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Note from the editor Lesley Jane Seymour
Here’s the truth: Age makes your body go wacky.
I grew up so skinny that people used to call me “underfed.” I was so embarrassed, I ended up swilling nutritional drinks just to put some meat on my bones.
Sometime after 50, however, I caught a glimpse of my arms in an elevator mirror. There were dimples that looked oddly like cellulite where hard muscles once had been. Because I’d always worked out and never gained a pound no matter what I ate, I assumed my eyes were just going. Or that it had something to do with the headache drug I’d been taking for a few months. That it would all disappear in a few weeks.
A few years later however I glimpsed the dimples again. I was in shock. How could this be happening? To me? The person who could eat bacon and eggs and French toast for breakfast, a hamburger at lunch, and pasta for dinner. And wait, what are those dimples on my knees? And what was that little pouch forming above my C-section scar? Why did it seem to grow and shrink depending on my weight?
Convinced the pouch was some odd result of the surgery, I even asked my dermatologist if she could suction the roll off. “Let me see it,” she said, then looked at me gravely. “I can but you’ll need to lose weight.” What? Lose weight? Me? That’s a struggle for other people. I’m the kid who always had to gain weight.
Something horrible and freakish was happening to my body — and it was transforming my thighs and my arms all at once.
For years at More the editors would all joke about how to reprise our best-clicked article on the site called “Burn Fat Faster.” Because our business was a numbers game, I was obligated to call the health editor into my office every six months and asked her to find some kind of new research. When she would tell me there was nothing new to add, I’d order her to “find it.” That’s what you had to do to keep the clicks coming and your advertisers happy in the magazine world.
I thought I’d left belly pouches behind (and made peace with mine) until several of you wrote in saying you find belly fat vexing. Well, me too, sister! Luckily I was able to ask the fabulous Lori Kase to dig into the truths and myths and to find us all a bunch of really new solutions. Hint: the easiest one I started with is really a smart but obvious duh — stand up straight! It sounds silly until you see how posture can really impact your belly’s look. From there, she offers a list of interesting insights and solutions that I hope will help and surprise you. I will be trying them all myself. Let me know what you think.
And don’t miss all of the other great writing in this issue, including Laura Munson’s essay on the unique way she dealt with her fledglings leaving the nest, our seven-step guide for reentering the workforce after a career pause (please pass this along to women you know who need it), and our wonderfully inspiring profile of Daphne Maxwell Reid, who is still kicking butt and taking names at over 70. I hope you’ll be inspired and informed.
Learn more. Connect more. Be more with Covey.
Crunches won't budge it. But surprisingly, sleep, less stress, and better posture can
Belly fat is an unfortunate reality for many postmenopausal women: Even those genetically predisposed to store fat in their hips and thighs often struggle with an expanding midsection once they hit 50 or 55. “Postmenopausal women burn less fat than they did in their premenopausal years,” says ob-gyn JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, executive director of the North American Menopause Society. “Cells not only store more fat but are less willing to part with it.”
And it’s not just that metabolism slows down at this time of life — there’s also a natural shift in where fat accumulates in the body.
Abdominal fat is not just a matter of aesthetics: The kind of fat that collects around the midsection can be dangerous. Increased belly fat has been linked to many of the chronic diseases associated with aging, including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes — even dementia. Still, think twice before falling for claims that certain diets, supplements, super foods, or spot exercises will magically melt away belly fat.
Here, some myths — and surprising truths — about battling this midlife scourge.
Myth #1: As long as I continue my premenopause exercise routine and maintain my healthy diet, I will keep belly fat in check.
Postmenopausal women just don’t burn as many calories as before menopause. “Even women who are eating healthily and exercising have to make some changes after menopause,” says Wendy Kohrt, PhD, professor of medicine and chair of women’s health research at University of Colorado, Denver. “Though how declining estrogen affects women is variable – in the same way that premenstrual symptoms are – on average, menopause is associated with a change in energy needs and a decrease in metabolic rate, meaning that if women don’t change anything else (in terms of eating or activity habits), they are likely to start gaining weight.”
Dr. Kohrt, who has studied postmenopausal women extensively, has found that after menopause, resting metabolic rate declines by the equivalent of 50 to 60 calories per day. “That doesn’t sound like very much,” says Dr. Korht, “but if the amount of energy a woman is burning when she is just sitting around decreases by 50 calories a day – and there are roughly 4000 calories in a pound – that is roughly equivalent to gaining a pound of fat every 80 days or so if she doesn’t make compensatory changes.”
