It’s been over a year since we started empty nesting. I have spent the better part of that year resisting the urge to ‘blow it all up’ – I’m not really even sure what I mean by that to be honest. It just seemed that if menopause was going to kick into high gear as our one and only child went off to college, shifting the dynamic of everything at home, in the midst of a global pandemic that
has reshuffled numerous norms in the world, why not change as many things as I possibly could?
Thankfully, I resisted, opting to keep what felt like the closest to the status quo I could manage while also adapting to this new stage of parenting and our marriage that empty nesting ushered in. There’s less laundry and grocery shopping, a lot more freedom as you no longer need to make sure dinner gets on the table regularly or home from a weekend trip at a decent hour on a Sunday. Suddenly, it’s just the two of you, all the time, again. It’s not entirely like the honeymoon phase – You’ve been through potty training and the teenage years together, so there’s too much water under that bridge – although there is an element of discovery to it as you adjust to this new era. No longer needed to keep the home fires burning, I start tagging along on some of Pat’s work trips, luxuriating in little things like having a hotel room all to myself for a morning or best of all, an entire day at the beach all by my myself.
If only empty nesting was the only major change in life to adapt to. But alas. For whatever reasons, Mother Nature feels we women must also go through menopause in the midst of this major life change. The thing they don’t tell you about menopause, is that it’s not just a physical change, in which you no longer get your period, rendering your body’s ability to make babies mute, it’s a complete shift in your hormones, which you know, sort of run everything in your body. It’s like being a teenager again, only with a fully developed frontal lobe and way less energy. It’s not just hot flashes and weight gain, it’s moodiness and anxiousness and absolutely positively running out of patience, if you were even lucky to have it to begin with. There’s a mind fog, where you cannot remember words or how to properly string them together, but then you read that the complete stress of living through the last few years also causes a brain fog, so you’re never really quite sure why you seem to be in a fog, but for whatever reason, it’s real and it’s completely disconcerting. Just like no one warned us that trying to have it all as a working wife and mother is impossible, they also didn’t warn us that menopause is a full body and mind experience that makes you question everything you ever knew.
So, waking up one day and only having the dog as the creature you were personally responsible for keeping alive and safe after being someone who focused primarily on motherhood for essentially twenty years while your body lets you know there’s no going back, admittedly threw me into a bit of a tailspin. I spent a good bit of time just pushing away the feeling that I was utterly worthless. Suddenly my career of entry level part-time jobs so I could focus on being a mom was good for nothing. Of course, my dear husband would tell me I had I very successful career of being a mom, but the thing about that particular career is that it runs out of full-time hours. You do a good job of it and eventually, you are needed very part time, on a bit of a we’ll call you when we need you basis even with the best ones.
As much as I loved all my part time jobs and side gigs, I was ready for something more in my life. I had always told myself when Edie went off to college, I’d get back to having a career, but now that I was there, I wasn’t exactly sure what it was I wanted to do. It seemed that perpetually being an underachiever had finally come to bite me in the ass. It was fun while it lasted, but the prospect of what do with myself now seemed slightly daunting. I did not particularly relish the thought of taking a full-time entry-level job, which seemed necessary if I was going to ever have a career of any sort or at the very least, make a decent living. I was also super tired of being a secretary. I’m kick ass at it (if I do say so myself), but, like motherhood, it’s one of those jobs that is looked down upon and totally undervalued. I was ready for something more – certainly all those years of running the Girl Scout troop, PTO and high school orchestra poinsettia sales was valuable experience for something, yes?
And then, just as I began to completely despair that I would never be taken seriously enough to get an actual job that wasn’t a part-time secretary, an opportunity presented itself that was actually completely in line with what a long time friend had said would happen if I just let it. That it was possible to turn an entry level job into more of a career job with the right organization, that I just needed to know what it was I wanted to do and focus on getting there. As it turns out, I was working for an organization that had a career job for me – I started as the Development Coordinator for Whole Woman’s Health Alliance in late August when Edie went back to college. WWHA is the nonprofit arm of Whole Woman’s Health, the organization I started working for when I quit real estate last year. We are an independent abortion provider. Not only do I have a real grown up job, it’s doing something I’m passionate about, something that truly feels is making a difference in people’s lives.
And so, a year into this empty nesting, I feel like I found the big change I needed to make. There’s been a huge learning curve to this new position, coupled with working more hours, feeling like I’m using more of my brain at work than I have in I don’t even know how long. I’m still getting a handle on things and so am exhausted by the end of the week, but in mostly good ways. Turns out the change I needed to make the most was just finding a job that engaged me. And now that I’ve got that, I find I’m ready to address other changes, but maybe not make them as severe as blowing it all up. I mean, I currently want to overall my entire closet, but given that I haven’t really bought myself new winter clothes in a few years, that sort of change doesn’t feel too far out of line. A reinvention of oneself absolutely should come with a costume change at any rate, don’t you think?
Just because I was deliberately avoiding making big changes over the last year doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. That was really my point though – to not force them, but rather, let things evolve as they needed to. Bringing Daisy home so soon after losing Betsy felt like keeping the status quo in an already altered landscape, but that has definitely not been the case. Most of the
changes that have happened around here have been a direct result of that dog – a new living room rug (to replace the one she ruined), a new non-white slipcover for the sofa (because her feet are perpetually muddy, causing her to leave a pawprints on a freshly clean white one almost immediately). And then her epic solo walkabouts completely shut down any idea I had of moving anywhere. There was such an overwhelming response from friends showing up to help with her escapades that I realized if we move, not nearly as many people would care that our dog got out. That the community we’ve spent the last 25 years building here is one that shouldn’t be traded in lightly.
And that may be the biggest thing I’ve learned this year – that if you stop to observe the life you’ve built, you’ll find the roots go deeper than you realize. And those roots will keep you grounded as you weather all the changes in life, from the big ones to the little ones to the ones you didn’t realize were big at the time.