Wednesday, September 21, 2016

12 Observations from my First Month of Empty Nesting

Today marks one month and three days from the day we dropped the last little Haverkamp off at college.  Life is much different than it used to be…and it’s not half bad.  Here’s why:

1. Mornings are slower because I am not trying to clean up any dishes left in the sink or the remnants of lunch-making mania.  They now involve drinking coffee and sitting with my main man on the porch talking and listening to the birds welcoming the day. I love our new morning routine.

2.  Suppers are quiet and kind of pieced-together; we have had lots of soup, sandwiches, quesadillas, and eggs.  If I make an entire roast or something in a 9x13 casserole, we have to eat it forever.  And that’s a long time. 

3.  Speaking of food, I finally went on a real grocery shopping trip last week after Brent said, “Hey, I don’t mean to be critical, but we have nothing in the pantry and only Half and Half in the fridge.”  He was actually wrong since we had tortilla chips and salted almonds in the pantry and a half a bar of dark chocolate in the secret drawer by the fridge.  He was, however, right about the Half and Half.  I mean, since no one is really around anymore, I pretty much just eat those things.  And only those things.  I am a bad eater when I am alone.

4.  We go through lots of Half and Half—in our coffee because it has to be light tan—but not much milk.  I had to pour some milk down the drain yesterday because it was sour.  We even started buying whole milk, thinking that we could use it in the place of Half and Half if we ran out.  Because running out of Half and Half is an emergency.

5.  Our conversations center on either the dog or the Roomba—mostly things like, “Jet tore the drainpipe off of the garage and ate it today” or “Do you know where the Roomba is?  I started it before I went to work so it must be stuck under the bed.”  We are able to talk about these very arcane and boring subjects for an entire mealtime.  I think we are going to have to buy those little note cards with conversation starters on them so we can expand our repertoire.

6.  We see way more movies.  We have gone out to a movie theater THREE times (and we even got popcorn once!) since we have been on our own.  Two of the movies were great, but Brent fell asleep at the third since it was animated and about pets.  I did not fall asleep.

7.  Evenings are uninterrupted and slightly boring.  Which is why we have gone to so many movies.  And out for ice cream.

8.  You know all that time I spent stressed out when I had kids at home because their rooms were disasters and they never made their beds?  Well, those same rooms stay neat and tidy now and the beds are made beautifully.  This is both a happy and a sad thing.  The bathrooms staying clean however, is an entirely happy thing.

9.  I post videos of my dog on Facebook and celebrate his birthday by buying him a toy and letting him play with the old dog food bag. 

10. Brent mows the yard now, and we had to decide who would take the garbage out.  I have 100% of the pet duty and Brent puts salt in the softener.  He has also agreed to cook one day a week, and on Sunday he made eggs with an avocado garnish and a side of salsa.  It was yummy. He had forgotten that he was a great short order chef.

11.  Everywhere we go, we notice other people who are obviously empty-nesters doing the same empty-nesting things as us—kind of like when you are pregnant and you notice all the pregnant women—kind of like that, but with no baby.

12.  We take lots of walks together in the morning--and sometimes at dusk—and we marvel at God’s goodness to us.  He has blessed us richly.  So richly.  Like coffee with lots of Half and Half, except better.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Catch and Release

So, I’m not liking it. 
The whole being done thing.  

This past year was just a big succession of things we had to do: senior pictures, college stuff, grad parties, banquets, and it all kept me so busy, I didn’t really think about the reality of what was coming. Now he’s gone; moved out; grown-up; independent; and I’m walking around in his empty room noticing all the things he left.  I always do that when this happens—when my children leave home for college and I am left in a stupor, lethargic and mourning.  I quietly walk into their rooms and notice things; things they thought not important enough to bring along to their new lifeformerly beloved things: the faded baby blanket kept under a pillow at night; the stuffed panda with a hole in its head; Raggedy Ann whose face is stained pink around her mouth; the soft robe. The robe! Why did he not take the robe??? His old loveys are quarantined in the highest recesses of the closet; Gorilla, Ow the cat, Chocolate Cake the beanie pup.  They look down from their perch waiting for him.

