Two weeks, two graduations, what’s next for me?

Last month we celebrated. First was college graduation for my eldest on the East Coast, then back home for the last rites of high school with my youngest. There were so many parties and official events that I powered through by focusing on logistics. Now I have time to stop and consider the meaning of it all.

 

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There’s no denying middle age

In addition to the festivities, I also underwent that initiation into middle age, the baseline colonoscopy. And recently I’ve spent hours collecting financial documents, as my husband and I worked with an attorney to update our wills. Little wonder that my spinning instructor cautioned me about hunching my shoulders, and my chiropractor told me to come back in just a week.

 

That persistent question

Why can’t I stop and bask in my kids’ graduations — celebrate a job well done? Why do I jump to “what’s next?” Maybe it has to do with the question people were asking me at last month’s functions: “Now you’re going to be an empty nester. What do you think about that, and what do you plan to do with yourself?

 

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I tense up. For twenty years I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, school and sports volunteer, carpool driver and family chef. I don’t know how to translate these skills into something that will give my life meaning for the next twenty years.

I know I’m over-reacting. Folks are just being nice when they ask me “what’s next.” We don’t know each other well, and they’re trying to make conversation. Maybe the woman who asks me this is gathering ideas for her own midlife transition, or maybe she wonders if anyone else dreads an empty nest as much as she does. In fact, the actual number of people asking me “what’s next” has been small — nonetheless, I feel overwhelmed by the question.

 

Not knowing what’s next

For lots of us, it’s a scary transition. We’re left alone as our children go off to new adventures, friends and opportunities. Although it doesn’t hit you when they’re in elementary or middle school, the implication of raising your kids to be independent is that, eventually, they won’t need you anymore. This is good. But it’s also terrible.

I’ve spent the better part of two decades shepherding my children through their activities, helping with homework, doing laundry and cooking, and learning about their friends and interests. Now I’m staying put while they move on to do these things somewhere else, without me. Sure, it’s nice to do less laundry than before, not to always plan ahead what we’ll have for dinner. But there’s a big hole in my day-to-day life where my kids used to be, and I’m not sure how to fill it.

 

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A beginning or an end?

Commencement: for the graduates, it’s a beginning. For me, the graduates’ mother, it feels like more of an end. The end of their childhoods, the end of little people who need me, the end of doing what I know how to do.

I have faith there’ll be more joy ahead — I’ll make my way through this tunnel of sadness, fear and confusion. But I’m not ready to announce “what’s next” for me.

When I figure it out, though, I’ll be sure to let you know.

 

Image credits: Daisy Shih, Nick Harris, Anne Rosales

Looking for light this side of the equinox: excuses and enneagrams

We’re still seven weeks away from the vernal equinox, when the hours of daylight will equal the hours of darkness, heralding my favorite season of the year. I love the summer, when days are long, and light lasts well into the evening.

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SAD: a lack of light

I think I need sunlight now more than ever. Lately, when friends have asked me if I’m still posting to my blog, I realize that my “holiday break” has continued well past New Year’s. My only excuse for my silence has been “the January malaise,” to which one friend replied, “Oh, you must be seasonal.” And I think she’s right. It may not be severe enough to be clinical, but I recognize in myself symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a type of winter depression that overtakes mainly women due to lack of sunlight.

I have one of those SAD lights, but I don’t sit in front of it regularly, and I don’t start using it early in the fall, before I start feeling bad — so I don’t receive the benefits I’m supposed to get from it. Too bad I’m not like the dogs I saw on the ABC News, whose owners were kind enough to buy them daylight spectrum lights. Those depressed doggies apparently perked up after lying in front of the SAD lightboxes. You can check out the story and video here.

The Enneagram: en-light-ening?

I started to make a list of things I had done during the month of January, during which I did no writing or blogging, but after taking the Enneagram test online, I realized I probably need to fight my compulsion to ennumerate my accomplishments — that I should focus more on “being” and less on “doing.” This is because my top score on the quiz was that of the Enneagram 3, or The Achiever, who has a tendency to tie her sense of self-worth to her accomplishments. My second top score was even less encouraging: it was the 8, or the The Challenger, who is confident and assertive, but also prone to confrontation and intimidation. Not exactly what I needed to pull me out of a slump.

 

Enneagram Symbol

Courtesy of The Ennegram Institute

 

So in the spirit of not evaluating myself by how many checks I’ve put on the to-do list, I won’t go through the “incredible” (not really) things I did during my time away from the blog. I do have some plans coming up that may involve changing or adding to Second Serve, however, and those are exciting. Hopefully, with more sunlight in the days ahead, I’ll be able to get going on them.

Until then, I’ll be the lady searching for sun. But don’t get in my way, as apparently one of my possible Enneagram types won’t hesitate to elbow past you!

 

Image credits: iFreeze, Enneagram Institute

Blogging with the pros

Last week I attended my first blogging convention, BlogHerPRO. It was a mini-convention, lasting only one day — something that made me more willing  to try it. That, and its location in San Francisco enticed me — for a “local” such as myself, it was only an hour away. Although I was intimidated to enter the room, I found the experience invigorating, even transformative. Let me tell you why.

