Month: November 2012 (page 1 of 9)

Boomer Pants on Fire

Dear Karen,
It’s confession time at After The Kids Leave HQ. Ever since July, when we started writing about our fascinating lives, I have been cast in the role of Intelligent, Sexy Younger Sister who Actually Knows More than Her Older Sister when It Comes to Living in an Empty Nest. It was kind of a long moniker, but once I discovered it fit on a standard business card, I was fine with it.
While ordering a 1,000 new business cards, it occurred to me that I was living a lie. A big, fat, unsexy lie about my Empty Nest knowledge. I worried that, if found out, I might be kicked out of the club, knocked off my perch, left in the gutter with only an empty bottle of cheap vodka to keep me company.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Wendy, you don’t even like vodka. True. But I know you’re also thinking “surely it can’t be that bad, Wendy”. It is. Let me explain. If you don’t mind, I’ll just turn on some music to help set the scene. A little, emotive violin solo would be appropriate here, I think.

Tiny Violin in Steel

I advised about being strong, keeping busy, finding and embracing new interests, not living for your children but re-learning to live for yourself. All well and good and I stand by it.
We had a few letters back and forth on what to do once the children left home. I was the voice of authority, because my children left home before yours. I sat here, reading your questions, thinking to myself “pshaw, I’ve been through that already, ho hum, how clever i am to have sailed through that without anyone advising me or offering solace”.
Well, ha. Ha, bloody ha, because I want to tell you now, I am a big faker.

Yeah, you heard me. I talk the talk but don’t prance the dance.

If it’s a Saturday morning and I know my son was supposed to be out with friends the night before? I’ll write him in the morning, hoping to get an answer, just to show he isn’t a) in jail, b) in hospital or c) newly married.

If the letter ruse doesn’t work, I advance to texting. After all, what self-respecting young adult these days isn’t connected to their mobile phone and its tech capabilities, right? He would be bound to have it switched on, being a modern 21st century citizen. If he doesn’t respond within 15 seconds of the message being sent (example message from me: Hi, just wanted to know if you mind if we throw away your X-Box today? Someone’s coming to pick it up at 10 am, unless i hear from you in 5 minutes), I worry that he’s a) in jail, in which case I’ll have to buy him playing cards to use as currency, b) been taken hostage in a Swiss ski hut, in which case I’ll have to bribe a St Bernard to heli-hike me in to the back country to save him or c) stabbed with Swiss carving knives by his roommate, who, since the day he moved in, hasn’t uttered more than one word to our son and is a dedicated Gangnam-style dancer, in which case I’d have to, um, become a fierce Ninja who can kill with a single awesome dance move.

If texting doesn’t work, I go directly to panic stations. This involves me going into a cold sweat, muttering under my breath and trying to convince myself there’s a logical reason why my 20-year old son isn’t hooked up to his computer, his iPhone, his life. Once I’m sweaty, hysterical and convinced I’ve got to find a way to look good in black for the next year, I give in and hyper-ventilate at my husband, who, around our house, is The Voice of Reason in these matters.

He found Kirsten for me when I was convinced she’d been kidnapped by a hillbilly family in rural Ontario. He located Gilly when the only logical reason for her radio silence was that she’d been arrested by State Troopers in Michigan and had no American money to call home from their payphone. He’s also been pretty clever about finding Michael all those times I was ready to put a Missing Persons ad in the village paper where he currently resides.

Lars tells me to calm down, there’s surely a logical reason why none of them can be found. Usually, it has to do with them wanting to sleep in on a weekend. Sometimes it’s because they’re on holiday, on a film set, in an exam room. Occasionally, it’s because their phone is actually switched off, out of battery or in another room. Shocking, I know.

What’s more shocking though, is my continued maternal insecurity regarding my little chicks. After all, my eldest has been gone since 2003. Granted, they live pretty damn far away, and not being able to see them every day has turned me into a crazy lady at times. What I’ve learned from my behaviour is to be more like Lars. Be calm, get on with my own life, be confident they’re getting on with theirs, DO NOT PANIC, assume the best and let them live their own lives without them having to worry about me being a weirdo nutsy freakazoid mother who doesn’t appear to trust them to make sensible choices on their own.

