life after the birds fly the coop

Archive for the tag “empty nest”

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.

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.

New Beginnings

You were happy before. You will be happy after.” ~anonymous

 On the eve of the eve of our moving out of our current home, I’m just now starting to piece together the feelings that have been buried under the last two months of cleaning, sorting, selling, buying, and planning a move.

Surrounded by boxes, walls bare of all photographs and memorabilia that make up the majority of my home decorating, our house is feeling more like just a house and less like a home, making it a little easier to part ways. Perhaps this was my husband’s grand plan all along, to put things away slowly, taking weeks instead of days to box up our life, so I’m not suddenly sad or unexpectedly emotional.

We first started this process mentally over a year ago, but physically four months ago. When the house first appeared on the market, it popped up magically all over the Internet by simply Googling the address. Since our three kids are now out of the house, they weren’t around for all the preparation, so I encouraged them to hop online and take a peek. My daughter, Lauren, was looking at the glossy photos of all the rooms in our house, neater than she’d ever seen them, and then sent me a text saying, “It’s weird to read about our house in terms of updated appliances, large bedrooms, and great storage space.” What she thought it should say is something more like, “A wonderful, warm, and cozy home for a loving family looking to build happy memories.”

 Well, as I look around at many of our happy memories trapped in cardboard boxes, it is not with regret that I say “Good-bye, East Smoketree.” For 12 years, this has been a place where our three kids toughed out the teenage years, studied hard, and had sleepovers. As a family we enjoyed game nights in our kitchen, fires in the firepit, and too many family dinners to count. Brian and I have hosted many a fun and sometimes rowdy dinner party, Valentine’s parties, New Year’s Eve, and many, many more. These kinda of memories aren’t stored in boxes anyway. They are rooted deep in our hearts and travel from place to place, making room for new memories along the way.

It’s on to something new, something different, something better for the next stage in our lives. We’ll wrestle with remodeling, redecorating, and reorienting ourselves to a new street, new neighbors, and new friends.

We’re not leaving behind a life, just a shell that housed our lives. And all will be good.

Next up: living with construction, a dog, and a traveling husband…

The Three C’s of Life

I read a quote today about the 3 C’s of life: Choices, Chances, and Changes. “You must make a choice to take a chance or your life will never change.”

About a year ago, I made a choice to start blogging about my new life as an empty nester. I took a big chance in doing that, exposing my life and my thoughts to the outside world, but I also knew that this past year, and the coming one, and the next are going to be full of change for me, and it helps to share, to document, and to discuss.

The changes started a while ago, with launching kids and figuring out how to simplify my life. Some choices and some chances have now caught up with the realized and impending changes.

I wrote a blog last fall about the conundrum of choice, the difficulty surrounding making big, tough decisions. At that point, things were still rolling around in our heads, (mine and my husband’s). Over the past year, however, we have finally come to the conclusion that to live the rest of our lives the way WE want to, we need to move. Out of the big house. Away from the big mortgage. Onto new things. So we took a chance and put our house on the market about a month ago, with no defined place to go. Ummmm….scary? Yes. Risky? Yes. Comfortable? No!

I read another quote today that said “Patience is not about how long you can wait but on how you behave while waiting.” Let me tell you, I need a time out for bad behavior. I believe I also wrote a blog about patience, and I’m confessing right here that progress with that virtue has been s-l-o-w. My dad once said, “You should have a lot of patience because you haven’t used any yet.” Truer words have not been spoken.

We’re not the first people in the world to try to sell our house. And this isn’t our first rodeo either. In the past 28 years, my husband and I have moved seven times, but this one is by far the hardest. All the past moves were dictated by jobs, kids, and the needs of a growing family. This one is all about two people, Brian and me. What WE want, what WE need, how WE want to live. WHERE we want to live.

Answering those questions has not been easy. We’ve gone around and around about townhouse vs. house, neighborhood vs. urban. We’ve even tossed around rural. We think we now know what we want. And yet…there’s still that chance that we’ll decide wrong. We also know what we don’t want, and that is regret.

Now, though, we must wait it out. We must have faith as we go through the ups and downs of showing a house and not getting an offer, of keeping the house uber clean, and then saying, “wow, this IS a pretty nice house when it’s all cleaned up!” And the hope that the one house we really do want will be available and waiting for us…when we finally do get that offer.

So stay tuned…lots more change is on the way. More choices and more chances as well, no doubt. But as they say, if you’re not moving forward you are standing still. And I’m way too impatient for that…

Patience: more than simply waiting

“A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

When I think of the word “patient” I tend to think of it in terms of a virtue that I struggle with because to me, patience means waiting. It means to me the opposite of being impatient, which is a virtue I more easily relate to.

