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.

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.

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.

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.

Empty Nesting: I Know I Will Miss Them, But Will I…Really?

As we approach freedom the next stage of parenting with mounting trepidation, I do question whether I’m ready. I adore both my kids and I will miss those rare moments of family harmony when the four of us sit around the table, laughing and joking together and I can almost forgive them for drinking my wine.

 

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For the most part, I think we’re all ready and my easy acceptance of this change to our living arrangements has very little nothing to do with my children’s living habits that mean I have to clean the cooktop at least five times a day, wash towels after one use or am still woken up at all hours of the night when they come back home after a big night, quietly.

 

You reach a point in middle age, (and as a couple), where you need your lives back. I am ready to embrace the next stage of my life and as the chicks strive for more and more independence in OUR home, I assume that the resulting friction must be part of the natural order of things and it’s their way of telling us they are ready.

 

I have many syndromes, as many of you know, but I would bet my life that ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ will not be one of them.

 

54717ba4da0dd117796895bc3ab37b24While the buggers have shown some signs of a move towards independence, it is still very much on their terms, so sometimes it feels as though we live in a frat house. Not that I continue to mother them. I don’t cook especially for them – although there is still that assumption that I will knock up something wonderful to suit each of their exacting requirements and tolerances at the drop of a hat when they are at home, even on those nights where I’d prefer to replace food with wine. I don’t clean their bed linen or do their washing.

 

I realize I sound selfish and that some of you will be mumbling in horror, ‘you’ll miss them!’ And I know that I will. But I yearn for the day I can find a clean towel in the linen cupboard when I need one, or when I can stand in the shower and the shampoo and conditioner gloops stuck to the glass screen after my daughter’s daily altercation with them, don’t affect me.

 

When I see them in my newly empty nest in the future, I envisage it will be on my terms, on special occasions of my choosing, (like Christmas and my birthday), when we will finally be free from the deep-rooted resentment that cohabiting can exacerbate. Or until that day, I am told, when the first returns, tail between their legs, to beg for their room back.

 

While they need to escape my nagging, I crave silence and a time when I don’t have to be on call twenty-four hours a day; a time when I don’t have to worry that their friends drunken exploits will wake the neighbors or if they’ll leave the gate open for the Princess’s Great Escape. To be frank, I don’t know how families in other cultures continue to live together until their children marry. Some species of the animal kingdom have a “hatch and leave” policy, which sounds far fairer.

 

Right now, a solid eight hours sleep, a kitchen that doesn’t need to be hosed down each morning and a break from the bleats about our fucking Internet, sounds massively appealing.

 

 

 

Teenagers, Privacy and Door Slamming

A friend once bragged how when her daughter went through that special teenage phase when she used to ram home her opinions by slamming her bedroom door, she finally reached her tipping point one day, found a screwdriver and removed it.santorini-1617464_1920

 

When her daughter returned home from school, she explained to her that privacy is a privilege that has to be earned.

 

Obviously, I am not strong or mature enough to enforce my own parenting principles in such a terrifying manner, and anyway, the old man doesn’t know one end of a screwdriver from another, but sometimes I too wonder when a) I will earn the privilege of privacy in my own house and b) when the kids will stop slamming the f..cking doors?

 

Like many of you, I imagine, in the early days of parenting we assumed that the kids would have flown the nest by now and therefore never really thought much about co-habiting with young adults. We’re learning quickly.

 

Have you noticed that even with adult kids, while you are required to knock at their door each time you want a conversation with them – out of respect for their privacy – they feel “entitled” (key-word) to bound into your space whatever the time of night or day?

 

I don’t get it. It’s like they assume we’re not having rampant sex any and every free moment we get the chance! And since we’ve recently compromised the semi-privacy afforded by the en suite bathroom that we had in the apartment for extra space in the new house to accommodate our hangers-on – and that tiny room was a bolt-hole for me when I needed time-out – this new, family bathroom seems to have become an extension of the living area and a communal chat zone.

 

I can be putting on my make-up in front of the mirror and will spot the old man creep in to pee behind me, and Kurt tries to have deep and meaningful conversations with me when I’m in the bath, then has the gall to grimace at what saggy body part of mine he has inadvertently seen.

 

And then there’s the door-slamming – generally when we say ‘no’ to the latest, ridiculous idea or scheme he comes up with. And yes, I know we all did it to vent our frustration and anger when our parents “didn’t understand us”, but I think that after nineteen years of co-habitation, Kurt may have to accept eventually that if we don’t “understand” him now, (and in our defence not many people do), it’s probably never going to happen.