How many times have I forgotten to charge my phone battery? Only about a million times. How many times has my phone been on silent? Ditto. What about those times I see their text and think I’ll respond to it later when I’ve got time, and then I forget about it? Double Ditto. Do they call me, call my local police constabulary, demand the RCMP break down my door? No. They just get annoyed at my inept phone behaviour, chalk it up to me not being very savvy about social media, and wait for me to contact them. Which I inevitably do.

Maybe I should take a page out of their books. Maybe they should be co-writing this with you. I think they’re more sensible about this whole Empty Nest Maturity stuff than I am. If I let them take over, they probably wouldn’t let me keep my business cards, so maybe I’ll keep writing about how well-balanced and calm I am, at least until they run out.


Related articles

The Invisible Boomer

Dear Karen,

Invisible, schminvisible.  I kind of like it!

The Invisible Woman

When I was younger, I’d get wolf whistled, my clothing choices would be commented upon as I walked by, boys would deliberately follow too closely down the street. These packs of boys seemed to enjoy flexing their intimidation muscles, with no regard for the young girls they were preying upon.

I’m glad to see I no longer have that problem. It’s not that I was an incredible teen sex-bomb, because I wasn’t. The reason I got that kind of attention is simple:  I was female.

I am woman, hear me roar!

I hated it.  I was on my way to work one morning and a dodgy looking man stepped in my way, saying, “Hey, where’s the fire, sweetie?  Slow down and talk to me”.

I was wearing a dress, raincoat, boots and carrying an umbrella.  Not what you’d call attention-seeking clothes. Now, I could wear a rainbow striped g-string down the street and it wouldn’t garner a single “hey, what’s your hurry? ” comment.  Yay!

I hated hearing men tell me to “Smile!” when I was sitting on the bus, minding my own business.  I also hated feeling obliged to obey their oily commands, for fear of repercussions.  I hated feeling insecure walking down a suburban street after dark, worried that that gang of boys I’d seen the week before would be out on the prowl.  I felt outnumbered by them and a very easy target.

With the confidence that comes with age, I’d remind the teenage Wendy that I could have outrun them, and failing that, I’d remember that I have a mighty fine aim when it came to throwing stones, so there’s no need to feel so nervous.

I don’t bother coaching or comforting myself now, because I could walk by a gaggle of young men while wearing that aforementioned striped g-string, with diamonds dripping off my hair, money falling out of my pockets and a sign on my chest reading Please harass me, I enjoy it and still, they would look right through me.

So I say, “Hallelujah for invisibility, it lets me do what I like, how I like and where I like. No one bugs me or harasses me.  If I want attention, I know how to get it but if I want to sink into the background and read my book on a bench, I can do that now, in peace and quiet”.

your invisible sister,


A piece of the furniture

Dear Wendy,

Yesterday I was out running a few errands, and I decided to stop for a quick coffee top-up at my local Bridgehead coffee shop. When Rachel lived at home, I used to meet her there after school, and we’d enjoy a brief pause while we caught up on each other’s day; but this time I went in alone, and found a table in a corner.

As usual, I pulled out my knitting (come on, you know I always carry a project or two, for just such occasions), and I was sitting there enjoying a quick cuppa and some quiet stitchery, minding my own business.

A gaggle of schoolgirls, probably a year younger than Rachel, flocked into the shop, ordered their chai lattes and hot chocolates, and crowded around the table next to mine. Noticing that they outnumbered the available chairs, I offered them the extra stool from my table.

They looked at me blankly, as though surprised that walls could speak. I repeated my offer, adding that I really didn’t need  the stool, and they should take it. Again with the blank stare. Then one of them silently took the stool, and sat down with her friends.

They started gabbling, as girls that age will do, and I quickly learned several things about them: they were all in Grade 12 at Rachel’s old school; they were in the process of applying to university; they were all feeling pretty jittery about the application process; and they were all deeply in love with some guy named Alex (or Alec, they were a little unclear on this) who has the most to-die-for English accent EVER. They were quite emphatic on this last point.