For most of us in the South and for many of you in the Midwest and Up North, we’ve been patiently waiting for spring to come. Winter has been long and hard, cold and wet, or snowy and icy, gray and gloomy. We anxiously await the sweet sunshine, the warm weather, and the beauty of trees and flowers in bloom and grass turning green once again. We have seen glimmers of it that brighten our mood and lighten our step, and then awaken to yet another rainy (or snowy) day, and we get set back a little.

Our son Ben has been waiting for Match Day for some time now, as have we, his parents. Match Day is a hugely exciting day for medical students, who after four hard years of work and discovery, find out where they will be “matched”, which hospital, which city where they will spend another four (or more) years of residency. A medical student at this stage of the game has learned patience. You cannot spend eight years in school and not cultivate at least a fair amount of “calm, steadfast self-control” – Webster’s definition of patient. Ironically enough, the other definition for “patient” is “one under medical care.”

We learn to practice patience as parents: toilet training and driver’s ed come quickly to mind. We learn patience with teenagers, or we at least try. We practice patience while we wait for acceptance letters to college, test scores from the SAT and ACT, and we wait patiently for a myriad other things in life, such as lab tests, tax returns, and packages in the mail. J

While patience calls for steadfastness and calmness, I’m learning as my life changes into that of an empty-nester that patience calls for more than those; it calls for action. Active patience and active waiting.

My husband and I have been trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives now for about the past twelve months. Knowing that the kids won’t be living with us again, we would like to downsize. We want more freedom financially to travel, to explore our passions, to see what’s next on the horizon. I personally have found this exercise to be very difficult. After twenty-five years of knowing what my purpose was, raising children, I’m trying to discover what it will be for the next twenty-five years.

And I want to know right now. I want to know where that perfect next home is going to be so I can start decorating and placing furniture. I have a picture in my mind of my new work space: a new desk, a new lamp, some new picture frames. All small things, but part of a larger vision. I want to have all the puzzle pieces put in place. I never was a good one for jigsaw puzzles because guess what…I lacked the patience.

So as things happen that tend to lead me to my answers, I once again went to yoga this morning, and the theme for today’s class was…patience! Sahana in Sanskrit. My instructor led us through our practice focusing on patience, with our bodies and with our minds. And while we were focusing on patience we were being active and still at the same time. Voila!

It’s not a coincidence that last night I was literally Googling “how do I find a hobby” because I know I need some creative things to do with my energy while I wait, while we figure out what our next step is going to be. Did you know you actually get great answers when you Google that? Ha! I took a “discover your passion” quiz and it turns out one of my passions is cooking. Not that that was a surprise to me, but I’m going to take some cooking classes. I also am going to make a new wreath for my front door, and while at the craft store, I picked up some colored pencils and an adult coloring book. Sounds kind of silly, but it sounds like a perfect thing for me to do when I can’t quiet my mind at night. With the variety of colors and pages, I surely can’t get bored.

Active patience. That’s what I’m striving for. Rather than wait anxiously for things to fall into place, I will continue doing and being. Good things will come. We’ll find the answers. The sun will come out again. The temperatures will rise. Ben will know where he’s going in three days. The second half of my life will unfold as unexpectedly as the last half did, and with some patience, with some “living the situation out to the full,” I will be joyfully surprised. Sahana.

 How do you practice patience? I’d love to hear.

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks

For years I’ve been trying to get my parents to get on the bandwagon and get a smart phone.  Heck, I’d be happy if they had a cell phone they actually knew how to use!  I’m just sayin’, I am not much of a phone talker, as most of my friends will confirm. I prefer to text and get my question or thought out quickly and get on with it.  There are many times I was somewhere or saw something that I wanted to share immediately with my mom rather than wait for our weekly phone calls, when the moment had passed and the excitement had waned.

 So when my mom decided at the age of (almost) 73 that she wanted an iPad, I was not a little skeptical.  Would she grasp it?  Would she use it? Would she like it?

 Last weekend, I had a memorable and much needed five-day trip back to my roots in the great state of Minnesota…to visit my sister-in-law who is celebrating a “thought I had cancer but now I don’t” moment, (a true miracle I am not making light of) and also to head “Up North” with my younger sister to spend some time with my mom and dad.

 Since becoming an empty-nester, I’ve made a commitment to make the trek from Atlanta up to Grand Rapids, MN, at least once a year, hopefully twice, to visit my parents.  Just me, or even better, me and my sister, whose children are getting a little older and she’s now able to escape for a few days with me. Life is short, and we need to hold firmly to those we love.

