life after the birds fly the coop

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How did THAT Happen?

How did That Happen?

This will be the last writing posted on fiveminusthree as our daughter is soon to be married and the intention of this blog has been fulfilled. I may or may not continue with a new name. Fiveplusthree? Perhaps.

My husband and I have been asked a time or two, “What did you do that your kids are so successful?” Sometimes it comes out more like, “How did your kids turn out so good?” And then we try not to be offended by the sting, especially when it comes from our siblings of origin. I can’t answer for my husband, but as I tamp down my fluffed-up feathers, the answer is always both long and short. The short answer is: “We were lucky.” The long answer?  Beyond being incredibly lucky, I say it wasn’t all that complicated. They inherited some pretty remarkable genes (I take no personal credit—all that goes to my lineage), some genetic predisposition for hard work (credit due again to lineage and Mullenbach German “just get it done-ness”), but above all, a level of unspoken expectation to learn, to try, and to be curious.

As a child, I was an avid reader. More than anything else, I wanted to read, to learn, and to be a good student. (Under all my layers of laid-backness is a small kernel of competitiveness.) As a mother, I passed this along without any intention. It was just “what I knew.” I was horrible at playing with Legos, Lincoln Logs, and decent with a puzzle, but more than anything, I read to my kids. A lot. I read to them until they could read for themselves, even if it was just cereal boxes. There wasn’t a “good night” without a few stories first. Thanks to the public library system, books were abundant. And free.

As a child, I was also encouraged to try any and all sporting activities, thanks to my father who was a physical education teacher and hockey coach. If the kids wanted to try a sport, the answer was always “yes!” Some sports naturally fit with our kids, and some just didn’t. The point was to TRY. Two of our children loved sports; the third, well, his love became music. Where did that come from? I’ll tell you.

My mother played the piano. We had an old upright in the basement of my early childhood home. She played for us kids out of John Thompson’s 3rd Grade Book. Like a lot of young girls who admired their moms, I wanted to “do what she did.” Nobody had to push or prod me to play the piano. I begged for lessons and took them until well into high school. I would say I was “above average” as a pianist, “a good enough singer to get into a good choir in high school”, but I held no illusions of a future in music. The best I can say is I was more musically than athletically gifted. And yet I ran as fast as I could and tried really hard to like softball and even the short-lived, freezing cold season of broomball.  Gymnastics scared the shit out of me. But I did it all: tap dance, baton twirling, touch football, tennis, golf… you name it. But this isn’t about me. If MY kids wanted to play an instrument, sing, play a sport, anything that expanded their minds in any way, the answer was always a resounding “YES.”

As young parents, my husband and I wanted to expose our kids to the best of what we had and to open their eyes to opportunities we may not have had. Between the two of us, who had very different upbringings , we collectively exposed our three children to what WE knew was important in life: education, reading, music, physical activity, nature, a belief system, the family unit, and good old- fashioned hard work.

We were not ‘helicopter parents’, a phrase nonexistent when we were being or raising kids. We did what our parents did: expected our kids to do their best on their own. We were involved, but not overly. I checked the “Friday Folder” to make sure they did their work, but after that? They were entrusted. Their failures? They earned them. Their successes? Theirs alone.  We were happy bystanders, there to offer support in the case of failure and praise in the case of success. Sounds simple, right? Praise for success is sweet and easy. But failure? How do you not dive in and rescue? How do you let them sink just a little? Feel the pain of rejection, poor decisions, falling short? You fall back on what you know. What I was taught by my dad: You can’t learn to ski until you first learn how to fall.

So there were those uncomfortable moments when one of the kids wasn’t good at something, wasn’t invited to a party, did poorly on a test, came in last place. Cried in public. Many times it was simply hold them tight and don’t say anything.

One thing I made sure of as their mother was both the simplest and at times the hardest. We had family meals. I’d love to say Every Night, but come those crazy high school years, that wasn’t possible. And Dad had a traveling job. But as often as possible, we gathered together as a family and ate dinner. It was routine. It was expected. It was as expected as it was that I would be there when they came home from school and would be there in the morning to send them off. The sun rose and the sun set, and they knew where home was, where mom and dad were, and where their bellies were fed. Whether each or any of us had a good day, a bad day, or a routine, ordinary one, there was breakfast, there was lunch, and there was dinner. And there were WE, a family, a safe place to land.

