Where do I start?


Part of me said this blog wasn’t a good idea.

I am a mom, currently in midlife. I am not just a mom, but once I had children I realized that I had to develop answers to life questions I used to take for granted. Why must I share my toys? Why do I need to wear a helmet? Can’t I just text you? Now that my children are grown and left home, my house is not empty as much as it filled with questions about what I want to accomplish with the rest of my life. When one door closes, another door opens. Right?

However, as the over-thinker I am, I began to drift in thought to times that took me away from the present: regrets I may have had in my past, retirement plans looming ahead, what traditions and memories I leave behind with my family and friends. While motherhood is not a requirement for a successful life, it continually reminds me that no matter what happens in my life, this will never change – and it why I feel the greatest responsibility to ensuring my children’s success. Unfortunately, this overwhelms me with the sense that I am missing out on the present. I am missing out on the moment. Worrying about what I can’t control. Obsessing on how I can balance being the best Mom in Midlife and not lose a sense of myself as an individual trying to leave her mark.

So I am making the commitment to change my perspective on the first step of the rest of my life. Learn to ground myself in where I am by bringing with me the lessons of my mental musings, my maternal worries, and my womanly wanderings through the rest of my journey. Teach myself to maintain moments of mindfulness in an otherwise wandering soul to be better. A better friend, a better mother, a better wife, a better me. Maintaining this blog as a touchstone to my moments.

So, part of me said this wasn’t a good idea. But then again – part of me says I’m willing to take the leap into this moment. Being a better Mom in Midlife. My first act of mindfulness for the new year. Won’t you join me?


The time for reflection

As long as I can remember, I loved to dance. Dance while with my friends, dance while no one is looking. The energy and love I exude while moving to the musical beat put me in a state of happiness that I simply could not recreate elsewhere. Body and mind were one. Until I started getting older. My mind moved one way, my body another. I shimmied while I shook – but not in unison. My outer self no longer reflected by inner self. While feeling betrayed by age and life, I’ve begun seeking how I can find my happy place in the middle age of motherhood.

I recently started back up with a Zumba class, energized by the Latin beats and inspired by fancy footwork of our instructor. Our class is full, with all levels of participants. I am filled with a feeling of safety as I recognize my limitations and making conscious choice to still have fun without the guilt of underperforming. I get lost in the mamba motion, imagining how skilled I feel by tackling these steps. Until the group shifts and I am standing in front of the mirror.

A wave of disappointment crashed over me as my inner joyous self met my outer midlife self. How could I be fooled enough to think I was mastering my joy over my midlife unfitness? I felt guilty. I felt cheated. Why did I have to step in front of the mirror? My thoughts, these days, have been about mastering my own destiny, charting my own course, creating my own happiness. I recognized the time for change.

A quote attributed to Marty Rubin summarized the lesson I was about to learn:
“Mirrors: they show you what you lack, not what you have.” This gym class mirror couldn’t show me all I achieved, all that I was to those in my life. It was showing me what I lacked, and I was placing too much importance on this. I have made this my new mantra – frame the way you live your life in terms of what you’re doing for health and happiness – giving it to others, but now – even more – giving it to yourself. Your life before was more about what you did for others. Don’t regret it. Don’t feel guilty that you were unable to place yourself more of a priority then. Doing it now is a step in the right direction on your journey. What you see in the mirror is capturing what you are doing right. What you lack is buried in the past.

So, as I lace up for another class, I am going to find the strength to stand in front of the mirror. Truly open my eyes and my heart and see what I am doing. I am going to take each step in front of the mirror and it will remind me of my mindful journey. I will just have a meringue rhythm to keep me on track.

Do or do not, there is no try…

We’ve heard it before. The wise old tiny one from Star Wars -the Jedi Master of all Masters. Don’t say it. Do it. Don’t try, get it done. These words of wisdom inspire me daily on my journey. As a woman, the older I get, the wiser I become as I understand that this world, despite my belief that love is what carries us through this universe, is about those who get the job done – not who just give it the old college try. As a mother, this lesson truly hits home for me as I continually judged my abilities as a parent by the outcome of labor: My children.

Many who read my blog will tell you that I’ve spent a bit of blog space talking about guilt, apologies, and living up to my own expectations. It’s difficult to say if this comes from my mother and her mother, who repeatedly drilled into my psyche that how we present ourselves is just as important as what we accomplish. Fake it until you make it. However, I have also heard the longstanding litany of “don’t worry, just try your best and you’ll be fine”. Fear of rejection, fear of comparing ourselves to others…it’s hard to escape.

I read an article recently that put forth the idea that women are more pressured to be perfectionists for a variety of reasons, and that this can be witnessed in the professional arena as we judge ourselves and others, and as we allow ourselves to be judged. On a personal note, I continue to struggle with the emotional anchor of “you’re only as good a parent as how your children turned out to be”. In my mind, this is crazy talk. I knew better. But in my heart, if my children struggled it was because I failed in some way. How could I live in the moments of mindfulness when my anchors kept holding me to my maternal guilt?

