Family Model Trade-In

From Youngest to “Only.”

My middle child noted the upgrades long before I did. Because middles have a special gift for tracking these things. “You actually make his school lunch?”

At first, I was a bit defensive. After all, didn’t I once slice her processed cheese into cute little lunchtime puzzles? Remember how fun those were, honey? “This? It’s just a little sundried tomato wrap with a pesto spread, blackened chicken and aged cheddar…with fresh romaine, arugula, and tomato slices… It’s basically a turkey sandwich.” Move along, nothing to see here… But there were dinner upgrades as well. Menus crafted around her brother’s favorite foods, more frequent non-fast food takeout on the nights I was too weary to microwave. Finally, I had to admit she was right. When Matt segued from being the occasionally forgotten youngest child— “Wait a minute, we have another one!”— to his present-day reign as my in-house link to motherhood, he essentially evolved into an “only.” He’d traded family models, and the new version had a passenger seat pre-equipped to his preferences.

But I grieved for his loss: the banter, the fun, the ready company of his older brother and sisterOur four-bedroom house still held faint echoes of the busy hub it had been, but while I once coordinated schedules with the intensity of an air traffic controller on a holiday weekend, my job had been downgraded to fielding texted ground delays from a single pilot with his own private parking spot.

He gets to park in the garage?!”

Somedays, I missed the chaos. Poor Matt… I broached it once after our dog Lily died. “It’s pretty different, huh? I bet you really miss your brother and sister sometimes.” He shrugged, giving me the hint of a smile. “It’s OK.”

“No, I understand. I’m OK as far as moms go, but I think it’s normal to miss all the excitement of having a bigger group around all the time.”

He smiled again and raised an eyebrow. “Really Mom. It’s all right.”

And it finally dawned on me… Matt was living the life my youngest sister dropped into after three of us left for college. A life with Cocoa Krispies and a new dog instead of the Cheerios and “no pets” policy of my youth; a life with unlimited hot water and phone privileges. On my visits home, her suffering over sibling loss appeared to be, well, minimal. “Hey! Who ate my Cocoa Krispies?!”

And like my youngest sister, Matt seems to be managing the adjustments quite handily. While he’s visibly glad when his brother comes over for dinner and a Scrabble game, and he’ll disappear for long periods of time to talk by phone with his sister at college, the kids have taken their connections outside of this house. They make space for one another in their lives. Which is exactly the kind of family I’d hoped to grow.

I’ve a faint glimmer into why my mom seemed eager to cater to whims and wishes that were unheard of when I lived under the same roof. Maybe she, like me, was simply savoring the end of an era. From this point of motherhood, I can see that it matters not which child lands in the position of youngest, gaining that eventual solo spot, because I find myself pouring my love for each of them through this last remaining funnel named “Matt.”

These truly have been “the best years.” Just as the ones before them were, and as even the ones to come will be. Because I’m fully confident at even this very edge of active motherhood, that while different is strange and often difficult, ultimately, it’s always as good as we allow it to be.

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise!

Coming soon… 

The Friendship Upgrade:

Trade Clickable Connections for Cabernet Coaches and Face-to-Face Friends

Pop-Tarts and Brussel Sprouts

Last-Minute Life Lessons for the Transitioning Parent.

He’ll readily admit it’s been an easy gig: the segue from “youngest of three” to life as an only child. Hands-on parenting has been scaled back now to the well-timed tweak. “Any homework?” And parental diligence, replaced with the relaxed sort of attention his older brother and sister surely dreamed of… “Oh, you’re home. Hungry yet? Any plans for tonight?”

We live with an easy rhythm, Matt and me. In a four-bedroom house, it’s easy to find quiet space. When he appears nearby, I know it’s with intent. Last week he sat at the kitchen table reading the news on his phone as I answered emails. Eventually he glanced up. “Zak told me about the Pop-Tarts.”

“Oh yeah. I’d forgotten that one. What did he tell you?”

“That it wasn’t about the Pop-Tarts.”

I laughed. “No, it wasn’t.”

Zak stopped by for a quick visit a couple of nights later. “I know you have your group tonight, but I was in the area…”

We hugged. “I’m glad you stopped. I have a few minutes.”

He pulled hummus and veggies out of the fridge, and chatted with me as I sprinkled shaved parmesan onto pasta and pulled a tray of Brussel sprouts from the oven. “Matt loves these with olive oil and some of that pink Himalayan sea salt. “Try them once they cool down a little…”

We caught up while he swiped carrots through the hummus and I assembled dinner food. I told him about winter coat shopping with his younger brother, “That high school letter jacket won’t cut it on campus next fall,” and Zak offered his help on readying the house for its eventual sale after Matt’s graduation.

