Soiling the Nest

Soiling the Nest

My son’s departure date is fast approaching. He just graduated from high school and is going on a three-month learning experience in Israel and Eastern Europe. I vacillate between being irritated by him/looking forward to his leaving and adoring him/being excited for his adventure/feeling a smidge sad that he’s going. Just the other day he came back from a four-day youth group convention out of town. It was just starting to snow and I was cooking delicious treats, looking forward to being snowed in with my family.

“I’m going to spend the night at my friend’s house,” he announced, “I haven’t seen my buddies in five days.”

“Okaaay, but you’re going to spend three months with them,” I reminded him. I had hoped he would want to spend some time with us, and then felt a little pathetic, like a dog waiting for scraps of attention. I had a brief pity party and then I remembered being seventeen. I preferred my friends’ company to my family’s for a long time. My son has clearly crossed the line of wanting to be with his friends more than with his family. I know it’s normal and appropriate, but sometimes it bugs me. How could he not want to be with us? Aren’t we as awesome as we think we are? I also find annoying his occasional intolerance of my benign inquiries, like “what are your plans for the day?” I’m an awful, intrusive mother – obviously.

I was venting to my sister about my mixed emotions. “Sounds like he’s soiling the nest,” she said.

Precisely. I have heard about this phenomenon and am now experiencing it firsthand. Obviously, he is not literally soiling our home. Psychologists say graduating seniors may struggle with vulnerability and self-doubt about being equipped to fling themselves into the daunting unknowns of the next stage of life.  They cannot directly confront their sadness about saying good-bye to the familiar “knowns” of childhood. How could they take flight, so weighed down by such emotional burdens? Better to fling off all that drag and fixate only on enhancing the “good riddance” of their good-byes. Better yet, why not soil the nest on the way out, “gifting” US with an easier “good-riddance to you too”  good-bye ?!  The more toxic and messy they are, the easier transitioning to the next phase will be, for them, and for us.  I know we’ve got a fairly mild case of nest soiling. My son is not toxic or even particularly messy. He is generally sweet and thoughtful. But I gotta say – I’ll be kind of glad when he goes. This waiting period is hard. Ripping the band-aid off seems the better way to go.

The parties are over, the important talks have been had, with emphasis on “Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, your family or your school.” Let’s face it – it’s about him, but it’s also about us – the parents. No big to-do or send-off as we cross the line of this next milestone in the life of our family.

There have already been inquiries from his siblings about the use of his empty bedroom. Looks like some nest-reorganizing is in our future. At least until what’s-his-name comes back.




While backing my minivan out of my garage last week, I clipped my side-view mirror and it broke. Some of my kids were in the car – they were aghast. No worry, I assured them. It was an accident. Clearly I did not intend to cause damage to my car. Yes, it is a nuisance, a financial burden, and an inconvenience. But it is not the end of the world.

Sure, it takes age and experience to react this way. In my younger days I would have been more upset and agitated. I would have been reluctant and full of trepidation to tell my husband. Not anymore. This 50-plus year old is confident and liberated when it comes to dealing with life’s foibles. I didn’t mean to hurt my car, I explained to my kids. Like scraping your knee or cutting your finger – these things happen. Yes, I’ll have to eventually replace my mirror, although fortunately I can still use it. But for now it’s just one of life’s scars, a boo-boo if you will.

I was on a roll…what a great analogy for life to pontificate to my kids about on the way to school. Scars are evidence of a life lived. It’s easier to cope with life when things go smoothly but it is the trying times that truly test your mettle. Mustering up grace in the face of adversity is a difficult life-skill to master. I could leave the car in the garage and never drive it – then it would never have dings, scratches or bird-poop splotches. What would be the good of having a car? The same thing applies to life. You can sit in your house and be fearful of experiencing new things, failure, meeting new people or going outside of your comfort zone. Or, you can get out there and live.

So when I picked up my kids that day, they said, “Did you tell Dad about the car?”

“Of course I did – I’m not scared of him,” I assured them.

