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Memories & Goodbye to My Minivan, Hello Mini SUV

I cried on my 30th birthday. I was sitting in a bar in downtown St. Louis at an impromptu party that my husband had organized and suddenly I was crying.

The nostalgia hit me when I was cleaning out my minivan. I was reaching under seats and into storage nooks, evoking emotions and extracting memories along with loose change and band-aide wrappers, piling it all onto my driveway for sorting.

My friend, Jan, asked me what was wrong, and I said, “I’m 30 years old and I’m driving a minivan.”

Jan snickered and reminded me I wanted the minivan, believing it would be easier on my back to get my 2-year-old in and out of her car seat. That only made me feel worse – I chose to drive a minivan for a practical, “old lady” reason.

“Oh God,” I sniffled. “What’s next? Sensible shoes? Then Depends?” We laughed and the moment passed.

That was in 1997.

It’s 2016 and I’ve owned four minivans since that time: a Dodge Caravan, a Chevy Venture, a Kia Sedona and finally a 2004 Honda Odyssey — My favorite. Car. Ever.

My goal was to drive the Odyssey for several years after we paid it off, which we’ve done. With 207,000 miles on it, it’s starting to need more maintenance and repairs, and the last repair happened when I was out of town, which was a major inconvenience.

It was time to downsize.

But my Odyssey served me well. It was extremely reliable. And kid friendly and comfortable. And best of all, it had lots of Mom-friendly real estate, which means lots of places to stash things and the perfect spot to put my large purse where it wouldn’t tip over and spill its contents all over the floor.

Criteria for a New Car

When I sat in the Honda dealership to choose my next used Honda, our salesman asked me what things were important to me in a vehicle. I said:

“A place to put my purse; safety; good gas mileage; room for family road trips; low mileage; a key fob with automatic door locks; comfort; all-wheel drive; a backup camera; deep cupholders for my coffee; and don’t forget a place to put my purse.”

Salesman: Does color matter?

Me: No.

Salesman: Do you want alloy wheels?

Me: What are alloy wheels?

Salesman: They’re nicer wheels. They come with the higher trim package.

Me: No, I curb my tires all the time. I’ll ruin them.

Salesman: Leather seats?

Me: I don’t care. But I like having an arm rest, and I need luggage racks on top. If I’m giving up the space of my minivan, I need to be able to put luggage on top. I don’t travel light. So I want a trim package that comes with those things. And a place to put my purse.

Salesman: Purse. Gotcha. Okay, well, let’s take a look.

My new Honda CRVWe ended up purchasing a 2014 Honda CRV. It had everything I wanted but the luggage rack, which Honda installed for me. Not surprisingly,  the dealership agreed that we could sell our used Honda for more than they could give us, so we took it home to sell ourselves.

Minivan Memories

The nostalgia hit me when I was cleaning out my minivan. I was reaching under seats and into storage nooks, evoking emotions and extracting memories along with loose change and band-aide wrappers, piling it all onto my driveway for sorting.

This van used to smell like chlorine, because my oldest was a swimmer and I drove lots of carpools, meaning a wet towel was forever being left inside to bake and release its chemical scents into my cloth interior. Now she’s a swammer (retired swimmer).

It sometimes reeked of teenage boy sweat because my son plays basketball and seldom used the locker-room showers before climbing in to ask “What’s for dinner” or “Can we get Qdoba?’ Now he drives himself home from practice.

It used to smell like sour milk because a sippy cup would inevitably roll under the seat to start the process of making cottage cheese. Now she won’t even drink milk.

It’s covered in dog hair from our Golden Retriever and coffee stains decorate the carpet. Well, at least the dog still sheds and coffee still stains.