This is my life now. I wander from room to room feeling like doing absolutely nothing, but forcing myself to do the next thing: laundry, then dishes, then cleaning out my broken fridge.  I decide to eat chocolate to placate myself, and, as I put a knife into the peanut butter that I intend to put on my chocolate, I break; big tears falling onto the dining room table; huge, gasping belly sobs that have waited to come out since yesterday when we left him. when we finished the job of daily parenting in our home. We’re done, y’all. DONE.  I didn’t really think it through—the fact that it would all end.  Right about now, I want to be finished with this emptiness and go back to the way things used to be; the busyness and buzz that used to be the Haverkamps. Why do these transitions always punch me so hard in the gut?  I knew I was starting the whole grieving thing when I began to be forgetful a few days ago; and when I stopped eating. I still eat chocolate. obviously. For pete’s sake, he’s close, I tell myself. That helps me. I can still touch him if I want. And smell his head. But it will never be the same, this family we built. I think my mind goes through a kind of shock; trauma; panic; and tries to make sense of it all.  When it can’t, it turns inward, producing yuk. confusion. heaviness.  I’m not sure what to do about it, so I walk around and cry about fuzzy robes and long-forgotten beanie pups.

The second day after his move out, in the afternoon, I feel comatose.  I clean out my pantry of all Gatorade powder, granola bars and regular animal crackers; I save the chocolate ones (because you know, coffee). I never eat these things and what do empty nesters keep in their pantries anyway because mine is mostly bare. I move onto the mudroom and see the Snickers bars in the freezer and I cry. again. I can eat them if I want to, and maybe that would make me feel better, but really they are for a big white boy who doesn’t live here anymore. 

Life is weird.  You just get to a stage that you really enjoy, like when you have all of your kids home and you eat on the porch for supper and then the children rush out the screen door and down the steps so they can play on the swing set all together and you and your husband look at each other and say, “These are the golden years” and you think that those “golden years” will last longer.  But they don’t and so you feel unsettled and everything feels so foreign and hard.  It’s kind of like fishing, the catch and release kind, where it’s fun when you’re doing it, but you know you can’t keep them. I mean really KEEP them.  Release is imminent.

 This unfamiliarity, this quiet, empty feeling, is my new life. When Brent and I had “practice sessions” for empty nesting this summer, it seemed fun and carefree and I was super excited.  But, let me tell you, when it really happens, and it is no longer practice, the whole element of fun turns sour.  I know this feeling is temporary and don’t get me wrong, I AM looking forward to hanging out, just with Brent alone, cause I really like him, but I’m trying to recall life before our kids—the sweet times of just the two of us—and it’s not coming in very clearly—I keep pressing play, but my mind keeps reverting to rewind and all the images of all the things we have done as a family keep appearing on my brain. It will come into focus, I’m sure, when the newness becomes normality, and when I stop making so much extra food (do you know you don’t have to use all the pasta in the bag? You can use just half. It keeps).  It’s just Brent and me now; that’s how it’s going to be, God-willing, for a very long time. Because I know that, even though Cole is close, he will never really live at home again permanently. Our family will never live here all together again.  Our job, here, is done.  

It’s been a very long job. 
And a very short job.  
And the best job that I ever had.  
And the hardest job I ever had.  
And I will miss it.  
And I will [some day] be glad we're done.  
And I will wish I had time to do more things with them.  
And I will welcome my own independence. 
I will adjust.  
I will wake up happy again.  

Right now though, when things feel strange, I will remember to thank God who blessed me with more joy than I could ever imagine.  And I will be thankful, so very thankful, because He has been very good to me.

So very, very good.

I will sing the LORD's praise, for he has been good to me.  
Psalm 13:6

Monday, August 1, 2016

'member that time?

