My friend Jill wrote an amazing book, The Second Half of Your Life. In it she tackles the truth of menopause. Bit by bit she describes this period in women’s lives with honesty, humor and courage. After reading her book, we all embraced her idea that menopause is a portal to a fantastic new place. A land where we are free of many of the things that have tied us to our homes. With her prompting, we felt imbued with new vigor to explore what we might make of the second half of our lives.
I too have discovered an “unknown” truth about the second half of my life which has nothing in particular to do with menopause. It has more to do with the fact that the empty nest that I live in is, in reality, not so empty. You see, while my children no longer barge through the door after school and our dinner table conversation no longer revolves around discussing “the best and worst part of your day,” my dogs still live here.
I need a nanny for my dogs. I spend as much time negotiating dog care and wringing my hands at my long absences from them as I did when my kids were young and I had to be away. I hate to break it to you if you haven’t yet discovered this, but if your kids are gone and you have pets, your nest is SO NOT EMPTY.
I love my dogs with a keen urgency. They make me so happy. I talk to them, walk with them, cuddle with them…even buy them gifts. They make me laugh and keep me company all day long…that is when I am home. I can remember when the kids were young and my husband would announce that he was going to be gone for a few days. The assumption was that the home would continue to function–carpool to carrots–no one’s needs would not be met because I was home to make certain that the home ship stayed on course.
Now that we can travel together the freedom is intoxicating until I realize that we are not free–-someone has to take care of the dogs!
Over Thanksgiving the dogs were boarded. Nearly two weeks later they were still there. Their boarding situation is quite lovely…100 acre farm, et al. But still the thought of them wiling away the days without the comfort of their own beds and familiarity of the wooded walk I take them on made me so stressed out.
I just spent the weekend on Nantucket whining about the dogs every time someone asked me how we were enjoying our empty nest. HAH! At one point last spring, I went to the vet with Teddy and Ella. My son Oliver happened to be with me. We were lucky to meet with the doctor who had cared for Teddy since he was a puppy. When I wistfully commented that Teddy was 11 and getting on in years (my Goldens were already dead by 11 years) Dr. Denk raised his eyebrows and said,
“Oh Beardies are amazing, they often live to 15 or 16.”
I guess my face dropped because Oliver said I looked crestfallen as if he had said that Teddy was a going to die tomorrow instead of live another 5-6 years. I have such guilt for thinking that my life would be easier without the dogs. Easier maybe, but definitely not better. Right now, for example, as I write this Teddy and Ella are snoozing at my feet contentedly. Without their steady breath, the house would truly be empty, silent and sad.
So there you have it. The secret truth is that having grown children does not necessarily mean you are are footloose. And while many of our friends are selling their suburban houses and setting up new lives in the city that tug and awaken a nascent envy in me, there is comfort in the continuity that my dogs provide. They still need their mommy, they depend on me for food and shelter and love and goodnight kisses and merry “good mornings.”
I am thankful someone still does.