Being Present in Transition

PresentinTransitionWe’re a family in transition. We have been for a few months now. My husband started a new job in early May. Our eldest graduated from high school a few weeks later and then left the state for a summer job. Our sixteen-year-old took her first job a month after that.

It has been exciting and exhausting all at once. Which is to say that it’s an emotional time in our house, even if those emotions aren’t readily apparent on the surface. For that reason – the transition and its accompanying emotional weight, I’ve been largely absent from the virtual world. Where many others are posting pictures from vacations and outings and summer fun, I’ve been offline. While blogging moms and writer friends have continued to explore and document life as it occurs, I’ve been silent.

So I apologize if you’ve stopped by this space and found it growing stale and musty. I haven’t been here for a few months.

Instead, I have been playing board games or card games after dinner nearly every night with my husband and two of our daughters. I have been texting with our other daughter who has been away at camp for her second summer working as a lifeguard. I have stayed up late eating, laughing and talking with my parents, siblings and nephews during a week-long family reunion/getaway. I have stared at the stars and breathed deep of evergreen and campfires while on our annual camping trip. I’ve both paddled hard and drifted lazily in a kayak. I’ve talked and listened and walked and run and read books and lazed around.

In a word, I’ve been present.

I knew as we reached the exhausting end of my daughter’s senior year that I needed a “reset” of some sort. I needed centering; grounding; a disengaging from my relentless pursuit to Be All The Things – wife, mom, writer, secretary, speaker, friend, volunteer.

So this summer, instead of being something or filling some role, I’ve just been. In the place of doing and giving, I’ve been receiving. And in the space of being, that is, being present, I found my capacity for joy and gratitude expanded. Where anxiety and compulsion once resided, I found room for acceptance. I learned that I could take life as it comes and appreciate it for what it is. I moved through my days with less anger, less frustration, and more compassion, more warmth.

We’re still transitioning. In fact, I feel like the biggest transition is yet to come in a week-and-a-half when we drop our eldest off at college. But being present for the past ten weeks has me better prepared. Maybe not for the emotion of sending her off, but for the sendoff itself. I know I can, and will, be fully engaged with that process. I’ll be able to make the most of the handful of days between her return from camp and departure for college. I’ll continue to be cognizant of her youngest sister’s grief over the impending change. And I’ll hopefully be attuned to where I’m wanted in my college-bound daughter’s preparations and where she needs to step out on her own.

If I’ve learned one thing about bucket lists from the journey of being present this summer it is this: once in a lifetime is the moment you are in right now. That moment will never return. Yes, keep a list of what you’re looking forward to. Go after your goals and dreams. But in the meantime, get as good as you can at savoring what’s in front of you. The ability to be present in the day-to-day will serve you well during those long-hoped-for experiences too. Including the awaited moment of sending a child off to college for the first time.

The Roller Coaster Ride of Raising Children: When Your Child Turns 18

Roller CoasterIn many ways, raising children is a roller coaster ride. We hop on (at pregnancy or adoption) in anticipation of the thrills, fastening our restraints and holding our breath for what’s to come. And then the dips and loop-de-loops of late night feeding, tantrum calming, homework helping and all the rest of what it takes to raise kids consume our focus. The in-betweens of snuggles on the couch and giggling together over bedtime stories fuel us for the next round of whiplashing turns and spins.

And then comes high school. You sense the ratcheting click, click, click of the roller coaster climbing the last long, tall hill when your child reaches their junior year. ACT and SAT exams and college visits remind you that this is it. There’s not much time left until this child is grown and done being watched over in such close quarters. Click, click, click. You feel the gravity of it, your body pressing harder and harder against the seat, your face tilted nearly straight up to the sun. And then you reach the summit. The pause just before you’ll plummet full speed, terrifyingly fast to the end of the ride.

We’re there this week with our eldest. At the summit. We’ve click-clicked our way through the college application process and college acceptances. The decision is made. And all is still. Come Sunday we’ll attend our first senior banquet. Monday she turns 18. The Saturday after is prom. And then award banquets and assemblies, final exams, graduation, departure to work away at summer camp. College drop off. The end of the intense roller coaster ride of raising this girl from birth to young adulthood.

