Pity The Parents Whose Boomerang Children Have Been Forced Back Home By COVID-19

One aspect of COVID-19 that is rarely mentioned on the news is the impact on families who – due to recent job losses – have had grown children return back home.

Some of you, I imagine, view the bounce back home of our Boomerang Generation as an opportunity to rebuild relationships, fatten them up and dry them out as one of the few advantages of this lurgy, but for others who have children like our second-born, Kurt, the predicament is a little more complicated.

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Some of you might remember Kurt – our ADHD, larger-than-life adult, son from my earlier blog posts – because he was one of the main inspirations for this blog. He was the child who launched so many parenting curveballs at us on his journey through the teenage years that eventually – approximately one year and twenty-eight days ago – he left us no choice but to evict him for his and our safety and for the sake of our own mental health.

We didn’t evict him, really. Fortunately, around the same time we decided that the only course left open to us was to leave the country, our son decided that he’d had his fill of us as well, which made it a darn sight easier to convince him to that independent living was a blast.

Anyway… four moves later, after several fraught dealings with landlords, numerous police visits, a tenancy record, and a steep learning curve when it comes to budgeting, I will admit that the experiment has been an interesting, if not convincing one.

Suffice it to say, our boy gave it his best shot, but once the restrictions COVID-19 were enforced and he lost his job (in hospitality), it was impossible not to notice the deterioration in his mental health caused by his isolation with only four walls for company for the foreseeable future.

Kids like Kurt need to talk connection, which is why (like many families out there facing similar difficult choices at the moment) we’ve made the tricky one to bring him home. Emotional ramifications aside, he can’t realistically live on benefits and pay the high rent still expected by Sydney landlords during this virus – however generous the government has been – and from our own financial point-of-view, his rental offering will help us buy toilet roll should it ultimately find itself the black market.

He would agree that our renewed cohabitation is not an ideal solution, but he assures us that he is not the same boy who left home a year ago. Hence, new rules have been agreed, boundaries reinstated, and the lock has been taken off the bar.

Needless to say, it’s hard not to feel anxious about this change when some distance had improved our relationship with our son, but I am trying to stay positive. I’m endeavouring not to show my resentment at having to sacrifice my bedroom – our choice – in an attempt to maintain our sanity. Anyone who knows someone with ADHD will understand that some of them are huge personalities with a tendency to be nocturnal, so a relatively self-contained space of the house seemed like a sensible option.

And noise was a driving factor in our Kurt’s original decision to leave. Our son is naturally exuberant, musical, and (I can only assume) partially deaf – although unfortunately his musical knowledge does not seem to stretch to the term sotto voce. Added to which, he has inherited my father’s Chris Hemsworth baritone voice that gets louder whenever he is excited – which is often – like a puppy dog. By locking him down providing him with a self-contained room, the hope is that his nightly visits down our creaky stairs to raid the fridge, use the laundry, play guitar or to organise a rave for the neighbourhood kids should be restricted.

Inevitably, there have already been casualties: the dog has lost her leftovers; there are some mysterious new drink stains on the carpet; and the addition of a hideous pink velvet retro armchair to my Hamptons living area. There was also a skateboarding accident that in normal times should have received proper medical attention, a disastrous midnight head shave into a Mohican, and a noticeable twitch in my left eye each time I hear the theme tune to Endgame.

I love my son and I can see that Kurt is trying his best to behave like a normal human being, but for us sleep is probably the biggest issue caused by his return back home. It has meant that the old man and I have been forced to share the marital bed again, and while I have tried to put on a brave face about it – by justifying my stoicism as a necessity of this war – there is a limit to the number of times I can listen to him toss, turn and sniff in bed next to me without feeling the desire to stab him.

How’s Everyone Coping With The Latest COVID-19 Isolation Restrictions?

So…how’s everyone travelling?

YOU’RE NOT, I assume, and neither will you ever consider booking a cruise ever again, I would take a guess (if you’re of sound mind).

Photo by Curology on Unsplash

In the spirit of Gloria Gaynor, I am surviving, although as you can imagine, this is not a great time for hypochondriacs. Reassuringly, very little has really changed in our house, aside from an escalation in the toilet seat debate and some highly competitive stockpiling of toilet rolls in our own bathrooms.

Fortunately – and that is a serious downplay of that word in an uncharacteristic attempt at sensitivity – we don’t have young kids at home, and having worked at home together for some time, we are used to avoiding each other as much as possible within the strict, self-imposed boundaries of our home. But it’s funny how much this crisis has improved communication – in general.

It has certainly increased mine. Anyone who knows me well will be aware that I would rather have a mammogram than make a phone call, and yet I’ve been Messengering and WhatsApping like a Millennial over the past week – mainly in my attempts to keep tabs on anarchist, older members of my family.

My stepmother has reported back that my father is adhering to the new restrictions, much to my surprise. Apparently, he has taken an uncharacteristically sensible approach to isolation in spite of his disgust at the government’s decision to open the supermarkets to his age group between 9 and 10am – when he rarely surfaces before 10. I think the word he used was “unrealistic” in his description of a decision he believes is based on unfair stereotyping about old people being early risers.

Evidently, he’s not too worried about catching the virus, because ‘It’s only going to get the really old buggers” he tried to reassure me as I counted the hairs in his nostrils during our weekly video chat. And that’s why he put his chances of survival his the hands of alcohol rather than government restrictions and has upped his whisky consumption – “Just to be safe.”

