The Reluctant Spartan – Part I

I’ve never considered myself a competitive person—unless you count growing up with four siblings and competing for the attention of my overwhelmed parents. During my first five decades on the planet, I also never considered myself an athlete or remotely fond of physical activity.

earth dayOn Earth Day 1971, I was a junior in high school. My sister (a sophomore) and I decided to honor the day by walking instead of driving the five miles to school. We stopped for three cigarette breaks and once to smoke a joint. At the end of the day, we walked eight blocks, decided the trek home would be too arduous, and stuck out our thumbs to hitch a ride. Our Spanish teacher picked us up and gave a lecture on the dangers of hitchhiking until he deposited us on the curb outside our house. We crept to the backyard to enjoy a smoke before going inside.

I smoked off and on for the next 30 years, entertaining myself during the off years with Dance Aerobics in the eighties and walking my dogs in the nineties. At the age of 50, my teenage son needed me to sign consent for him to join a gym. Before I knew it, I’d also signed up. I’ll admit I fell for the sales pitch of the family discount, but also hoped that exercise classes might help shed the 15 pounds menopause had piled on and make me feel less like a sausage packed into my clothing.

photo(1)My friend Kathleen and I took classes, worked out on our own, and eventually, with a personal trainer. We grew stronger and, I dare say, a little cocky. Six years into this regimen, she suggested we do a triathlon. I agreed before I fully knew what it meant (or how to spell it)—a half-mile swim, 22-mile bike ride, and 5k run. We worked out six days a week, and created a motto: To finish is to win.

We finished.

This race taught me: (1) I’m more physically capable than I think I am; and (2) I will never do it again (the open water swim was terrifying). But the experience was a tipping point—it made me yearn to challenge my body and expand my capabilities.

I started entering local 5k races. The year I turned 60, I won first place in my age category in two races—not because I’m fast, but because I was either the only woman in that category or the few others were a lot older. The year I turned 61, I ran five races, motivated by the fact that my friend Sandy would turn 60 the next year and she’s much faster than I am. That would be my last year to collect ribbons and medals. (I got four.)

spartan1This past January, a group of fellow gym rats—Beth, Yvette, and Jan—invited me to join their Spartan team for the May race at AT&T Park. My personal trainer Bethany had done a number of these and always came back battered and bruised, but high on accomplishment. I watched a YouTube video and told the group, “What kind of crazy would do such a thing? I’m 62 years old for God’s sake. I work out four times a week and run 5k races. Leave me alone.”

They kept me on their email thread. A few weeks later, I asked Bethany if she thought, with proper training, I was capable of the challenge. “You could do it today,” she said.

I signed up.

Fear of failure and letting my teammates down became major motivators. I was two, eight, and thirteen years older than the other three members of my group. I pushed myself—strength training and running six times a week. I won’t lie, training wasn’t easy. For example, I’d never run more than 3.10 miles (5k) in my life. Each quarter mile beyond that was exhausting, but I kept at it until four, four and a half, and five miles wasn’t so bad. Six point two miles (10k) was—and still is—a bitch, but I know I can do it and I’ll do it again.

I grew stronger, but no matter how hard I trained, I was the slowest and weakest of the team. In many areas of my life, I’ve excelled or been at least average. It pissed me off that I’d slipped to the lower end of the bell curve. I tried to avoid bitterness and accept my weaknesses. I succeeded about a quarter of the time. Many days I wanted to quit, but kept going. It felt good to be part of a group working toward a common goal.

Panic-in-Needle-Park-WinnI had four months to obsess on the Spartan Race. Each time I thought about it, a bolt of fear struck my heart, ricochet down to my stomach, and left me feeling nauseated.

This held true until the morning of the race as my team and I watched young hard-bodied competitors rush through the course while we waited for our 9:30 start time. We’d arrived early to watch Bethany run the competitive race. (We weren’t considered competitors—we were “fun” runners.)