To add insult to injury, not only do older women need to exercise more to burn the same number of calories, but their motivation to exercise declines right along with their metabolic rates.
To maintain a healthy weight after menopause – and get rid of belly fat — you have to step up your exercise game. And cut calories. “You can do this by either eating less or by eating foods with fewer calories,” suggests Dr. Sandra Arévalo, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Myth #2: My genes dictate whether I will develop belly fat.
While genes determine if you are apple- or pear-shaped, after menopause, it’s all about hormones.
Dr. Kohrt found that when premenopausal women were put on a drug that suppressed their ovarian function, bringing estrogen down to postmenopausal levels, resting metabolic rate declined, physical activity decreased, and abdominal fat levels went up. “We found an alarming increase,” she says.
Yet, when researchers added back the estrogen, those effects were reversed to premenopausal levels.
Indeed, a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that women who underwent menopausal hormonal therapy had significantly lower levels of body fat than women who didn’t.
But estrogen is not the only hormone to dictate whether you can pinch an inch.
Recent research points to another possible culprit. Scientists know that FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone, which tells the follicles to produce more estrogen, rises at menopause when the ovaries start to fail. Studies in mice suggest FSH might also be responsible for the increase in belly fat that occurs at this time of life. In fact, when researchers block this hormone in mice, they become more physically active, burn more calories — and yes, lose abdominal fat.
Myth #3: BMI is the most important number to determine your health risk
False. The circumference of your waist is a much better indicator than body mass index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight), says Dr. Kohrt. In fact, the Million Women Study, based in Britain, found that even when other coronary risk factors were taken into account, women with larger waists had a significantly higher risk of developing heart disease than women with smaller waists.
Other studies have found that women with excess belly fat also have almost double the chance of getting colorectal cancer, while women whose waists were nearly as big as their hips were three to four times as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, women whose waists measure 35 inches or higher are at increased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes even if their weight – and BMI – fall into the normal range. This is likely because the type of fat that accumulates around the midsection is more harmful than the flab that pads the buttocks, hips, and thighs.
Myth #4: All belly fat is created equal
It turns out that there are different types of fat, even in the abdomen, some of which is more metabolically active, and thus more dangerous. The subcutaneous fat that accumulates just beneath the skin, creating the stubborn “love handles” or “muffin top” that older women struggle with, is relatively harmless.
But the deeper, visceral fat, which tends to collect around the abdominal organs, and even the heart, has been linked to increased risk of heart attack, cancer, and dementia.
Recent studies suggest that visceral fat is comprised of a relatively newly-discovered type of fat cell, which comes from bone marrow stem cells, is more prevalent in women, and increases with age. These bone marrow-derived fat cells tend to accumulate in the abdomen and produce inflammation, says Dr. Kohrt, which could explain why they threaten health.
Myth #5: Eating fat makes your belly fat
“Eating fat does not make you fat,” says Sara Gottfried, MD, New York Times bestselling author of The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet. “Eating excess carbs makes you fat by raising insulin, the fat storage hormone.” Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps the body turn sugar into energy; it stores some of the glucose it takes from the bloodstream as fat, for later use. “When insulin levels are out of balance and abnormally elevated, it triggers your body to store the calories you eat as fat,” says Dr. Gottfried. “This fat gets deposited in your liver and around your waistline.”
Nearly 60 million Americans are affected by a condition known as insulin resistance, in which the body stops recognizing the signals sent out by insulin, causing blood sugar levels to rise. “As glucose builds up in the blood, the body responds by producing even more insulin, and that leads to more fat storage. It also leads to other downstream problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, prediabetes, diabetes, and dementia.”
One strategy to prevent insulin resistance – and keep belly fat in check – is to choose foods with a lower glycemic index, like plain yogurt, legumes, and non-starchy vegetables, suggests Dr. Pinkerton. Low GI foods are more slowly digested, absorbed, and metabolized by the body and less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar. Avoid high GI foods, like white bread, cookies, and sugary beverages, she says.
Myth #6: Ab Crunches will eliminate belly fat
“You can’t spot reduce,” says Dr. Kohrt “You can’t do sit-ups and think you will be burning fat from your belly region, just like you can’t do leg presses and expect to lose fat in your legs.”
Some studies have suggested that exercise might be able to prevent or decrease visceral fat, she says. Preliminary findings in her own research suggest that aerobic or endurance exercise can best minimize abdominal weight gain. Other recent studies indicate that high-intensity exercise in short bursts can be effective in reducing belly fat as well.
