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    From both sides now


    Featured on BlogHer.comEven several years into it, an empty nest can be hard to get used to. Especially during the holidays. No longer do I have play-by-play announcements from the family room of who's up next in the Thanksgiving parade as I prep the turkey in the kitchen. No longer must I search high and low for a favorite Christmas CD that's been nabbed from the holiday-music tin by a teen who wants to play it in her room or car. Nor do I have youngsters—or teenagers—waking up early as can be on Christmas morning, excitedly serving as the alarm that time had come for celebrations to begin. 

    I miss all that and more—even the pilfered music—that was part and parcel of a full nest. Every now and then I indulge in pity parties, bemoaning the occasional sadness Jim and I now share since our daughters have grown up, moved on.

    In my self-centered, self-pitying mindset, I often, no, I pretty much always forget that my daughters face their own sadness and challenges in the growing up, the moving on. Especially during the holidays. My youngest daughter, Andrea, recently—unintentionally—reminded me of exactly that.

    Andrea was scheduled to work on Thanksgiving and wouldn't be able to spend the day with the family. As a counselor in a residential treatment facility for troubled adolescent girls, staff is required to be on-site 24/7, and Andrea's regular hours include Thursdays, which, of course, Thanksgiving was. Which meant she had no choice but to cover that shift. It was to be her first Thanksgiving absent from our table, so she and some friends who also had to work that day—plus a few who simply couldn't make it to their own family homes for the holiday—planned a holiday gathering of friends for later in the evening, after the workday was done.

    The idea Andie couldn't be home for Thanksgiving—that now two of my three daughters wouldn't be around for the day—saddened me. But in these crazy economic times a job must come first, so I accepted it. I didn't accept as easily, though, the seemingly nonchalant attitude from Andrea each time we discussed it. I never voiced it to her, but in all honesty, there were a few times I thought my youngest might just be asserting her independence and actually pretending to me that she had to work but in fact was planning a full day of holiday fun and frivolity with her friends instead of her family.

    How wrong I was. Turns out Andrea was just doing her best to stay strong in the face of reality, of growing up, of being an adult, of needing to stay employed. Her tough facade crumbled Thanksgiving evening. On her way home from the gathering, Andrea called me in tears. The celebration with friends had been fine, the food was good, she assured me, but it simply wasn't Thanksgiving at home, and it broke her heart to feel so far away from family during a holiday for the very first time.

    "I'm 26 years old," she said through her tears, "I'm just being stupid and a big baby, but I missed being home. It was!"

    I realized at that moment how rarely I take into account what my girls have gone through, continue to go through, on the road to adulthood and independence from their parents. I focus only on what I'm missing, what I've lost.

    I don't consider often enough Andrea's steadfast determination to continue traditions instilled in her childhood, everything from green eggs and ham on Saint Patrick's Day to pumpkin-carving competitions for Halloween. Or a holiday turkey dinner with friends that may be fine...but oh-so hard to get through without crying.

    I don't consider often enough the role reversal for my middle daughter, Megan, who as a child definitely enjoyed the giving but wholeheartedly preferred and relished the receiving at Christmas. She'd happily pose with her piles of presents, giddy with the prospect of opening them. Once her picture was taken, she'd dive right in with unbridled joy, not worrying one whit what went on around her. Now as wife/Mommy/grown-up, Megan must care plenty of whits, as she plays supervisor of the family giving and receiving, making sure celebrations run smoothly, successfully. In other words, putting everyone else first. Which can be hard, is hard.

    I don't consider often enough that my oldest daughter, Brianna, leads a solitary home life yet still does her darnedest to make her home a happy space filled with holiday joy to enjoy on her own. Just last week she decorated her tree, by herself, with no one to help string the lights, hang the ornaments, place the angel on top. "You have no idea how difficult it can be doing it all by yourself," she later told me.

    And I don't know. Because I have a husband to help. And because after Brianna finished her own tree, decorating her own place, she hopped in the car and drove over to help Jim and me decorate our tree, our place.

    "I had to come," she said when I thanked her for doing so. "With Megan gone now and Andrea not able to help this year, I didn't want you and Dad to be sad doing it alone. We have to ween you off such things slowly, Mom. I know it's hard."

    She's right. It is indeed hard—for all of us. I need to consider that, I need to remember that. Especially during the holidays. 

    Today's question:

    What did you miss most about holidays at home when you first left the nest?