 

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Blogging as a hobby

I started my blog in 2010 as a way to practice my writing. Also because I was fascinated by blogging technology and the fact that anyone could become a publisher just by putting stuff out there on the Internet. I figured blogging would be fun. Plus, it would be another outlet for me to “share” my opinions, in addition to offering them alongside grilled chicken at the dinner table.

Now, after two and a half years of blogging, I still tend to consider it one of my hobbies. My self-talk goes: “I’m a mom, an almost-empty-nester, a tennis player, sometimes a writer. Oh, and I have this blog. Check it out, it’s kind of cool.”

 

Enter: BlogHerPRO

But last week, I began to think of myself as a Blogger. The BlogHerPRO speakers included women who’ve built exemplary blogs and offered practical tips from their own experience. I absorbed an information-packed day with presentations by folks like Maria Ross of Red Slice, Catherine McCord of Weelicious, Carly Knobloch of Digitwirl and Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes.

For me, however, the highest value in attending BlogHerPRO came from conversations with other attendees. Although I felt intimidated going into the day, it was probably the most welcoming large-group event I’ve encountered. I’m bad at estimating crowd sizes, but I would guess over 200 women attended. Two hundred more bloggers, all of them female, than I’d ever seen in one place before.

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The college application merry-go-round

Phew, it’s done. My son submitted his first college application this week. He still has more applications to complete before January 1, but getting that first one done is a big accomplishment.

Especially because turning in an “early application” usually means you have to fill out the Common App, which goes to most of the other schools you’ll be applying to later. Filling in data like test scores and extra-curriculars isn’t so bad, but the essays . . . . The typical teenager doesn’t enjoy WRITING about himself — especially if he’s a boy and would rather be doing anything else – for example, in the face of college application essays, cleaning his room starts to look appealing.

College applications and frequent flyers?

Wouldn’t it be great if colleges had something similar to the TSA PreCheck or Clear? These programs, available to frequent flyers, allow you to submit personal data ahead of time, in some cases paying a fee, but they guarantee quick passage through airport security. If such a thing were available to speed through the essay portions of college apps, kids could just affix electronic stamps of approval to their applications: “I’m pre-certified to be fantastic, seriously!” It would save so much stress, both for them and their parents.

That’s the other thing. There’s no way the strain of this doesn’t spill over to the parents. In some cases it even starts with us. Yes, of course I know it’s my child who’s going to college  and not me. Sometimes I just have trouble acting accordingly.

 College Application essay

For example, when it gets to be late at night and he’s trying to figure out which version of a sentence sounds better, he may as well ask me. But at the same time, it’s easy to do too much, to get caught up in my child’s process. I’ve seen how hard he’s worked through high school. Like any parent, I want the best for my kid — yet this is his deal, not mine. I have to keep reminding myself.

You’d think that, since my two older children made successful transitions to college, I’d be confident and familiar enough with this season of life that my child’s senior year wouldn’t feel so traumatic for me. Ha!

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Aerobics fever: move over, Jane Fonda!

Redoubling my efforts to find a way to stay in shape while tennis elbow issues are keeping me off the court, I checked out an aerobics class at a fitness studio called Uforia that opened two years ago in a historic building formerly belonging to the AME Zion Church. It’s pretty cool to be working out and glance up to see stained glass windows.

The class was called “fever,” billed as “a fun and athletic aerobics inspired class.” Supposedly it would be “45 minutes of heart pounding, sweat pouring and smile inducing fun,” and no prior dance or fitness training was required, just a readiness to come and move. The description also added that “Jane Fonda won’t know what hit her.”

Aerobics fashion: check

Great, I was there. I showed up early, attired in black Nike capris and a racerback tank — clothes I thought would help me blend in, fashion-wise. I didn’t want to stand out as dorky, or edgy. As others arrived, I decided my clothing choice had been good, but if I continued with this class, I would definitely need to upgrade my shoes.

 

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Aerobics moves: not so much

Our instructor connected her iPod to the speaker system and put on her cordless mic. After a bit of stretching and warm-up, we plunged into the moves. “Lunge right, feet together, lunge left, feet together. Now forward, two three four, back, two three four. Grapevine right, two three four. Left, two three four. Add a twist, two three four. Left, two three four.”

She shouted over the pulsing beat, pointing right and left to help us stay in step. By the end of the first song, I was back in the aerobics class I used to do in a converted store at the mall during evenings between my sophomore and junior years in college. For me, it was 1982. Jane Fonda had just released her first Workout video:

How ’bout those high-cut leotards? Hopefully they won’t come back, the way some fashions do. I was reminded of being on college tours with my daughter. When we visited my own school, our student tour guide was energized to hear I had lived in the residential college that enjoyed some small fame for an Austin Powers-style party. “Essentially, it mocks the ’80’s — it’s become quite the tradition, I’m sure you remember it.”

I had to remind him that actually, I was in college during the ’80’s, so it would technically be my generation that the party would be mocking. No problem.

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