Mind you, Dad has always been a pragmatist. I’m pretty sure he mentioned the same “more chance of getting run over by a bus” analogy during our conversation that he used to terrify me with during my childhood, hence, although he has always blamed my mother for my issues with anxiety, I’m beginning to question his accountability.

Meanwhile, the other old man in my life has been burying his head in the sand – particularly in relation to our finances. Having agreed to curb our spending at our last finance meeting – instigated by him, I should add – I was somewhat surprised by his expenditure on golf over the past few weeks – since curtailed by the closure of all courses yesterday.

“Essential?” I queried as I trawled through the bank statement and watched him splutter some excuse about therapy for his mental health in these highly anxious times. So it’s anyone’s guess how he will fare as we move forward.

He hasn’t been quite as successful at concealing the delight on his face each time one of our social engagements is cancelled. I swear he rubs his hands with glee each time the government limits the number of people that can gather in a group, and any day now I expect him to bunker down with the dog in full isolation mode.

Empty-Nesting: How awesomely liberating is it doing exactly what YOU want now?

It’s my birthday next week, and as has been our agreement for a number of years, the old man and I have a process in place for the event when it comes to presents. It goes something like this: I negotiate a budget (that usually works in my favour because he pretends to feel some semblance of guilt for shirking his responsibilities) and then I buy my own present, whereupon he wraps itafter asking me if I’ll do it first.

Beautiful woman holding up a bunch of balloons on a yacht.
Happy Birthday to me! I’m sure that this is exactly what I’ll be doing next week. Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

I know that many of you will think that our arrangement is kind of sad, but I can assure you it’s not. If you’d seen any of the presents – the towels, the chunky ID bracelets and the over-sized lingerie – that he has picked out for me in the past, you’d understand that for my husband this is a vital safety precaution, and for me it’s about self-care.

I admit that I am fussy. I’m not proud of it but I have very firm ideas about what I like. And even if I sent the old man to the store with an image and code for what I want, he would somehow get it wrong. So in much the same way that people frown at us over about our choice of separate bedrooms, I’m gonna ignore your predictions that our arrangement is a recipe for disaster. It works for us.

But I digress. The reason I mention this birthday is that I have already been out on the town for some retail therapy and purchased a rather cute little Boho top from Sportsgirl that in my head I had earmarked to wear to the girls lunch I’ve organised for the occasion.

However, as I pulled it out of the bag in excitement to check that I still liked it – because I am a serial returner, who is no doubt blacklisted by many of my local stores – the thought crossed my mind that I had been an idiot. Of course, I couldn’t wear it to my lunch on Saturday, I thought, because it’s two days before my birthday.

Seriously, for a few seconds there, menopause-related dementia made me feel seriously fucked off about not having anything nice to wear to my own birthday party.

Until I realised how absurd I was being. Of course I could wear the top, I reminded myself. I’m a free-as-a-bird, ass-kicking empty nester now, with no little people to point the finger or be influenced by my poor example. I am no longer that parental role model who has to pretend to be something I’m not just so that my kids don’t grow up to be assholes. No one is here to judge me if I open my present a few days early, drink wine during the day, or even smoke Cannabis againnot that my abstemiousness prevented Kurt from doing any of those things… and others.

I can make my own decisions again.

This is the wonderfully empowering bit about middle age. It is liberating. I am back in charge of whatever is left of my destiny and I can do things the way I bloody well want to. And if I want to wear my new top before my official birthday, I bloody well can.

Is It Normal To Hate People Who Go On Exotic Holidays All The Time? Asking For A Friend

This is a follow on from my last post in which I discussed my chances of dragging my husband away on an exotic holiday this year. Thank you for the abundance of awesome recommendations (for anxious, middle-aged couples, with zero interests in common) that you kindly left on that post, and which have since been dissected, over-thought and (no doubt) put on the back burner until I force him to make a decision.

Image found on Pinterest from awakenmindset.com

I should point out that I have warned him that his refusal to commit is exactly the sort of thing that middle-aged couples divorce over, and in response he asked me when I am leaving.

I am not, by nature, a green-eyed monster, so I find this whole travel-envy thing to be quite peculiar. Indeed, I have always denied the impact of social media on my happiness – made easier in this case, I imagine, by our move to the other side of the world to a wonderful country that offers a wealth of different landscapes and natural beauty.

I was, (and still am), committed to the financial choices the old man we have made to semi-retire.

However, it does leave us with a very limited budget for holidays and lately I’ve started to get itchy feet, thanks to all of those inspirational memes about travel, adventures and growth that fill my FB home page, as well as the bunch of our friends that are starting to take advantage of their new empty-nester status and are therefore ALWAYS on fucking holiday.

So what’s changed? I suppose that when I entered this stage of my life I still had the arrogance of the European who feels like they’ve seen the world – when the reality is, I’ve visited a couple of European countries a lot of times. I may have lived in Europe for forty years, but I didn’t have the wisdom back then to make the most of what it had to offer.

Added to which, I came back from our last exotic trip to Bali in two minds about foreign holidays. I was pretty shaken up by the level of poverty – in what I had been led to believe was a paradise – hence, I spent much of our time there stressing about the families on scooters, food poisoning and feral dogswhich always made a beeline for me.

Unsurprisingly, our next holiday was to Forster.

I’m not certain what is behind this current attack of itchy feet. Is it an innate fear of time running out? Am I missing a diversity of culture that simply doesn’t exist on the Northern Beaches of Sydney? Or is it simply that I’m scared that I am cruising through life and getting boring?

While there are many benefits to working from home – the main one being that my desk is close to the fridge – one of the few downsides is that life can become very insular. And when you struggle from anxiety, the fact that you rarely have to leave the house can cultivate the problem.

