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…

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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

An Awesome Mommy Moment

I recently had one of those awesome mommy moments.  It wasn’t about a goal my children had achieved, nor was it about my ability to gently persuade them to see life from my perspective.  Although both of those could fall under the category of awesome.

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No, this was much different.  This was a light bulb moment, an “Ah-ha” moment, a moment of clarity that 18 years of motherhood can bring.  It was a moment of dueling emotions, each one vying for my attention.  A moment filled with joy, at the realization of the depth of wisdom gained through parenting.  A moment also mixed with sadness, wishing this nugget of knowledge had struck earlier in the parenting journey.

To all the moms out there with young children – I remember!

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I remember wishing my kids would get out from under my feet and let me cook dinner.  I remember praying for a few minutes of peace and quiet, with no Barney blaring in the background.  I remember feeling annoyed when the boys would interrupt my house cleaning duties, seeking my attention and approval.  I remember hoping I could find some time alone, for myself, to be just me….and not mom.

Sadly, somewhere along the line, without me even realizing it, all that I previously wished for became my new normal.  From toddler to teenager, in what now feels like a blink of an eye, I no longer have kids under my feet, no background noises, no interruptions.

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Sometimes I sink into the silence and solitude with a sense of peace.  But mostly, I wish my boys were around more, and I don’t just mean at home, but in my physical space, interacting with me.

Last week I was cooking dinner and being kept company by Dr. Phil, when my 15 year old bounced into the kitchen and asked if he could work on a project at the kitchen table.  While this may be a typical occurrence for mom’s with younger children, those with teenagers know that most of their kid’s work is completed in the teen-cave (aka – bedroom).

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Without a moments hesitation I exclaimed “Of course, the table is all yours”, with the level of enthusiasm I would express had I been asked if I’d like to get a massage, or go on a week’s vacation to a tropical island.  My kitchen table was instantly turned into an arts and crafts work station, complete with paint, yarn, scissors, styrofoam balls, glue and the like.  Dr. Phil was replaced with Mumford & Sons and Imagine Dragons.  What 10 years earlier felt like an interruption, now felt like an honor and a privilege.  Yes, my 15 year old wanted not only my attention and approval, but also my advice.

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The energy in the room that evening was different, in all the right ways.  When I could no longer contain the joy and gratitude I was feeling, I blurted out  “I love having you down here with me”, to which my son simply flashed his big brown eyes and smiled at me with a knowing, a wisdom that a 15 year old shouldn’t have, but he does.

My heart was exploding with love!

Love – that I had the ability to recognize the magic of this moment.  Love – that I could be grateful for this time together, regardless of how short it might be.  Love – that as my kids grow up, so do I, in so many ways.  Love – for the honor it is to be a mother, to be the mother of the two boys I get to live this life with.  Love – pure and simple!

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

We Are All Connected

Writing was not in my schedule for today.  But as life would have it, I had a simple yet profound experience at the grocery store that must be shared!

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After forty-five minutes of walking up and down every aisle, with pen in a hand and my nose buried in the grocery list, I finally made it to the front of the store.  I scanned the checkout stations from left to right, searching for the shortest line, but was distracted by an older lady unloading groceries in the line directly in front of me.  I say older only because of her gray hair.  Everything else about her screamed young and cool.

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She had a short but contemporary hair cut, was sporting fur lined Merrell clogs, denim jeans with a cute cuff and the clincher was her heavily tie dyed hoodie sweatshirt.  Oh yeah – she had me at the tie dye – took me right back to my college days listening to The Grateful Dead in Burlington, Vermont!

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I no longer cared how quickly I could escape the confines of the grocery store.  I just wanted to meet this hipster grandma.  Item by item I unloaded my grocery cart, barely taking my eyes off her in the hopes that she would turn my way and make eye contact so I could tell her how much I loved her tie dye.  Sure, the sweatshirt was the connection, the thing that drew me in, but what I really wanted was to learn the story behind this gray haired woman who moved with the agility of a fit 50 year old and wore swirling bright colors with confidence and ease.

We never made eye contact.  Not once did she turn her head even slightly to the left so I could catch her attention.  I bent down to grab the items under the cart, and when I stood back up, she was already heading through the front door towards the parking lot.

With an audible sigh of disappointment, I realized I had missed the opportunity…..

Then he appeared, standing as though trying to maintain his balance, right behind my grocery cart.  He was the cutest old man, overdue for a shave, dressed in a suit too big for his frail body, holding nothing but a bunch of bananas.  I would have gladly let him go before me, but the cashier had already begun ringing me up.  I glanced back towards him repeatedly, each time feeling a need to offer him a seat, or a hug….or something.  Finally, I gestured to take his bananas and place them on the counter so he wouldn’t have to hold them any longer.

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As though my thoughts and actions were being guided from above, I handed his bananas to the cashier, asked her to ring them up on my tab, and place them in a grocery bag.  As I turned back to give the bananas to him, he mumbled something about needing to get cash.  It occurred to me that he was unaware of what just happened, so I told him I paid for his bananas and he didn’t have to wait in line any longer.  He looked at me puzzled and softly uttered “You did?”.   I gently placed my hand on his shoulder and told him to have a wonderful day.  As suddenly as he had entered my life, he was gone, shuffling out the same door my little old hippie lady had previously departed through.

