How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

And just like that….

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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!).

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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

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

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HANDSOME

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KIND

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FREE SPIRIT

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ATHLETIC

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HAPPIEST IN THE MOUNTAINS

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With joy, gratitude & love

The Word of the Week…..Expectation

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The WORD of the WEEK is…..

EXPECTATION

An expectation is a strong belief that something will happen, it is an attitude of expectancy, hope and anticipation.

Synonyms for expectation include prediction, which is forecasting what might happen in the future, and assumption – and we all know what happens when you assume!

An expectation is directly attached to a result or outcome of a situation, usually one that implies success or failure.  We carry preconceived notions, or expectations, about how something should be, how it is supposed to turn out, how we expect it to end up.  More often than not, we establish firm expectations without even realizing our connection to the outcome.

Because we are attached to the result, when something fails to meet our expectation, it leaves us in a state of frustration, upset, anxiety, or anger.

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Unlike an expectation, there is value and freedom in setting an intention.  An intention is an action that begins from within and allows us to remain detached from the outcome.  When we set an intention and make an effort to achieve results, our focus is on the action, the energy and the commitment put forth in the intention.  Once it turns into an expectation, we become attached to the results and that sets us up for failure.

I spent many years living in a state of frequent upset due to experiencing one unfulfilled expectation after another.  It wasn’t until 6 years ago that I really began to distinguish the difference between intention and expectation, effort and outcome, that which I can control versus that which is out of my control.

It wasn’t long after I began my direct sales business when I realized that managing my expectations was going to be the difference between success and failure in my business.  After my first few home parties I began to notice a pattern where my mood was directly related to the results of the party.  If we had a successful evening and the sales met or exceeded my expectations, then I felt satisfied and happy.  But if the party sales fell below my expectations, I was disappointed and frustrated.  I was completely attached to the outcome of the party and I allowed it to control my mood and attitude!

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So I began to ponder the idea of attending my home parties without any expectations, without being attached to the results or the outcome of the evening.  Instead, I set an intention to simply meet new women, share my jewelry box and have fun.  Those were things that I could manage, I could focus on and directly effect.  If in the process, we sold a significant amount of jewelry, then I would enjoy that outcome.  However, if the party sales were low, but I still met people, shared my jewelry box and had fun, I left feeling completely satisfied and fulfilled.  Regardless of the results, I had accomplished exactly what I set out to do, so there was nothing to be disappointed about.

This process didn’t happen by accident, and it didn’t happen over night.  There were specific steps I took to untangle the spider web of expectations I was trapped in.  Here are 5 steps you can take to begin to alter your relationship with expectations.

The result of setting and living from your intention is feeling fulfilled, satisfied, accomplished, and content, rather than the wealth of negative emotions that accompany an unfulfilled expectation.

with Joy & Gratitude,

Be Gentle With Yourself

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One of the most AWESOME things about sharing my blog with the world, is that it challenges me to really live my life with integrity.  I don’t mean the “tell the truth”, “don’t steal”, “no cheating” type of integrity.  For me, those are non negotiable.  I’m referring to having your actions align with your personal philosophy, morals,  and values.  Living a life where you actually walk the walk and talk the talk.

I just returned from a 4 day family adventure to Colorado, and while I had every intention of finishing Monday’s blog post while traveling, I wasn’t able to get it publish ready.  So here I sit, 9:00 pm on Sunday evening, without anything to post tomorrow.  I’m struggling with the idea of staying up late to finish the piece, because I feel like I’m supposed to.  When what I really want (and need) to do is spend another 30 minutes with my family….and then crawl into bed for the night!

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Typically, I would sacrifice and suffer in order to get it done!  But only because I set that expectation of myself.

When I get stuck, trapped between two choices, I often ask myself “what would I tell a friend if they posed the same situation to me?”.

In this case, I would say BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF!

How could I give that awesome piece of advice to someone….and then not take it for myself.

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Today, I will not attempt to do everything!  I will find the courage to be gentle with myself!

I hope you can do the same…..

with Joy & Gratitude,

Hello Curve Ball!

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My day was perfectly planned.  Planned for everything, but the unexpected.  While sitting at Starbucks writing (what was supposed to be today’s blog piece), I received the dreaded phone call.  It’s the call that makes your heart sink when you see the phone number pop up, the call from your kid’s school.  With urgency, yet slight hesitation, I answered the call to hear my little guy on the other end.  Before he could finish saying “Hey Mom”, I blurted out “Are you OK?”.  His response was “Sort of….”, which I instantly knew meant something was wrong, but he didn’t want to tell me.