What we didn’t do was spend a whole lot of time talking about “what we wanted to be when we grew up”. (My husband and I are still figuring that out for ourselves.) We had no expectations that our oldest son would become a neuroradiologist, our daughter a PhD candidate, or our youngest son a data scientist (still fuzzy on what that even means). We just let them figure it out, find their ways, explore their options. Try new things.

The best part of parenting, the ultimate joy, the glory that I fear many parents these days are missing, is truly enjoying the surprise. The watching, the waiting, the unfolding. Watching the seeds we planted, watered, fed, and then just held our breath and trusted, become the blossoms that are our children gradually open and show their beautiful individual colors.

If forced to give an elevator speech, I’d say this: Give them books, expose them to music and arts, religion, nature, movement, and stability. And without a doubt, a shout-out and quote from our very first pediatrician, Dr. Lawson from Indianapolis, this gem, Love them unconditionally. The rest comes easy.

What I Knew Then…

“A mother’s job is to teach her children not to need her anymore. The hardest part of that job is accepting that success.”  ~Anonymous

Five years ago I wrote my first blog. I wrote about my experience launching my 3 children, as my youngest child had entered his second year of college. Hence the title of my site, fiveminusthree.  Five years later, life has changed once again, and I think my site title may need to change.

It seems, as a mother looking back over her life, that 5 years was nothing. My children advanced from babies to kindergarten, kindergarten to middle school, middle school to high school, from high school to college…and at the time, those milestones were gigantic. But in reflection, as transformative as those years were, they were still “mine.” Now, in 5 years’ time, the future years are not “mine” anymore but “theirs.”

My thoughts back then centered around, Who would they become? What kind of people will they be? Have I done them right? Who am I without them? Five super short years later, I am seeing my answers, and feeling them down to the root of my being. I witness their lives–their individual lives, not “mine” or “ours,” but “theirs.”

In the past 12 months, my 2 sons have married beautiful, strong, amazing women. And this weekend, I will be meeting my daughter in Philadelphia to shop for a wedding dress because she, too, has found her “person.” What? Am I ready for this? Was 5 years enough time for me to acclimate to the rest of my life? The answer is yes…and no.

What I knew 5 years ago was that I had 3 incredible children, in whom I’d invested my entire heart and soul into raising into what hopefully would be kind, smart, caring individuals. Isn’t that what we want for our children, after all? That they find happiness and fulfillment in life? All I wished and prayed for in nearly 30 years of motherhood was that was my children would find happiness and fulfillment in life. I don’t think I’m alone in that. So when your prayers are answered, you give thanks, right? Yes, you do. And yes, I do. But…

What’s in the but is what wrangles my heart today.

One thing I’ve learned in the past year is that life’s questions don’t first get asked of me, but of the beautiful people they have found to spend their lives with. That’s what I want. That’s what they need. That’s the way the world works. That’s what I’ve prayed for. But still…

I need to be with my girl when she finds her wedding dress. I want to be the mother that her sons still consult with. I want to be the kind of mom that her children want in their lives, even when they don’t need me.

So, that is my goal. To surround my children and and their “people” with all the acceptance they need as they make a future for themselves. I want to be able to let go and let them learn on their own the intricacies of marriage and eventual parenthood, and be the bystander…the bystander who can accept and embrace all of their decisions.

Sounds easy, right? It’s not. I want to make my mark, leave my wisdom, be a person of significance into my old age. And how do I do that? I’m not sure, but I hope as always, that my children and I learn from each other today and into the future. I learn from them, as I always have, and they learn things from me. Even the “what not to dos.”

This requires the kind of letting go I’ve never experienced before, but by the grace of God, go I.

What do I know now? I know that they know who they are and what they want and need. And I know that I trust and I believe, in them and in their “people.”

Is this the end of fiveminusthree?  Is it now fiveplusthree?  I’d love to hear from you.