Interestingly, when I think about my dream holiday, it isn’t about swanky hotels, exotic beaches or even two-for-one cocktails like it used to be – we have some pretty nice beaches here. No, the appeal is more linked to new experiences, new cultures, the challenge of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and growth. It is about sharing those experiences with my soulmate – rather than the typical mundanities we share each week, like when the dog last went out for a poo.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very content to get comfortable in certain areas of middleage-dom. I wouldn’t trade flat shoes, nightly Netflix and separate bedrooms for anything! But I can’t ignore that little voice that keeps nagging me to keep on exploring.

Mothers: Admit It, We Never Stop Worrying About Our Kids

Mothers, be careful with those little comments you drop into the conversation each time you see your adult kids (who have left home) and look like they haven’t eaten a square meal that month.

You know the type – How much fruit are you eating? ARE YOU EATING? You’re looking a bit pale, or How firm are your stools? The type that all of us mums just can’t help ourselves from asking.

Well, take my advice and shut the f..ck up, because those comments could come back to haunt you. Such is my fate since I foolishly peered into my son’s fridge and made an innocent comment about his beer diet.

‘Well, I was thinking…’ he replied the other night when he came around to ours for what looked like his first feed this month, (having obviously decided that this was the perfect window of opportunity for some long overdue Mum -manipulation), “that maybe you could deliver me a care package, once a week, for those difficult days leading up to pay day?’

‘What does a care package entail?’ I asked naively.

‘You know…a batch of Shepherd’s Pie, Bubble and Squeak – I’ll even eat your Lasagne if I have to. Something I can knock up easily myself…’ Ie. In his frying pan, which happens to be the only pan in his unit.

‘Perhaps you need to learn some money management,’ I replied wryly, fully aware of how he prioritises the half of his earnings that don’t go on rent.

‘Perhaps you need to remember that you were young once too,’ he reminded me with that twinkle in his eye that he knows makes me melt at the knees.

And he has got a point. I spent a considerable part of my twenties on the Marlboro and hot chip diet, and it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do in between my three jobs and nagging my husband (!). Of course I can sacrifice a few hours a week slaving away in the kitchen to make sure that my twenty-one year old little boy doesn’t waste away.

But just putting this out there – no one bought me care packages.

So, anyway, call me a “Sad-Fuck-Of-A-Helicopter-Parent, but three Shepherds Pies were dutifully delivered to the next suburb on Saturday afternoon, along with step-by-step instructions for how to heat them up. Of course, the old man refused to have any part of what he calls my “pathetic enabling”, although he did mention that if there were any leftovers, he’d have one instead of salmon on our next fish night.

‘Where are my care packages,’ NC grumbled in a text when she sniffed signs of sibling favouritism from the city.

And so, it appears that the old man was right about one thing and wrong about another. He was wrong when he told me that no one really likes my home cooking – as was the dead fox outside our bins all those years ago that I have been reminded about after every one of my cooking fails. But he has been right all of those millions of times when he has said that I will never stop worrying about our kids.

Whereas, he appears to be coping quite admirably.

Those Awkward Gumtree Moments…

We’re on the move again. As bonafide empty-nesters, we’re going for a proper “downsize” this time into a grown-up, executive apartment with posh fittings, a dishwasher that works, and voluminous sheer curtains that we hope will keep the outside world at bay.

Collection of pieces of furniture.

The latest move means, of course, that I’ve had to rekindle my love-hate relationship with Gumtree to get rid of more of our shit – an experience I return to with mixed feelings.

While I like the premise of the online marketplace, (and so far, I’ve had a pretty good track record with it), I am always surprised by what people sell and buy on the site, ie. Kurt’s “chef set”, as well as the sheer audacity of buyers who persist in negotiating on items that are obviously already bargains.

But I like that the process is simple – even for me, a technophobe. And for most people, the prospect of a bargain or getting something for nothing is invigorating, hence it’s impossible not to get a little bit excited as you upload the prized images of your loot and its enticing copy. And there is a real sense of power as you watch your virtual pack of buyers fight over your item – YES! THIS IS MY STAINED MATTRESS! – somewhat akin to what those unsavory sellers on “Antiques Roadshow” must feel in those few precious minutes before the valuer tells them that the old, fugly plate they inherited from Grandma is worth zilch.

But there are, inevitably, trust issues that you need to be careful about: the buyers that turn up and still try to negotiate, in spite of the price you agreed – safe in the knowledge that you’ve already visualized your gorgeous new sofa in your lounge and will accept just about anything to get the old one out of the way; or the Photoshopped photos that conceal chips on furniture or that large scratch across the top.

I imagine that selling on Gumtree provides a thrill similar to the sense of gratification you get from gambling or the chase in a new relationship. Unless your item doesn’t sell, there’s little to lose from the sport other than your pride, (from the public confirmation of your obviously terrible taste) and the cost and inconvenience of getting your rejected piece taken to the dump.

But even in the event of a sale, there are compromises to be made, such as the loss of your privacy and comfort zone when the buyer turns up to collect their goods – particularly when you are of a socially anxious disposition.

This time – somewhat surprisingly – our most popular item was an IKEA chest of drawers. But in my haste to get rid of it quickly, I under-sold it to the first buyer that contacted me, and so – after the old man and I chipped it, lugging it (like two old people) down the stairs – any hope of a decent profit went out the window. Egg on my face, I called our buyer to inform him, and after re-negotiations that mirrored a car purchase, eventually, we agreed on a price. Suffice it to say, however, I was pretty deflated by the time we got around to discussing the pick-up instructions.

