When Things Fall Apart

October 1st, 2019 was a day that will go down in infamy. OK, that is a bit dramatic, but it was a challenging day.

I had to be at Tom’s house at 5 AM as I was going to a job site to do a photoshoot. I had prepared the night before by getting out gear, charging batteries, and resetting my camera to its standard settings. After some coffee and conversation, we headed to the job location in nearby Warrenville.

I was shooting outside in a shaded area, and I knew that additional light would make a difference. Before I got out of the car, I attached the flash to my Canon 5 D Mark IV. I headed to the customer’s backyard and took some test shots without the flash, confirming that a flash would enhance the pictures and so I powered on my old but very reliable Canon 430 EX speedlite. I took a picture and did a quick look at the back of the camera to chimp the results. The photo was hopelessly over-exposed. I checked the camera settings to discover that it was not communicating with the flash; my flash was fried. The day was not starting well.

I returned home, and decided to tackle the hedges in front of my house. I am not a yard work kind of guy, and so I try to simplify these tasks as much as I can. Along these lines, I have a battery-operated hedge trimmer. I have a bunch of other battery-operated lawn gadgets that use the same battery packs which I had charged a week earlier. I slid in a battery and started to clip a large, and out of control bush. After about 30 seconds, the clipper stopped cold. I put in the second battery, and the same thing happened. The final battery acted similarly, crap.

I still have my original corded electric hedge trimmer, which I then pulled out. My long extension cord was nowhere to be found. I had lent it out to a friend, and it had not come back to me. I pieced together three smaller extensions, plugged in the old trimmer and pressed its power button. The gadget sprung to life, but after about a minute it slowed and stopped. Checking everything from the AC outlet to the extension cords proved that the problem was in the clipper, it was busted. With a sigh of remorse, I dug out my manual clippers and went to work on the bush, creating a massive pile of branches and leaves. I then went back into the garage to get a rake, so I could gather the mess that I had created. Within seconds the head of the rake fell off. Back in the garage, I found its spring-loaded retaining clip, which was so stiff that I couldn’t reattach it. How in the world did it fall off? Into the garbage the rake went.

I grabbed another rake and built a huge pile of leaves and branches. I returned to the garage to retrieve a paper grass bag that already had a small amount of chopped grass. I double-checked to make sure that the bottom of the bag was intact before I started to shove my newly cut shoots into it. I then carefully lifted the bag and carried it back to the garage at which point the entire bottom ripped open dumping dirt, leaves, stems, and partially decomposed and fermented grass everywhere.

Naturally, my hedge trimming took longer than expected. Now in a rush, I grabbed my computer bag and drove to the Apple store. This was my second visit to Apple this week as I have two computers that have keyboard recalls. As usual, it was a “hurry up and wait,” experience. Eventually, a young man named Jordan appeared. I explained to him that the keyboard on my MacBook was malfunctioning and that I was aware that Apple had a recall on this particular model. Jordan scanned my serial number into his iPad and shook his head. My MacBook had been bought as an overstock item, and because of this, it was sold “as-is.” If I wanted to fix it it would cost over $350. Apple produced a defective product but wouldn’t fix my computer due to a loophole; typical Apple.

I got back into my car and decided to go to Menards to buy a replacement electric hedge trimmer, some contractor bags, and a long extension cord. I always wander through Menards as I can never find what I’m looking for in that store. I meander to their food section where I buy a can of Progresso Cream of Mushroom soup. I am not sure why I buy groceries at a hardware store, but I often do. Now in the checkout line, I hand my items one by one to the cashier. The store’s checkout counters are tiny. Finally, I hold up the large box for the trimmer which she scans. I then place the box back in the cart. The clerk looks at me with a raised eyebrow and in an exaggerated movement cranes her head towards my cart. She queries, “I suppose you also want that can of mushroom soup?” There it was stuck behind the hedge trimmer box. Yes, I say sheepishly as I imagine being hauled away for soup thievery. I simultaneously wonder how I missed the can and why I was buying it in the first place. I leave the store with my head hanging low.

On my way back home, I remember that we had some Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza leftovers. A vestige from entertaining our friends John and Barb over the weekend. Easy to reheat and tasty; finally a little break in my day of fails! Unfortunately, under the foil, I find a piece of crust and a tiny trimming from a larger piece. I sigh and heat my subpar dinner in the microwave.

Over the last few months, I have episodically gone down to my basement with a black contractor bag; my goal being to remove at least one bag of junk for the garbage, or for a Goodwill donation. I feel that every bag removed is one bag closer to a clean space. On such an adventure earlier in the week, I had noticed that the dehumidifier wasn’t working. I cleaned the unit’s filter and readjusted its dials in a hopeful effort.

With a black contractor bag in hand, I went down to my basement; its mustiness confirmed that my dehumidifier repair efforts were in vain. It appears that I’ll be spending another $250 bucks at Menards this week. I make a mental note, “Avoid the soup aisle.”

I did a review of my day and decided it was time to call it quits. I took a long shower, put on my PJs, and went to bed. Time 8:30 PM.

Dear reader, I think we all have had days like this. Nothing truly terrible happened; no lives were lost. However, when I’m having such a day, it feels like I’m being attacked by a swarm of mosquitos —irritating, annoying, joy sapping.

I don’t believe that there is any particular significance to these days. I feel that they are just the product of random occurrences. However, they are still troubling and tiresome. In my mind, the best thing to do when faced with such a situation is to accept and surrender. That is exactly what I did.

I write this post on October 2, 2019 at 6 AM. A day for a new beginning. A day to buy a new dehumidifier

Life Lessons From A Bathroom Remodel

I believe that it all started with the toilet. I can’t say for sure as the process began well over a year ago, but the toilet hypothesis is the most logical. Let me give you some background information so you can make sense of this opening sentence.

My house was built in 1984, which makes it about 35 years old. Its style is what I would call standard suburban issue for its era. Two stories, four bedrooms, two and a half baths. I completely remodeled the upstairs bathrooms around 5 years ago, which incidentally is how I became best friends with Tom. He was the general contractor on the job.

My downstairs bathroom never got that love, although I did lamely attempt to update it around 10 years earlier. At that time, I was remodeling our kitchen and extended some of that work into the downstairs powder room. Its old dated oak sink cabinet was resurfaced with a cherry wood veneer, and a remnant piece of granite from the kitchen was added to the cabinet’s top. Due to the geometry of the granite piece, I had to use an odd round sink. The vanity never looked quite right, as the granite was too big for the tiny bathroom, and the sink was too small for the granite. 