I’m Glad I’m a Woman, and Here’s Why

“A woman has to live her life, or live to repent not having lived it.” ~ D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover

Yesterday while walking, I listened to a podcast: “Be the Change” on The Hidden Brain. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Rather than being a telling of how someone started a non-profit, it was about a young couple who wanted to raise a non-gender child. Most interesting to me were the stories about the mother with her infant in a NICU who dressed her daughter in gender-neutral clothing and how people reacted to her newborn. Those who thought “she” was a boy, said things like, “Oh, he’s getting so strong,” and when the nurses (while the mother was home resting) dressed her daughter in head-to-toe pink, people said, “Oh, she’s so delicate and precious.” (paraphrasing here). Friends and family members struggled to know how to interact with this baby, and then child. At the end of the podcast, I wasn’t exactly sure I could name how I felt about the family’s story. I felt neutral.

This weekend in Atlanta, some friends of mine attended the Atlanta Pride festival. They made awesome signs and had custom made t-shirts saying “All Means YOU.” I’m proud of them and I am proud to say I am in full support of gay marriage and all things that support the LGBQT community. The most interesting picture I saw from a friend’s post was a picture of her in her t-shirt holding a sign that says (in Rainbow colors) Unity, Respect, Equality, Hope, Love.  Directly next to her was another woman holding a sign that said on one side: “Feminists are Whor–” and on the back side, “Women Belong in the Kitchen.” OMG.

These experiences led to me to spend some time thinking about my personal life, especially my life as a woman.

When I was a little girl growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I was terrified of war. The Vietnam War was happening and there was a lot of talk of war, the Cold War, bomb shelters, and the possibility of one day women being drafted. Chills. At that moment, I was not only worried about my older brother someday being drafted, but extremely glad and thankful that I was a girl. I was also extremely glad that my dad was married with kids and ineligible for the draft.

My dad served in ROTC and the US Army. He was also a PE teacher and hockey coach. He was and is truly a “guy’s guy.” Though he was a tough father and a strong man, he encouraged me to try every single sport known to mankind. Some I liked; others I hated (broomball). He brought home stop watches, skis, balls of every kind, and was always encouraging us kids to be active physically. I never once felt that I was hindered because I was a girl. I actually liked then, and to this day, physical activity. I must also mention that my mom worked full-time throughout my childhood. Yay, Mom! How you put dinner on the table Every Single Night still amazes me.

As I matured into young adulthood, don’t hate me for saying this, I wanted to be a teacher, writer, and very briefly, a nurse. I wanted to do these things because I loved to read and all things wordy, playing “school”( as long as I was the teacher), and was fascinated by the human body. But what did I really want? I wanted to marry someone and have kids and be a mom. (And if teaching fit, then that too). Well, I got what I wanted. I married a guy I loved and who supported us single-handedly for almost 20 years. Though I did work before kids, I stayed home until our oldest was in 8th grade and our youngest in 2nd.  Even then I worked out of the home as a freelance proofreader. The point? This was my choice. This was OUR choice. Even through the years when “overdraft protection” and “no-cost weekends” were my best friends.

The bottom line is this: I love to cook, I don’t hate cleaning, and I do not want my husband touching my laundry. He doesn’t understand “this needs to be hand washed, this only on gentle cycle, and the most important—do NOT put this in the dryer!” I feel happy when I make a great meal and the house is clean when he walks in the door.

The second bottom line is this: this works for us. My personality is such that I get enormous joy out of taking care of people. I feel strong and able when I can look back and say my primary job was raising our kids and making our home comfortable, happy, and peaceful. I am not ashamed to say this. I also enjoy my current work and get great satisfaction out of it.

The third bottom line is this: be who you are. I have a daughter who is fiercely strong, independent, and a feminist. She marches to her own drum and will accomplish much, much more professionally in life than I ever did, or wanted to, to be honest. I have two sons who are wonderful husbands, nurturing, caring, share in household chores, cook, do laundry, take care of pets, and support their hard-working wives.

Women, whatever path you choose, embrace it! Do what you want. Have no regrets. Love where you are. You be YOU.


Musings on the U.S. Open

If you aren’t a tennis fan, you won’t hurt my feelings if you stop reading right now. If you are a fan of humanity, you may consider continuing.

Having attended the US Open at Flushing Meadows, NY, four times now (including this pasta week), and having been an avid fan of the sport for 15 years, a few things have caught my attention about this sport and, particularly, this tournament.