‘member that time when my friend Jody and I played hooky from a conference we were attending and decided to go ride a gondola (that’s the flat-bottomed boat gonDOLA not the snow-capped mountain tram GONdola)?  And member how when we were walking there, some sketchy guy was about to pass us on the sidewalk so Jody nonchalantly switched her purse to the shoulder opposite him?  Then, member how he yelled at her after we passed him and he said, “I would never steal anything from you, sister!  I would put something in your purse!” or somethin’ like that?  Whatever that means.  And how he kept saying it over and over and over? And how we decided to take a different way home after our gondola ride?

And member, how when we got to the ride place, there was some drunk guy staggering around in the ice cream shop beside the so-called river that the gondolas were in?  And how he bought two more beers to take along with him on the ride?  And member when that ride returned, the gondola drivers who were wearing their little striped scarves, scurried out to quickly clean something off the floor of the boat?  Yeah, that was weird and I think it was throw up.

And remember when we finally got to go on a ride with that older couple who took FOREVER to eat their pre-voyage snack, that we thought it was going to be so cool and fun because the gondolier sang to us in Italian?  But then, member how it was really just a fake canal and we pretty much just looked at houses and concrete and people walking on the sidewalk and it only took like 20 minutes and how we paid big bucks for that?  Yeah, me too.

At least the gelato was tasty. 

Next time, let’s play hooky in Venice.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

To all the mamas sending your first babies off to camp today...

To all the mamas sending your first babies off to camp today…

I talked to you at church today and saw a flash of panic in your eyes; does he even know how to shower?  Has she ever put a ponytail in by herself?  What if they fall off their bunk and out of the window?  Will someone be with them if they have to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night?

And guess what mom?  Your kids do need you, but not nearly as much as you think.  They are able to keep themselves alive and eat solid food, and at kid’s camp, that is enough.  Now cleanliness, that is another story…have you ever smelled a child after a week at camp? 

As for packing, you can do everything you want to try to keep them organized: put their clothes in Ziplocs labeled with the day; include a plastic bag for dirty clothes and wet swimsuits, take photos of outfits and put them in their duffle, but they will probably come home with all clean underwear because they are still wearing the pair that they came in.

You will most likely embarrass them by making up their bed with dinosaur sheets and their favorite stuffed animal and by snaking an extension cord across the room so the box fan that you brought will blow gently on them while they sleep (so they don’t overheat).

You might, like I did, even decide to write them daily notes and include a photo album in their bags to ensure them that all is well with the world.  In my mother-thought, I assumed this would give great comfort to my first-born as he made his first long journey away from me.  On the drive home, when I asked him if he liked the notes I wrote him, he said, “ I don’t know.  I never opened them.”

You will think about them every single day and the week will drag on endlessly and you will ache to have them home doing regular things like unloading the dishwasher or feeding the pets or giving you kisses at bedtime.  And when you pick them up, your heart will explode because they will have SURVIVED!  And not only that, they will chat you up with all of the stories of the amazingness that was camp, and all of the things they learned…without you by their side.

So, scared mamas, please let your child go and live apart from you for a few days in the hands of capable and loving counselors.  They will be FINE.  They will grow in CONFIDENCE.  And God will teach them about HIMSELF in His own—and their own—special way. 

It’s a really hard thing to release our kids.  And it’s even harder to see them become independent…and not need us as much.  But it’s how they grow.  And it’s how we start to learn to let go.  It’s the natural way of things—God’s way—and it’s right.

So now, go!  Take them off to camp and tell them how much fun they are going to have and that you are so proud of them and that you will be just fine.

‘Cause you will; it just takes a little practice to let go…and a lot of trust in your good, good Father.  I get it.

Just know, I am praying for you. 

And I think you are very brave.

Happy camp week 2016!



Monday, July 25, 2016

'Member that Time?

'Member that time when Tess decided that she and her siblings, her cousin, and her friend should play “Pioneers” on the hottest day of the summer?  And remember how they had to stay outside all day because air conditioning wasn’t a thing in the olden days and how they had to sit in the shade on quilts and do things like knit or watch clouds because the swing set had plastic swings and plastic hadn’t been invented in pioneer times?  And how they wore heavy old dresses and overalls to look authentic?