Okay, I was not exactly chomping at the bit to tell him about the car. However, over the course of our marriage, I have developed a system of communicating bad news that has worked quite well. I would email my husband about potentially difficult topics – getting caught speeding by hidden traffic cameras, ordering drapes that I loved that happened to be exorbitantly priced – so that he could digest and process my news before reacting. As the years have gone by, and we have both been busted by those dreaded traffic cameras, I need to use this tactic less frequently. I just speak to him directly. He wasn’t thrilled about the broken car mirror but he understood it could happen to anyone. Now, when we see the dreaded notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles in the mail, my husband will wonder aloud who has gotten the speeding ticket. One came just this week. I quickly confessed that I thought it was me and predicted exactly where and when it occurred. What could have been a tense and uncomfortable situation had now became a game of recall called “where was I caught speeding?”

So my side-view mirror is partially shattered, but usable. Actually, I kind of enjoy seeing the prism and distortion it creates when I glance at it – it brings a little surprise/psychedelia to the banality of my chauffeur duties. I might as well enjoy the trip until I get it fixed.

Look Away


My eldest is leaving the house this month. Seniors at his school graduate in February and go on a three-month trip to Israel with a side-tour to Eastern Europe. He’ll leave a vacant bedroom and the family “hot-seat.” When you have several children, a parent’s attention shifts from child to child depending on who’s the neediest at the time. Our family configuration will change with the oldest gone. I have mixed emotions but mostly I’m happy for him as he sets off for the next phase of his life. Full disclosure – I’m also sad to lose the extra driver in my family. He’s been driving his 13-year-old brother to school for the past year, a job which I now get to resume. I enjoyed the hiatus but am intrigued by the opportunities this presents. I was driving my two youngest to school recently and asked my son if he and his brother talked much when they drove to school together.

“Some,” he said, “but usually we’re pretty tired.”

“Well, now you and I will get lots of time to talk,” I enthusiastically said.

In my rear view mirror, this prompted an excellent, textbook eye-roll from my daughter. I knew I was on to something.

With the eldest leaving the nest, I can turn my attention to the other children in the house. We’re done with driving lessons, college entrance exams, the college search, etc with the first-born. Sure, there will be other things we need to teach him but from a different vantage point. It won’t be that daily, up-close-in-your-face kind of parenting.

It’s the lucky children who remain in the house who are the recipients of our wisdom and attention, whether they want it or not. Next in the birth order in our family is our son with special needs. He gets a lot of attention for his health issues – he has a feeding tube and a medication schedule, but truthfully – as long as he is relatively healthy and happy our attention stops there. It’s the third child who is next in line for our scrutiny. I’m sure he has no idea what’s in store for him. I’m looking forward to getting to know this creature again, now that he’s smack in the middle of the teenage morphing years. Maybe now that I’ve practiced my parenting skills on my eldest, I can perfect them with this child. Or maybe I’ve learned what’s important and I just won’t care about the same stuff. It’s kind of like a weird science experiment – so many variables and hypotheses.

Strangely, I find myself thinking of the swimming pool of all places. For a few years, I volunteered as a “stroke and turn” judge for our neighborhood summer swim team. I had to scan three of the six lanes of the pool to make sure the swimmers were swimming “legally.” If there happened to be only one swimmer and two empty lanes, we were taught to keep scanning as if there were three swimmers so the one swimmer didn’t have a disadvantage of being watched every moment. Each swimmer should benefit from the judge’s gaze being averted.

This struck me as a great metaphor for parenting. I don’t think it serves my children well to have my attention every minute, all the time. I am constantly scanning their lives while deliberately looking away occasionally. Nobody wants to be watched all the time.

By looking away, I may miss the occasional “illegal” strokes or turns in my kids’ lives. Let’s hope my parental scanner will pick up the stuff that really counts.



Many people begin the parenting experience by making grand proclamations about how they will raise their offspring. Things like, “my child will only watch educational television,” or “my child will only eat healthy foods.”

Then life happens and those strong feelings get tempered, those little babies become people who speak and have opinions, and parents learn to juggle their wants and desires with those of their children.

Sometimes we get beaten down and cave to their incessant demands. In my house, this has played out recently in the form of an iPhone. My husband and I were so proud of ourselves for holding out and not buying an iPhone for our oldest child until he was seventeen, which was last year. “What does he need it for?” we asked. “He has a perfectly good phone. And an iTouch.” Being the dutiful firstborn, he accepted his fate and didn’t press too hard on the subject. So we eventually relented, telling ourselves that he’ll be in college soon.

