Fleeting moments surround the empty nest

Fleeting moments surround the empty nest

This past weekend was Lollapalooza, which has become a tradition. Two years ago, my daughter and I, along with her friend, made our first trip together to Chicago for the acclaimed music festival. My daughter’s sweet sixteen present was four-day passes, round-trip airfare, and hotel accommodations (and a chaperone) for her and her friend.  Last summer they had jobs to pay (most) of their own way and talked me into getting the hotel again (thankfully, I had points to use).

This year, they had a free Airbnb, 30 minutes from downtown – our new apartment! They added two more friends to the mix and drove from New Jersey. Just as I was about all unpacked and starting to feel somewhat settled here, four teenagers descended onto my new home – while I was on a short business trip for my new job (part-time as Chicago Metro Regional Director with Let Me Run). I came home to chaos and I was so happy to see them.

One of the things I didn’t realize I’d miss so much when I wrote my list of things I would miss about New Jersey, was these kids. Our house felt, at times, like “headquarters” – the meeting place before going on to some bigger plans. I embraced the role of chauffeur. I was always willing to drive the kids anywhere at any time. And even when they started driving themselves, they still often met up at our house.  Sometimes our house was just the cozy living room in which to watch a movie.

I knew moving would change a lot of things, but we were surrounded by change that was going to happen no matter where we lived. I welcomed them with open arms last week and put up with their mess knowing that when the weekend was over, they’d be off and at college in four different states in a few short weeks. The days of kids popping in and hanging out, making s’mores by the firepit, and waking to wonder who slept on the couch last night, were gone.

Even the dog will miss having these kids around.

I felt such a wave of sadness when I walked back into my empty, quiet, messy apartment yesterday morning after seeing them drive away. Empty-nesting, I realize is about mourning the passage of time as much as it’s about missing the kids. As teens and young adults, we are on the fast track, constantly looking forward to what lies ahead, and probably taking for granted the fleeting moments we will come back to in our minds, over and over again longingly, decades later.

As older adults we are all too aware of time slipping away and the milestones that mark a life now forever changed – even as we embrace opportunities and new adventures, and the revised roles we get to play. I had a conversation with my brother while I was in Ireland about this. We agreed we missed our children as they were when they were small. We talked about times when we felt too tired to give them the attention they wanted and how we were glad we did it anyway; that we would give anything to be asked to give that time now.

I got tickets to the White Sox-Yankees game on Monday night to just hold onto the kids for a little while longer. I have no doubt that they are already planning Lollapalooza Weekend 2019. And until then, I will miss them…I will always miss the children they used to be.

The last night in Chicago for these kids…this trip. 
A shop teacher’s legacy

A shop teacher’s legacy

It was when I was running every street in my little New Jersey town last summer that I began to notice the Adirondack chairs. I just figured they were a popular item that looked nice on residents’ front porches or lawns. After all, I had two plastic ones I purchased at Home Depot myself. I did estimate that the ones I was noticing were wood and a much higher quality, however.

One day after returning from one of those runs, I found an email from George Chrisafis, the high school shop teacher, telling me that my daughter’s Adirondack chair was at the school and needed to be picked up. Hmmmm. I didn’t even know she had made a chair in shop class (she never tells me anything). Although…a glimmer of a memory from Back-to-School Night? Perhaps.

The next class. Ramsey, New Jersey. June 2018.

I finally got over there in August to get it before the new school year was to begin and it would have to be discarded to make room for the next class. It wasn’t finished (how she passed the class, I’ll never know). The arms still needed to be attached and three more slats needed to be added to the front of the seat. I took it home and there it sat – unfinished – on the back deck the rest of the summer. It was moved to the garage with the rest of the patio furniture by November. Still unfinished.

The fall was election time and my volunteer role with a local political campaign had me knocking on doors all over town. I came face-to-face with 100s of these Adirondack chairs. Some were brightly colored. All were proudly displayed. You could almost accurately guess how many children had passed through the high school from any given household by the number of Adirondack chairs a home had. I vowed that one way or another we’d finish ours!

When spring arrived the patio furniture came back out. Finishing the chair was put on my to-do list along with all of the other things I needed to accomplish before our move. We (and I exaggerate a bit here) finished the chair and painted it a dark green to match the trim on our beloved home. When we moved last month, all the patio furniture was left for the new owners, except for our special Adirondack chair. It will be a cherished reminder of our time in our little New Jersey town, a symbol of the mother-daughter team work that had carried us through the last four years, and Mr. Chrisafis’ legacy like all the other Adirondack chairs sprinkled around town – and maybe around the country.

