Runaway Mom

Lisa writes: One evening right before my youngest son left for college, he ganged up with his oldest brother and gave me a talking to. They told me that it was time for me to do things differently. My life had revolved around theirs for decades and thus, they implored, “You should have adventure now, Mom. You should do what you really want to do.”

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I restrained myself from pointing out the obvious, that having them was an adventure like none other and it was exactly what I had wanted to do. I just hope that one day my grandchildren will make these points clear to them.

But I did hear their message. And while I think the clarion call of the empty nest is not to run off and have some big midlife adventure (which is pretty much what I am about to do), the point I think they hit upon, inadvertently, is that it is a moment to reassess. Our children’s moving out is a turning point of extraordinary proportions, one that warrants reexamining life as we know it. While it would be great if we could imagine life without our kids while they were still home, sometimes an experience speaks to us only once we are in it.

The biggest failing of in-the-moment parenting is, perhaps, that we are so steeped in daily life that trying to take an outsider’s look at our own lives can be all but impossible. Our kids very present needs easily drown out our more existential ones.

Yet, the best decisions I have made about my life involved stepping away from it and examining it from the outside. Sometimes I have done this literally. I decided to go to graduate school while living in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and sometimes it has been metaphorically, by getting rid of all the givens and realizing that there are often more options than there once seemed.

But my kids were right about one thing, their departure marked a turning point and the one thing I should not do is carry on as if only my grocery bill had changed. I am watching parents at midlife change houses and careers, start new businesses, pick up new and extreme activities (I stand in awe of anyone who can run 26 miles) and throw themselves into social and philanthropic causes. For me, the empty nest felt very much like an ending, but all around me I see people for whom it is just a beginning.

Returning to that quiet house, the home that had known so many years of chaos and love, gave me more than a moment of pause.

So I am running away from home, temporarily, and setting off to walk across Spain with one of my oldest girlfriends. I will be traversing the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a thousand-year old pilgrimage that I only heard about a month ago.

I don’t like the outdoors, hate exercise and despise routine of any sort. So a long walk through slowly changing scenery that requires regular discipline about setting off early and sticking to a path, just might not be my thing. And for that reason alone, I am going.

Runaway Mom in Burgos

Camino De Santiago

Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago

 

CAmino de Santiago

 

Camino De Santiago

Camino de Santiago

Interested in learning about the Camino de Santiago?  Here is a great website with fabulous photography.

It you want to read more extensively, here are two amazing guidebooks:

Camino de Santiago: Practical Preparation and BackgroundI loved this short (inexpensive) book,  Camino de Santiago – Practical Preparation and Background, because I read every word and felt I got an excellent idea of what the trek is like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: St. Jean • Roncesvalles • Santiago (Camino Guides) is the classic, day-by-day guide with more detail than can be absorbed.

Camino de Santiago

 

 

Ten Terrifying Things About Going Back to Work and Why You Should Not Be Scared

Lisa writes: For some time now I have been obsessing about going back to work. I have ruminated on my misgivings about being a stay-at-home mom to anyone who will listen and then spilled my guts on national television. While I have been spouting off, a number of my friends have been listening, sending out resumes and have actually returned to the working world. All were excited, none were without trepidations. They were good enough to share their thoughts with me because they are very kind people, have all been thrilled with the transition back to the workplace and they hope to kick me into action.

Grant Central Station, New York City

1. Time

While the demands of a SAHM are many and, at times, overwhelming, there is the opportunity to set some of one’s own priorities and schedule. Back to work and someone else is the boss, your time is in their hands and your schedule is not longer your own. The trade-off between time and money is rarely perfect in our lives and at no time is that clearer than when returning to work. But here is the cold hard truth, nobody juggles better than a mom, so while it may be daunting at first to cede your calendar to your new boss, moms have got the skills to make it work.