Ah, but it’s a slippery slope. Now our 13-year-old is lobbying hard. I find that I just don’t feel as strongly this time as I did with our eldest. Maybe because smartphones have become the norm. Maybe because he never seems to have his plain, old phone charged or with him when I need to reach him.

“If we get him an iPhone, it will no doubt be attached to his body and fully charged and therefore he would be reachable, right?” I asked my friend, who also has a 13-year-old boy.

“Absolutely,” she said, “My son’s phone is never dead. I could be dead, but his phone – never,” she chuckled.

Yep, I see an iPhone in the future for this son, once I negotiate this with my husband. Poor guy, he recently attempted to use his legal prowess with our daughter on the very serious subject of her birthday present. He called me one day after dropping her off at school.

“I caved,” he said.

“Oh? On what?” I asked.

“A trampoline. For her birthday,” he announced, defeated.

I’m happy when my husband occasionally caves. Since I spend more time with the kids, I am the recipient of most of the asking, whining, and begging so of course I cave more than he does. I was glad to see my daughter go for his weak spot – it’s a good skill for her to learn. In his defense, he held out for well over a year before caving.

So the trampoline will grace our backyard, where the dog roams too. I’m the one who caved on the dog. I guess we’re even, for now.

Have we lost control or do the things we care about change over time? Once we were rigid about bedtime – now it’s only the eleven-year-old who’s asleep before us. I was talking with a friend about this.

“I’ve lost control of that, among many other things,” she said and went on to tell me that her neighbor has noticed over the years that the lights in their house stay on later and later. The whole world apparently notices our loss of control. What’s the neighbor doing up so late anyway?

I like to tell myself that I don’t cave on the things that I really care about like being a good person and having good manners. Oh, and being a good student – although I confess that I leave the schoolwork to the kids and their teachers. I assume they are doing well if I don’t hear anything negative from the school. I guess I’ve sort of caved on that too.

Ultimately my children will be the captain of their ships and will have to do their own navigating. In the meantime, I’m just trying to have smooth sailing.


A Post for the Holiday Season – How to be a Good Guest


I was looking for somewhere to board my dog for a few nights next month. I came across a groupon type deal for a company that connects people who wish to board dogs in their homes with dog owners.

The idea of my pooch staying with a family is appealing. After culling through several pages of possibilities, I arranged a “meet and greet” with a woman who seemed to be a possible match for us.

My dog and I set off, in rush hour. What should have been a 15 minute car-ride ended up being 45 minutes. Lewey sensed something was amiss – I had to drag him up the stairs to the front door. We were greeted by the nice lady, her husband, and two pugs. At her suggestion, I took off my dog’s leash so he could explore the house.

A meet-and-greet is a nice way of saying that the boarding family wants to make sure my dog is not out-of-control and I want to make sure they are not psychopaths.

The woman and I sat down in the family room. She pulled out her notebook to ask me questions about my dog, who was being adorable and playing with one of the other dogs. As we continued our discussion, I followed her gaze to the left of my chair.

There, in the corner of the room, on the wall-to-wall carpet, my dog was taking a dump.

Really? After I went through all the trouble to find these people and shlep to their home, my dog is going to put the kibosh on the whole thing within the first five minutes by pooping in their house? I was mortified. He never does this, I assured them. It called into question my dog training skills. Maybe I was a terrible dog parent? Oh, the shame.

They were very nice and matter-of-fact about it. I quickly cleaned up the poop and the husband sprayed the anti-smell-please-don’t-poop-here-again-spray. He told me they’ve learned to take their dog guests for a walk as soon as they arrive as they can be agitated and out of sorts. Apparently my dog’s behavior was not as abnormal or abhorrent as I feared.

We finished the interview and talked about the dates I needed the dog to be watched. They seemed like they were actually still willing to watch my dog – I couldn’t believe it. I figured when I got home I would receive a text saying that something had come up for them and they wouldn’t be able to watch Lewey. You know, the doggie version of “it’s not you, it’s me.”