First, EVERYONE LOVES ROGER FEDERER. I hate that. I thought I was the only one. I mean, the only one who TRULY loves him. I didn’t have tickets to Arthur Ashe that day (crying), so why wouldn’t I get to watch him practice? He’s only practicing! Instead I clawed my way through throngs of people who think they adore him as much as I do to get a glimpse of the “best player of all time.” How disturbing! Move on, people! You fake fans!

Second, a LOT of people like Juan Martin del Potro. A LOT.  They like him almost more than I do. Almost more than my daughter does. (I took a lot of pictures of him, just for her, of course.)

Third, people like the BIG PLAYERS. Even if they don’t really “like” them, they LIKE them. They stand in line in the rain, in the cold, in the DARK, to see them from a wee wee distance. I have no words.

Fourth, I like tennis players. A lot. They are so athletic. Some of them play two, I mean TWO matches in one day, a singles and then a doubles. I’ve played tennis, and I think doubles is a lot of work, so…Their muscles are AMAZING. And they are so quick. Reminds me of my teens…in the ‘80s, (shyly hidden under turtlenecks and high-waisted jeans, of course).

Fifth, if you like to drink (alcohol), bring a LOT of money. Drinks are expensive here. You can get a Grey Goose “double deuce” for a mere $16.50 and it lasts about 20 seconds; it’s so good and so sweet! Then after that you can get another, or go for a cheaper $12 glass (3 oz.) of wine, or maybe a light beer for $9.50. If you don’t like alcohol, grab yourself a healthy bottle of Evian for just $11.50. May as well go for the beer.

Sixth, you can EAT so many things! Hot dogs, hamburgers. Oh, that’s boring. How about fish and chips, designer tacos? Kimchi? Lobster rolls? Origami potato chips? All can be yours for $500. It’s awesome.

Seventh, you can swiftly hop on a subway (the 7) at Times Square and be there in a short ONE HOUR, elbowing your way for a seat. But there is so much humanity to be seen! It smells great. Really. Same subway can take you back home a little faster, but you really need to elbow your way here, as everyone else wants to get back to the hotel to watch the night matches, or get some sleep.

Eighth, you can find the perfect size-medium long-sleeved pullover (because dang, it’s cold this year), but you have to run, not jog, to every kiosk on land, only to find you are NOT the only size M that wants said long sleeved pullover. So you settle for a t-shirt. It’s OK. You are at the US OPEN!

Ninth, you may get to see your favorite player. You may even get to see him or her up super close, if the news media has decided they aren’t famous enough for Center Court on Arthur Ashe. So tip here: learn to love the “lesser knowns.” It’s truly great tennis on the “outer courts”!

Tenth, (and final) You will be surrounded by the most passionate, excited sports fans IN THE WORLD. They LOVE tennis. Almost as much as you do. And it’s contagious. If you get a chance to go the US OPEN, cancel all your other plans.


The Grief of Losing a Pet

In the interest of brevity and the fear of losing readership, I will limit this blog to the grieving of pets I’ve lost in my “adult” life.

One thing I’ve learned is that each pet who passes on comes with a different envelope of grief. Having not lost a parent yet, (thank God), or a child (don’t even go there), I can say that grief is a learning process that is tough, but essential. It’s a letter we never want to open but we know we have to. Because loss is life. Life is darkness and light. There is no argument there. It may even be 50/50.

Our first pet loss was Carleigh, our very first dog as a “family.” She was our first experience into being a “dog family” where I was the primary “custodian.” Carleigh was 6 months old when I accidentally dropped an (one….I mean one small tablet) ibuprofen on the kitchen floor while trying to get two to help an ailing child. Carleigh was very eager and swallowed that sweet little nugget right quick. Not being too alarmed (being a new primary custodian), I wasn’t overly concerned, but decided to investigate the consequences. This was “pre-Google” and “pre-smart phone” days, so I think I called the vet? Well, turns out one ibuprofen is toxic to a dog under 10 lbs. Carleigh weighed in at a whopping 9. So then the work began. After multiple forced ingestions of hydrogen peroxide, she would not deliver that super delicious pill. So sick and sicker she got. You know the ending. I grieved her short life, her small but huge impact on our lives, my own personal guilt, and just the overall sadness of not seeing “what could have come.” We were so new into this journey.