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR PART IIspartan4

Advertisements

Bethany Brewer

bethany8Like all Warrior Princesses, Bethany came from humble beginnings. Growing up, she had little supervision, which allowed her to roam free, picking up habits hardly recommended for a child. As a teenager, she delved into a world of drug and alcohol abuse. On the outside, she was a swaggering party girl. On the inside, her soul was dying.

***

bethany7By the time she was a freshman in high school, she was plagued by a sense that she didn’t fit into this life. She left home, lived with a revolving door of friends, and only went to school a couple of hours a day. In her sophomore year, she transferred to Mendocino, hoping to do better.

She continued to fail.

“Teachers tried, but nobody knew what to do with me. By my senior year, I was told I wasn’t going to graduate unless I hustled. I went to Noyo High from eight to noon, took a journalism class at Fort Bragg High in the afternoon, and went to the adult school at night. I was able to graduate with my age group in 1998.”

bethany9Bethany immediately moved to Medford, Oregon to care for her ailing father and grandparents. “My dad died in October, my grandpa three weeks later, and my grandma in February. They were the last of my family on that side.” Those losses were devastating. She dealt with her grief in the only way she knew—using her inheritance to douse her feelings with alcohol, drugs and cavort with people who mooched off her.

Broke by 21, she returned to Fort Bragg and worked at Laurel Deli. By 24, she was married and moved to Yuma, Arizona. “I was a bartender at an Indian Casino and loved it. I learned how to stand up for and defend myself.” The marriage was tumultuous and broke up after four years. “I lived alone for the first time in my life. I really liked being independent and having responsibilities.”

bethany6In 2010, she learned her maternal grandmother had dementia. Bethany moved back to Fort Bragg to help care for her, and worked again at Laurel Deli. “I continued to party and be irresponsible. I eventually left Grandma’s house and isolated myself from my family. At one point, I lived in my truck for three months. I felt like I had a big hole”—she makes a circle with the fingers of both hands and places it over her heart—“that I tried to fill up with drugs, alcohol, and violence.”

Bethany’s mother had moved to Willits and encouraged her to live with her. “On November 3, 2012, I started detoxing on her couch. I was really sick, but managed to go to a twelve-step meeting every day. Everything seemed less, less, less. Little did I know my life would change to more, more, more.”

bethany5Two weeks later, her friend Amie McGee encouraged her to apply for work at the Mendocino Sports Club. Bethany didn’t feel strong enough to hold a job, and was relieved when it took a month before she was invited for an interview. In January 2013, she moved back to Fort Bragg and started working at the club. A trainer approached her and said, “There’s an athlete inside you and if you want to see her, I’ll train you.”

She worked out with him six days a week for six months. The gym owner gave her a personal trainer’s manual and encouraged her to study for the certification exam. On November 2, 2013, she passed the test.

The Warrior Princess was born.bethany1

Two and a half years later, her business has grown from five clients to 140. She continues to study and receive certifications. “I love the process of learning.”

***

Bethany spends a few hours a week at Noyo High School “just chillin’” with the kids. “By the time kids get to Noyo, a lot of people have given up on them. I want them to know they can be there and be someone of worth.” She shares the story of her stormy teenage years, her recovery, and hands out gym passes. It was through this outreach that she met a teenager who would have a major impact on her life.

“She called one night [in February 2015] to say she’d been locked out of her house. I let her spend the night on my sofa. Before I knew it, I had bunkbeds with Ninja Turtle sheets in my spare bedroom. I became the mother of a 15-year old kid.” The girl had quietly struggled with her gender identity most of her life. “I know what’s it’s like to feel alone,” Bethany said. “When she told me she wanted to dress like a boy, I took her to a thrift shop and bought her clothes.”

kellenWith the support of Bethany, the staff at Noyo, and a tribe of fairy Godmothers, the girl continued her journey, embracing her male identity. Her grades improved and in the fall of 2015, she enrolled in Fort Bragg High. By this time, the girly clothes had been discarded and a masculine name chosen. Life was not without its challenges (imagine being a transgender teen in a small town) but he thrived academically and socially.