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Trust, Change and Social Media

Lisa writes: Last week Roger Cohen, op-ed writer for The New York Times, excoriated Baby Boomers for being the “Twitter-Bashing Bores.” In his piece his chastised the generation born after the war for the curmudgeonly practice of belittling our children’s addiction to their screens and for the social media that connects them. He reminds us that our parents despaired of us, of our music, our clothing and our mores and reminds us that “More things do not change than do.”

social media

Our irritation at our kids and their love affair with technology and social media, Cohen surmises, is just “irritation at the new” something older generations felt about younger generations for all of time. He concludes by scolding those of us who grew up without personal computers to, “Repeat after me: Thou shalt not complain about social media or judge the habits of a generation you do not understand.“

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Waiting for Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier: What I’ve Missed Most

Mary Dell writes: Lisa and I are among the millions of US fans who have spent the last 11 months pining for our favorite period drama. Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier is January, 5, a date already circled in red on my calendar.

Here is what I’ve missed the most during this long wait for the show to resume:

Downton Abbey cast, Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier

1. Theme Song

The gorgeous orchestration of the theme music by British composer John Lunn prepares viewers for the weekly feast of audible pleasure to come. While I have endured the wait for the program to resume, I have clicked on the YouTube recording, closing my eyes, and imagining the cast beginning to assemble at the manor house.

2. Opening Photo montage

Creator Julian Fellowes is a master of detail and the opening montage richly displays life in both the upstairs and downstairs quarters at Downton. Fellowes’ wonderful dialogue and highly textured use of period furnishings in this television production are of the caliber of feature film Gosford Park, a movie for which he wrote the script, winning a best screenplay Academy Award in 2002.

3. British History

Every Downton Abbey episode gives viewers a chance to absorb lessons in British history. The writers have already covered WWI, the influenza epidemic, the decline of the landed aristocracy, and the beginnings of the Irish Free State. Season Four is set in the Roaring twenties and a new Season Five begins production in 2014; we have much more to absorb.

4. Interior Design

I savor the details of Downton Abbey’s set design, and wonder what it would be like to live with the sweeping staircases, vaulted ceilings, and formal home furnishings. Every Sunday night I am inspired to take my own decor up a notch.

5. Parenting Lessons

Lord and Lady Grantham face challenges with their daughters and extended families that are surprisingly relatable. Watching the interpersonal dynamics presents vivid examples of parenting do’s and don’ts. The world may have changed much in the last ninety years but the challenges of parenting remain unaltered.

6. Grantham Clan

Downton has an expertly drawn cast that I love visiting every week. Fellowes made these characters real to me and I am invested in the lives of both the gilded Granthams and the downstairs help.

7. Smash Hit

Downton Abbey is a rare quality costume drama, the biggest success ever for PBS and ITV, where it is shown in the UK.  I recall watching every episode of Brideshead Revisited and Lisa fondly remember Upstairs, Downstairs. But those shows were televised in 1981 and 1971. Success like this does not come around often.

8. Gorgeous Clothes

The ladies’ period costumes are stunningly beautiful. From wedding gowns to sleeping attire, the luxurious fabrics and intricate accessories are breathtaking. Watching the show feels like playing dress-up. Just imagining the contents of the Grantham ladies’ closets makes me want to put long leather gloves and strands of pearls on my Christmas list.

9. Maggie Smith

Dame Maggie’s lines alone make the show worthwhile, and she dominates each and every scene. I lean into the TV whenever she appears to make sure I don’t miss a word (although I can count on seeing her in a Monday-morning meme with the best zinger of the previous evening.)

10. Dan Stevens’ Matthew Crawley

The hopes for happily ever after for our favorite upstairs couple ended with the Season Three finale. Though there is no doubt that Mary will thrive without Matthew, I can’t help but grieve for the what if’s in their lives together.

11. Date Night

Discovering a show that both my husband and I enjoy is a gift. On the evening of January 5, we will set a fire in the fireplace, pour two glasses of wine, and watch the Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier together. In our almost empty nest, watching this favorite show together has become our date night. I am counting the days until it returns.

Cooking for Two in an Empty Nest Kitchen

Mary Dell writes: One of my roles as a mom has been that of chief hunter and gatherer for our family meals. To say I am bored with every single chicken dish that I have placed on the kitchen table over the last two decades is an enormous understatement. With our youngest child a senior in high school, the end is in sight for family dinners as I have known them but a new challenge looms – cooking for two.

