Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day 2010 - A Mixed Blessing (& possibly my longest post ever)

I haven't been writing much lately, because a lot of what is going on around here has been what some people euphemistically like to call "challenging." I don't want to violate the privacy of others by telling their stories on my blog, but it's been difficult to write my thoughts and feelings here, without getting into that gray area. So I'm going to try to walk that gray area with some grace.

Last week was one of the most difficult weeks I've experienced since Katie's passing. There are many factors involved. The first and most important thing is that David is a senior, with senioritis, who is just over one month away from high school graduation. (When I use the term senioritis, I am referring to a whole host of behaviors which I will not detail here. Those of you who have been through this will know what I mean, and for those of you who haven't been through it:  just trust me.) David is going to leave public school for good, and go away to live at college in the fall. He is pulling away, in what I am told is a normal fashion (which is to say, it is excruciatingly painful and messy, at times). He is a wonderful young man, but he is 17 and full of himself. Normal - everyone says so. We have had various conversations about this, Gregg and I, David and I, and Gregg, David and I. I'm going to be brutally honest and say that it's been a very hard time for me. We have different perspectives, styles, pain thresholds, needs, and responses to the circumstances and events right now.

David has been accepted to a very fine, private, Catholic university. They offered him a generous, merit-based, academic scholarship (partial). We have made a deposit for him to attend this school. He has registered for his autumn classes. However, he is on the waiting list at two other colleges, and won't know whether he will be offered a place in either one until early June. So we don't really know where he's going, but we do know that he IS going. That's a blessing and a privilege for which we've been preparing him, through his entire life. We are thrilled for him.

But it means the end of my job. I'm being laid off.

I've been a stay-at-home mother and a community volunteer for 10 years. A decade; more than half of our marriage. It's the best, most fulfilling, fun and rewarding job I've ever had. I don't want to leave it. But I'm going to be "redundant" soon. What is a stay-at-home mom going to do without any kids at home?

I love my job. I'm independent, my own boss, yet I get to serve others. I organize my own schedule, work around deadlines, and have full creative authority over how I do what I do. I don't take direction very well. I work well on my own, and have done so for the past 10 years. It would help our retirement immensely if I would go to work and earn some money. I've had 10 years free of that kind of consideration. It's been a huge blessing to me, and I am well aware that it has been a privilege. I don't want it to end.

Unfortunately, the recent stock market shenanigans have taken some of our retirement savings into oblivion, and I feel impelled to assist in putting some of those savings back. But I am wondering: who would hire me now? And who in the world could "supervise" me? If you ask Gregg, he will tell you that no one would be able to "boss" me.

So I am being laid off from a job that I love, and am going to try to find other (paid) employment, in a difficult job market, when I really don't want to make this change. Add to that the fact that I really wish my daughter was here, finishing the 9th grade, getting ready for her summer activities, and the fact that, if she were here, I wouldn't be getting fired...and you have a recipe for conflict and sadness.

In addition to the enforced career change, it hasn't been a time to rest on our laurels and congratulate ourselves for the fabulous job we've done. It's been a time of deep self-doubt and questioning for me, since senioritis doesn't show anyone at his best. To be honest, I have been wondering if my years of full-time mothering were successful. If we were to measure them by just what is happening these days, I would have to say I haven't accomplished what I set out to do, nor what I dreamed I would accomplish. The results just aren't what I thought they would be. So I have been plagued with thoughts of failure and disappointment in myself, wondering what I could have/should have done differently. This has caused stress on Gregg, too.

This has been a hard time for people we love, lately, as well. Cancer. Surgery. Unplanned pregnancy. First holidays after a bereavement. Financial stress. Mental strain. Grief. Difficulties in aging. I've been responding in an unconstructive way, by eating and drinking more than I should, and my pants are getting tight. Then I am unkind to myself about putting on weight. The weather around here has been a drag - gray, rainy, COLD (in the 30s and 40s) - really unpleasant, for May. 
And then there is the grief that Gregg and I feel - separately - over Katie, which is wearing on us. No matter how much we love and enjoy each other's company, the stress of missing her has changed us both. And that's not going to go away. It might get better, or less intense, but there are some days on which it takes a phenomenal amount of energy just to imagine a different future, a less painful time. We have made progress; yet I can see the changes in Gregg and in myself, and they are hard to look at, sometimes. It's just not the life we wanted, worked for, or planned.