It was difficult for Bethany to be an instant mother and tough for the kid to refrain from being a mildly rebellious teen. In January 2016, he moved in with his girlfriend’s family. He and Bethany maintain a close, heartwarming bond.

***

Bethany2The hole that once scarred Bethany’s soul has healed. “I’m so lucky to wake up every morning and spend the day doing what I love. My goal is to help people realize their strength. It’s payback for all that’s been given to me.”

Bethany’s most recent project is training people to participate in Spartan Races. Some, like me, start out believing we aren’t capable of such physical demands. Over time, the Warrior Princess shakes that doubt out, turning it around until, before we know it, we’re crossing the finish line and accepting medals.

Thank you, Warrior Princess for your willingness to grab hold of life, seek challenges and share your experiences. The lives you touch are forever changed for the better.bethany4bethany11

41 Days

At 9:30 last Saturday evening, I shut off the television and turned off lights before heading upstairs to bed. My husband Gary was already asleep. I heard a yowling outside that sounded familiar. It started at the sidewalk, gained momentum up the walkway, and came to a fevered pitch on the front porch. I looked out the door’s window and was convinced the nachos I’d eaten for dinner had been laced with peyote. Our cat Little Mister stood poised like a bullet ready for the door to open.

I yelled at Gary. “Little Mister’s home!”

“What?” he said in drowsy confusion.

Little Mister had been gone 41 days. I thought he was gone forever. Yet there he was howling at the door. I opened it and he ran halfway up the stairs before stopping. I stood, frozen, transported to an alternate universe where I was staring into the eyes of a pet that I’d given up for dead.

Water!

I ran to the kitchen, poured water into a bowl and raced upstairs. I lightly petted him as he took a few sips.

Food!

Store! Go to the store!

I wrestled a jacket over my pajamas. Wait! Marcia has a cat and it’ll take less time to get to her than to the store. I prayed she was still awake. She was, and met me outside her house with a sandwich bag full of cat food. I sped back home, filled a bowl with food and ran upstairs.

LMRECOVERY4I sat with Little Mister and petted him while he munched on the kibble. He looked at me and meowed. It was pathetic and weak. I picked him up and felt the literal interpretation of the phrase “bag of bones.” His eyes were bright, but his coat was disheveled and dull.

For weeks after he disappeared, I expected to hear his meow when I passed by the front door, to find him in the middle of my bed when I went upstairs. I missed him most at night, cuddling at my side.

I didn’t miss his 3:00am—every 3:00am—insistence upon being let outside. And I especially didn’t miss having to keep him and our dog Lucy separated because he hated her puppy energy.

LMRECOVERY3I got into bed, tried to relax and pretend everything was normal. Little Mister, as is his custom, sat on my chest, wedging himself between me and my book. For the first time in 41 days, I cried. “You poor, poor thing, I can’t imagine where you were and how you suffered. I’m so grateful you’re back.”

Weeks earlier, in the midst of the Christmas holidays, I’d resigned myself to his disappearance by thinking he’d been ill and wandered off to die. My tears were a mixture of compassion for his plight and guilt over having so easily dismissed him.

His return was a cosmic slap in the face, making me realize his is a life that matters. I took responsibility for nurturing that life when he came into our home eleven and a half years ago.

The next morning, I got up at six and Little Mister wanted to go outside. We had no litter box and I took this as a sign that he was well enough to return to his familiar routines. (I now realize that I was still in the throes of suspended reality.)

A few hours later, I called him, but he didn’t show up. I walked to the sidewalk and heard a faint meow coming from next door. I found him crouched behind a bush in the neighbor’s yard. It broke my heart to see him looking so helpless, unable to traverse the short distance home.

I picked him up and scolded myself for having let him outside. His ordeal had drained much of the life out of him. His eyes, bright at his return the night before, were dull. He ate a bit of food and I settled him on the bed.