I felt as if I had ruined a first date. We did the walk of shame out to the car. I called my husband and my sister.

“They’re dog people,” my sister reasoned, “they’re used to this stuff.

To my surprise, they accepted my official request through the boarding website to watch my dog. I will plead with him to be a super good boy and do all of his business outside.

I hate to leave him, but sometimes duty calls.

May your Thanksgiving celebrations include only well-behaved guests.



Ready to Launch


I am in launch mode. My oldest son is applying to college. This transition is not so fraught with anxiety for me – he will have great options and after all, it’s still months away. Rather, my immediate focus lies at the top half of my sandwich – launching my father.

Many people live far from their parents, some happily and some not so happily. I have had the good fortune of living in the same area as my parents for the past 25 years. They helped me with my children – they babysat, drove them around, and provided a lot of love and support. I helped them as my mother became ill and died last year. My parents have had an apartment in Jerusalem for the past 20 years where they went two or three times a year for six weeks at a time. But Maryland was still home base.

My father has decided to make Israel his primary home. I admire his ability to re-engage in life after losing his beloved wife of 54 years. I applaud his continued interest in living and his desire to have a full, meaningful existence. He has been drawn to Israel for as long as I can remember. He likes the people, the history, the religious life, the politics, the culture and the language. He loves living in a vibrant, active city. My mother liked it too, but not enough to livef there full-time. After she died, my father gave himself a year to regroup and form a plan. He seized this opportunity to fulfill his dream to live in Israel full-time. I say good for him. How many 78-year-old men, or women for that matter, can do that? I wrapped my mind around the fact that he was leaving and gave him my blessing. He forwarded his mail to my house, locked up his house and left.

Do I worry more for my father’s safety in Israel than I do in the United States? No. Fortunately I do not have a worrying disposition and he is not worried. I do appreciate the e-mails he sends after any attacks in Jerusalem to tell me he is fine, including the most recent heinous attack in a synagogue.

I don’t feel abandoned by my father. I am secure in our relationship, no matter how his life gets intertwined in new peoples’ lives. I feel my father’s presence and love, no matter where he lives, similar to how I feel about my mother’s spirit. As he always says, the world is much smaller than it used to be with the array of technology at our fingertips. We are never further than an e-mail or text away.

We have spent a lot of time together in the fourteen months since my mother died – it will be nice to have time to miss each other.  We knew each others’ schedules and whereabouts at all times. I’m sure he will appreciate the break from my watchful eyes. My immediate family will miss having him such a part of our daily lives, but as he says, the kids are getting older and going in their own directions. No need for him to sit around here and wait for them to throw a little attention his way. He can e-mail and text them to keep in touch too.

I am grateful that we had each other to lean on during the difficult time after my mother’s death. He’s a wonderful father. But I am thankful that he is healthy and able to pursue his passion.

It’s been two weeks since lift-off…so far, so good.

Miss Manners


“When are you leaving?” my 10 year old daughter innocently asked my sister during her recent visit.

“Naomi!” I chided her, “that isn’t a nice question.”

I flash-backed to years past when I asked the same question of my uncle when I was a child. My mother taught me that it is more polite to say instead, “How long will you be staying?”

I relayed this story to her and we had a pleasant little discussion about how posing the same question in a more positive way can make the visiting person feel better. My daughter then continued to hang around while my sister and I wanted to talk privately and have grown-up conversation.

“Naomi, how long will you be staying?” my sister asked with a smile.

All parents want to raise polite children. Why? Honestly, because they are a reflection of us and we want our product to perform well in the world. Also, we want them to be pleasant and productive members of society. Good manners and general amiability will always get you farther in life. On those occasions when a friend or teacher will tell you unsolicited how nicely your child behaved when you weren’t around, admit it, you feel like you won the gold medal in parenting. Even if said child can be a pain in the neck at home.

There are several fundamentals that I strive to impart to my children. Clearly, this list is not exhaustive.

  1. Proficiency in please, thank-you, no thank-you
  2. Making and maintaining eye contact
  3. Offering a firm handshake
  4. Maintaining a reasonable appearance
  5. Crafting a basic thank-you note
  6. Demonstrating basic table manners
  7. Being a good host/guest
  8. Being a good citizen: holding doors, giving up your seat, helping with luggage, etc.