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    Reader Comments (19)

    Oh Lisa you have me in tears and I can hardly see through them to type this. You have a lovely lovely family and must be so proud of them. Like you I miss my two being around to tell me the tree is lovely and hunting for pressies I have hidden. We don't appreciate what we have until we don't have it.I miss all the Christmas traditions like going to Pantomines and touring Christmas lights and will have to wait a few years until my granddaughter is old enough. Another hard thing is having to share them with their parteners family ,they cannot be in two places at the same time. This year my daughter has said they are coming to us for Christmas so that makes me excited I think my son and his wee family will come too. Happy Christmas Lisa when it comes to you and yours.

    December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Mackle

    It's tough seeing both sides of such deep personal stuff. How we share and grow and change means someone has to give something up at every step of the way.

    Christmas breakfast. We had a huge Christmas breakfast. No presents were touched until it was over. Lamb chops, bacon, eggs, pancakes ... then mom and dad would open stockings that they'd made for each other all before we got to the tree. Then we'd take coffee and whatever else into the livingroom where presents were handed out one by one and everyone would take turns opening and by the time it was all over most of the morning had passed by. There were 7 of us and it made the whole day that much more special.
    I miss that leisurely pace and have never been able to recreate it. My mom said she created the big breakfast because it would fill us all up until supper at 3 when all the relatives had arrived. That way no one pestered her for lunch while she was busy in the kitchen making roast beast and triimmings.

    On an incidental note, I haven't used the term "one whit" in years. But today I did in an email and then I saw it in your post and thought we must be in synch.

    December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Lunn

    Ah Lisa, this one is very sweet. I remember the days when I was alone in my first apartment, my tiny tree with no ornaments because I didn't own any! I was proud and sad at the same time.
    My favorite memory of Christmases past struck me funny and odd. Let me start by saying that I love the anticipation of a gift almost as much (more?) as the gift itself, The wait is just wonderful, seeing a brown box that arrived early waiting for me makes me SO happy. My big brother, however, not so much.
    When we were kids, he mastered the art of opening all of his gifts before Christmas, checking them out, and re-wrapping them with such skill that my mother never knew. My mom wraps like Martha Stewart, by the way, so this was no easy feat! Not satisfied with the knowledge of only his haul, he'd start taunting me about what could possibly be in MY packages.
    Oh the tourture! As a child, the wait was much harder - so resistance was often futile. Sooner or later I'd give in and let him unwrap and expose one, two, THREE or so of my gifts. Not only was the anticipation ruined, but I'd be wracked with guilt every time my ever so trusting mother looked me in the eye - sure that I was damaging our relationship forever! Of course, now I realize she probably knew all along and thought it was fun to watch me suffer - I had a really big mouth.
    While I am so glad that my brother is safely across town and has no access to the brown box that waits in my room as I write this, I really miss that Christmas memory most of all! Go figure...

    December 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteramy hollis

    Your title for today's blog brought to mind the years and years old recordings by Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, even Frank Sinatra and gave me the poignant sadness of "things past" but the movie with
    Streisand and Redford, "The way we were" fits, too. I've been through so many roles from "mama with seven children at home" to "widow with only pets for company" during the Christmas season. Do remember all those Christmases Past and identify the sad feelings that can dominate each and every one of us during holiday seasons but, let us just be happy for the memories those times gave us and feel truly blessed that we had those times to remember. And, let's make new ones for the present...because THIS CHRISTMAS will become a "Christmas Past" before we know it. I wish a good one for everybody!

    December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

    What a touching story.

    December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Kc

    Thank you for sharing this touching article Lisa. You have a beautiful family & I know that you are so proud of them.

    We celebrate Chanukah. I miss not having my son with us, my daughter hasn't been around for years to celebrate any festivities.

    As we are raising our beautiful granddaughter it is a pleasure to watch her beautiful face light up when we light the candles. It makes up for all the sadness that I feel. She is the joy & the light in my life now, she is such a treasure.

    Dear Lisa, Have a very merry Christmas & Happy New Year, my friend.

    December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSally Kabak

    It is a tough time for them as well, especially now that they became wives and mothers. The in-laws want their fair share of the kids too. In the past we have always tried to stay flexible..having a Thanksgiving dinner on the weekend after is just as much fun.

    This year we did something totally unique...we had a huge Thanksgiving dinner at my oldest daughters home in Arizona with all the kids, grandkids, and the in-laws too! It turned out so well. We got to meet our son-in-laws grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins too. All of the grandparents got to enjoy the babies. It was so successful that we planned to do this again next year too!

    In these crazy times, sometimes you have to fill your nest at someone else's home :-)


    December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNanny Anna

    Very touching story that brought tears to my eyes. I am so very lucky to have my two grown children and my granddaughter near this Christmas.

    I remember just wanting to be with my family and my mom and dad's cooking. My parents didn't have alot of money but they always made sure all six of us had at least one big thing that was on our lists.