‘Make sure you bring a big enough car,’ I warned him, unable to mask the bitterness in my tone from being robbed in broad daylight and the impending invasion of my privacy for so little financial reward.

‘I’ll take it apart,’ he said.

‘It’s from IKEA,’ I reminded him, ‘and instructions weren’t included in the price,’ I added, under my breath.

‘It will be fine,’ he said, while I reached for the Valium.

He turned up at 6.30pm on a Saturday night (!) with the enviably large toolbox of a “man who can”, leaving the old man drooling behind the curtains of our front window as we watched him take the chest apart on the front lawn. I can’t describe the level of discomfort as the two of us – socially anxious adults – watched this stranger, (who also expected to converse intermittently), hack away at our sold IKEA chest. I assume that he expected to put it back together again.

You may also be able to imagine our relief as his tiny Sedan swung out of our drive.

Our earnings almost paid for two drinks at our local. However, I’m certain that this, our latest experience of the potential perils of Gumtree, will not deter us in the future. We finished the day with extra dollars in our wallet, and the high from that close-to-profitable sale was all the recompense we needed for a slipped disc and the PTSD from tough negotiations and a stranger with a hammer in our home.

9 Reasons Why Empty-Nesting Is So Much Better Than I Expected

Since Kurt left home – the last of our young adults to leave the nest – friends keep asking us how we are coping with our loss, how much we miss him, and whether we’ll get another dog?

Black and white image of young man looking to view of city.
Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

And my diplomatic answer is a resounding YES – of course, I miss him terribly. The house isn’t quite the same without his raw energy, and I still feel that pull on my heartstrings whenever I notice something he left behind; or that queasiness in my stomach when he doesn’t pick up my calls or return my texts.

But I can’t lie – it is also quite liberating not to have that pile of twenty or so extra towels to wash each week; it is much easier to sleep without earplugs; and I have found this wonderful new window of opportunity of approximately two hours each week when I don’t have to replace toilet rolls.

Most of all, I don’t miss the silent judgment of healthier-than-thou mums in the supermarket as they glance at the Kurt-food in my trolley.

In truth, the old man and are having the time of our life. And while I know that some of you experienced empty-nesters out there will wince at that rather self-centered admission – and I am prepared for those times when I sit down and sob over a guitar pic I discover under the sofa or the hidden box of dinosaur nuggets in the freezer – here are my reasons for it:

  1. Our relationship is better with him now. Luckily for us, he appears to have forgiven us for fucking him up, and, even more amazingly, he appears to want to stay in our lives. We spend short bursts of “quality” time with him now, rather than extended “nagging” time.
  2. The house is really clean and tidy. It’s not that he was a grub – but, well… you know how intolerant you become in middle age about empty glasses left around the house, clothes drying on the back of your favorite chairs, and (did I mention?) permanently empty toilet roll holders. The old man also doesn’t miss Kurt’s free access to his wardrobe, either, and the daily search for a pair of clean socks.
  3. SOME of the anxiety linked to our responsibility to turn him into a responsible adult has gone, along with that albatross around our necks of having to be his role-model all of the time. We can get pissed as farts, watch porn and swear at each other with gay abandon. Hell! We could even smoke weed if we wanted to – strictly for medicinal reasons, obvs. We remain delightfully ignorant of the ingenious ways our child is sticking up his middle finger at society now – hence we are sleeping better. We don’t wake up to the stress of getting him out of bed to go to school or work – he is managing that by himself now – and quite honestly, I hadn’t realized how exhausting “enabling” him was, or what pathetically easy pushovers we were.
  4. Our food shop has halved, which means it takes me about fifteen minutes to zip around Aldi. It also means that with spare dollars to spare, I can sneak into Woollies now and then. The best part is that we can eat what we want!
  5. We can walk around the house in whatever state of deshabille we want. There’s no need to lock doors when we’re in the bathroom. There are no more screams of disgust at the sight of our old, sagging bodies, and best of all, we can nap in the afternoon – without someone prodding us to check if we’re still breathing or what’s for dinner.
  6. We can eat out in nice restaurants again now without having to consider fussy palates or the cost of paying for four adults. We can go out later – after the babies and toddlers have gone home to bed.
  7. The silence is golden. No door-slamming, rapping or sibling arguments.
  8. Our wine and beer stash has a longer lifestyle, as does the loose change in my purse.
  9. We don’t argue about the kids as much or judge each other for how we parent them. We have assumed roles for who deals with which issue when they call – the old man deals with money, while I share my limited advice about cooking and how often to clean sheets – which has always been NEVER unless someone is coming to stay.

This period feels eerily like that rose-tinted stage of parenting right after I gave birth. It is similar to that sense of euphoria I felt as I looked down at the faces of my newborns for the first time and felt so damn grateful and proud that I had got through it. Just before I remembered that the thing in my arms was real and that I couldn’t hand them back when it got too tough or if I changed my mind.

Empty-Nesting: You Know When It Is Time…

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

The old man and I became empty-nesters this week. Kurt has left the building.

I swear he wasn’t pushed. We view our negotiations as closer to a manipulation that made sense – primarily, for him. Not once did we bring up the subject of our sanity in the conversation.

Anyone who has twenty-something-year-old kids still living at home will know that there comes a time. A time when the kids need their space to grow, go wild and make their own mistakes. A time when you need your sleep.

It’s one thing to offer them a roof over their head while they are studying – to improve their career chances – but it’s another to sacrifice your peace when they are in the workforce, with far more disposable income than you’ve had in a very long time, and living the rowdy lifestyle that goes with it.

