The Empty Nest

So … here I am. One week into the “rest of forever” that is my empty nest. My daughter has settled in at MSU. She is having a blast so far. She has been texting me daily with updates on all of her adventures. She’s figuring out where she likes to eat the most. She is finding her way all around campus and even all around town. She is learning the bus system, and she is figuring out where all of her classes are. Today, she texted me to say that her foot was hurting. She has struggled in the past with stress fractures from marching band and with tendonitis. She has been walking miles (literally!) since arriving at campus, and, of course, this is after being used to over a year of inactivity due to the pandemic and remote learning. Anyhow, she had a plan to find a store where she could get a method to ice her foot and a brace and, possibly, some temporary inserts. She figured all of this out on her own and followed her plan. It was brilliant! I know this seems like a small thing, but I have been really proud of how she has taken charge of things and started “adulting” on her own.

How am I doing, you ask? Overall, I am doing pretty well. I have not cried since dropping her off. This surprises me! I expected I would be in tears all the way home from Michigan, particularly because I cried rivers during the week before she left. I found myself randomly breaking down all during the day. Perhaps it is that our good-bye ended up being rather abrupt and unexpected. We had planned to take her to breakfast or early lunch on Monday before we started home, but we were unable to do this because she had to attend a meeting on campus. Home is a five hour drive, and hubs and I had to be back in time to pick up our dogs from boarding. We ended up having to settle for a quick hug and watching her walk away from the parking lot. It was hard, but it was so fast that I didn’t have time to dwell on it. You know — like ripping a band-aid off in one swift motion. I came close to tears the first night, when I went into her room to clean the cat box and cuddle with the cat a little bit. But I kept it together.

So, yeah. I am keeping it together. I think that’s pretty great, all things considered. For most of our daughter’s life, I basically functioned as a single parent because of my husband’s work schedule and the fact that he traveled extensively for his work. Our daughter and I have always been pretty much attached at the hip. I never thought of her as a “mini-me”. On the contrary, she had her own personality even from a young age, and it has been pretty amazing watching her grow up and become the amazing young adult she is today. But we did everything together. We had little adventures. We both like to write, so we would sometimes chat about those struggles. We both love anime, and we spent lots of time watching different series. So, for all of that to be over so suddenly … Well, you get the idea, right?

The weirdest thing so far is how quiet the house is without her here. She is not a noisy person, overall. She never has been. And she tended to spend a lot of time in her room, living in her head. This is the writer in her. She spends a lot of time writing and working on different projects that are dear to her. I’m the same way. Even so, there is a distinct lack of her presence here. It’s almost palpable to me. I find myself listening for her to come out of her room into the hallway. I find myself listening for her singing as she showers in the evening. I long to hear her laughing as she plays with her cat.

But, you know, it’s not all bad. Of course, I miss her. Knowing she is having such a great time helps with that. In the meantime, the hubs and I are getting to know each other again. We are remembering how it feels to be a couple, instead of the “Mom” and “Dad” we have been for the last seventeen years. We are hanging out together. We are sharing memories and funny stories. We are laughing together and watching movies and eating long dinners. We are spending quality time together — time that often seemed to get lost in the mad rush to get “kid” things done, like school and activities and all the running around that has to happen when you are responsible for a small person.

Our dynamics are changing. And our daughter’s dynamics are changing. Change is hard; this is true. But it doesn’t have to be bad. Eventually, this new normal will just be our regular normal. And you know what? I think that’s gonna be okay.

The Last Week of Childhood

It’s happening, y’all. The Last Week of Childhood is happening at my house this week. This coming Friday, we will set off for East Lansing, Michigan to drop my girl off for her freshman year of college. Does my daughter feel like this is the last week of her childhood? I have no idea, although I suspect not. I remember, about a hundred years ago, when I left home for my freshman year at college, and it didn’t feel like an ending to me. I was excited and nervous and couldn’t wait for things to change in my life. I was focussed on beginnings, and I wasn’t thinking about endings at all. Also, I think that’s the way of it when you are young. There are so many beginnings still ahead of you that it seems like endings will never happen.

But, for this Mama, the ending is there. It is buried in amongst the happy feelings of a new chapter and a new adventure, but it sings through all of those things for me. It doesn’t take the shine off the “new”, but it’s there, humming in the background in a way that means I can’t ignore it.

The thing is … I’m not ready for all of this. I’ve been working on getting ready for it. I have been mentally preparing myself for years, and I have been ramping that up over the past year even more, all in the hope that I would be ready for That Day when it arrived. And yet, I find it was wasted effort. Well, perhaps “wasted” is too harsh. Maybe all that effort on my part has made this easier. I don’t know. Because, really, this whole process hurts. It HURTS. It feels like a part of me is tearing away, and I don’t understand how I am supposed to be okay with this. I am taking my most Precious Person — the person who means the most to me in the whole, entire world … the person who holds my whole, entire heart — and I am setting them free into a world that I know is cold and cruel and harsh and just downright mean.