Fortunately, Lisa and I had a serendipitous introduction to Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook, when we were all on a terrifying flight  from Chicago back home this summer. Our shared adversity fostered a friendship and, by the time we finally arrived (safely) in New York, we had learned that Katie is not only an amazing writer and cook, but also someone with a steady sense of humor, regardless of the circumstances.  She offered this advice for retooling our empty nest kitchens:  katie workman   chili-636

Dialing the quantities of recipes up or down sometimes feels daunting, but many recipes are highly flexible, and the freezer can become your best friend. Even if you make half of a recipe of turkey chili (a very easily recipe to scale down) you may have more than you need.  Just freeze extra in pint size containers for easy defrosting, and pull them out as you need them. Not only are you not worrying about how to consume the whole pot, but you’ve got another dinner ready to go. Apple Cider Beef Stew is another great candidate, as are most soups and stews, and casseroles (just divide them into two smaller pans and freeze one).

Roasted-Butternut-Squash-63

Also, think of how leftovers can be used in other meals a couple of days later. Extra Citrus Basil Shrimp Kebabs are a wonderful way to turn a green salad into a real lunch, cooked sausages get crumbled into a pasta, leftover Lemon Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast becomes Turkey Posole Soup.  Making cookies, but don’t want an extra dozen lingering around your kitchen? Freeze half the dough in rolled balls, then transfer them to a zipper top bag with all of the air pressed out, store them in the freezer and defrost and bake them as needed. And don’t forget – your neighbors will always appreciate a little care package!

StruesselApplePie-636 To that we would add, your college kid might actually venture to his post office box if he knows homemade treats awaits for him and his roommates. The cookies that Katie suggests seem perfect!  

Katie Workman is the author of The Mom 100 Cookbook  and the creator of themom100.com blog.  She is also the founding Editor in Chief of Cookstr.com, “the website that shares tested, trusted recipes from cookbooks created by respected chefs and cookbook authors.”

Photo credit: Todd Coleman

Katie Workman and the Empty Nest Kitchen

The More Things Change…

Lisa writes: Growing up in the 1970’s, in a swirl of social change, it was easy to see that the world we would inhabit as adults would be radically altered from that of our childhood.  So far, this has proven to be true. But humans only change so fast and there at things that remain unaltered and leave me wondering why.

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Marriage

Ask a group of married woman what the most important decision of their lives was and a large number will say it was the choice of a spouse.  Yet women wait for men to ask them for their hands in marriage.  We grab the reins of our lives pursuing education and employment and in both we demand to be treated as equals.  And then, we wait…for a ring, for a proposal, for him to make up his mind…and leave this crucial moment in our lives in the hands of men.

Sports

Title IX was passed in 1972, thereby requiring that girls have equal access to athletics from kindergarten through college.  We urge our daughters to participate in sports and stand on the sidelines cheering them on.  And, yet, the audience for and interest in women’s sports is a tiny fraction of that of men’s athletics.  We give women’s sports our money, but not our interest, why?

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Why You Should Blog: A Legacy in Black and White

Lisa writes: There was a time, barely memorable, when we reflected upon our lives through letters and diaries, baby books, scrapbooks and photo albums. Committing our thoughts to paper documented them for both ourselves and posterity. The pace of writing encouraged introspection, but pens are obsolete and for most of us our thoughts remain in our heads or are shared through a stream of emails, texts, tweets and FB posts.

blogging, writing, blog

In my photo albums I have a second grader but in my home, a high school senior. Time has moved on, but until I started writing a blog, my chronicling had not. A blog is a point of personal retrospection, a way to leave something more lasting than a snap chat. This is why you should blog.

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Sally Koslow Writes the Book on Reinvention

Mary Dell writes: Sally Koslow is a friend and was my writing teacher at Sarah Lawrence College.  The story of her success, including the publication this month of The Widow Waltz, and dark moments of her career are an inspiring story of reinvention.  She spills all:

Sally Koslow, Sally Koslow's The Widow Waltz, reinvention, summer fiction

 

From Sally Koslow:

Once upon a time—a long time, 30+ years—I was a magazine editor, the job for which I felt I was born. A shy kid, I learned to manage that handicap as I scaled the consecrated trajectory of high school newspaper editor/college English major/hometown newspaper intern/college town newspaper obit writer/moony poet. By the time I presented my still-reserved Midwestern self to Manhattan’s Conde Nast–which I was too big of a yokel at 21 to realize was the ooh-la-la of publishing companies–I had a fat portfolio of clippings. They helped land a job at Mademoiselle, a powder puff-y magazine with a literary edge: Sylvia Plath had once been a guest editor and the masthead prided itself on back-in-the-day, publishing the likes of Truman Capote and W.H. Auden and at the moment, Barbara Kingsolver and Jane Smiley.