Gary and I speculate what might have happened. On that rainy night of December 20, Little Mister must have sought shelter, perhaps in someone’s rarely used garage or shed, and got locked in. He must have had access to water and maybe some critters. His frantic yowls upon his return convinced me that after 41 days he’d gotten his first chance to escape.

LMRECOVERY2I’ve set up a litter box and will keep him inside. He’s been to the vet who discovered that he has the “reddest throat and biggest tonsils I’ve ever seen on a cat.” She gave him a little IV hydration boost, some antibiotics, and a shot of what she called “cat morphine” to ease the pain in his throat. “Cats tend to like opiates,” she said. Little Mister agrees.

I’m happy that Little Mister is back. I promise to do everything in my power to return him to his normal fatty, demanding, Lucy-hating self.

The Spirit of Giving

A few weeks ago, my friend—let’s call her Nell—said she felt guilty about throwing away donation plea letters that arrived in December. Throughout the year, she was generous to charities, but during the Christmas season her money was spent on gifts for family and friends. Still, she wished she could answer all the pleas.

She remembered a quote attributed to Jon Carroll. He allegedly said that if you want to give away money, go to the bank, take out as much cash as you can afford, and distribute it to people on the street.

5This appealed to Nell. Nearly every day, she saw homeless people and others in need. But she never paid much attention as she whizzed by in her car or, when walking, crossed the street to avoid them. She thought about her “Fiver Envelope.” Whenever she receives a five-dollar bill as change in a transaction, she saves it. After gathering a bunch, she uses them to treat herself to a massage or some other luxury. She decided to take the $100 she’d accumulated and give it away.

The prospect of approaching complete strangers scared her. She formulated a couple of rules: she would only interact with solitary people, no one in a group; and she would not interfere with those who looked mentally unbalanced.

PostOfficeShe found her first person one early cold morning at the post office. A dented maroon car stuffed with clothing pulled into a parking space, the back bumper tied with a rope on top. A weary woman with thick black curly hair struggled to get from the vehicle and up the post office steps.

Nell pulled a five from her wallet and folded it in half. When the woman entered the building, Nell asked, “May I give you something?”

The woman looked wary.

Nell held out the money.

The woman looked confused and asked, “Why?”

“Because it’s Christmas.”

The woman took the money. “That’s it? For no other reason?”

Nell said, “Yes,” and wished her a Merry Christmas.

“Thank you so much.”

Nell felt happy, very happy.

The second was a young wispy woman wrapped in layers of clothing to stave off the cold rain. She was walking with a black pit bull that wore a padded doggie jacket. Nell pulled to the curb and got out of her car. “May I give you something?”

Again a wary look.

Nell held out a five.

The woman grinned, yet looked close to tears. “I’m so glad I turned around and started walking this way. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have met you.” She gave Nell a hug.

DSC02402The next day, Nell was walking to her car in the Purity parking lot. She noticed a heavy-set woman putting her baby in a car seat in the front of a yellow dented pickup.

As Nell held out her offering, the woman backed slightly away and adjusted her glasses. “I shouldn’t take it.”

Nell reached her hand out further. “Please, I want to give it to you.”

“Thank you. I really do need gas money.” She invited Nell to the live nativity scene produced by one of the local churches on Christmas Eve. She said her baby would play the role of Jesus. She blessed Nell as she walked away.

DSC02477A few days later, Nell saw a middle-aged blonde woman fishing through a public trash can. When she gave her five dollars, the woman beamed. “Thank you. It’s my birthday.”

Nell’s heart soared. “Happy birthday, my dear!”

Every time Nell gave away money, she felt immense joy. She was as grateful for the offering as the recipients were to receive. Most interactions were less than a minute, but during that time she was able to look a person in the eyes, touch his or her hand and, in a few instances, receive a hug. In those moments, she felt something she had never allowed herself to internalize—these are human beings just like her. They have feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams. Yet their daily lives are immeasurably more difficult than hers.

She felt compassion.