We have tried to make living together work over the past year – honestly! In some ways, Kurt has tried harder than us, and yet no amount of nagging will make the twenty-one-year-old brain of our son think along the same lines as our fifty-something-year-old brains.

Particularly, an ADHD brain – which I can vouch for because I was that kid that smoked the butts of cigarettes at five in the morning, hitch-hiked across Europe, and strolling into work straight from nightclubs. Needless to say, “the crazy” hasn’t fallen far from the tree in our house.

Fortunately for my father, my period of existentialism happened away from home, with no one to nag me about noise, how often I ate, or the dreaded R-word (responsibility) every five minutes, like a stuck record.

I swear that the word will always be a trigger in Kurt’s life.

I have no idea how long this amazing strike for independence will last. Forever, I hope – for his sake – even though my heart physically hurts when I think about my loss. For all his noise, for all those visits to the police station and suspensions from school, I will miss our boy.

Like any child, he has made an indelible mark on my heart. But in his case I have shared his struggles so viscerally – struggles that have mirrored mine many times – so his departure almost feels as though a part of me is leaving with him.

But this decision is not about me.

When our daughter left, I knew that she was ready. Kurt’s departure is different – he needs to go. For him, for us; perhaps most importantly, for the future of our relationship with him.

I would be proud to say that raising my son has made me a better person, and yet I’ve never pretended to be that “perfect,” selfless stereotype of the mum of the kid with special needs who rose to the challenge. Our journey has been a tough one, and there have been times when I have resented his “different” dynamic in what should have been an ordinary life. ADHD is not an easy condition to live with – for neither the sufferer nor the carer – and it can have a devastating impact on close relationships.

But what I will say is that my son’s presence in my life has made me more conscious of “difference,” and the difficulties of those people that have a “different” brain, who struggle in a society not customized to their needs, that continues to deny their disabilities, and to fall by the wayside. Being Kurt’s mother has made me less discriminatory and an advocate for people like him – work that I am proud of.

Am I more patient? No. But then, this stage of my life is probably not the best time to be judged by my patience levels.

Our boy has only moved up the road, which means that he can pop back, anytime – which he did last night at 1.30am, in search of a clean towel – and we can reach his new unit within five minutes if he needs us. Nevertheless, the three of us know that we need this time. We need time to heal, time to forget the scarring judgments spoken in anger, to repair, and to breathe freely again. We need time apart to remind ourselves of how much we love each other. The old man and I have more than twenty years of sleep to catch up on.

A year ago, I would never have believed that this day would come. A year ago, it felt like a fantasy to think that one day Kurt would hold down a job. A year ago, we feared for our son’s life, or that he might remain fully dependent upon us for the rest of ours.

In those darkest moments, hope and survival are sometimes the only things to hold onto, and one of life’s greatest gifts is the element of surprise. Always remember the healing power of time and its ability to scaffold forgiveness, change circumstances, and people. We are so proud of where Kurt is right now.

Friends, whose kids have already left the family home, have assured me that their relationships with their kids improved once they decamped. And while my relationship with Kurt has always been complicated – intense, symbiotic, and unhealthily enabling at times – I know that deep down both of us need this move to work. Little has remained left unsaid in our relationship. We know each other inside out – for better or for worse – so we know what we mean to each other.

Nevertheless, it is time for our chick to fly.

Are Women Just As Guilty Of Disempowering Men As They Are Of Avoiding The “Emotional Labor” Of Christmas?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

‘But you enjoy it,’ the old man retorts defensively when I moan about him not chipping in with the organization of social events, the ongoing responsibilities of our adult children, and – dare I mention it – Christmas.

You might have read in the news this week about the disparity between the practical and “emotional labor” experienced by women versus men at Christmas – as in, (for the most part, it seems), men do fuck all. Even Caitlin Moran had a moan in The Times about being the only member of her family to turn on the table lamps in her house – a gripe I can sympathize with as the only member of ours who gives a fuck about creating a relaxing ambiance.

And yet, I have a confession to make. I am one of those women who is guilty of enabling that disparity. I take ownership of pretty much every Christmas chore, from present-shopping and wrapping to the organization of the food, (most of which, admittedly, we probably don’t need Turkish Delight, anyone?), and dressing the tree.

Similarly, Laura Bates highlighted the “third shift” of responsibility that women take on in her article in The Guardian last weekend:

“There is a third shift, which is less often acknowledged. This is the mental load of planning social engagements, remembering thank-you notes and praising kind teachers, keeping track of nativity plays and Christmas pantomimes and organising the logistics of travel and sleeping arrangements.”

And before any of you men turn on me with some petty argument that women do these things because they don’t work or are working part-time – I say, BULLSHIT! – I know plenty of women that organize Christmas, do the bulk of raising the kids, and work full-time.

However, in our case, the disparity between myself and the old man has arisen as a result of our disproportionate levels of interest when it comes to the season. I love Christmas and I have certain unhealthy expectations about how we celebrate it. I would go so far as to admit that I have an inexplicable need to celebrate the tradition in a crass ‘go big or go home kind of way’ that I hold my mother responsible for – in spite of my lack of faith.

But the old man hates it. To describe him as a “humbug” or Grinch would be doing a disservice to both, but having been raised by a mother who abhorred the celebration for personal reasons, and with an inherent dislike of spending money “unnecessarily,” Christmas is an annual decadence he could easily live without.

