saturday mornings slowly evolved from the physical demands of toddlers and babies into the craziness of a household with school aged kids. Even on the weekends, Seth, our early riser, was always up before the crack of dawn. He eventually figured out that jumping on us in bed would not garner the hugs and kisses it did when he was two. We knew he was up when we heard Pokemon cartoons coming from the family room. Tom would gradually make his way downstairs to brew the coffee, finding the kitchen counter buried under a huge pile of mail, school papers, soccer schedules and un-emptied lunch boxes. The TV shows ticked off the morning hours as the girls woke up and tuned in to That's So Raven and Hannah Montana (how I long for the days of a sweet and innocent Miley Cyrus!). And Jared, our growing teenager, would roll out of bed around noon, ready to go out running or hit an indoor soccer practice.
It doesn't seem that long ago that our winter weekends consisted of saying "clean your room" a thousand times, of being shocked at the layers of scum in the kids' bathroom shower and toilet, and of whittling away at mountains of laundry. The kids were busy with piano practice, musical rehearsals, soccer matches, solo and ensemble contests, and the most memorable of all...science fair projects! Who could forget the hearing tests, insulated pop cans, wilting flowers, growing grass seed, and soggy cereal experiments?
Having a kid-free, tranquil weekend such as this, has given me time to reflect and reminisce. It has also allowed me a chance to envision our future. Sitting here, enjoying our penultimate winter blast, I can't help but wonder what EVERY weekend will be like once our nest is empty. Next year Chloe will be a senior, and will likely leave us on a weekend in February for her final Winter Blast retreat. But the next year...
I'm a little anxious about having too much quiet. I'm worried that a romantic dinner every weekend will get old. Or that, since every dinner will be kid-free, a twosome at the dinner table will no longer seem romantic, but just boring, everyday life. I'm wondering if the house will be so spotless, we'll become a little obsessive about keeping it that way. I'm afraid the walls will close in on me from the sound of my own heartbeat. Or from the tears I'll shed over the distance between me and my sweet babies.
Over the past 25 years, I've often longed for a quiet morning, and even for an empty nest. Friends who've already arrived have assured me it's a wonderful thing, and in fact, I'm sure it will have many perks and pleasures. But I'm not there yet. And I'm perfectly happy to have a full nest for a little while longer. I've survived all the stages of parenting so far, and I'm sure I'll adjust to whatever is to come. I'll bet many of you have similar feelings.
For those of you in those baby and toddler parenting years, take heart. The feeling of total and utter physical exhaustion will eventually fade. You'll actually have enough energy to get up long before your kids on a Saturday morning. Enjoy the cuddles, the smelly bottoms in your face as you lie in bed, the giggles, and the wonderment in your children's eyes as they discover the world around them.
My friends with school-aged kids, take heart. The science fair boards will one day collect dust in your attic. The TV will be yours again to watch the weekend news as your kids sleep until noon. The piles of school papers will become piles of college recruitment brochures, reminding you that your parenting clock is ticking. Teach your children and help them develop their gifts. Take advantage of chances to spend time with them, cheer them on, wipe their tears, and give them the spiritual foundation they'll someday thank you for.
For those of you with teenagers and young adults, with dwindling numbers of dependents on your tax return...I'm right there with you. I'm busy with the final college search process, planning for prom, and watching my teenagers transition into independent adults. As some of our children have moved out, I'm grateful for the digital age that keeps us connected. I look forward to their visits home and our trips to see them. My heart is blessed when they still come to me for a recipe or advice; when they call to share their joys as well as their troubles.
For those friends who've already sent your fledglings off, and who find yourself alone with your spouse, or all by yourself on winter weekends, on fall and spring weekends, and on all the weeknights too...I'd love some pointers! How have you filled your hours and silence? Are there secrets to keeping the romance alive? How do you shake things up to avoid falling into ruts? Is there such a thing as a house that's too clean?
Oh, and there's one more group I should address. For all those kids who've left the nest...don't forget to call and visit your parents. Life's just not the same without you!
Though I've begun to envision a quiet life...a life with more time to knit and read and write...I'm content for now to be too busy for those pastimes on a regular basis. For now, busy is good. I'm learning to savor every day for what it is. To lavish in every moment with or without my kids. To find joy in my times with them, with just my husband, or with just myself. Life is full of moments...busy and loud, simple and silent, together and apart. And each one is a gift.
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven." Ecc. 3:1