DSC02540Her last five was given to someone she sees frequently—a tall, lean man who sports a camo jacket and walks a dog with a matching bridle coat. He’s a loner, who appears to avoid others. It was shortly after the New Year and raining. She spotted him on the sidewalk. He was walking so fast that she pulled over a block ahead. She got out of the car with trepidation. He’d always seemed stoic and she wasn’t sure how he’d react to her approach.

“Hi,” she said.

He returned the greeting with a slight twinkle in his eyes.

“May I give you something?” She held out the folded bill.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“Yes, please, I want to give it to you.”

He grinned. “Thank you.”

She had never been close to him. She looked at his face—really looked at it—and saw a kind man in his forties with well-sculpted features and dark brown eyes who somewhere along the line learned to keep to himself. She reached down and petted his dog, grateful that he had a companion.

“Happy New Year.” As the words left her mouth, she regretted them. They sounded hollow and trite.

“Happy New Year to you,” he said, leaving her with the gift of his smile.

 

DSC02521

Tattoo You

One of my greatest talents is avoiding self-reflection. I’m content with believing that I’m hip and easy going. Unfortunately, I have kids who call me on my crap. Unlike fair-weather friends who can be kicked to the curb when they criticize me, I take to heart the observations of my children.

For example, I like tattoos. I really do. I own a couple myself and admire the courage of those who have murals painted on their arms, chests or backs.

I recently discovered that as much of a fan I am of tattoos, I like them on others more than on my own children.

Our son Harrison has no tattoos. Our daughter Laine got her first one in December of her eighteenth year, when she was home for Christmas break from college. As a veteran of one tattoo at that point, I was excited for her.

Lainetat3When she was at the tattoo parlor, I wandered in to take a look. I nearly fainted. The artist was painting a very large antique key across her left shoulder blade. “It sure is big,” I said. (Okay, I probably said it more like, “IT SURE IS BIG!!!”)

Later Laine said she didn’t know it was going to be so large and asked if I was okay with it. I apologized for my initial reaction and told her she could have whatever she wants painted on her body.

Lainetat1A few years later, she got a single lens reflex camera tattooed on her right ankle. It was small and dainty. I liked it.

Lainetat4A few years after that, she and a couple of her girlfriends decided to get red button tattoos behind their right earlobes. I thought this sounded sweet and fun. I envisioned a petite shirt button. She came home with a coat button. “It sure is big,” I said. (Okay, I probably said it more like, “IT SURE IS BIG!!!”) Noting her disappointment, I added, “But I like it.” She was twenty-three, it was her body, and she could tattoo whatever she wanted on it.

Flash forward a few years to Harrison’s wedding. Months before the event, Laine—who is now twenty-six—chose a strapless bridesmaid gown. I encouraged her to wear a shrug to cover her back, thinking some people in the audience might be offended by the large key on her back. (Yes, I did and yes, I am now ashamed to admit it.)

A couple of hours before the bridesmaids were scheduled for photos, Laine asked if she could speak with me privately. I panicked. What could she possibly have to speak to me privately about? I feared I would be reprimanded for some inappropriate behavior. I had no idea what I might have done.

She spoke softly as she took me on a retrospective of her three tattoos and my reactions to each. She said she would not wear a shrug to the wedding ceremony because she is who she is—a woman with a large, beautiful tattoo on her back.

I was ashamed that I had asked her to compromise who she is in order not to offend others. I apologized. (Mostly, I was relieved that she didn’t point out times when I might have acted like a fool during the wedding weekend.)

Then she said, “A few months ago I got another tattoo. It’s on my arm. And it’s big.”

I braced myself, took a deep breath and said, “That’s fine honey. It’s your body and you can do what you want.”

Lainetat2

Lyric from the Bright Eyes song, “June on the West Coast.” Also a description of Laine’s hometown, Fort Bragg, California.

