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"Mom, you don't need to call all the time to check on me," our twenty-year-old son, Joe, said. "I've got to go. And Mom, you need to get a life."
Before I could say goodbye, he hung up. His words echoed in my head. "Get a life." I felt like I'd arrived to work at the best job in the world and been handed a pink slip. Being a mom meant everything to me.
It seemed one day our house bustled with activity, the next teenagers no longer burst through the front door asking "What's for dinner?" There were no more late-night chats about school, a current love interest, or job opportunity. Excited for what their future held our kids moved forward with their lives while my husband, Loren, and I felt left behind like a worn-out sweater. Together we stumbled through this lopsided void.
To lift our spirits, one weekend Loren said, "Let's go for a drive." We caught the ferry and drove up Whidbey Island. Standing on the bluff at Fort Casey, we watched tug boats drag barges through the Straits of Juan de Fuca. As a family we'd visited the favorite Washington state park dozens of times.
Tears dripped down my cheeks as a chilled March wind whipped off the water. "It feels strange to be here without them. I can hear their laughter in the air and see Ben chasing Joe down the beach, whacking him with kelp."
"I know." Loren pulled me close under his arm while we strolled to our car. "I wonder what they're doing today."
Scenes from their childhood played in our minds as we drove from the park. The emptiness we felt ruined our outing. A few miles from the ferry I interrupted the silence. "Well, God doesn't want us to mope around the rest of our lives. I think we need to go new places, places we never took the kids, places not already filled with memories. We need to build new memories of our own. "
"Hmm . . ." Loren nodded. "You might be right."
While my idea simmered, Loren and I talked of dreams long left dormant. We asked the Lord to guide our steps and considered changes we needed to make to move forward. Plans took shape as we envisioned our future together.
In May we traded our family car for a sporty SUV. In June Loren took a two-week vacation. We packed our clothes, loaded an ice chest into our new car, and hit the road. Instead of heading north or east like we'd always done as a family, we drove south.
Traveling down Highway 101, we explored the Oregon and Northern California coastlines. Whenever we needed a rest, we pulled off the highway at the nearest beach. Seated on the tailgate of our vehicle, we ate fruit and sandwiches from the ice chest. We held hands, strode miles of oceanfront beaches, and sat on driftwood logs to watch the sunset.
We booked a room at a B&B, something we'd never done. The inn keeper operated a side business making fused glass and offered classes to guests. We marveled over glass vases and platters, swirled with color, displayed in the dining room. "Do you want to sign up for a class?" I said to Loren.
He gave me a skeptical grin. "I don't know. We've never done anything like that before."
Smiling, I shrugged my shoulders. "That's the point. Come on, it'll be fun."
We paid the fee and signed up for an afternoon class. Huddled over a work bench in the inn keeper's studio, we spent several hours learning the process of fused glass. I watched Loren select colored glass chips from numerous supply bins and arrange them in unique patterns. We each made two coasters, had hours of fun, and shared a new experience.
We had so much fun on our trip we started a list of other places we wanted to visit.
Time for Us
However, when we returned home once again, we faced a quiet empty house. After twenty-two years of raising kids, we felt lost until we realized we finally had time to focus on other interests. We cleared out the kids' bedrooms and turned one into a study. Loren registered for college and earned a degree. We transformed our daughter's old room into an art studio. Loren built me a painting table and I signed up for watercolor classes with a local artist.
We skated along fine until that first holiday season approached. Without the flurry and excitement of our kids it was miserable. Alone we slogged through the familiar Christmas tree farm our family visited each year. From a dark corner of our closet Loren retrieved cardboard boxes labeled Christmas. I loved the sights, sounds, and smells of the season, but when we unwrapped the first decorations, I held up a calico cat fashioned from wallpaper with buttons sewn on to attach the legs. "Bethany made this," I sniffed. "And here's the rabbit Joe made, but he's not here to hang it on the tree." Tears gushed forth like an open fire hydrant.
Loren wrapped his arms around me and pulled me onto the couch. "Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't we buy new ornaments?"
Coming from a frugal upbringing, his suggestion seemed a wild extravagance. I gazed into the box of homemade decorations each attached to years of memories. "Okay." I jumped up from the couch. After rewrapping the ornaments in tissue, Loren carried the boxes back to the closet.
On Saturday we went to the store. "I feel like newlyweds on our first Christmas together," I said.
Loren laughed. "We're a long way from those days." Eyes wide with delight we strolled each aisle. A string of twinkly lights for the tree and several packages of shiny ornaments lifted our spirits and helped us glide through the season.
Early in the new year one evening Loren said, "Hey, let's catch a movie."
"What, right now?" I glanced at my watch. "It's nine o'clock."
After a moment's thought I raced to grab my coat. "You're on."
Near midnight, stars twinkled in the sky as we strolled from the theater. "I don't remember the last time we went to the late show." Loren gave my hand a gentle squeeze. "Not since we were dating."
When we arrived home our phone's answering machine was blinking. Loren pressed the button and we heard Joe's voice, "Hello … Hello … Pick up the phone ... Hey, it's ten o'clock. Where are you guys?"
I laughed as Loren and I snuggled into bed. "He told me to get a life."
All Things New first printed September 16, 2014 in Chicken Soup for the Soul Reboot Your Life.
© 2014 Kathleen Kohler