In the 70s intense female ambition hadn’t yet reared its feverish head. No one expected to reach the top fast. Or ever. This allowed me to loll around MLLE until after having a child at 28, I became a freelance writer. When my son was four I returned to another magazine staff and began to rise in various ranks until McCall’s anointed me as its editor-in-chief in 1994.

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Nine Reasons I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom

 

Lisa writes: The most expensive decision of my life I made alone.  There was no realtor, no car dealer and no travel agent when I chose to leave the paid workforce and become a stay at home mom.  There was just me looking at my husband, my children (those inside and outside the womb) and the chaos that was our lives. At no point did I calculate the lifetime impact of diminished earnings and prospects.  I looked at the year we were in and the following year, and I bolted.  No part of my brain sat itself down and thought, what is the price both in both this year’s dollars and my lifetime earnings, to leaving the workforce and is it a decision that a decade or two from now I might regret?  At no point did I examine the non-monetary cost which would loom just as large. At the time it seemed forgone, two demanding careers, two small children and another on the way, two adult lives hopelessly out of control.

One day I was working on the massive trading floor of a London bank, the next I was on the floor of my children’s playroom.  And while it meant I would forgo a paycheck, not once did I think, at age 33, of what the job market would look like for me in years hence and therein lies my most expensive mistake.

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Chobani: Nothing But Good

Lisa writes: I would not buy a product simply because the founder is a small businessman who has a passion for entrepreneurship and who donates 10% of all the proceeds.  I would not buy a product simply because the company has invested in the towns in which they have their plants and the employees are insanely passionate about the company.  I would not buy a product because they have a trendy new store in NYC that sells flavors and combinations that make your head spin.   Or would I? One word, “Chobani.”

What if it tasted amazing and had incomparable health benefits?  What if it was fat-free, portion-controlled, all real and came in flavors like Pomegranate and Passion Fruit?

Chobani Greek yogurt, Greek yogurt, calcium for women

At Grown and Flown, you are not used to hearing us talk about products, but there is one product that Mary Dell and I are so obsessed with that we had to explore further. Their stylish website was a perfect place to begin.

When we discovered a shared craving for the little cups of yogurt and fruit we set out to meet the Chobani people who make our day, every morning.  You might call us Yogurt Groupies.

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The Generation Gap Isn’t What it Used to Be

Lisa writes: The generation gap that separated me from my parents was defined by our views on music, sex, skirt lengths, the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon’s presidency. My whole goal in shopping was to buy things my parents hated. But my children and I like the same music, have similar politics and shop for clothes in the same stores. The issues that separate me from my offspring are of an entirely different nature.

Where has the generation gap gone?  Once defined by cultural touchstones and political splits, the gap that divides the generations is now far more subtle, defined by differences in outlook and attitude, rather than fundamental beliefs.

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My sons think nothing of leaving the house and venturing out in public in their PJ bottoms. This has been a recurring nightmare of mine since 1971.

I use cash. They use credit for any purchase over 24 cents.

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Motherhood and the Empty Nest

Lisa writes: This morning, The New York Times posted a wonderful article, “After the Children have Grown,” about motherhood and the transition to the empty nest.  The author, noted psychologist Madeline Levine, confirms what Anna Quindlen has often said, that the real empty nest begins the day our youngest child graduates from college.  Yet Levine takes a different look at our children’s separation as not a single moment but rather one more step on a long path of pain and happiness that is parenting.  She explains,

Motherhood inextricably weaves growth and loss together from the moment of physical separation at birth to every milestone passed.