Above the cabinet was a cheap, oak-framed mirror that covered a tiny medicine cabinet. Above the medicine cabinet was an old fashioned wall light that projected from an oak base plate. In an attempt to unify the mirror and light with the cabinet, I sanded down their old finishes and applied a cherry wood stain. The result of my DIY staining job? When my sister Carol saw it, she tactfully suggested that a lot of people were replacing medicine cabinets with mirrors. Lastly, I had the room painted in a faux finish that was trendy at the time but now is hopelessly dated. I never was very pleased with my remodeling effort, but it was good enough, and I put up with it.

The old contractor grade toilet was far from perfect, although I replaced its innards. Over the last few years its ability to flush wholly deteriorated. This was evident when someone unfamiliar with the unit used it and didn’t wait for a second flush. The next person in line could be met with a little surprise waving at them in the loo. This loo wave became so common that replacing the toilet became a high priority.

As you know, I have difficulty asking people to help based on childhood issues. However, I have been working on this. In fact, I have a small handful of individuals who I’m pretty comfortable requesting aid and assistance. One of those individuals is my friend, Tom.

My hypothesis is that I didn’t ask Tom to remodel my entire powder room, that level of imposition on him would simply be too high. I believe that I asked him to help me replace the offending toilet. However, the project slowly expanded. The ugly sink cabinet had a large warp along its bottom side panel, and it was decided to replace that unit. Naturally, the dysfunctional medicine cabinet and old fashioned wall lamp were on the chopping block, then the beat-up door casing, and equally worn base molding, then the faux finished wall paint, and so on. Within two weeks, my simple toilet exchange had spun out-of-control.  

I ordered the sink cabinet and the medicine chest a year ago, but they sat in my garage waiting for a sink. I wanted a basic porcelain top, as I thought it would look both lighter and cleaner in my very tiny powder room. Finding one proved challenging and required Tom’s personal connection at Kohler. The light and the faucet were ordered but had to be returned, and different ones had to be purchased. Other items, like a higher quality exhaust fan, were added at Tom’s suggestion. With a design plan and materials in place, the project began. This was when we faced real challenges. 

The original faucet had to be returned as it was not compatible with the sink. However, I do like the new one!

For clarity, sake, I use the word “we” lightly, as the bulk of the efforts were Tom’s. I was the guy who helped move things, found the pencil, located the level, and did other menial tasks. With that said, I still learned a lot during the project. Of course, I learned a construction technique or two. However, the bathroom remodel also served as a metaphor for life, and it is those life lessons that I would like to share with you today.

Life lessons from a bathroom remodel

#1 Assuming is not knowing.

It is possible to go to a big box store and buy a complete vanity set that has both a cabinet and sink. In the past, I thought that these units looked OK, but my taste has been corrupted by my friend, Tom. He has shown me the glaring differences between cheaply made vanities and cabinets of higher quality. As I mentioned above, it took me a long time to locate the type of sink that I wanted. However, there was a glaring problem. The sink was several inches narrower and about an inch wider than the cabinet that I purchased. I had assumed that these kinds of items were of standard dimensions. We did come up with a work-around (more on that later), but my assumption cost me both time and money.

I wanted an all porcelain sink, but it was the wrong size for the base cabinet.

How many times do we make assumptions in life? Perhaps we assume something about a person based on peripheral facts. “He must be conceited because he has a lot of money.” “She must not be knowledgeable because she never finished school.” Most people will likely deny such biases, but they probably affect them despite their protests. Assumptions can shrink our personal world.

#2 The Internet does not make you an expert.

I like watching YouTube videos and TV shows on home repair as they are entertaining. Their simplistic explanations make it appear that every home project is a relaxed weekend away. My friend, Tom, is an expert when it comes to many home repair tasks. Time and time again, I observed how “simple” tasks required additional knowledge, tools, and effort. 

I can remember instances as a doctor when a patient thought that they had more knowledge than me about a topic because they read something (often very biased) on the internet. I recall one middle-aged lady who I had been working with for over a year. I was surprised that she came to one appointment quite peeved.  

“Doctor, I want to be on Paxil, and I’m upset with you that you don’t have me on it!” I was taken aback as she was doing quite well. Apparently, she had seen a few commercials about Paxil (an antidepressant) which prompted her to click on their website. She was convinced that my medical degree, board certifications, and experience were overshadowed by her 30 minutes of “research.”  

I let her vent for a while, and then I asked her a few questions. “Do you remember that medicine that your first psychiatrist had you on?” I asked. “Yes, it was terrible,” she responded. “You couldn’t tolerate the side effects, and you didn’t find it to be very effective for your symptoms,” I said. “Yes, I have no idea why I was placed on such a horrible medicine, which is why I changed to you.” She said.  “That medicine was Paxil,” I informed her. Silence was her response.

Becoming an expert in anything takes time and energy. There is a difference between knowing information and knowledge based on training and experience. This is not to say that we shouldn’t question the experts around us. However, it would be ludicrous to think that I know more about construction than Tom, or that 30 minutes on the internet would turn a consumer into an expert in psychopharmacology.

#3 Measure twice, cut once.

Despite concerted effort, there were times that we made mistakes in our bathroom remodel. Sometimes it was because we “remembered” a measurement instead of writing down the number. At other times we bought the wrong item, and then we had to retrofit or replace it. 

In life, many problems can be avoided with just a little extra thought, and the examples for this are endless. A little planning almost always makes life easier. In life, think twice, act once.

#4 Many mistakes can be corrected, but always at some cost.

I mentioned that my vanity cabinet and sink were mismatched. This was a potential disaster as I couldn’t return the custom cabinet, and there aren’t a large variety of porcelain sinks available. Luckily, one of Tom’s subcontractors is an expert cabinet maker. He was able to trim the depth of the cabinet as well as its side panel. In addition, he cleverly used a piece of base shoe to optically widened the cabinet. Naturally, the fix cost me both time and money, but the problem was corrected.  

We all make mistakes, but the fewer mistakes you make, the easier your life will be. At times avoiding mistakes is as simple as becoming a better planer. For instance, if you always forget items when you go to the grocery store, bring a grocery list. At other times it is essential to look deeper into a pattern of behavior. Do you find yourself “falling” for the wrong type of person? You may need to carefully examine your selection process, and you would likely benefit from the help of an expert. In this case, a psychotherapist. 

I said that many mistakes can be corrected. However, some can’t.  In those cases you have to live with your mistake. Here radical acceptance can help.

