Zoe FitzGerald Carter

Zoe FitzGerald Carter
March 27
I'm a journalist whose first book, Imperfect Endings (Simon & Schuster) was published last year. It's about my mother's decision to end her life after living with Parkinson's for many years and the struggle my two older sisters and I had coming to terms with that choice. The book was excerpted in O magazine and was chosen as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. Paula Span in the The New York Times, said "I could quote from this book all day." People magazine said, "Carter coaxes beauty from the bleak." And The Boston Globe called it "an engaging and insightful tale of familial love, understanding, and forgiveness, shot through with a surprising amount of wit." I currently live in Northern Cal with my husband and two daughters. I am available to talk to bookgroups by phone or Skype or -- if they are in the Greater Bay Area -- by person. You can read more about my book or contact me through my website: imperfectendings.com


Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 27, 2012 2:36PM

The Not Quite Empty Enough Nest

Rate: 18 Flag

It took crashing the car while texting for my college freshman daughter to start being nice to me again. It happened three weeks into her five-week Christmas vacation, a period characterized by carelessness and defiance on her part and irritation on mine.

From the start, the vacation was a saga of aggravations. There was the brand new sweater I loaned her on New Year's Eve that was left balled up and stained in a corner, the expensive hair conditioner that disappeared from my bathroom only to be found completely empty in hers, the milk that sat on the kitchen table all night, the doors that were left unlocked, the lights that were left burning.

And then there was the continual stream of off-handed but pointed remarks such as, "You know, it's amazing to me how dysfunctional this family is at Christmas." Or, "Well of course I left the milk out all night, Mom -- I was drunk!"

All this from the daughter who never gave my husband and me a single sleepless night throughout high school -- who worked hard, got good grades and spent the summer after her sophomore year hauling rocks out of a river in Ecuador. The daughter who, much to my surprise, actually liked hanging out with me. Even with a boyfriend and a demanding course load, she'd found time to take walks or go to the beach where we would lie in the sand talking about books and music and how things were never quite what you expected them to be.

I'd grown complacent, even a little smug. While my friends' teenagers were ducking away from them at every turn, my daughter actually complained when I left to go on a book tour for a couple of weeks, welcoming me home like the prodigal mother.

But then, a month before she left home to start her first year of college, the warm feelings came to a screeching halt. Our sense of mutual understanding, our easy rapport, seemed to evaporate. With her departure just a few weeks off, my once-doting daughter turned into a snappish, mean-tempered monster. The only thing that comforted me -- and it was small comfort indeed -- was that the monster was familiar: I had been just such a creature back in my teens. But why, I wondered, had this ugly beast appeared now, just when I most longed to soak up the last tender moments of having my child at home?

"Are you kidding me?" my agent said. "I was never so happy to see the backs of my two sons as when I dropped them off at college! I love them both to death but they were horrible to me. It's how kids leave home."

"Whatever you do, don't show her that you're needy," warned my friend Diana, whose daughter was heading to the same college as mine. "It just makes them meaner."

Taking their advice, I stopped asking my daughter what was wrong or complaining when she was rude. Instead, I did my best to ignore her jibes and stay neutral. Wary and distant, we limped through the final hot days of summer.

On September 1, I dropped her off at her college on the East Coast and flew back to California, frankly relieved to get away. The plane had barely landed when my daughter seemed to magically convert back to her former self, calling me up to chat, sending me funny texts and emailing long and hilarious dispatches from her new life. With three thousand miles between us, we quickly re-established our warm, close-knit bond.

Once again, I grew complacent. Her end-of-summer volatility had been an anomaly, I told myself. An aberrant blip on an otherwise smooth journey. Three months later, I excitedly prepared for her winter break -- five glorious weeks with my daughter! But when she ordered me to go to bed so she could entertain her friends in our living room the second night she was home, I realized that my expectations had been wildly over-confident.