Yet she finds that, in some ways, parents are unprepared for this transition despite the fact that we should have seen it coming.

motherhood, empty nest, mothers and sons, after the children have grown

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Weekend Reading with Grown and Flown in Mind

This past week, Grown and Flown was thrilled to be featured in some of the blogs we love the most.  If you are looking for some new weekend reading, you might want to take a peek at these:

Weekend-Reading, favorite blogs for women, Grown and Flown, empty nest blogs

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Staying Young: It’s About Questions, Not Answers

Lisa writes: Recently a friend told me of a thrilling career opportunity that he had been offered and accepted. He and his wife are in their late 50s and the opportunity involved relocating to Asia. Excitement was written all over his face as he said to me, “It is so much easier to do this now with the kids gone, and us staying young. Or at least believing that we are still young.”

To me those words said everything. He looked, and I am going to guess felt, younger than I have seen him in years as he told me of the job he had never expected to be offered, in an industry from which he had retired a decade earlier. When I watched him I felt a little like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. I wanted what he was having.

On a parallel track I am watching my nearly grown sons go out into the world for the first time. They are experiencing life in the big city, minus mom and dad. When I cut through the thick layer of jealousy that comes from wanting to be my children, I realize that both my sons and my friend are at a moment in life where so many things are unknown and so much feels possible. The reason my friend is staying young is that at this moment, his life is much like my children’s, filled with more questions than answers.
Dock, looking out from the dock, rustic dock
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Blogging at Midlife, It Just Gets Better

Lisa writes: The single best thing about our first year blogging has been expanding our world with all of the amazing writers we have met. The second best thing, is reading their work. In that spirit we have gathered some of the best reading we found in 2012.

sunrise, golden sunrise, beach scene, golden beach, new year sunrise

Before this year we may have been forgiven for thinking that blogging was for the young. But if the last 365 days have taught us anything it is that wisdom, insight and humor are the province of those who speak from experience and have the grace to share it. And isn’t that what makes the very best writing?

These are pieces that touch upon the truths that unite us, they speak to us in both the universal and the personal. We have listed nine posts, for no good reason, as surely the list could run to a thousand. Happy Reading and Happy New Year, and in no particular order:

1. Kara Gebhart Uhl provided us with the inspiration for one of our own posts. While she is speaking here to much younger parents, the message of being on guard against smugness and humbled by what life dishes out is a perennial one.

2. Lisa Belkin is the reason we began blogging. Years of raising our kids, in parallel lock step with hers, helped us along more than once. While she has touched upon hundreds of aspects of parenting, here she ponders on our favorite topic the Empty Nest.

3. If Lisa is the reason we began blogging then Sharon Hodor Greenthal’s helping hand and insight at every turn, is one of the reasons we kept at it. Our favorite writing of Sharon’s might be her reflection on a dinner party, where she captures the meandering conversation of old friends over a lovely meal and a glass or two of wine. If we have learned one thing at midlife it is that, along with our families, friendship is the very staff of life. Lest we forget, Sharon reminds us of that here.

4. Linda Bernstein is a social media expert, teaching about this new form of communication at Columbia University. But it is old-fashioned communication, with her grown children, where we feel she brings huge insights in Six Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Adult Child. We are pretty sure there is a sequel to this piece where she will tell us the other 500 things we shouldn’t say.

5. Being a parent is hard, being a step parent to grown children is a new and different minefield. Felice Shapiro of Better After 50 celebrates Father’s Day with an ode to her new husband who has gracefully stepped into this role with her sons, who lost their own father. Felice gives us lessons learned with the insight that only years of parenting affords.

6. Liz Gumbinner writes the blog that, had it been around when I was a young mother, would have made me a better mom. She gives vent to the real quandaries and imperfections of mothering in a way that suggests being perfect would just be uncool. Last summer she delved into the issue of when to give in to our kids. Even now, as a parent of young men, it is still a message I need to hear.

7. The Empty Nest has many upsides for our lives and our marriages but it is not without a touch of sadness. Lisa Carpenter caught the sentiment perfectly when she reflects on Christmas in her grown daughter’s home, and she says, “I’ve been hit with the overwhelming realization that things will never go back to what they were, that time has indeed ticked along, those days are gone, and this is where we as a family are, what we will be from now on.”

8. In Mindy Trotta’s reflection on her holocaust-surviving parent’s marriage she shows us how sadness and laughter live side by side over decades. She takes her readers back to a childhood caught between two eras and to a marriage that moved from the old world into the new.

Please add your favorite post of the year below and tell us why. Wishing you Health and Happiness for the New Year.

By Grown and Flown Parenting From the Empty Nest