The Power of the Sweatshirt

I am the woman of many temperatures right now and I find myself reaching for and/or discarding a sweatshirt many times throughout the day.  Today during a cold moment, I grabbed my old standby sweatshirt and put it on.  To say that this sweatshirt has seen better days would be a gross understatement.This sweatshirt needs to be, in fact deserves to be, in the trash. This zip up Russell Athletic sweatshirt circa the mid 90's has literally been on fire (more on that later).
But yet, I continue to wear it around the house and occasionally

I have no explanation.  I certainly have other sweatshirts. I have purchased new zip up ones to take its place.  Other family members have purchased ones for me in the hopes that I would retire the out of fashion, stained, and burn marked one.  However, I still reach for that one.  I'm a practical girl and there are legitimate reasons I keep it around.  It is roomy and most current replacement sweatshirts go with a more fitted silhouette.  When I am relaxing around the house I am not look for a flattering fitted silhouette, I am looking for comfort! It is also made of good old fashioned sweatshirt fleece, not polar tech fleece or some other kind of static charged fleece that attracts dog hair as soon as I put it on. It is free from the annoying band on the bottom that makes every zip up sweatshirt seem too short. It is also the perfect weight- enough to keep me warm, but not enough to make me overheat.

As with any old piece of clothing that we hold onto, there are reasons beyond the practical.  I'm sure with effort I could find a suitable replacement that would check many of the boxes.  But, the new sweatshirt wouldn't come with the history.  This garment has been my friend.  Its loose, boxy shape had never judged me when my size or shape changed.  It has been with me through pregnancies, post pregnancies, and multiple body changes.  it is never too big or too small.  It has been the sweatshirt conveniently hung on the back of a door or a chair so it is easy for me to grab when I need to make a quick trip outside.  Its comforting weight has been with me through sickness and health, happiness and grief.  It has been the the one I wore when rocking babies to sleep, making Christmas cookies with my girls, basting the Thanksgiving turkeys, painting rooms, planting gardens, and moving to different homes.  It has brought comfort to new places in the way that only a constant friend can. I've done a lot of life with this non-descript article of clothing.  Even the embarrassment that comes with being caught outside wearing it hasn't been enough to make me give it up for good!

About 8 years ago, I was making dinner while wearing my sweatshirt- nothing out of the ordinary. Except at some point, I must have leaned too close to the flame and my sweatshirt caught on fire. As I tried to put the fire out, my family sat at the kitchen table and did NOTHING. Nothing to see here, just mom on fire in the kitchen!! In what has become a disputed piece of family history, I put the fire out myself and continued to put dinner on the table while my family laughed at me for catching myself on fire. My family remembers their reaction differently, but I know I put out the fire and I'm pretty sure I'm right about the rest :-).

So, I have literally walked through the fire with the comfiest of zip up sweatshirts.  How could I possibly walk away now? If you happen to see me outside wearing what only can be described as a hot mess of a sweatshirt, just smile and try not to judge. Maybe this little sweatshirt is my sign to the world that it's ok for everything not to be perfect, that despite appearances we all have a few holes in us, and that we all have moments where we have to walk through the fire and usually we live to tell about it.  I don't know if a humble little sweatshirt can send hope and comfort into the world, but I think it can- at least it has for me :-). 

Falling in Love

The cool, crisp, colorful days of fall always evoke so many memories.  None more vivid than the fall when I was falling in love.

I was a new college student in the fall of 85 and I was falling in love with:
the joy of learning,
a redefined sense of self,
deep conversations that lingered long into the night,
different experiences,
my beloved Purdue campus,
and mostly my friends who made all of those experiences more lively, fun, and meaningful!

Although this wasn't romantic love (that came later), it was every bit as heady and exhilarating.  Those first few months of college were magical! I was lucky to have had a smooth transition into college life.  I was ready for the new challenge, I was open to change, and I embraced the experience.

I fell in love with Purdue a little more each day as I explored new places. Although Purdue was a large campus, I was able to find little spots that made it seem like my own.  As I settled into the new rhythm of my days, I would find places where I could hang out and relax between classes.  There was the small fountain near John Purdue's grave where I would sit and watch all the people walk by but somehow still feel like I was alone.