#5 Listen to what people have to say.

Tom has told me stories where individuals went against his advice and then regretted their decision. From my professional life, I have had many incidences where individuals took their treatment into their own hands (and against my medical advice) by stopping meds, radically increasing meds, or trying bizarre “alternative” treatments . Their outcome was typically poor. 

It is OK to challenge experts. If we didn’t, we might still believe that the earth was flat. With that said, experts deserve our attention and respect.  

#6 Seek experts when you need an expert, but become more expert when you can.

A bathroom is just a room. It is the decorating touches that change it from a utility space to something that we can call our own. Despite its diminutive size, I wanted to give my newly remodeled space a personality. I chose a blue-grey paint as I desired a more contemporary color (grey), but I also wanted some continuity with the rest of the downstairs, which is a shade of blue.

I also wanted to add some art to the room and decided that one larger piece was the way to go. I determined that a group of objects in such a small space would look cluttered. In my mind bathroom art should be interesting, but not engaging. The powder room is a space where people spend a short amount of time in an active process. It is not an art gallery.

The problem was that I could not find anything that matched my requirements. I had a similar problem with our upstairs hall bathroom and solved that problem by creating the art myself. I have never had training in art, and I have never studied the mechanics of art. However, I do seem to have a sense of balance and design. Also, I like to do creative things.

Creating a piece of art would only cost me my time and a little money for materials. If my project turned out badly, I was not obligated to use it. With all of this in mind, I made the piece that now hangs above the toilet. I like the way it turned out, and I learned a thing or two in the process. 

My homemade “Loo Art.”

Many of our behaviors tend to be repetitive, and we can see these patterns in everything that we do. In the above post, I tried to illustrate some of the lessons that I learned from a bathroom remodel.  Lessons can be gleaned from just about any situation or interaction. Take some random event that you recently experienced and see what it tells you about yourself and the people around you.  

My tiny bathroom. Who knew that so much work would be required to update it.

A Letter To My Children: How To Predict Good Relationships

Dear Kids

Wouldn’t it be great if we had supernatural powers that allowed us to predict the future? We could evaluate a job before we ever started working there. We could explore the future loyalty of a friend. We could predict the reliability of a potential spouse.

Humans have craved such powers for millennia, and have gone to extraordinary lengths to attempt such prowess. Gypsi card readers, psychics, and Ouija boards are examples of some common efforts. Companies have made fortunes developing software that attempts to predict stock trends. Cryptic writings from mystics like Nostradamus have been dissected and their vague metaphors interpreted. Even YouTube is swollen with channels that predict everything from the next new feature of an upcoming iPhone model to the cataclysmic breakdown of society as we know it.

Predictors and predictions are popular, as they give us a sense of mastery in a world where certainty is typically met with an equal and opposite force called uncertainty. Predictions purport to give us a glimpse into the future and knowing that future can provide us with options. We can prepare, we can retreat, we can confront. The unfortunate reality with these predictions is that they are often wrong. So why do we believe them? Likely because they offer us the illusion of knowledge, and knowledge is power. 

Kids, there is a much more accurate way to predict the future, especially when dealing with your interpersonal life. It is a method that costs nothing but often ignored. Why is it ignored? Mostly, because as humans, we want simple solutions that allow us to continue with a situation or connection. We basically want to have our cake and eat it too.

In my work as a psychiatrist, I have witnessed many couples where one partner is the giver, and the other is the taker. I can recall one situation where a woman was married to her husband for many years. She was the one who soothed the kids. She was the one that professed love to her husband. She was the one that always forgave her spouse for his selfish and inconsiderate behavior. Her rationale for staying in the relationship was that she “knew” that deep-down her husband loved her and would do anything for her if the need arose. A significant crisis struck the family, and this woman became utterly overwhelmed. She needed her husband and desperately asked for his help. His response echoed their 25 years of marital history. Not only did he refuse to help, but he also blamed her for the problem. He then became upset with her because he wasn’t getting his needs met. Her relationship was built on the false idea that her husband would be available for her if she really needed him.  However, the long history of their connection foretold otherwise.

A famous saying from Alcoholics Anonymous is, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” When you have invested in a relationship, it is easy to accept a promise that, “This time I’ll really change.” In my years as a therapist, I was privileged to be included in the personal lives of thousands of patients. I witnessed countless times where people chose to ignore the reality of their situation as it was easier to hope that their friend or partner really meant it “this time.” This call and response may make both parties temporarily feel good, but how realistic is change fueled only by a promise?

If you want to predict the future, look to the past. If you have a friend who is consistently unreliable and selfish, expect this behavior to continue. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to continue to invest in this relationship, or are my time and energy better spent elsewhere?” If you are in a relationship that is fueled by constant crisis, blame, and anger consider reflecting on the reasons why you continue. 

Patients would often ask me a different “why” questions. Why is my partner violent? Why does my friend constantly lie? Why is there always drama with my co-worker? It is challenging to analyze someone in the third party; the more important question is, why are you putting up with them?

Sometimes the answer to this question is that you have no choice. You may be working with a difficult person, but other positive factors keep you in your job. In situations like this, it is best to minimize that person’s impact on you. However, there are many times when you may think that you don’t have options, but in fact, you do. However, change may involve a certain amount of work and discomfort. Parting ways with a toxic friend may also close a broader social circle. Leaving a pathological spouse may force a reduction in lifestyle. I would like to remind you that these realities may be unpleasant, but they are absolutely surmountable. Happiness is not measured by your number of Facebook “likes” or the square footage of your home, it is measured by a sense of meaning, belonging, and worth. Is the relationship that you are questioning enhancing these, or hampering these qualities?

If a person has promised to change the way that they interact with you, ask yourself, how? In many cases, a simple promise to change a long-standing negative pattern will become a broken promise. Such pledges of change can be an easy “get off my back” tactic. With that said, I have seen folks make a dramatic and significant change and improve their behavior, but typically this is with consistent, hard work. Bad practices are often generalized. If someone mistreats others but treats you well I would suggest that it won’t be too long before you are also on the B list.  

The good news is that this historical predicting is bidirectional. If you know someone who is a salt-of-the-earth person who treats others with respect and kindness, there is a high likelihood that they will treat you similarly.   

Kids, I know that you are wise and sensible, and I acknowledge that you have made good choices in your friendships and connections. However, I believe that we all face difficult situations in life. A friendship or relationship can start off great, only to have it slowly dissolved into a painful disaster. Don’t judge your connections with others based on a honeymoon period. People reveal their true self over time. 