Here are some of the things I found as I cleaned it out:

  • A complete change of clothes in size 3T – pants, top, underwear, socks, shoes –My youngest now wears a size 8, but in the not so distant past, a mess that would require a complete change of clothes was a very real possibility.
  • Multiple cloth rags, one tucked under each seat in case of a large spill. They reminded me of the time my daughter got carsick on the way to camp; and the time my son had rotavirus; and all the carloads of kids who would spill their slushies, ice creams and milkshakes onto the carpeting, complimenting my numerous coffee spill stains.
  • Two first-aide kits for an emergency that thankfully never came. One kit contained a baby enema and “night-night juice” (aka Benadryl) that I may or may not have used to drug my daughter and my niece on a lengthy road trip that was wrought with whining and fussing.
  • The remote control to an entertainment system that quit working two years ago when a Barbie movie borrowed from a neighbor got permanently stuck inside.
  • A handheld can opener and enough food, some packaged, some petrified, to sustain me on a Whole30 eating plan for at least three days.
  • A stack of bank deposit slips from a bank I left six years ago.
  • $3.57 in change.
  • A princess blanket that I discouraged my husband from purchasing at Disney when my daughter was three because I didn’t think she’d use it. I was wrong, and we never make a road trip without it. It came in quite handy a few years ago when I was snowed in at a swim meet in Crawfordsville, IN and had to stay in a nasty hotel that shared a parking lot with a strip club. I was reluctant to use their bedding, so I busted out the princess blanket for my daughter and I to use.
  • A handful of my late father’s police department business cards, proving he was a detective and giving me some help in a avoiding a few speeding tickets.
  • A Chick-fil-A placemat and a box of melted crayons from Applebee’s.
  • 10 reusable grocery bags from Aldi’s, Wholefoods, Dierbergs and Schnucks.
  • Three lip glosses.
  • 12 pony tail holders.
  • Four road flares (again, the cop thing — no car is complete without government-issue road flares – these are at least 30 years old).
  • And a partridge in a pear tree (Couldn’t resist).

I’m almost 50. My oldest is 21 and moving out for law school in August. My middle child is 18 and will be a senior in high school this year, most likely going away to college in 2017. My baby is 8 (and a half).

It was time to downsize.

So, I cried at the start of my mini-van days and I almost cried at the end of them.

It’s a minivan full of memories, representing an entire era of my life that has come to a close. But I really love the CRV so far and I think we’ll have fun making memories to fill it, as well.

NOTE: We purchased the pre-owned Odyssey and the pre-owned CRV from Bommarito Honda in Hazelwood, MO. That is NOT close to our home, but we had such great service there in 2008 that we returned. We were treated like family and they went above and beyond to make sure we found the car that was right for us. Then they went above and beyond to get my luggage racks installed before we head out on our first road trip. A big thanks to everyone who helped us: Kevin Hall, Randy Graves, Guy Taylor and Jake from service. 

A Letter to My College Graduate – I Noticed, I Saw

12961568_10153600466870488_6578506396590814839_nYou, the baby who entered the world dramatically, unresponsive and frighteningly silent, the one who made me a mother for the first time and who has only ever been late to one event in your entire life – your due date — and only ever “failed” one test (the APGAR) — YOU are graduating from college.

While you were still tucked inside of me, I wrote letters and tucked them into your baby book. Those letters were written by a woman who didn’t know you. So, they focused on things I thought you might like to know someday: details about my pregnancy, some of your family history, and how Dad and I met, and how excited we were to become a family.

Then I wrote a few letters to you 12987183_10153600466605488_1344644696529580324_nafter you were born. I still didn’t know you, but I was getting hints about who you might become. Your alert eyes and your animated expressions provided some clues about the personality that would soon open like a flower, revealing an explosion of color and beauty that had only been hinted at when it was just a bud.

Now, as I attempt to write a letter that would honor your accomplishments, document your college career and offer some words of wisdom as you embark on the next phase of your life, I find myself at a loss. Every word or phrase seems to fall short of the mark. Picture collages and Facebook posts are inadequate.

I can only offer you what is bubbling up from my heart. And that is an overwhelming pride for who you are and gratitude for how you have handled yourself as you marched (too quickly) into adulthood. I want you to know that I noticed when you sacrificed, when you put in the extra effort, when you made the right decision or the hard choice. I want you to know that I cherish the relationship we have, and that I acknowledge what you have done to make that relationship possible.