The thing is, I don’t know how this is supposed to work. I’ve spent the last seventeen years, literally, following my daughter around. I made sure she got to appointments. I made sure she had food to eat. I made sure she was where she was supposed to be. I made sure she had fun activities to do. I made sure she was safe every night. I did my best to make sure the cruel parts of the world didn’t touch her, or, if they did, that they didn’t linger. I’m used to her being just down the hall at night. I’m used to hearing her sweet voice singing in the bathroom while she showers. I’m used to seeing her rumpled, slightly grumpy face every morning. I’m even more used to it now, in our pandemic times, which meant remote learning and all of us being together in our house All The Time. I loved remote learning, y’all. I loved knowing that my girl was right down the hall all day long. I loved how she would come and say hi to me in my office during breaks between classes. And now, in one short week, all of that is over and done. The house will be quiet and empty. It’s funny how the thought of just one person leaving a space can make you feel empty inside.

I think my husband is looking forward to our empty nest. It’s not that he is in a hurry for our daughter to leave. It’s more that he can see beyond the next week and into the future. And he sees fun weekend trips and evenings watching movies together and not having to worry about getting a small person to school first thing in the morning or to activities in the evenings. I’m glad he’s excited about it. It actually makes me feel a little better. But, for now, I can’t see it. I can’t see past the next week, and I can’t see past the sadness in my heart. It’s taking all my strength and courage to take a deep breath and let her go into the world.

She will be back, of course. And we are still connected by the ties of family and love. We will see her again in just three short weeks, for her birthday. But, after next week, it will never be the same. Even when she comes home, she won’t truly be “home”. This house — or wherever her dad and I end up — will be a safe place for her, always. Her dad and I will always be a refuge against the world and a support system and her biggest fans. But, from now on, “home” will be what she makes of it on her own, out there in the world. She will be a welcome visitor in the new life that my husband and I make out of our golden years, but she will never belong to us again.

But you know what? I think she never truly did. She was only “mine” for these few, short years that will live forever in my memories and my heart. I’m so grateful for that. It has been the hardest and most wonderful and most amazing thing I have ever done as a human being. Well, until now. Right now, in these last moments of “childhood”, I feel I am facing the hardest part. It’s a “see you later” that feels like a “good-bye”. It’s a time of joy and excitement. And yes, a time to let go, too.

So, I bet you already know what I’m going to do. I’m going to love her with all my heart. I’m going to take a deep breath and tell myself, “You’ve got this, Mama. You can do this.” And I’m going to open my arms and let my sweet girl fly the nest. Because she is ready. Because she can do this. And because I can, too.

Learning to Let Go …

Well.

Let’s just get the obvious over with … address the elephant in the room … etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

It’s been a loooong time since I came into this blog. It’s been a long time since I had anything to say. No. That’s not true. I’ve had lots to say. I’ve had lots of stuff running around in my brain. Maybe too much stuff. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying not to think about most of it. My life, basically, has become a routine of just putting one foot in front of the other in an effort to continue moving forward through Time. Because, if I stop … if I think about any of it too much … if I try to put any of it into words … I dunno. It just feels like it would spell disaster. My guess is that I’m not alone in this. This pandemic and the accompanying wave of unkindness and incivility is mentally and physically draining, isn’t it? Just moving forward with life seems like an insurmountable task in the midst of all of it. And yet, Time moves forward. Life moves forward. Things change, whether we want them to or not.

Which leads me to this post and to my need to learn how to let go. I’m not good at this. There have been points in my lifetime when I’ve looked around at my life, at all the people I love who are in my life, at the pets I hold dear … just, you know, all of it: the whole crazy, busy, weird, wonderful thing … and I find myself thinking, “Yes. This is a Good Life. This is perfect. I like how this feels. I like how this is. I do not want it to change. Ever.” We all know these thoughts are silly, right? Right. Maybe “silly” isn’t the right word for it. Perhaps “fanciful” is a better description. Whatever you call it, this idea that your life is perfect and that you want it to hold its breath and stay just the same is a dream. It is impossible. Because, Time. And because Life. Even so, I find myself grabbing hold of all my beloved people and life things and memories and everything with both arms. I am grabby with it, and I want to hold on so, so tightly.

It doesn’t do any good, does it? No matter how much I grab and no matter how tightly I try to hold on to all of it, my beautiful, perfect, never-want-it-to-change life slips right through my fingers. It’s like trying to hold on to water. No, because I can hold water, if I cup my hands just right. It’s like trying to hold on to air. And I know, if I am lucky enough to still be walking this Earth ten years from now (if our beautiful Earth is still here!), I will look back at this time in my life and see it in the kind of golden-tinged warmth that colors my most treasured memories. Because, for this moment … for this one, delicately balanced moment in time, everything feels perfect and beautiful and “right”. Are there stresses? Yes, of course. Is there frustration? Yes, of course. But these are passing things. Underneath all of that, I am peaceful and happy and content. Most of the people I love most in the world are still in the world. The people I love the very most — my little family — are all together under one roof. My dogs are healthy and happy. Our cat is healthy and happy. Our home feels peaceful and cozy and safe from the world. We laugh and love and live.