 This past weekend was one of those trips.  Last summer, my brother and his family vacationed in the idyllic town of Grand Rapids, and while there, they cleaned up my parents’ yard and did all kinds of manual labor, feeding both their need to help my parents out a little and teach their teenage boys the value of a good day’s work.

 My sister and I also had a mission: to teach my mom how to use an iPad.

 After a 3 ½ hour long drive up from Minneapolis, preceded by flights in from Atlanta and Michigan respectively, we were not at their home more than an hour, time to barely unload our bags and have a glass of water, before Mom wanted to “go to Target and get the iPad…because they are on sale right now and we need to get one before they’re gone.”  To my mother’s credit, iPads are never on sale, and even I felt the need to get scurrying.

Scored the iPad, the case, the wall plug we didn’t need and later returned, stopped for happy hour with the deer hunting convention (another story), hit a few local shops, and we were back home, shiny new iPad in tow.  I need to add that my mom, at 73 (almost), can shop circles around me.  And I can shop circles.

We all were a little tired from the excitement, so we decided to wait until the next morning to “get started.”  Oh boy…what fun we were in store for! We needed a good night’s sleep.

 I guess when we get older, we forget that we have passwords for everything and we oftentimes forget what those passwords are.  It took my sister, my mom, and myself almost two hours to “reset” a number of those little beasts necessary to start up an iPad.

 Once we were “signed in” we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.  I think we needed a shower from the sweating.

Over the next two days, we shared a lot of laughs while Mom played with her new toy.  We even got my brother involved, who had to sign off and go to bed one night because we were getting a little silly and incomprehensible (Websters: adj.1. impossible to comprehend 2. unintelligible) with Mom’s “accidental” posts and such.  My stomach hurt from laughing.  It still does.

Wrapping up the weekend with a hearty breakfast at the Country Kitchen, my dad, mysteriously absent from all of these festivities, said to my mom, “After you girls leave, she’ll be busy I-mailing from her ePad.” Apropos.

I’m happy to report, she’s used it since we left….all by herself even. Now I can text her, share pictures, keep in better touch.  We left her with a page-long paper (okay, still paper, but we’re progressing) loaded with all of her new passwords, user names, and instructions on how to “post” (pictures too!). 

 Mission accomplished.  On so many fronts.

*apologies to my loving mother for the title of this blog.

He’s a bit of a mystery to me…


“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time…”

~Abraham Lincoln


And then there were two… 

 Tonight marks the beginning of the next phase of my life: the “empty nest.”  In several ways I dislike that phrase.  For one, I think it’s overused.  I don’t ever want to lump my lifestyle into one category.  Similarly, I’ve never cared for “stay-at-home mom,” “soccer mom,” or even “working mother.”  I’ve been all three, and never have those descriptions fit my actual life. I worked when I was “at home.”  I was “at home” and still a mom when I worked, and my kids played soccer but I never did.

 James, our youngest of three, is back to school for year number two at Georgia Tech. He says he’s not coming back home…though I’ve heard that before.  I hate to admit it, but by the time the third child leaves home, the ceremony is a little anti-climactic.  His on-campus apartment hadn’t been cleaned yet when we got the keys and brought his necessities up the elevator in one very large orange bin. Because it was still dusty with the aftermath of the previous renters (yuck!), we urged him not to unpack until things were cleaned.  After a quick wipe down of his closet, we declared it good enough to hang his shirts.

A kiss and a hug, or two, later, our goodbyes said outside the music hall where he’ll spend about 50 hours this week preparing for the upcoming marching band/drum line/football season,  Brian and I were off, heading to lunch on our own and then back home to our quiet house.

 Though I haven’t shed a tear yet, it’s not to say I won’t miss James.  I’ll miss his sweet, easy and ever-grateful smile.  He doesn’t complain, he mostly does what we ask him to do, and he seems forever content…but he doesn’t talk much.  So sometimes we wonder. I often don’t know what’s going on in that crazy-smart brain of his. I should say I mostly don’t know…

 My quiet, third-born, music loving child has always marched to the beat of his own drum. No pun intended.  As long as he had food in his stomach, music in his head, or a book in his hand, he was happy.  I often called him my “plant child” because all I really had to do was feed and water him.  Seriously.