I'm in a doldrums sort of place, where I just need to lean on God more. Just take this to God, because there isn't a soul on earth who can make this any better. Time passes; lives get re-arranged. There are many people suffering far worse catastrophes in the world than we are. I am reminded that we don't get to choose what happens to us; we only get to choose how we respond to it. I confess that I haven't been responding well for about a month. 
On Mother's Day, we hosted Gregg's parents, my parents and my brother and sister-in-law for brunch. Gregg gave me a lovely card in the morning, and helped me with everything, so it still felt like a "day off" for me. The sun was shining. It was a beautiful, blue sky day.
You know how I love to set a pretty table.
The brunch went well; the food was eaten with gusto, and the conversations flowed. We laughed. It was great to see my brother and sister-in-law. Our parents all get along well and were happy to be together. The moms loved their gifts.

There were some very trying and difficult moments in the day, though. We decided to take a little walk after brunch (the alternative was taking a nap), and Gregg's mom fell down. We caught her on her way down, so she wasn't hurt, but my heart was pounding like a jackhammer. It was very scary; she's 88 years old, and a fall at that age is not desirable.

Gregg and I had a difficult but important conversation after the brunch. I learned from it, but it was painful. And let's just say that David was not into honoring the "sentiment" of the day. I missed Katie, and my daughter's affectionate perspective - but who knows? Maybe she would have forgotten, or been unappreciative, at this age.
So, after everyone went home, I was happy to be getting ready to attend the James Taylor/Carole King concert in Seattle with Laura, Tom and friends. Gregg & David didn't care to go, and though it felt odd (and a little bit wrong) to be leaving them on Mother's Day, they both encouraged me to do it. So I caught the ferry into the city, and they went golfing. 
 I am a HUGE James Taylor fan, in case you didn't know. He was brilliant, as usual, and Carole King sounded (and looked) better than I think she ever has.
They simply radiated joy in their art.
I thought about that, as I listened. Their songwriting gifts have blessed people for decades, because they found their gifts and pursued them, no matter what else was going on in their lives. I wondered if I will find a gift like that within me, that I can use in service to others, and in fulfillment of my purpose.
I remembered the JT concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre in 2005 that was so much fun, with Gregg, David, Katie, and Maribeth and her family. We made a weekend of it, stayed in Leavenworth, and went inner tubing on the river the following day.
I remember watching the sun go down behind the hills, seeing the colors reflected in the Columbia River, and later, sitting under the wide, midnight blue, starry sky and listening to the music, dancing with my family, loving the moment. And I remembered the two songs of JTs that we played during Katie's memorial service ("Sun on the Moon," which was Katie's baby song, and "Shed a Little Light"). It was probably a good thing that they didn't play them last night.

I also thought that JT and Carole would be the coolest grandparents, ever! They gave me more hope for a rockin' retirement.

So once again,
Thank you, Laura, Tom and Rich!
It was a Mother's Day I'll never forget.


Elizabeth said...

Oh, Karen. This little comment box isn't nearly enough space to write what I want. I will go to email, I think, and say something. I am sorry you are struggling right now -- I can only imagine that anyone with any sense at all, any heart at all, would be going through all of this, like you, and while those aren't words to take away pain, there is, hopefully, comfort in knowing that you aren't alone. But enough -- I will email you separately.

Allegra Smith said...

Like Elizabeth I am filled with sentiments I would like to share and the space, both in time and distance makes for an uphill path that I don't believe can help to communicate what I wish I could say to you. But, when my son was growing up I learned that teenagers are truly frightened of the open spaces ahead of them. The separation anxiety is often masked by rebellion and borderline discourtesy at times, leaving one wondering if we have been deluded all the time about our "good son".
The simple answer is no. When we are truly close in a family we reflect each others' feelings without having to manifest them, and the result is at best confusing, at worst painful. Let go and let God is, believe or not a sound piece of advice.

You are a good mother and Gregg is a good father. Katie left this world way too soon and her absence has left a space that cannot be filled by anyone or anything. To learn to live with a missing part of you takes time, and in reality you truly never learned to do it "right". Why not to give yourself permission to take a couple of months to find the path you want to walk? Don't pressure yourself about finding a job if it isn't absolutely necessary right now. When we are in the middle of the winter it is hard to remember how warm summer can be.

I wish we were closer to invite you over for tea or wine or whatever sitting with the puppies outside, watching the hummingbirds and trusting each other in friendship to remind that when one gives time to time even the most difficult situations have a way of softening at the edges. Lacking that I am sending you loving friendship and hope for a softer edge for the present.

Busy Bee Suz said...

I am so sorry that you have been having so many challenging moments recently. I can see it is really heartbreaking for you.
I have no words of advice for you, but I must let you know that being a Mom, you will never fully retire from that job. He will be needing you again...and I think it will happen sooner than later.
Love that you saw JT and CK!!!!
I pray that your issues get easier soon.