 

 

The Secret To Long-Term Relationships

If I could seriously answer this, I’d be a millionaire by now.

 

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Nice pic, but like it would ever happen in our relationship! Either I would fall off or the old man would keep moaning about how my weight made it impossible for him to pedal until we had a fight.

But…

 

You do get to the stage that I’ve reached in this hell-hole of an interminable marriage when it becomes impossible to ignore the statistics that a lot of middle-aged couples are choosing to go their separate ways at this time of their lives.

 

Which has always seemed kind of strange to me, to survive the really tough years of young kids, teenagers and the associated financial worries, then move on without each other so close to the finish line. I can kind of see why it happens, however, because it doesn’t take an expensive relationship counsellor to tell you that our hopes and dreams continue to evolve through the different stages of our lives and marriages only last when those changes in direction remain close enough to maintain some connection and shared values.

 

There’s also nothing like the pressure of our own mortality staring us in the face to make us more selfish about those dreams yet to be fulfilled.

 

The move to this semi ‘empty-nesting’ stage provides many of us with our first opportunity to discover some clarity about where our lives are taking us and that may sadly result in one of us wanting to break free. That teasing, fluttering finish line ribbon may in fact be the catalyst to make changes, however painful they may be. Indeed, some couples play a waiting game until they feel that the kids are independent enough to cope with those changes.

 

Who hasn’t at some point during their long relationship thought about a Shirley Valentine experience when their marriage feels flat and in the doldrums?

 

The old man and I were chatting with NC the other night, who having recently split with The Astronaut, was pontificating over the point of committed, exclusive relationships and how they are ever supposed to work. Personally, I believe that the success of relationships is more down to timing and luck rather than any romanticised notion of a meeting of minds or discovery of your soul-mate, but when you can get it to work, there is nothing greater than a long, fully-committed relationship.

 

As long as you realise that you will have to work at it, accept, adapt, compromise and manage both your expectations.

 

Easy!

 

Nothing is perfect, which is why it makes me laugh when Kurt says that he can’t find a girl because he’s seeking perfection, and one can only hope that his future soul-mate is a little less choosy.

 

The old man and I have been married for twenty-three years now and have known each other since we were seventeen. That’s a long time… and sometimes it feels like a really long time, particularly when we discuss money. A well-timed sabbatical apart before we got married was the best decision we ever made and it’s something NC intends to do for the foreseeable future before she gets involved in another long relationship. I’m talking about some dedicated ‘whoring’ (her words), to get temptation and ‘unfinished business’ out of the way.

 

It’s an important foresight in my opinion, because when the spark in your marriage wanes, which it will at several points, at least you can be pretty certain that the grass is not greener.

 

Although many of my friends might disagree.

 

And I’ve seen the proof firsthand with those of them who have remarried or entered new relationships, and who are very happy. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a little jealous sometimes by the shininess of their spanking new relationships, when they’re still enamoured enough to make an effort with each other with the added maturity and financial freedom afforded by middle age.

 

But there’s equally something quite nice about implicit trust that has built up over a long period of time, familiar routines (shoot me now), convenience and knowing each other so well that you take the words out of each others mouths and predict each others behaviours. In the same way that the old man knows that red meat makes me fart and I know that he cannot go an hour without checking our bank balance.

Moving House Again

We’re on the move again. Or perhaps we’re running away.

 

house-on-the-water-937124_1280We do this a lot as the relationships in our family, that now comprises of four adults, continue to evolve. The average age for kids to leave home is now 27 due to rising house prices, as opposed to 21 in the past, so I imagine that many middle-aged couples are making similar adjustments for extended shared living.

 

We realise now that we jumped the gun with our decision to downsize prematurely two years ago. The driving factor back then was similar to a State of Emergency in that we had to find somewhere small enough to contain Kurt to keep an eye on him as well as reduce costs; the added bonus was that the apartment also minimised housework, an unnecessary evil.

 

We’ve enjoyed the view.

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The impetus behind this latest move has been the impact of us both working from home now, which has reduced the breathing space substantially in our three bedroom unit, even though in reality the old man’s desk only absorbs about one square metre of real space.

 

With one living area and my desk shunted off to a Harry Potter-esque dark corner of our tiny bedroom, the apartment has begun to feel claustrophobic over the past few months.

 

The snooty attitude of the other tenants/owners in the building towards us hasn’t helped. One of the younger couples, it has become quite obvious to us that some of our older neighbours have slid comfortably into a barely concealed intolerance towards change and rental tenants.

 

Of course, Kurt should never have snipped off the end of the garden hose or left those beer bottles in the sauna, and not everyone has an appreciation for the masterful lyrics of Kanye West. And if you don’t have a dog, it’s hard to understand how territorial they become when someone knocks at the door, nevertheless a little more tolerance might have made us feel more welcome.