So, while it’s all well and good during the build-up of my December rage to feel like he’s taking me for granted, I am aware that my real reason for disempowering him has more to do with my fear that Christmas lunch will turn out to be nothing more special than our normal Sunday roast.

And I won’t do that to myself the kids.

I suppose he has a point when he ridicules my insistence that we continue to buy pressies for relatives we hardly ever see and nephews and nieces who earn more than us – but in my defense, the dog loves her Christmas stocking! 

It’s not like I truly believe that we have to buy our kids’ love (much). And yet, Christmas is one of the few occasions during the year that pulls us together as a family – particularly now that the kids have left home – and if I did pull the plug on our KMart Christmas, I’m not certain we would ever see them again!

The occasion is also an excuse to reconnect with extended family since we moved to Australia, especially now that the years seem to be slipping by so quickly.

But far be it for me to belittle the emotional labor involved and the pressure such holidays cause in the (often) vain attempt to cater to different personalities, food tolerances, and diaries. And although we have yet to reach the stage where our children are forced to choose between which family to spend the day with, when that day comes, I know that I will be devastated.

As it is, this year Kurt is working on Christmas Day, and it has taken every ounce of my willpower not to march up to his boss and tell him how personally responsible he is for wrecking our family Christmas – even though the shift is an invaluable step in Kurt’s journey to independence and I couldn’t be prouder of him for doing it.

So, as I open my pressie from the old man this year –  and disguise my bitterness that it was (no doubt) me who chose it and wrapped it in the dregs of the Christmas paper – I know that I will only have myself to blame. The truth is that the old man would share the load if I asked him. Begrudgingly, perhaps, and with the kind of unforgivable rookie mistakes that it would take the remainder of our marriage for me to forgive him for the request of a detailed manual and specification of exactly what to do and where to go.

But the simple fact of the matter is, that Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.

Who Says Family Holidays Can’t Be Fun?

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It was that time of year again last weekend. The family holiday 2018 had spun back around with all the promise of a mammogram.

Admittedly, the word “holiday” is somewhat of an exaggeration.

The kids will attest to the fact that the word “holiday” is something of an exaggeration. This year – at the old man’s suggestion – our family fun was curtailed to a long weekend, with budget, time off work (he works for himself, from home) and our sanity, cited as his main reasons behind the decision. I imagine, however, that he may also have based the decision on the greater mathematical probability of the four of us walking away from this trip unscathed with only a 48hr window of dysfunction.

A distraction would keep us from straying into dangerous territories.

It was decided that an active holiday would be a better fit this year. We agreed that a distraction would keep us from straying into the dangerous territories of searching questions and judgments – the common ones being, how we ruined the kids’ childhood, which of them is our favorite, were they adopted, and how much we intend to leave them in the will? So, we booked a hotel in The Hunter Valley – a wine-tasting region, about two and a half hours from Sydney which was close enough to evacuate at short notice and removed any possibility of Kurt projectile vomiting on a flight full of unsuspecting travelers, as per Bali ’09.

Acclimatizing your kids to the “wine cures all problems” philosophy of life is one holiday choice.

I should point out that in acclimatizing our kids to the “wine cures all problems” philosophy of life,  I am not looking for a Parent of the Year award anytime soon. I should also mention that our kids are 21 and 24, respectively.

I had been elected to share a room with Kurt to give the four of us a better chance of sleep – because I snore and he never sleeps anyway – but within two minutes of us downing weapons for the night, he had migrated to the sofa bed and the old man was begging to come back into my bed. Apparently, NC was noisily updating a climate model  in her sleep.

The priority of any holiday has to be the hotel breakfast. 

Truth be told, the real priority of the two days had less to do with wine and much more to do with the hotel breakfast. The three of us have been on best behavior over the past few weeks, out of fear that the old man might pull the plug on such an extravagance and eating strategy had to be discussed furtively. However, it was discussed at length, down to the final detail of who would secrete the miniature croissants and Vegemite pots back into the room. Needless to say, Kurt was elected for this task, on the basis of his natural talent for testing the law.  And apart from cold bacon – the downside of strolling into breakfast five minutes before the buffet closed – breakfast was a resounding success.

Kurt was elected to steal extra croissants from the breakfast room, on the basis of his criminal record.

Indeed, we ate and drank well, which is what holidays are all about, even though dinners turned out to be almost as interesting as musical bedrooms what with NC being a vegetarian, my attempt at dairy-free (this week), the old man’s passion for burgers, and Kurt’s metabolism, which relies on a minimum of three bowls of Aldi’s Chocolate Pillows per day or it shuts down.

We have developed a newfound maturity as a family.

It turns out that we are developing a newfound maturity as a family, and a compromise was found. ie. we ignored the fact that NC is a vegetarian.

 

 

 

Menopausal Mood Swings And Not Turning Into “That” Couple

Elderly couple sitting on bench in front of a view of the water.

There are weeks when we reach for the bikini briefs from our underwear drawer each morning, and others when we choose the big girl panties. There are weeks when we stop at the second cookie, and others when we devour the packet.

Life can be like that; a rollercoaster of emotions and ups and downs, with no real warning of how the next day will turn out. We are led to believe that the downs are a necessary part of growth and make us stronger, and yet it can be hard sometimes to embrace life lessons when we find ourselves permanently in the dips.

Menopause may contribute to those dips. Hormonal changes within our bodies make us vulnerable; they exacerbate our mood swings, diminishing our confidence. Some days it can be hard enough to get out of bed, let alone think clearly enough to make life-changing decisions that affect our future. 

