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Grace and Johnny in Paris

 

I have decided not to call myself an “empty nester.” You see, I have chosen to view my nest as “half-full.” Literally, with two people gone (23 year-old Johnny and 21 year-old Grace) and two remaining (Steve and myself) I can accurately describe my nest as “half-full.”

I choose to see my stage of life from an abundance mentality (half-full) rather than a scarcity mentality (half-empty). This may seem like a matter of semantics, but to me, this distinction makes all the difference in the world. It is the difference between feeling that something is lacking to one that appreciates that much is happening.

To be sure, I miss my children with a sweet, hard sorrow. But, I treasure the experience of watching them become – even if it is most often from a distance. Yes, I wish I was more woven into their daily lives and experiences rather than being the landing zone for the holiday/in-between times. Note to children: CALL YOUR MOTHER!

But I appreciate what I have, and choose to focus on it, rather than what I lack. And I will trust that my children are maintaining the distance they need to “differentiate” (a hefty psychological term meaning to become one’s own separate and unique person). I want them to have a core certainty that they have become their own selves – not merely images of their parents design.

How do I accept this separateness from the two beings that emerged from my own body, whom I nursed at my own breast? I have my faith, my trust, my optimism, my memories, and my rituals.

Steve is often traveling or working long hours. Of late, I have enjoyed an end-of-the-day practice. After work, coming home to a vacant house (except for the eternally generous welcome from our Yellow Lab Winston) I pour myself a glass of wine. I climb the newly carpeted stairs, walk down the hallway, and sit for a bit in Johnny’s room and then Grace’s room.

The rooms are now cleaner, sparer, clutter-free, and lacking the lively chaos and material signs of the mercurial moods of adolescence. But to me, these rooms are alive with memories. I celebrate this through pictures and amulets from Johnny and Grace’s many activities and accomplishments. Some might call them shrines, but as a mother, I feel entitled to my sentimentality.

I sit in each room, decorated by pictures commemorating their lives. Each one tells a story and generates lovely memories. These pictures showcase highlights of our years together and their emerging selves. For each child I have selected a poem that speaks to my feelings for them as they grow into adulthood. I look at the pictures, and re-read the poem chosen for Johnny and Grace.

I sit a while, tired from the day’s work. I am glad to be in a quiet, serene, and clean house. I sip my wine. I look around the room and remember the often wonderful and sometimes difficult times we had as they grew up, and I read the poem celebrating each of them.

I cry a bit and smile a bit. I feel gratitude and love. And lots of hope … for who they are and what they bring to the world. Alive, free, loved, and out on their own. And I feel, in my half-fullness: resolute, expectant, proud, and most of all, curious …

I wonder, what’s next?

 

A Poem for Grace:

THE GROWNUP  by Rainer Maria Rilke

Grace at “World Youth Day” in Rio De Janeiro

All this stood upon her and was the world
and stood upon her with all its fear and grace
as trees stand, growing straight up, imageless
yet wholly image, like the Ark of God,
and solemn, as if imposed upon a race.

As she endured it all: bore up under
the swift-as-flight, the fleeting, the far-gone,
the inconceivably vast, the still-to-learn,
serenely as a woman carrying water
moves with a full jug. Till in the midst of play,
transfiguring and preparing for the future,
the first white veil descended, gliding softly

over her opened face, almost opaque there,
never to be lifted off again, and somehow
giving to all her questions just one answer:
In you, who were a child once-in you.

 

A poem for Johnny:

ENTERING THE KINGDOM by Mary Karr

As the boys bones lengthened,
and his head and heart enlarged,
his mother one day failed

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Johnny in Argentina

to see herself in him.
He was a man then, radiating
the innate loneliness of men.

His expression was ever after
beyond her. When near sleep
his features eased towards childhood,

it was brief.
She could only squeeze
his broad shoulder. What could

she teach him
of loss, who now inflicted it
by entering the kingdom

of his own will?