Suddenly, five weeks seemed like an awfully long time. What was her college thinking anyway? Surely two or three weeks were plenty for everyone to have a good catch-up and return to their own lives. We did manage to have some good times together -- snuggling in front of the TV, enjoying a fancy lunch out together in Berkeley's "gourmet ghetto" -- but her need to prove her new-found independence by blithely ignoring basic household protocol continued to roil the waters between us. I knew I'd miss her like crazy when she was gone but will admit I was looking forward to a return to a more peaceable home life with just my husband and youngest daughter in residence.

And yet, as it turned out, I was grateful for those last two weeks. The accident seemed to throw a mysterious switch that returned my daughter to her former considerate and charming self. Unhurt after rear-ending a young woman in a pickup truck, she was clearly remorseful and upset with herself. She helped my husband sort things out with our insurance company and -- more importantly -- stopped pushing us away. Her last days were spent picking her younger sister up at school, helping around the house and, well, being nice.

I'm really looking forward to her spring break. It's only two weeks long.


This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.  It was placed there by the editors of Red Room, a site for writers and authors.

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This was an enjoyable piece that took me down memory lane. I've been there. They come back to you for good in a few years.
Compared to the parents I know whose children are alienated and unreachable through divorce brainwashing, you have it good. An edgy, annoying, disrespectful relationship is still an intimate one and will eventually reverse itself to its better, original state. You are wise to stay available and tolerant.
Thanks for the support, jlsathre and jackie2! Full confession -- I wrote this piece a year ago. It was under consideration at a high profile newspaper and so I hung on to it until I realized it was publish now or never. So... my daughter and I have had a whole year to work things out and this Xmas vacation was MUCH better. She's a great kid and I feel like I got off easy in the teenage angst department.
Also, just for the record, she read and gave me permission to publish this...
I sympathize, empathize and commiserate with your dilemma. I'd say I've been there and done that but after fifteen years it's still going on with my step-son. We love each other, but our minor conflicts remain. I can never get through a day without saying or doing something that he takes the wrong way and his reaction usually stings. Fortunately we have his son in common. A bright, happy laughing two year old, who by just being himself manages to smooth out our sharp edges.

Zoe, I'm so glad to see you here. EVERYONE: You have to read Zoe's book Imperfect Endings. It is ABSOLUTELY one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read. Zoe, please write more here!!!!
I think I was mean to my mother for a long time. Growing up is so hard!
The first time our son, our oldest came home from college my wife came to me and said, "We really are getting our money's worth from that school, he's only been gone a couple of months and he already knows everything." I get it.
If our teenagers stayed as adorable as they were as babies, we would never let them leave home.
Interesting how relationships and people change over time. I wish you luck on spring break.
My son will be leaving for college in a few short months - I hope he doesn't pull a personality bait and switch!
Thanks so much for all the great comments. I haven't posted anything on OS for awhile and reading through these responses reminds me all over again how much I appreciate this site! So much of the internet is dominated by humorless, unpleasant people hiding behind their anonymity. This has not been my experience here where the comments are thoughtful, respectful and kind. So yay for OS!! Glad to see things haven't changed...
Brought back a lot of memories, thanks for the post. Rated!
Crashing the car while texting. How nice.

I know of three families who have been injured (and one death) by some asshole texting while driving. While DRIVING! The fuck?

You get a Big Fat Fine where I live if you're idiot enough to text while driving. The police here are ferocious, they make an astonishing number of arrests of those fools and bring in a hella lot of money. I applaud them.
Oh my goodness do I have some teenage daughter stories to share with you! lol