She pulled up the sleeve of her robe to reveal a quotation in beautiful calligraphy on her left tricep. I won’t lie—IT IS BIG and caused me a moment of shock. I hugged her and apologized for making her think I disapproved of her previous tattoos. She is a successful, kind, productive citizen of this world. She can tattoo whatever she wants onto her body.

In the days that followed, the need to reflect on what happened between my daughter and me poked me in the ribs. Why could I accept and admire body art on others, yet have such a difficult time accepting it on her?

When I gave birth to her, I created a perfect masterpiece with delicate, soft skin that I lovingly bathed and caressed, protected with sunscreen, and bandaged when wounded. I now realize the sense of ownership I still harbor toward that skin. Deep in my heart, I can’t help being offended that she so casually lets people scribble on it.

On others, I consider tattoos art; on her, it’s graffiti.

tattooyou

Water

childmeWhen I was six years old, I stood in the kitchen while my mother washed dishes. It was dark outside and rain splattered against the window above the sink. “What will happen when we run out of water?” I asked. She chuckled as she rinsed soap off a plate. “We’ll never run out of water.”

But now we have. “Council Declares Stage 3 in Emergency Meeting” (Fort Bragg Advocate-News, September 30, 2015). Apparently, high ocean tides have polluted the Noyo River with salt water. This river supplies 40 percent of Fort Bragg’s water supply. So here we are, almost out of water.

I’m not happy to have been lied to all those years ago.

As California steadily dried up, I did my best to ignore it. At the risk of public ridicule, I’m going to admit what others harbor deep in their hearts—the past three winters with day after day of bright, crisp sunshine have beat the hell out of the previous ones where we suffered endless, miserable rain. The warm, luxurious summers have been a huge bonus. There, I said it—so stone me.

In the two decades I’ve lived here, a couple of winters stand out: the one when it rained every day during the month of January, and another when it rained nearly five feet from October through May until it finally, mercifully stopped.

Whenever I hear—usually from others who pay attention to the news—that a town like East Porterville (wherever that is) has run out of water, I frown, tsk-tsk, shake my head, feel compassion, but mostly great relief that I don’t live in a town like that.

Now I do.

I’ve always done my part to respect the planet, which allows me to feel quite smug. For decades, I’ve recycled, reduced, reused. I’ve driven fuel-efficient cars and rarely wasted water to keep them clean. I’m so obsessed with saving electricity that my family calls me the Light Nazi.

plantsWe have never watered our lawn and rarely the outside beds. This past summer, we overhauled a portion of the yard and installed drought-resistant plants. We have a bucket sitting in the kitchen sink that collects what would normally be wasted water to feed the outside plants. We have low-flow toilets and water-saving appliances. We repair leaks immediately.

Up to this point, my heroic efforts have caused only minor inconvenience.

I can handle every sacrifice that comes along with saving water except one—at the end of a stressful, planet-saving day, I like a long, hot bath.

My job can be very demanding. I also exercise regularly. I’m not a person who merely perspires. I sweat. After a strenuous workout, I’m often asked if I’ve been swimming.

So yes—stone me again—I enjoy an evening bath where I can relax and let go of the day.

I’ve never been fond of showers. I have difficulty regulating the water temperature. It’s either too hot or too cold. It also irks me that the amount of water that goes down the drain could be used to fill a soothing tub. I leave the experience feeling deprived.

A few years ago, out of respect for the drought, I reduced my baths from seven per week (yes, I hear your gasp of contempt) to six. As the drought gained momentum, I reduced them to four. When the stage three water emergency was declared, I eliminated baths and succumbed to extremely short showers.

This last sacrifice turned me to a fit-throwing two-year old in the grocery store who’s been denied a candy bar. The damned drought has now robbed me of the ability to calm down. Friends suggest yoga and deep breathing. Right. Sure. No thank you.

