Archives For empty nest

The Great Pivot

September 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

In about six weeks Mtuseni will be taking final exams for his final semester of classes. Aside from doing a 100-hour internship, the hard work is done. Thinking back to how much he struggled — and how unhappy he was — in his first semester, it’s amazing how far he’s come. Not only does he have more knowledge, he’s more confident, outgoing and independent. Mtuseni doesn’t need the daily handholding I provided in our first few years. As a friend recently said, that means I did my job.

It took me a little while to mourn the loss of that constant connection, a virtual version of empty nest syndrome. But then it dawned on me that now I have time to focus on my life. I put it on the back burner to parent a kid living in a slow-motion culture 8,000 miles away — and it looks and feels a little ragged, though I have zero regrets.

But as Mtuseni turns toward new directions in his life, I now pivot back to my own. He posted a picture on WhatsApp this weekend from his big 21st birthday bash. In it he’s wearing a casual button-down shirt that I sent him last year. It’s a beautiful shirt, and I debated for days about keeping it for myself — before finally relenting and tossing it into his care package of clothes and cookies. I still want that shirt!

Meanwhile, every day, in every season, I open my closet and bureau and am bored stiff by my own wardrobe, which has not seen one new item since Mtuseni started school — and the South African bills started piling up. I can never claim deprivation compared to the way Mtuseni and his family live. But still, a little self-care does a body and soul good. And now that Mtuseni is on cruise control, the see-saw can use a bit of rebalancing.

I stopped marking my birthday a few years ago. Passing the half-century mark was a bit of a mind-fuck, so I smashed the odometer and don’t think about the numbers anymore. Still, growing up and living in New England, I’ve always felt lucky to have an October birthday. It falls just when peak foliage arrives in Boston — as if the world sets off fireworks in my honor. So to bring some equilibrium back to my Libran scales, I’ve decided that this October will be “31 Days of Me”…

Perhaps I’ll buy myself a nice shirt one day. Visit a museum that’s been on my must-see list for years. Have a drink at one of the city’s priciest restaurants. Cook something daring from my mountain of exotic recipes. Take the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Skype with an old friend. Or maybe just take five deep breaths in a row. The details aren’t important, and every day doesn’t need to be a mind-blowing indulgence. But for once in a long time — maybe ever — this month will be all about me. It will make me a happier, calmer, better person — and a better dad.

Because this doesn’t mean letting up on the gas with Mtuseni. He already knows that October for him will be the month of drafting responses to a pile of interview questions and doing mock sessions. And I’ve learned from early missteps that we need to talk through the rationale and hidden agendas behind every sample question from his list before he answers them. Per usual, he’s balked at this activity for the more than a year, despite my nagging, but the preparation he did for the visa interview showed him what can be achieved if you do your homework. But as the two of us discuss why “fun” might not be the best single word to describe himself on the Y-FM internship application, I’ll be making sure that I inject more fun into my own life. Because to borrow from an old commercial: “I’m worth it.”

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Halfway There!

June 15, 2012 — 4 Comments

South-African-Airways-flight-to-Cape-TownMtuseni finished final exams today — marking the end of his third semester at Boston Media House. Only three more to go!

I warned him at the beginning that college goes by in a flash. You’re so busy with classes and papers and exams and activities that you don’t notice those calendar pages flipping like in an old movie. Seems you’re just starting out, and then suddenly it’s over.

Despite my heads up to him, I’m also surprised at how quickly Mtuseni’s time in school has gone. He’s come so far, so fast. Seems like just yesterday he needed Google directions from me to find the college he’d always dreamed of attending, so he could tour it and take the entry exam. Back in those days he needed a lot from me. Oh, he still needs my help and guidance on many things, but he’s become much more independent and self-confident. I’ll admit it gives me a wistful, empty-nest feeling now and then — but it means I’m doing my job.

There have been some tough times this first half of his college career. The lonely, miserable first few weeks when he ate lunch by himself and wanted to quit entirely. The rock-bottom grade on his first college test that shocked us both  and amplified his self-doubt. The ongoing quest to borrow laptops to do assignments. And flunking his Excel class — a mandatory course he’s still avoiding. (We both hate numbers and that software!)

But there have also been many highs at BMH. His first nightclub party at Montecasino for the freshers. Scoring a stellar grade on a big marketing paper despite lacking some key research data. (Good writing can sometimes save the day!) Being selected for the student committee and running his first successful events. His embrace of a wide range of media knowledge — and casual name-dropping of new terminology in our conversations. And his buddies Big Boy, Poloko and a growing group of friends all striving to achieve a better life.

Mtuseni and I have many months and more school hurdles ahead before that December 2013 graduation. But for this Father’s Day, I’m going to raise a glass of single malt to enjoy this shared milestone. Yep… every day with Mtuseni really is a celebration.

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