Technology has added further wrinkles into the art of civility. No one would like it if someone stood outside of the door of their home and listened in on a phone conversation, yet so many are guilty of talking loudly on their cell phones for all the world to hear. One of my pet peeves is when people talk on the phone while checking out at a store, ignoring the person who is helping them. To me, that is the pinnacle of rudeness.

Many of us are guilty of checking our devices compulsively.  I was recently with my son, who was looking at his phone as we waited in the examining room for the eye doctor. When the doctor came in, I was pleased to see my son put his phone in his pocket. When the doctor left, he resumed his phone play. It irked me that he didn’t give me the same respect he showed the doctor but at the time I chose not to fight that particular battle.

I am, however, on the warpath occasionally. Electronic devices do not constitute a “manner-free” zone.

“No screens at the table,” I remind the kids.

“Read, talk to each other, or stare off into space,” I suggest, when they protest.

Or maybe experience those most awful, dreaded, very terrible things that no one can tolerate in this day and age – being alone with your thoughts or maybe even good old-fashioned boredom. Oh, the horror.

Teaching manners is part of the job of parenting, just not a particularly fun one.

So, again, thanks so much for taking the time to read this essay. I really appreciate it. You may now resume playing Candy Crush and checking Facebook on your Iphone.


My Own American Werewolf


I used to have a darling third child. He was born six weeks premature but quickly exploded into a blonde dumpling – an anomaly in my house of brunettes. He was an adorable child – fun, funny with a delightful disposition. He was a pleaser and very affectionate, so much so that my husband and I nicknamed him “The Drape” because he would hang on us at any opportunity. A touch smothering but basically adorable.

Now he’s thirteen. His mood generally morose, he is most often found with his head attached to headphones and watching television shows on the computer screen. I have to remind him to do the things he’s supposed to do –  homework, shower, eating, etc. In all of our interactions he’s either snippy, spacey, or both.

“Huh?” seems to be his bewildered response to every inquiry.

I know this is the norm for an adolescent. What sets this child apart in our household is the rapid transformation from adored child to exasperating teenager.

It is my experience that when a child irks one parent, the other parent is able to swoop in and valiantly play defense attorney for the young offender – the champion of the poor, misunderstood child. I think that’s part of evolution, so we don’t kill our young.

For me, adolescence can be summed up by the 1980’s movie, An American Werewolf in London, where the main character, an adorably boyish looking twenty-something, periodically morphs into a terrifying werewolf. Our children, once so pure and pristine suddenly begin “the change” into adulthood. Their faces temporarily appear out of proportion, they get acne, their limbs are gangly, their hormones surge, until they become a creature that we hardly recognize. Oh, how I long for my cute little boy.

I am fairly confident that he will come out okay on the other side of adolescence, if I don’t kill him first. I see little glimmers of hope from time to time – watching him laughing with friends or playing charmingly with little kids. Deep down the sweet little boy is still there. Even werewolves must love their mothers, right?

It is clear to me now that my experience of adolescence as a parent to three boys has all been one giant preview to the main event that awaits me in the near future. My daughter turns eleven next month.

Pray for me.

Just Say Yes


Volunteers. Selfless, noble, doers of good. God bless them. That being said, I must confess that my knee-jerk reaction is to say “no” when asked to take on a volunteer job. I’m busy and don’t particularly want to put more on my plate. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve learned how the volunteer thing works – it’s about people and relationships that get things done. So I have had to re-train myself to think and act differently when considering volunteering. Philanthropy is defined as the practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other people. I can wrap my mind around that. I think we all can.

We cannot, however, all be uber-volunteers who say yes to just about everything. Those people are reliable, responsible, and ultra-competent. Frankly their efficiency is a little scary. Thank God these people exist. We can’t all be uber-volunteers. I certainly am not. Those people are a different breed, another level of other-directedness. I am more of the occasional volunteer and I’m comfortable with that.

