I had ambivalent feelings about an impending empty nest — here’s my essay about it on a great site – The Woolfer.


“You’re losing it,” my friend Lori said. “I think you need help.”

She was right. I was driving friends and family crazy with my obsessive behavior when they staged this mini-intervention four years ago. It wasn’t a dangerous situation.  I wasn’t drinking too much or using prescription painkillers.  What caused them to question my mental state was an inability to make up my mind on a simple decision. 

 I recalled this predicament as I recently binge-watched the charming Israeli show Shtisel, on Netflix, about a Haredi family in an Ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem. I was struck by how the characters kissed the mezuzah each time they entered or exited a room.  As a Jewish mother, I hung mezuzas on our doorposts but I wasn’t attentive to their symbolism as I passed through during my crisis.  I had a less divine focus.  I was fixated on the door knobs.  
I was unraveled in a spiral of indecisiveness.  It began when I decided to fix-up our aging house. My husband and I had been in the house for over 20 years – moving there from NYC when our sons were toddlers. Now they were grown and the youngest was graduating college. My boys were only two years older than the house, but while they’d grown more independent, the house acted like it was still in the terrible twos — demanding time, money and lots of care and attention. I had grown up too. My knees creaked about as much as the floorboards did, and I didn’t want to take care of kids OR the house anymore. I could barely keep up with my own maintenance. If we were going to spend money on a facelift, it was going to be on my 56-year-old face, and not a center hall colonial. 
The entry hall had cracks in the ceiling, wood rot ate at the doorframes, the kitchen needed some new curtains and every room needed a coat of paint. If we ever wanted to sell it we’d have to maintain it. When a friend and real estate broker mentioned that new door handles were an easy upgrade I thought it would be a quick fix. Shiny new knobs had been known to freshen up old gals before so off I went to the hardware store. 
Easy fix? It was not quite as simple as I hoped. Who knew there were so many choices? There were handles, levers, round knobs, egg knobs and so many finishes. There were hinges that needed to be matched. For a perfectionist like me who perseverated over details this was overwhelming. A salesman at Gracious Home helped me pick a classic style and went to get the order form but he would have needed a degree in abnormal psychology to get me to make the deposit. I went back to the store until I saw him run and hide the fourth time I showed up. When I thought he might call the Bellevue psych ward I went to other stores where I could start fresh. I stared at doors everywhere I went. I asked friends to take pictures of their door handles. I nearly fell off the Pilates reformer as I took a class and stared at the handles of the classroom door instead of my feet. My husband thought I was insane asking him his opinion on something he cared little about. I literally began dreaming of knobs. I couldn’t sleep. I was stuck. I was becoming unhinged. 
 I knew I should have been able to get a grip on this handle problem.  Fortuitously I had an appointment with my internist for a routine physical. She asked how I was. I mentioned my eldest son was working in New York City and the other had graduated and would be moving to Chicago. Unexpectedly, I burst into tears. That’s when it hit me. 
All this obsessing about handles and hinges — it was never about that. I was deeply emotional about the doors that were closing on a parenting chapter, as my youngest son was about to embark on his own life. I was sad about the once locked doors to their now abandoned bedrooms — where mezuzahs bought on a family trip to Israel were hung with pride. Now they were museums of their childhood, filled with stuffed bears, class trip souvenirs and ephemera. This condition was about the entry to the basement where they played with toy cars and Legos before graduating to video games and contraband beer bottles during high school. 
I had dreamed of the time when the house would be quiet and clean and I would have freedom and time,yet when it was close I was surprised by my ambivalence about it. I missed the energy and noise that made the house alive. I missed the fridge door opening to shelves full of food and snacks, instead of only water bottles and condiments. When the boys came home they were only visiting. I felt like the proprietor of an empty inn
Once I got a grip and knew I wasn’t going crazy I felt unburdened. I listened to my youngest jam on his guitar in his room and I enjoyed the soundtrack as I reflected on their childhood. A few weeks later he packed up his Fender and took it on the plane to the Windy City.  Those empty rooms were a testament to a job well done. Whether we were in the same house or across the country, we would always be a family. 
It was time for me to start a new phase too.  I changed the curtains. I had the walls painted. I traveled to the places on my bucket list – Africa, Cuba, Italy.  I volunteered at a hospital.  I started writing again. 
Now I drive past the bus stop and don’t recognize the younger families who recently moved to the neighborhood to raise their kids. People ask if we will to stay or move to the city.  I’m leaving the doors open on that. The ones with the shiny new polished nickel handles that I finally picked out.   



The Spook House

In the woods next to our pink split level house on the cul-de-sac of Comfort Court was an abandoned house known to the neighborhood kids as The Spook House. Most of the children in the neighborhood were forbidden to go there. But many did. It was rumored someone had fallen through the second floor and legend was that more terrible things lurked there. The boys and girls from the closely set homes in our small sub-division had grown up together, playing kickball until our parents called us in for dinner, climbing the apple trees in our back yard, and building forts in the woods while avoiding the decrepit house that seemed right out of a horror movie.

