Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Retired, and Living the Dream

Back in September, after 25 years of being a Registered Nurse, I decided it was time to retire. It was with much thought, fear and anxiety, number crunching and prayer that I turned in my resignation. There was no turning back.

The day before I retired, my son and family from North Carolina drove up to visit and to spend 3 weeks with us while he was working in Minnesota for his job. He and his wife, 5 kids, ages 5-15, and their dog Tiger packed into their Suburban and made the trek North. Between backpacks, pillows and sleeping bags, you could barely see the kids buckled up beneath all the stuff.

So we made preparations to keep them here at the house. Along with them, our daughter and family live downstairs here with their 8 kids, ages 1-14, their dog Tac and 2 kittens.

For anyone keeping count, that is me and the love of my life, our 3 dogs, my son with 8 and their dog, and my daughter with 10 and their dog and 2 kittens. A grand total of 20 people and 5 dogs and 2 kittens under on roof, for 3 weeks, with 2 bathrooms, 2 washers and dryers, and mainly the one kitchen we would use upstairs.

But there would be more at the house during the day and for “field trips” and getting together. You see my daughter and son married siblings from another family. So along with them are two more families making the total over 40 last count. We always count in the siblings as that side of the family has no grandparents as they died early in life. 

The first meal together, we decided we definitely needed to organize a plan for meal time. There was no way we could feed so many all at once. Luckily it was summer and much of our time was spent outdoors. We gathered all the lawn furniture, picnic tables, and chairs we could find, along with stumps for seats also. Our front yard looked more like a state park picnic area than a residential yard. We are fortunate we live in the country with not many around us. The kids could run and make noise and not get in trouble.

Back to meal times ...we decided to eat in shifts, feeding the youngest little ones and then the older ones and finally adults or anyone who missed the first two rounds. While it worked well, we seemed to always circle back to the little ones who had finished their meal a few hours earlier, now looking for a snack before baths and bedtime. But usually by 7-7:30 PM the kitchen was cleaned but never really closed. The teens would watch the Twins baseball game and then afterward would have a late night snack of bagels or cereal. But they had been instructed to clean up their mess and complied. Usually they would then settle into their designated sleeping areas.

Sleeping areas...there was a tent pitched on the upper deck off the family room where the kids rotated sleeping in, 3 couches upstairs, a cot for the 15 year old who was a night owl, and the rest slept downstairs in their cousins bedrooms. Eventually the tent got folded up when evening rain and mosquitoes invaded the it because the 10 yr olds forgot to zip shut.

The days were filled with going places and meeting up with the other cousins. We would load up a 15 passenger van and the 8 passenger Suburban, along with another van if needed. The field trips involved packing lunches for 15-25 depending on who was going. Pre-teen and Teenage appetites almost were the death of me. It was hard to keep up. 2 huge coolers, one with just sandwiches, one with fruit, and bags of chips, snacks and such. Each day when the love of my life came home from work he would stop and pick up 4 loaves of bread and 2-3 gallons of milk. Supper time meals were always mass portions of hotdishes,  salads and lots of pasta to fill them up. 

I must admit, taking so many to the zoo or the beach, I was worried about losing some or the little ones just getting tired. But I was so proud to watch the older kids looking after the younger ones. If a little one got tired, an older one scooped them up for a carry. 

In our family when a child turns 13 we celebrate and have a blessing night of food and cake and fun. And those that are 13 are prayed for that they grow into the person they are meant to be. It has become a rite of passage in our family and the kids each look forward to turning 13.

This year we had 5 that turned 13. We had waited until we could all be together on one of the last evenings and had a cook out of hot dogs, chips, s’mores and a special cake for the 13 yr olds. The cake was beautifully decorated and said “Bless the children, Pray for the parents”. The person at the bakery had to ask twice what we wanted it to say. And had to write it down, all the while laughing when we told her what it was for.

The night was filled with 40 people praying for the 13 yr olds, a feast of campfire food, a field of loud cheering kids playing ball by the cornfield, older ones sitting and helping little ones cook their s’mores to perfection and me realizing as I watched it all, I have such an incredibly cool life. 

By the time the 3 weeks were up, I was into a whole new routine of waking up early, visiting with the early risers and making breakfast for 20. Then I would sit and rock a little one and read a story, maybe even hit a few balls out to the kids playing out back. I would watch the game on TV with the older kids, cheer right along with them, and eventually pass out in bed from exhaustion. A content, happy and complete exhaustion.

The kids all left for home after three weeks, including my daughter and family moving into their new house. The state park yard was cleaned up and furniture put away, the campfire extinguished one last time. The basement is empty now of people and furniture and noise.

Retirement had an unusual beginning a full blown 3 week party, and only now does it feel real as I sit here in an empty house with the 3 dogs sleeping at my feet. There is 2 feet of snow on the ground, it is 3 degrees outside. Today it is quiet.

And now to begin to plan all of the things I didn’t have time for when working. To start, I am planning a trip to Arizona, and California to see the kids and grandbaby that weren’t able to make it out in September. When will I go? How long will I be gone? Whenever I want and as long as I want....afterall, I’m retired.