And yet, change is out there. It is just around the corner — literally. My daughter graduated from High School in May. My dad turned 90 in May. May was a difficult month for me. Change is one heartbeat away from breezing into my life and turning everything onto its ear. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s just a thing, you know? It’s a thing that is out there and that is coming for me. And so, I have to take a deep breath. I have to say to myself, “You can do this, Girl. You can let go. You can move forward. You can find even more beautiful life up ahead.” Right now, I’m still trying to hang on to all of it with my two arms and my grabby hands. But slowly, ever so slowly, I am listening to that whisper in my heart. And I am learning to let go.

The Longest Month

January is the longest month. Objectively, I know this is not true. It is not any longer than other months. Well, it’s quite a bit longer than February, but then, so are most of the other months in the year. January isn’t even the only month that has 31 days in it. And yet, January seems to drag its way through my mind, as if an entire year is encapsulated in this one month. I think about this every year during January. No, “think” isn’t quite the right word for it. It’s more like I fight against this feeling of funk every January. As December slides to a close, it’s as if my mind takes a deep breath and whispers, “Ah, January. My old nemesis …”

I’m not sure why this is. I have my suspicions and feelings about it — so many suspicions and so many feelings! But I couldn’t tell you the actual, psychological ins and outs of it. Because, of course, I am not a psychologist. I’m just a blogger who is sitting at her desk and tapping on her keyboard in order to send words sailing out into the ether.

January is a month of grays and blues. While I personally love those colors, there is something different about the blues and grays of January. It’s as if someone has, ever so slowly, drained all the color from the world, leaving behind something that feels not quite real or not quite solid. And it won’t feel real or solid again until all the colors come back in Spring. This is my second winter here in the midwest, and I am finding the lack of color to be particularly true here. The richness of the fields and farms around our town seems to be slumbering until warmer weather calls it back into existence. The weather is cold. The skies tend to be that kind of gray that is more like a lack of color, instead of being an actual color of its own. The ponds and creeks are crusted over with ice. The earth is hard and unforgiving.

I think of January as a month to endure. December is festive and fun, although (perhaps) also more than a little stressful with family obligations and all the expectations that we tack onto the holiday season. But December has color and sound and laughter and memories. It’s kind of loud and brassy, in a way. February feels like we are just about to turn the corner into Spring. In February, the whole world seems to hold its breath in preparation for what is to come. But January … January is just “there”. It’s a time to pack away the happiness and festiveness of the winter holidays. It’s too early to watch for those little, tell-tale signs of Spring. In January, we slog forward, although, for me, it often feels as if I make little progress.

Depression tends to come for me in January. It’s not like depression ever leaves me completely. I always struggle with it and with anxiety in some form or another, but it seems easier to keep them at bay during other months of the year. January is a quiet, introspective sort of month. It’s a month for thinking about things that have happened and about things that are to come. It’s a month for planning and, maybe, hoping. But all that thinking and self-evaluating sometimes gives depression a foothold in my life. The good thing is that I can usually reason my way out of it, and my coping mechanisms work well for me. But depression and anxiety feel particularly close in January.

January is that one month out of the year in which my life tends to feel like “too much”. I’m always busy, particularly now that I am back to working. But it seems like January saps my energy and leaves me feeling exhausted and used up. It’s strange to me, because I am not doing any more things in January. I am the same amount of “busy” as in all the other months, but it feels more overwhelming and unending in January.

And yet, I try to remind myself that January has its own beauty. Because it is a quiet and unassuming month, I feel like January gives me a chance to see the small things in life that might otherwise go unnoticed. Spotting a cardinal on my fence, its red feathers bright and almost garish against the white-gray background of a snowy yard, is even more of a treat. A day of sun and pale blue skies emerges as an unexpected blessing and breath of fresh air amid the cloudy gray days. There is a special kind of beauty to be found in the heavy quiet that falls over the world on a snowy night, when fat flakes drift down and the earth speaks in whispers. Frost curls and grows across our window panes, creating delicate and lacy filigree.

I try to keep my spirits up in January. I leave my Christmas decorations out all the way through the month. I make sure to turn on the trees every evening, and I like to spend some time sitting quietly in our darkened living room with a cup of tea to enjoy the lights. I spend time with my daughter re-playing Breath of the Wild and adventuring in beautiful Hyrule. I give myself time to think and dream on story ideas and character outlines. I read fanciful and cute little romances. I watch Pride & Prejudice on repeat. I play with nail polish.

And so, January passes. One day soon, I will look at the calendar and feel surprised to realize it is February. I know I will feel a bit of relief to have survived another “dreary” January. But this year, I hope I can also look back on this, the longest of all months, and see the beautiful memories and moments, too.

Ringing in the New … and Good-Bye, 2020

I spent a lot of time in 2020 trying not to talk about all the weirdness of the year. I think, because I was living in the midst of it (as were all of us!), I didn’t want to spend time mulling it over or thinking about it. It took so much energy to deal with social distancing and isolation and cleaning my groceries and coping with the bizarre mess that has been my daughter’s senior year in high school and worrying over my parents and feeling anxious about the state of US politics … Well, as you may be able to guess, I could go on and on. And I would not be telling any of you anything new, different, or unexpected. Because, wherever you are, we are ALL living through this time together. We are all trying to figure it out day-to-day. And we are all trying to muddle through.