A new home. Vernon Hills, Illinois. July 2018.
Why Chicago?

Why Chicago?

Fifty-one years-ago this past May, aboard an Aer Lingus 707, I arrived at JFK to meet my adoptive parents for the first time. I spent the first night in my new Northern New Jersey home…and basically, I never left.

I couldn’t wait to leave for college, but after four-years in Philadelphia, I gravitated back to northern New Jersey. My first apartment with friends was only 5 miles from the home I grew up in and the home I just moved out of, where I raised my daughter, was only 6 and half miles away.

There were lots of times that I fantasied about a change of scenery. There was the time back in the 80s when my friend and I made plans to move to Charleston, South Carolina after college even going as far to spend a weekend there looking at apartments. My late husband and I had considered Vermont, Oregon, and yes, Charleston again (because its warmer in Charleston).

Ultimately, proximity to family was the biggest factor that kept us here and then once our daughter was born we wanted to have roots. The plan was always that we’d finally consider a big move in June 2018 – the month our daughter would graduate from High School and we’d celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Our gift to ourselves: a huge reduction in property taxes. (I wrote about how I continued to make that dream a reality few weeks ago).

The view close to the end of my road trip last week. June 2018. Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago has been pulling me for a long time. My first trip was in 1985 with my college boyfriend who grew up here. I loved it (although this New Yorker didn’t admit that to him at the time). We came back again the following summer. In 1994, just after leaving my first big job, I went to work for a Chicago-based company and spent a week out here for training.  I did a lot of exploring by myself and remember feeling very at home.

Work I was doing with a national non-profit took me on a couple business trips here in 2012 – once for a meeting at the Admiral’s Club, where I never left O’Hare. I was also aware of a former work colleague from that first big job who went to work for the Chicago Tribune and was transferred here in 1994. There was just something about Chicago.

In 2015, I ran the Chicago Marathon. In 2016, my daughter’s Sweet-Sixteen present was an all-expense-paid trip for all four days of Lollapalooza for her and a friend (it was what she wanted and was cheaper than a party). By December of that year, I was starting to make some regular trips to the Windy City, because that “former work colleague” was now my boyfriend.

When my daughter started looking at colleges, with all my other family gone, I was acutely aware that there wasn’t a lot keeping me in New Jersey. I told her to select the right school and not worry about the location. I would just move to be closer to her…wherever that was. Of course, that was when we were looking at schools in Southern California, not Chicago.

By the time Chicago became an option, I was invested in a life here even if it meant more cold winters. It certainly wasn’t cold when I arrived on Friday, although I know that will change come fall. But as I said to someone who questioned my decision, “I have my love to keep me warm.” So, why Chicago? It was just meant to be.

First day in my new neighborhood with the keys to my apartment. June 2018. Chicago, Illinois.


What we should have been thinking about this Father’s Day weekend

What we should have been thinking about this Father’s Day weekend

I spent Father’s Day weekend doing what I have done for 16 of the last 22 Father’s Day weekends: getting away to the East End of Long Island and running the Shelter Island 10k. I’ve written about it here, and here.  This year was a little different. Instead of using the weekend as an escape, it was a relaxing weekend of quality time with my boyfriend.

I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed to come to New York and give up spending the day with his kids (they’re adults, but still, spending time with them, I know, is very important to him). Since I will be officially an Illinois resident in a few weeks I’m not sure what will happen to this tradition in future years, so I was grateful that he chose to come along. I truly enjoyed sharing it with him.

It was my parents that introduced me to the East End as a child and we spent our summers in Montauk and Shelter Island. These places remain special to me because of the memories they hold. This weekend involved lots of reminiscing and probably way too many stories that began, “when I was a kid…” If he ever got tired of them, he never said so.

The beach in Montauk with my Dad. 1971.

I had an incredible childhood. I always knew unconditional love from my parents. These were my adoptive parents, and I have always felt blessed for the life I was given with them. I wrote about my early years in My Story: Part 1. What I didn’t include in that story, however was how I had anxiety attacks (that at times made me really sick) every time I was separated from my parents…until I was a teenager! It is not uncommon for adopted children to experience separation anxiety.

“Today, we realize that this separation is traumatic for both the mother and the child, and we recognize that early experiences have a disproportionately large impact on the structure of the brain.