Great post.
Glad to know you are a perfectly behaved human being. marco polo. That must be so nice for you....Z.
Hi Zoe,
First I would like to say Congratulations on your Editors Pick, I also can relate to your situation with your daughter. It isn't easy to be a young person and want it all, with out the kids realizing they do have it all. It's certainly a different world than the one I remember, my mother was old fashioned and there was no back talk. Now today kids are in control and walk all over the parents. I have a daughter your age, she made me a grandmother I love my grandson to bits and pieces. But we still get into exactly the same sceaniros, then she realizes how much I love my grandson and at one time I loved her the same way. It is never easy to hear some of the rude comments and be accused of certain behaviors especially when we are doing our best to give our grandson a decent upbrining. But the days that are good seem to make up for the other times. Great story, and happy to know that you have a new book out congratulations on that too.
Our daughter had to move back in with us after college because of the crummy job market, and it took a lot of getting used to after enjoying an empty house for 4 years. She can still be pretty obnoxious and inconvenient, but we realize it won't last forever. (we hope)...
Not that you need my advice, but it's just hard living with people again. Not knowing where the remote control is, changing the computer homepage, angling the chair a certain way, the temperature of the heater...everything is suddenly a democracy. It's hard.
Zoe,your writing deals with such difficult and sensitive feeling issues.Sentiments more to words and thoughts are the ones that build our character..At least for me..No wisdom can build a heart in a more healthy basis than love and emotional understanding.Thank you for sharing this ..I will keeρ it so as to know how to deal in a similar situation.Sometimes,although I feel with the heart I can not understand with the mind.
I want to buy your book cause it sounds to me that your writing can only make me a better human.Visited your site in Red Room and is excellent.Rated with admiration,thanks and best regards.
What a pleasant read. Daughters are great.
Mine came back Home. She tells me stuff.
I tell my daughter stuff. Boys toss rocks.

The tiny pebbles are thrown at window.
While parents sleep the neighbors sneak.
Young boys sneak off with thee farm sons.

They celebrate lunar cycles and kiss a lot.
Daughters go at midnight to do homework.
Boys read sonnets to young girls on dark night.

I know it's easier to live alone. Like Blinddream?
He has a Bio. His livelihood: Company. Leave early.
It'd good to know our children come Home for grub.
They are smart. Three meals, a bed, and ice cream.
It's good they no toss big boulders from the creeks.
We all need a brief.
Prodigal Adventure.
Home Sweet Home.
apology . . . STATHI STATHI inspires . . .
Sigh . . .
I was pondering a sad story ref: Sad`Euthanasia.
Maria was married to Frank R. He Loved Maria.
Maria means 'little flower' according to Frank.

Maria was hit broadside by a sixteen year old.
Maria . . . . Paralyze- She breathed by a machine.
The Ethics Committee and Frank met. Sad/Sigh.

Maria requested that laying in bed was no` Life.

The gadget's plug was turned off. I mentioned:
C.S. Lewis's wife who died shortly after they wed.
C.L. Lewis would still hear sounds in the morning.
He awaken happy. Then her realized. She had died.
There's a book. It was made into a movie. I forget.
Maria was from Nuremberg. She was in a convent.
She always organized a`Mead Brewers get together.
When Maria was in the terrible auto crash . . .

She was visiting a vacationing neighbor homestead.
Maria went to feed the cats. We all miss them both.
Frank died at 92. His obituary mentions his Mead.
He help me make a 55- gallon batch. I saved some.
Odd . . .
This sad . . .
I recalled . . .
Then I repressed.
I guess we do that.
Sad stuff is grief.
We no enjoy sad.
apology for more than two comments.
I came back to see if you got a EP. Yea!

The birds are gathering fur, twigs, debris,
and making new nest. I love watching them.
In front of my home there are three nest.
These flying creature will be entertaining.
Last years , . . . A huge blacksnake ate well.
I heard a commotion. I hardly believed that.
One morning - I open the front porch door.
I huge black snake was on the upper mantel.
That beautiful creature fell on my shoulder.
I was surprised that I didn't sense any fear.
The 'thud' sense of the weight, then clunk!
A black snake slithered off my porch slowly.
I hope the snake finds victuals somewhere!
I don't want a mother bird sad and grieved.