I think my touchstone saying for 2020 quickly became, “I’m doing the best I can!”. This is something I have been saying to myself on a daily basis all year long. There were many days when I felt my best was never going to be enough. On those days, this whispered reminder helped heal a little bit of my soul. Because, really, it IS good enough, isn’t it? It’s not just good enough … it is our best. And that has to be worth everything. In a way, 2020 taught me this. Of course, it was something I always knew — somewhere, in the back of my mind. It’s something we all know and have known. And yet, it can be so easy to forget, can’t it?

2020 also gave me Time. I was lucky enough to be busy with work during the week for most of the year, but we spend a lot of time rushing from one thing to another outside of work hours, don’t we? But, in 2020, we didn’t have anywhere to go. There were no extra-curricular activities for my daughter. There were no plays or concerts. There were no museums to visit or movies to attend. There was just a lot of time to sit around at home. It sounds terribly boring, doesn’t it? And yet … I had time to sit around and think about things. I had time to spend with my family every evening. Probably, we should have been doing this all along, but we had fallen into the bad habit of going our separate ways at the end of each day. More importantly, I had time to spend with my sweet daughter before she flies the nest and starts her own life adventure.

I feel grateful to 2020 for these things. They are quiet blessings. They are not flashy. They are not necessarily things that would jump out at a person as something you would want or desire. And yet, like many things that are not flashy, they are extremely precious. Without the weirdness of 2020, I am not sure I would have realized any of this.

At the same time, I have to admit I am happy to show 2020 the door, so to speak. It’s been an exhausting, worrisome, and anxiety-producing year. No matter how grateful I am for the quiet life lessons 2020 has shown me, the year wore on me. It grated on my nerves. It made me feel so tired and hopeless and just … sad. I feel like I have been looking forward to the end of 2020 ever since March. And, at last, it is here. Huzzah!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think life is magically going to be easier just because 2020 has ended and 2021 has begun. It’s not like anyone can wave a magic wand and make COVID disappear or make people suddenly have good sense. Honestly, I am not sure there is enough magic in the universe to make that last thing happen. COVID is here to stay. Vaccine roll-out is going to be slow going. Many people will elect not to take the vaccine, even when it is available. We still have to figure out how to move forward and make our way through a life landscape that has become eerie and unexpected. We still have to figure out how to live with all the faults and frailties of human nature.

I don’t know what 2021 will bring. I know it will have its ups and downs, but I don’t know if it will end up being good or bad, overall. But right now, when the year is still new, I feel hopeful for the first time in many months. I feel like better days are coming; they are just on the horizon and out of sight. One day soon, I will get to hug my parents and brother. One day soon, we will be able to sit with friends and laugh and eat together. One day soon, my daughter will start her own adventure in college, which I hope will be in-person and on-campus. One day soon, we will all figure out our new normal.

Happy News … and Life Getting Really REAL

My baby is seventeen. She’s not just my “baby”. She is my ONLY. And she is seventeen and a senior in high school. The day is swiftly approaching when she will be spreading her wings and flying swiftly away from our nest and into her own future. And that is as it should be. I did it. My husband did it. All of us, at some point or another, did it. Unless you are reading this as a person who is still in high school, and, in that case, you WILL do it. One day. I promise; it will happen.

I know this is as it should be. I know children grow up and leave home and enter their own lives. And, honestly, I want this for my daughter. I want her to have a life filled with fun and laughter and her own memories and as much awesomeness as she can grab with her two hands and her amazing, beautiful heart. I think I probably speak for every parent ever when I say that this is what we all want. We want our kiddos to go out there and be amazing. And yet … we also don’t want this. I know. I know. It makes no sense at all. And yet, that’s just how it feels.

This weekend, we got some amazing news. My daughter got accepted into one of her two top college choices. Of course, all of her college choices are out of state from where we currently live. Much like her parents, she is not in love with the state of Illinois. We are still waiting to hear on her other early admission applications. But it was thrilling to know, for sure, that she will be able to go to a school she wanted to attend. I think it was a huge relief for all of us. No matter what, she is going to be off for a new and fun adventure after High School is done.

I knew this was coming, y’all. She has been walking away from me ever since she took her first steps. Because this is the way. It is the way it has to be. It is the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way I want it to be. And yet … All of a sudden, this all feels so incredibly, unavoidably, painfully, really REAL. And I discover that my heart is not ready for it in the least.

I’m not sure how I am supposed to learn how to do this. I have spent so many years following her around and keeping track of her and worrying over her and needing to know exactly where she is at all times. In many ways, it feels like I have spent my whole life doing this. she has been my everything for a long time. Her little face was the first thing I saw every morning and the last thing I saw every evening. When my husband was working crazy hours at the law firm and traveling all the time, it was just my daughter and me. The two of us, against the world, so to speak. And now, in what feels like just a few short months, I have to open my arms and be brave and let her go. I’m not going to lie. I will still want to know where she is at all times. But I have to learn how to keep that to myself.

I want to scream out to the universe, “Not ready! Not ready! Not ready!!” and duck back into my safe little hidey-hole where I can pretend none of this is happening. And yet Life is marching forward. It doesn’t seem like it as we shelter in place and work from home, but it is moving ever forward. Life is resolute. It doesn’t care. It doesn’t wait. It doesn’t pause to give me time to feel ready for this.

