2 Broads Abroad Excerpt
RUNNING AWAY FROM HOME
“Your youngest is leaving for college? Aw, empty nest?” Then, sappy eyes followed by a quasi-sympathetic grin and, “What will you do?”
“Leave the country.” And even though the questioner would chuckle, I remained calmly matter-of-fact. “Seriously, I’m leaving the country.”
I found that moment satisfying. There was just this dismissive undercurrent to their question. It was so rewarding to watch the questioner’s expression turn from a snarky you-poor-directionless-thing to that confused schnauzer expression with the cocked head and the did-you-say-kibble look in their eyes.
Before I decided to run away from home, I was bothered by that question. There was something minimizing about it. Minimizing and not completely untrue, motherhood had been so deceptive, the greatest paradox in life: every single bleary-eyed day felt a month long, but the years went by in an instant. They blasted by like lightening, and like lightening they left a thin desiccated scorch mark, a scorch mark wearing my clothes. It was disagreeable to imagine what life would be like childless: there would be the family tree, and there would be the mom, the center of the family tree, standing leafless, bare. (And it has been a while since I looked that good bare.) There was some solace as I glanced around me to see my younger sister, Nancy, would be standing there bare as well. We were embarking on this progeny shedding simultaneously as both of our youngest daughters were leaving for college.
Ecologists say it is good for the trees to be struck by lightening and then burned to ash – they say it fertilizes the soil. At first, what may look like a singed lifeless stick will soon be fertile and support new healthy growth. That sounded promising. But hopeful as this message was, it did not relieve the stomach-dropping feeling of emptiness, or the other-worldly disorientation that left me standing bewildered to return home and find everything exactly the way I left it: nothing on the counter, no shoes on the floor. What was everything doing in its proper place?
I was feeling pretty burned the day I realized that motherhood was a temp job, with spectacular benefits, but rather limited, if not outright frowned upon, as a reference for a “real’ job. You know, in the real world where professional women wear dark suits, engage in intelligent repartee, have short spunky hair, and don’t know what being Snack Mom means. And while there were plenty of days I longed for the adult conversation and intellectual connection of the corporate world, it wasn’t the choice we made. Nancy and I were both aware and grateful to even have a choice. These moments of lifestyle envy went both ways: all choices have their sacrifices, but the corporate choice does not have this sudden and absolute cessation of responsibility, unless you’ve been fired, which I have been, and FYI that doesn’t feel good either. In fact, it is one of the worst, most demoralizing, and damaging feelings in life, but that’s a different tale.
We’ve seen a plethora of magazines and researchers devoting time and space to post-partum depression, well, welcome to post-parental depression, which without intervention may actually last for the rest of your livelong days. I looked around and wondered, what were the options? Whatever the reason your last kid moves out, whether it is college, or a new job, or a desire to live out of his or her car, regardless, it is a big change in the daily life of a mom. The prospect of it banged around in my mind for months. I had brought it up a few times to my younger sister, but she was busy and the conversation never went anywhere. Then, as winter turned to spring and the end of the school year loomed it became harder to ignore.
I met Nancy at the department store to find a birthday gift for our mom. We ran into Susan and Vicki, two of Nancy’s neighbors.
“Nancy, doesn’t Nicole graduate from high school this June?” Vicki asked.
“Yes.” Nancy said. “She’s going to the University of Washington.”
“Oh,” Susan lifted her eyebrows, “you must be devastated.”
“What?” Nancy looked confused. “No, actually I was happy for her. She worked really hard. It was her first choice school.”
“But so far away!”
Nancy shifted her feet, a move I knew well as her sister. It was something she always did when she was being told something she did not like to hear.
“It’s not that far.” Nancy said.
“It’s a plane ride. You need an airplane.”
“Yeah.” Nancy turned to me in an effort to change the subject. “You remember my sister, Deborah?”
“Of course.” Vicki smiled. And we exchanged hello’s. Vicki seemed normal, but I did have a premonition that I might need an industrial-sized fly swatter for Susan.
Susan continued on with her one thought. “With your son gone already, and soon Nicole, well Nancy, I guess you’re all alone now.”
Nancy shifted her feet again. “I’m still married, Susan.”
“Sure. Sure. Right. So that’s better than nothing, huh?”
Nancy and I both froze. Did she just say that?
“You know,” Vicki tried to cut-off Susan, “when Crystal’s youngest left she bought a Chihuahua puppy. Cutest thing you’ve ever seen. And the Walkers gave a room to an exchange student from Sweden.” Vicki explained happily.
Nancy nodded. “That sounds like a good plan.”
Susan opened her mouth to speak again and I wasn’t sure whether I should just smack her now and be done with it or let her continue. I made the wrong choice.
“Remember Pam Winthrop?” Susan whispered. “When her son left she started eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every day until she put on sixty pounds. Sad, really, kind of tragic. Even her kneecaps were fat.” Then she turned to me, “Deborah, isn’t your youngest graduating, too?”
“I’m leaving the country.”
Susan cocked her head.
“So am I.” Nancy blurted out. I looked at her. I saw the decision in her eyes. “I’m going with Deborah. We’re taking a long trip together – a sister’s trip.”
“You are?” Susan sounded a little thwarted, which Nancy found gratifying.
“Yup, in the planning stages.” Nancy smiled at Susan now clearly disappointed that we were not miserable as anticipated. “Nice to see you though, Susan. Got to go. In the middle of booking flights and stuff.”
We turned away. I said, “Wow, Nance, that Susan’s a real gem.”
“She did me a favor.”
“I’ve been so busy I just wasn’t thinking about it.”
“And I haven’t been able to think about anything else.”
“Then, when I heard Susan, and that crap she was dealing out, all of a sudden I realized no way am I plodding into that sunset with fat kneecaps carrying a Chihuahua.”
“And by the way, that sunset? It’s not like previous generations. When motherhood ends now there’s a whole lot of life left. We’re healthy and active, with luck we’ve got a good forty years on our hands.”
“We need a plan.”
“Let’s get a drink and mull it over.”
“Deborah, it’s the middle of the afternoon.”
“Let go of the rules, Nance. Just let go.”
This was one of our fundamental personality differences. Nancy was a rule follower. It worked with her planning brain and her organized life. I’ve always felt insulted by rules. Rules made me angry. .
We took a left turn and grabbed some seats in the bar area of a little restaurant across the street. I ordered two cold Tequila shots and we looked ahead together. Our little girls, Nicole and Olivia, were scheduled to leave for college shortly. We needed either a big new plan or several cases of Tequila because what drove the schedule of our everyday lives was about to disappear.
“Nancy, we have to do something. Looking ahead, all I see is -- waiting.”
“Waiting for what?” Nancy asked.
“Waiting for school breaks, waiting for our husbands to come home from work, waiting for the holidays, waiting for the kids to call, waiting to say hello and then good-bye again, and then to continue waiting…”
“God, that sucks.” Nancy raised her Tequila shot glass, “No waiting.”
And we threw back the Tequila. We were on the same page.