I should clarify that I wasn’t deliberately eavesdropping on these kids. They were sitting about two feet away from me, holding a long and intense discussion, and apparently they either believed I was not really there, or I was part of the store’s decor. I found myself wanting to jump into their conversation; I wanted to lean across my table and reassure them that it’s normal to feel that nervous about applying for what amounts to the rest of their lives; I wanted to let them know that Rachel had gone through this, that I’d gone through it, and that it would all work out, and they should focus on enjoying their last year of high school, because eventually they’d look back on it with fond wistfulness.

Instead, I said nothing. I finished my coffee, packed up my knitting, and left the coffeeshop without saying a word to any of them. And that makes me a little sad.

I had to ponder this for a while, because really, why should I feel sad that a group of girls I’ve never met, and will likely never meet again, failed to include me in their conversation? It’s not like they had an obligation or anything. As I headed home, it hit me: I felt sad because while Rachel was living here, I was used to feeling included not only in discussions with her, but in actual conversations with her friends—girls who were the same age, and who had many of the same concerns, as the group I’d just been sitting with.

I know this sounds odd, because I’ve heard from so many other parents of teens about how their kids don’t want to know them, don’t want to speak to them, don’t want to share any information with them. But it was never like that in our house. Yes, both our kids see me as “Mum, cooker of meals and picker-up of junk,” but they—and their friends—have always treated me like a gen-you-wine human being. You know, with sentience and feelings and all.

And I think as I sat there listening to those young strangers yesterday, the pangs I felt were not really about wanting them to include me in their conversation (because, like, I don’t even know Alec/Alex—duh!), but about missing the day-to-day company of my own kids…and their lovely friends.



Never mind—Rachel will be back in Ottawa in a week and a half, and I’m absolutely certain that once she’s home, our house will become a social hub once more. A crazy, messy, noisy social hub…in which no one mistakes me for a piece of the furniture.




Awesome Advice Central: More advice than you can safely chew

Defective food disposal unit

Dear Awesome Advice Central,

Hi.  I think I’ve come to the right place. I can see from the sound and logical advice you’ve given to other readers that you might be able to help me…and possibly save my marriage as well.

Actually, I’d be fine if you could just help me.

I’m married to a great guy. At least he was great, in the beginning.  You know—loving, sweet, attentive, a quiet chewer.

Now, he chews his food like he’s Godzilla chowing down on a radio tower. Messily. And noisily. He never used to do that. I don’t dare buy gum anymore—once he gets hold of a pack, I can hardly hear myself think for all the slobbering and lip-smacking that goes on. I can’t even walk by the JuicyFruit display at the grocery store without shuddering now.


Gotta love those Granny Smiths! (Photo credit: Shane Bauer)

I no longer really care that my husband is loving, sweet, and attentive. I just want him to STOP CHEWING SO LOUDLY.  Sorry for writing in caps, but I’m going crazy over here.

Why has he changed, AACentral? I’ve tried asking him politely, and I’ve let him know that his noisy chewing bothers me. I’ve started making him “quiet” foods that don’t require chewing, like porridge and bananas. I’ve bought earmuffs. I’ve turned the kitchen radio up to full blast. None of it has worked. He chews on, open-mouthed and oblivious.

I want him to stop. I want him to go back to being his lovely sweet non-slobbering former self. Failing that, I want to stab him repeatedly with his own fork. I don’t want to go to jail, AASisters!  Please help.

Alice A.

Dear Alice,

Oh, dear. This is a messy one. Messy, get it? Heh heh heh. Okay, never mind then.

Of course, it’s always difficult to tell a loved one that you find their personal habits disgusting—so much room for painful misunderstandings, don’t you find? We feel that a subtle approach, in which you gently remind your husband of your concerns, while reassuring him that you still adore him, is always the most effective way to address this kind of sticky subject. (Sticky? Get it? Oh, fine.)

So wait for him to tuck into his next meal. Smile sweetly, look deeply into his eyes, and say, “Darling, you know you’re the love of my life, and I’ll never feel this way about anyone else, ever. You don’t have to close your mouth when you chew—of course, it’s your choice, and I’d never try to deprive you of your right to decide how to live your life. But just keep in mind—I know where you keep your golf clubs. And the keys to your Mercedes. You know, it’s funny—we have so much, and others have so little. Wouldn’t it be amusing if I were to donate your clubs and your car to charity?”