 

We’ve found the cutest little chocolate box house in an adjacent suburb, that is walking distance to the beach if you carry crampons and rope for the uphill journey back; there is a local pool for my therapy sessions, and the local pub serves my favourite wine by the glass with $9.99 steak.

 

There is a small study for the old man, where we can lock him and his bad moods away whenever the stock market crashes so that they don’t permeate through to everyone, and he will be able to take his afternoon naps in there without judgment.

 

It’s the little things that bring happiness.

 

We know we’ll freeze our rocks off in winter because there’s no heating and old, drafty timber floors, and I have spotted the old man rub his forehead anxiously every time he looks at photos of the lawn that he will be responsible for keeping green, but as soon as NC and I walked into the house we got that tingly feeling and just knew.

 

I like change. Every now and again I have to brush away the cobwebs and breathe in different, clean air to provide me with the energy to carry on.

 

We’re not doing this for Kurt – although I can’t deny that the semi-contained bedroom under the house complete with en suite and spider roommates that we refer to as his ‘new flat’ to his face and secretly as ‘the dungeon’, was definitely a contributing factor in our decision. It also happens to be at the opposite end of the house to our bedroom so no more Kanye lullabies for us.

 

We accepted a long time ago that change does not alter Kurt’s approach to life and if anything this move will provoke two weeks of oppositional behavior because he doesn’t cope well with it, but a different floor plan will hopefully give us better separation.

 

Better still, there are stairs that lead down to his new abode so there is no door for him to slam.

 

I’ve already begun to dream about where to position the cushions and rugs, compiled a ‘what we will need’ list (secretly called ‘what I must have’) to make this house a home and spend every waking moment browsing the Ikea website for those little extra touches that are cheap enough not to draw the old man’s attention to any unnecessary spending, because I assured him that wouldn’t happen if we moved, and he believed me.

 

 

Empty Nesting: When The First Takes Flight

NC left for her trip halfway around the globe at 5.30am this morning. She looked somewhat out of place with her backpack and beanie on. It’s not that our girl’s a princess, but she’s not into roughing it either, like her mother. high-fashion-drag-queen-5104472

 

We celebrated her departure last night over much too wine, our favourite Japanese food and an unforgiving bottle of fortified wine that she brought for me ahead of my birthday because she won’t be here to celebrate it in August.

 

I remembered why I don’t drink unfortified wines at 5.30am this morning.

 

She won’t be here. The reality of her departure hasn’t really sunk in yet because in many ways we won’t notice that she’s not here, so rarely is she actually here, even when she is in Sydney.

 

She still lives at home, but NC is focused and has forged her own independent path for some time now. She works hard, our girl. She finished her degree in Advanced Science recently with one final unit to complete in Indonesia en route to Europe. At the same time, she has held down a part time job as the stereotypical, cranky doctor’s receptionist for the past two years, successfully scaring the living daylights out of any poor patient who dares come into the surgery a minute after closing time.

 

She has balanced her ambition with a mature and enviable relationship with The Astronaut, a match that is based on humor, intellect, a shared appreciation for alcohol and a mutual respect, that deserves to last the course of time in spite of her youth.

 

Apart from the sticky strands of grated carrot left on the kitchen floor to adhere to my socks each morning, her nightly scavenges for avocados and chocolate and her homemade concoctions of Bircher that remain in the fridge until they walk to the bin themselves, we won’t notice her absence. Because unless you judge someone by the state of their bedroom or their use of hot water, NC is easy to live with; indeed our daughter shines a ray of light into what can sometimes feel like a dark, unsettling void.

 

I’ll miss her loopiness, inherited from my side I imagine, the most recent example of which was the day before she left when she went to have her eyelashes tinted and came back with extensions. She came home and sobbed for hours afterwards convinced she she looked like a drag queen for the same girl rarely wears make up these days on the grounds of female objectification and unfair sexist expectations.

 

I’ll miss her daily comments about the state of her hair, the one unruly area of her body that she has never been able to control, the bane in the life of a self-confessed control freak and Virgo who has more important things to think about than hair straighteners and product.

 

But most of all I’ll miss her strength, that has lifted me up so many times when I should have been supporting her. I’ll miss the girl who we joke is our parent and who used to lay her full body weight on top of me when I was feeling sad because she read in Cosmo that it draws out tension. I’ll miss her honesty (even though sometimes I didn’t want to hear it) and her fairness when it came to her advice about her brother. I’ll miss the times sibling resentment slipped through to remind me of her age and vulnerability and that she is still a young girl with an annoying little brother.

