Monday, June 8, 2009

Empty Nest

I was not all that close to my Ma growing up. Temperamentally I am completely my father’s child. She is social, extroverted, garrulous, thoroughly down-to-earth, street smart – the bindaas bambaya typified. I am/was shy, quiet, reclusive even (it’s a bit of mystery where I got this reclusive gene from – my father was also quite social), imaginative, moody and quite a space cadet.

It’s only in my twenties that I have learnt to understand, and more importantly appreciate the strength and courage she has. Through these years, after my father’s very sudden death, the relationship has evolved into a partnership – of sharing decisions, worry and responsibilities – and a united team against the outside world. And in the process I have learnt to value her judgement, recognize her mettle and admire her indomitable spirit. And I know ( I hope rather) she is sure of me, my involvement and my love as any parent can be.

But somehow an infinitesimal change seems to have come in post marriage. Somehow I think in her mind, she doesn’t have the sole proprietorship of my life anymore.

I do exactly the same things I did earlier, say the same things, behave the same way (God knows, there are enough disapproving people telling me that “you haven’t changed at all after marriage”). But I sense that things which would have been taken in her stride earlier or shrugged off in the spirit they are meant, hurt her a little bit. For instance, if I cut off a conversation while at work in Mumbai because I was occupied, that would have been perceived as exactly that. Now I sense a hint of disappointment in her tone.

The reality is I probably talk to her more now than I did when I was in the same house – where chaotic advertising hours meant that I would totter in past midnight, too tired to speak and sleepwalk out again the next morning.

I am pretty sure it is not S either. She is certainly not intimidated or threatened by him (touch wood), they have a comfortable relationship where he goes and turns on the charm at full blast and gets her to cook all sorts of things for him. They also derive a lot of entertainment from ganging up against me.

But still that sense of wistfulness. The wistfulness which I hear on Sunday dusk phone-calls when she nothing to do.And however much I call or speak to her on the phone or get her to come and stay in Pune that sense of wistfulness doesn’t seem to go away.

And also I sense a little bit of purposelessness now. Her whole life she has had to battle and plan for projects – whether it’s starting to work at nineteen soon after she graduated – to become the first working woman in her household, putting her elder brother through college in the process. Or getting married into a family where working women were definitely not approved, but fighting against conventions to provide my father with financial support as he had to fund his younger brother’s education and his sisters’ marriages. (Changing an auto + 2 buses while nine month pregnant each way and coming back, buying vegetables and coming home to cook? I get exhausted just THINKING about that). Or to the most recent project of finding broom/my marriage.

Now for the first time, there is no big project on the agenda. Nothing which requires planning, involvement or working towards – and this leads to loneliness .I have tried my hardest to get her to shift to Pune – but she has her friends and her activities there and beyond three weeks she starts getting restless. Pune also doesn’t solve the bigger problem of adding purpose to her life – God knows I struggle to find purpose in mine at half her age. So I really don’t know how to get her engaged in something else.

And I worry, nay am paranoid, that this drifting and loneliness might start impacting her health. I know she had started doing shortcuts with her food until I found out and threw the mother of all tantrums (no pun intended)

I know a few of my friends have also sensed this in the parents. This loneliness.
This empty nest phenomenon – but what no one seems to know is how to deal with it. It doesn’t matter whether there is a spouse or as in my mother’s case there is not. The last thirty years invested in their children, who grow up to start lives of their own. And sensitive people, intelligent people know that they need to let go. Need to allow their kids to test their wings and form new nests without interfering or involving themselves beyond what is seemly. Leaving behind a big void.

I wish I knew what to do.


The Spectacled Skeptic said...

I completely feel what you're saying. Although I still live with my parents, it kind of depresses me to think what will happen if and when both my brother and I move out and get wrapped up in our own lives..

Lazy Pineapple said...

hey cynic : I totally understand that feeling. With 3 daughters and no sons all married and staying far away from hometown its so very difficult to sometimes convey our feelings and tell them how much we miss them. Ive written a similar post with the same name ages ago. Have a look

Meira said...

I agree with you. But I've realised that I can do nothing more than try and make them generate an interest in various activities. My mother has taken up social service and spirituality, and keeps herself occupied. She now claims that it takes her mind off the emptiness. She looks happy too.

Shachii said...

Hey Cyn,
I have the perfect solution for you... and we have talked about it before... You think about it and think hard! My parents and in-laws have their hands full for the next 10 years!! :)
Take care..

Iya said...

hey Cyn..i feel for you as i see the same slowly happening at both mine and A's homes..i feel helpless and sometimes i feel like giving all up..but i know thats not a solution..
i know what Shachii means and i agree with her..
this was a heartfelt post..

Perfect Witch said...

Lovely post! Miss my mom now after reading this:(

mindspace said...

such feeling visits us all at one point in life.. Sometimes, that makes me wonder why ppl say that one should have kids coz kids are what you look up to when u are old.. parents need to get busy in something.. anything that they enjoy doing.. its easier said than done but that is the only solution.

I admire the aged ppl who set off on tours.. engage in hobbies and are not attached too much to their house, their city etc and are willing to adapt to the differences they see around.. again easier said that done i guess..

n hey, u may wish to correct the broom/marriage typo :)

i would only suggest you to keep communications on patiently with your mom.. visit her, involve her in your activities often if possible and maybe introduce her to reading, internet, social network of ppl etc.. depending on her interest. Not easy! i know.. I am in the same boat as you.. :(


antiglam superstar! said...