From Mother Teresa: Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not yet come. We only have today. Let us begin

The New Norm

Lately in many social media posts and magazine articles, there are many stories on the topic about multi-generational living. The US census Bureau defines multi-generational families as those consisting of more than 2 generations living under the same roof. In 2016, a record 64 million people (20% of the US population) lived with multi-generational generations under one roof. And it is on the rise as baby boomers age and housing prices continue to increase.

We live in the country, we have a ranch style walk-out house that we were fortunate enough to raise our 4 kids in over the past 2 decades. One by one, they graduated high school, went on to college, jobs, the military and some got married and went on to have families of their own. It was a whirlwind of activities during that season in our lives. Within a few years of our oldest moving out, we found ourselves watching the taillights of our youngest daughter’s car as she drove off to go to college and eventually enter the Air force.

At long last our house was empty, it was just the 2 of us now living in the main level of the house. The downstairs where the kids’ bedrooms had been, were quiet and way too empty. It was hard after 20+ years. I found myself tearing up every time I had to go to the downstairs. We were officially called “empty nesters” by our friends and family.

Our empty nest lasted for about 5 months. Our daughter was over one day with her kids. At the time her and her husband had 5 kids, 3 of which had recently been adopted. I’m not sure how or when the conversation turned to what to do with the very vacant downstairs . Before very long, we had a plan to convert it into a separate dwelling place and that they would move in for a short time to regroup, save some money and eventually move to Duluth about 90 miles away.

The conversation involved moving the kitchen cabinets from the upstairs to downstairs, putting in a bathroom and laundry area. Fortunately our son in law is a carpenter and cabinet maker, so in short time the project was completed and they were moved in to their new place. And once again we had noise and movement downstairs. There were little ones running all over the backyard. When I looked out, there were tears of joy seeing the 2 generations out in the yard playing ball in the field.

While both of us had our own entry, kitchen bathroom and laundry, we began our journey together of multi-generational living under the same roof. As best we could, we all tried to respect each others space. But with 5 little ones in the house, they floated between parents and grandparents daily, with the absolute knowledge that mom and dad were the ones to turn to for permission for stuff and the final say.  Grandma and Grandpa were just the ones to go to for the extras, undivided attention, rocking, cookies, and refrigerator art. 

The 2 years they were living with us were filled with activities and lots of help from them with house activities. There were some challenges that needed to be worked out, but for the most part, we all managed. The key was honoring each others space and lifestyles. But the time came that they were ready to move to their new place in Duluth. Along the way, they had a 4 month old son that had been born while they lived with us.

Once again, for the second time, we were faced with being empty nesters again. My husband let our son know that the downstairs was free if he and his family wanted to join us in the country and they both had a good laugh. But a few hours later he texted with the message, they were thinking about it, so they could save for a house. Within another few hours, the next text said…”we want to move in downstairs. Is it still ok?” So within the week of our daughter leaving, our son, daughter-in-law and 5 kids were setting up their household to live with us for the next 2 years. Once again the downstairs was full of activity that bustled over to the upstairs and out to the yard. Early one morning at dawn, we were greeted with the screeching of a recorder beneath our bedroom window. The 5 yr old was playing us a song. Yeah our house was full again. And by the time they were ready to move out, we had a new grandson. They had 6 kids. 

Our son and family lived with us about 2 years, before making the decision to move to North Carolina and find work there. It was a hard and sad good-bye when got in their Suburban and headed out, not knowing when we would see each other again. They have been in North Carolina for the past 3 years.

For a second time we were faced with being “empty nesters”, with a vacant downstairs and empty swingset in the backyard. We now had 3 of the 4 kids living 1000 miles away or more from us. Our daughter and family was about 2 hours away. It would be visits few and far between to see them. I had set up a group chat room so the grandkids always could contact us or their cousins. That became our lifeline for the next 3 years. We began to adapt our lives as empty nesters, remembering to lock the house when we left, stop the mail when we traveled. A task we never before had to do with all the people living here.

About 1 year into our empty nest lifestyle, we got word that our daughter in Duluth and family were considering moving in for a bit again while they built a house 30 miles away from us. One weekend, when they were coming for a visit, they showed up with a trailer with all their belongings. THey made the decision to move back. BY nightfall, the kids were all tucked into their beds in their new , old home.

My daughter was a few months pregnant when they moved back and started going into pre-term labor. She was put in the hospital until the baby would be delivered. Our little 2 lb grandson was born 3 ½ months early. He and our daughter would spend a total of 5 months in the hospital and NICU. Between their dad and my work schedule, we were able tot keep the other 7 kids home and maintaining a somewhat normal daily routine. I can’t even imagine what would have happened had we not been living together again at this time in their lives. Our grandson came home to the family and is about to turn 2 years old in a few weeks. He is lively and healthy and has caught up in development. He is our little miracle. It has been such a blessing to have him living downstairs with his family and be able to watch him grow during that time.

A few months ago, our son and family were home for 3 weeks and our daughter and family was living here also. We had 20 people living here under one roof. That is multi-generational living at its best and craziest. Everyone is gone home now and we continue to adapt to this empty nest living. Those times of muti-generational living have been a true blessing for all of us. None of us would change it for anything. 

Last week, our son called and told us he had accepted a position with his job that has a facility here in Minnesota. The conversation started out with,” Hey mom is the downstairs available for about a year…? “. And so the empty nest will become full again.