And you know what? That’s okay. I’m not ready. I may never be ready. But my girl is. She is ready to fly.

Happy Belated …

This is my very late “happy birthday USA” post. I only missed the Fourth by 7 or 8 days, so I’m within the window of birthday-ness. Right? Eh. Considering the mess that is this year and the mess that is my country right now, I think 8 days late isn’t too bad.

I’ve thought about this post a lot. I’ve thought about a lot of posts a lot. Basically, COVID, self-isolating, and the ongoing racial injustice in the United States has led to lots and lots and lots of thinking. Along with some worrying and some crying and some feeling hopeless. It’s been sort of a cycle for me. Right up until the actual fourth of July, I didn’t feel much like celebrating. In all honesty, life in general and life in this country, in particular, has begun to bear down with all the weight of despair and hopelessness it could possibly possess.

It didn’t help my mood that everything was canceled. No public fireworks. No getting together with friends. I had hoped for my parents to come visit this Summer or to visit them, but that couldn’t happen, either. Of course, people in our neighborhood set off fireworks on their own. Until the extremely wee hours of the morning. I hate neighborhood fireworks. I know I sound like the grouchiest, grumpiest grump that ever grouched. But the noise scares my dogs and makes it impossible to sleep, especially when fireworks are going off until 2 or 3AM. And I always worry about my roof catching on fire. Anxiety is not your friend, folks!

So, by necessity, it was a quiet Fourth of July for me and my family. My daughter has a friend whose family has practiced the same level of self-isolation as us, and that friend came over to spend the night. My husband grilled. And we all watched Crazy Rich Asians together. Was it the type of Fourth I would have wanted? Probably not. But it wasn’t a bad holiday. The long weekend was peaceful. My family is all safe and, so far, healthy. We are really fortunate in many ways.

That evening, I sat on my computer and read through articles about the protests happening all over the United States. I read about statues coming down and about brands changing their names. And … I don’t know … somehow, my mood improved.

I love my country. I love it very much. But I do not love all the things about it. I do not love all the things that happen in this country. In particular, I don’t love the way so many of us in this country are complacent and casual about the racism that is bone-deep here. We grow up with it, and it permeates so much of our everyday life that we get to the point where we “just don’t see it”. As a country … as a people … we have lived with and profited from this callousness and cruelty for far too long. By “we”, I mean white people like me. “Just don’t see it” just doesn’t cut it any longer. And you know what? It never should have. “Just don’t see it” was NEVER good enough. We should have seen it, all along. We should have looked for it. We should have fought to root it out and expose it to the light of day.

But now, changes are happening. Black and POC voices are being heard more than ever before. It seems like more than ever before to me, a person looking from the outside. I hope this is the truth. Because these voices need to be heard. We need to listen to these stories and face the uncomfortable truths contained within them. Protests are in the news, people are talking, and people are listening. People are learning. I hope we are all learning.

I know the changes that have happened so far are small. In the grand scheme of things and to Black and POC people who have struggled their entire lives to feel valued and respected, I imagine these changes are minuscule. But they are changes and a sign that our future has a chance of looking different than our past. Each small change … each protest … each instance of a Black or POC person feeling empowered to tell their story and speak their truth … Every one of these things gives me hope that we, as a country, can be better and do better. I have hope that the momentum will keep going. I have hope that voices will continue being heard. I have hope that we will ferret out the stink and dirt of racism at every level in this country.

Because that’s what we have to do. We HAVE to be better than we have been. We HAVE to do better than we have ever done. This country is a dream. It is a dream of a place where all are equal, all have justice, and all can live without fear. I know this sounds naive and idealistic of me, but I love that dream. I want to live in that place, where Black and POC mothers can send their children to the store without being afraid for their lives. Where Black and POC people are respected for who they are, and where Black and POC achievements are celebrated by everyone. Where Black and POC people can find justice — not justice in name only, but real and true justice. I want this dream for myself because I am a selfish person. But mostly, I want it for my daughter and for all the children of every race who are coming behind us. We owe it to them. We owe them more than what we have given.

I often think there’s nothing I can do. I feel powerless in the face of the injustice and unfairness running rampant all around me. I feel sad and hopeless. I am just one voice, and I am not the kind of voice that should be heard right now — that NEEDS to be heard right now. So I fall into the trap of thinking I should stay out of it or just stay quiet or whatever. But you know what? That’s bullshit. It’s the same thing as living with all of this my whole life and “just not seeing it”. Because I was naive and stupid as a child and a teenager and, even, as a young adult. I didn’t see it because I didn’t know what to look for. And, much as I hate to admit it, I never even thought to look for it.

I know better now. I have seen it. I know it is out there. And I know I can do something. I can listen. I can continue to learn. I can think about my own thoughts, my own actions, and my own words, and I can take care that those things reflect the true feelings and beliefs in my heart. I can — and will! — continue to have hard and uncomfortable conversations with others I encounter. In many instances, I am sorry to say I have those conversations with my own family. In the past, I might have backed down or let it go. But no more. It’s a small thing, but I can stand up each and every day. I can do better. I can be better.