What I want to say is this. I noticed and I SAW when you:

  • Never gave up on your goal of swimming in college, even though you faced year after year of disappointing swim meet results.
  • Carefully researched your college options and chose the school and the swim program that was right for you.
  • Navigated a challenging living situation in college with maturity and grace that I know I would not have possessed at 18.
  • Chose your college friends carefully, and chose well.
  • Lived on a budget, and a tight one at that, and stayed within that budget.
  • Opted to get a job – actually two jobs — to have more spending money.
  • Recognized that there was too much on your plate – those two jobs, swimming and school — and wisely chose to live on less money so you could maintain balance.
  • Came home during the summers and assimilated back into our family, honoring our desire to have you home at a reasonable time and to know where you were, while also contributing to the household duties as if you’d never left.
  • Gave us plenty of your time on your visits and summers home, making it to all family functions and holidays and just hanging out with us.
  • Called and texted us regularly, keeping us connected to you and letting us continue to be a part of your life.
  • Said thank you. A lot.
  • Recognized the time when you needed some help from Mom and Dad and had the courage to ask for that help.
  • Worked through some big decisions your sophomore year, not the least of which was the decision that after 14 years, it was time to retire from swimming.
  • Maturely handled a long-distance relationship with the man that you love.
  • Worked full time last summer while also taking an LSAT prep course and completed two college courses so that you could graduate a full year early.
  • Diligently completed law school applications and essays and secured acceptances and scholarship offers from four major schools.
  • Stepped in beside the man that you love during the darkest hours of his life, grieving with him while also supporting him and giving him the space to grieve in his own way.
  • Handled everything your senior year of college, including choosing your law school, applying for the financial aid you’ll need to cover it, while also allowing Mom and Dad the opportunity to be a part of the process.
  • Remained my daughter, letting me remain your Mom, giving me the right to occasionally make a “Mom demand” or request or correction, but also, most importantly, became my friend.

So, my previous baby girl – I see YOU and I am proud. It is my greatest hope that as you head out into this adult world, you can see yourself through my lens, your father’s lens and the lens of the God who created you and abundantly blessed you with so many gifts. If you can do that, you will see a picture of a young woman who can and will do great things.

—– Gretchen Cox graduates Cum Laude on May 14, 2016 from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. In just three years, she completed a bachelor of arts degree, double majoring in political science and history. She was inducted into both the History and the Political Science honor societies, and she just won an award for the outstanding research on a paper she wrote on the Great Depression and Appalachia. She will attend the St. Louis University School of Law starting in August 2016.

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The Journey

I completed the Go! St. Louis Marathon on Sunday, April 10, marking the 4th time I’ve completed this journey and run 26.2 miles.

IMG_0129Statistics say that less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has ever run a marathon. So according to the numbers, I’m in a pretty elite group. But I didn’t feel accomplished on Sunday. I was disappointed with the number on the clock as I crossed the finish line.

Instead of going below my best time , I added 37 minutes, taking 5 hours and 7 minutes to cross the finish line. In my mind, it was a failure.

I trained for the last four months with Fleet Feet to prepare for the event, and my dedicated, loyal coach ran 19 of the 26.2 miles with me, including the grueling back half of the race. I began complaining somewhere around mile 15.

“It’s  hard to keep going knowing that this is going to be my slowest marathon time ever. Why bother?” I pouted.

It's all smiles BEFORE the race and the rain, with Coach Lindsey of Fleet Feet.
It’s all smiles BEFORE the race and the rain, with Coach Lindsey of Fleet Feet.

She went all “coach-y” saying,  “I want you to see this as an accomplishment, a win. You’re running with an injured knee. And it’s your first marathon in a long time. Absolutely everything has to come together perfectly to get a PR (best time). That doesn’t happen often,  so it’s better if you focus on the journey.”

Then she told me that the main reason she coaches for Fleet Feet (a volunteer position that requires a LOT of time) is because she gets to spend time with people who have learned to enjoy the journey. The journey that leads up to the race is the fun part. The race is a piece of that journey, but it’s not about the time it takes to finish it.

“I hope you’ll be able to see it that way, even if you can’t right now” she said.