While it’s worthwhile to get children involved in doing good deeds, I think there is even greater value in parents modeling volunteer behavior for them. Children watch and learn from how their parents conduct themselves. I heard someone speak once about the power of memory and how we remember our parents’ volunteer activities from when we were children. Were your parents always complaining about having to participate or were they proud of it? Your memories of your parents may guide how you view volunteering. My husband and I are very careful to put a positive spin on our volunteer activities so our children see it as a worthwhile and valuable contribution, one they will remember when they grow up and their time comes.

You can pick and choose what you volunteer to do – just do something. Unless you live under a rock, you are part of a community. My goal is to give back a little more than I take. Do I always achieve this? No. Sometimes I fall short. Socializing comes easily to me so I host and attend functions where I can serve as an ambassador for whatever organization I feel strongly about…drinking wine and chatting are in my skill set. Sometimes it’s important to go to dinners and events to support friends and acquaintances and the charities that are important to them, even if you “don’t wanna.”

Asking for money is a dreaded task for 99% of people, up there with public speaking. I hate it too. It feels intrusive and overly personal. But someone’s got to do it. I am not talking about paid, aggressive solicitors from random organizations. I mean people from within your community, from the organizations you’re associated with. They don’t ask for money to put into their own pocket for say, a home kitchen renovation. It’s for worthy causes. I try to remember that and cut the person some slack when they call me.

When I was recently asked to help with a fundraising effort, I was busy and distracted and desperately wanted to say “no.”

Instead, what I said was, “I’m not going to say yes, but I’m not going to say no. Let me think about it.”

I ended up saying yes. Next time you get the call to volunteer, consider answering it.


Bittersweet Sixteen


My son with special needs turned sixteen last week. My father reminded me to say a prayer, expressing gratitude for having raised him to this point in time. I am thankful that he is happy, loved, that he walks and talks.

It is, however, bittersweet. Oddly enough, I am most sad that he is not on his way to driving a car – the highlight of turning sixteen for most teenagers in the United States. The ability to leave the house and your family and find your own way is liberating.  I still love to hop in my car and drive away sometimes. Except this time I’m running away from my children. Sweet separation. My eldest son is seventeen and he drives. His little sister once asked where her brother, the new driver, was.

“Out,” I answered.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because he can,” I told her.

I vividly recall my elation at getting my license and the incredible freedom I felt. I remember going “out” as often as I could, to that elusive place where parents can’t find you. Nowadays children can’t be as unavailable as they’d probably like, poor things, because of the homing devices that are their cell phones.

It makes me sad that my second son cannot go “out,” although he doesn’t seem to want to. He is not focused at all on the fact that he is not on the driving trajectory. In fact, he would probably be happy to stay “in” for the rest of his life. He’s happy surrounded by his family and his beloved video games. It’s tempting to let him stay in forever, to keep him safe and sound.

“Maybe he could try taking the driver’s ed course, to see if he could even pass?” I mused to my husband and other children.

They all dismissed the idea as ludicrous. He would be a danger to himself and others, they argued. His lack of attention to the world around him could have disastrous consequences. Are we selling him short? Am I crazy and deluded? Maybe a little.

It’s part of the ongoing see-saw of raising a differently-abled child. I am grateful for the things he is able to do but the grief for what he can’t do lurks in the background. His brothers are tall, strapping young men like their father. I encourage this son to consume as many calories as he can, so that maybe he can be as tall as his five-foot-four-inch mother. I cling to things I may have a touch of control over, to maintain an illusion of normalcy.

There is a popular essay which is given to many parents when they have a disabled child. It is called “Welcome to Holland.” The gist of it is that you were planning a trip to Italy and were shocked to find you arrived in Holland. Once getting over your disappointment at landing at the wrong destination, you look around and discover the beautiful things in Holland. It’s a lovely metaphor to try to make you feel better about the immense sadness and disappointment you feel when you have a less-than-perfect child.

It works for a while, perhaps getting you through the early years of crushing hardship and disbelief. I have a group of women friends who I met in a support group ten years ago, all who have disabled children. My “Special Mom” friends, I call them.

“Holland sucks,” we wholeheartedly agree.

But here we are. We strive to savor the sweet and tolerate the bittersweet.

So Happy Birthday to my young man. Who cares that driving’s not in your future? I’ll teach you how to ride the bus.