If he persists in chewing with his mouth open after this, feel free to stab him with a fork. With our blessings.

Too much of a good thing

Hi Y’all!

I’m not really from the South, I just want to protect my identity by pretending I am. Anyway, here’s a problem for you I bet you’ve never had before. See, I’m dating two sisters at the same time. Neither of them know about the other. I mean, they know the other one exists, just not that I’m dating her. But that’s just background information for you, though.

You see, their mother found out my little secret, and she asked me to come over to discuss just what the heck was going on. So I went over to her house, and sure enough, she’s just as pretty as her daughters. Wait!  No, no, it’s not what you think.

Well, maybe it is, but nothing happened. Nothing much. Anyway, after a long heart-to-heart, we agreed that I should drop one of the daughters, but I don’t have a clue how to do that, you know, all diplomatic-like. I think I should get them to flip a coin for me, but their mother thinks that’s kind of crass. She wants me to break up with both of them, then start going out with only one—she figures it’d take about a year to do all this without either of them suspecting. She says I should leave town to make it all look genuine. That lady really cares about her kids, I’ll tell you!

Problem is, I’ve got another girlfriend a town over and she’s pregnant with our second child. Do you think I should tell her about what’s happening? After all, I guess she’ll be seeing a lot of me now my love life has been drastically reduced. Bummer. So, what do you think?

Don Juan de Fuca

Dear Lying Weasel,

Listen, you three-timing loser (four, if you count our mother), did you really think we wouldn’t know it was you? Southern accent, our Aunt Fanny! We’d suggest you get your miserable butt out of town, not to protect our poor delicate girlish hearts, but to protect your own manly parts. If you get our drift. Go on, git!


p.s. We sent a note to the mother of your poor innocent children. She said to tell you your suitcase is on the front lawn. Don’t bother ringing the bell; she’s not home. You’re welcome.


Oh, yes, we almost forgot. We’re sending the uniforms back. Nice try, but we don’t wear no cheap polyester knockoffs.

WordPress Photo Challenge: Thankful

This week’s challenge isn’t a big surprise, given American Thanksgiving has got a lot of bloggers writing about what they’re truly thankful for.

I thought I’d give this one a miss, as I feel I can’t keep putting up photos of a) my family and b) my cat, but then I thought, “hey, wait a cotton-pickin’ second here – what about my friends?  Surely photos of them are an untapped resource in this challenge business!”.  So let me introduce you to all the friends in my life, past and present, for whose friendship I’m ever thankful.  See how I didn’t end that sentence in a preposition?  Or as my mother used to say, “proposition”.  Anyway.  Here we go.
I’m thankful to friends who saw me through the awkward years of youth:

Virginia, my best friend in a pretty dress. Me, in a dress my mother chose for me because it was on sale. Thanks, Mum.

Friends who challenge me (even when I know I’m right):

Karen, my wonderful HK friend, whom I obey because she has the same name as my sister. To avoid confusion, I refer to her as K2.

Friends with whom I sing:

About a minute after this was taken, wine got spilled on white carpet, hysterical giggles ensued, the Great Mop Up was launched and basically, we had a great evening.

All that singing makes friends very thirsty.

Friends who encourage me to do silly things:

I really wish I could remember why we were doing this.

Letting fish eat our feet. I will never do this again.

Friends with whom I have travelled or visited:

This photo sits in my office – I see it every morning and it makes me smile each day.

Dinner with the wonderful Tonita.

I see Cheryl once a year and I’m very thankful we get a week to sightsee, eat, drink and laugh our rear-ends off.

Someone who was a friend but has graduated to being my son-in-law:

In case you can’t work it out, I’m the one with the mustache. I’m very thankful Aaron has a sense of humour and doesn’t think we’re too odd.

The remaining photos have no categories, but are just happy moments that make me thankful for the people around me, who constantly make me laugh and are willing to put up with me for periods at a time.

The American Restaurant, Wan Chai with Stephen.

Showing off our henna tattoos. Friends do let friends get henna tattoos.

My best friends from work, in HK. I’m thankful for having met them all.

Thanks.  I do give thanks for my friends.  You’re all fabulous.

Merci.  Tak.  M goi.   Thank you.


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