When my daughter was in fifth grade, the fifth-grade trip was a right of passage. The class boarded a bus and headed down to Mesa Verde National Park for a week of science projects and fun.

The morning they left, all the parents gathered around. We placed their bags in the bottom of the chartered bus, and one by one, they gave last minute hugs and boarded the bus. There was a buzz in the air. All of the kids were excited; for most, it was the first long trip away from family. There was laughing, excitement … and my daughter’s face pressed up against the window, tears streaming down her cheeks as she mouthed “I love you” over and over again.

As a parent, my smile was biggest of all. I stood there grinning, saying “Have a great time” and “You’re going to have so much fun” over and over again. I was overcompensating for her tears, her fears. If I didn’t hold it together, who would? I was her strength. That’s what good moms do. I gave her the push; I wanted her to be the strongest person she could be. To experience everything she could, and use it to build on for her future.

So I smiled and waved. And held it together to feed her my strength. And then I went home and bawled my eyes out in the privacy of my own home. (Her tears dried up minutes after the bus left, and she did have the time of her life.)

I was reminded of that moment when we dropped my daughter’s bags and boxes off in her college dorm room. She was scared and unsure. But I knew she’d do great things. I knew she’d do well, despite her growing fears. It’s difficult moving so far from home. She’d do well, she just needed time.

Standing at the airport, she called one more time. I asked her who she had dinner with. She said she ate alone. Keep trying! You’ll do fine! I was her strength. I was her support.

When I got off the phone, I told my husband we were dropping everything, going back to get her, bringing her home. My mom skills kicked into high gear. Of course, he talked me out of it. And of course, in time, she did fine.

This spring, she graduated from college. A strong, smart woman ready to take on the world!

She’s been with me now for months, trying to figure out what’s next in her life. (Sound familiar?) After weeks of applications and writing cover letters and interviewing, she found her path. A one-year work visa program in a land far far away.

She’s leaving in October. Over 7,300 miles from my home. Way too far to come home for the weekend. Way too far to fly to for a quick vacation. It’s for a year – one year – I keep telling myself. But this time I know; it’s really forever.

I’ve done my job. I’ve mom’d. I’ve gotten her through hurdles and over humps. I’ve seen her through high school and pushed her to get her degree. She has it all – an adult – ready to fly and be free.

I remember reading a book about coming to terms with empty nest back when my daughter was in high school. It spoke of giving yourself permission to grieve – a huge part of your life was about to change. It spoke of making major changes in your life – why not let the new you come to light?

And I intend to do my share of both.

I did what I often do when I’m not sure what road I’m on; I turned to books. They say that the teacher will come when you need her most. I believe that,. And as I head down this new path, book recommendations keep coming my way.

Deborah Levy said in The Cost Of Living:

“Now that I was no longer married to society, I was transitioning into something or someone else. What and who would that be? How could I describe this odd feeling of dissolving and recomposing? Words have to open the mind. When words close the mind, we can be sure that someone has been reduced to nothingness.”

My role is now in throes once again. Who will I be? I’ll always be a mom, but who do I want to BE, now, when I have every opportunity to BE just for me?

I sat down and wrote out my roles. The roles I would actively pursue now in our empty nest years.

  • I’m a writer.
  • I’m a wife.
  • I’m a friend.
  • I’m a thinker.
  • I’m a reader.
  • I’m healthy.
  • I’m happy.

I started noticing a trend. I intermixed external and internal roles. I can’t be a writer if I don’t take the time to think and read. I can’t be a wife or a friend if I don’t take the time to create a happy, healthy me.

Some of the old me is fading away. But in its place is the opportunity for me to redefine; to do exactly what I choose to do. I’m transitioning into a stronger, better me.

A few weeks ago, another book recommendation came across my desk. Cheryl Richardson’s newest book, Waking Up In Winter.

I scanned the summary: a candid and revelatory account of how, at midlife, Richardson found renewed contentment and purpose through a heroic, inward journey.

I’ve read many of Richardson’s books in the past. So I quickly added it to my nightstand. And last weekend I picked it up, and had it read in two days. If you were to pick up my copy, you’d find many of the corners dog-eared, post-it notes fixed to just as many pages. I’m a post-it note reader, creating notes to myself along the way.

Her voice spoke to me and said what I needed to hear. Right from the beginning I knew I was in for something good when she wrote: This book is an honest account of what happened when I started listening to my life.

~Time is a commodity I’m no longer willing to waste.

I’ve never been more in touch with what I want, while trying desperately to push away anything that doesn’t fit within my wants and desires. Time is a commodity I’m no longer willing to waste.

I think some of that comes with the age of 54 quickly inching into my life. It’s a number that’s impacted me almost my entire adult life. And I look at it as my starting point – the point where I get to move on – into the wild frontier. A life far healthier and happier than my dad experienced, as he was counting the days until he could retire.

In just a few days, I’ll be driving my daughter to the airport, sending her off with love, encouragement, and all the life-skills I’ve passed on in our time together. I’ll treasure every single moment we’ve shared, including the time I had as she moved back into my life full time after graduation.

These past few months I shared time with her as an adult – a woman- and our conversations have been far deeper than most moms probably get with their twenty-something daughters. I treasure each moment – what a gift I’ve been given, and hopefully given her in return.

And as I drive home from the airport, I’m sure a few tears will fall.

Some of it will be for the past – all 53 wonderful years I’ve had so far.

But some – a few – will also be tears of joy. Because I’ve had such a wonderful life, and I can’t wait for more.

Towards the end of Richardson’s book, she spoke of her time on January 1st welcoming in a New Year.

“When I think about this coming year I don’t feel inspired to set goals or intentions. Instead, I want to place my attention on how I’d like to feel.”

I agree. What a wonderful way to welcome in this new phase of my life. It’s exactly how I want to reinvent my life and celebrate my time with my husband and our empty nest.

I think back to my list of internal and external roles. And it all seems to fit.

  • I want to feel fed by the creative process of writing.
  • I want to feel comfortable with every moment of my life.
  • I want to feel closer to Andrew and experience a deeper love and connection.
  • I want to feel healthy, both physically and mentally.
  • I want to feel love towards friends that really get me.
  • I want to feel stimulated by the activities I choose to do every day.
  • I want to feel free to roam and travel, finding what’s really the best for me.

Empty nest is bittersweet. It’s a time of loss; I’ll never again get the full-time experience with my daughter. It’s a time of reflection; I look at her with such joy, almost a sense of “mission complete.” It’s also a time of excitement; I have so much left to do.

That’s where my desire for reinvention comes from. For the chance of making this next phase of my life the best yet.