It is also important to realize that we are all imperfect. A quality friend may hurt you or even fail you. However, when you look back at your history with them, you will find that the overall positives of the relationship far exceed any negatives. Relationships are not about perfection, they are about connection.

My pride in you and my respect for you are tremendous and overflowing.  

Love,

Your Dad

A Letter To My Children: Choose Kind Friends

Dear Kids

When I was young, the most common descriptor of me was that I was kind. In my young mind, this suggested that I was weak. I wanted people to think that I was smart, brave, or possibly strong, not kind. To me, it seemed like kindness was just the way I was, no different than the fact that I had blue eyes and dishwater blond hair. 

As I grew older, I realized that kindness was not a passive trait or a sign of weakness. I came to understand that kindness is an active choice and a measure of strength. Many sought after behavioral characteristics offer benefit to the bearer of that trait. Kindness does not, at least not directly. Kindness is very different than being passive or subordinate to the wishes of others. Kindness is an active process that recognizes that all people have worth and value. Being kind to a person means that you place them on the same level as you are, and treat them with the care and respect that you wish to be treated.

As you become older, it can be easy to become cynical and self-serving. As our world becomes ever more fragmented and competitive, it may seem like the best “get ahead” option is the best option for a good life. As a society we celebrate aggression, ruthlessness, and power. We are told that these qualities will get us a big house, a trophy partner, and a fancy car. We are led to believe that having these things will give us happiness. Of course, this is not the case.

You know that I love my toys and that things, such as my cameras give me great pleasure. However, those objects are only valuable as tools, and in fact, they have no value by themselves. What good is it to have a high-end camera if I don’t have a subject to photograph, or someone to share that photograph with? Without connection taking pictures is just a job.

We are defined by the connections that we have with others. That holds true even for an introvert like me. I envision myself at the center of my “ relationship web.” Connected close to me are those people who I love greatly, a bit further out are those I care about, then those I associate with, and so on. Somewhere in a distant ring of my web is the checker at the Jewel, or the neighbor three blocks away who I occasionally see on my morning walks. My web keeps me not only connected but also supported. Without it, I would be spinning out of control and without direction.  

We all have these webs of connections, but our connectors can be very different depending on our efforts and expectations. Some of us have webs that enhance who we are, and some have webs that pull us apart and prevent us from being ourselves.  

In life, you will make choices, and some of those choices will center on your connections with others. Some may think that the ultimate goal is to be popular or to be part of a popular group. I would caution you that the entrance fee to such a cadre is high.  To be accepted you will be required to bend to the will of others, you will have to show your “ popularity superiority” by putting down others, and you will be expected to do things that you may not be comfortable with. In other words, you will lose yourself to gain something that is artificial and easily lost.

So how does one form a healthy support web? Instead of seeking external validation by belonging to a high-demand group, it is better to find internal peace by seeking individuals and groups that mirror your core values and behaviors. Most good things in life require some work, and that is the case here. Quality people are attracted to quality people. Seek people in your life who are intrinsically kind, and who value you for who you are. In turn, it is imperative that you are kind to and value them. 

Kids, I see great kindness in each an every one of you. That same kindness trait that I now value in myself. Make it a priority to keep it alive, nurture it, embrace it, and practice it. Being kind is not an action that should be reserved for those in the inner rings of your connection web, it should extend outward to all corners, no matter how weak or temporary. Extend your kindness to the clerk at Walmart, the waiter at your favorite breakfast joint, and the receptionist at your doctor’s office.  

At the beginning of this letter, I mentioned that kindness was a trait that didn’t offer direct benefit. However, it does provide indirect benefits. When you treat others with kindness and respect, they are more likely to return those feelings to you. What could be better than that?

Love,

Your Dad

A Letter To My Children-On Saying No

This is one of a set of letters to my children.  These letters will not be in series; instead, I will write them as I am moved to do so.

Dear Kids

I was raised to show respect to adults and to submit to their wishes.  I never liked conflict, and this combined with my childhood training resulted in me subjugating my needs and wants for those of others. I came to understand that when people ask me for something, they were telling me to do something.  “Can you do this for me,” was really, “Do this for me.” If someone asked me to do something for them, I did it, even if I didn’t want to, or didn’t have the time. Helping people when I didn’t want to made me feel like a martyr instead of a hero. 

I recognized this problem, and I tried to actively change my behavior in high school. When I started refusing requests, people were not very happy with me; they were used to getting their way.  

When someone asked me to do something that I didn’t want to do, I would say that I was sorry that I couldn’t help them, and then followed that statement with a reason or reasons why.  This often resulted in the individual picking holes in my excuse as they tried to convince me that I could still do the task at hand. That wasn’t difficult because many of my reasons were quickly fabricated to “Let the other person down gently.” At times my, “No,” would stand, at other times I would give in.

Requests could range from something as simple as someone wanting to hang out, to more complex tasks that could require days or even weeks to accomplish. My refusal skills were moving in the right direction, but I had a long way to go.

An event happened when I was a 1st-year medical student that changed how I approached this issue.  I had been attending Northwestern for a few months and was invited to go to a meeting. At that meeting, many committees were looking for people to sit on them.  A 4th-year med student saw me and approached me. She seemed very excited and happy to see me, but I had a strong impression that she was playing me. With great enthusiasm, she told me about a committee that she was on.  I listened to her, and it became clear that she was looking for someone to take over her position so she could get out of it. The committee held no interest for me. Worse, it met almost weekly and involved a lot of work outside of its scheduled meetings.  If I agreed to join, I would be committing my time for the next four years. 

Finally, she popped the question and excitedly “invited” me to join the group.  I knew that I didn’t want to do it, and my mind started to race to come up with some reason why I couldn’t.  I could not come up with a reason, and on some level, I knew that any reason would quickly be countered by the 4th-year as her goal was to get rid of her responsibility.

I paused for a moment and then looked her straight in the eye. “No, I am not interested,” I said.  “Why not, this is a great honor,” she replied. I continued to look at her and made an effort to smile, “No,” was what I repeated and walked away.

I have to say that I felt enormous guilt and anxiety after my refusal.  My heart was racing, and I was concerned about what this 4th-year could or would do to me as her position of power (in my mind) was exponentially more significant than mine.  She represented an adult, and I was once again a child. It was physically and emotionally painful to walk away, but that discomfort started to dissipate by the next morning. By the end of the week, it was gone entirely.

That simple, “No,” saved me from years of pointless work.  It also taught me that I didn’t always have to give someone a reason why I didn’t want to comply with their wishes.  