“When an infant or child is separated from his or her birthmother, it is undeniably a traumatic event. All of the once-familiar sights, sounds and sensations are gone, and the infant is placed in a dangerous situation — dangerous that is, perceived by the infant. The only part of the brain that is fully developed at birth is the brain stem that regulates the sympathetic nervous system, that is, the fight, flight or freeze response. The parasympathetic ability to self-soothe isn’t available and baby needs his or her familiar mom to act as the soothing agent to help with self-regulation but she’s not there. Events that happen age 0-3 are encoded as implicit memories and become embodied because they place before language develops.”

– Johnson, L. 2013. “10 Things Adoptees Want You to Know,” Huffington Post.

I lived in institutional care for my first two years. It was wonderful care, in a convent, with a nun  that loved me and continued to be a positive part of my life – as well as my daughter’s – until her death in 2009.  There was nothing negative at all about my adoption experience, and yet, I was still affected by being separated from my (biological) mother.

I have worked for social service agencies who were part of the foster care system. One had a Family Preservation program whose goal was to keep families in tack. These were parents at risk of losing their children due to abuse, neglect, illegal drug habits and other criminal activities. They used an evidence-based model that showed rehabilitating parents and giving them the tools they needed to succeed as parents, was in the best interest of the children. The goal is to keep kids out of foster care.

So why am I talking about all of this? Think about it. Think about when you were a kid. Can you imagine being separated from your parents? What about now, as a parent? How would you feel about being separated from your child? Can you imagine for a moment what it would be like for your child? Think about it. Really think about it! Then read about what is going on in this country and tell me you don’t care.

Start here: “Here’s what’s happening with immigrant children at the U.S. border, policy wise” USA Today.  This is the most non-partisan view on what’s happening that I could find. I don’t want to hear, “But Obama…” At this point, I  don’t care who you voted for or why you voted for them. What’s happening at this very moment has to stop before we contribute any further to the PTSD of these children. If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Please act! If you don’t think this is okay, make your voice heard. Do something. Start by calling your Representative. Use this number to be connected to his or her office: 1-855-660-1185. Here are some additional ideas: “Seizing Children From Parents at the Border Is Immoral. Here’s What We Can Do About It.” New York Times.

The Beach in Montauk. June 2018.
3 months and counting

3 months and counting

It’s been over six months since I wrote about the countdown to high school graduation. While I am committed to being respectful of my daughter’s privacy, sharing only minimally about her here, I am entitled to a proud mom moment every once in a while, right?

My daughter was accepted into a four-year college in Chicago (one of her top choices). This might not seem like an impossible feat. Especially here where we live. 89% of our high school graduates go on to attend four-year colleges (95% go on to some post-secondary education). But for us it seemed like a long road.

My daughter was always someone who has marched to the beat of her own drum. My parents described her as “a spirited child.” One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as her parent is that she never accepts the status quo; always looking deeper, always challenging. Her middle school guidance counselor said this was a personality trait that would serve her well in college and career, not so much in middle and high school.

She encountered a structure perhaps too rigid for her personality and learning style. While that was somewhat demotivating for her, my cancer diagnosis and then losing her father when and how she did certainly had an impact on the secure life she had known at home.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

– Viktor Frankl

My daughter’s high school transcript does not show the good choices that she has made and the maturity and growth that she possessed in managing grief and loss on top of the struggles of adolescence. By her junior year she was facing the possibility that maybe a four-year college wasn’t in the cards for her.

But I believed in her. And she believed in herself. We both ignored the naysayers and last summer I took a risk and made an investment in a 3-week college program for her at this school in Chicago. It wasn’t in the budget.

She got an A in the course and proved to everyone she could do college level work. Then she came back to start her senior year and made the honor roll! She finally took the SATs and did much better than expected. She courageously applied to a bunch of four-year schools.

There were a number of disappointments before the email from Chicago. Her surge in the last quarter of the race however, paid off. But most importantly – and what makes me the most proud – is that she mustered the courage to start; she put herself out there when others were telling her that it was a long shot. She didn’t settle for anything less than what she wanted. She set her sights higher and didn’t listen to anyone who told her it couldn’t be done.

That should be a lesson to all of us. Ignore the naysayers. Don’t give them power over you. Be courageous. Focus on your own dreams. Don’t back down. One foot in front of the other. Forward. Commencement.

The New York City skyline as seen on my run through the Heights of Ridgewood, New Jersey. March 2018.

This week in Marathon Training (getting real now! -only 5 weeks to go)…Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 11.04.35 AM

Twenty miles was the longest I’ve run in almost 2 years and was a big jump from the 16 miles I ran 2 weeks ago. I took it slowly with a goal of only covering the distance comfortably.