Hugs to you,

ps. I had a few days last week that had me questioning my mothering skills, my sanity and "what have I been doing for 16 years?????"

karen gerstenberger said...

Thank you, sweet friends. I know that some of this will pass. XOXO Elizabeth, I will email you soon.

ChiTown Girl said...

I'm sorry you've been having a rough go of it this past week or so. There are so many things going on at once, it must feel overwhelming at times.

I'm right behind you with the teenaged boy thing. My little darling will be 17 this year, as well, and I'm already dreading what's coming. Does that seem a bit negative on my part? I suppose it does, but I'm just trying to "keep it real." Plus, if I expect the worst, I may be pleasantly surprised when/if it doesn't happen. :)

I suppose I never thought about how SAH moms feel once their "babies" are out of the house. I find it interesting that you see it as a "lay off" instead of a (well deserved!!)retirement. You have so many irons in the fire, with all the wonderful organizations you work so hard for and with, that I don't think you'll have as much trouble as you think finding a job. You would be an incredible asset to any company that is lucky enough to hire you.

I'm glad to hear you had such a spectacular Mother's Day. You got to spend the beginning of the day with family (always a great thing!) and then the end of the day with two of my very favorite people. I'm oh so jealous! PLUS, you got to see two of my favorite artists!!! Sounds like a glorious night!

Anonymous said...

Ah Karen - my heart reaches to you. Your post made me think of this poem by Sharon Olds - I'm not a mother - yet - but I'm 27 now, so my teenage years are not too far behind me - rebellion, discontent, ungratefulness - all of these are familiar emotions and ones I regret from when I was David's age. But as I grew I realised that my parents and I could interact as adults - with the new adult I grew into. And that relationship, although different from the cosseted one of childhood, is precious; it is shaped by the examples we receive and our family ethic - something I'm sure you excel at handing on. So I hope you can take heart; it sounds like a time of many decisions for you and increased uncertainty. Work through the things that are in your control bit by bit - and I pray that the things that are not in your control will ease their burden on you.

Irene x

Meg said...

Just wanted to share my perspective as one who was gravely afflicted with senioritis this time last year.... My mom and fought pretty much nonstop my last couple months of high school. And every time we fought she loved to tell me how she had "read about this" and I was "pulling away" because I was going to college soon....and when you feel justifiably annoyed it doesn't help to have someone spouting psychology at you. Anyway, suffice to say it was not the calmest time in my household....but since I've been at college my relationship with my parents has gotten SO much better! My dad jokes that we actually have more real conversations now that I'm not living at home. The end of senior year kind of felt like a limbo period- high school was basically over, we knew where we were going to college but we weren't actually there yet. I have a group of really close friends from high school so I was really focused on seeing them as much as possible before we went away, and I HATED having my parents always asking me "where are you going? who's going to be there? what time will you be home?" Even though I understood that they were always asking me those things because they worried and they cared, it felt like they didn't trust me enough even though i'd never given them cause not to. What I mean to say is, it will work itself out and your relationship will be stronger for it! It's just a weird time, and I think as teenagers we don't really consider how our leaving is affecting our parents (especially if we're the first to leave). All of my friends (most of whom are really close with their families) went through something similar.

I'm sure your loss of Katie makes the normal family drama stuff much more complicated and difficult to deal with, I'm so sorry! Just wanted to let you know that as far as the senioritis is concerned, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! :D


deb said...

This made me cry and I really don't even know you that well.
There is no amount of wishing that can make this "all better". Sometimes that just bites. Sometimes rage is sitting so closely under the surface of love.

It is all quite a coming together of things as you say. with your son heading to college and all. And senioritis has made my husband and I seethe and rant and cry and go silent for days. I have learned to offer lots of space. Mine are strong willed but very safe in our unconditional love. It is becoming quite obvious that we are coming out the other side with at least a few of them, and it is such a relief. And funny . And cuddly.
Let God.
Although, that obviously terrifies you to the core in ways I cannot imagine.

I will pray for you.
And you need to gift yourself with the compassion that you so generously lavish on others. You need to fill your soul in however it may need. Your family will benefit from it in the end too.

I hope it's okay that I rambled.
You are certainly worth risking love for .

Kay said...

I don't have any great words that haven't already been spoken. But I do know that the teen years are a minefield and then you add in going away to school and that budding independence and, well, there ya go.