Apparently he was playing football in gym, and while running with the ball in his left (dominant) hand, he was accidentally tripped and fell full force onto the left side back of his hand.  Having broken his thumbs five different times over the course of  two football seasons, he was familiar with the pain of a broken bone, and was pretty certain his hand was broken.

Hello Curve Ball…..and there goes my perfectly planned day!

A baseball player pitching with spin on the ball. (motion blur on ball)

Some weeks I’m able to write days in advance, other weeks I find myself backed into a self imposed corner, writing at the last minute.  Today was one of those squeak it out kind of days, and by the time I received the dreaded phone call, I was just half way through writing.

I never made a public announcement, but my commitment, both to myself and to my readers, has been to be consistent and publish three times a week – on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  I’ve been able to accomplish that for almost 5 months, but now I was being tested.

I couldn’t possibly recover from today’s curve ball…..

Or could I?

Do I crumble under pressure?  Get stressed and overwhelmed?  Worry more about how to share my blog than how to care for my son’s injured hand?

Or….

Do I ebb and flow?  Roll with the punches?  Catch the curve ball instead of letting it hit me in the face?

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Today was a perfect day to practice what I preach.  To embrace that which I could not control, and choose to have an awesome day anyway.

In all the imperfections of this day, here is what I’m GRATEFUL for…..

*  A friend of a friend got us in to see a sports physician within the hour.

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*  The doctor had the most amazing bed side manner.

*  We left with a doctor’s note stating that my little guy couldn’t write or type tonight – which meant NO homework.

*  Our next stop was the emergency room for x-rays.  With a doctor’s prescription in hand, we were quickly moved to the outpatient department, completing the entire process in under a shocking 20 minutes!

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*  Although we spent a total of 3 hours in the doctor’s office, traveling to the emergency room and getting x-rays, we still managed to get to my guy’s football game just in time to watch the opening kick off.

*  The Ruffner Middle School team was dressed in their traditional green and gold…with a splash of PINK for Breast Cancer Awareness month.

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*  Just 30 minutes into the game I received a phone call from the doctor letting me know that he reviewed the x-rays and there were NO broken bones, just severe bruising that would require ice and rest.  Can I hear a WOO HOO!!??

*  The game ended 28-28, taking it into over time.  Over time ended 34-34, leading to double over time.  Double over time came to a close with a score of 42-42…..hence TRIPLE OVER TIME – with a final score of 48-42 – RUFFNER BULLDOGS WIN!!!!

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Today was a great day.  It didn’t go anything like I had planned.  I ebbed away from my role as a blogger, and flowed into my roles of mom, nursemaid, wife and football fan.

Just remember….when life gives you lemons, make a lemon drop martini!

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with Joy & Gratitude,

Take Nothing for Granted!

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I used to be a not right nowin a minutesoonmaybe later, kind of mom.

Being a mom is hard work.

Laundry, bills, grocery shopping, extra curricular activities, cleaning, cooking….

Blah, blah, blah!!!

It IS hard work.  But none of the stuff we do is more important than the time we can spend with our children.  Every time I said not right now or maybe later (which was a lot!), the message I was sending my boys was “you are not as important as the things I am doing”.

Soon was a regular response I relied on, because it was non-committal.  It always bought me time.  One day my son wised up and asked me “Mom, when is soon?”  Wise words from a 6 year old, but unfortunately they did not startle me out of my mommy zombie land!

Putting my children to bed was when I failed most as a mother.

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Every night I was given the gift of bedtime; a time to cuddle, talk about the day, gently tickle their back, sing a soft lullaby, or just lay quietly together holding hands.  It’s that special time of day when your presence reassures them that you love them, they matter, they are special, and you’d want to be no where else but right there beside them.

I knew in my heart what was the right thing to do.  But by the end of a long day of parenting, my mind and body were tired, and all I wanted was for them to fall asleep so I could be NOT mommy for a few minutes.  As I tucked them in each night, they asked the million dollar question….”Will you cuddle Mom?”.  It was a risky question, because they never knew which answer they’d get.  Sometimes I would crawl onto their bed with great JOY in my heart….but equally as often I would tell them I was simply too tired to cuddle, when the truth was I was just done being a mom for the day!

