There’s Nothing Left to Say….

Wow – It’s hard to believe that a year ago I was letting go of B for the first time.  When I say “letting go”, I’m referring to the separation that takes place when your child begins their college journey.  I soon discovered that the “letting go” isn’t just a one time deal.  It happens over and over again – each time you reunite with your child, and then separate again.  I can’t say the “letting go” gets any less painful, but with time, I’ve learned to accept it.

This was last year’s post as I was about to “let go” for the first time.  Hoping it might bring some sense of  peace to those moms and dads “letting go” of their college freshman for the first time….

Given that writing is my way of analyzing, processing and understanding life, it’s kind of a no-brainer that I would have the notion to write a letter to Ben before he heads off to college.  When I first sat down to attempt this overwhelming task back in June, I realized there was no way I could say everything that needed to be said in a typical letter.  Instead, what was created, was more like a journal – sharing my thoughts, experiences, worries and wonders as this summer unfolded.

The following is an excerpt from a recent entry:

As I sit here less than 2 weeks from taking you to Colorado, I really struggle with what to say.  What’s left to say?  What could I possibly say NOW, that would make a difference.  The mommy side of me wants to run through a checklist of life lessons, things to remember to do or say in certain situations.  But I chuckle even as I write that.

There’s NOTHING left to say!  Much like it’s pointless to study for the SAT test the night before you take it.  You are either ready for it or you aren’t.

nest3

YOU ARE READY!  You have been ready for this for quite some time now.  I know you are ready, in my head and in my heart.  I know you will grab onto the opportunities that lie ahead of you – and take full advantage of them.  I know you will make countless great choices, and probably a few bad ones – because that’s life and that’s how we learn and grow!

 So while there’s nothing left to say to prepare you for this major life change, there ARE a few things you’ve heard before, that are worth repeating!

  • I am proud of you!  It’s easy to be proud of your academic and athletic accomplishments.  But I’m way more proud of your character, your attitude, and your choices…..I am beyond proud of the man you are becoming!
  • I am grateful I get to be your mom!   There are hundreds of reasons why I’m grateful to be your mom.  But at the core of it all – you have allowed me to parent you, to practice on you and make mistakes, to guide and direct you, to catch you when you fall down and to gently nudge you off the ledge when you were too timid to take the leap of faith.  You have laughed with me, cried with me, sat in silence with me.  You have taught me as much about life as I hope I have taught you.  You have loved me, with the adoration of a child and now with the compassion and respect of a growing young man.
  • I believe in you!   You can (and will) do whatever you set your mind to.  You have already demonstrated you have the desire and discipline to succeed in life.   You have set and accomplished one goal after another.  You don’t quit when things get hard.  You have a clear understanding of right and wrong.  In the midst of that laser focus, you are kind, compassionate, considerate and respectful of other people.  Who you are, makes it easy to believe in you!
  • I love you!   I love you, I love you,  I love you!!!!!!!!!!  This is one thing you should never, ever question!  I hope through your first 18 years you have embedded in your heart and soul the truth that you are both lovable and worthy of being loved.

Now go fly Ben!

View More: http://shawnabielat.pass.us/feinmanfamilyphotos2014 

 

How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

And just like that….

IMG_8404

9 months have come and gone – and it’s time to move my B out of his freshman dorm. I wish you could see me now, typing and shaking my head in total disbelief! I just don’t know where the time went?

If you followed my journey through his senior year in high school, you know I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. Honestly – I wrote so much I felt like I wasn’t just wearing my heart on my sleeve – but vomiting my every thought and feeling out into the world.  I may have gone to the other extreme this year, by writing very little about B’s freshman year.  But here we are, 9 months later – and I’m happy to announce that I SURVIVED!

If you read no further – I can leave you with the fact that this life changing transition IS survivable.  It’s not an overnight thing.  It’s a long, slow transition.  And while I can’t say I’ve gotten used to B not being home, I think I’ve learned to accept it.  Looking back, there were a few key things that helped me survive this past year…

How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

 

Establish communication boundaries & expectations

About a week before B left for school I asked him to have a conversation with me about communicating while he was away at school. Then I burst into tears. Not an uncommon reaction for me at that time! I wanted to hear his thoughts on how often he thought he’d like to be in communication with me, and I of course needed to share with him what my expectations were.

I was beyond grateful when he volunteered the idea of talking on the phone once a week, since that completely matched my desire. When it came to texting, he only asked that I not blow him up (aka – text constantly, repeatedly and non stop). That was probably a smart request on his part, since I could have easily worn the skin on my thumb pads from over texting those first few days (weeks and months!).

IMG_1914

I told B that texting him would be a way for me to reach out when I was thinking of him (aka – missing him desperately!), and that it would actually help me move on in the moment, versus dwelling in my sadness.   So we came to the agreement that if my text contained a question, I would expect a response. But if I was just touching base, sharing a thought or letting him know I was thinking of him, he wasn’t required to reply (although he usually did anyway – because he’s just that kind of guy!).

Every family is different. Our plan may not fit you and your family. But I guarantee that having the conversation ahead of time, setting rules, boundaries and expectations that work for your relationship, will ease so much of the transition.