She was sharing these golden nuggets of wisdom during the worst possible miles of the marathon. Even when I’m having a good race (which I wasn’t) and when I’m feeling great (my knee was howling) and when the weather is good (we were getting drenched in rain and whipped by wind), I am not in a happy place between miles 19 and 23 of a marathon.

So, I promptly ignored her Polly Anna pronouncements. Thankfully, I kept all “shrew-like” thoughts to myself, so I don’t have any amends to make, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t think them. Sorry Lindsey.

The next day, however, it all started to come together for me in light of another statistic and another journey that is tied to my running. And those things helped change my perspective.

About 16.6 million people suffered from an alcohol use disorder in 2013 according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But only about 1.3 million of those adults received treatment in a specialized facility in the same year —  about 7 percent of those those who have a problem with alcohol.

Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t release much information about its membership — thus the anonymous part — but estimates are that there are about 2 million members worldwide.

I am a sufferer of this diseases, but was blessed with sobriety more than 11 years ago through a 12-step program.  That’s also when I began distance running.

Relapse rates for alcoholism are high — some estimate between 50 and 90 percent. By God’s grace, and the fellowship of others in a 12-step program,  I am NOT part of that statistic.

So again, I’m in a couple of elite groups: the group that got sober and the group that has, thus far, stayed sober without a relapse. Truth in advertising: It’s  not my doing. God and the fellowship get the credit.

Recently, however, instead of being grateful for my blessings, I was feeling sorry for myself.

Jan and I in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Jan and I in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

I was with a dear friend in Italy on an incredible vacation where the wine flowed with most of the meals.  It was social drinking, meal-oriented drinking, perfectly normal drinking that was intertwined with food and culture and festivity. But I couldn’t participate in the drinking part of the festivities.

The trip was so fabulous and I was having so much fun that I really didn’t care one iota about that. In fact, I didn’t even think about it while I was in Italy. I was with one of my closest friends. I was seeing the Amalfi Coast, and Capri, and Positano and Rome! I was laughing and shopping, eating and touring. I jogged on trails cut into stone overlooking the Mediterranean below and Pompei in the distance.

I didn’t have the time or the inclination to feel sorry for myself until I got back home. Then, in the days following my trip and leading up to my oldest daughter’s 21st birthday, I began brood about how I won’t be able to enjoy a glass of wine when I return to Italy in a month with my daughter to celebrate her graduation and birthday. Yes, I will be back in Italy in a month!

Instead of focusing on that — on the fact that my 21-year-old daughter chose a trip with ME to Europe as her college graduation present — I was brooding on how flawed I am, how “less than,” how “left out.” And I was letting the time it took me to complete 26.2 miles diminish the fun I had preparing for the race.

But over the past few days, as friends and family have texted and called to congratulate me on the marathon finish, and posted words of praise on social media, I began to reflect differently on both the race and the gift of sobriety.

I am back to seeing the value in the journey — both the journey leading to my slowest marathon ever and the journey that means I am blessed, or so very blessed, to be among the small percentage of alcoholics who GETS to live a sober life. It doesn’t make me flawed or “less than.” Instead, it means He made me for more.

My daughter and husband asked if this is my last marathon. I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Miles 19 to 23 are still too fresh in my memory, so it’s not a good time to decide.

But it wasn’t my last race or the end of my journey.

 

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Gratitude — Hearing the Right Messages

Rejection. Dismissal.

Those are lonely words – words of not belonging, of being on the outside, of being alone.

Yesterday, I was rejected and dismissed by someone I love, someone to whom I used to be very close. I experienced a range of emotions and the symptoms of those emotions – sadness and tears, anger and spitefulness, thoughts of revenge, sarcasm, detachment. I finally settled into sadness and disappointment.

I sat in my family room that looked dreary and neglected and felt sorry for myself. I looked at the layer of dust on the furniture and the cat and dog hair woven into the area rug and gathered like tumbleweeds against the baseboards. I stared through the blinds and dirty windows at the common ground behind our house and the landscape matched my mood – cold, gray, a little dingy from the melting snow. The trees were bare, no evidence of life.

Except there was evidence of life. I was briefly distracted by two squirrels racing impossibly fast across branches that appear too feeble to hold them, then leap from the large oak in my backyard to one of the unknown (to me) species of trees in the neighbor’s yard.