So of course, we got another dog! Same breed, different color, different sex, ‘cuz who could compete with Carleigh? In comes Eddie. Eddie. With his strong temperament, cat-like personality, discriminating in every way, fussy in every way, barked at everything, and ignored everyone. Except Ben, our oldest son, whom he adored. Eddie was 7 when Ben left for college, so being the “now experienced pet custodian” I decided, “Eddie needs a playmate, because he’ll be sad when Ben leaves!”

Welcome, Biff. Biff. So not smart, so not discriminating, so not fussy. So easy-going in temperament, so eager to please. Eddie hated him. Literally cringed when Biff came around. (Did I mention Eddie was cat like?) Biff was the loyal soldier, trying to be like Eddie, but was just too sweet to be rude. Whenever Eddie barked (which was often and loud), Biff howled like a coyote. It was funny. And mysterious.

Eddie was plagued with multiple issues (stream in Felix Unger): allergies, skin issues, and then, ultimately, heart issues. We lost our Eddie, the “king” (he’d be disappointed with another title) when he was 10. I cried my eyes and heart out for the loss of such an exceptional un-human being. I missed the way he looked at me as if I was an idiot, the way he lounged on my bed all day as if it were his own, and how quiet the house was without his barking. (OK, that’s a lie, but still….we all grieved. Probably mostly Ben.)

But I had Biff! Biff changed went Eddie went away. He had no more competition for attention, and attention is ALL. HE. EVER. WANTED. Biff was all about kissing and licking, petting and walking. (and eating whatever it was you would share.) He never complained, rarely barked, never ran away, always staying close.

When the kids all left the nest, we moved to a new neighborhood, and my husband got a new job where he was gone all day and traveled a lot, but I was never alone. Because Biff. Biff was always RIGHT THERE. If I left the room for 30 seconds, he laid down wherever I went, because, again, he wasn’t “smart dog” and thought I’d stay for awhile.

We tried HARD, (and not just us), to get Biff to play with dog toys.( I mean, give me a break from the neediness!) Squeaky ones, plastic ones, super cute ones….didn’t matter. He had NO interest. All he wanted was US. And US meant whoever was there. He was indiscriminate toward whom he loved. He was INDISCRIMINATE TOWARD WHOM HE LOVED. He loved EVERYONE.

So, the grieving of Biff has been the hardest. I miss his neediness. I miss his sweet, loving face. But he gave me life’s greatest lessons: You are loved. You are wanted. You are never alone. And I love you no matter what.

If only I could be Biff. He truly lived! Life is darkness and light. But light prevails.


Okay, a week has passed in this historic time in our nation. It’s been emotional, sad, exciting, scary, happy, or devastating, depending on which side of the “aisle” we are on. It’s brought out the best in people (those desiring to bring change to our nation and those who spend their lives defending our human rights), and it’s also brought out the worst in people. I don’t think I need to expand on that. A very ironic thing happened to me yesterday morning. Because my feet are so very far away from my eyes and I’m getting old, and because I was simply throwing on some comfortable clothes and not paying attention, I put my new pair of sophisticated socks on the wrong feet. Did you know socks were partial to left or right? Evidently someone in marketing has figured that out! When I first got these socks, I thought they were super cool, and as soon as I put them on the designated feet (left and right, clearly labeled), I felt serene and happy. Don’t we all love that “new sock” feel? But after a few washes, honestly, my feet nor I could tell the difference. But yesterday afternoon, as I sat down to read a deposition, I laughed out loud when I noticed my “mistake.” And then it dawned on me how truly ironic it was. Left and right confused, and remarkably, I didn’t notice. I took it as a sign. A sign to me that through all the division and confusion and anger, life goes on. I will still walk (humbly and thankfully). I will still not be able to see as well as I used to. But mostly, I’m lucky I have clean socks, or socks at all. The feet are a part of the body, as all parts of our body work together to help us function and get through life. So I started thinking about my own “body”, which includes myself, my children, my husband, my extended family, and my friends. (in essence, my world). All of us are different and all of us have things to share with our common “body” that makes us unique and whole. I couldn’t walk with one foot. And the left foot is no more important than the right. (well, maybe when I’m driving…). And I couldn’t be physically “whole” without either in my life. My family and friends, as my socks, have been divided by R and L. Each of us is passionate about which side we are on. I could see this as a negative, but I choose to see it as a positive. Once again, we wouldn’t be whole without each other. In the end, whether those I love are R or L, I will love them just the same. They keep me whole, and warm, like my socks. “Politics makes strange bedfellow,” I believe is how the saying goes. And it’s true. And politics and passion, on either side of the aisle or foot, is what makes our free world a truly free world. Not to be simplistic, I see this strange analogy based on a “wardrobe malfunction” as an ironic, humorous, and poignant incident that encourages me to remain united, as a body, as a family, as a community, and as a nation. I choose to celebrate my freedom. I choose hope. I choose peace. I choose unity. What will you choose?