Be patient and listen

The first few weeks (and months) of B’s freshman year I felt like an addict in need of my drug.  Our planned talk day was Monday.  So on Saturdays, I was counting the hours until we spoke again. By the time I heard his deep voice say “Hi Mom”, my need for feeling connected had turned into this unbearable sense of urgency.  I would bombard him with questions, but never really give him enough time to answer fully, before I threw the next question at him.  My excitement (and need) for information caused me to break all the relationship rules I had previously lived by.

The conversations felt awkward at times. Probably because we needed to transition from a face to face relationship to a long distance phone relationship.  Without the visual cues we’ve come to rely on, we have to relearn how to have a conversation by phone.  Moments of silence go unnoticed when you are face to face. But on the phone, those quiet gaps are so loud!

survive

I’ve learned to be quiet and patient through those gaps. In fact – I’ve discovered that the magic happens on the other side of that silence.  As I stopped talking (duct tape helps), I found that B began to open up and share more, which in turn resulted in the ebb and flow of a real conversation versus the question and answer sessions of those first few calls.

With patience, comes the ability to really listen. When I say “listen”, I don’t mean to use your ears to hear their voice, nor do I mean to simply not talk.  What I mean is, LISTEN to the depth of what they are really saying, the emotions they are feeling and the meaning behind their words.

I didn’t just survive B’s freshman year this way – I think the two of us thrived in our communication skills and our relationship as a whole.

Learn how to parent – an adult child

There was a 48 hour time frame in August between when we arrived in Boulder as a family and when we departed as a 3-some, leaving B to his new life. It was during this time that I first began to experience this phenomena of needing to relearn how to parent…an adult child.  My mothering instincts wanted to take over; to plan, schedule, organize and control all the details of this physical transition. But I pulled back, not wanting to embarrass him.

However, each time I’ve been with B this year, I find myself parenting him like he was a child. I reminded him daily to take his antibiotic when he had strep throat over the holidays. I reviewed his packing list for our ski trip, making sure he had all the necessities. I even found myself sharing details of his shell fish allergy with a waitress, while he sat right next to me. When she left the table, he actually turned to me and said  (with a smile on his face)“I can order for myself Mom”.

Uugghh – stab me in the heart!

IMG_3823

Parenting an adult child is an art, and I feel like I’m coloring outside the lines with chunky crayons. We will always be our children’s parents. But the job of parenting transitions over time. We don’t communicate with a 2 year old the same way we do with a 9 year old.   An 11 year old needs different boundaries and conversations than a 16 year old. While our adult-child grows and develops, so must we, in our parenting. I know I’m right in the middle of this long transition.  I don’t think I will ever stop parenting – but perhaps I need to learn to stop mothering, at least unsolicited mothering.

You might have a fear – but it’s not reality

Fear can be paralyzing!  The more we think about the thing that scares us, the bigger the fear grows and the more power it has.  When B was a toddler, I was afraid he might choke on small toys, so I baby proofed the house. When he was 8, I was afraid he might get hurt riding his bike, so I made him wear a helmet and limited where he could ride. When he was 13, I was afraid he might get mixed up in the wrong crowd and make bad choices, so as his circle of friends grew, I made a point to meet each of them, as well as their parents. When he was 16, I was afraid of all that could go wrong with him being a new driver on the road.  So I set non-negotiable driving rules regarding texting, speeding, curfew and more.

The reality is that I can no longer control the situation in an effort to both protect him and ease my fears. There have been times during these past 9 months when the fear has risen like spit-up in my throat.  I hope and pray that I have done everything possible to raise him to make the right choices in his life. But I was a 19 year old college student once…that did a lot of things that would scare many parents.

survive3

I survived my moments of fear this past year by acknowledging that I HAD my fear, but that it wasn’t a reality – and as simple as it sounds, just accepting that I had absolutely no control in the matter.  That instantly took me to a place of peace.  The most challenging part has been trying not to act on or make decisions from a place of fear.

So here I sit, 9 months later…

His dorm room has been packed and put into storage.  His freshman year has come to a close.  I might have just survived it – but thankfully B thrived in it!  Now, I am just hours from boarding a plane home…without him!

IMG_4985

While I fly back to Virginia, he will be heading to Argentina for 3 weeks of education, adventure and fun!  The fear is choking me.  My head knows how freaking amazing this opportunity is, but the mama bear in me (my heart) wants him to stay here, safe on U.S. soil.  I had to make the choice to not allow my fears to impede him living his most awesome life.

I survived his freshman year of college – I can survive 3 weeks of travel abroad.  It may not be a pretty 3 weeks – but I’m going to take all that I learned this year and put it into practice.

with Gratitude, Joy & Love

Tears…

Tears of joy
Tears of sorrow
Tears of pain

We shed tears for so many different reasons.

As Ben turned and walked away from us for the 5th time since starting college, I found myself surprisingly tearless.

I guess I’m starting to get used to (or numb to) saying “see you later”.  I don’t like it any more now than the first time – but it doesn’t rip my heart wide open in piercing pain like it did the first few times.

Less than 12 hours later, as our plane begins to taxi down the runway, I am blessed with the window view and one last glimpse of the snow capped Rockies.

IMG_3552

That’s when I unexpectedly burst into tears.  But tears of what I wondered?