I spent my evening brooding, occasionally tearing up, but basically moving from task to appointment to task. I got some good advice — “Write down your blessings. And thank God for them” — but I didn’t follow it. I’d wasted enough of my day crying over the situation.

No time for gratitude.

Today, I attended the memorial service of a 22-year-old young man. Many people loved him. He was a loyal friend and a devoted son and brother. He was greatly admired because he showed courage in the face of tremendous health challenges, and then he used his compassionately, selflessly help others.His life ended much too soon.

I knew this man because he was a swimmer with my daughter on the Rockwood Swim Team. Not surprisingly, there were dozens of people from our Rockwood swim family in attendance at the funeral.

Just like there were dozens from our swim family in attendance a few months ago when the mother of one of the swimmers died.

Just like a group of them gathered a few weeks ago to help one of the swim dad’s celebrate the arrival of his 60s.

Just like they dropped off meals and gifts when I had a baby at age 40, and helped me get my daughter to swim practice in the weeks following.

Just like they surrounded a widower nearly 10 years ago when her husband died of cancer, leaving her to raise three young children.

Just like they’ve surrounded many others in times of great joy and great hardship.

And it hit me. These people. The people helping to fill the pews at this memorial service. They are the ones who matter. The ones to include on that gratitude list.

Somewhere along the way, probably as children, most likely in a school lunchroom or on a playground or in gym class when teams are chosen for kickball, we feel that first sting of rejection. We internalize that first message that “you’re not wanted” or “you’re not good enough.” The lucky ones get the message from people outside their families; the unlucky ones get the message from those closest to them. But all of us, at one time or another, have gotten the rejection message.

And for some reason, those messages often ring louder, sound truer and echo longer than the messages that say “I love you” or “I’m here for you” or “You’re good enough.”

Why is that?

Maybe because we don’t write that gratitude list.

Maybe because we don’t always see the squirrels racing on the branches and remember that they are reminders of the life that is still present even though the trees are bare.

I think the memorial service for Christopher Parsons was beautiful on so many levels – it was an amazing tribute to his life. For me, it was also a reminder to be grateful for those around me, to notice the signs of life and hope amid landscapes that seem lifeless, and to let messages of love, friendship and affirmation ring louder than messages of rejection.

And those thoughts reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses:

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

NOTE: Christopher Parsons father read this poem at his son’s memorial service. I thought it was beautiful so I looked up the words. Here’s a link.

 

The Shadow of Fear versus the Light of Courage

My late Grandmother once told me that fear is a sin. I can’t remember the exact circumstances that prompted the conversation, but it had something to do with my children – my fears and worries related to them.

The message sounds harsh, but that wasn’t her intention. Her words were delivered lovingly, without judgment, and her point was that I should trust Jesus more and fear less. I listened, and then continued to be fearful, especially when it came to my kids. But the words stuck with me and through the years, in a quiet moment or sometimes in a moment fraught with fear and worry, I remember them.

Thankfully, I haven’t lived with the kinds of horrific fears others have endured – fear of physical abuse or violence, fear of starvation or homelessness or life-threatening illness. I have been abundantly blessed in the areas of family, health, home, education and opportunity.

But when I am being honest with myself, I realize that fear has been a fairly constant companion in my life.

Sometimes, fear has been like a rude roommate, dampening my joy as I entertain guests or meet new people or embark on new adventures. He whispers words of doubt or criticisms in my ear or shouts insults from the well-worn Lazyboy he occupies inside my brain. I know he’s there and I’m aware of his tactics. Therefore, I’m able to ignore him for the most part, but he still makes an impact.

Sometimes fear disguises himself, arriving in designer cloaks of justifiable worry or good parenting. Like many mothers, my greatest fears involve my children, and most of the time those fears take the form of concern for their health, safety, future and happiness. I worry when my teens drive away from the house. I grow fearful if they are driving in bad weather. I fret over their academics, their success in and out of the classroom, their social lives.