My mother had been showing these signs of lack of interest in everything but food and tv. We tried hard to motivate her to take care of her health. She had a stroke last month, and now has a big project at hand.. reviving her left half of the body which is paralysed. I have been at my wit's end thinking how I could have prevented it.. No answer. One good thing though.. her sense of humour has improved drastically!

mentalie said...

hello...i know how you feel...what you need is a project with your mum. it really helps. i had been having the same feeling about my folks until recently. and then i decided to buy a house. so i dragged my folks into it. i shortlist, they vet it. and suddenly, we have a million things to talk about... i left home a few year ago to live closer to work and my folks didn't take that too well. they thought i'd moved _away_ know? that they weren't a part of my life anymore, that i didn't need them, that there were othe priorities in my life now...etc etc. which of course is faaaar from the truth.
seriously, start a project and get your mum into it. good luck!

a million different people said...

So, this was the personal post you were talking about?

Yeah, I get what you're saying. I've always had the fear of my mother losing interest in anything, and it's why I've always stopped my mother from quitting her job. My mother is confident that she'll find ways to amuse herself, but I'm apprehensive. Perhaps, your mum could work with an NGO or something like that? It'll keep her busy more than anything else.

PS: People want you to have kids. :D

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Spectacled Skeptic - I suspect its inevitable. I guess it all happens more or less at the same time retirement, kids moving out - becomes a lot to deal with.

lazy pineapple, iya - yus i am sure a lot of people in our lifestage face the same questions. will read your post. thanks for giving me the link.

Meira - that happens. Have got her interested in yoga, trying to get her to write a recipe book ( at least for personal satisfaction). its a plaster, but doesnt cure the problem somehow.

shachii - you are scarier than aunties aiyo. Old friends who cross to the other side always end up being more evangelistic . wonder why?

perfect witch - give her a call!

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Mindspace - yes i do admire the people who take off on tours too. But i guess different people need different things. Its easier to do the tours if you go as a couple - not so easy when one is alone. I dont know about others, but my mother is usually fairly busy. But its in the mundane stuff. somehow that focused planning towards something is what is lacking. re: the broom, thats how i always refer bridegrooms hehe

antiglam - im sorry to hear about the stroke. I do hope that it somehow works as a minor wake up call somehow. there is no answer to the question i guess. becoz its a contradiction. on one hand the parents want you to live a life and not hold you back, and on the other, they end up lonelier for that.

mentalie - thats the thing which i have been struggling with. now there is a flat shifting thing happening which is keeping her occupied as well.

million different people - nope not the personal post either hehe. actually the original one on this was quite personal but i sanitized it. wot to do we are like this paranoid only.

and yes, people who know one for twenty years and should remember one as a child, are giving hints of having children. hmpf.

Princess Fiona said...

beautiful post..and nice comments also...i feel ur pain..wont offer advice..cos unsolicited advice generally annoys me...dont know if u feel the same way!! all i will say is..continue to do wat ur doin..and do all u can to involve ur mom in everythin..cos im sure she too knows that u worry abt her! (dam..does this qualify as advice?) :(

R said...

I came to your blog by chance and found this post- while reading this I just felt this was my story- i am very much like my mother- in temperament, in belief and even in the way i look- though she vehemently denies it- i dont know if I can say we were close but yeah, we were always on the same page until the day she started hating the guy I was about to marry- and as a result everything about me-
Iv tried mending patches and closing that space between us but nothing helps- Iv lost my dad just 2 months back and now when i see her, i jsut feel so helpless- Iv forced her to come to Delhi to spend time with me but even as she walks around the house with both me and my husband there, I jsut see that look in her face- like she wishes she wasnt there at all- she hates me now for the fact that i decided to move to delhi- for her it was escapism- so that i didnt have to take any responsibility- she doesnt believe i want to be around her all the time but i cant- iv got my commitments- iv got my job- maybe its too early now- the wound is still raw- but i sense that same wistfullness ur talking about- i could hear it for the last so many years i left home- i dont know what to do myself- i hate to see her sullen face- i want her to smile- i want her to atleast have piece of min- but i dont know how that will happen- when will it happen, if ever?

this probably doesnt even qualify for a comment, just some ramblings :)

Maddy said...

you will only realize that emptiness when you reach there, lady..

we are undergoing the pains now with the kids gone from home...

Arunima said...

my parents fight a lot but I am glad at least they are together.

"Or to the most recent project of finding broom/my marriage. " Was the broom intentional?

Cynic in Wonderland said...

arunima - yes, the broom was intentional. and if they are together, there is some companionship.

maddy - i am sure i will. all i am saying is that if you are at the other end of the stick, its distressing too.

princess fiona - i guess its one of those situations where there is no right solution. one must muddle through trying to figure out the best way.

r - i am very sorry about your loss, and your father.
as you said, the wounds are still raw, so she must be struggling to adjust with a whole bunch of other stuff and a change of location and routine, might just excarbate the pain and the situation. I guess the only thing is to wait it out. And reassure her. constantly and always.

SMM said...

Oh God...I so identify with this post. I lost my brother when he was 20 and I was 16 and I left home at 18 on her insistence to get away from it all. My dad is pretty unwell and my mom has for all practical purposes been a single parent for the last 10-12 12odd years.

I am now married and stay in Delhi while she is in Calcutta. Though she works and has a pretty decent & active social life, somewhere she does miss her own family ads she feels all alone now and I have no idea what I can do to help her.And on some level I end up feeling guilty for some vague reason.