Tears of emptiness, accepting that I wouldn’t see Ben again for a few months.

IMG_3463

Tears of gratitude for an awesome ski week with my guy and Ben.

IMG_3482

Tears of comfort, knowing Ben is in such a great place – physically, mentally and emotionally.

IMG_3383

Tears of sadness, since I’ll have to wait 9 months until I can ski again.

IMG_3226

Tears of AWE!

As I looked at the majestic peaks of the Rockies, a chill moved through me and I felt God.  I felt him in and around me – and at the very same time – in and around the mountains.

IMG_3476

It was a moment of intensity and calmness, a moment almost too powerful for words to describe.

Does my connection to the mountains make me feel closer to God?  Or does my relationship with God make me feel more connected to the mountains?

IMG_3207

I guess it doesn’t much matter which came first.  What does matter is the fact that I can no longer deny that my heart and soul belongs in the Colorado Rockies.

I can live a beautiful life at the beach.  But in the mountains – my soul sings, my soul dances, and my soul feels so deeply that it sheds tears.

With Gratitude, Joy & Love,

3 Ways to Mark the Milestone of your Child’s Senior Year

My oldest son’s senior year in high school feels like a lifetime ago – and yet, he’s only been a college student for 6 months now.  Living through his last year of high school was a whirlwind , a roller coaster ride of emotions, and that’s putting it lightly.  It was a year that I always knew would come, and yet once it arrived, I was in shock.  It was a year that brought me both immense joy and deep sadness.  It was a year where I  often prayed that I could stop time.  While I was never granted that magical power, I did get to practice being so present in the moment, that it sometimes felt like time stopped.

Now – 6 months later, I feel like the fog is lifting and I can look back with clarity.  I can honestly say that I am grateful for how the year unfolded.  In retrospect – a few things happened that proved to be medicine for my aching heart.  Things that were so powerful, I will intentionally repeat them when I get to relive this  experience with Pete, who is now a high school sophomore.  Here are 3 ways to mark the milestone of your child’s senior year.

SKIP THE SENIOR PORTRAIT

View More: http://shawnabielat.pass.us/feinmanfamilyphotos2014

I’m sure things are different for girls.  They probably can’t wait to do their Senior Portrait (you know – those professionally posed photos involving various outfit changes).  When I first brought up the subject, my son was emphatic that “Senior Pictures” would NOT be happening.  I tried bribing him.  I tried compromising.  I tried begging.  I even pulled the mommy guilt trip on him.  It went something like this; “After all I’ve done for you, for 18 years, you can’t give me just 30 minutes (one outfit / one location) with a photographer so I can have a few darn photos of your senior year?”  Add a pitifully pleading voice to that statement, maybe a tear or two – and it still didn’t work.  No way, no how – he was NOT bending!

I backed off and let it go.

But a few months later I had a brainstorm.  My guy would be celebrating his 50th birthday the same year that our first born was celebrating his senior year in high school.  This was a big year, a milestone year – one that deserved to be captured in photos.  So I purchased a photo session gift certificate from a family friend and photographer as a 50th birthday gift for my guy,  knowing that I would at least get some pictures of B at this milestone point in his life.  He couldn’t argue with my spin on it – and I didn’t disclose my ulterior motives.

I thought this was a viable alternative, but never in my wildest dreams did I think this compromise would exceed my  “Senior Portrait” expectations.  The bonus was two-fold.  First – our family had a fun (and funny) evening together.  We spent an hour at the beach, partly posing for the camera, but mostly giggling and being silly – all of which the photographer captured.  Not only did I get some solo photos of my high school senior, but we photographed every possible combination of the four of us.

I thought I was giving something up by backing off and not forcing the senior pictures – but in turn, I got way more than I could have ever imagined.  There will be NO senior pictures for my Peter!  It’s a family photo shoot repeat in 2 1/2 years!

View More: http://shawnabielat.pass.us/feinmanfamilyphotos2014

MEMORIALIZE THE YEAR

Being a blogger, writing about my experience as the mother of a high school senior last year was kind of a no brainer.  But what began as a form of therapy for me, turned into a year long documentation of  the ups and downs, the realizations and revelations of both myself, as a mom, and my B, as an evolving young man.

Just before his graduation, I intentionally shifted from writing for myself (and you), to writing for him.  I had a vision of giving him a letter filled with my words of wisdom when I left him at his dorm in August.  But the thought of fitting ALL my thoughts and feelings into the confines of a  letter felt constrictive.  So instead I started a journal – dating each entry from early June through mid August.  Sometimes I wrote daily, other times – just once a week.  This letter turned journal, evolved into a 27 page book of sorts, filled with memories of both my childhood and his, lessons I learned as well as lessons I wish I had emphasized more while raising him.  It was both funny and sad, light hearted and deep, but more than anything – it was authentic.

IMG_2707

The end result is that I memorialized both the year, and our relationship, through my words.  But you don’t have to write a letter (or journal).  You could create a scrap book, or a collage.  Make a quilt or paint a mural.  Fill a photo album, or design a slide show.  Write a poem or a manuscript.  Compile all of your senior’s favorite recipes into a cookbook, with mom messages.  Choose whatever form of documentation you are called to.  Let it be personal, therapeutic and fun!  But find a way to both document and memorialize the year.  The outcome is priceless!