Fear is most effective, however, when he takes the form of my shadow — unnoticed, unacknowledged, seemingly inconsequential. Just like a shadow at high noon, fear is smaller and less effective when there is a great deal of light on the subject at hand. But when I keep things hidden, intentionally or unintentionally, the light grows dimmer like a setting sun and the shadow of fear grows longer and more powerful.

That is when fear can change the course of my life. That is when he can keep me from discovering God’s purpose for me, from enjoying the blessings and gifts God has bestowed upon me. That is when I unknowingly, unwittingly take action based on my fears. And more often than not, because I’m unaware that fear is occupying the driver’s seat, my action is simply NOT TAKING ACTION.

But recently, I’ve started to let more light shine into areas of my life that I’ve historically kept to myself, and that light has decreased the size of my fear shadow. I’ve set out on a new path prompted by a maturing faith in God, age, life experiences and an increasing awareness that my willingness to keep company with fear speaks volumes to my children.

I am pursuing my dream of writing fiction. Although I have always made a living with the written word, I strayed from my profession some in the past few years for various reasons, some of which had to do with fear.

I have returned my focus to making a living as a writer and communicator, but I’m making room for writing that fills me in addition to the writing that pads our checking account.

Interestingly, fear followed me on this new path because I left him a trail of breadcrumbs. Bad habits die hard, and he catches up every once in awhile. When he does, he tells me:

  • “You don’t have time for this” or,
  • “You aren’t creative enough to write fiction” or,
  • “You’re too old to write a novel” or,
  • “You have no idea what you’re doing” or,
  • “The rejection letters will just keep coming” or,
  • “You need to focus on making money and bringing in new clients/projects, not writing stories” or,
  • “You’re being selfish to spend time on this hobby” or,
  • “You are a Mom, not a writer, and your mom work is more important and the two are mutually exclusive,” or
  • the list is exhaustive . . .

A friend recently recommend the book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The book is speaking to me – the book is singing to me. In the first few pages, she writes, “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.”

I would say that it is God, not the universe, that buries those jewels within us, and God that gives us the courage, if we let Him, to go on that hunt.

I’m choosing to let Him. I’m writing, and I’m putting myself out there: on this blog; in the short stories that I keep submitting and that have, thus far, only resulted in rejection letters; and now, in a book manuscript that is starting to take shape.

Gilbert suggests that we are more than the sum of our daily obligations and duties and that we can choose to make something of ourselves with ourselves. And she says that “fear is a desolate bone yard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.” That is not the life or death I want to choose for my dreams.
Dream Hope JoyI’m trying to choose courage, trying to let the light shine on my dreams a bit more – to shorten the length of the shadows that are cast over them and instead let them cast shadows of hope and joy.

Now it’s time for me to get back to work on my manuscript.

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Last Chapter: Aging Gracefully

My friend called me this week to tell me she is officially done with menopause — as in scientifically DONE, as in she has lab results with real numbers indicating that that she has completed this phase of her life.

I wanted to say something clever or quote a song lyric. But nothing came to mind as I watched the kaleidoscope of memories flashing like a flipbook in my brain. We’ve shared so many milestones, some in person, some on the phone.

Flash: She’s relaxing poolside and she spots the man she would eventually marry. “Do you know him? Can you introduce me?”

Flash: My phone rings and she’s telling me she had sex for the first time.

Flash: She’s chasing me into the bathroom at a wedding reception, telling me he popped the question.

Flash: We’re at her wedding reception.

Flash: We’re on the phone and she’s telling me the pregnancy test was positive. She’s going to be a mom.

Flash: Another positive pregnancy test. And another. And another.

Now this. Menopause. I’m doing it, too, although I don’t have any lab results to prove it. Not sure I’m on the other side of the fence yet, but those details don’t really matter. What’s important is HOW we’ve decided to do it.

We have both arrived at a milestone, a crossroads  of sorts — our coordinates are not exactly the same. We are in slightly different spots, coming to the crossing from slightly different angles. But our theme song is same. Jeremiah 6:16 says “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.

Our theme song, our chorus, is that “We are going to walk in it and we are going to OWN this last chapter.”  We are aging gracefully but with panache. That was how we ended the phone call announcing her post-menopausal news.