Two weeks into the new normal, I’ve decided to look on the bright side. I can actually live—not happily, mind you—without an evening bath. Next year, I could be reduced to hauling buckets of water from Pudding Creek. womancarryingwaterIn the meantime, I’ll sing along to this:

 

 

5 Tips for Mothers of Graduating Seniors

KatelynChariseI have a couple of friends with kids who graduated from high school and will soon be off to college. Their pride is tempered by gloom mixed with apprehension and rolled like a burrito in a wrapping of grief. Their children will leave them to rattle around the shell of what was once a rich life, clinging to memories of not so long ago.

I know what they’re going through.

KimJamieFor years, outside of my job, I did little except be a mother. I volunteered in classrooms, shuffled kids to and from activities, and enjoyed a house filled with their friends. My children were never far from my thoughts—even when I “ran away” to walk the dog. During those walks I encountered a mysterious woman in our neighborhood.

She was tall and lean with short sandy-blonde hair that wisped about her face and curled against a khaki sun visor. She had excellent posture. Her gait was slow and smooth like a runway model. I marveled at her apparent serenity, her solitude. I remember her as a creamy ivory color. She was older—the age I am now.

Her eye contact avoidance gave the impression she didn’t want to be disturbed. I ignored that desire by hollering “Hi!” which force a whispered, “Hello.”

I knew nothing about her which gave me free rein to imagine her life. Because she was older, I suspected she had no children at home. I envied her tranquility, but pitied her loneliness. Poor thing. How could she possibly be happy when the years of raising children were behind her?

She made me fear my future lonely existence. At the same time, I looked forward to the possibility of long, peaceful walks.

Twenty years later, my children grown and living far away, I view her differently. She was neither sad nor in need of pity, which doesn’t mean she might not have missed the hectic life she once had. Time gave her the ability to appreciate that tranquility I witnessed. She was probably grateful—as I am—for her life, then and now.

For those with kids poised to leave home, let me share a few things I’ve learned along the way:

1. You get kicked out of the “Parents Club.” It’s a horrible feeling of abandonment and betrayal. Scratch and claw all you want—you will never get back in.

2. You will be depressed. For months after our younger child went to college, I could barely vocalize more than a grunt. Whenever someone asked—and always with a smile—“How does it feel to have an empty nest?” I’d snap, “It feels like crap,” offended by their insensitivity and bitter to be forced to articulate actual speech.

During this period, it helps to connect with people whose lives are more depressing than yours. Watching Judge Judy did wonders for my husband Gary and me. I was also nurtured by episodes of Dog the Bounty Hunter and Breaking Bonaduce.

3. You get 100% of your adult life back. The problem is you’ve forgotten how to live that life. Raising children is like drinking just enough coffee to get a little hand tremor going. Their youthful energy, the company of their friends, and bonds forged with other mothers is addictive. Over the years, those little buggers turn you into a mother junkie. For six months after they leave, you will detox by sitting in rooms lit only by the glow of a television, rocking back and forth. You will cry—a lot.

DSC024954. You’ll have lots of spare time for self-reflection. Ugh—nip that in the bud! After our younger child left, I was so desperate to avoid reflection that I volunteered in a first grade classroom. I quit a few years later when my teacher transferred to the middle school, and I decided I’d rather suffer reflection than deal with that age group.

5. Six years into the new deal, after you finally have a handle on adult living, your kids will take pity on what they perceive as your boring life and give you a puppy. You will not immediately realize the merits of this gift, but after enrolling in a half dozen doggie classes, you’ll be welcomed into a new group—the Dog Owners Club! The wounds of being thrown out of the Parents Club will finally heal. You will become addicted to puppy excitement which will, thankfully, take away any time for self-reflection.

Yes, that's me on the far left with Lucy-puppy who interprets the command "Sit."

Yes, that’s me on the far left with Lucy-puppy who interprets the command “Sit.”

Any fantasies I once held about morphing into that ethereal woman from long ago have not materialized. When I finally had no one at home to run away from and could stroll at my leisure, a puppy arrived and put me back into the demanding feeling of caring for children.

I suppose I could run away from Lucy-puppy by taking walks by myself, but I’ve discovered that tranquility isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I prefer the hullabaloo.