KIDNAP YOUR SENIOR

DSC_0084

The pace of the summer following B’s senior year was exceptionally hectic.  He was working full time, preparing for his departure to college and capitalizing on every free minute he could grab to be with friends.  Meanwhile, I was a chauffeur extraordinaire for my 15 year old, who packed his summer with a part time job, community service, pitching and hitting lessons and travel baseball tournaments almost every weekend.  It was obvious early on that it would be close to impossible to schedule our traditional family get away to the Outer Banks.  The only natural alternative was to head out to Colorado a few days early, in order to steal some much needed family time before our family unit as we knew it would be forever changed.

What started as a fall back option, proved to be an exceptional family experience.  One of the unexpected benefits of this plan became clear even before we left town.  Since we knew we’d have B 100% to ourselves for 4 days prior to D-day (dorm move in day), it was easy to let him spend his last week at home, basically not home at all.  His friends took priority, and there was no battle for his time.  This allowed us to freely honor his relationships with his friends – and that felt awesome!

When it was our turn, we were all 100% in!  It didn’t hurt that we were up in the mountains with little to no cell service or wi-fi.  It was 4 full days of family fun; endless card games, adventures white water rafting and ATV’ing, media free days and nights, pick up basketball games, bear sightings and more.  It was beyond perfect!

IMG_8104

I have no idea where my “baby” will end up going to college.  But I do know, regardless of location – we’ll be planning a family escape just prior to his D-day.  There’s just something sacred about that time, and I’m grateful I didn’t have to share B those last few days before he officially became a college student.

Perhaps these aren’t the perfect ways for you to capture, commemorate or create memories for you and your high school senior.  But hopefully they will inspire you to find a way to honor and mark the milestones of your child’s last year of high school (and at home).

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

THANKS – a word not taken lightly

I’ve been revisiting some of my old blog posts lately.  I won’t make a habit of continually re-purposing my vintage pieces – since you can easily read back into the archives if you’d like.  But something about this time of year, the Thanksgiving holiday, is prompting me to recycle what I feel are timeless pieces and valuable reminders.

I can’t take credit for this post though.  Thanks is a poem written by my youngest son in 2012, when he was 13 years old.  It is simple yet profound.  I’d love to see what story his words would tell now, 2 years later, 2 years older and surely 2 years wiser!

Perhaps we should all follow this practice, and pause to put into words; to explain, describe and define those things that we are most thankful for in life.

thanks4

Thanks – By Peter Feinman

As my eyes rise from the depths of silence,

Peeking over the warmth of my blankets,

My mind begins to tick,

The rays of the golden sun greeting my sensitive pupils,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

I tip toe into the bathroom as I complete my morning routine,

And I slowly scan the room in awe as I notice how much I am provided with,

And how fortunate I am to be able to clean my body,

And wear the clothes I do.

While walking to the bus I hear the crunch, crunch as the gravel rolls beneath my feet,

I hear the honking of car horns,

And I hear the whines of other children,

And at that point I know that I do not have to go to school, I get to go to school,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

I feel a breeze of excitement rush past me as I open the school doors,

I feel the loneliness wash away as friends reunite at 8:50a.m.,

I feel the love between the teachers as they watch the students glide by while sharing a cup of coffee,

Then, I realize that I am surrounded by friends and teachers who care about me,

Who I can share conversations and laughs with,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

I take a seat in a smooth leathery chair of a yellow school bus,

And as I stare out the window, all I do is think,

I think about how great our nation could be if all men were not just created equal, but we stayed equal,

If race, religion, ethnicity, and social class did not make up who we are today,

If people looked at others from the inside and by the way people act,

If all people were born with the same opportunities and chances in life,

With freedom, a gift from God, people can rise to the highest parts of life,

And I know that because I am free I will have many more opportunities that will come my way,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

I sit down and start to turn the slick pages of my textbook,

And the steam coming from the fresh food finds its way to my nose,

And I smell the sweet soap from the upstairs bathroom, and I smell the pumpkin scent from the crackling candle mounted on the counter top,

And I am grateful to sit with my family and taste the warm food melt in my mouth,

Before sipping the ice cold water to wash it down,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

I drown myself with the blankets that rest on my bed,

And I squeeze one more yawn out as I stretch until my body tingles,

And I wonder what adventure will I be in tomorrow,

And I tell myself each day a new story is told,

And it is my job to live each one to the fullest,

And I am grateful that I am healthy and able to live my life,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

So I want to say thank you,

Thank you God,

Thank you Mom,

Thank you Dad,

Thank you Ben,

Thank you Gigi,

Thank you Poppy,

Thank you Pagi,

Thank you family,

And thank you friends and teachers,

For allowing me to be myself,

And standing by me in the lows of life,

And flying with me in times of celebration,

Thank you for the life long lessons you have taught me,

And for the amazing experiences and memories that are planted in my mind forever,

And for the inspirational quotes and ideas that have blossomed within me,

I am grateful for everything you do for me,

And thank you for loving me and showing me how lucky I am.

Thanks1

IMG_3309

Me and my favorite poet!

Happy Thanksgiving!