My one corner of the United States is small. My reach is small. But maybe — just maybe — I can change one heart. Maybe — just maybe — I can change one person’s way of thinking. Maybe I won’t change anything, but I don’t care. I am going to hold myself accountable to continue working in whatever small way I can. Because I owe it to every Black and POC person in this country who has ever felt fear because of the way they were treated by white people … who has ever felt anger because of the way they were treated by white people … who has ever been made to feel less than human because of the color of their skin … who has ever lost a beautiful son or daughter or mother or father or anyone to the systemic racism that pervades our country.

A New Normal …

So. It’s Spring! Like, officially Spring!

Aaaaand it’s snowing outside my window. Lots and lots of snow, although none of it is sticking to the ground. Talk about a “new normal”.

See what I did there? Smooth segue, right? Right!

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Last week, I was working my way through Blue Bloods on Amazon Prime —  you know, watching it in the evenings when I was done with work for the day. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the show, but it’s about a family of NYC law enforcement officers. The father, played by Tom Selleck, is the Police Commissioner for NYC. The grandfather is retired NYPD, and also served as Police Commissioner in the past. The two surviving sons are police officers, and the daughter is an Assistant District Attorney. In one episode, the oldest son’s wife, who is a nurse, suffers a traumatic injury while doing her job. This leads to several episodes where she and the rest of her family have to deal with the mental fall-out from what happened.

There is a point here, I promise. And I’m getting to it. I’m just being slow about it. In one episode after all of this happens, she tells her husband, “I just want everything to go back to the way it was before that day.”

This really hit me hard. It’s funny how you can be humming along with your life and, all of a sudden, a gut punch comes at you out of a dark corner of your mind. For me, this line was one of those unexpected left hooks right to the kisser. It got me to thinking about how often I say these same words, or some version of them, to myself.

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Three years ago this past January, my husband had a heart attack, followed by quadruple by-pass surgery. I’m not sure what to say about it, other than it shook our whole family right to the core. It sounds stupid to say we weren’t expecting it, but, of course, that’s true. I don’t think it’s possible to expect or plan for something like that. At first, I moved from thing to thing to thing, just trying to keep all the proverbial ducks in a row and keep everything going. But then, in the weeks and months that followed, my husband started to recover. And I started to let myself hope and look forward to that one day in the future, when everything would be back to normal. When everything would go back to the way it was, before that day.

Then, of course, my husband’s job change happened. It was a great opportunity, but it meant moving. So I went right from all the heart recovery worries to the finding a job and moving worries. There was a house to get ready and sell. There were plans to make. There was stuff to clear out and pack. There was a teenage daughter to console. There were months of living apart, splitting time between Illinois and Virginia. And, of course, there was the move itself: days of traversing the country like a band of hillbillies, with a car full of dogs and a U-Haul trailer full of stuff. (I can say “hillbillies” because I actually grew up in the Texas Hill Country. So I am, in reality, a “hillbilly”. I say it with love.)

This wasn’t a fun time for me. There was too much to do. There was too much stress. And I was all alone. To a large extent, I feel like I have been in this thing alone ever since the heart attack happened. But, I reminded myself, this is all a temporary thing. Once we are in our new house in our new town, things will settle down. Everything will go back to the way it was before all of this happened.

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But you know what? It didn’t happen. None of it happened. Nothing went back to normal, and nothing went back to the way it was before all of this happened. And, as I sat thinking about it, I realized I need to stop telling myself that it will. I need to stop wishing for something that can’t happen.

Because, of course, Life can’t go back to the way it was before all of these things happened. I’m not the same person I was three years ago. My husband is not the same person he was three  years ago. My daughter is not the same person she was three years ago. Because Life has flowed past us, pushing us in its wake and creating changes all along the way. We live in a different house. In a different town. We want different things than we did three years ago. In some ways, I think we no longer know just what we want. Maybe none of us knew any of that, anyhow. Maybe we never did, and we were only fooling ourselves.

The thing is, “normal” isn’t static. Just when you get to a place where you feel comfortable or like you have everything figured out, the whole thing will shift and slide out from under your feet. Just when you look at your life and think about all the things in it that you love and that make you happy, everything changes. And it’s not just life itself that changes. We change. As people, we are always changing. We are always growing. We are always moving forward. And, sometimes, we slide backward a little bit, too. If we are always changing, then “normal” has to be a shifting thing, too.

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So I’m living in a new “normal”. After so many huge changes in such a short time, I find I can’t feel comfortable in it. I can’t relax and feel happy. I’m not saying that I’m unhappy, exactly. I’m not … not completely. It’s more that I feel like I am wearing clothes that are too small. I’m edgy and unnerved and … Exhausted. I’m just so tired of all of it: grumpy spouse, grumpy child, muddy dogs, filthy floors, a flooded back yard. And blah, blah, blah. On and on and on. Now, of course, I have to include “sheltering in place” in my litany of things I’m tired of. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not tired of sheltering in place myself. I’m tired of doing it with my grouchy husband.

Last night, I was thinking I wanted things to change. But, now, I realize that’s not true. I think what I really want is for things to settle down. I want to finish unpacking all the boxes. I want to finish hanging the pictures. I want everyone to calm the frak down. I want to settle back into life without feeling like I have to look over my shoulder all the time, waiting for the next terrible thing.