Kids, over the years, I have made an effort to continue to do many things for other people, but I now do those things as a choice rather than out of some false sense of obligation.  There are times when I will do something mutually beneficial to both parties; I relish these win/win situations. There are other times when I don’t benefit, but what is asked from me is small, and it has little impact on my life.  Still, there are other times when I may not want to do something that also requires a lot of work, and I do it anyway. When I help someone by choice, it is a beautiful feeling. I know that my intentions are sincere, and this knowledge gives my efforts meaning, and value.  When I refuse a request, it is also done with thought. Yes, I may upset someone, but they can likely find someone else to do their bidding. I understand that I can’t solve the problems of the world. 

Refusal skills are essential in all areas of life.  Friends that want you to do something that goes against your values.  Job expectations that are unreasonable. Relationship demands beyond your comfort zone. If you have a stable connection with someone refusing to do something will not hamper that connection.  If your relationship is based on a house of cards, it is better to know that too.

I want you to be generous and giving adults, but I would never want you to abandon your values or sense of self because of outside demands. Always be true to yourself and your values.

Love,

Your Dad

Leaving Las Vegas

Julie floated the idea sometime in May and acted on it a few weeks later.  I didn’t object, but I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.

“Will and Grace will be in college, and Kathryn will be in her Peace Corp training. We should do something as a couple.”  Julie’s idea was to go to Las Vegas. Why Las Vegas? The destination was determined more on inexpensive airfare than anything else. 

“I reserved a hotel; it is only $29 a night,” Julie said.  “How is it rated?” I asked. “Surprisingly, OK,” she replied. 

The month before the trip had been rough due to all of the effort needed to transition our kids to their various destinations.  It was also emotionally rocky as it heralded a significant change in our relationship. When we met decades earlier, I already had my daughter, Anne.  During our entire courtship and marriage, we had never been a single couple.

Our Allegiant Air flight would depart from Rockford and would fly non-stop to Las Vegas.  I had flown out of Rockford in the past and liked the airport, which is tiny by comparison to most other airfields.  There is something to be said of the fact that you can park directly in front of the terminal, and then leave your car parked for $10 a day.

The Airbus A 319 was packed, and I also felt packed into my very compact seat.  However, I wasn’t about to complain as the airfare was cheap, and I remembered the adage, “You get what you pay for.”

When we landed, we picked up a rental car and headed to our $29/night hotel. The Plaza is an older hotel built in the 1970s and is located in the downtown area. We parked in the hotel’s parking garage and took the elevator to the lobby level. The elevator opened directly into the hotel’s massive casino.  There a hundred or more machines, all ablaze with bright lights, and many making noises assaulted me. I was taken aback.

We used the hotel’s automated check-in as the line at the hotel’s front desk was long and slow-moving.  The machine spit out our keycards, and we proceeded to our room on the 7th floor. Thankfully, the room was large and nicely appointed.  My only concern was the smell of cigarette smoke. In Las Vegas, it is OK to smoke in hotel rooms.

After settling into our room, we returned to the lobby via the casino, and I was struck with the number of people who at 3 PM were gambling on machines, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol.  Outside the front door of the hotel was Fremont street which contained the ”Fremont Experience,” which consisted of blocks of brightly lit establishments, multiple live bands, street performers, open-air bars, restaurants, casinos, and a vast curved dome canopy that was a gigantic video screen.  It was like no place that I have ever visited. Once again, I was struck with the vast number of people drinking, smoking, and doing just about whatever they wanted to do.

Internally, I was on overload, and on some level, I found myself judging those around me, and not in a positive way.  I think that I thought of myself as above the other patrons. They were acting so wild and carefree while I was my usual calm and controlled self.

Similar sensory assaults occurred throughout my Las Vegas experience. It didn’t matter if I was downtown on Fremont street, or at the very tony Bellagio Hotel on the strip. Las Vegas seemed to be out-of-control and filled with people who were also out-of-control.

Over the next day or two, I became aware of an interesting phenomena; I started to adjust to the over-the-top stimulation of the city.  As I became more able to filter out the noise, I also started to view my co-inhabitants differently. Yes, they were drinking, many were loud, and some very drunk.  However, most were very civil, and no one hassled me. I didn’t see fights breaking out in the streets, or people performing lewd acts in the alleyways. Just about everyone seemed to be having a good time and were enjoying the experience around them.

I looked further into the crowd and noticed that it consisted of all ages and races.  Not everyone was loud; many were spectators just like me. I looked more closely at the building facades festooned with lights and neon.  Yes, they were completely over the top, but they were also spectacular and envisioned at a level that I had never witnessed before.

I think it is interesting that once I got past my preconceived biases, I was able to view the people, culture, and architecture of Las Vegas in a different light.  I saw Las Vegas for what it was, a fantasy escape town. I saw my fellow travelers for who they were, people who were looking for an escape from their day to day lives — people who were more similar to me than different.

The experience made me think of how it is easy to judge others based on our biases, and how it is simple for us to place someone in a category, rather than to spend the time to get to know who they are.  I believe that if I had held on to my biases, I would have left Las Vegas regretting the trip. However, by looking at similarities rather than differences, I was able to enjoy my stay and experience a city that is like no other. 

When I returned to Naperville, I didn’t have a desire to drink more alcohol or go to the local riverboat casinos.  I returned the same person. However, the trip did highlight something significant to me. We live in a time when it is becoming more acceptable to judge, criticize, and condemn others because of our preconceived feelings concerning their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else that we see as different from us.  Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is, why is that? Why is it vital for us to exclude and judge others based on a single factor when, as humans our essence it the conglomeration of thousands of factors, not just one. It is time for us to use our big human brains to expand our horizons, not contract them. I am reminded of the Martin Niemöller poem:

First, they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

Peace

The Fremont Experience

The strip A city of neon

An Empty House

The living room became a staging area.

Items slowly filtered in and then exploded in quantity.

The floor, the chair, the couch all had to bear their packaging burden.

Bags from Target, boxes from Amazon, loose items from drawers and cupboards, each has its place.

Like a summer thunderclap their presence short lived but soon replaced by another wave.

William, then Grace, then Kathryn.

They vanish with their possessions.

By car, by plane, they travel away.

The house now quiet except for Mercury the cat.

Confused by the absence she seeks comfort from me.

A renegotiation with Julie.

Our lives no longer centered on offspring.

Together we grieve our loss.

As night falls I anticipate the dawn of a new day.

