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.

Why I Didn’t Create an Over-the-Top Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day yesterday was low key at my house. My husband cooked an amazing meal for me on Sunday. I gave him chocolate and each of my girls a little Valentine’s candy on the 14th.

Over-the-top Valentines Compared to the heart-themed-breakfast, love-notes-in-lunch-boxes fusses many of my fellow moms made, it doesn’t sound much like a bucket list celebration, does it?

There’s a reason for that.

Over-the-top celebrations aren’t sustainable for me. And I would argue they aren’t healthy or sustainable for most. They raise the bar and set expectations such that we’re often scrambling to find ways to make the next event memorable, to wow our kids or spouse or friends or social media followers with our creativity and pizzazz, to outdo ourselves. And in the process we cheapen everyday life and rob our kids of anticipation.

Going big has become such a way of life in our culture that I suspect we’re losing the ability to appreciate the ordinary. Our sense of perspective has been skewed by this desire for every milestone or occasion to be bright and amazing. When Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day and Easter share the same level of riotous hype in a household, how do kids learn which of those days is most significant?

When teenage girls become accustomed to up-do’s and manicures and professional makeup for homecoming dances, preceded by an elaborate “ask” by their date, then prom must include limousines and multi-hundred-dollar dresses and fancy “after parties.” But what’s left for the day they become engaged? And how can they help but expect the type of wedding that requires an exorbitant price tag when a mere high school dance merited so many frivolous expenses?

We have become so focused on giving our kids everything now, that we are leaving nothing for later. What will your children’s bucket lists look like when they reach their 20s and their 30s? When they are your age, what will they be hoping to do? How will they not be bored in retirement having done it all already?

More importantly, what do your kids bucket lists look like right now? In the wake of the hype and the busyness and the constant need to go big and achieve much, I’m hearing from kids how they just want a day to hang out at home and do nothing. They want a break from it all. Are you brave enough to give it to them? Or do you fear making them feel “left out” by not giving them every over-the-top experience you think their peers are getting?

Break the cycle. Dare to be the parent who invites their kids to enjoy the ordinary and leaves some bucket list experiences for the future. I know a lot of other moms who would appreciate it. And I’m pretty sure in the long run, your kids will too.


1603UdemyDisct Feeling exhausted from trying to match the over-the-top expectations prevalent among parents? Are you still eager to give your kids meaningful experiences that bring your family closer? I can teach you how. Check out my book Family Bucket Lists, or take my online course, Bonding Through Bucket Lists.

Bucket List Life Dare: Make Spring Break Memorable

How many spring breaks do you have left with your children? What will you do to make this spring break memorable?

March 2016 Bucket List Life DareBethany, my eldest, received a packet in the mail this week notifying her that she has a summer job as a lifeguard at a camp in Wisconsin, 100 miles from our home. It wasn’t a complete surprise. She applied in December and had an interview at the camp early last month while she was there helping with a junior high retreat. By her estimates the interview had gone very well. But part of me was still hoping she wouldn’t be chosen for the job. I have counted the number of spring breaks and summer vacations we’ll have with her before she heads off to college. We’re down to two of each. How could we give up one, especially a three-month long stint like summer?

As Gretchen Rubin says in her book, The Happiness Project, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Nowhere is this more true than in parenting. I can remember when my girls were toddlers and babies, counting down the years until they’d go to preschool for a few hours each day. Not that I wanted to be rid of my three little girls, but I was exhausted by them and found focusing on the impermanence of those physically demanding days a source of comfort. The days spent changing diapers and wiping spit-up from my shirt sleeves, while little people with an incessant need to know “why, Mommy?” clung to my jeans and begged me to play another game of Candyland, dragged on and on.The days are long

But now here we are. Those little girls are twelve, fourteen and sixteen years old. This spring break I’ll be driving Bethany out East to look at colleges. We’re taking my mom with us for the journey and planning to do some sightseeing and vacation-like activities while we’re there. A tour of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. A stroll along the National Mall during the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. And some time hanging out with my aunts and uncles in Pennsylvania on our way home.

It will be a different spring break, for sure. I’m sad to leave behind my husband and the other two girls, but we all agreed that it would be less fun for them to hang around while we tour campuses and sit through information sessions. But it also promises to be a memory-making excursion. Three generations of women set loose on a road trip from the Midwest to the East coast. It has the makings of a movie plot.

So my challenge to you this month is to take note of how short the years are for your family. How many spring breaks do you have left with your growing children? What can you be doing during this year’s spring break to store up memories for the years to come?

Each spring break is an opportunity to break free of the everyday chaos and hurriedness. It is an invitation to hang out, sleep late, play games, talk, travel. To make memories. More than likely your spring break plans are already set. Maybe you’ve booked a trip or bought tickets to a local event. Whatever you have on the calendar for your kids’ spring break, I dare you to make it one for the books. Pull out your family’s bucket list and decide you’re going to complete something on it this year, THIS spring break.

Because you never know when a letter is going to arrive in your mail notifying you that the time you thought you had left with your kids has just shrunk a little further.

Tell us in the comments, what will you do to make the most of spring break with your kid(s) this year?
CoursePromoImageIf you want to make sure you’re capturing the most interesting, motivating ideas for your family’s bucket list – the kind that bring you closer together, you need to take my online video course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Lists. Now through the end of March you can get the course for 50% off, using this link. Purchase it now and watch it together over spring break. Or save it for those rainy days in April. It’s self-paced and packed with resources (many of which aren’t available anywhere else).

