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Dear Frances,

Does life feel a little different to you right now? As spring emerges, I feel a sort of emergence too. From a lot of things, really. We just had the coldest, rainiest winter in memory here in California. Even in (mostly) sunny CA, I tend to hunker down a bit in the winter. But now, the sun is shining! It’s time to weed those flower beds, plant some tomatoes, and invite people over for a BBQ.

The socializing part sounds really good, but coming out of the winter mindset or even the Covid mindset is easier said than done! I may be an extrovert, but I’m also a bit of a homebody. I remember in those first few weeks of lockdown, feeling a little bit giddy about all the blank spaces on my calendar. Like I could finally breathe! Well, those dates stayed empty for much longer than anticipated, but I was all in on basically shrinking my social circle to just my family (with the occasional distanced meet-up with a friend). Now that we’re on the other side, my increasingly full social schedule sometimes overwhelms me! Don’t get me wrong—I love the coffees, lunches, and dinners that I’m lucky enough to share with friends. But in some ways, it still feels new and frankly, a lot.

I think part of it too, is that when the kids were home, I didn’t go out very often socially in the evenings. Sure, I had the occasional dinner out with friends, but with three active kids, we often had to divide and conquer to get the kids to their activities while managing dinner and homework duty.

I thought that once we became empty nesters, we’d socialize with couples more—like we did before kids. That hasn’t really happened yet (though I’m excited that it has for you!). Like you, I’m a reluctant entertainer. Nothing I cook seems company-worthy, we really need to fix up the yard before we have people over–the excuses are endless! The reality is that no one really cares about that. I really just need to get over myself and open those doors!

I’m still finding my rhythm of home, work, and social life. This week alone I’ve had a haircut and dermatologist appointment, lunch with a friend, and dinner with a group of high school friends. I love it all, but it definitely still feels a little foreign. Like I’m flexing atrophied social muscles. I think it will take time to feel normal again.

So like a butterfly, emerging can feel a little difficult and awkward, but I know that the results will be worth the effort.

Dear Kristin,

“Emerging” seems like a good follow-up topic to “Stretching.” They can be one and the same sometimes, can’t they? That butterfly emerging from its cocoon stretches out its wings, and yes, it’s awkward, but the result of all that stretching and emerging is something beautiful.

Both stretching and emerging seem like things you do slowly. For me, getting out of bed in the morning feels like a kind of emergence, and like the poet Theodore Roethke, I take my waking slow. Very slow. I emerge from bed the way springtime around here is emerging from winter. (Wake up, Spring! Bring on that balmy honeysuckle air!)

I feel like I’m really starting to emerge as an empty nester–or more to the point, a post-menopausal, nearly 60, might-let-my-hair-go-gray empty nester. It really is a new identity. You look at your friends who still have kids at home–especially younger kids–and wonder how you made that work. You wonder if your friends look at you and believe you to be lonely or bereft. Then you realize that no one is looking at you, even when you’re wearing your cutest outfit. It all takes a little bit of getting used to. 

What I like about this idea of emerging is that it suggests newness, and newness seems like a novelty at our age. I’ve been with Clifton for almost 32 years now, and while he can still surprise me from time to time, our relationship is far from new or novel. I’ve been in the same book club for 21 years, been with the same editor for 25. Even my kids are old. But lately, a lot of things do seem new. I have new worries and concerns, of course, but also new freedoms. Clifton and I can buy last-minute tickets to a Durham Bulls game or take an impromptu trip to the beach. I can make plans to have dinner out with a friend on a weeknight, something (like you) I rarely did when the boys were home, especially when they were younger and needed a lot of corralling in the evenings. 

Throughout my life, I’ve fallen into funks, and sometimes even into depression, and emerging from those periods is so wonderful–everything seems possible again. That’s what I think we don’t understand when we’re younger–that the possibilities for our lives don’t end when our hair goes gray and our kids leave home and our lovely parts begin to sag. Not that it doesn’t take some getting used to, this growing older. But if you can get to the other side–which is to say, a place where you accept these changes–I think you emerge into a really good and interesting place. I’m not sure I’m there yet. I still haven’t completely accepted that I’m not a vivacious thirty-two year old with a whole lot of pep to my step. But I think I see it on the horizon. Just a little bit more stretching and I’ll get there!

xo, Frances

  • Robin Leftwich

    What a great topic!
    I finally am emerging from the spectre of my step daughters’ cancer. We are getting to a new normal after Blayre’s passing on January 1 2021, and Erin has completed the last chemo, recovered from it, and is starting maintenance. And my dog Beau is doing well with his cancer maintenance. I’m not trying to be a sad sack here, life happens, but I am finally emerging from the fear and getting on the new reality. And it is a huge breath of spring and lightness!
    I will be retired for 4 years as of the end of May, yay for me, and emerging from that change and then the pandemic, well, I embrace Kristin’s butterfly metaphor and am emerging into a productive retired person!

  • Tracie

    This week I stretched, emerged, crashed, and burned. My bruised and embarrassed ego lies crumpled in a heap. Sometimes branching out socially is painful. So, after feeling high as a kite because I recently found a few new acquaintances, now I’m feeling like that middle school girl who is struggling to rein in the emotional rollercoaster. I know I will pick myself up, probably make a few apologies for my awkwardness, and try to move on with this new group, Friends of the Library. Sometimes a new person can ask too many questions, and I think I did. Hopefully, I can gain some trust as I volunteer alongside my fellow book lovers.

  • Robin Leftwich

    Tracy, be proud that you reached out! Especially with a group involving books! How can they not love an eager new person! Thinking of you as the new kid in school made me laugh! Maybe your experience will give me the courage to do something new!

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