Menopausal mood swings make PMT look like a walk in the park and the worst part is that they don’t stop after five to seven days. We never know quite how we’re going to feel each morning, and those disconcerting changes to our mental make-up – such as increased forgetfulness – can force us to second-guess ourselves. This is a period of our lives when we are coping with the passing and care of elderly parents, children leaving, downsizing – perhaps a terrifying sea change to another area – and changes to our work patterns and stability, and it can be easy to feel insecure and unsupported.

The topic of retirement or semi-retirement, (and more poignantly, WHEN we will be able to retire), is a subject that dominates conversation among my female friends. Most of us, independent of how successful our careers have been up to this point in our lives, have been ready to reduce our hours or work for ourselves (in an ideal world) for some time now. Sadly, few of us have the financial means. A reality that increases the anxiety of some women to such a level that they can find themselves reliant on anti-depressants to cope – or in the hands of dubious personal trainers. This, at a time when they should be reaping the rewards of empty-nesting.

There is a growing sense of frustration and restlessness about still being on the hamster wheel as the tiredness of age seeps into our bones, tempers and tolerance to dickheads. We feel compromised about still having to work for other people – often with no acknowledgment of the good job we are doing and that permanent, underlying fear of the consequences of ageism in the workplace.

A different headspace comes with the territory of middle age where our focus changes to freedom. No longer dazzled by the riches promised by work, (because we have a newfound sense of what is important), the dangling carrot is now the greater freedom to do what we want with whatever time we have left. How many times do we hear the story of the couple that worked hard all their lives for their retirement, for one of them to fall sick at the start of it?

Don’t be that couple.

The Prodigal Daughter Is Not Coming Home For Australia Day, She’s Coming To See Us

The prodigal daughter returns this weekend for the first time since she left the nest. While she assures me that she won’t be celebrating Australia Day for political reasons, I’ll believe that when she turns down the special bottle of Champers I’ve bought for tomorrow. 

girl-2480361_1920Although I only saw her a few days ago, it will be good to get some girl power back in the house. I use the word ‘prodigal’, but obviously, we won’t be cooking up a fatted calf in celebration, NC being a strict vegetarian who only eats fish if it doesn’t have a face and when she’s pissed. Anyway, a few cans of cider and a whole Camembert is much more my daughter’s style, because she’s classy like her mother.

I’ve changed her bedsheets, filled the fridge with tofu and warned Kurt to curb his excitement about her imminent arrival, because when I reminded him, he asked me why she had to come, and an ill-disguised look of pain crossed his face.

Siblings, huh!

‘Because it’s her home and we’re her parents and she wants to see us,’ I replied, convincing myself at the same time, because we all know what trips back home are really about after you land your first job and you’re still living hand to mouth – they’re about the all-inclusive hotel perks of home cooking, hot water, unlimited booze and access to your parents’ wallet.

I remember when we used to visit my in-laws when NC was a baby, how we’d walk through the front door, dump her straight into Grandma’s arms and then like Vikings, raid their home, their fridge, their wine cask, and even their wallet so that we could eat out that night. I don’t remember feeling any sense of shame about our behavior – we’d done our part, carried on the family line, and now we needed someone to parent us again for a short time.

We only saw NC when we had to during those glorious weekends, and I encouraged that dangerous grandma/grandchild connection. Frankly, I sold my motherhood soul while I was there – I didn’t give a toss about how many lollies she blackmailed my child with as long as she got up to her in the night, and I ignored all her unsubtle hints about my parenting skills not being quite like hers for those two precious lay-ins; forty-eight hours when I could pretend to be me again, the person I used to be before birthing this tiny monster that had sucked the lifeblood out of me.

Secretly, I’m excited to have the chance to spoil my little girl (I would say ‘again’ but I know she’ll dispute that). I know we’ll be arguing about the glasses in her room, the foundation streaks in the bathroom sink and the endless cans of lentils she opens and never finishes, probably by tomorrow morning, but for the moment I’ve filed my daughter’s annoying habits to the back of my mind.

He feigns not to be, but it is obvious that the old man is even more excited than me. He hasn’t seen NC for a month – because that would involve leaving the safety zone and embarking upon a treacherous, high-risk journey to the big smoke, an hour away. However, he has been suspiciously quieter than usual this week; no doubt sharpening his wit and revising his views on feminism, climate change and vegetarianism, to ensure an evening of typically light-hearted debate with his eldest child. He has also filled the fridge with cider.

I’ll Even Miss Her Drinking My Wine. Maybe.

Its been a long and exhausting week since child number-one finally decided to leave the nest a few weeks before Christmas. In fact, it has been so completely crazy helicoptering over the move, there’s been very little time to consider the emotional ramifications.

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While my daughter is a bright little cookie with a very practical, logical brain that has scored her the sort of amazing job in the city to make me question if we are actually her parents, the organization and creative skills required to furnish a studio within a few days – well, not so much.

 

And anyway, as she said, what’s the point of having a stylist for a mother if you can’t get her to design your new pad? For free.  Fortunately, she knows me well enough to know that I am unable to resist the challenge of extra time at the mall or to showcase my creative toolbox after just one doleful, puppy-dog-eyed look from my soon-to-be-departed child.

 

A week to buy furniture, fumigate bed linen, source artwork and kitchen utensils that she might recognize plus a mini Christmas Tree, as well as all those other touches that she would definitely not consider – vacuum cleaner and toilet brush come to mind. A week in which to explain how a lease works, convince her that she does need utilities, and that no, she can’t use the family 4G for her Internet usage, culminated in hours of assembling Ikea furniture in a hot room the size of a cupboard, with a crotchety middle-aged man who decided he was the supervisor, shouting from the sidelines.