I’m ready to find my new “Normal”. And I’m ready to live in it for a little while.

 

MOVED to Illinois …

I did not plan on being gone for an entire month. But you know that old saying about the best laid plans and all that. Yep. Story of my life. By now, I should know that the only plan I need to make is no plan at all. But some life lessons are hard to learn.

So! We are actually in Illinois. We are actually in our new house. And it has been a series of mishaps along the way. Some of them were funny. Some were not. I’ve intended to sit down and write a post so many times since we arrived in our new town. But life kept getting in the way. Things were too busy. I was too busy trying to figure everything out. For a long time, I didn’t have my  desk or computer set up. And then, when I finally had a space where I could sit down to post, I felt overwhelmed by all that had happened. Have you ever felt like you had TOO MUCH to say? And so, you end up not saying any of it because the saying of it feels too hard and like too much. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s where I’ve been.

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And so, I think I will just start at the beginning and figure out where to go from there. This is as good of a beginning as any other: our new front door. To our new house. In our new town. In our new state.

It feels like it has been a long journey to get here. And I mean long journey in every aspect: emotional, mental, and physical. We closed on our half of the Virginia house sale on June 26. We signed our papers in the morning, and then went back to our house for the last of the packing and loading onto the trailer. Compared to everything the movers took, we didn’t have much left. But we had more than we thought. I bet you guys know how that goes, right? It was not a great day, honestly. It was hot, and my husband was stressed, and my daughter was unhappy. Basically, we all fought and snapped at each other all day long. Well, not ALL day. For half the day, until we got on the road. By then, we were all angry and not speaking, so the first half of our drive to Illinois was fairly peaceful.

I know, I know. It’s awful. And I guess I’m a terrible person for admitting this happened. But you know what? It’s also real. This is Real Life. And, in real life, anxiety and stress have a way of spreading themselves around and oozing downhill into all the nooks and crannies. In real life, we get mad at the people around us, no matter how much we love them. It wasn’t my proudest moment or my best day. But it was Human. Also, we all survived it with our love and our senses of humor intact.

I had all these plans of blogging from the road, because it really was a good trip, in the end. We sang and told jokes and stories. We laughed a lot. The dogs even enjoyed the long car ride, which was a huge relief for me. But the trip was also exhausting, so my keyboard remained silent.

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We drove about halfway (or possibly a little more than halfway) the first night. The second day, we got on the road relatively early and made it the rest of the way. Sadly, we were not coming home to our new house. We arrived in our new town around June 28, and we still had 5 days to wait until we could close on our new house. And so, the local Candlewood Suites became our home away from home.

It doesn’t sound too bad, does it? This idea of staying for a few days in a hotel … not having to cook … not having to clean … and so on. It actually sounds pretty great — like a mini vacation at the tail end of what turned out to be months of non-stop activity and stress. This is what I told myself, anyhow. I was trying to stay positive and look at it as some quality time with my daughter getting to know our new town.

In reality … yeah. It wasn’t quite all that. Our first room, which we camped in for a couple of days, wasn’t even a suite. It was a studio, which means it was bedroom, kitchen, and living room all packed into one tiny space. And into this tiny space, we crammed three people and two dogs, plus our suitcases. Most of the things we brought from Virginia had to stay on the U-Haul trailer out in the parking lot. We arrived to an unprecedented heat wave, with temperatures hovering over 100 every day, so my husband and I unloaded some of the most fragile things from the trailer and into a storage unit provided by the hotel. Basically, this meant my anime art collection got unloaded so it didn’t melt. But my nail polish collection had to stay on the truck, along with our furniture and other odds and ends.

By the second day in this tiny room, we were all on each other’s nerves. Even the dogs were feeling it. My boy dog started following my girl dog around the room and growling at her. My girl dog is a nervous nellie, anyhow, and she began slinking around and trying to hide in the bathroom. This led to more growling. Which led to more slinking. And so on. And so on. And the humans in our party weren’t much better. We were all cranky and annoyed with life.

On the morning of the third day, we were able to move into a larger, one-bedroom suite. There was a fold-out sofa for our daughter to sleep on, and space for the dogs to separate from each other. The only drawback was that it was on the third floor. And neither of my dogs have experienced apartment or hotel living in their lives. My girl dog, nervous nellie that she is, turned out to be a total rock star with this situation. My boy dog could not adapt. He is used to peeing as soon as he gets outside the door, and he still wanted to do this in the hotel. I ended up cleaning up on the stairs a few times and on the carpet a few times, too. And we had to basically run down the stairs with him reminding him, “Don’t pee. Don’t pee. Don’t pee,” all the way down to the bottom floor. Good times. Actually, it is pretty funny.