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

Creating a Gratitude Board

When I published last year’s piece  Grow a Thankful Tree , it was with the intention of re-establishing our family’s Thankful Tree tradition.  That’s my cutie-patootie nephew (many years ago!) after hanging a leaf on our holiday thankful tree.

229_2975Given that my boys and nephew’s age range last year was 12-17, I figured the tree idea might be a little too crafty (or like an elementary school art class) for their teenage liking.  So instead of growing a Thankful Tree – I decided to try creating a gratitude board.  I had big expectations, but lots of apprehension that this new tradition would take off.  Nonetheless, I laid out a large whiteboard (approx 34 x 22 inches) and a basket of dry erase markers, and crossed my fingers.  I shared with my family that this was replacing our Thankful Tree, and all they needed to do was simply write down something (or many things!) they were grateful for.

IMG_0511

To my surprise, the Gratitude Board was a HUGE hit, with teenagers and adults alike!

IMG_3714

I left the board propped on a chair in the corner of the kitchen, and as the week progressed, the white space slowly disappeared as the board filled up with gratitude.  Everyone enjoyed reading each other’s gratitude…and I continued to read them long after the holiday ended and my family departed.  Plus I took a photograph so I could read (while literally laughing out loud at our humor) and re-read our 2013 Thanksgiving Gratitude for years to come!

IMG_3844

I bought some fresh new dry erase markers and cleaned the board spotless so we can document and share all that we are grateful for this Thanksgiving 2014!

Below is my post from Thanksgiving 2013.  I hope you have fun with whatever way you choose to record your family’s gratitude.   Feel free to comment and let me know what works for you!  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

tree6

Thanksgiving is one of the two times each year that my dad, sister and her two boys travel south to visit us….and I am counting the days (hours & minutes) until they arrive!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, because the expectation is simply to BE with family.  It’s 4-6 days filled with cooking together,  playing board games, sleeping in, overdosing on football, taking walks, eating large quantities of once a year yummies, and watching late night movies.

Each year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving arrives and I’m filled with sadness that the time passed so quickly and my family is leaving.  In an effort to combat this already expected outcome, I’m going to set the intention to be totally present to my family, to honor the relationships and to share my gratitude with them.  This is going to require an awesome action to help me fulfill my intention…..

awesomebadge

In anticipation of next week’s holiday – this awesome action is…..

To GROW a THANKFUL TREE!

When the kids were little we used to create a thankful tree each Thanksgiving.  Sadly, it was one of those family traditions that disappeared as the boys hit double digits.  This is the perfect year to bring back this awesome action and  re-establish it as a family tradition.

I love growing a thankful tree because it’s an outlet for each of us to express and share what we are grateful for, plus it’s a visual representation of our family’s expanding gratitude.

tree2

How to grow a thankful tree…..

1.  Collect fallen sticks or small tree twigs and place them in a vase to create the foundation for the thankful tree.

2.  Cut leaf shapes out of red, orange and yellow construction paper, mimicking the richness of the autumn leaves.

tree4

3.  Set the paper leaves around the base of the vase with a few pens, and family members can write down what they are grateful for.

4.  Punch a hole in each leaf and use a thin ribbon to attach it to the twig tree.

tree

5.  By Thanksgiving dinner, your thankful tree will be in full bloom.  Throughout the meal, take turns reading what everyone is thankful for.

You can grow your thankful tree, exactly as I described.  Or feel free to take the concept and mold it into something better suited for your family.

*  Thankful journal – purchase a journal and invite your family members to write (and date) their gratitude directly into the journal.  This would be an awesome way to keep the gratitude lists together year after year.

tree7

*  Thankful box – use a shoe box or photo keepsake box to collect each person’s gratitude list during the holiday.

*  Thankful whiteboard (blackboard) – leave a whiteboard and dry erase markers easily accessible, allowing the family to create a colorful graffiti board filled with gratitude.  Before erasing it, be sure to add the date and take a photograph to capture it forever.  Better yet – take a family picture around the thankful whiteboard.

tree8

*  Thankful scrapbook – build a holiday thankful scrapbook with photos, handwritten gratitude and other memorabilia and keepsakes.

*  Thankful chain – cut construction paper into 5 inch by 1 inch strips.  As each person writes down something they are grateful for, curve the strip into a circle (held by staple, tape or glue), creating links that connect, building a chain.  Each year could be an individual paper chain, or add on year after year, creating a growing chain of gratitude.

tree10

Get creative or keep it simple.  The point is to give your family a way to express, share and record what they are grateful for.

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

The Sounds of Love Return

In exactly ONE WEEK I will have my B back under our roof for the first time since starting college.  It’s only been 90 days, but it feels like a lifetime.  I’ve had the joy of visiting him during Parent’s Weekend, the gift of talking to him every Monday and the freedom to text with him whenever my hearts desire (although I haven’t abused that privilege)!  But none of that replaces the feeling of having your cub back in the cave.  I’m SO looking forward to the simple things, the ordinary things, the everyday things that I’ve missed these past 3 months.

As I was living through his senior year in high school, anticipating what it would be like to not have him in my day to day life,  I wrote this post about noticing and loving all the noises he makes, The Sounds of Love as I called them.  In exactly ONE WEEK – those sounds of love return!