 

[Image via Pixabay]

January Bucket List Life Dare: Habits for the Dream Life

For 2016 I plan to read two books each month.

Habits for the Dream LifeThat’s not all I plan to do. And it’s not even really a bucket list goal. But setting that intention for the year, I believe, is going to be pivotal to the realization and enjoyment of most of the bucket list goals I hope to accomplish over the next twelve months.

Why is that? I have two main reasons for making reading a priority for this year:

  1. It means developing a regular habit and habits are one of the surest ways to reach your goals. I’ve learned over the past few years that small steps taken on a regular basis build up to big goals achieved. I’m always on the lookout for what day-to-day habits I need to incorporate that will bring me closer to the life I want to be living (habits for the dream life). I noticed last year that I was missing the joy I’ve always gotten from reading. I love to read books, but had let other activities displace that (like mindlessly surfing online). I want the joy back on a daily basis.
  2. Reading stimulates learning and growing, which also happen to be part of living out bucket list longings. And while we can’t all be achieving bucket list goals every day, we can be moving toward them through learning and growth (often, by reading). I have so much I still want to learn and experience. My bucket list reflects that. But with what I hope to accomplish in 2016, I can see where spending time reading in advance of going out on adventures can make them more meaningful. For example, I’m taking my husband to Italy this year for our anniversary. Understanding the history and the significance of the art and architecture we’ll encounter will bring more life to what we’re seeing. I also feel like I’m not as engaged with social justice and being compassionate toward the poor and oppressed – something I hope to remedy in part through reading.

This month’s bucket list life dare isn’t about creating a reading plan for 2016 (although if you do, please chime in. I’d love to hear what’s on your list). It’s about building a habit that brings you closer to living your dream life.

So think about it. What is one simple action you could take every day that will do that for you? If you don’t have any ideas, why not use the step-back approach (it’s one I turn to on occasion for finding a starting place toward a big goal)? Here’s how it works: choose a big goal – something you would like to achieve or a way of living you want to reach. Then ask yourself, what would you be doing just before you reach that end state? And what would you have to do right before that? Keep stepping back to the previous action until you get to where you are today. Then make that first step the one you will choose for this month’s goal.

The January Bucket List Life Dare: Choose a habit that will lead toward a life goal. Practice it today. Then repeat each day for the rest of the month.

Photo by Kate Williams on Unsplash via CC License.

Looking Forward and Back

Dec28LookingForwardHas 2015 been a good year for you? Or a struggle? What can you learn from your experiences this year to make the next one even better? What do you most want to see happen in your life in 2016? If you are serious about living your bucket list dreams, then I invite you to spend time looking forward and back.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is one of my favorite times of year (next to Christmas itself). Aside from the lull in regular activities during winter break, I love the perspective afforded during the year-end wrap up. I spend time reviewing the past year and celebrating all that has transpired in the past twelve months. And I use both my accomplishments and missteps to plan what I’ll go after in the year to come.

For example, in 2015 we missed out on the trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania that we’d hoped to make because of health struggles for our middle daughter, Katherine. But after a long series of doctors and tests, we did get a diagnosis and successful treatment. Her health is so much better now than it was in January. With this coming on the heels of her sister’s protracted concussion recovery, I learned how to be persistent and stay positive on my kids’ behalf. Hopefully health won’t be an issue for any of us in 2016. And while Hershey isn’t on our list for 2016, we are thinking through what other places we’ll visit.

Early in the year our eldest, Bethany, travelled to Spain on a school exchange trip – and adventure that was both eye-opening and frustrating. But instead of staying mired in all that went wrong, we chose as a family to host another teen from Spain a few months later. And that experience showed us that it is possible to have a successful cross-cultural exchange. In 2016, I want to keep that same attitude of not letting one poor experience prevent any of us from embracing opportunities for adventure, in whatever form.

That’s just a little of what I’m pondering as I look back on 2015 and prepare for 2016. This process, more than any other, makes the biggest difference in my life when it comes to reaching my bucket list goals and helping my family reach their goals. It gives me a grid to evaluate the decisions that will arise in the coming months. I can ask: does this fit what I’m hoping for in this year or not? Will it distract me (or my family) from what we most want to do? Does it help us to become the people we want to be?

This process also helps with time management and calendar planning. I go through a brief exercise similar to this one every month for my writing career goals. It shapes my action plan and daily “to do” lists. I can see clearly what next steps I need to take toward realizing my most desired goals. Which allows me to map out my time each day to make sure I continually make forward progress. At the end of the month I always review how I did on reaching my goals before planning goals for the next month.

The other strength in taking time looking forward and back is that you can use it to plan your budget. What bucket list goals did you have to bypass this year because of finances? How could you adjust your spending (or boost your earning) in the next twelve months to make a more costly goal attainable?

Why not join me in a year-end review and planning session? Pull out your favorite pen and a blank sheet of paper. Curl up in a cushy chair, under a cozy blanket with a cup of tea or hot cocoa or a glass of wine. And enjoy both looking forward and back in order to make 2016 a year of bucket list goals achieved! That’s what I’ll be doing this week.

If pouring into your relationships with your spouse and kids is a goal for you in 2016, then I invite you to check out my Udemy course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Lists. It helps you Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Listsbring your family closer, create more camaraderie & make quality memories, using your bucket lists as a springboard. Plus, it’s available for the lowest price right now. Take 60% off registration through 1/1/16 using the code NEWYEAR16.