 There was the pond behind Stanley Coulter Hall where I spent a lot of time eating granola bars and enjoying the sunshine.  There was the spacious bathroom/lounge on the first floor of the union where I could grab a couch and a little nap after my 7:30 am class. (I quickly became comfortable with the public nap!)  There was the table in the Union where my friends and I would often congregate throughout the day. We would look forward to grabbing some bread sticks (another Purdue love) and conversation between classes. The ever evolving mix of people became a highlight of my day. There was the excitement of  game day where I vividly remember walking across the co-rec fields and over Slayter Hill through the sea of tailgaters. You could always hear the sound of laughter, music, and the steady drum beat of the Purdue marching band.

I regret that we did not have phone cameras at the time because I am sure I would have taken pictures of the leaves changing as I walked to class and I know I would have had pictures of the water splashing out of my little fountain on the mall on a rainy day. I definitely would have taken a picture of the koi fish swimming in the pond and the squirrels crazily gathering acorns underneath the trees. 
I thought those areas would always be there and there would be time for pictures later, but time stops for no one. Campuses keep growing and changing, student needs and traditions evolve over time, and now many of my special places aren't there anymore.  I am forced to rely on my memory and although the experiences are seared in my mind, the details have grown a little fuzzy with time.

There are so many moments that I wish I could have saved just so I could remember the feeling associated with them. A picture probably wouldn't have captured the size of my brain growing as I learned subjects at a rate I never imagined.  I probably wouldn't have taken a selfie at the moment when I was most engaged in class and I could feel everything finally clicking into place.  I'm not sure a group photo could have captured the camaraderie that happened during those marathon late night conversations with friends.  How do you capture that time on a Saturday before we went out for the night when everyone was getting ready? Hairspray and perfume thick in the air, clothes and shoes swapped to find the perfect look, music playing in our rooms, moods happy and hopeful, all in preparation for the magical night that we were always sure was about to happen.  What would that picture look like?

Although I have some pictures of my college years, I don't have nearly enough to equate to all of the special times, places, and people.   I am envious that the students today have the ability to easily capture all of their experiences. Their lives are well documented and someday they will appreciate the gift of those detailed memories frozen in time.  I am also thankful that I didn't have the ability to easily capture all of my experiences! For every memory I want to see again, there is one (or two) that I would rather not...

When I think of my own college age children, I hope that they are falling in love too! I'm sure they are having plenty of their own memorable moments.  They won't look exactly like mine, but I hope they are finding their favorite places on campus and appreciating the quiet and exciting moments along the way.   I hope they are recognizing that college is a special time and place in their lives. I hope they are making friendships that will last a lifetime  I hope they are taking a lot of pictures.

My experience wasn't all perfect- there were struggles, classes I hated, professors who weren't fair, homework assignments that just about killed me, financial stresses that made life tough, times I disappointed myself and others- but the overall experience was such a gift.  If my girls are enjoying their college experience half as much as I did, then I know they will be truly blessed!

 Here's to fall, friends, love, and the glory days of college! 

You Are Not Alone

This has been a tough week or so for many women. Anyone who has been victimized by sexual harassment or assault has probably had a moment of sadness and/or anxiety while watching news coverage of the latest sex abuse scandal.  Reading the victims' stories may have caused you to relive an unpleasant experience of your own or remember a long forgotten one.  I'm sure many of you have seen the Twitter and Facebook posts marked with #MeToo.  Women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault have been given an opportunity to safely add their voices to the growing number of women who have come out and publicly declared that this has happened to them.  The numbers are heartbreaking! Women are coming out in droves to report that they too have been victimized.

I can almost guarantee you that at some point these women thought they were alone.

They have never been alone.

The statistics on abuse are staggering. One out of five women will experience childhood sexual abuse.  One in four women will experience date rape during their teens to early twenties. One in three women are likely to experience sexual harassment in their workplace.  I feel confident in saying that nearly 100% of women have experienced sexual harassment on the street through catcalls, whistles, comments yelled from construction sites or passing vehicles- comments designed not to compliment, but to diminish, to make us uncomfortable.  I don't even know how to categorize the sexual abuse coming from allegedly "safe" places- schools, churches, doctor's offices.  No place is off limits to a sexual predator. The scope of the problem is mind blowing.

