Our perceptions of others are often wrong. Take me, for example. I was born and raised in Italy and moved to Canada a few decades ago. When my son was growing up, some of my friends criticized me for my lack of Italian-ness; I don't drink coffee or wine, and I seldom eat pasta. At the same time, they stereotyped me as the overly protective Italian mother who would have a hard time letting go of my son after high school.
I proved them wrong. The first year after my son left for university, I wrote three books and created a fabulous new life for myself. My son, an engineering student living on campus, was so busy I barely ever saw him. Both of us thrived in our separate lives, much to the disbelief of my friends.
History Repeating Itself
When I left Italy as young married woman of 20, I thought my mother would be upset. My younger sister had left home, and my older sister decided to spend most of her time abroad with me. I expected my mother's life to be empty.
Not so! She was reborn. She dove into her passion, which is exotic flowers and local plants, and obtained certification in exotic flower arranging. Then she began teaching other Italian empty nesters like her, experiencing the high of freedom without children.
This was all a big surprise to me. I thought my mother's life would consist of memories of her three daughters. Instead, she replaced us with exotic flowers and indigenous plants!
My Best Italian Friend
My best Italian friend, Isabella, has also been my neighbour for 25 years. Our children are like brother and sister. When her daughter, three years older than my son, finished high school, Isabella talked continuously of her dream to turn her daughter's room into a walk-in closet. Whenever we took our dogs to the park — dogs left behind by our children — we would talk about closet plans.
"What kind of Italian mothers are you?" our North American friends, with kids still at home, would ask. We were mothers who wanted independence, a degree and a great job for our children — and walk-in closets for ourselves.
Life in the City
After my son graduated with an engineering degree, we decided to take a huge step: to sell our house in the suburbs and go our separate ways. I felt so grown up. Once again, my North American friends forecasted terrible things for the sheltered woman they thought I was. "You'll regret moving downtown. You'll be lonely. Your dogs and cat will hate it." Isabella was my biggest supporter. We both believed in moving on.
I've never looked back. Three years of living downtown and I love it. I've adjusted better than I ever expected. And my son had his own apartment, though he rented it out to take a job in another city. The job was so good that all I could do was give him my best wishes. He's happy, accomplished and moving up in the world.
Despite my friends' dire predictions, I was thrilled. Was there anything wrong with my empty-nester happiness?
The Phone Call
A few months into my empty-nester bliss, my son called me. "Mom," he said excitedly over the phone, "I have two pieces of good news. One, I've been transferred back home."
I wait for the second piece of good news, thinking ominously of his apartment rented out for another six months.
"And since my apartment isn't available, I'll be moving in with you!" I gasp. This isn't happening. What's wrong with me?
"Mom? Do you have a cold? It sounds like you're choking."
And so it begins. The end of my empty nest.
Not only does my son move in, but he brings with him boxes, clothing, furniture, a huge TV, X-boxes, technical equipment, wires, more wires, and multiple containers of protein supplements. My apartment is taken over, my storage room overflows, and my media room is now his bedroom.
"Oh, you must be so happy," my friends coo. Isabella and I are desperate. Her daughter has moved back for six months — and Isabella's walk-in closet plans are on hold again. Just when I thought it was safe to have a life and write my sixth book.
The New Reality
"Mom, don't worry about those boxes. I'll empty them later, after the movie." And so the boxes dominate my living room for three weeks, until finally I unpack them and endure heavy criticism for not putting things in the right place.
Adult kids who have moved away are used to fending for themselves. They want their own life and the freedom to do their own thing on their own time. This means that when they move back home, they have no hesitation about invading your space.
"Don't worry about my laundry. I don't mind doing it, I'm used to it." I congratulate myself on raising an independent man. Except that his laundry sits in the machine for two days, then in the dryer for four, and my own laundry system is shot.
I punish him. I do his laundry. Now he owes me. He wants independence, I want help with the heavy things. Can we make a deal?
Anything But That
"Sure. What do you want me to do?" He's surrendering. He likes having his laundry done, though he doesn't want to admit it. It means he can work longer hours and still have clean clothes. I repossess the washer and dryer.
Now it's my turn. I raise the possibility of walking the dogs.
"Not that! I will do anything but walk the dogs!"
"What about the garbage?"
"Not the garbage! I don't want to be late in the morning, and at night I go to the gym."
I get the gist, though I'm not sure where to go next. Read More.
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