Fathers and Daughters

“A daughter needs a dad to be the standard against which she will judge all men.” ~unknown.

One of my life’s greatest blessings is to have a dad like mine. He’s quiet, a man of few words, a man with flaws, a man of great achievement. My dad is a man with vulnerabilities accompanied by a deep, quiet strength. To me, he is the one man whom I’ve always known loves me with all of his heart. I see it in his eyes, and I feel it in his hugs. We don’t see each other often enough because of the great distance between us geographically, so when we see each other and then have to say good-bye, his eyes well with tears. I may never know what words he’d like to express that he struggles to find. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I feel pure, unconditional love.

Another of my life’s great blessings is being in the front row (back seat, close sidelines…whatever you want to call it) witnessing my husband and my daughter’s unique and very special father-daughter relationship.

As I write this, they are two days into a 9-day backpacking adventure in Utah and Nevada, culminating in a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, sleeping in a tent, and then hiking back up, a gift from Brian to Lauren, to celebrate her achieving her Master’s Degree and before she moves to Pennsylvania (too soon) to gain her Ph.D. Yes, they asked me to come along. And part of me would love to be there. But most of me is glad that they are with just each other. (I also think they really wanted me along to carry some of the load!) And as much as I love to travel and enjoy a good hike, what they do when they hike is not my cup of tea. They’d hate me by the end of it, whining and complaining about a sore back, sore feet, and heat.

You see, Brian and Lauren are truly “two peas in a pod.” They see the world through a similar lens. If there is a mountain, they want to climb it. If there is a marathon, they will run it. If there is a job to be done, it will be done, mapped out, planned in detail, and fully executed. Neither of them want for anything in life but to work hard, love family, be outdoors, and push themselves to limits I cannot even dream of. And worth noting, Brian has raised her to believe that there is not a thing that a man can do that a woman cannot. She, too, is as strong as her brothers. Fiercely independent, yet sweetly vulnerable.

The bond that they have strengthened through multiple backpacking trips over the past 10 years, running marathons together, is one that no one can ever break. The conversations and the unspoken experiences they have shared cement them together. They will be glued to each other until death do them part.

But it’s really not these great adventures they take together that make the inside of my heart and guts turn and bring tears to my eyes. It’s the many, many Saturday and Sunday mornings they have shared over the last several years, as Lauren has been returning home on weekends. Both early risers, they are up well before me, and I can count on waking, grabbing my cup of coffee, and looking out the picture window at the back of my house to find them wandering through the yard and gardens chatting. They talk about everything: politics, future plans, relationships, finances. It doesn’t matter. Just seeing them be together so easily…I honestly don’t have the words to describe. When I eventually join them, the tenor changes. It’s still good, and Lauren and I have our own unique relationship, but I often feel like the ”red-headed stepchild”, awkwardly plowing into a conversation I have no business joining. I have to believe that I add some element of something to their moments. They certainly laugh at and with me a lot!

This is not a negative. Not at all. It’s all good. There’s just this unexplainable thing about a father and a daughter. Some of you reading this will nod and understand, (I can see the smile forming on your lips). Some of you long for this and may never have it or will ever know it. This is not uncommon in this world, which to me makes my husband and daughters’ relationship that much more special.

They will be home in a week, with pictures and stories, and I will feel that small nudge of jealousy? Or maybe angst that I wasn’t “brave” enough to go along? But mostly I will feel full in my heart knowing that they have something great, something that will carry Lauren through many journeys in her life ahead. A daughter needs a dad like this. I’m thankful that mine has this.