These common but unpleasant experiences are usually kept in the dark and never brought into the light of day.  Why?

We learn early on that we need to be the keeper of the castle when it comes to our bodies and our dignity.  We must build tough walls that can deflect crude and demeaning comments.  We have to create a wide moat to protect ourselves against sexual aggressors who may come our way. We need to develop a set of strategic maneuvers to help us navigate around unwanted sexual advances. We are in a near constant state of battle and we don't always know or recognize the enemy. And while this philosophy is technically correct- we are ultimately the ones in charge of our bodies-there is not a castle strong enough to keep out men who decide to take what isn't theirs. When there are "infractions", it feels like it is our fault, our mistake, our castle didn't hold.  We build bigger walls and wider moats and still, we feel we have somehow failed when someone else succeeds at their unwanted and unwelcome advances.

So, we feel guilt, we feel shame, we keep quiet; we don't confront our abusers, because somewhere deep down we are sure it was at least partly our fault.

We should have known better...
We probably didn't read the signals correctly...
We must have led them on...
We should have known that's just how men are...
We thought we were in control...
Maybe we flirted a little...
Maybe we dressed too provocatively...
Maybe we had too much to drink...

Who would believe me anyway?

The part of the equation we never seem to give equal weight to is who and what was on the other side.  Were we outmatched in age, experience, power, position, size, status?  Was there force, intimidation, excessive persistence, or manipulation involved?  Were we threatened or bullied to stay quiet? Were we convinced that we brought it on ourselves? Many serial sexual abusers know exactly what they are doing.  They know who to target, how to groom you, how to manipulate your feelings, how to catch you off guard, and how to make you feel like it was your fault.  This is part of the sick game they play.

And yet often in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we take the blame.  We tell ourselves we won't let it happen again, we keep rebuilding the castle, and we beat ourselves up for it. We take our bad experience and wrap it up in shame, and then tuck it away somewhere deep down where it's safe and we don't have to look at it or think about it.  But when we keep it a secret, it can become bigger and more powerful in ways that we don't even understand. And when we stay quiet, we let other women think that this is only happening to them.  And when we keep it to ourselves, we don't ever let light shine into that ugly  darkness. And when we don't tell anyone else, we continue to believe whatever "truth" we have told ourselves without ever considering what the actual "truth" might be. We feel alone, ashamed, and embarrassed by our perceived failings.

It's important that women come forward and talk about this so: 1) women and men will understand how widespread this problem is, 2) women will feel the power in numbers and know that they are not alone, 3) women can finally start to believe that maybe it wasn't their fault, and  4) women can let go of the shame and finally start to heal.

Christian author, speaker, and victim of sexual abuse  Beth Moore recently added her own voice to the list of #MeToo's and offered this series of tweets to the many women speaking out:

#WeToo have a voice. For all the times we were bullied into silence, we get to speak up & call wrong WRONG. #WeToo for fewer future #MeToos.

#WeToo get to stand on solid ground and be counted.  We too get to help other girls stand.  We too get to say, "I understand.  I believe you."

#WeToo have dignity. We too have courage.  We too can heal.  We too have community.  We too can be unashamed. We too can see to change. 

If you have your own story of sexual harassment, assault, or abuse; you don't have to go public with it if you aren't comfortable, but sharing it with a trusted friend or counselor can help.
Women standing together in the light are so much more powerful than women standing alone in the dark.  Have courage.  You are not alone!


For more information:

Date Rape
Child Sexual Abuse
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

It's Like Riding a Bike

One of the perks of being an empty nester is taking an empty nester trip! I don't know if this is officially "a thing" yet, but it should be :-).  Much like many new moms get a "push gift" to reward their efforts during childbirth; I think every new empty nester should get a trip to reward them for 18 years (or more) of hard work!

