The Road Less Traveled
One of the most challenging parts of midlife for me, and many of my friends, has been watching the nest empty, as our kids grow up and move on — but seeing our children fly can bring moments of great joy and pride (and opportunities to learn). As my sons emerge into confident, curious, and responsible adults I know my time with them will grow less, but I also know they are ready to take on the struggles and the triumphs that lie ahead. I usually try not to be one of Those Moms - you know, the ones who can’t stop bragging about their kids - but I am making an exception in this case. I am truly inspired by my son Brian! I enjoy hearing from friends how proud they are of their children: how well their kids are doing with active college lives, their many friends and events and successes — and I love these stories! Our culture sometimes equates success and fun with extroversion: invitations and Instagram, social lives and Snapchat, and "doing" rather than "being". I know it well because that's exactly who I was as a young adult - I defined myself by being with others, and doing things in groups. To a great degree, I still do. I remember my mother telling me one of the most important things she realized from being raised on a rural ranch in Lodi: “I learned how to like my own company and to be OK with being alone with myself." This is something I always remember, and have considered often over the years as I grappled with time spent alone. Today, I have learned to enjoy quiet time and appreciate my own company, and my best ideas and insights come from being with myself - I really try to embrace this personal time in my life now. As parents, acknowledging and highlighting the “quiet” successes are just as important as lauding the new job, the many friends, the busy life. Back to the bragging! My 23-year-old son Brian just graduated from college and dreamed of a road trip journey across the country, on his own. My husband and I initially struggled with the idea of him out there alone, but he assured us he would be fine and this is what he really wanted - to enjoy endless hours spent in any way he chose, exploring the United States at his own pace. (OK, and maybe playing a little Pokemon Go) He is only several days in to his sojourn, and has already seen places I've never experienced. I so admire the way he is comfortable in his own skin — this is precious time he is spending discovering our country, and himself, before he enters the working world. We are extremely proud of him, and I learn from him every day. Brian is grounded in who he is and what he believes, and wise in ways that astound me. (And we feel lucky that he’s invited us to meet him to share a bit of the adventure…I may even choose NYC, when I hope he’ll be ready for a little mom-luxury — Dinner at ABC Kitchen, Sweets at Dominique Ansel, a walk on the High Line and tickets to ‘Hamilton'? - Ha! my kind of road trip!)
This adventure is a gift for Brian - but also for us. He’s sharing beautiful pictures, and stories, and even let us download an app called 'my family' which enables us to see where he is at any given moment. (I love seeing the balance of technology here being used for good!) We can all be in touch with him and yet he can still be alone exploring and experiencing wonderful new places, and people, in the confidence of his own presence. The direction of his road trip has been planned entirely by Brian, which is especially gratifying as the direction of his college plans were radically changed by his Lyme disease diagnosis a few years ago. The 'normal' college life he imagined, filled with rugby and parties and lots of fun (along with academics, of course!), was derailed, and life took an unexpected turn. But Lyme did not stop him. He accepted the challenge head-on and became a better person for it. I believe he recognized at this young age, and not by his own choice, that it is just as important to look within as it is to be outside in the world. He’s learned very early what I am still discovering — to be alone with yourself, and love what you see in the stillness.
One of my favorite metaphors about raising children refers to parents giving them 'roots and wings'. I feel that my husband and I have seen how deeply rooted our kids are - and it makes it that much easier to be able to watch them fly. I hope you will appreciate these photos of Brian soaring, the freedom and empowerment of his deep roots and strong wings!
I invite you to consider what your next journey might be… what will enable you to find stillness, comfort and joy - alone with your own amazing self?
You can follow Brian on his own blog, Inching Across America