“Last chapter” sounds macabre. But it’s not. It simply means we are trying to:

Love the skin we’re in, and the bodies with which we have been blessed. We began a Whole30 journey together and we are both really excited about the program. It’s not a diet. It’s not a weight loss program. We are both embracing those aspects and we are both feeling great. For me, it has provided freedom from the scale, something I have not had since I was in middle school. MIDDLE SCHOOL! That’s 35 years. I didn’t know that I could ever feel good, really good, about myself unless a certain number showed up on the scale. But I do. And my scale is hidden away, collecting dust. I honestly don’t know if I’ve lost a pound. This article explains part of my victory. And this is a beautiful video which explains why I’m done “waiting” — “Our body size, our Weight… Wait. We wait to be fully alive, feeling disallowed from joy, unable to REALLY live… until our size can be something other than “big.” Waiting. weighing.  withdrawing.” — I’m not going to “wait” anymore.

Exercise (but not abuse). For me, this means less pounding. Less running. Less is more. Again, a new concept for me. My friend and I have been meeting to walk and do some strength training. But for once in my life, I’m not worried about achieving the burn. I am simply enjoying the time. Soaking in the early morning hours with the very best woman I know. I am honored to spend the time with her. I put it on my calendar because it nourishes my soul.

Parent and Let Go. We both have daughters who are the same age now as we were when we met. We have teens who are navigating the tricky waters of high school. I have a 7-year-old who is giving me the opportunity to enjoy all of it again but with the wisdom of an older Mom. During this last chapter, we hope to parent with wisdom and serenity, owning the pieces for which we are responsible, and gracefully (or not so gracefully at times) letting go of the pieces that belong to God. My friend reminds me not to arm-wrestle Him. Her skills are better developed in this area than mine.

Wear the Damn Hat (or boots or jeans or . . . ). This is as simple as it sounds. I am leaving the land of “cares what other people think.” I love hats, boots and bell bottom jeans. And in the last seven days, I’ve worn all three (Yes, boots in August. And bell bottom jeans that my son thinks are just awful. And a J-Lo-looking cap with a blinged out cross on it). I also love big earrings, and lots of mascara. And bohemian-flowy tops with macrame. My friend loves frosty orange lipstick and she seriously looks hot when she is wearing it.

Embrace our Strengths/Gifts. Several years ago, my friend attempted a career change and eventually found her way back to her original field. She reflects on the journey as God’s way of showing her that he bestowed her with certain gifts and talents, and today she embraces those gifts, not only in her work life, but in her approach to people and circumstances. I’ve spent the last couple of years floundering in an attempt to build success in a professional arena outside of writing. I abandoned those efforts recently, initially feeling like a failure, unable to move outside my comfort zone in order to make more money and be more successful. Then my friend reminded me of her journey, and encouraged me to embrace my gifts. I am a writer. I like that label. It feels comfortable – because it is my strength and my gift. But I will venture outside my comfort zone because I’m going to finally, finally, finally follow my dream to write fiction. So I’m keeping my work life in writing and communications, and I’m adding fiction to spice things up.

And I just might wear bell-bottoms and a sleeveless flowy top while I’m doing it (sleeveless in case of hot flashes!)

 

When Summer is Enough

I took my oldest, Gretchen, back to Louisville this week so she could begin what will be her senior year in college. For me, the day was ripe with nostalgia. The summer heat and humidity, and the empty, quiet campus, combined to transport me back to my move-in days at Mizzou and to send me swimming in a pool of reflection.

As we loaded our arms full of Gretchen’s belongings and walked from our cars to her dorm room and back, I commented to her about how I loved returning to campus when it was all but deserted. There was something fun and magical and empowering and exclusive about being there ahead of the whole student body. It was a feeling of new beginnings and possibilities. Something that made me feel like an insider.

What I remembered but didn’t share was that there was also something lonely about it — a sense of longing or loss. Of something ending or something that never actually took place.

Maybe that’s why I always have this feeling of anxiety or regret at the end of each summer. Each year, I would return to college with a feeling that another season had passed and I hadn’t filled that hole in my heart; didn’t find that peace; didn’t mend/end the turmoil with my parents.