Moving Day

The pile in our living room grew.  It was initially seeded with a lump of bedding; a new grey plaid comforter, and complimentary grey sheets made of Jersey.  Soon other items appeared, a steamer style trunk from Target, new pillows from Walmart, a modern desk lamp from Amazon. In a matter of days, the pile dominated the northeast corner of the room.  My neatness tendencies had me restacking the collection, but I remained calm despite its ungainly appearance. I knew that its life in my living room was short-lived.

Wednesday evening, I pressed the automatic seat retraction button on my Ford Flex.  An unseen motor whirred, and magically, the car’s rear seats disappeared.

“Will, I need your help,” I called.  A grumble emerged from the family room, “Alright,” Will growled.  Our job was to load the Flex in preparation for move-in day. 

Will is our fourth child to go to college and our only boy.  There is a difference in what boys bring to college vs. girls. We followed the recommended list given to us by his university, but there wasn’t a lot of energy expended finding the perfectly colored comforter or matching wall art.  Will had gone shopping with his girlfriend, Lauren and purchased some old vinyl records with the plan that their covers would inject personality to his corner of his dorm room. That was the extent of his decorating project.

He was late to the gate when it came to securing housing, and because of this, he was relegated to a “quad,” an oddly shaped room that housed three other roommates. I hoped that his place wouldn’t turn into an “animal house.”

Thursday morning Julie, Will, and I pile into our Ford, and I plug in his residence hall’s address into the car’s navigation system. After two hours of driving, we take the exit to the university.

It is now past 1 PM, and we are all hungry.  “Do you want to stop for lunch before we unload?”  I ask. “Yes!” Will responds. “Will, this is your day, where do you want to eat?”  I inquire. After a short pause, Will responds, “How about that, Chick-Fil-A?” I scan the street in front of me and spot it on the right and pull in.

It is hard to describe what I’m feeling.  In some ways, it seems like we are on vacation and stopping for a bite.  However, the atmosphere of the restaurant clearly has the vibe of a college town.  I’m still in automatic mode, and I have entirely blocked any sadness. Instead, I’m feeling a subtle undertone of anxiety as I anticipate the actual move-in process.

With lunch over, we pile back into the car for the remaining mile to campus.  Apparently, we were given written directions to ease the move-in process, but they never made it to the car.  I drive around aimlessly as I encounter one street closed, and then another. Eventually, I make the right turn, and I’m guided to his dorm’s drop-off zone by a legion of police, each officer separated by about sixty feet.

Will’s dorm is 27 stories high and gigantic.  Its architecture has a 1970’s vibe, and its awkward appendages remind of “big hair” a typical fashion from that decade. I am surprised at how small the parking lot is. An officer guides us into a parking slot with clear instructions, “Unload your items to the curb.  One person stays with the items, and another goes in to register. Sir, you need to drive to the overflow lot to park.” I nod in obedience.  

I glance over to move-in piles from other students and see everything from couches to massive boxes filled with clothes and room decorations.  I’m grateful that Will pile is considerably smaller. His dorm has a unique elevator system that only stops on every 5th floor. In Will’s case, we will need to travel two levels above his floor, and we will have to carry everything down two floors to his room.  

I drive off and follow the signs to the overflow parking lot; the mile distance seems far away. I exit the lot and start the walk back to campus.  My “excellent” direction sense points me in the opposite direction extending my 1-mile walk by 50%. “My exercise for the day,” I mutter to myself.

On my walk back, Julie sends me a text telling me Will’s room number and informing me that they are off the curb and in the building.  I arrive at the dorm, enter, and take the elevator two floors past Will’s. “Excuse me, can you tell me where this room is.” I show my text message to a student move-in volunteer.  “Take the stairs two floors down and then go to the left.” I’m informed.

Will’s room has oddly shaped dimensions.  It is “L” shaped, long with stubby alcove. Originally envisioned as a room for three, it is now designated for four.  In its standard configurations, it contains two bunk beds, 4 dressers, 4 small desks, two open closet areas, and a little freestanding wardrobe to give the 4th roommate a place to hang his coat.  Along the long end of the “L” is a large picture style window overlooking a parking garage and other random structures.  

I enter the room to find Riley, a freshman from Darien, and his dad, Joe.  Both are friendly and engaging. They inform me that Julie and Will had gone down to the main level to secure a “loft kit,” which is a set of metal bars that changes a single bunk bed into two lofts (a mattress on top with space below for a desk and dresser). Eventually, Julie and Will return carrying a set of metal tubes. I’m grateful that Joe, a general contractor, is there to guide me in the conversion from bunk bed to loft unit.

The room is starting to come together, and in the process, it becomes clear that we need a few more items.  A pencil holder for the desk, a few more school supplies, a microwaveable bowl. Will puts the kibosh on Julie’s idea of getting an area rug.  

Joe’s wife arrives and informs us that there is a CVS within walking distance, but just as we start to depart the dorm’s fire alarm kicks in, forcing the entire building to be evacuated.  Every one marches in unison and slowly moves down the stairs to the street below.

Will’s dorm is alcohol-free, but I spy at least 4 stores advertising alcohol sales within walking distance. I think to myself, “Not much has changed since I have gone to college.”  I stifle an urge to give Will my “act responsibly” talk. I know that at some point I’ll say it despite my understanding that it will have little impact. Will’s behavior will be determined by years of parenting, and his own constitution, not by some cheesy two-minute speech from me.

The CVS is inadequate for Will’s needs, and we exit only with a few cold sodas.  A random person calls out, “Will, hey Will!.” It is a fellow Naperville North student who wants to exchange SnapChat information with him.  I feel comforted knowing that Will has excellent social skills, and people like him.

We hike to overflow parking, get into the Flex, and drive off to Target.  There he runs into another familiar face, his good friend, James who is dorming in the same residence hall.  Up and down the Target aisles we go, a desk caddy here, a pencil sharpener there. We head back to his dorm, which has given the “all clear.”  The fire alarm was a prank.

The line to the elevators is at least a block long, and I suggest that we take the stairs.  Twelve floors later, I regret my decision. Task complete it is time to go back down to the car to hug and say goodbye.  Julie gets misty-eyed, and I’m surprised that she doesn’t break down sobbing. I drag myself into the front passenger seat, and we drive off, one child lighter.  In the next 11 days, we will lose two more as they travel on their life journeys.