I talk a lot here about family bucket lists and seizing all the opportunities you can while your children are under your roof. Make the most of those 18 years, I’ve said. Now here I am. And I wonder, did we do it? Did we make the most of that time?

I’d like to think that we did. We didn’t check everything off our family bucket list. But we’re still a family. And there will still be college breaks and other family time together. We did pour ourselves out on our daughter’s behalf, taught her how to treat others well, encouraged her to think for herself, reminded her over and over again that she is loved by us, however imperfectly, and loved unconditionally by God. We’re proud of the confident, bright, ambitious young lady she’s become. We’re as ready as we can be for the ride to end.

Just don’t be surprised to see us walking on shaky legs in the next few months. It’s been quite a ride, as it is for all parents!

If you want a small glimpse into my own journey during those 18 years, an essay I wrote, “This is What It Costs,” has been published in an anthology called Everbloom that releases next week. I’ll be doing a giveaway for it here on April 25th. But in the meantime if you want to learn more, check it out on Amazon.

Spring Break Adventure: The Donut Challenge

The Donut ChallengeIt’s Spring Break here. While many families have left town to head South (for the warmth), North (for skiing), or just about anywhere else to simply get away and explore somewhere new, most of my family is home. Our youngest needed to have her tonsils removed and Spring Break allows just enough time for her to recover without missing any school. On Friday she had surgery and since then we’ve been chilling around the house, watching movies and catching up on projects that have been waiting for our attention, while Evelyn chills on the couch or in her room.

Notice I said most of our family is home. Our eldest was lucky enough to accompany her grandmother on a trip to New Jersey to help watch her cousins. That leaves Katherine here to spend her break watching her sister get over tonsil surgery. Relaxing? Yes. Interesting? That depends on what we find to do besides watching an endless stream of movies.

Which led Katherine and I to create The Donut Challenge. We have heard of various donut shops and bakeries in the area, but somehow we’ve only managed to try one non-chain donut shop in all the years we lived here. It’s time to change that. We’re setting out to try donuts from seven shops in Naperville and the surrounding suburbs over the next seven days. Katherine devised a rating system that critiques each shop’s donuts on a variety of characteristics, from presentation, to texture, to flavor variety and more. And to make comparisons simpler, we plan to sample a simple glazed donut at each location (if available). By the end of Spring Break, hopefully we’ll have narrowed it down to our favorite, without putting on too many pounds.DONUT Challenge List

Here are the places we will be visiting on The Donut Challenge:

DeEtta’s Bakery in Naperville

Stan’s Donuts and Coffee in Oak Brook, IL

Honey Fluff Donuts in Countryside, IL

Ingram’s Busy Bee Bakery in Downers Grove, IL

Glaze Donuts in Naperville, IL

Dimples Donuts in Naperville, IL

Sylvia’s Bakery in Darien, IL

My goal is to report back on our findings each day. So stay tuned…

Do you have a favorite donut shop? What makes it most appealing to you?

 

Bucket List Bonds: Another Reason the Cubs Win Was Such a Big Deal

I have talked often about the way going after life goals brings connection (it’s the theme of my video course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Bucket Lists). And usually I’m talking about connection in the present tense, with those in your life today. But this past weekend in Chicagoland I witnessed how powerful that bond can be even with those gone from our lives. Like my grandma.

bucketlistbondscubswinGrandma Seman loved sports. When she moved from her home in Hawaii to a suburb near ours a few years after my grandfather died, I got to spend a lot of time with her. On almost every visit to her house, her tv or radio would be tuned in to a Chicago sports game. To this day, I take great comfort in the hollow sound of a ball game on AM radio. Because it brings back those days at Grandma’s house.