There are no do-overs.  We can’t turn back the clock and replay the past.  But life has a way of offering us opportunities to learn big lessons, if we are willing to be students!

My life changed in late February, 2008.

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My younger son was just 2 weeks away from his 9th birthday when he suddenly and unexpectedly began experiencing episodes of labored breathing.  He was in and out of the emergency room on four separate occasions in three days, each time being treated for the symptoms, and released.  Finally, at 9:00 pm on a Saturday night, the emergency room doctor recommended we go to the local children’s hospital.

While being admitted at the Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters, Peter began having one of these mysterious episodes.  His breathing became labored and his complexion went ghostly white.  The worst part was watching the change in his eyes.  They remained opened, but became glazed over.  There was no life in his eyes.  He would look right at you but not respond to any directions or interaction.  He appeared to be awake, yet he wasn’t there.

This was the first and only time any doctor actually witnessed the physical changes we had been describing, and they didn’t like what they were seeing.  The hospital staff rushed him into an ER room, leaving me standing alone in the hallway.  It seemed like an eternity, but within a minute or two the doctor approached me and calmly but urgently recommended immediate intubation to ensure they could assist my little guy with his breathing if the episodes progressed.

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They allowed me in the ER room where I stood at his head, softly whispering in his ear that everything would be all right.  I gently caressed his face and hair while they administered medication to put him to sleep before continuing with the procedure.  Once his eyes closed, they escorted me (because I wouldn’t leave on my own accord) out to the waiting room.  Since my guy was home with our older son, I sat alone trying desperately to keep the fear and the tears under control.

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The next time I laid eyes on my little guy will be emblazoned in my memory forever.  My 85 pound, almost 9 year old, football playing son, was laying in nothing but a diaper on an ICU bed with a tube sticking out of his throat.  His body was there, but the Peter-Pie I knew, was no where to be found.

For over 24 hours he lay like that.  All I wanted to do was crawl into bed with him and hold him.  Sadly, that was not allowed in the ICU.  So I scooted my chair right up to the edge of his bed and leaned my upper body as close to him as I possibly could.

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Time passed so slowly.  I retreated to the safety of my cave and became withdrawn, having little to no contact with family or friends during this time.  It was just me, my thoughts, and my conversations with God.  I prayed, actually I begged and pleaded, for him to give me back my charismatic, joyous, energetic, fun loving, inspirational and wise little boy.  I promised him that if he gave him back to me, I would never ever again take him for granted.  I would never deny him my time, my attention, my love!  I would never again say NO when he asked me to climb into bed with him and cuddle.

After administering every test possible, they couldn’t figure out what had caused the episodes.  The doctors discharged our little guy with a diagnosis of reflux.  It didn’t make sense, but it doesn’t much matter any more.  That was five and a half years ago.  Since leaving the hospital four days after he was admitted, Peter has remained healthy.

God kept up his end of the deal!

So did I!

A few weeks after returning home, while Peter and I were laying in his bed cuddling, I told him how sorry I was for all the times I said “No” when he asked me to cuddle in the past.  I shared with him my conversation with God.  I wanted him to know that I was sorry, and that I learned a BIG lesson.  I made him a double promise….that I would never take his presence in my life for granted, and I would never deny either of us the sweet bedtime ritual of cuddling together.

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Pete – 3 years old

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Pete – 8 1/2 years old

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Pete – 14 years old

He tested me over the years.  If he saw the slightest bit of hesitation, he was quick to remind me of my promise.  I was always grateful for him holding me accountable, because life sometimes gets in the way of our promises.

My little guy started high school this year.  It seems the days of crawling into his bed at night to cuddle have come and gone.  Instead, now he joins me in my bed.  We talk, read or watch television….and sometimes we even sneak in a little cuddle!

I still fight back the tears as I recall the mental anguish and fear I experienced in late February, 2008.  But I regularly choose to relive it, to take myself back to that time and place, so I never, ever forget the lesson I learned.  It was the silver lining in the scariest time of my life.

It gave me perspective…..

It gave me a second chance….

If you are a maybe later kind of mom (wife, friend, sister, daughter), I hope you’ll consider giving that lifestyle up.  There is nothing more important than that time we have with the ones we love.  Take not a second of it for granted!

with Joy & Gratitude,