 

I’ll miss her generosity, both spiritual and philanthropical, and selfishly I’ll miss the one thing that has got me through some of my most trying of this parenting journey, which is being able to look at my daughter and know that we got something right.

When Your Parent Abandons You

The other day NC was telling us about her plans for the next seven months or so while she has a gap between her degree and her Masters. More accurately, she gave us an outline of how her plans away from home will improve her continued personal growth trajectory. 

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Yes, that’s definitely igneous…

The old man and I sat there, mouths agape as we listened to this mature daughter of ours forecast her future in detail, and then he responded, ‘you should really be our parent, NC.’

 

‘I’ve been your parent for the past ten years,’ she shot back wryly.

 

It might seem ironic that I am admitting this after all those wailing, fearful posts about us leaving the kids alone a few weeks ago, yet it’s a harsh, nevertheless true observation. NC has been the tower of strength, the backbone of our little unit of four for a while now, braving and neutralising many a dysfunctional domestic storm with her indomitable common sense, dry wit and humour. She has been the light when there has been shade, and the cement foundation when ours have turned to sand.

 

I suppose it comes more naturally to her, being a scientist, because she sees things in black and white, looks at problems logically rather than emotionally and never gives up until she finds a solution.

 

And I will miss her…even though sometimes she’s fucking scary.

 

I should have recognised that she was a fighter from the moment she entered the world, dragging half of her placenta out with her. To be honest, I’m surprised she didn’t eat it afterwards in the Bircher muesli she methodically prepares each day.

 

I remember when she was 17 and about to go on her first trip to the UK with two friends. When the other two had a meltdown at the airport, I watched with admiration as NC spotted that some emotional shit was about to hit the fan, switched into control mode and assumed her role as captain.

 

Similarly, we were chatting on the family Messenger recently during our time in the UK, when NC had been given the rather odorous task of being a temporary charge to her brother, when Kurt asked the old man for a favour. When the old man dared to respond in the affirmative, this message suddenly exploded across the screen from NC, ‘NEVER undermine my parenting, dad!’

 

You don’t mess with NC.

 

So how will we cope when she goes?

 

Who will roast the old man for his sexist observations? Who will replace her as the only adult in the apartment that Kurt respects? Who will listen to me moan about my life, seemingly empathetically, then come back at me with some wise gem of an old cliche with the hidden meaning of ‘pull yourself together, mum’?

 

Who the fuck will remind us all to vote? Who will be our parents now?

A New Year Of Parenting

And so another year of parenting has come around to challenge and age us prematurely. For those with ickle children, I hate to burst your bubble but nothing changes in the worrying stakes as your children get older. Just another reason it felt so fucking awesome to see that even Madonna can’t get parenting right. greek-mythological-vector-element_G1cnz5I__L

 

Most of us shells of our former selves, with older, entitled teenagers have experienced a similar ungrateful repugnance from our children at some stage, after years of selfless servitude.

 

I’m not sure I have the strength to survive another year of verbal abuse, wet towels on the floor and looks as terrifying as Medusa’s at the hands of my particular brand of teenager, who is still certain he knows everything.

 

Sometimes I think that it must be truly exhausting for him being such a threat to Google. Whereas I, of course, am never right about anything.

 

Except when I am.

 

The most depressing result of our daily battles is that I have turned into my mother with my war strategy. Recognise any of these little gems that seem to projectile vomit from my mouth with the slightest provocation, just about every day?

 

‘Money doesn’t grow on trees…’

 

‘Don’t pick that scab or it will get infected’…

 

‘How many times do I have to tell you…?’

 

‘How do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tasted it?’

 

‘Life isn’t fair…’

 

You can find the rest here:

 

Famous Mom Sayings 

 

I suppose the good news is that if all us mothers know all these sayings, then we must have been little shits, too. Which means we can’t have been the worst, weakest generation of parents to ever inhabit the planet, can we?

 

Roll on the end of the uni holidays, I say. This little apartment is way too small for a man suffering his third mid-life crisis, a menopausal woman and two overly-dramatic teens who, if there was any justice in the world, should have left home by now.

 

I am metamorphosing into a green-eyed monster whenever I meet empty-nester mums, whose kids left home straight after school. And even when they warn me not to wish that level of peace, tranquility and free use of the washing machine upon myself, when you’re still cooking four different meals a night, a ready-made meal for two in front of the tv is very appealing.

 

‘I don’t eat carbs after 3pm,’ NC informed us last night after she’d watched me slave over a bacon pasta.

 

Another grey hair.