Dear reader, you may have noticed that I didn’t talk much about my feelings during this transition.  The reality is that I’m uncertain what I’m feeling. Of course, I love my son. Of course, I miss my son.  However, I’m not really allowing myself to dig into my psyche at the moment. This act is not deliberate, it is automatic. I am not ready to face the reality of having my last three kids transition from home to “other,” and because of this, I’m keeping my feelings at bay.  Instead, I find myself getting involved with projects, and creating little experiments, and cleaning the house. I do these acts not only as a way to symbolize that life goes on, but also to recognize that even sad events can have a positive side. Rooms will be shuffled, and Julie will finally have a study again. We will have additional flexibility in traveling.  My electricity and grocery bills will be reduced. 

I don’t feel that I’m in denial. Instead, I think that I’m exploring this change in its entirety. Life doesn’t stop when significant events happen, it goes on.  We can decide how we deal with a given situation. Are we victims of our fate, or can we be an active force in our own lives? Today, I choose the latter. I will celebrate my children’s independence, but also relish the time that we do get to spend together.  I will investigate the positives that any change brings, and I will attempt to mitigate any negatives. I won’t waste a day thinking about what I have lost; instead, I’ll focus on what I have gained.

Peace

Another pile grows in my living room as Grace prepares to leave.

I spied at least 4 liquor stores within walking distance from his dorm. Moving crew. Will posing, and me fixing something.

The view from his dorm room.

Will decorated his walls with old album covers.

On Dyslexia And Backpacking

Freddie Nietzsche has referenced the impact of life’s difficulties in a much more eloquent way than I ever could, but with that said I do have the ability to turn something negative into something positive. 

 

I have mentioned my dyslexia in the past, but I think it deserves re-referencing here. As some of you know, I was unable to read in second grade. My teacher told my parents that she thought I was very bright and attributed this inability to poor vision. My parents took me to an optometrist who prescribed a very weak eyeglass prescription. I guess optometrists have to make a living.  

 

My 7-year-old expectations were dashed when I put on the specs only to discover that I was as illiterate as before. The fear that my parents would be angry at me pushed me towards a solution; I created my own method to make sense out of the jumble of random symbols that my mind was seeing. I feel that my alternative way of reading has given me an advantage. I may read slower than many, but I have superior comprehension. Beyond comprehension, I appear to have an excellent ability to understand the subtext and sub-connections in a written piece. My reading difficulty turned into a reading advantage for me.

 

I apply this concept to other aspects of my life; most recently to the subject of backpacking.In a past post, I wrote about my trip to Glacier National Park, and how it had a life-altering impact on me. A subplot in this post centered around backpacking. 

 

I enjoy day hiking, but I declined an offer from my friend, Tom to backpack with him. Tom is an inexperienced backpacker who challenged himself to hike in the backcountry armed only with knowledge from YouTube videos, and a healthy cash donation to REI.  

 

His 4 day/3 night trip turned into a 6 day/5 night experience due to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and physical exhaustion. Despite these barriers, Tom succeeded in his quest and enjoyed the experience. Further, he feels that he bonded even closer to his son, as they had to work together to accomplish their goal.

 

I am happy for Tom’s accomplishment, but I am also grateful that he brought me a wealth of information on this topic. I had thought a lot about backpacking and read extensively on it, but third-hand data can only yield so much real-world details. Through Tom’s narrative, I was able to get an up-close understanding of the experience. What were the primitive campsites like? How did he go to the bathroom? What would he change in future hikes? What were the positive things about the experience? What gear did he wish he brought? What equipment that he brought was unnecessary? It is one thing to watch a YouTube video from an athletic 25-year-old backpacker, it is another thing to listen to a 52-year-old guy’s first time out. Tom’s story gave real context that allowed me to visualize myself in his situations.  

 

My personality is such that I get enjoyment from learning information and skills. As a new area of interest, the topic backpacking offers both opportunities. Additionally, my solo day hiking trips revealed something about myself that surprised me. Despite being a loner, I very much wanted to share my experiences with someone else, and I wanted to do that sharing in the first person.

 

I already had a sleeping bag, and I decided to buy an inexpensive lighter weight tent. Other small purchases followed: a blowup pillow, Smartwool socks, a better headlamp. 

 

My next phase was to try out new behaviors in a controlled environment. I set up my little tent in the living room, unrolled my sleeping bag, and climbed in for a nap. Success!

Setting up my backpacking tent in my living room. Making sure my sleeping bag fits (and taking a little nap).

When Tom came off the trail he gifted me all of his Mountain House freeze-dried food with the statement, “I’ll never eat that stuff again!” I have eaten MH on occasion and found it reasonably palatable. However, Tom ate Mountain House for all of his meals, and quickly became sick of his soft and lukewarm diet. I would likely have a similar reaction, and so I have been exploring other simple backpacking meals. In fact, I have created a few homemade “freezer bag” meals that my official tester (my daughter, Gracie) said tastes better than the commercial stuff. 

Trying to rehydrate pasta and my own dehydrated veggies. Rehydrating commercial freeze dried veggies. Making my own freezer bag meals that will be compared with a MH meal.Thanksgiving dinner in a freezer bag. Just add hot water and wait 10 minutes! My meal rehydrated.

 

The next phase of my experiment will be to attempt a backyard sleepout. I’m curious if I’ll be able to stand up straight after sleeping on the hard ground all night. Pending the weather forecast, I will likely do this in the next few days.

 

So, will I backpack? Unfortunately, I have run into some pitfalls in advancing this process. My goal was to do a three-night hike with Tom next summer when he travels to Yellowstone National Park. When I mentioned this to him, he was receptive but informed me that he was thinking about a 5-6 night adventure rather than a 3-night trip. This long trip would not be wise for me based on several factors. Tom is younger than me but in similar physical shape. Despite drinking a lot of water, he became dehydrated, and due to the sequelae of electrolyte loss simple movement became difficult for him. It is also clear that he became physically depleted after day three of his hike; this was his energy limit based on his level of physical conditioning. Any additional days became ordeals for him to conquer rather than enjoy. I would likely have a similar experience. Lastly, the way that he coped with this exhaustion was to lengthen his trip, advancing his adventure from 4 days to 6 days. This expansion would be multiplied with a more extended trip. For instance, a 6-day trip could turn into 9 or 10 days. Based on all of this, it would be foolish for me to consider such a long hike. I did suggest to him that we go on a few short local overnighters, which would allow me to check out my ability in situ, but as of this moment, he isn’t too interested.

 

What about other options? It would be great to hike with my son, Will, but he has no interest. Julie has never expressed a desire to go backpacking. My other kids are busy with their lives, friends, and activities. 