And member how they made gingerbread cookies the night before because that was something that real olden days people ate and how they tried to cook biscuits on a stone slab over the open fire in the 90 degree morning air?  And how the neighbor’s dog ate all the cookies and the biscuits just stayed soupy even though the fire was as hot as Hades?  Member that? 

And then remember how they all got sick from the humidity and the sun and the fire and all the hotness and how they finally came inside and sat on cold leather couches and ate fruit snacks and watched “Land Before Time” and fell asleep? 

Yeah, well that was the last time they played Pioneer Days and they decided that living like Laura Ingalls Wilder really wasn’t very fun and that being an olden days person was very boring.  And hot.

Friday, June 10, 2016

China Thoughts...

It is now 4 pm, four days post arrival back in the states from China.  And I am still exhausted as I sit here nursing a massive cup of strong coffee (see how coffee has changed me here).  A few minutes ago, I had an overwhelming urge to take a second nap (since I have been awake since 4 am) so I yelled downstairs to Cole (who is waging his own battle with our enemy, jet lag) and said, “I can’t make it!” and Cole yelled back up, “Yes, you can!  You have to.  Drink some caffeine.”  So I did.  And here I am.  Barely.

Since I am struggling to hang on, I thought I could do something useful, like tell you about my China trip, which was probably the most unique trip I have ever taken in my life.  And since my mind thinks in lists, I will list some observations for you:

1.  My son, Luke, and his sweet wife, Jessica, live in a very faraway land. 
When Luke moved to China in February, I kind of forgot that it was so far away.  Actually, since I had never been there, I was unprepared for the ‘farness”.  After nearly 21 hours of flying and then an hour in a taxicab, we made it to Wuhan a little worse for wear, but safely and happily.

 We were on an airplane a very long time.  

But, they are absolutely worth it!

The views are amazing!

And the city is beautiful!

2.  Speaking of taxicabs…what’s the deal with traffic in China?  The lines on the road are merely suggestions and all the vehicles—ESPECIALLY the taxis—seem to think they are racing.  Indy 500 Chinese style?  When Brent and I took a taxi to one of the universities in town, our driver decided that he wanted to win the race, so, even though everyone else was stopped at a red light, our taxicab man pulled in the skinny space just between the road and the curb and floored it, coming so close to another car that it’s mirror flipped in when we passed.  To say our taxi rides were harrowing would be an extreme understatement.  Because safety in China is nonexistent.  I hope I don’t get arrested for saying that.

Our taxi driver drove through a flood and then made us get out when he couldn't go further.

3.  Speaking of safetyOkay.  Now I would agree that Americans WAY overdo the safety thing, but no one seems to take precautions in China.  We saw little old men—and toddlers--riding bicycles on the same street as the racecars.  No helmets.  We also saw men fixing power lines in the middle of those streets seemingly unfazed by the whizzing traffic. At least they had a HANDMADE bamboo ladder…their steps might crumple beneath them, but at least they wouldn’t get shocked to death.  And you know those areas in the bus and subway that say “No Stand Zone”?  I guess those are just a joke.

4.  Squatty Potty Protocol:  My visit to China was my first exposure to squatty potties.  Will someone please tell me the rules???  So, when I squat, do I face the door or the wall?  I need something to hold onto when I am fully down so I don’t fall over.  Where is the handle for that?  When you leave a clear deposit, are you supposed to flush?  Or just leave it running down the little ramp thing?  Can you put toilet paper in the squatty potty?  Or do I throw that in the trash?  Do all Chinese people have thighs of steel? because mine were cramping by the time I was done with my business.  And why, oh, why do they stink so much?  By the way, overalls are a bad choice.