 

 

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I try to view my parents as eccentric – not weird. You know, unique individuals. The beautiful part is they couldn’t care less what their children or the neighbors think. Maybe they are free spirits (or perhaps they are just denture refusing old hippies).

My husband says my folks moving into the high class, country club-esque retirement center is like a geriatric episode of the Beverly Hillbillies!

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Yes, it’s true, but I love them. I can’t help it Dad turned his room into an airplane hanger – he adores his model planes so let him play! And the real deal hobby shop he convinced admin to approve (complete with drill presses, band saws, a kiln, welding gear, and a full size weaving loom) has helped the residents build crafts a bit more compelling than cutting up old greeting cards.

And so what if Mom won’t get her hair done because she thinks the devil resides in the beauty shop. The natural look is in! She’s full of love and smiles, especially when she cleans up at Bingo and wins all the candy bars. And she’s no slouch at Scrabble either.

Let them be themselves – they always have been, so who am I to judge? Live and let live.

If Dad tears around the halls in his noisy, souped up scooter, tricked out with a swap meet snowmobile engine, that’s his business. He’s not one to ride off into the sunset quietly.

And if those bureaucrats running the place get perturbed by his rabble rousing ways – what can I do?

He has discovered a terrible injustice to his elderly comrades in that this fancy pants place has doors too heavy for the residents to push open. So, he has researched the MN state regulations for nursing home doors and this expensive place is WAY out of compliance!

He knows because he tested every door in the facility with his fishing scale. He even had to buy a bigger one because the 15 pound scale was insufficient for some of these mammoth doors. Then he threatened to call in the inspectors if they didn’t fix the problem. It makes my social worker heart proud (and only slightly embarrassed).

I refuse to expect my parents to be anything they are not. I will not be ashamed! As their 49 year old daughter I only regret that I have been so slow to learn this lesson.

At 86, haven’t they earned the right to be themselves – even if that is something far outside of the norm? I am a McGillivray. We are a strange but winsome clan. For all you normals I have three words: Deal with it.

Author’s note: This trip home to Minnesota has brought me further along my journey toward “Becoming Wholehearted.” As T.S. Elliot wrote, “After all of our wandering we will arrive where we started and know it for the first time.”

 

Yesterday I ran the Fontana Half-Marathon …

Lisa finishing Fontana Half-Marathon

… and I’m feeling a wonderful post-race confidence and well being that running always brings me. Back in March, I wrote the below article to be published in the Chino Hills Life Magazine. But before it went to print, they went out of business! Since running is my favorite wellness activity, what better place to post it than on beingwellstayingwell.com ? This story is dedicated to my amazing running friends at the Inland Empire Running Club.

 

Nobody Walks in LA -They RUN! 

IERC Members Conquer the LA Marathon

March 8 was a big day for running in Los Angeles. Twenty-five thousand people ran the 29th Annual Los Angeles Marathon. The Inland Empire Running Club (IERC) had a strong showing with 190 members finishing. The following Saturday the club met at Butterfield Ranch Park in Chino Hills for a short “victory run” and post race celebration. They ate, laughed, showed off their medals, and shared some astounding stories.

Jim, an experienced runner, describes how he stood at the starting line filled with adrenaline and determination. He was boxed in among 25,000 runners – each psyching themselves up to accomplish one of the great challenges of life: running a 26.2 mile marathon.

The song “I love LA” boomed from gargantuan speakers as the announcer began the countdown. The crowd emitted an unquenchable energy to conquer the goal for which they had each spent long months preparing.

Like every other runner, Jim would fight battles of both body and mind. Like every successful runner, he would rely on his inner resources to overcome them.

That day, every runner contended with fatigue, muscle soreness, cramps, and lactic acid build-up, not to mention the effects of the temperature soaring to 85 degrees. The mental battlefield was equally grueling: self-doubt, negative thoughts, and what-ifs.

Perhaps the most heinous obstacle of all is what the marathon is famous for: “the wall.” Runners hit the wall, (or “bonk”) when around mile 20, the mind and body challenges converge … all the body’s reserves have been used up, and the runner continues by sheer force of will.