It’s taken a while for me to understand this nugget of worldly wisdom, but acceptance of the outcome means you have control of all the moving parts. I do not have control of my children, my projects, my people, my world. I survive or perish by how I respond to those things I decide are important enough to devote myself to. Midlife has finally allowed me the insight into Yoda’s key wisdom: Do or do not decide what is worthy of YOU. There is no trying to please everyone. Do remain mindful and do not accept the outcome of things not in your control. When it comes to motherhood, I finally understand there is no try. There is just do.

Love means never having to say…

Who are we kidding? Love means having to say you’re sorry all the time. Often being misunderstood as a mother seems a second way of life these days. From the first mutterings of how Mommy was mean to the teenaged tantrums of how “I’ll just go talk to Dad. He’ll say yes”. The journey from mother to meaningful empty nester required a mind shift from one of peacemaker to that of adventuresome independent. I wanted to no longer care about being the mean mom but needed to be proud of reclaiming my individualism. I needed to release the instinct to apologize for being misunderstood and strengthen my resolve as a woman who could move forward in my life without the immediate concern for what others were thinking.

During the early years, I often received advice that allowed me to navigate motherhood by being more of a follower and less of a leader. It was a struggle as I attempted to lead a mindful and harmonious life as a joiner. While I didn’t share in the ideal family life, I had many reminders of how I could be more loving, more patient. I had encouragement to avoid the toxic and seek the healthy. We all have our own parental journey that often isn’t perfect. Each step of the way paved with good intentions but often misunderstandings as well. Figuring out how to be a good parent and spouse with no real support system was challenging.

However, as I became an empty nester, I was able to more easily tap into my memories of LBC – life before children – to regain a sense of my authentic self. I didn’t want to be filled with regret for all the paths I did not take. I wanted to be who I was before I was a misunderstood mom.

Now, my journey to mindfulness in midlife is filled with guilt-free moments. I stay out late on a work night. I am no longer a fixture at my children’s school. I have reclaimed my “nerd-dom” from long ago and made it acceptable in a world where there is a society for everything. I can go to the store in sweats with no make-up and not be the family pariah because my children were too mortified their friends would see me. Little by little, I am learning again that I do not need to be sorry for the life I lived that didn’t meet expectations. I am learning not to apologize for being the caring, hard-working mother who made choices and loved her family in spite of unexpected life detours.

These days, I find myself thinking of my mother as I respond to my daughters in the ways she responded to me – and how my daughters sometimes respond to me like I did to my mother. My apologies are few and far between and are about me learning to let go of the need to be there for all things. My sorrow is for understanding that they will not always need me. My tears are for the things I can no longer fix.

Once I dry my tears, I understand that my children are learning to see me more as a person. They are living their lives as they can, making plenty of mistakes and receiving lots of feedback from their mother. Perhaps much of it unwanted. I am living my life as a leader, choosing a life of love without regret. Like ducklings on a pond, my children have been paddling their way in the direction of their mother. But at some point as they grow up, they will paddle on to shore without me. It may not be where I can see them, but I know they will land where they need to be. And hopefully, I will be nearby.

Faith, Love, and the Final Frontier

There comes a time in every parent’s life when they cross the threshold into religion and faith. It is no longer teaching one’s children the secular right and wrong, but instilling the internal belief in something that guides their morals and values. For me, it was my goal to expose my children to as much diversity of belief as possible. As a mother of daughters, I wanted to be empowering. As a woman, I wanted to be unrestricted by belief. As a responsible and hopeful citizen, I wanted my views to be sensitive and looking to the future of my lifetime. I wanted my children to experience the universe in a way that they could make up their own minds. Little did I know that incorporating these factors into raising my children would be more of a challenge than I could possibly know.

Before motherhood, I was fascinated with the connection between human beings and nature, between beauty and science, and as well as logic and the art of imagination. Once I settled into motherhood, I tried hard to craft my smorgasbord of beliefs in child-sized portions so I could be prepared to answer the questions my daughters would eventually ask. But how could I explain my beliefs in a way that was simple and symbolic, without being laden with jargon that might be misconstrued? The answer came to me, straight from my childhood. Star Trek into space, the final frontier.

If you’ve never spoken to someone who loves the fandom, you may be missing out. Star Trek is symbolic of exploration and curiosity, the values of it takes to be good neighbors and good citizens, and the unknown but exciting future represented by space: the final frontier. “These are the voyages…” Well, you know. I wanted to share with my children the hope and idealism I felt as a young girl. Despite the regular episodic challenges of retaining one’s humanity in trying circumstances, I wanted them to feel like the world held something for them, that they made a difference, and that they were bound by a responsibility to support their society in ways that did not destroy it but made it better.

I think that every parent has those moments where they worry whether their child will make it – make it home without incident, make it in the workaday world, make it with the emotional health it takes to navigate adulthood. The trials of faith we all endure once the children we love walk the walk of a responsible adult. However, I am continually reminded of my childhood and how this final frontier in space allowed me to feel like I could do anything, be anything. No matter the differences in looks, opinions, family income, social status, we were all equally equipped to join Starfleet.