5.  Since we are on the subject anyway, what’s the deal with split pants?  One day as we were riding the VERY CROWDED subway, I saw some amber-colored liquid rolling beneath my feet.  When I looked up, I saw a grandmother holding her Chinese grandson away from her lap as the above-mentioned liquid streamed from an open place in his pants.  And when we were sitting on some steps outside a shopping mall, a father held his son above a garbage can.  I stopped looking at that point, but I think something solid emerged from the open-bottomed pants and plop, plopped in the trash.  So, this is a real thing.  Chinese parents put their very young babies and toddlers in split pants and train them to go on command apparently.  It seems both inconvenient and freeing all at the same time.  No more sharing diaper duty with the spouse. 

6.  Eggs in a bag are a bad idea.  We went grocery shopping a few times and noticed that the stores in China sold lots of eggs—different kinds of eggs—and some of them, they sold in a bag.  Have you ever held an egg?  They are very breakable and when they bump together in a bag, they make a mess.  We chose the ones sold in a cardboard tray.  Another observation:  You know how when you buy a chicken in America, it is all bunched up like it is trying to protect itself or something?  Yeah, well chickens in China were all stretched out and laying on ice—like they were really chill (see what I did there?) and not stressed out. 

I didn't buy eggs in a bag here, but I bought beautiful veggies.

7.  Ordering food in China is hard when you only know English.  Which is why I got to know the friendly noodle man by our hotel and pointed at the same picture on his menu every day.  He was very patient with me because he knew I kept trying to figure out the character for pig so I could order pork fried rice.

I have no idea what this sign says, but I kept pointing to different lines by the fried rice picture and I mostly liked what I got.

Luke, however, knows how to read Chinese and could order whatever he wanted.

8.  There is pollution in China—lots of it which must be why it is okay for even sweet and gentle-looking girls to hack a loogie in public.

Watermelon seed spitting is okay too.

9.  There are lots of people.  When you take the bus or the subway in China and you are packed like sardines with absolutely no inch of space to move or breathe or use your split pants, and then you stop at the next juncture and think, “At least no one else will get on because it is plum full”.  And then 40 more people slide into the sweaty spaces between peoples’ underarms and knees and chins and arches, and you stop breathing because your chest is squeezed and all available oxygen is being used. 

10.  Staring at very large westerners is okay.  And apparently taking pictures of them and posting these pictures on the internet with arrows drawn in from their heads to yours is okay too.  Putting bare-bottomed babies on your unclothed knees and taking their photo seems acceptable and sometimes your leg is a little wetter afterwards.  Chinese gasping and laughing after your son announces that he is nearly two meters tall is par for the course as is looking at his size 15 feet for the entire subway ride.  Chinese people are small; Haverkamp people are not.

... especially when they look like the Beatles,

or work out in exercise parks,

Or spin on weird plate things,

Or show a goofy smile by East Lake
11.  Sometimes they get the translations wrong.  Case in point:

Paris maybe?

12.  They inject their dogs with anti-growth serum so they stay small.  I guess that’s better than starving them so they don’t poop.  Either way, when you live in a small apartment in a city of 11 million, it probably makes sense to reduce your pet to fun-size.  None of the dogs I saw looked happy about this, though, and they all had very short legs.  Also, I guess they don’t want to spend a lot of money on vet bills--other than the serum, of course.  See below:

This cat was wearing a yarn splint, 

but the horses seem very normal. Yee haw!

He must have taken non-anti-growth serum because he was bigger than Brent!

