I’ve been divorced for nearly a year. I bought and moved into my house about the same time.
When I look back just five or so years, it’s astonishing how life has changed. And it’s not all related to the divorce. Five years ago, my two sons were still living at home; ages 15 and 20. My daughter was on her own and was always popping by the house often. All three of my kids have taken a weird sort of pride in the fact that their own friends would stop by the house and talk to me, even if they weren’t even home. I liked that. I loved it. I don’t think I realized that until now – how much I liked the give and take activity that surrounded our home. It’s the way I always wanted it to be. I always preferred my children and their friends gather at our house, rather than somewhere else.
But I digress…well, sort of. Jump ahead five years.
I’m alone. I’m really alone. And here’s the weird thing; most of the time, I like it.
But there’s always this little inkling that maybe that slammed car door is one of the kids coming to visit. Maybe that’s the feet of one of my boys bounding up the front steps I hear – instead of the mailman. Even the dog gets tricked – though more and more, she too is able to hear it but not react. I’m not there yet.
My tall son, with the go-go-gadget arms has always been there for me; to change a light bulb – no ladder required, carry the 50lb bag of dog food into the house, or to unload lumber from my trunk. But about a month ago, my son informed me he was moving. He is now living with his brother, as they build a fitness enterprise- 55 miles away! I know, I know…it’s not that far. But it really made me think. Know what I came up with?
Now I don’t even have a strong man who I can bother to come over at a moments notice. My son’s move also made me think about how much has changed in the last five years. It made me a little sad…OK…a lot sad. Until now, I’d thought that my being alone was a result of the divorce, but now I realize that’s not exactly accurate. I’m also alone because I have an empty nest. My children are separated by several years, so my nest emptied slowly; one baby bird at a time. And their friends were always dropping by – friends I still enjoy visiting with. But that chapter of my life has slowly closed. And I’m challenged to figure out what this new chapter will look like; what it will feel like.
How do I create something from nothing? ‘
How does one go about building an independent life from the crumbling foundation of a dependent one?
Building Independence: the Project
It’s a challenge for any empty-nester. But when you’re the only one – the mama bird – left in that nest, it’s particularly difficult. As I was feeling all these feelings, I was simultaneously obsessed with one of my summer goals; to build a planter box for my veggie garden. I knew it was going to be hard. I’m not one of those independent women who yields power tools. No, I yield a mean spatula, but not power tools. After finally getting the materials from the lumber store; they sat on the deck for a few weeks – staring at me.
Then last week, I thought, “Self, this is it. If you’re ever going to become truly independent, you’ve got to start doing for yourself. You’re going to do this. This weekend, you are going to build that damn raised bed garden, even if you end up sore for a month, and the result is some cattywampus pile of lumbar and screws, with a few tomato plants inside it.”
When a friend called, wanting to visit from out of town, I warned her that I had a project to do and come hell-or-high-water, I was going to do it. But she still came – good friends are like that. And I’m so glad she did. My daughter joined us in the backyard after putting my granddaughter down for a nap in the guest room.
So, there we were, three women, 12 boards, 24 screws and the All-American symbol of an independent woman – a shiny, new electric screwdriver.
To say this project was daunting is an understatement. I may have looked ambitious on the outside but it’s not what I was feeling on the inside. My father had three daughters; he didn’t exactly raise us to be independent women. Some fathers would have simply taught their daughters what they would have taught sons if they’d had them. Not my dad. His warnings were dire. Unplugging an appliance could get you electrocuted. Mow the lawn and you could cut your foot off. I’m not sure what we were told would happen if we used a screwdriver, but I’m sure it had something to do with drilling a hole into some random and useful appendage. You get the picture. So, here I was – 50-years later – feeling like anything I try to do will fail and fail miserably, possibly resulting in the loss of life and/or limb.
Being Independent is Harder Than I Thought!