Now, I hope that my daughters, despite their religious or spiritual choices, hold that same wonder for the universe and desire to explore their potential to be a good world citizen. To be a thoughtful leader in a future where they may be the minority. To know that no matter where they end up, they will make a difference and go where no (wo)man has gone before. So as I worry about my now adult children, I have faith that my belief in them, and my love of the symbolic journey to the final frontier, will lead them to the stars of their successful life.

Is the nest really empty?

When my children were close to adulthood and fantasizing about life on their own, without Mom, I continually wrestled with my own thoughts about what I would do with all that time and freedom from worry. Just like parents of toddlers wonder what they’ll do with all the money they save when their kids are out of diapers. Just like parents of young children drool over the money they’ll have when they no longer pay for daycare. Little did I know that my little nest and my big imagination would lead me to discover that just because my birds were taking flight didn’t mean my self-worth and peace of mind had to go with them.

It’s amazing how much time you spend thinking of other things and other people when you are a partner, or a parent. Not much time for yourself, and a teenager certainly commands a large part of the family budget, even when they head off to college or other endeavors. It took work, lots of tough love, and letting go of the intertwined involvement in my children’s lives, but I finally got to a point where I began to think more about me – not just a resource for my children but as a person who was free to rediscover herself. Parts of my life I’d suppressed in my mom life, I was able to regain with the understanding I was focusing on the here and now.

So, as my spouse and I live our empty nester lives, pursuing our professional and personal interests with renewed vigor – I have moments at home when I wonder why it’s so quiet. No more bustle, no more kids in and out. Then I realize this is a gift – my time to breathe. This is my time to pay attention to every moment and the minutes in between them. I find myself lost in the act of rinsing dishes, sewing a button on my clothing, and rearranging the flowers on the table. The house is not empty, but is now becoming filled with the focused moment of doing little bits of nothing.

I no longer feel the need for the background noise to keep me company. Sure, I still work and play and love my family as I always have. I just don’t need the bustle of kids and pets that stressed me years ago when it was difficult to separate myself from them. I enjoy the quiet moments of dishes and brushing my dog’s fur. I enjoy the coffee on the deck and watching the cat stretching itself in the sun. I have finally learned that my nest is not empty but filled with a lifetime of potential peace, measured one breath at a time.

Guilt: the equal opportunity burden

It wasn’t supposed to go like this. I was supposed to be an equal partner in all things with my significant other in life and in family. Share the responsibility, share the joy from accomplishments in our lives, share common goals so that we were always reassured of the journey we took to bring ourselves to new levels of challenge and reward. Raise our family with strong values, love, and lead by example with exemplifying with respect. And then came real life. Discovery of repeating the cycles of past trauma and dysfunction, crises in real time, and then the guilt. The guilt that only comes from hind sight.

I used to believe that my life was to reflect my values and priorities. My perspective was that if you talked the talk, you walked the walk. Little did I realize that life was less about leading by example by what you have and more about reacting to what you didn’t. It was more about juggling the plates and not breaking the important ones. It was less about how nice your table looked with these plates and more about how comfortable your guests were. I felt guilty because I wasn’t leading the mom life I wanted, and in the process, led the mom life that impacted my kids in ways I worry about now.

As an empty nester, I look back at my choices of how they affected my children. Being a step-parent was like a trial run for “real” parenthood. First, there were the years of being just a stepmother. Then there were the years of being mainly just a mom. Finally, there were years of both, when I had to develop answers to questions I wasn’t ready for. I had to be ready to make these decisions whether I was alone, or on the same page with my partner. I had to be ready not only to live the life I felt I should live, but figure how to be the mom I wanted to be, amidst all the unhealthy parts of real life that never really went away.

It was difficult. While this blog was never meant to call out the specifics of my life, it does allow me to realize that I spend an awful amount of my life wishing things could have been different. Don’t get me wrong – I made the best decisions I could given the circumstances. However, I have spent lots of my time worrying about what I felt I could have done differently. I often find myself anchored to the past with this worry. Now, I have grandchildren and I see that all of my adult children are creating their own lives. They are making their own choices, creating their own memories. I have to wonder – Could I have done more? Are their challenges in life my fault? Will they ever know I tried? Will they see all that I’d hoped for them but never felt I shared with them?

I know I shouldn’t be worrying about things beyond my control. In my head, I realize that my life never needed to be perfect. But in my heart…that’s a different story. Despite my best attempts to live my life in mindfulness, I continue to be brought back to the thoughts of “what if” I had lived my life differently? Made different choices? Guilt seems like the equal opportunity burden that all mothers face at some point in their lives.

So, inspired as I am for this new year, and for my belief that it is never too late, I make a personal commitment to take each day a time with a simple goal: reach out to my loved ones to let them know they matter. Instead of worrying that I have failed them in some way, let them know they are ever present in my thoughts. I accept that I cannot change the past and I cannot accept responsibilities for others’ lives. I can only move forward with purposeful love one day at a time. Loving myself enough to take this step each day allows me to cherish what I have in my life and those who have me in theirs.

This is my journey. One day at a time. One step at a time. Where is your life journey taking you?