Finding your True North

“In the waves of change, we find our direction.” ~ unknown

I’m not a scientist, and I don’t know the exact value of “true north,” but to me it means in life’s journey, we are often uncertain where we stand, where we are going, and what is the right path for us personally. To know our “true north” enables us to follow the right path. The path that feels right, that is sometimes scary, but in the end, we know that “true north” will get us back to essentially who we are inside.

Whenever I feel anxious about where I am in life or if my life is on a path that is in line with my values, I think of my true north. My true north is where I’m from (ironically for me, it is actually very, very north in Northern Minnesota), where when I return there I feel home, I feel safe, I feel secure. I know that my roots are there, my family is from there. It is where my identity comes from.

My “second bird”, aka second child, aka Lauren, is just a few months away from leaving her very own “true north”, which is not northern Minnesota, nor is it Johns Creek or Suwanee, GA, where we as her parents have lived for the past 14 years. Lauren’s true north I believe is Athens, Georgia.

It was in Athens, Georgia, where she found out who she really is. What she is passionate about. Who she really loves. Who her true friends are. Where her identity has been discovered. So, what happens when you leave your “true north?”
She is struggling with letting Athens go and venturing forward to the “actual North” of State College, PA, where she will attain her Phd at Penn State beginning in August. She wants to let go and fly, yet doesn’t want to leave. She is ready, and yet she is sad. She wants to go tomorrow, but yet she doesn’t. Have you ever felt that way? Can you relate to that conflict?

Some of us have lived in the same place all our lives. Some of us have moved all over the United States, and some even the world. Can you identify what is your “true north?” Where is it that you can go back to in your heart, your mind, your soul, that helps you maintain your authentic self, despite your surroundings?
I believe it is a gift to have a “true north.” A place that changes, but then it doesn’t. New buildings, new roads, but then the same roads, the same buildings, that will always remain as if in a monument to our memories. So, for my conflicted daughter, who is struggling with leaving deep friendships, a town she loves more than anyplace on earth, a place where she has found herself, grown, thrived, made a difference, I totally get her pain and anxiety.

But despite the anxiety and pain, the excitement and the uncertain of leaving, the beauty of having a true north is that no matter where you go, no matter what you do, whether you thrive, fail, stay, leave, or a combination of all, you know that you can always go back to your home, your compass, your true north, and there you will see yourself, in all your pieces and all your journeys, and know that there is a solid place, a foundation, that has made you who you are.

For me, it is Duluth, MN. It is where I transformed from an anxious pre-teen in a new city to a college graduate, meeting my life’s partner. A place where I made mistakes, did good things, and left changed. It remains a place where when I return, I see where I’ve come from and where I’ve been, and the enormous impact that place has had on my life. It makes me reflect on the journey of my life, the twists and turns, and no matter where I go, that is home. That is my “true north.”

For my daughter, Lauren, you have gift, darling daughter. You have that place. You have it forever. Take it with you, hold it in your heart, all your friends, your memories, your challenges, and your personal growth. No one and no place can take that from you.

Do you know your “true north?” What does it mean to you? How has it helped you? I’d love to hear.

Spring Break

spring break Key West 001This is the week of spring break in Atlanta. Here I sit at my computer, NOT at a beach, NOT with my kids, NOT having “spring break.” Why? Because my kids are out of school, grown, out of the house, having had spring breaks of their own that don’t involve or include me.

Am I sad? Yes. A little. Spring break reminds me of when my kids were at home and after all the hard work, early morning school rituals, after school activities, work, and busy lives, spring break was looked forward to, anticipated, longed for…

In my reflective, melancholy state, I’m looking back to our first “real” spring break we took as a family. We didn’t go visit relatives. We went to Key West! I couldn’t have been more excited. We had an entire week at a HOTEL, in KEY WEST where Hemingway’s house is, in FLORIDA where it’s WARM. We lived in bleak OHIO at the time.

The anticipation was beyond great. As we used to say, we were “poor as church mice”, so to take the kids so far away, on an AIRPLANE, and again, stay at a HOTEL, was a HUGE DEAL to us. And we made the most of it.

We rode bikes around the key, strolled the streets, bought a painting, which still hangs in my home today (reframed), and I rode my bike BY MYSELF to visit Hemingway’s house and see all the weird cats. We ate outside every meal, with chickens walking by on the sidewalk. We swam in the POOL, walked in the ocean, and saw the Southern Most Point in the US. It was magical.

