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SOAPBOX: Tempe writer and parent searches for what's missing in her life

By KJZZ News
Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2024 - 12:23pm
Updated: Tuesday, April 2, 2024 - 4:51pm

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On KJZZ's SOAPBOX, The Show turns over the the mic to listeners. In our latest series, listeners tell their own true stories on the theme of Missing. 

Full nest? Empty nest? No matter what stage of the parenting game you’re in, sometimes it’s all too much. And sometimes, not enough. Tempe writer and performer Kim Porter searches for what’s missing in her life.

Woman holds papers and reads into microphone
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
Kim Porter in the KJZZ studio.

The term empty nest does not adequately capture the dread of facing what remains of your life, stripped of purpose, which is why I'm sitting in my car in the library parking lot, flipping through the Tempe opportunities catalog, searching for an opportunity that might make what remains of my life worth living. I used to think I was capable of greatness if only I didn't have parenting taking up all my energy.

But now that my kids have grown up and nothing is stopping me, I realize I might have been mediocre all along.

At first, I was excited. I could do anything I wanted. But what? Anything. Like what? Anything. But what! Sitting in the car, I flip to the classes for adults section and I circle ceramics. I can see myself doing ceramics. I circle pickleball but can I see myself enjoying pickleball? I scratch out pickleball.

I see swing dancing and my pen hovers over the page.

Eighteen years ago, while suffering the completely opposite existential crisis, I convinced my husband to take swing dancing with me. I'd just given birth to my second child. My nest was full, but my days felt long and empty. Swing dancing seemed like the cure in the weeks leading up to the class. I was nervous about making a fool of myself. I put my nerves towards concrete concerns: what to wear. I settled on an old skirt I never wore because it made me feel too girly and a pair of Oxfords.

There's a tension between knowing who you are and imagining who you could become. Your new self must contain your true self or it's a project destined to fail, which is why I was realistic in my fantasies. We'd be good dancers, sure, but not great.

The night of our first class, we hired a sitter and headed to the pile center. Class was held in the multipurpose room, which still smelled of whatever they'd fed the seniors for lunch. The double doors from the lobby stood open, casting a shaft of light across the wooden floor.

Woman with blonde hair and glasses smiles into camera
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
Kim Porter in the KJZZ studio.

I stepped into the room and was immediately gripped by a pathological self-consciousness. Why did I wear this stupid skirt?

After brief introductions, we lined up in a row and learned the basic step. That's it? Easy. We paired up.

It was in this moment that I realized Ben and I had literally never danced together before. And my fantasies might not have been realistic.

The music started. I noticed Ben's lips were moving as he kept count and his head bobbed left and right. I'd practiced seeing myself in a new light but not Ben. He looked like an earnest Muppet. I burst out laughing and I felt a tiny gush of urine. I froze. Am I going to pee my pants? Hysteria clawed at me.

So I laughed again and pee began to trickle down my thigh. I try to never laugh for this very reason. I've peed myself in front of Ben dozens of times, but never in a crowded room with my maniacal laughter bouncing off the walls. I choked out, be right back, and headed to the exit. I had to choose between walking normally while peeing myself or drawing attention to my exodus by squeezing my thighs together and haltingly, crisscrossing the room I chose the former. Thus, with each step, more urine ran down my legs and filled my shoes in the bathroom. I dried my legs, emptied my shoes and thought up an excuse.

My skirt was spotless. Did I get away with it? I planned to stop at the double doors, wave Ben toward me and escape. But when I reached the entry, I saw, to my dismay, a trail of urine droplets, perfectly framed by that shaft of light. I scurried across the room, surreptitiously dragging my feet trying to smear away the evidence.

"That was the sitter. We have to go!"

And we did, never to return.

In the car in the library parking lot, pen in hand, Tempe opportunities catalog on my lap, I flip the page and circle yoga. I can see myself doing yoga.

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