The power of letting go

It was receiving some unexpected news from one of my children that tore me from my comfy spot in midlife to shove me into the real world of motherhood again. Apparently, I had become too complacent; or rather, I’d become too comfortable in my unchallenged life. I was planning, I was achieving, I was thriving in the mindfulness of the mundane. I had found a moment of peace as all my family seemed to be working their plans and coming to family Christmas. I was happy. I could deal with the extra few pounds from the quarantined routine. I could cope with the change of wearing a mask and the new grocery store layout. But every once and again, like now, something reminds me that I am no longer a mother managing her matriarchy. I am, for moments like these, a supportive sideliner of the family tree.

Times like this are becoming more frequent. Fearing for what might happen to those I love. Somehow, if they had just listened to me the world would be right. If I had just said the right thing, moved the right way, spoke in the quiet voice that screamed the answer, life would be different. The outcome would have been for the best. The world would have been perfect. It is so hard to be rooted in the moment, yet respectful of my children’s lives to leave the past where it belonged, and walk along side them rather than lead. My heart cries mama tears when I land in this spot. How can I be strong for the both of us? How can I fix this? How can I love you enough to make this go away?

This may sound foolish to some who have not lived this motherhood. My children are wonderful and unique and at times perfect and sometimes broken and I know this. What I am learning is that with my midlife I carry a new kind of strength. I love a new kind of love – one that is tough and resilient in ways I never knew. I no longer carry my babies in my arms, or shelter them in my shadow. I now have to watch them as the walk ahead of me, breathing life into their own world. Trembling in my heart, my mama tears soon cease as I find the strength to release my fear. I am finding the power to let go and it terrifies me. I will not be the same, but different. And my children will be better because I did so.

The right to be grateful

For several years, my renewed path to mindfulness included my focus on gratitude. As I became a parent, it became even clearer that the comfortable life in which I was raised was what I wanted for my children. I wanted them to not be spoiled, but free from worry about being in a safe neighborhood, free from concern about whether we would be able to pay the utility bill, or have enough money for the basic meals AND snacks. While today’s teens assume a cell phone and computer is a basic right, I wanted my family to be able to go to the doctor whenever there was a need. Being fully insured, fully fed, and fully entertained was our goal. Being fully educated was the underlying theme at every family discussion. At least it was for me. Having all these things meant my family was on their way to success, and I was grateful to be able to provide this for them as it was provided for me. So there was little doubt that when I became an empty nester, my attention should be directed in showing gratitude and being thankful for the grace I’d received.

Many of my enlightened friends were also at this point in their lives. We considered it a test of our faith or moral character. Acknowledging the ability to live free from most worries allowed us to be humble. To celebrate our personal freedom of no longer being the maniacal mother of teenage tyrants, but now living the life of respectful humility. We’d made it. If our children were still around to tell the tale and visit us on an occasional weekend, it was all good. However, my meditation on the benefits of being grateful took me down a thoughtful turn I had not expected. Was being grateful enough?

The basis of gratitude implies that you exist within a world that provides. That you are seen. That your voice is heard. And that you have succeeded. However, after much thought, I have concluded that the richness of one’s comfort is not earned by hard work. It seems, in part, that the privilege of being grateful is due to being born into circumstances that grant you the right to have. For all of my life, I have looked to my parents as they worked and struggled and then as my spouse and I worked and struggled to provide for our family. Little had I realized that my privilege did not just come from my hard work, but that my ancestors were able to own their home. That my parents shopped freely without fear and provided me things many others did not have. When my children had scrapes with the law, I could rescue them without further recourse as I was not second guessed as a bad mother or worse, judged as less than human. Gratitude had become my evidence of privilege.

I cannot begin to share with you how this troubles me. Being grateful, recognizing that I could have lived without but did not, was part of my midlife commitment to peace. Learning that this peace came at a price that I did not pay is overwhelming to me. How do I reconcile the future I want to provide my children, with addressing these inequities so that all mothers can be grateful and provide for theirs?

I do not have the answers to this, but like a pebble in my shoe, each step I take on this journey is a painful lesson that peace often comes at a cost. How expensive it is will be determined by how we share our ability to be grateful with others.

Who will tell my story?

Just recently was the anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s been six years since she passed away in my home town. We had lived apart, almost 2,000 miles apart, and while technology made it seem closer, it was not close enough. She had become unable to travel and I was still in full-time parent mode. However, as she had more time to visit with me in her retirement years, I was able get to know more about her time as a mother of girls and even a little as a young girl herself. Between the stories of aches and pains of senior life and drama she lived with distant family and her residential facility friends, she occasionally shared a recollection of a time I knew little or nothing about – her youth.

After her death, my sister and I took time to study the few remaining pieces of her life she’d left behind with us. Since moving to an assisted living facility and having to sell her home, it was clear that she had to let go of the identity she had once created for herself as wife, teacher, mother, homeowner, and grandmother. In this new setting and for the years that followed, my mother evolved – or maybe devolved – into the life she led until her death. Now, in a few boxes, what remained of her was given to us to discover.