We had many spring breaks after that, and they were also memorable and wonderful, but this trip I will truly never forget. My kids probably have forgotten, but I won’t.

We did buy bagels and “flavored cream cheeses” (a real treat) and had lunch in our room, but we ate dinner out EVERY NIGHT at REALLY COOL RESTAURANTS. Did I mention how special this trip was?

Those of you who are treating your kids now to a spring break trip to an ocean, a mountain top, a big city, or just somewhere outside your suburbs, TREASURE THIS MOMENT.

Life goes by fast. Your kids will grow up and have their own spring breaks, with their friends, with their families. If you’re lucky, you may get to tag along. Create the memories, savor them, memorialize them. And then when you are no longer “spring breaking” you can, like me, smile and reflect on the incredible moments that you shared.

A Fly on the Wall

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? How many times have you heard this question? Which do you prefer?
I like to consider myself an optimist, or truth be told, more a realist, but I’d rather hear something happy before I hear something sad. It helps me absorb what’s coming next.

As an empty-nester for four years, I’ve come to see both sides of this very unusual stage of life. As a mother of three adult children, one engaged, I still feel that they are a little bit “in my nest” even though they really aren’t. And I’ll explain the dichotomy.

The beauty of having children on their own, be it in college, working, married, or in one way or another “on their own”, is that you have time to do what YOU want to do. Time that was spent driving your kids to and fro, watching them play soccer, basketball, music lessons, run, swim, do gymnastics, or play in the band….whatever they did, you were there; right? Always. So now, you don’t have to be. You can instead go out to dinner, make whatever you want to eat for dinner, go to sleep whenever you want because you don’t have to pick someone up, and you don’t have to even think about spring break. What is that? I don’t get a “spring break” from my job, nor does my husband, because yay! We can go wherever we want whenever want! But of course, we don’t. Because we still have jobs, commitments, and a dog. (At least I do – one very spoiled one who has never been kenneled.)

Before I bring you down, I’ll say the beauty of this stage is really wonderful. It is. I like being able to say: “Here’s the dentists’s number. Schedule yourself an appointment.” Or “This is your portion of the cell phone bill.” And not so much fun, “How’s your car running?” (That usually comes with a visit back to the nest.)

My husband, Brian, and I have had a great time connecting during the last four years: figuring out what we like to do together and what time we need apart to do our separate things. We have time to see our friends, we have time (sometimes) to travel, regardless of school calendars. But…

And here comes the but. After all the time we spent investing in our kids, loving them, encouraging them, and watching them grow, now they are all grown and we no longer are “required” or even “invited” to attend their activities. How many of you empty nesters would give an arm and a leg to see your “child” at work? Would you like to sit it on them working with a client, a student, a patient, whatever it is they do all day? I know I could give up my left pinky finger, because I rarely use that, except for typing on that end of the keyboard. Seriously, if I could walk into my children’s lives and see them doing “what they do” I’d do it in a minute. I’d be that fly on the wall.

So how do we deal with this? How do we deal with the pain or longing to see what your children are now doing, day in and day out without smothering? How do we engage ourselves in their lives, yet not be overwhelming and let them know this is THEIR life, not ours? These kids that were such a part of your daily activities you could envision where they were almost hour by hour? Technology. Technology really helps.

Say what you want about the lack of face-to-face communication these days, and I’d agree with you, a text, a Group Me Message, Facebook, and the rare actual phone call are things I could not live without as a parent of adult children. This is the way I know they are OK. Or not. I know what they are doing, what they are thinking, and they share their life. It doesn’t take the place of actually being there, but showing up at their “place of work” would be exorbitantly embarrassing (trust me. I tried this.)

So when your kids leave the nest, visit them at school (when invited), get to know their friends, set up a family Group Me account, so you ALL can chime in. It’s good for them, and it’s good for you. And by all means, if you have to schedule them, schedule them. They are independent now, but if you’re lucky, they still crave “your nest” and still want you to be part of their lives, whether you sense that or not.
So fear not. You can keep your chickens close to the coop without smothering them. Ask them questions about their life, give them your attention when you can, and in the meantime….go discover new restaurants, stay up late or go to bed at 8:30! It’s all good. Find the balance. It’s there for you to find.

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