As I helped Gretchen move in, I felt happy and sad at the same time. I was truly excited that she is joining the residential life staff at Bellarmine. I see this as a perfect fit for her and I hope I’m right. I hope it’s not just me projecting onto her what was a perfect fit for me. My job as an RA was one of the highlights of my college career. The experiences, training, responsibility and relationships were transforming. It’s where I met my best friends.

Gretchen, however, doesn’t see returning to her college campus each year as a sanity-saving escape from a discontented home life. That fact warms my heart. Unlike the younger me, she doesn’t come home for the summer with the hopes of mending familial relationships or with nervousness about how she will at least sustain them in a peaceable way. Instead, she returns to us with the happy anticipation of spending time with people she enjoys and loves.

Somehow, along with a full time job, an LSAT prep course, six hours of college credit hours and a serious boyfriend, my 20-year-old daughter gave plenty of her time to us this summer. We had a few shopping trips, several movies, some meals at Panera and Qdoba, lots of dinners around our kitchen table, a float trip, a week in Mexico, a few trips for ice cream, several nights in our family room watching Real Housewives and the new Unreal show, and a couple of workouts together.

It is not unusual for me to end the summer with some regret — regret for the things I didn’t get done or accomplish. Despite all the outings and fun activities I participate in with my kids, I still regret the time I didn’t spend at the pool or the zoo or the park or the City Museum.

I often experience a sense of sadness bordering on depression as summer vacation ends and the school year starts. I have to make a concerted effort to remind myself of the good things that September, and then October, November and December, bring to our lives — new friends, fall clothes (boots, yes, my beloved boots) and the excitement of the holiday season.

That sadness is approaching, and that sense of regret is upon me like an old, worn-out blanket. I’ve found myself waking the last few nights, mentally racing through the list of things I still want to cram into the calendar before the school buses begin running their routes again. I feel summer’s end pressing in on me as it always does, but this year it’s a little better.

Having that time with my daughter — taking her back to school — I think that’s what relieved some of my regret. I’m sorry to see her go and we both wish she didn’t’ have to return to school so early in August, but as we unpacked her belongings and began the process of setting up her dorm room, I felt contentment.

Watching her, I understand that she doesn’t share my sense of things unaccomplished. She said she had a good summer. She’s just as melancholy about summer coming to a close, but it’s because she enjoyed herself and she will miss her loved ones — not because she is living with a feeling of not having done enough, achieved enough, been enough.

That’s the crux of the matter, really. Being enough. Letting the summer be enough. Letting the moment be enough. Believing that I am enough of a mom, wife, friend, sister, writer. Enough of a daughter of the King, who tells me that His Grace is enough.

On my way home, I texted my daughter to tell her how much she means to me. My text was long and wordy because that’s what I do. Her reply: “I love you so much.”

That was definitely enough.

 

 

“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.” — Stephen King

When I attended journalism school at the University of Missouri-Columbia in the late 1980’s, I was full of dreams – dreams of becoming a hard news reporter; dreams of breaking stories that would change the world, or at least the part of the world that I chose to call home; dreams of a long career as an award-winning journalist.

And I had big ideas about the power of the written word.

Some of those dreams came true. I became a hard news reporter for a time. I was assigned the cops and courts beat at a couple of different newspapers. I wrote about murders and assaults and missing and abused kids. I covered death penalty trials and was present when a jury chose to send a man to the electric chair. Hard. News.

I broke a few stories. I won a couple of awards.

I also fell in love, got married, moved and began having children. I believe dreams change to match blessings. Mine did.

Now, three kids and more than two decades of marriage and work experience later, I’m still writing.

And I still believe in the power of written word.

These days, I am a freelance writer and strategic communications specialist. I have combined my decades of experience as a print journalist and public relations professional into a boutique communications business through which I serve a gamut of clients in the healthcare, financial services, biotech, law enforcement/emergency services and education industries. I help these clients communicate with their internal and external audiences. I also continue to write for newspapers, magazines and blogs and I am trying my hand at fiction.

P.S. Stephen King is my all-time favorite word slinger.