For Jim, mile 9 started to feel like the wall as he forged up the hill near Veteran’s Hospital under the blazing sun.

Suddenly he saw a giant screen flashing a larger-than-life photo of him with the words, “Run like Jim!” He laughed, recognizing it as a pre-planned loving gesture by his sister-in-law and fellow runner, Angela.

Jim and Angela pic

Angela and Jim

“Going up that hill, I was struggling and in pain; that sign kept me going. It motivated me.”

Michelle, another IERC member, beams with a mother’s pride as she tells her story of running the LA Marathon with her entire family. For six months, Michelle, her husband Scott, their 21 year-old son Zac, and their 20 year-old daughter Amanda trained for this event. She explains – with a spunky joy – what running together has meant to her family.

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The Applegate family

Parents often find it hard to get kids to commit to anything for more than a day. But my kids showed up every week to complete the long training run. They did the weekday sessions too. We’ve always been a close family. Now we have so many great running stories to share.”

Jackie, another IERC member, relates how running has been a means of transforming her life and health. She posts pictures of her three LA Marathons on Facebook to illustrate the emergence of her healthiest self.

Sometimes you get so busy thinking about how far you have to go, that you forget about how far you have come. It was not until I compared my photos and race times that I recognized my success.”

For this race, her third LA Marathon, she was 20 pounds lighter and one hour faster than she was for her first.

Jacky pic

Jacky as IERC pace leader

“The most I did in high school was marching band. I weighed 210 pounds. Then I heard I could run through Disneyland and get a medal! I decided at that point to run a half-marathon. My mom brought me to IERC three years ago, and I’m still making progress.”

Jackie looks fit and fantastic, and more importantly, she feels unstoppable. She now volunteers as a pace leader in the club, assisting other runners in accomplishing their goals.

With plucky conviction, Jackie shares what she has learned along her running journey. “Losing weight makes me go faster … and going faster makes me lose weight. Running helps me eat healthy because food is my fuel, and I want to feel good on my runs. Food is not the reward – the finish line is the reward.” Lowering her voice, she confesses, “But after the LA Marathon, I let myself have a burger and fries.”

“One more thing,” she says, eager to be an effective role model, “If you don’t change your habits you will never see changes in your body.”

Perhaps IERC member Victoria’s comments best sum it up: “This was my first marathon. It was so hard and it hurt. But my confidence was through the roof this week. I plan to do it again.”

Julesha, another IERC member adds, “Pain is temporary … pride is forever.”

Standing before the diverse and invigorated group – who have become like family to each other – IERC President David concludes the storytelling session with a probing question, “So … what’s next?”

IERC LA Marathon Logo

 

At forty-eight years old, I have forged through a number of life stages – at times willingly and at times fitfully. There are basically two responses to dealing with the inevitable onslaught of the next stage of life: accepting it gracefully, or raging against it. Having done both, I can say that the former opens one to the grand possibilities of life and the latter leads to stultifying frustration. What choice do we have anyway? You cannot stand still, and you certainly cannot go back. Perennial protesting is pointless.

My advice? Let yourself grieve what is lost. Acknowledge your fear, your reticence, your dismay. And then march into the future boldly: feel it, own it, embrace it.

Irish poet and priest, John O’Donahue, said it best, “I want to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” Precisely! This is the definition of grace amid change.

Every lifetime is a lesson in adjustment. Once I was a carefree preschooler; my greatest challenges were deciding what color of finger paint to use and having to take an afternoon nap. But kindergarten beckoned – the big yellow bus, tying my shoes, and learning the alphabet. From there, I became an elementary student – reading, writing, and arithmetic. I slowly learned to accept the fact that I would never be a member of The Brady Bunch.

Eventually, I was confronted with puberty and Junior High: pimples, body fat, boys, and mean girls.  Suddenly and awkwardly a high school student, exploring who I was and what I believed. Then I had to move into the role of paid laborer, voting citizen, and college student. Career choices weighed on me. What would I be? What was I good at and how could I best contribute? Soon I was a married woman, professional worker, and then a mother.