We were fortunate enough to vacation in Hilton Head Island with our dear friends from St. Louis. When we were asking about activities for the week,  many people recommended renting bikes as a fun way to see the island.  Although this sounded fun, the idea of riding a bike produced a little fear and anxiety for me. It had been years since I had regularly ridden a bike.  In our pre-children days, we bought some nice hybrid bikes thinking we would ride a lot.  We rode some, but living in Houston at the time we underestimated the distinct unpleasantness of riding in near constant heat and humidity.  As time went on and we moved to different states, we would occasionally dust off the bikes and go for a ride, but sad to say I was always the complainer.  The seat hurt my butt, the biking position made my back hurt, I couldn't figure out the gears, there was too much traffic-whine,whine, whine!  Eventually my children grew big enough to ride my bike and I was happy to let them.

So now here I was, many years away from regular bike riding and we had just committed to renting bikes for a week.  I was about to have a moment of truth! Would I remember how to ride? Would I fall off? Would I be in control enough to ride along other bikers, pedestrians, and cars? Would I be physically able to keep up with others?

We walked down to check out our bikes and take them out for the first time.  My immediate observation was that this was a bike I could love! This was a beach cruiser- sturdy wheels, upright handlebars, pedal brakes, no gears, big cushiony seat, and (wait for it) a basket! Just add streamers to the ends of the handlebars and a bell and this would be the bike of my dreams!  After a few seat adjustments, we were ready to go.  I nervously climbed on my bike and took my first few unsteady pedals.  Pedal, pedal, wobble, wobble, pedal, pedal, pedal, wobble, and suddenly  I'm moving!  And then...

Smiles and laughter and JOY! Absolute child-like joy!

I was riding a bike, hair blowing in the wind, laughing with friends!  It was impossible not to feel like a child again remembering when riding a bike was the ticket to freedom.  As a child, you could ride your bike places where you could have never walked.  It was the first feeling of independence that I can remember.  Hopping on my bike and riding to a friend's house, or going to the library, or riding to Dairy Queen were the best activities an 8 year old could dream of.  A bike made you feel like your world was full of possibilities! Connecting to that feeling again was magical.

As we all become more comfortable with our bikes, we developed a routine where we would ride along the beach in the morning and then ride our bikes to town for breakfast.  And when I say ride along the beach, I mean we could literally ride on the sand right near the water.  I've never been on a beach where that is possible.  Because of the basket on the front, we could stop for coffee or shopping and take it all back with us! It ended up being one of my favorite memories of our whole vacation, but it wouldn't have happened if I had let my fear stop me from doing it.

Isn't that how it is sometimes? You have to break through the fear to get to the joy. The joy is just past the fear. and at times the fear is so big that we can't even see the possibility of joy.  This experience made me wonder, what other joy am I not experiencing because I am afraid?  Our fears and anxieties may be keeping us from joys that we can't even imagine.

I am motivated to start pushing through more fear.  It won't be easy, but I know it will be worth it. Now is the time for joy!

Grieving the Old Life

"I don't care if it's a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it.  If you don't you feel even worse."- J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

Whenever there is a loss in life--whether it is through death, relocation, change of relationship status, change of career, or change of circumstance-- there is a necessary period of grieving.  Even in cases where we know the change is necessary, or predicted, or even desired; we need to take the time to acknowledge the loss and accept the new "normal".  We need to say goodbye.

After 20 years of devoting myself to the daily, intimate, hands-on, emotional, and physical care of my two daughters; I am now "unemployed".  The all consuming, exhilarating, challenging, joyous, exhausting, scary, frustrating, fulfilling job of day-to-day parenting is over.  It would be ridiculous for me not to acknowledge the seismic shift in my life.  When my older daughter graduated 2 years ago, I felt the dramatic turn taking place.  Not only was I sad that her high school years were over and that she would soon leave for college, but I was also sad knowing that my younger daughter would soon be in the same situation! In only two years not only would my youngest graduate, but I would also have to say goodbye to practices, games, concerts, school events, giggling groups of girls, and all of the activities associated with having school age children. Even though I was busy, fully engaged, and focused with the activities of life; I could feel the clock ticking. This time of my life was coming to a rapid end. Independent of my desire for their happiness and success, independent of my excitement for them to move on to the next phase, independent of my joy that came from watching them accomplish their goals-- there was a sadness for me.  Week by week, event by event; there was a slow grieving for the life that was being left behind. Until finally this August, the youngest left for college and that life truly was left behind.