He’s not been without his challenges, however.  When he was 7 years old, we were driving home from some friends’ cabin in Kentucky. I turned around in our mini-van to check on the kids and found him in the middle of a grand mal seizure. Yes, just let your imagination take over from there…I thought he was dying. I’d never witnessed such a horrible thing, and this came out of nowhere. None of us in the van will ever forget that life-altering moment. After an ambulance ride to the nearest emergency room, several hours in the hospital, then getting back in the car and driving 3 more terrifying hours back to Ohio, we took him straight to Children’s Hospital, where a good friend of ours, who happened to be a pediatric radiologist, met us, did a CAT scan, cleared him, and sent us home. 

 Through the course of events that followed, we learned James had a condition called benign rolandic epilepsy. It often afflicts boys between the ages of 7 and adolescence. It’s a mysterious disease.  There is no known cause and you can’t die from it.  You just have petite seizures in your sleep (chalk up about 100 nights glued to a baby monitor), may have larger seizures, grand mal included, and your parents worry and won’t let you sleep overnight anywhere.  But you eventually outgrow it.  He did, thank God, at age 14.

 His neurologist had him undergo a 24-hour EEG test before declaring him “cured”.  They plugged a bazillion electrodes into his head, through masses of thick curls, and he carried around a monitor, with the attached electrodes, for 24 hours to see if there was any “activity” in his brain.  On the way back to the doctor’s office the next day for the results, I asked him if he felt weird walking around with these electrodes in his hair.  He chuckled (softly – he’s never loud) and said, “No. Nobody knows me here.” I swear he would have gone to school “plugged in” if I told him he had to.  

 That’s part of the mystery of James. I don’t know many adolescent boys so virtually “unaffected” by their surroundings. James goes through his days quietly and thoughtfully, always kind, always patient, always thinking. I’d give a million dollars to hear what plays in his mind.

But who of us ever really knows our children?  We think we do, and then they surprise us.  Sometimes with great and happy things, and other times with surprises we wish we’d never known.  That is one of the mysteries of motherhood.  We birth them, we teach them the best we know how, we let them go, and we observe.  And yes, we wonder.

I wonder what he’ll do after college.  I wonder if he’ll have children and what kind of father he’ll be.  I wonder what his children will be like.  And yes, I wonder what he wonders about.

 Do you have a child that is a beautiful mystery to you? In what ways do you feel you know them the best?



A Gift of Solitude

Eleven years ago my husband, Brian, gave me an unexpected gift.  Unexpected in the way that I didn’t realize it actually was a “gift” at the time.  After a recent camping trip to Savannah, Georgia, close to our new home in Atlanta, where I encountered chiggers for the first time in my life, I quickly learned that camping in the hot summer South was not for this Northern Girl, raised in Minnesota.

When the family, my husband and three kids ages 13, 11, and 9 at the time, wanted to trek a few weeks later in the Appalachian Trail, I was resistant.  No, I flat out REFUSED.  “Go, guys.  You’ll have more fun with me,” I said, still suffering a month later from disgusting, itchy, and other-words-non-publishable chigger bites on my “inner thigh area.”

They were reluctant to leave me alone.  They wondered what I could possibly do for three days by myself.  We didn’t even have a dog…yet.  Frankly, I was a little concerned myself.  I hadn’t spent a night alone, let alone a weekend, since giving birth 13 years prior.  We were new to Atlanta and I didn’t yet have a network of friends.  Nor did I have a job outside the home.

The first night was the worst.  I planned a nice, quiet evening alone, rented a movie, and bought some beer.  So popcorn popped, ice cold one popped, I plopped down on the sofa and looked for the remote.  A half hour later, popcorn cold, beer warm, I was frustrated but ready.  The movie sucked.  That’s all I remember.

The next morning, after a solid night’s sleep, I glanced at the bedside clock.  9 a.m. !!  I hadn’t slept until 9 a.m. since college, and even then I was an early bird.  I set out for a walk through my neighborhood, stopping by the tennis courts to say hello to a few ladies I’d recently met.  I realized it was the first time I’d said a single word in 24 hours. 

The rest of the weekend is a blur. I’m sure I cleaned. A lot.  That’s become the first thing I do on these now annual “stay-cations”.  The family has since made an annual trek hiking and backpacking all over the U.S. sans me.  This is my gift.  I get to do what I want, when I want, answer to nobody, and reflect.  On my children, my marriage, and now, my future. 

This year’s trip to Alaska comes on the forefront of my foray into true “empty nest” living, as my oldest finishes up medical school, my daughter leaves for graduate school, and my baby enters his second year at Georgia Tech.

It’s a new stage of life for me.  These “gifts of solitude” have prepared me, I hope, for the challenging, unknown, and hopefully meaningful ways I welcome this new stage. I will be okay alone.

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