I’d charged my screwdriver and somehow managed to put the bit in without drilling a hole into my fingernail. Miracle #1! Nicole stood the four sides together and then we counted the screws. There were 24. Pre-drilling, a friend had advised, is what we-women must do. But of course, first I had to try to simply drill the screw into the wood.
It didn’t work.
Next, I compared the drill bit to the screw size, since I was told to use a bit a little bit smaller than the screw circumference. I found just the right one. It was getting hot out, or was it my peri-menopause self? Hard to tell. I pre-drilled 24 holes, then downed a glass of ice water, in preparation for the actual drilling. The first screw wouldn’t go in. I fought and muscled and pushed the screwdriver and got most of it in but there was enough sticking out to hurt someone who might walk by to look at my bounty of garden goodness.
Not the end of the world, I told myself. If one screw doesn’t go in, I’ll just camouflage it somehow. Just so you know, this was not the real me talking. No, the real me was feeling the bile of imperfection rise in her psyche. But I literally couldn’t do it! Literally! I couldn’t get enough strength behind it. The end or the screwdriver was stripping the end of the screw down to a hole. And as little as I know, I do know one thing – that’s not good. So, I left it and went on to the next and the next. By about the fifth one, I knew something was wrong.
Time for another glass of ice water.
I chatted with Nicole and my daughter about what to do. They were even more clueless than I was. They’re young – they can’t help it. So, I went back to the drawing board. Back to my bit box. The only thing I could think of was that the bit was too small. So, I went up a level and tried again. I did this three or four times before getting the one that Goldilocks agreed was “just right.” This time, I got one screw all the way in before pre-drilling the other 23 holes. Yeah, I was still at the pre-drill stage.
Then my drill slowed down and died. I killed the battery with all my shenanigans. I plugged it into the charger and we all took a break. I didn’t know until talking to my dad, that drills only take an hour or two to fully charge. Mine got a 24-hour charge.
My daughter and friend gone, the next day, I finished it. Amazing how those pre-drilled holes helped – once I had the right bit size.
So, 53 drilled holes later, 24 screws in place, I got to work on the garden space. I shoveled and hoed and raked and leveled.
Then I dragged, carried, and flipped the box from my deck to the garden. I laid down cardboard for weed-block at the bottom of it. Next, I had to figure out a way to get the heavy bags of 2 cubic feet of garden soil to the box. I not-so-carefully dropped them from my trunk onto my garden wagon and then rolled it to the space, flipping each bag, one by one, into the box. I tore the bags open and dumped each bag of soil into my would-be garden. And then I went inside and wrote for a while. You see, I don’t have the strongest body and have a few health issues, so working like a crazy woman all at once, would not work for me. It took me two days of going through that process and then “breaking” to write and do other household things.
I’d already purchased plants that were begging to be planted, and packets of seeds that practically jumped into my hand. Finally finished, I stood back and admired my work. In fact, I did that several times over the next few days. The feeling of pride was unlike anything I’d felt before. I could probably have hired someone to do it for me. I could have waited for family or friends to do it for me. I didn’t want that.
Lessons in Independence
On this new adventure; my journey into an independent mid-life, I needed to do this by myself. It wasn’t about doing yet another project. No, this one was entirely different. I found my independence. And it turns out what helped me more than anything, was those two women who cheered me on. I didn’t want physical help. It turns out that what I needed more than anything was the emotional support of two strong women. This was my first building project. I made something with my own two hands. It may be a lesson a long time in the making, but maybe that’s why the success tastes so sweet. Sometimes it’s not about muscle and doing for someone. Sometimes it’s about words of encouragement. It’s about spending time. Sometimes it’s about simply being there…because “being there” isn’t simple at all.
Thank you, Ladies!
A raised bed herb garden. The lumber’s on the deck. I can do this!
Starting Over at Mid-life
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Karen Alaniz is a writer, published author and a home renovation expert now that she’s remodeled an old farmhouse on her own. She strives to help women who are scared it may be too late to start over after a certain age and she encourages empty-nest women to invent a new, prosperous and full life–just like she has done.