How do you grieve the loss of a life you loved?

 I don't know...

It is easier to answer how you don't:

You fill your days with distractions.
You immerse yourself in college shopping.
 You tackle dorm room decorating like it's a military operation.
You pack as much into the last summer together as humanly possible.
You clean rooms and go through closets like your life depended on it.
You nod and smile and keep repeating how excited you are for your son or daughter.
You listen to all the people telling you how happy you should be that your children are growing up and moving on.
And you put on a smile and keep moving, always keep moving.
You do anything not to focus on the fact that a special chapter of life is over and a new one is beginning.

Distraction is a very effective grief avoidance technique, until it's not. The day you see the school
bus stop at your corner and you burst into tears because you know you will never put another child on the bus. THAT is the moment when you can no longer ignore the change and when you start to get real about your new life- your new normal.

Grieving is different for every person.  And grieving the loss of this phase of motherhood (or fatherhood) might be even more so.  There is no one way.  There is no right way.  But for me, there had to be a moment of acknowledgement and a time of reflection.  Don't listen to the chorus of voices telling you not to be sad.  Ignore the chatter of people trying to get you to immediately jump into the next thing. Take time to acknowledge the change, feel the loss, and start to accept and embrace the next stage.  It may be a few days, a few months, or longer. Take the time.

We spend the better part of senior year preparing our children for the next step and find countless ways to help them mark the transition.  I am still waiting for the event that prepares parents.  Can we get our own ceremony?!? An evening of counseling? A community night of reflection? Wine?!?Something that lets us know that this is a big deal for us, that feeling sad can be a normal part of the process, and that we should take the time to feel our way through it.

In some ways this is a companion post to my last entry.  I can not say with certainty if this should be part 1, or part 2.  I don't yet have the perspective to know if the "quiet" is part of the grieving, or if the quiet is a  gift that comes after.  What I do know is that they are closely related and for me, quite necessary.

My best advice--Talk to your friends and family.  Discuss your emotions with others who are in the same situation.  Be honest with yourself and others about what you are feeling.  Take a minute to let it all soak in. That is the best way through.
 And then...

I hear there are good things on the other side :-)


The most common question I am asked these days is "What's it like to be an empty nester?" At a few months in, I am still figuring that out. My best answer for now is "quiet". That word has many different connotations. Some may immediately interpret quiet as a sad or lonely state of being. For me, it has mostly been a good quiet.

Thinking of quiet as a noun yields this definition:
absence of noise or bustle; silence; calm.

In the absence of noise and bustle you see and hear things differently.

Quiet is hearing the church bells playing at noon each day and wondering how long I haven't been hearing them.
Quiet is taking a daily walk through nature and remembering that seasons smell different.
Quiet is patient. 
Quiet is sunrises and sunsets. 
Quiet is deep conversations. 
Quiet is cleaning rooms and closets, organizing, and taking stock of possessions.
Quiet is sorting the meaningful from the meaningless.  
Quiet is prayer and thanksgiving.
Quiet is remembering who I thought I'd be.
Quiet is reflecting on who I am.

I don't know what's next for me, I truly don't. Clarity will come, opportunities will present themselves, decisions will be made. But for now, I will continue to embrace the quiet.


Welcome to my new blog "Musings from the Midlife"! Not since my early years have I experienced such a time of change- emotionally, spiritually, and even physically.  Each day seems to bring a new situation that requires me to accept large scale disruptions to my "normal" life. BIG birthdays, children graduating and moving away, aging and ailing parents, changing friendships, shifting personal responsibilities, fluctuating hormones, and the occasional health issue.  Although most of these changes sound negative, there are also positives that come from this time.  Increased time for reflection, the ability to pursue only those activities that are meaningful, the freedom to have a more flexible schedule, the joy that comes from seeing your children grow into who they are meant to be, the deepening love and appreciation for your spouse, and the growing gratitude for friends that support you no matter what.
I know I am not alone in feeling a little unsure and unsettled by what is to come in this midlife and beyond, but also a little excited.  I hope you will join me as I reflect on this new time of life and try to make sense of it all.

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