I was ten years old when my best friend Jeanne and I decided we were old enough to go see it up close for bragging rights to our bravery. It couldn’t have been more than fifty yards from my house but it felt like we were Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion approaching the witch’s castle. We crept up the path tamped down by those who had ignored the warnings and we made it to the front of The Spook House. The house was boarded up except for a broken first floor window. The only color around the drab peeling house was a flowering purple lilac bush left by its long gone owners. Peeking inside I could see an ancient wooden wheelchair and some dusty books on the floor. My heart raced. I was a 50 pound sissy who slept with a nightlight. Jeanne repeated the tale her older brother, Rusty, had told her. He said a ghost lived in the house and that if we looked up to the second floor window we might see her waving. Knees trembling, I looked up and I thought I saw a pale, disembodied hand waving slowly up and down. I ran the whole way home wondering if I’d actually seen that horrifying apparition or if my mind was playing tricks on me.

Jeanne and I stayed far from that house after that. But the frights weren’t contained to the dark woods. They were right there in plain sight. As we all grew up I learned to be wary of other things. The rambunctious boy, Chris, who lived behind our house, pushed me down one day and I came home with bloody knees. I learned to stay away from him. When we were twelve and finally allowed to go to the bus stop alone, there were more opportunities for his torment. As I stood one morning with Jeanne, he and another rough boy from the development threw coins towards me. I stared at the pennies as they spun around and landed on the sidewalk. I had a bad feeling it was a set-up.

“Pick up the pennies,” said Stephen, a pale, freckled hooligan with a crew cut and glasses.

“Why should I? I don’t want them,” I said.

He looked at me with a mean glint. “Don’t Jews like money?”

My face paled. A few kids laughed. The bus pulled up and I got in and walked to the back. I slumped into a seat and tried to make myself invisible. I learned to fear the monsters at the bus stop. I dragged my feet to miss the bus or got stomach-aches and stayed home. I dreaded going to my locker at school where a group of bullies would find me and harass me about my looks, my friends, my religion. I stopped playing outside after school. Mercifully, my body summoned a case of Mono and I spent weeks at home recovering my health and my confidence. After only a month back at school my parents announced we were moving to another town. I’d like to think it was because of my problems and the anti-semitic neighbors, but in reality they were motivated by the horror of sharing one bathroom with three daughters. Nevertheless, I was glad for the escape route.

Several years ago, I was in the area and curious to see my old street. The Spook House was long gone — replaced with a white Colonial and green lawn. I am not haunted by that vision of a waving hand. I am sure I imagined it. I know I did not imagine the terrorizing of the real phantoms. It turned out the scariest things didn’t live in the crumbling empty houses. They resided in the pretty painted houses. I don’t like scary movies. But I’m not afraid of the dark anymore. Sometimes the most frightening things happen in broad daylight.

Boots on the Ground

I was wearing black Billy Martin cowboy boots, a sweater and leggings when I met my husband on a blind date. He wore a towel. I was trying to project nonchalant chic.  He was running late, but I’m pretty sure he was just boasting his biceps.  Boots and leggings are pretty much still my uniform, but I’ve since trained my husband to wear pants when answering the door.

Thirty-two years have passed, but when the leaves and the temperatures drop and boot season begins, I am reminded of that fall when we fell in love. Maybe that’s why I still love wearing boots.  Boots are comfort food for my soles. My feet have taken me through almost sixty years, twenty-five countries, fifteen years of work pumps, hundreds of runs in stiff ski boots, thousands of uneven subway steps, hours of parties in crippling stilettos.  I’ve worn shoes that would make Chinese foot binding feel like Ugg slippers.  My big toes have endured two painful surgeries as a result.   My feet have earned the right to be comfortable.

In NYC shoes are transportation. My favorite wheels are my worn-in, black, knee-high Aquatalia boots that have mercifully morphed to the topography of my aching feet.  They are low-heeled, waterproof, and rubber soled. They are an SUV for my feet – sturdy, reliable and designed for all types of terrain.  I zip them up like I am buckling my seatbelt and I’m ready to hit the road. I’m a superhero.  I feel like Wonder Woman — without the bustier and the gorgeous hair.  NYC is my territory.  In boots I can cover a lot of ground – taking in street after street of Chelsea galleries without getting a blister.  I feel powerful hopping on a Citibike and pedaling to Soho with my trusty treads and my foldable helmet. I have no fears heading to the Union Square farmer’s market with the confidence that I can stride back home lugging bags of apples, greens and a bouquet of zinnias.  The Lake Erie size slush puddles are no match for these boots as I conquer the icy mountains and melting pools that form on street corners after a winter storm.  I’m impermeable.

Each fall I head to Saks and Bergdorfs to hunt through the shelves of stunning shoes and boots.  But those shoe departments might as well be a shoe museum.  The pointy, high heeled styles are like a European sports car – sleek and sexy, overpriced, impractical and hard to get into.  At least a sports car is built for speed.  These are most definitely not.

I feel fast and safe and strong in my favorite boots. But it’s time for a change – so I’ve bought them in gray.  For too many years I chose style over comfort.  In my boots and leggings I have the best of both worlds.  I can truly be comfortable in my own shoes.