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, as you spend quality time with the people in your life – pause to notice the simple, ordinary things that make your family and friends distinctly who they are.

sounds

After our first yellow lab Jake passed away, the loss was undeniable.  I knew I’d miss the feel of his warm tongue licking my feet, his soft fur as I ran my hands the length of his back, and the weight of his body propped against me as we cuddled.  What I was not prepared for though, was missing his sounds.  The intense panting after a good hard play.  His nails as they clicked across the wood floor.  The non stop lapping of water to complete his meal.  The thud of his 85 lb body finally collapsing onto the floor after walking in circles searching for the perfect spot to rest.  The clinking of metal as he licked the food crusted silverware propped in the dishwasher.

 

sound3

Those noises were distinctly his.  After his passing, the house was quiet and I desperately missed his noises.  They were the sounds of love.

School was closed on Monday in honor of Veteran’s day.  Although Ben, my senior, typically studies in his room, I casually asked him if he wanted to join me in the kitchen to do homework while I wrote.  Without hesitation, he said “Sure!”, headed upstairs to grab his books and promptly joined me at the kitchen table.

So there I sat, attempting to write, but instead I was distracted by my 17 year old man-child as I like to call him, sitting just ten feet away from me.  There wasn’t anything in particular he was doing to distract me.  Simply by being there with me, even though he could have chosen any number of other places to spend his morning, was distracting in and of itself.  The harsh reality hit me that this time next year, this scenario would not be an option.

My fingers were propped on the key board, my brain willing them to start writing.  But all I could do was breathe and be present, drinking in every ounce of that moment in an attempt to hold onto it, to stop time.

sound5

Suddenly the sound of gum cracking and bubble popping startled me from my Hallmark moment.  I chuckled inside thinking about how his brain was able to command him to solve calculus problems and manipulate large quantities of bubblegum all at the same time.  Like a flash from the past, it hit me that his gum chewing is just one of countless sounds that are distinctly his, and I’m instantly transported back to the days following the passing of our yellow lab Jake.

This time I will be better prepared, making sure to notice and appreciate all of Ben’s sounds before he goes off to college, and they become a distant memory.

When I think of Ben, what I hear is….

sound10

Beard scratching – It doesn’t take but a day or two for Ben to transform from my man-child to my mountain man-child, complete with a scruffy beard.  Given that it’s day eleven of “No-Shave November”, his cheeks are a jungle, and apparently it’s quite itchy, because I can hear him feverishly scratching his face from across the table.

Insanely rapid texting – Ben is by far the fastest texter I’ve ever met.  It’s visually compelling to witness the speed of his fingers moving across the tiny keyboard, but even more startling to hear the pace at which he can knock out a 2-thumbed conversation.

sound6

Heard of Elephants – Ben has an unmistakable sound to his walk, which is only enhanced when he travels up or down our staircase.  Sometimes it’s gazelle like as he prances up or down the stairs.  This morning, however, it was more like a heard of elephants stampeding as he took them by two’s.

Music, music everywhere – Wherever Ben is, there is music.  His playlist constantly blasts through his iPhone, MacBook or car stereo.  The only time I find him music-less is when he is reading or sleeping.  Yes, he’s even rocking out to tunes while doing homework.

Bad Karaoke – If you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing Ben sing, be thankful.  The poor guy was born tone deaf and can’t carry a note to save his life.  As much as it hurts my ears at times, I embrace his bad karaoke, because he’s never let his inability to sing on key stop him from belting out his favorite songs with passion.

sound7

Toe tapping, hand rapping, pencil slapping – This should come as no surprise, given Ben’s propensity towards music.  When he’s not singing, he’s rhythmically keeping beat to his music.  They say music and math go well together, which is probably why he’s able to drum to Coldplay while solving calculus problems (and scratching his beard, chewing gum and texting!)

Soothing deep voice – I wouldn’t call it a radio voice, but he has such a deep, soothing tone when he speaks.  My two favorite things to hear him say are “Hey Mom” and “I love you”, because they make me feel special.  How lucky am I that I get to hear those words every day?

IMG_2586

Those are just a few of the sounds that are recognizably Ben.  For me, they are the sounds of love…..

with Joy, Gratitude & Love

50 Ways to Celebrate 50 Years

I love celebrating birthdays….OTHER people’s birthdays!

fifty17

I have this strange  love – hate relationship with acknowledgment.  Sure, it feels good when a friend remembers or offers to celebrate with me, but at the same time, I do NOT like being the center of attention.  Bottom line, I’d rather celebrate someone else’s birthday than my own!

But here I sit, EXACTLY 365 days away from turning 50 – and I’m realizing it’s kind of a big deal.

fifty1

Don’t get me wrong!  It’s not that I’m all of sudden seeking or wanting birthday attention.  It’s just that I can’t stop dwelling on this concept of turning 50 YEARS OLD.

It’s technically not the half way point of one’s life (unless they live to be 100), but it IS one half of a century, and that’s a big number to wrap my brain around.

When I was younger, and turning 50 felt a LONG way away – I had a preconceived notion of what that would look like – frumpy, frazzled, middle aged woman, dressed in a stained apron, baking cookies.  Kind of 1950’s – I know!

fifty5

Regardless of the picture in my head, my prior belief was that turning 50 was the beginning of the end, the prime had passed and it was all downhill from there!