While she enjoyed sports year round – football, basketball, and hockey, Grandma’s favorite team by far was the Chicago Cubs. She would sit in her recliner with a crochet project in her lap and give her own play-by-play of the game. She’d exclaim over runs scored and scowl at what she thought were poor calls. And more than anything, she’d talk about the players. Grandma knew each one by name, reputation and background. Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg came up most often. But she could chat just as fluently about Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston and other ball players. And like many Cubs fans before and after her, Grandma suffered disappointment after disappointment.

It’s hardly news that the Cubs finally had their day when they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fight for the National League Pennant on Saturday. All over the Chicago Metro area longtime fans danced for joy, sang “Go, Cubs, Go!” and shot off fireworks. My own daughter shrieked and bounced all around the house (and she’s only waited 17 years, nowhere close to what others have).

My first thought was of Grandma. How thrilled she would have been to see her Cubbies get to the World Series. As she did with other Cubs’ wins, she would have talked like she never had a doubt they’d do it. Grandma always had faith that the Cubs could go far. Seeing them win the National League pennant would have been on her bucket list. Which made it a bittersweet day.

Turns out, a lot of other people were feeling the same way. That win brought back the memories of so many Cubs fans who longed to see their team go to the World Series. Social media lit up with people giving shout-outs to those they wished had been alive for that day. The connection in that moment of a long-awaited dream come true spanned generations and even death.

If you ever wondered about the power of a life goal to bond people together, talk to a Cubs fan about last Saturday. They know that power.

It also explains why Steve Goodman’s song, A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request, has such staying power. Take a look:



How Do You Spell Success as a Parent?

spell-successI nearly blew it again. My youngest daughter turned thirteen this past weekend and I almost didn’t have a card for her. As a rule, I don’t buy cards. I’m a crafter and I know I can make a card that I like much better than anything I’d find in the store. And I enjoy making them. But I have a hard time getting down to the business of making cards – it requires pulling out my stamping supplies and finding the creative bandwidth to generate a design.

On my daughter’s birthday, cards arrived in the mail from her grandmother and great aunt, as they do every year. Me? I missed sending my nephew’s birthday card last month. And I hadn’t started yet on my daughter’s card.

I beat myself up about it. I want to be like my mother and my husband’s aunt. I want to be the person who always sends a birthday card. And I’ve always felt like a failure because I’m not.

Then it occurred to me this week: whose priorities am I trying to live by? What do I really want success for me to look like?

I once met a dad who boasted about never missing one of his son’s basketball games from youth league on through high school, despite holding a job that required him to travel. It was impressive. He had committed himself to being there. It fit his definition of success and he fulfilled it. But me? I’ve missed gymnastics meets and soccer games. I haven’t bent over backward to be present for every one of my girls’ sporting events because that isn’t what I feel called to do (not to mention that it’s physically impossible when you have kids in events at the same time in different places). I’ve never considered myself a failure for missing my girls’ meets because perfect attendance was never part of my definition of success.

I realized this week that as much as my bucket list gives me goals to shoot for, I have to pay attention also to those I am not shooting for. I have ask myself, “How do I spell success as a mom? When my girls graduate from high school, what do I want to be able to say I did without (or nearly without) fail? What do I want to be able to check off my parenting bucket list? And what am I not going after?”

My priorities include serving a family meal every night of the week (success!), seeing them off to school every morning (success!), and making them a card for their birthdays (working on it). But my priorities don’t necessarily include being that person that doesn’t miss sending a card to everyone else. That might be a priority for me in another season of life.

I’m ready to stop trying to measure myself against other people’s priorities. I hope to recognize when I’m tempted to feel bad about measuring up against a standard that I haven’t subscribed to. And I’m only including on my parenting bucket list those things that truly matter to memy priorities.

Would you do the same? Think about how you spell success as a parent. Let go of trying to be the mom who throws Pinterest-worthy birthday parties if that’s not you. Don’t push yourself to execute the perfect bedtime tuck-in every night if it’s not working. Find the goals that do suit you and pursue those. Put them on your bucket list so you, like the perfect attendance basketball dad, can celebrate your accomplishment when the time comes.