What we found in these boxes was a woman we barely knew. Instead of the conservative woman who shied away from risk, we found an adventurer. Someone who was a leader, a success within any community she engaged. Someone who, as a young girl from a tiny farming community, fished and camped in the Redwoods. As a teacher fresh out of college, she went to the Far East to travel and teach to young children with military families. We discovered lapel pins and class photos and evidence of her travels to exotic places. We felt sad that the woman we had come to know in death was not the woman we knew in life.

Those of you who follow this journey of mine into midlife have heard my stories of decluttering my life and focusing on the present. Instead of what had become a routine of schedules and sacrifice, I am focusing more on enjoying my life as it unfolds and living an authentic life built not only on the past but the present. As I read between the lines of my mother’s belongings, I was saddened to conclude that we, as a family, had been unsuccessful in helping her tell her story. Instead of celebrating who she was with us, she had put it in the past and lived a life she felt she should – a life of obligation. Where was this carefree girl fishing in the river? Exploring her world? Leading the charge of those around her? Why were we left with a feeling that we didn’t genuinely know the wonderful person she was? How different would our lives have been had this woman had been more a part of our lives?

My father, who had become estranged from our family after the divorce, led a very troubled and lonely life. In death a couple years later, he left no one behind to share his story. My decluttering of my parents belongings and other collected items allowed me to reminisce through the artifacts of my personal history. This gave me pause to think about my life and how I want to be remembered when I am no longer here to tell MY story. Some will ask, why does it matter? You will be gone and it will no longer affect you. After much reflection, I have concluded it matters to me because I want to be remembered. I want my story to be woven into the fabric of my “people” and their collective hearts. Being remembered gives your love and the life you lead purpose.

Nowadays, with social media, people who really don’t know you well may only know what you share via your streams of posts and tweets. The duality of crafting your public story versus living your private one has become the reality of today’s generation. I wholeheartedly believe that we owe it to ourselves to tell our own story. I derive my strength and inspiration from the string of events that are mine and mine alone. All the good and the bad moments have made me who I am and I want my people to know every bit of it. What about you? What of your life gives you purpose? How will others tell your story?

Reel to Real Life

I can’t recall when I exactly I became fascinated with the movies. I would regularly lose myself in the technicolor drama and my imagination exploded with potential. I became the characters I watched. I was the heroine from a foreign land. I was the adventurer from space or the pioneer woman on the wagon train. When I was old enough to attend the movie theater by myself, something inside me must have clicked. I finally understood that despite the cinematic separation between on and off screen life , each person can pick and choose the influences in their world and create their own life movie. The romance we aspire to, the friendships and family we hope for, and the adventure we seek in an existence which can often be lonely, scary, and full of challenge. Even today, I escape to the movies to what I call my reel life.

Becoming enamored with characters for their wisdom, their ingenuity and their heroism inspired me in ways nothing else could. I had no heroes growing up. As a parent, I can’t say if I was ever a hero to my children. I am, however, a role model. Someone who lives their life in the face of adversity. Someone whose individuality does not waver in a culture of conformity. Someone whose bravery hopefully shines to others in my life during times when it is easy to surrender. I am inspired by the Luke Skywalkers of my reel life. I was inspired by all the role models I did not have but found in the movies.

I think everyone goes through a period of uncertainty, insecurity, or loneliness. My favorite stories brought to life in the movies always seemed to give me solace. Whether it is as a child or as an adult, we grow and cling to what gets us through. For me, the potential of an awesome life is what I found in my youth and what I brought to my midlife. Now, I feel like I have made it to the other side. The challenges of my early life are still there but no longer as crippling. My children have been encouraged to find their own way and to seek inspiration in their worlds. Worlds that I have had a hand in creating. As a mother, I have often worried about the journeys my children are choosing to take. Hopefully, they are finding good things in both typical and unexpected places.

You may wonder why the inspiration and escape I’ve found in movies has remained so constant in my mid-life. Surprisingly, I have found I am not alone. I have learned about networks of others who have been so inspired by their reel life they have cultivated communities of their own whose passion exceeds the confines of national boundaries or age. These people read fan fiction, celebrate fun through cosplay, and join others in their escapism only cinema can provide. While one might argue that movies are not real, they are not a healthy way to perceive life, I argue that for me – they do not dictate what people should be but provide me the framework to explore my own imagination. I am free to believe that I am the master of my own life and I alone can choose how to what I aspire and how high I can reach.

I am fortunate that I can now spend my time worrying less about finding my heroes and more time about being one to inspire someone else. I can find the time to share the stories that will stir others to be bold, to take big steps into their real life. Some are lucky to find these people close to home. Others, like me, found mine in the movies. I may no longer need my virtual light saber, but the soundtrack to my real life still sounds pretty darn good.

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 what 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 expect to 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.

Where do I start?

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

I am a mom, currently in midlife. Well, 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 have 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 that loomed 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, my motherhood will never change – and it is why I feel the greatest responsibility for 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?