The good news is…..NONE OF THAT CRAP IS TRUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here I am, in the best mental and physical shape of my life!  I don’t for a second view this impending birthday as an ending, but rather a beginning.  I feel a sense of freedom that I’ve never had before.  It’s not freedom based on the age of my children, our financial status or having paid my life dues.  It’s an internal freedom – a freedom to do and go and be ME  – authentically!  A freedom to LIVE LIFE without inhibition.

Why the heck am I writing about this today, when I have a whole year before I turn 50?

fifty10

Because I’ve decided to not wait until October 27, 2015, my 50th birthday, to celebrate being 50!

If you think about it – TODAY is the first day of my 50th year.  So I’ve declared this a BIRTHDAY YEAR – as such, I will celebrate throughout the entire year!

That’s a little daunting, to say the least.  But also somewhat exciting, with a bit of liberating mixed in.

Looking at the scope of my whole life, it feels kind of like an intermission; a rest period, a break from the action, time to stand up and stretch before hunkering back down for the rest of the show.

Or as my BFF and favorite Aunt Barb called it – my halftime show!  I won’t be hiring a marching band, pom pom girls or baton twirlers – but that doesn’t mean I can’t fill this year with some HOOPLA of my own!

fifty7

50 WAYS TO CELEBRATE 50 YEARS

  1. Buy fresh flowers
  2. Go dancing – with my husband
  3. Go dancing with my girlfriends – because that’s a whole different experience than #2!
  4. Drive somewhere I’ve never been, using an old fashion road map to get there (NO GPS!)
  5. Stay in my pj’s and watch 3 movies in a row
  6. Spend the night at a bed & breakfast
  7. Open up my memory box – and read every card and diary entry from my childhood
  8. Have (or go to) a Sip & Paint party
  9. Get a facial
  10. Keep a journal / scrap book documenting my celebration this year
  11. Visit a vineyard to experience real wine tasting
  12. Go to the theater to see a play
  13. Dig my flute out of the junk closet and PLAY it again (maybe take lessons?)
  14. Plan a girl’s ski weekend
  15. Make a photo wall – blow up and frame my favorite pictures from the past 50 years
  16. See a ballet
  17. Get tickets to a concert (U2, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5)
  18. Experiment wearing new lipstick colors
  19. Go on a weekend bike trip (New England, Colorado?)
  20. Make chocolate fondue
  21. Travel back home to Connecticut for a walk down memory lane
  22. Buy a convertible sports car – a girl can dream, right?
  23. Take a surfing lesson
  24. Go to the park – and swing
  25. See a live comedian perform
  26. Prepare my childhood favorite dish – Chicken Divan – and don’t attempt to make it Paleo
  27. Grow a vegetable garden – this could fall under the “a girl can dream, right?” category too!
  28. Write a letter to my grandparents – recalling memories I had of them growing up, things that have stuck with me and traditions I have passed onto my children
  29. Drink an expensive (relative to my norm) bottle of wine
  30. Get a tattoo!
  31. Visit an art museum (in Norfolk….or New York?) with Peter
  32. Return to Burlington, VT to reminisce on my college years
  33. Watch the sun rise at the beach

fifty15

Clearly my celebration list is a work in progress.  Celebrating me and my life is not something I do naturally.  This will surely be an interesting year as I dabble in and practice this thing called CELEBRATION.  Since today is the first day of my 50th year – I better go get this party started!

with Gratitude, Joy & Love,

My New Normal

I don’t know what I thought life after taking Ben to college would be like…

I don’t know that I had a plan for how to deal with my roller coaster of emotions…

I don’t know that I was prepared to actually live through this transition, this time of uncertainty, this new normal…

View More: http://shawnabielat.pass.us/feinmanfamilyphotos2014

The 24 hours leading up to moving him into his dorm were a whirlwind.  I was so busy I didn’t have time to feel.  Looking back, I think I was numb or that I had somehow compartmentalized and shut down my personal emotions, and instead focused on everything and anything that Ben needed.

I was holding onto my last few opportunities of this chapter to really play the role of Mom – the planner, organizer, scheduler – the one that could make it happen, fix it, get it done.  But I also found myself doing so with reservation, as though I had one arm tied behind my back.  I was that Mom figure, with permission and by request….instead of the one taking charge.

It was all good, until the moment when I had to actually say Good-bye….

That was like having my heart ripped out of my chest.  I kept it together, in the sense that I didn’t crumble to the floor in the fetal position.  But I cried.  In that very moment, all I wanted was to show Ben my joy, confidence, pride and belief in him.  But instead I cried.  As the tears rolled down my cheeks, he wrapped his arms around me and loved me anyway.

View More: http://shawnabielat.pass.us/feinmanfamilyphotos2014

Boarding the plane less than 24 hours later was even harder.  On the outside, I looked normal, except for the tears spilling over my eyelids and dripping down my face.  But on the inside, I was screaming, having my own personal tantrum.  All I wanted to do was drop my bags and literally run, as fast as I could, out of that airport.  Just run….

Boarding the plane was the final reality check that I was in fact leaving my baby all by himself, thousands of miles away from home, from the life he knew…..from the life I knew!  Boarding the plane snapped me out of any last bit of denial I had been hanging onto.