 

I am starting to explore the option of an organized club or Meet Up group, but I wonder if the cohorts would be too advanced for me. I have even pondered finding someone on Craigslist, or some other public forum. What would I say in an ad? “Wanted a middle-aged or older guy who has never backpacked who would like to go backpacking with someone equally inept.” For some reason, I don’t think I would get a lot of takers.

 

At this point, I am enjoying learning about a new topic and testing out new skills. If this hobby advances further, all the better. With that said, I believe that learning new things is always useful, even when the knowledge doesn’t have an immediate practical purpose. Seemingly specific information can often be generalized. For instance, my ability to develop decent freezer bag meals is directly related to the many years of hotel room cooking that I did when I worked 2 days a week in Rockford.

 

My goal is to enjoy the journey and not negate the process by only focusing on the end game.

 

Today I told you about my backpacking transformation, but the same techniques can be used when dealing with much more difficult problems. In fact, these rules also apply to other issues, even trauma. There are several factors necessary to turn an unwanted experience (a negative) into one that is desired (a positive).

 

1. Understand the process. 

2. Explore the pitfalls. 

3. Practice the behaviors. 

4. Evaluate if the overall outlay of time and energy are justified.

 

This methodology works, and so I thought I would pass the tips on to you. 

 

Peace

Coping With An Empty Nest.

A $50 Sunbeam microwave oven sits on my basement floor. The device is positioned haphazardly, and it partially obstructs the path to our basement fridge. A Target build-it-yourself cube bookcase looks awkward in our living room. Caddy-corner to the cube is a pile of unopened bedding: a masculine grey plaid comforter, mattress liner, grey sheets, and pillowcases. On the second floor of our home resides a collection of random objects: a folding solar panel, a Kiato worldband radio, a universal AC plug adapter, and a brand new teal blue Hydro Flask.

The microwave and storage unit belongs to my daughter, Grace, who will be returning for her second year of university where she is studying Psychology and Pre-Medicine. The plaid comforter is my son William’s, who will be starting university majoring in Biology and Chemistry. The random items on the second floor are owned by my daughter, Kathryn, a recent graduate who will be spending the next 2 and ½ years in Africa teaching math as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I have been an active parent for the last 36 years, and with the departure of my youngest children, I will become an empty nester. In less than four weeks, my life will change in the most radical of ways.

I can already see the stress that this change is causing Julie, my wife. She has become quieter, and I can feel her distancing herself from me. I’m not taking offense to her actions, as I know that she is defending against her loss feelings with everything that she can. Past experiences predict that her former self will return soon after our last child is safely in their new environment.  

But how are these changes impacting me? That is a more difficult question as I tend to deal with negative feelings more obtusely. I do feel anxious.  Am I really anxious?

I remember worrying as a child. My mother was chronically ill with a severe form of diabetes, and it was not uncommon for her to be near death. I recall countless times when my father would wake me up in the middle of the night during one of her insulin reactions. I would find her sitting on a kitchen chair drenched in sweat. Her head would be lying limply on the kitchen table, and she would be moaning. 

In most instances, she would revive with a large glass of orange juice laced with sugar, and life would return to normal. However, there were other times when her blood sugar was too high instead of too low. Those times an ambulance would be called, and she would be whisked off to the hospital. During these episodes, my dad would wake everyone in the house. After my mother was taken by ambulance (which could be at two or three in the morning), my father would send me to bed with the expectation that I would go to school the next day. Now isolated from the rest of the family, I would feel hopeless, alone, and very anxious. I would pray for my mother’s health during these times. Unfortunately, my obsessive nature would also kick in, and I would believe that I had to say a series of prayers entirely, or my mother would be in mortal danger. It was common for me to fall asleep mid-prayers only to wake up to start the whole block of prayers again (if you are Catholic, think rosary). This staring to pray and then falling asleep could go on for the remainder of the night The next day the rest of the family would take the day off from work to sleep and to console each other, I honestly don’t know why I wasn’t included. Perhaps it was felt that kids don’t worry, or maybe it was just easier not to have to deal with me. With that said, those post-ambulance school days were miserable for me.

My prayer behavior suggests that I had a lot of anxiety, which I tried to silence with compulsive actions. But was that anxiety another mask to help cope with my feelings of isolation and sadness? I think the latter may be more accurate as (in this example) prayer helped my anxiety as I could turn my request over to God. However, in those days, I had no strategies to deal with isolation and sadness.

Now at 66, I believe that I’m once again using anxiety to mask my sad and lonely feelings. However, with years of life experience, I now have tools to deal with these emotions. 

I can explore if I have any control over a situation. For instance, I do have concerns over Kathryn going to Africa, but I have no control over her actions as she is an independent adult.  

I can ask myself if my concerns are valid. I worry about my college kid’s safety, but their new environments are likely as safe as their current one. 

I can assess if I am reading my feelings correctly. In this case, I’m feeling sad and dealing with loss and not anxiety. 

Why am I sad? I’m sad because I’ll miss my kids, who are an integral part of my life.

What is the reality of that loss? They will be physically away from me, but I can still have regular contact with them.

What is the likely outcome of this change? They will become self-sufficient adults. I will not lose them and this separation is temporary.

What else can I do to reduce my sadness? I can explore the benefits of being an empty nester. I can travel without burdening Julie with additional responsibilities. I can also travel with Julie more spontaneously and less expensively. I can explore other interests. I can learn new things. And so on. 

Naturally, I can still (and do) pray, just not as obsessively or magically.

Do these techniques eliminate my feelings? Of course not. However, when I start to feel myself sliding downward, it is easy to revisit these skills and feel better. Dear reader, it is OK to feel sad; I don’t want it to be my dominant feeling at a time when I should also be experiencing happiness. The reality is that my kids are all doing incredible things that will help them become more competent adults. I need to recognize and celebrate these positive changes and not focus exclusively on my loss.  

Life is full of transitions, and many of them are bittersweet. Kids going off to college, the loss of an elderly but suffering parent, transitioning from work life to a retired one; humans feel. However, it is pointless to sink into an abyss of despair. It is important to acknowledge feelings, understand them, and appropriately act on them. However, it makes no sense to be so consumed by feelings that you lose the joy of daily life… and as in all things, one foot in front of the other is sometimes the best way to get out of a negative place.

Dear reader, have you had to deal with anxiety, sadness, or the stress of life transitions? I hope that some of my techniques will be useful to you. Or perhaps you can explore your techniques using the above model as a template.

Peace.

Two of my kids will be attending college this year.

Random thoughts and my philosophy of life.