None of these new roles and stages – career, marriage, motherhood – quite matched my naively inflated expectations. What? This isn’t how it was supposed to be! But honestly accepting the disappointment of the unrealized ideal actually helped invite an attitude of joy and gratitude. Pleasure emerged.

This was especially true in raising my two children. Childrearing has presented an array of stages, from diapers to dormitories. Every age they enter has had its bane and its blessing. Age four was the toughest for them both. (For a time my former cherubs became Surly Boy and Snotty Girl). But kindergarten came along and voilá; along with it, a new equilibrium.

Just when I thought I could no longer take the madness of a particular developmental childhood trait, before I knew it, we were on to the next thing … and then the next … and the next. It was never ending and never permanent. The surprising bends, unexpected turns, and frolicking rapids were exhilarating and jolting interspersed with the occasionally serene and calm.

What helped me avoid feeling trapped in any one state of being was to recognize that it was all temporary. Nothing was fixed. My little ones were always emerging, growing, and becoming. Indeed, I was as well! In the mix, there were some topsy turvy times. My husband and I have had the blessed gift of navigating that whitewater river with them, knowing we are in God’s care, even though the ride is rough at times. Our faith in God is our sacred life vest.

And these curious creatures I birthed continue to morph into new and more complex versions of themselves. The future fills me with anticipation, and at times, concern. I could worry. But I have learned: this too shall pass. They are clay and God is the potter … spinning and shaping them. The cruel world, not knowing their baptismal destiny, threatens to thwart God’s design for them. But I claim the promise, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

I am now an empty nester – proud, eager, and yes, a little nervous about my children’s fate. This is a stage that can throw the most balanced of mothers into a tailspin. Relax in … relax out.

The questions abound: What will become of my children when they are not under our roof? Will they make it? Did we teach them enough? Are they equipped for the real world? And what about me? Who am I, if not providing for their daily care? What will my future bring?

I must grapple with all of these questions and their associated feelings. A book I read in college called Passages, by Gail Sheehy*, was a bestseller, and groundbreaking in mapping out predictable life stages and ways people thrive in each. She emphasized a productive and deep “second adulthood” in middle life characterized by continual growth.

“Stop and recalculate,” Sheehy writes. “Imagine the day you turn forty-five as the infancy of another life … Instead of declining, men and women who embrace a Second Adulthood are progressing through entirely new passages into lives of deeper meaning, renewed playfulness, and creativity.”

With that mindset, it is exciting to approach my new stage of life. I am determined to stay balanced through such liminal times. I use a multitude of coping skills. This is essential.

I was glad to see our daughter Grace has learned this as well. After being home for a month she was faced with intense, sad feelings about returning to school, missing her friends and family, and facing the pressure of her challenging courses. At first there was a bit of raging at how hard it all is. However, after some tears, laments, and hugs, she decided to make a list of all the things she is looking forward to when she returns to Seattle. Smart girl! She moved through her struggle, and found her strength to courageously do the next thing.

As for me – when Grace left for college last year – I found that one way to manage my feelings was through writing. Sitting with my husband at a pub, The Back Abbey, contemplating my new stage of life, I took out my journal. I asked myself, “What am I feeling right now?” Then I wrote a little haiku:

 

Empty Nest at the Abbey 

We lounge – long at ease

Northwest winds call

Last tall bird flies free

Old lovers we smile

 

Grieve your losses, but don’t get stuck in protest. Enjoy the surprise of your own unfolding. Be well and stay well my friend.

 Crystal Cove

 

*Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life by Gail Sheehey, Bantam Books, 1976.  Also, an updated version is New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time, Ballantine Books, 1996.

Going Wild Again

I just returned home from my 30-year high school reunion in Minnesota. One of the highlights was reminiscing with my old girlfriends about our good times and outrageous antics as adolescents in the wild – hiking, camping, canoeing, running, tennis, snowshoeing, and skiing. What fun we had!