I thanked him. “It’s a big job. Lots of changes ahead. I knew they were coming, but…” I didn’t need to explain that downsizing the family home was but a minor component of the life flip directly ahead of me. Then I remembered, “Matt said you told him about the Pop-Tarts.”

He laughed. “I did.”

“What did you tell him? I don’t remember it that well.”

“That it wasn’t about the Pop-Tarts.”

“I know. But what happened? What do you remember?”

“We were at Target. Shopping for college stuff a few days before I moved on campus. I asked for Pop-Tarts.” Not an unreasonable request—sale-priced splurges occasionally co-existed next to the standard, low sugar breakfast cereal options in our kitchen pantry. 

“And…?”

He smiled. “You flipped out a little. ‘Didn’t I raise you better than that? Are you going to forget everything I taught you?!’”

“Seriously?!”

“It wasn’t about the Pop-Tarts, Mom.”

Ugh. “I know… I knew I was out of time. Worried about all the things I’d missed. And messed up. That you’d leave home, eat junk, and…” I looked at him. “You turned out OK.”

“So did you. You’re a good mom.”

He reached around me and grabbed a Brussel sprout. “These are good.” He snagged another.

“Aren’t they? People used to douse them in butter or cheese. Much better this way.”

He soon left. And a few minutes later I raced off to another Wednesday night meeting with my Cabernet Coaches group, smiling as I remembered another comment Zak had made: “I can’t even remember the last time I had a Pop-Tart.”

“You’re a good mom.”

It’s never about the Pop-Tarts, is it?

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise!

Coming soon… 

The Friendship Upgrade:

Trade Clickable Connections for Cabernet Coaches and Face-to-Face Friends

Making Room for More

Downsizing a Home to Upsize a Life.

It’s impossible to pinpoint even the year at which my desire for more space morphed into a longing for less. For “simple.” Maybe it coincided with Zak’s or Hannah’s departures for college, or perhaps it was that expensive HVAC replacement a couple of years ago, but it definitely settled into my soul after we lost our dog Lily last spring. Our sweet, but ornery chocolate lab had permitted me to postpone the decision indefinitely. Smaller yard? We couldn’t do that to Lily. Her welfare was my padded excuse to enjoy the serenity of my backyard woods for another season or two. But after her passing last May and as Matt progressed through his senior year of high school, downsizing took on priority status.

In the beginning, I resisted with a little last minute nesting. “Wouldn’t this be great in your room?” Matt didn’t even need to respond. I knew. “Except you won’t be here that much, huh?”

“I’ll have laundry.” 

Mental fist pump for my great wisdom in upgrading the washer and dryer. The Ohio State University won’t give you free detergent and fabric softener, btw…

“And I’ll always have food, you know.” 

As my co-bachelor housemate for almost four years now, Matt knows the quality of my leftovers vary from night to night, but I give quiet thanks that he, alone, enjoys full access to my secret stash of dark chocolate. Unending supply of Ghirardelli Dark with Sea Salt and Almonds in the dorm lobby? I think not! 

Debbie came over to help get me started in the vast basement space, affixing signs to walls: “Sell,” Donate,” “Dump.” And we began… Toys, books, clothing, photos… We spent a couple of hours digging through memories and putting them to rest, her presence compelling final choices. Downsizing is a different experience for the divorced or widowed. The little road trips of the mind follow a single mapped route with no side jaunts for savoring context. The emotional journey may be a solo trip, but it definitely helps to have a friend in the passenger seat.

Eventually I faced my first real dilemma and was glad for Debbie’s steadying presence as I held up a wedding photo of my ex-husband. “Should I give this to the kids?” My own bridal-veiled portrait had already landed in a garbage bag, but the divorced parent strives for fairness.

 “Throw it. They don’t need it.” And she’s right. He has remarried; the man in the photo is long gone. Rest in peace.

More digging, more dumping. Treasures and trash. When the Volunteers of America showed up the following Thursday, they found quite the haul on my front porch. And the trash guys had some heavy lifting down at the driveway curb—balancing out a few of those many days that cans sat forgotten in my garage.

It’s an official beginning, I guess. Of an ending, I suppose. Or, more aptly, a “transition.” From the mom of three that I once was to the mother of adult children I will soon be. And I want to tell them, my kids, as I sift, sort, and remember—that these little smile lines on my face are such a small and inadequate measure of the joy I’ve known in watching them grow.

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise!

Coming soon… 

The Friendship Upgrade:

Trade Clickable Connections for Cabernet Coaches and Face-to-Face Friends

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