I was thinking of you regarding David going off to college and leaving you empty just the other day. So I knew this had to be weighing on you. It is hard to think about what might have been. I have a friend with boys right at my son's would be current age. Very weird to watch and then come home to my quiet house of one little girl.

It does turn what used to be brightly colored days into shades of gray sometimes. Nothing is what it was supposed to be. But as you've said, letting God fill those empty places is the best advice I can give.

Many hugs to you, friend.

Daisy said...

(((((Karen))))) Totally commiserate with you about the senioritis thing; we're full-blown into that ourselves. (Painful!) It is definitely a weird time; wanting to be happy for their independence but sad because it means change for which we're never ready. It's been a hell of a week...

Yesterday, I bought my mom some flowers and thought about apologizing for being such a jerk as a young adult. :) In my memory, she seemed to be handling this with more grace than I can seem to muster. Of course, time may have worn off some of the sharper edges of those memories.


PS. James Taylor and Carole King? That must've been great.

Ro said...

What a challenging day for you, Karen, and what others have already said holds true - boys become rude and bluff to hide their fear and intimidation.
He'll always be your lad xxx

Robin said...

This Mother's Day week-end has gone on and on and on and I would like there to be no more of them.

I was listening to JT as I was driving from Cleveland to Pittsburgh tonight and I just cried and cried. For the last few days I have been imagining what it would be like not to carry this awful weight around and what it would be like now for ME to be graduating with my family intact -- none of which will ever be.

If it helps any, I have senioritis and I am 56! I look at my assignments for the next two weeks
and think, "You are not serious."

We have so many of the same issues, Karen: huge changes around work, not work, marriage, adult children, and this terrible loss that underlies everything. Tonight a young woman in the library said, "You're not thinking not going into ministry, are you?" and I said, "What.Is.The.Point?"

I am so, so tired of everything being so, so wrong.

Love you on this hard week-end.

Smileygirl said...

Hopefully writing all of this out helps make you feel a little lighter inside. You are a blessing to so many people in this world (including David) and please don't ever forget that. Sending you much love. And here's to operation pants fitting again soon! Chant with me, "No more carbs. No more carbs!"

Mary Potts said...

Oh dear Karen! Unfortunately I don't have wise words for you because I'm having trouble here myself, for many of the same reasons you are, some of which were detailed in my post that I entitled "To Wait is Often Harder".

I can't advise, but I can commiserate with you (and maybe misery can be comforted a tiny bit by company)

- about having to get a job (don't know what the heck I'm going to do yet. I've never felt so lost in my life!)
- about how Dave & I feel and react very uniquely to our pain about Erin's passing, and the stress it often causes
- about how our other three children/young adults were works-in-progress for a long time. It hasn't always been pretty! They went through awful stages, especially before they went to college. They are better now that they're in their 20's, but I still think they can be very self-absorbed! They call it independence. I'm sure you're a great mom.
- I like to be in control too.
- We have tickets to see JT and CK here in Chicago on May 24th. I'm so excited! I saw Carole King in Phoenix when she did her Livingroom Tour, and I saw James here in Chicago about 5 years ago.
- Mother's Day was really hard for me. I don't have my mom here. Erin is gone and I'm having so much trouble dealing with these holidays without her. Her 19th birthday is Friday. Dear Lord help me...

Ok, now that I haven't helped you AT ALL, I will promise you that I will pray for you, while I pray for myself, to endure these "challenging" times!


Life with Kaishon said...

It sounds like it was a very beautiful day. I am so sorry that you have experienced this situation at work! I love what you said that it will help you rely on God more. He does know about this... Will pray for you. I am visiting via Jason's blog tonight and I am so glad I came over to say hi! said...

I remember when my girls were going through it someone told me senior spring was God's way of making us grateful for the empty nest... To add all the other loads you are carrying on top of the rejection and frustration most parents feel at this point must be just almost too much to bear. All I can say is hang in there, and don't be afraid. God is walking with you, and things will get better in some ways that may be incredibly surprising. Be where you are, feel what you feel, share what you are so incredibly good at sharing, and you already are the gift you are meant to be, as much a gift to all of us who read and hear and know you as JT is to all the folks who love his music.

Karen said...

This is the time in a mother's life, that no one tells you about. I read your post to may husband last night commenting that you have described my feelings about a loss of purpose perfectly. I have never experienced the trauma you have. Your dignity is awe inspiring. I do have three sons, 21, 18, 14. Watching them leave, one by one, in the complicated way young men do, leaves me stunned, proud, hurt, loving and lonely. what now? A hard question for a woman at this stage of life. A time that has not really been defined for us in 2010. Good luck with your journey. You are very inspiring.