As we talked for hours and reconnected, our stories built on one another. Each of us remembered different portions, providing our own unique embellishments and observations. Pieced together, our combined memories created a patchwork collage of humor, personal development, and exploration … experiences that helped shape us into who we are today.

I had scarcely spoken with some of these friends for years. But, almost magically, as we delved into our recollections of our shared teen outdoor adventures … it was as if we had never parted. This was amazing considering the decades we spent apart, during which time we had all gotten married, had careers, and raised children.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the many psychological benefits of time spent in nature, and ways to avoid “nature deficit disorder.” My reunion trip helped me recapture some wonderful wilderness memories shared with old friends (five in particular) and what they have meant to each of us over the years. We 48-year old girlfriends have each faced various challenges in the years since. However, the time we spent together in nature strengthened our sense of selves and our friendship bonds, helping prepare us for life’s unexpected curve balls. Somehow, we have all survived and thrived. And I believe our friendship bonds and shared wilderness experiences provided a firm foundation to face up to and conquer life’s travails.

Our memories included a ski club trip to Thunder Bay Canada. We got our ski passes suspended for staying up too late – talking to the bell-bottom wearing Canadian boys who sprinkled vinegar on their French fries! We re-told brave tales of our canoe trips, late-night bonfires, camp outs in the Northern woods, and the boyfriends that seemed to generously pass between us through those times. As girlfriends, we grew up together and grew strong together. Now as an adult, it feels wonderful to have friends that go back so many years. The sense of connection is hard to define, but is truly one to be cherished.

My 19 year-old daughter, Grace, also has a profound love for her friends, and she treasures the escapades they share together. She was eager to see every picture from my reunion, hear about my old friends, and all the “classic 80’s experiences” we had.

“That’s how I want it to be when I’m your age, Mom. My best friends will still be my best friends; don’t you think?” Although it may not play out as she envisions, her commitment to staying connected with the friends she loves will likely make it a reality. And I don’t expect her bold spirit of adventure to ever be fully tamed. This is something I admire about her.

During this reunion trip I happened to be reading a memoir by Cheryl Strayed called Wild: From Lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  It is the story of a Minnesota woman whose life unravels in her early 20’s after her mother’s death from cancer, the resulting diaspora of her family, and the eventual demise of her marriage amidst infidelity and drug abuse. She seeks a re-awakening by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She forges ahead more through blind will than skillful preparedness, and writes about it with an earthy spirit and a poetic gift of description. I thoroughly enjoyed her story, and found it to be a wonderful testimony to the transformative power of a wilderness trek. Despite the fact that she suffered terribly on the trail, and at a few points, was lucky to have survived, the beauty and self-transformation made it worth the pain and sacrifice. It made me want to get out on that trail myself.

She writes of the Pacific Crest Trail’s history and its profound meaning to the hikers courageous enough to endure it:

“What mattered was utterly timeless. It was the thing that had compelled them to fight for the trail against all the odds, and it was the thing that drove me and every other long-distance hiker onward on the most miserable days. It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.  It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadow, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”

The Pacific Crest Trail will be there if I ever choose to take it on. But even the smaller scale adventures that are available any weekend would be worth my while to make happen.

After the reunion, my old girlfriends and I agreed that we need more time with friends and more adventures. We promised each other we would plan one. They agreed to come and stay with me for a “SoCal Ladies Adventure.” Brainstorming the itinerary was exciting in itself. Just considering the possibilities made me feel young and alive – almost like I was 16 again! That’s what “going wild” can do.

Many of you have stayed in contact with old friends; those with whom you have shared “going wild” experiences of old. If you have lost touch, what is keeping you from making that small effort to reach out to someone who was important to you years ago?

Maybe now is the time to make that phone call, search on Facebook, or write that letter. You may find some real joy in re-connecting with an old friend. Perhaps remembering those times together will help you seek out some opportunities to explore like you did when you were young. It may seem a little unlike the current you, but it’s not against the rules!  You can go wild again.