13.  We are blessed beyond measure...Here's our proof:

14.  We will miss it!  Bye bye China!  See you next time!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Fear Does

When I had four littles and needed to leave for an afternoon, I would find some brave soul to watch them.  Then I would quickly sneak away. But before I fled, I would create a spreadsheet listing all of the directives I thought necessary to keep the littles alive. In addition to the multi-page document, I would leave the sitter soft foods for them to consume, like noodles or yogurt or applesauce, because I was afraid of choking. and cooking. and fires. and knife wounds.  And I would instruct the littles, that, in my absence, they COULD NOT, at any time, create a fort to sleep in that was airtight (like they could actually do this with blankets and clothespins) because I thought they would surely suffocate.  In the winter, I checked the veracity of the carbon monoxide detector repeatedly before I left because a rogue squirrel might get caught in the chimney; then they would breath the poison gas created by this blockage and die quietly.  And if it was summer, I made my littles wear life jackets at all times since I was sure they would wander over to the neighbor’s pool and drown.  I forbid them to start fires (as they often did outside!) and hid all of the matches in a cupboard above the refrigerator.  And I told the babysitter not to let them on the screened porch above the patio because I thought they might push through the screens, fall out the windows and crush their skulls on the cement below.  I hung blinds without cords because I thought they might strangle themselves.  I vetoed a trampoline because I thought they might paralyze themselves.  And I never ever called medicine “candy” for fear they might find the Flintstone vitamins and overdose themselves. 

At this time in my life, I thought that if I could just control all of the variables, I wouldn’t have to be fearful.  I truly believed that if I took all the risk out of all the experiences that my littles might encounter, I could relax and be a good mom.  I spent much of my time contemplating how to make the world a safer place for them…and a less scary place for me.  But you know what?  I never could control all of the variables.  In fact, the fear of these unknowns controlled me and I was often paralyzed by worry. 

How do we do that?  How do we live our lives in faith in the One who controls all things?  How do we trust that His Sovereignty is good?  How do we rest in His choices for our lives? Our kids? Our future?  The struggle is real.  The worry is palpable.  

The solution, however, lies not in our control, but in our complete surrender. Here’s how my surrender happened: As I read through the Bible, I started to look for the ways God described Himself. I looked for his character qualities and found that God is always faithful, always strong, never changing.  He called Himself a fortress, a shield, a rock, an anchor.  He described Himself as a tender mother, a devoted father, a rescuer, and a victor.  He showed compassion, intuition, loyalty, and sacrifice.  He said that He was GOOD.  I had to choose to believe He was all of these things.  All the time.  Because if I didn’t believe this, I was calling God a liar.   In this choosing, my attitude towards God changed. As I grew in my knowledge of the God who created me, He grew bigger in my heart. 

When I finally started using my transformed mind, I was enabled to grasp Romans 8:28  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.  And when this same mind told my heart what was true, my belief in God’s good sovereignty replaced my anxiety with a sense of awe.  This process has taken a long time…more than a decade.  Probably closer to two.  In fact, God is still working on me to show me that He is truly Lord.   

Since I now know that God is bigger than I can imagine, and His plans are always for my benefit, I have been able to “lay my worries on the table” and walk away.  Sometimes, I lay them down…and pick them up again… multiple times a day because, like he did to Eve, Satan will whisper slyly in my ear, “Did God really say…?” But then, like the weapon it is, the Word of God comes to mind and defends me, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5) and "Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you." (Psalm 116:7) and I remember that the laying down is right.

My littles have now become bigs.  They cook and cut and eat chewy things like meat and nuts and grapes not split in half.  They sleep in real, somewhat air-tight, tents in forests. with bears (they don’t sleep with the bears…the bears are in the forests) No squirrel has ever attempted suicide in their chimneys. They have learned to swim to save themselves, their skulls are still intact, and they build fires that would impress you. They have blinds with cords, do flips on trampolines, and have never overdosed on vitamins—probably because they never take them.  But now they do lots of other scary things, as if the bears weren’t scary enough; they drive cars on highways, fly in airplanes by themselves, and go on dates with people I don’t know.  They even get married and move halfway across the world where I can’t help them at all. 

The thing I can do, however, is surrender; I plan to keep on doing it. Because I am fully persuaded that God is good and faithful and always, always trust-worthy. Fear is no longer my master because God is now Lord of my mind…and my heart. 

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~Romans 8:38-39

“Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art; I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.  Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee, and Thy beauty fills my soul, for by Thy transforming power, Thou hast made me whole.”
 ~Jean S. Pig­ott; 1876