    December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie E.

    This post brought tears to my eyes, Lisa. Your write so eloquently. It's true we as parents and grandparents often think about what we are missing when we have an empty nest and we don't realize that our children are also missing family traditions that they loved growing up.
    Now that my children and grandchildren live far away I do feel an emptiness here this Christmas season as there doesn't seem a point to decorate when it is just my husband and myself at home.

    As Nanny Anna wrote in her comment "sometimes you have to fill your nest at someone else's home," so we will do the best we can to do that.

    December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPat

    I feel so emotional reading this - it pulls at my heart-strings. I grew up in my grandmother's house My mom was a single parent - my biological father traveled abroad to pursue his studies just two or three months before I was born and never returned. He married again and settled there. So Mom, who was just over 17 at the time came back to her mother's house with me. Life was tough, but we had what we call a "joint" family making up my Grandmother, my mom and I and mom's three brothers and her sister-in-law.

    So, while I did not know a father, the rest of the family seemed to make up for it, and I am grateful. In India, we celebrate many major festivals and many of our relatives and family friends joined us on these occasions. Slowly, as each member of the house had to move out because of work transfers, we dwindled down to my Granma, Mom, one uncle and me. The uncle eventually got married and moved out.

    Oh, I think, for as long as she lived, my Granma never got used to cooking for less than ten people. It was the same with my Mom. We also had the tradition that anyone who visited us would stay for the next meal.

    Today, it is just the three of us - my husband, son and me and I do not do as much justice as I should to family traditions, but I try hard. When I think of the times my Mom was alive, I just don't feel like doing many things. Does that sound weird?

    Thanks, Lisa, am crying now, but in a soothing way, you know?

    December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVidya Sury

    Everyone: This is one of those times I wish my blog had a "like" option as Facebook does so I could go through and "like" each and every one of your powerful and poignant comments. Thank you all for sharing such heartfelt responses to my words.

    December 8, 2011 | Registered CommenterLisa Carpenter

    Wish I'd had time to read this touching post yesterday. I don't know how you put the feeling into words, but you do somehow.

    When I first wasn't home for the holidays I missed the whole darn thing....not just one thing. Such wonderful memories to cherish though. I was lucky.

    In my own home, I now most miss 'the noise'...the noise of two daughters during the holiday season.

    Yes, I'm pretty sure my daughters are going through their own version of missing home for the holidays. My youngest daughter put her tree up Nov. 10 and proudly posted her pics immediately on FB and then emailed me for good measure. My oldest daughter is 'in charge' of Christmas day which has become the new tradition.

    I'm just glad my memories of Christmas' gone by are sweet and not bittersweet...and hoping the Christmas' to come are just as wonderful.

    December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNonnie Kelly

    Yep, crying too. Your family is beautiful and you're a good mom. What else can I say?

    December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBlog Rehab

    What beautiful sentiments... I, too, missed having all my family together and had to make choices, but Christmas, all four will be there. And I am so excited!

    December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPenny

    Hi Lisa, I was actually writing a post of my own about this very topic ... sort of.
    My husband and I have rarely been alone for Christmas because we had five children and when the first couple got married they came back for Christmas with us ... and we had sleep overs with people crowding into our family room on couches and the floor. Then we had some of our children who needed to live with us off and on. We now have a family of six living with us temporarily ... so somehow we've managed to have a full house every year. I do, though, have some yearnings about the past, though ... I'm almost done writing about it!

    December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Henke

    my mom, she really knew how to host a holiday--sadly that's what I'm missing this year as well. I'd give anything to be out decking mom's halls.

    December 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkaye

    Wow such a moving post that hits all of us somewhere. The holidays can be very lonely and joyous at the same time. Since it is so family centered, we miss those not with us--those no longer in this world, or those far away. Lots of good communication (phone and skype) helps but it's not quite the same. And then we also remember with fondness and some measure of poitnancy, past Christmases. Thanks for a wonderful post! And have a good Christmas, however it is!

    December 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpodso

    Lisa, this is such a perfect glimpse of how life changes for us as our kids grow older and have their own homes. We miss the times when everyone was home, and the holidays puts that in sharp focus. We share the love across time and space and that never ends. Thank you so much for adding your writing to our linky today. This was the perfect post.

    January 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGrown and Flownwnandflown

    What did I miss most when I moved out? I had to learn ALL my Mom's holiday recipes, or it would not have been the same. Mom's four daughters took to calling her for culinary advice (okay, yes, at the last minute). We ended up titling it Dial-A-Mom. That's the position I occupy today....

    January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah@afterhood

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