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We closed on our house on July 3. After our townhouse in Virginia and the hotel’s close confines, the new house felt HUGE. Of course, we headed over as soon as closing was done and we had our keys. And we were greeted with clean, empty rooms devoid of clutter. The dogs were in heaven. They had a great time running up and down the stairs and sniffing into every nook and cranny of each room. My boy dog got so excited that he christened our master bedroom the very first day in the house. Yeah. That was not the highlight of the day, for sure. But I guess it’s the little things that makes a house a home, right? Right! *ahem*

Since we were in the house on July 3 and July 4 was a holiday, the rest of our things were not coming until July 5. This meant we had two wonderful and lovely days to enjoy all this empty space. I know that sounds weird. But I really got a kick out of going up and down the hallways and moving from one room to another. We didn’t really have hallways in the townhouse. We had a hallway on our third floor, where the bedrooms were. But the first and second floors were open living space. You guys! I never realized it before, but I really missed hallways and walls and separate rooms.

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Of course, those empty spaces didn’t stay empty for long. And they didn’t feel huge for long. By mid-morning on July 5, they looked more like this, with boxes stacked everywhere. And furniture stacked everywhere. And things stacked everywhere. The movers unloaded the entire day. They started around 8:30 or 9AM, and they left around 5 or 5:30 PM.

I stationed myself in our family room, just off the kitchen. It’s the most central place in our house, and I was the “traffic cop” of the unloading operation. I had the task of catching every person that came through with a load of boxes so I could tell them where to put things in the house. More or less. The way our packers labeled the boxes meant that some things ended up in completely the wrong place, but I did the best I could.

It was a long, hot day. And it was a mess. At the end of it, I stood in my family room, surrounded by stacks and stacks of boxes. Even though I hadn’t carried or lifted a single thing, I felt exhausted, both mentally and physically. I felt like there would be no way I could unpack all of this stuff. I felt like I was in no way equal to the hugeness of the task awaiting me. And I wanted to cry. It was not the joyous homecoming I had expected, that’s for sure.

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So, here we are: a little over a month later. Our daughter is finally registered for school. (This was a huge ordeal; perhaps it will be a blog for another time.) My husband and I finally managed to get our Illinois driver’s licenses and license plates for the cars (Another huge ordeal … are you sensing a theme here?) Our daughter has been attending marching band camp and rehearsals since the end of July, and this is her second full week of school. We are slowly learning our new town and finding favorite places and things like that.

Are we totally unpacked? NO. We are still working our way through boxes and trying to figure out what we want to keep and what we want to donate. We make regular runs to Goodwill and to the recycling center. For the most part, I have unpacked by myself, so it has been slow going. Thankfully, my husband started working on the huge stacks of boxes in our basement storage area last week. He has made a lot of progress down there! Our kitchen is up and running. Our master bedroom is up and running. I have the bare bones of my office space up and running. Our daughter’s bedroom is more or less sorted out and functioning.

We are getting there. But it takes time for a house to become a home. It takes laughter and memories. It takes long, quiet nights enjoying a good book in a quiet room. It takes so many other things that are subtle and gentle and pass you by unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of living. But, one day, all the boxes will be unpacked. All the things will be put away. And, somehow, we will realize our new house isn’t just a “house” any more. Instead, it has become “home”.

I know one thing for sure: I am NOT moving again! (Famous last words …)

 

Moving to Illinois … Wrapping it Up & Signing Off (for now)

So. The time is upon us at last. It’s funny how you wait and wait for something, and it seems like it is taking FOREVER. Until it actually arrives, and you realize it took no time at all. And you feel a little bit panicked that you won’t have enough time in which to accomplish all the things that need to happen. Oh yeah, I am totally in that mental place.

Today is our last true day in our house. We will be here tomorrow, too, but the whole day will be taken up with getting the U-Haul trailer and loading up the remains of our belongings. Tonight will be the last time we sleep here. It feels … weird. I don’t know how else to describe it. I’m excited and happy for the move. I am ready for a change of place and pace in my life. At the same time, I feel a little bit sad. And a little bit mystified, as if, perhaps, none of this is really real. We have lived here a long time, and I never thought we would move. I had kind of given up hope, honestly.

My husband arrived late Friday night (or early Saturday morning, depending on how you want to look at it). And we have been clearing and packing ever since. I think we are pretty much done at this point. We cleared the garage yesterday, other than the stuff we have packed and boxed for the move. We made one run to the household goods disposal place, and we will have at least one more. You guys would not believe how much paint I had stashed away in the garage. It was a lot!

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I had hoped to come in here with a blog full of moving shenanigans and funny stories. But, really, it has all been uneventful. It might not make for good blogging, but “uneventful” is the way I like it. We have been darting out here and there, amid packing and boxing, to eat at some of my husband’s favorite places. We had fantastic Korean BBQ last night, along with peach flavored soju in a perfectly chilled shot glass. Yum! Our daughter has been getting together with friends and saying her good-byes, as well. Today, we have a couple of “last” appointments with health care providers.

Overall, it has been a time of winding down and wrapping up. I can feel it, inside of me and in the air around me. It is as if I am mentally saying good-bye to the streets and places and people who have become familiar to me over the past sixteen years. Inside, I feel peaceful and kind of quiet, but I know it is only a short time of rest before another flurry of activity.

For today, we will finish up the last of the packing, which includes my computer. That’s why I’m in here now, typing away before it gets boxed for the trip to Illinois. The next time I land in here, I will probably be in our new town. And I will probably be anxiously waiting to get into our new house. So, it is so long … for now. And I will see you guys on the flip-side — in a new state, a new town, and a new home!!