The first week back home was fuzzy at best.  I was in survival mode, living on auto-pilot.  But the days are getting easier.  Even as I write this (then delete it, then type it again) I wonder what easier means.

What I should really say is that I’m crying less often.  But honestly – that worries me.  I’m afraid of the day that I don’t cry.  I’m afraid of what that will mean.  I’m afraid it will signify that I’ve gotten used to Ben being away.

I’m not so sure I want to get used to that!

Apparently, this is my new normal…and yet it doesn’t feel remotely close to normal.  It feels empty, awkward, unfamiliar, strange, and lonely.  If feeling like part of my heart has been ripped out of my chest is my new normal – I want nothing to do with it.

There are moments where I feel like an addict going through withdrawal and all I need is a “Ben fix” and I’ll be fine, for the time being….

View More: http://shawnabielat.pass.us/feinmanfamilyphotos2014

It’s been four weeks to the day since I last hugged my B.  Four weeks since I kissed his cheek, looked into his dark brown eyes, touched his muscular arm.  Four weeks since I’ve seen the joy in his face as he laughs.  Four weeks since we’ve enjoyed a meal together.  Four weeks of living this new normal.

In just a few short hours the hole in my heart will be healed, temporarily, as I spend the next 3 days sharing his college experience with him, getting glimpses of his new life.

I’m consumed with JOY – but it’s a guarded joy.  The kind of joy that you know is short lived, only to be followed by pain.

When Ben’s best friend left for the Air Force Academy, just 10 days after graduation, I watched him experience a pain and sadness I had never seen from him before.  Knowing that I couldn’t fix or change it, I offered him the only words that came to me – I offered him the truth.

I told him that feeling the depth of sadness he was experiencing, like his heart was breaking, was directly proportionate to how much he LOVED.  In this case it was a love of a friendship built over 8 years, a brotherly love.

View More: http://shawnabielat.pass.us/feinmanfamilyphotos2014

I will embrace the next 72 hours with all the joy and gratitude that my heart can hold – knowing that saying Good-bye, and boarding the plane on Sunday, will be no easier this time around.

I pray that in the midst of the pain and sadness I will feel as I walk this path again, I will remember it is proportionate to how much I LOVE!

with Gratitude, Joy & Love

I just want to STOP time!

Just 3 weeks.  That’s all I have left…

That thought doesn’t turn me into a sobbing mess, as you’d probably expect.  NO – it just makes my heart race, my palms sweat and my head spin.  I feel like I’m having a panic attack.  Like there is an impending doom that I can’t escape.  Like a huge black cloud hanging over my head and no matter which way I turn, it follows me.

I try to get lost in the busyness of preparing for my first born’s departure for college.  I try to get lost in living in the here and now, the present moment.  I try to get lost!  But no matter what I do, the 24 hours in each day seems to be speeding up.  The faster they go, the more constricted my throat feels, like I can’t breath and I’m going to vomit all at the same time.

There is so much in my life that I CAN control, influence, or manage…..

But when it comes to the ticking of time, I am at its mercy.

This is it.  Just 3 weeks until D-day (drop off day).  I’ve tried to prepare myself for this day.  But how can one prepare themselves for a total and complete life change unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.  I often wonder if the “thinking about it” part is worse than just doing it, and getting it over with?

I don’t need my children to define who I am.  And yet…..for 18 years I have been Ben’s mom.  His cheerleader, voice of reason and life teacher all in one.  I’ve been his Mommy, Mom, and Ma.  I’ve been there when he needed me, when he wanted me and when he wished I lived in a different house (or state).  In 3 weeks I will wake up and while my title will not have changed, my role will.  I don’t know how to parent from a distance.  I don’t know how to do this and I’m terrified that I will fail miserably!

A dear friend gave me a piece of advice a few weeks ago.  I didn’t like what she said.  But I trust her and I will follow it because deep in my heart I know it is right.  She told me once I leave Ben in his new home, I should not email, text, facebook, call or write him…..not until he reaches out first.

But what if he’s alone and afraid and doesn’t want to appear weak.  Worse yet, what if everything is great, he’s meeting awesome people, he’s involved and loving his new life…..and he forgets about me.  What if he doesn’t communicate with me for a few days or weeks……or ever again.  What if the role I thought I played in his life wasn’t all that I believed it was.  What if we’ve been living 2 different realities.

Some people are afraid of snakes, heights, or the dark.  Me?  I’m afraid of not having an awesome relationship with my children.  That realization is almost shocking enough to make me gasp.  But then I have flashbacks of my relationship (or lack thereof) with my mom, and I suddenly understand…..it’s not shocking at all.

I KNOW it will all be ok!  I KNOW this is exactly what is supposed to be happening, for him and for me!  I KNOW there is awesomeness on the other side of this transition.

I KNOW….no matter how much my head knows, my heart still hurts.

Twenty-one more days and this angel that changed my life the moment I held him in my arms will be starting the next chapter of his life.

For now, I’m finding comfort in my memories….

INQUISITIVE

scan0011

HANDSOME

scan0040

KIND

scan0101

FREE SPIRIT

scan0064

ATHLETIC

scan0152

HAPPIEST IN THE MOUNTAINS

Sierra Exif JPEG

With joy, gratitude & love