With an audible sigh of relief, I realized I had created the opportunity….

The feeling of making a difference, of being a contribution to another human being, is almost indescribable.  At best, it is an experience that one must live through and feel to truly understand.

I will never know the difference my banana purchase really made for that sweet old man.  What I know for certain though, is the impact it had on me, affecting me physically, emotionally and spiritually!

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In our world, introductions are just a formality.  We are all connected simply by virtue of our humanity.  Yet we typically live our lives with our heads buried in our grocery list, so to speak.  We proceed through life within the boundaries of our own individual world, thinking about and interacting with only those things that appear to directly affect us.

In so doing, we miss the opportunity to experience our connection with others, to both make a difference and be contributed to.  We miss the magic, the beauty, the gift, the awesomeness that life has to offer!

It’s really so simple.

Choose to interact with the world.

Be intentional about making a difference.

Open yourself up to the possibility that you will receive back twice the gift you give.

Create the opportunity to contribute.

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As I was loading my groceries into the truck, the mini van to my right began to slowly back out.  I glanced over, only to see my hippie grandma in the driver’s seat.  Without a second’s hesitation, I stopped what I was doing and approached her car.  I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity twice!  As she rolled down her window I blurted out how I’d been admiring her tie dye sweatshirt in the checkout line.  The rest of what I said to her was a blur as my words poured out fast and furiously, seizing this opportunity.  She smiled with both her mouth and her eyes, saying more in that look than words could ever capture.

As we parted, I was left with a sense that we had both experienced a simple, almost inconsequential moment….and yet we had given each other an undefinable gift that still lingers with me.

We gave each other the gift of LOVE.

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

Love Letter to My Dad

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Dear Dad,

I’m sitting down to write you a love letter.  I’m sure that sounds strange, but let me explain.  LOVE is my word for this year, it’s the word that will give my life focus and direction for the next 349 days.  I can’t say I chose it, because I didn’t.  It chose me, for a few reasons I understand, and many more that I’m sure I’ll discover as the year unfolds.

So I’m thinking about love, wondering about love, and talking about love.  I’m feeling love, giving love, receiving love.  I’m seeing love, testing love, immersing myself in the meaning of this word love.  In so doing, I’m discovering that it’s everywhere.  I can’t escape it, even if (and when) I want to!

In the grocery store today I saw this most adorable, plush and cuddly stuffed tiger.  He’s got these long dangling arms with velcro on the paws, intended to wrap around your neck and give you a hug.  As much as you LOVE tigers, I’m sure you don’t need one more stuffed feline in your house.  So I walked past him twice,  but just couldn’t resist the urge to pick him up and give him a big squeeze before I added him to my grocery cart!

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The grocery store clerk casually tossed him into the bag with the bread, not realizing that she was being way too rough with my inanimate symbol of you.  He was the first thing I unpacked when I finally carried the last load of groceries in from my car.

This silly little tiger evoked an overwhelming feeling of love for you.  Standing in my pantry unpacking groceries, the thought hit me, do you know how much I love you?

I mean really know!  Not just the “I’m your daughter and I’m supposed to love you” kind of love.  But do you really know, both intellectually and in your heart, the depth of my love for you?

I lost all four of my grandparents suddenly, without an opportunity to say goodbye, without a final hug, without telling them how much I really loved them!

A love letter is not meant to be morbid, but the truth is, regardless of our age, we never know when our final day will be.  The pain of my past, of losing so many that I loved without notice, inspired me to write you this love letter, to tell you NOW, so I know that you know, without question, how much I love you!

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I love you to the moon and back

I love you when I see tigers

I love you as I eat Lay’s potato chips and onion dip…..or a late night bowl of ice cream

I love you when I sit in the same spot on my sofa that you always sit

I love you when I have a hammer in my hand

I love you when I watch the Steelers play

I love you when I think of Grandma

I love you every single time I try something new

I love you when I drink coffee

I love you when I fold the paper grocery store bags with perfection

I love you when I venture into the guest room and see your artwork hanging on the wall

I love you when the boys find a Star Wars movie on tv

I love you when I put my raincoat on

I love you when Ben or Peter speak your name, with a smile on their face

I love you when I hug you, and neither one of us lets go

I love you every day

I love you….

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My love for you is so embedded in my everyday life, I can’t count how many times a day you cross my mind and I am reminded that I love you.

My love for you is pure!  For me, there is nothing unfinished, nothing incomplete in our relationship.  You are simply easy to love and so I do, with all my heart and soul!

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

My One Word Is…..

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LOVE

Love is my one word.

I most certainly did not pick this word.  It chose me, jumped right into my lap and said “well hello there – I’m your word for 2014!”.  But it didn’t just sit in my lap, like crumbs I could brush off as I stood up.  NO – it attached itself to me like glue.

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I am truly dumbfounded.  Lost in the complexity of this one word.  How am I supposed to focus on and live from this thing called love, when I can’t even define it, distinguish it or determine exactly what it is?