 

I did have some help, in the shape of Kurt who helped load the van hired by the old man and then scarpered off before we could nag him to give us a date for when exactly he’s leaving. And then there was the old man, who ticked one item off his bucket list with the hire of the aforementioned transit van so that he could look like a man-who-can for the first time ever. And (as I’m feeling generous), he really did look like a man with a van for those few hours as NC and ladled on the encouragement to make sure his service extended to most of the lifting.

 

I won’t mention the language as the three of us attempted to carry the world’s heaviest two-seater sofa bed – much bigger than it looked on Gumtree – up a flight of stairs. Nor will I admit that I almost reached for the (in case of heart attack) Aspirin in my handbag when my ticker began to race worryingly quickly because I thought there was no way it would go through the door of the apartment.

 

Predictably, the old man refused to put together the furniture, like all professional removalists.

 

‘I can’t fucking do this,’ I think were his words of despair as he threw the instructions to an Ikea dining chair across the floor, two minutes after opening them – in reaction to which, NC and I shared a conspiratorial ‘TYPICAL’ look and then sent him out for coffee.

 

I will miss those conspiratorial looks.

 

I know in my heart that she’s SO ready and that it’s time, but I will miss my wingwoman who shares my asinine wit and enthusiasm for keeping the boys grounded at every opportunity – although, in truth, I’ve got this; I will miss the Tupperware boxes of leftovers she leaves in the fridge – enough to feed the starving Third Word – that this raging environmentalist never eats; I will miss the use of her shoes, her beauty products and her talent for eyebrow plucking, because I can no longer see mine.

 

I won’t miss the vegetarian who doesn’t really like vegetables, or her howls of disappointment when I jaywalk, use her expensive shampoo or forget my recyclable shopping bags – nor the graphic description of dead turtles that usually follows.

 

I’ll even miss her drinking my wine.

 

Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Exactly Leaving The Nest…But Close

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I drove NC to the airport at stupid o’clock this morning. They might not have flown the nest quite yet, but it turns out we have two budding explorers in the family, and from the perspective of two parents that rarely leave the house these days, I see their recent adventures as a reaffirmation that not only have we done something right as parents, but that we also haven’t passed on our anxiety about passing on our anxieties about flying, leaving our suburb, or indeed our house, onto our children. It is rather a lovely surprise to find out that your kids have some talents after all.

 

Lucky NC! She is about to embark on a two-week science trip via ship from Perth to Tasmania. The focus of the trip is …I’ll pretend I care …is for this fine group of young academics to take ocean samples and readings, review currents and then analyze all of their exciting data for entertainment in the evenings. Ie. Nerdy stuff that I suppose someone’s got to do to educate us about how to best protect our dying planet.

 

As long as she doesn’t take us through her photos when she gets back, I can deal.

 

As you can possibly imagine, personally I would prefer to give birth naturally whilst having my wisdom teeth removed than sail through what is renowned to be a treacherous channel of water, and as a fussy vegetarian with no alcohol on board for the whole two weeks with which to sustain her bird-like frame, I fear I may miss her if she accidentally stands sideways in the baggage hall when I go to collect her.

 

Meanwhile, Kurt, not to be outdone by his sister, has displayed some similarly impressive home-pigeon skills this week.

 

Understandably, since our move out of the city and into the sticks, it has taken the boy a few weeks to accept his fate of living in Woop Woop to get his bearings and adjust to the slower, less reliable public transport system on offer here. And, needless to say, he has faced a few challenges getting home.

 

Fortunately, however, one of the positives about the ADHD brain is the sheer will and determination to follow through to the end with stupid decisions once you make them, and never before has he demonstrated this as clearly as last week’s return journey home from a mid-week party, approximately eighty kilometers away.

 

What you have to understand is, I can probably count on one hand the number of times Kurt has actually stayed over at a friend’s house or party. His intention is always to sleep on the couch, but as a full paid-up, middle-class Millennial with anxiety and OCD issues, couch-surfing is never really gonna happen.

 

I did remind him of this problem as he left for the party. ‘Well, I’ll have to stay,’ he grunted. ‘How else am I going to get back?’

 

How else indeed? I remember thinking.

 

He phoned me just after midnight to ask if I would transfer the money for an Uber because he couldn’t stay at the party. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘It’s complicated,’ he replied by way of an explanation. There followed half an hour of wrangling about the financials – my reasons of why he had to stay versus his reasons why he wouldn’t.

 

Any parent will know that sleep is much more important than instigating sound parenting policy at 1am and so by 1.30am I cracked, living up to my Weak McWeak nickname – kindly given to me by the old man – and I transferred a loan, upon which my son’s phone died and the old man threatened divorce again.

 

The money got Kurt about twenty kilometres from home – a fact I was ignorant of as I lay in bed worrying – after which he decided to walk the remainder of the journey until he found an old bike on the side of the road (regular readers of my blog will know that this is becoming a familiar story) and then proceeded to cycle what is predominantly an uphill journey over the sandstone rock landscape that much of Sydney is built upon.

 

Stopped by the police a few kilometers from home and asked the usual question – ‘Got any Cannabis on you, son?’ – Kurt suggested that their inquiry wreaked of harassment, and they let him go. Kurt has a psychopathic distrust of the police due to a humiliating and highly unorthodox body search in the back of a police van a year or so ago.

 

My son walked in the door at 4.30am, straight into the shitstorm caused by being such a selfish twat the arms of his loving, very understanding mum.