Oh yeah, I almost forgot – we aren’t supposed to have this all figured out the first week of the year, are we?

My head is fighting it, but I can hear my heart whispering….

Just live in the space of LOVE, be intentional about LOVE, practice LOVE.

Still, I shake my head in confusion.

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Immersing myself in LOVE leaves me with so many questions….

What is love?

How do we know we are experiencing love?

What’s in the absence of love?

Do we feel love first, then act on it?  Or do we act from love to create the feeling?

How do we distinguish degrees of love?

Is it true – that all we need is love?

Who should we love?

Is love a noun, adjective, verb….or all of the above?

If it doesn’t have a heartbeat, can you love it?

How do we practice love when we aren’t feeling love?

Can we choose love, even if it isn’t present?

WHAT THE HECK IS LOVE???

This word scares me!  Makes me feel vulnerable, overwhelmed and exposed.  I have no idea where this word will take me, but I know with certainty that if I embrace it, commit to it and trust it – living from this word LOVE – I will be forever changed.

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 with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

What Matters Most

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Many people make resolutions, vowing to do things differently in the coming year.  Some people choose to live from “One Word”, letting that word give their lives direction and focus.  Either way, the intention is to create forward progress in our lives, and that’s a good thing!

Ultimately, the New Year is a perfect time to take inventory – of the past, present and future.  I was recently inspired by my friend Amy Volk to take a look at my life through a three-word question – “What Matters Most?”.  I was fooled by its simplicity, thinking it would be a breeze to catalog what matters most to me.

But this question requires that we dig deep to determine what REALLY matters most!  What I love about this question is that it distinguishes the landmarks that help keep us on track during our journey.  What matters most isn’t necessarily related to an end result or a big goal, instead it directly influences the steps we take in our day to day living.

We can choose to compartmentalize what matters to you most, and answer that question in relationship to your career, your family or your fitness.  However, with this being my first time tackling this exercise, I prefer to answer the question on a more general basis.  What matters most in my life, regardless of what role I’m playing.  So here goes…..

WHAT MATTERS MOST TO ME…..

Live an authentic life – I lived much of my younger life not liking who I was, and therefore trying to be something other than me.  ME is who I am!  I don’t want to run from the truth any longer, I want to embrace it and be AUTHENTIC, and in so doing, hopefully give others the freedom to do the same.

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Make time to be quiet – I’m discovering that I have a pattern of filling my life up with things to do, to a point of overwhelm.  Typically, there is never enough time to simply fulfill my commitments, let alone take time to be QUIET, reflect, and connect with the universe.  Making time to be quiet has become essential to my well being.

JOY – Be joy, do joy, have joy!  Having lived this past year with JOY as my one word – it has become an integral part of who I am, and I don’t ever want to live without it again!

Be present and live in the moment – I have few regrets over the course of my life.  I do believe everything happens for a reason and I’m grateful for all the life lessons I’ve experienced.  If I were to get a do-over, the biggest change I would make is to live life PRESENT!  I missed way too much of my life by focusing on the conversations I was having in my head, with myself, instead of fully engaging, participating and connecting with what I was experiencing or who I was relating to.  I’m learning that when I am 100% present in the moment, regardless of what I’m doing, my life feels fuller.

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Make a difference – It wasn’t until my recent past that I began to really distinguish my ability to make a difference.  Perhaps it started once I got out of my head and stopped having so many conversation with myself (LOL!).  But I can honestly say I have become addicted to the feeling of contributing to others and making a DIFFERENCE.

Be a student of life – I don’t necessarily have a picture or expectation of exactly what this looks like.  I just know I want to live the opposite of a stagnant, predictable life.  Trying new things, stepping outside my comfort zone, and being scared, all give me the opportunity to experience a bigger life and discover more about myself and the world we live in.

Cherish my relationships – As I filled my life up with things to do, to finish, to succeed in, to accomplish….it left me little to no room for my relationships.  When it’s all said and done, what I’ve accomplished doesn’t impact me nearly as much as who I am in relationship with!  Regardless if it’s a 3 minute interaction with the grocery store clerk, a 30 minute conversation with my Dad, a  2 hour lunch with a friend, or an evening out with the family – the quality of the interaction and connection far outweighs the quantity of time spent.

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Be grateful – There is nothing more powerful than putting life into perspective through gratitude.  Discovering the practice of daily gratitude has made the life I have, the life I live, perfect just the way it is!

LOVE – I can’t fully speak to this one yet.  I haven’t totally owned it, but all signs are pointing towards LOVE as my one word for 2014.  I know in my heart that LOVE matters most, and as this year unfolds and I embrace it, experience it, seek it out, share it, and speak it – I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to write about love!

Wow – what a gut check!  I’ve mastered some elements of what matters most to me (joy and gratitude for sure).  But I clearly have some work to do in other areas.  Regardless of my destination, I will keep the things that matter most with me, knowing they will be the landmarks that keep me on track for my journey!

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Ready for a gut check too?  What matters most to you?

with Joy & Gratitude,