Because women begin losing muscle after menopause (which partly explains why they don’t burn as many calories as they used to), it’s also important to choose types of exercise that maintain or increase muscle mass, like resistance training and yoga, adds Dr. Arévalo.
Myth #7: Certain foods will blast belly fat
Specific foods or drinks – like apple cider vinegar or green tea — don’t melt away fat by themselves, says Dr. Pinkerton. However, combining these with other healthy choices may help burn fat.
Choose foods that are rich in fiber, she says, including lots of dark leafy vegetables and fruit, which are less caloric and make you feel full, so that you eat less overall. Avoid fat- and sugar-laden foods and soft drinks, and limit alcohol consumption, which has been linked in studies to excess belly fat. And eat lean proteins — like chicken, turkey, fish, beans, tofu, and egg whites — which are “a woman’s best friend during menopause,” according to Dr. Pinkerton.
Indeed, some studies suggest that eating more protein can help reduce belly fat; it also reduces cravings and boosts metabolism.
Truth #1: Insufficient sleep can lead to increased abdominal fat
Lack of sleep wreaks havoc on the appetite hormones, leptin — which Dr. Gottfried refers to as the “put-down-your-fork hormone” — and ghrelin, which makes the body think that it’s hungry.
Sleep deprivation causes a decrease in leptin and an increase in ghrelin. Too little leptin, which tells your body it’s full, makes your brain think you don’t have enough energy, spurring you to keep eating; too much ghrelin has the same effect.
Unfortunately, declining estrogen levels — not to mention hot flashes — can disrupt sleep after menopause. Not only does lack of sleep mess with our appetite hormones, but being tired makes us crave extra energy — and sugary foods.
Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
Truth #2: Reducing stress can help fight belly fat
Excess stress – and the consequent elevated cortisol levels – interferes with sleep, raises blood glucose levels and promotes insulin resistance. When your body is unable to properly regulate insulin levels, “it turns your waist into a magnet for fat,” according to Dr. Gottfried. “Because visceral fat has four times the cortisol receptors of fat elsewhere, you keep taking on more fat,” she explains in her book The Hormone Reset Diet. Not to mention that women are more likely to overeat in response to stress.
Yoga offers the dual benefit of reducing stress and helping to build lean muscle mass so you will burn calories more efficiently.
Truth #3: Simple adjustments in posture can reduce the appearance of belly fat
If all else fails, stand up straight. “I often tell women who are really upset by belly fat to stand in front of the full-length mirror in my office, take a deep breath, put their shoulders back, straighten their backs and stand tall,” says Dr. Arévalo. “And they are surprised to see how half of their belly fat disappears.”
From burbling streams to crackling fires, steady white noises from this app let you sleep
In boarding school, I won “Best histrionics” for my habit of storming into my neighbors’ rooms and asking them to turn down their stereos late at night.
My first apartment in New York had a bedroom on the third floor, just steps away from Second Avenue, so that my entire bedroom shook when trucks hit the steel repair plates in the road. Also, there was a couple below me who fought late into the night, prompting me to pound on the floor with a broom to remind them that I could hear everything.
That was the moment a very fancy New York store called Hammacher Schlemmer debuted one of the first white noise machines. A small fan inside a beige shell, it was small enough to place on a nightstand, and — for around $50 — it changed my life.
This bulky friend traveled everywhere with me, including to the Hotel d’Angleterre in Paris, where my husband and I found ourselves in the inexpensive, but very noisy first-floor room facing the lobby, where every footstep and drunken giggle echoed.
“Never fear!” I told my husband as I whipped out my sleep machine and plugged it into the converter and turned out the lights.
“Do you smell smoke?” my husband Jeff asked me five minutes later. I opened my eyes and saw blue flames shooting out of the sleep machine base. We both jumped out of bed, grabbed the sleep machine and threw it into the bathroom sink.
Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for great alternatives that travel well. Over the holidays, I spent time with my daughter in Boston and slept in her room, which has a door opening to an alleyway often filled with late-night revelers. I had to borrow her roommate’s sleep machine until she turned me onto a free white noise app called “Rain Rain,” which offers a cornucopia of soothing noises for blotting out whatever racket the world might offer. You have dozens of choices — from splashing rain on a forest floor to rain on a tent or in the city (yes, they all do sound different). You have ocean waves and beach bonfires. There are even seagulls over the ocean and planes and trains. Best of all, you can program the app to play all night (instead of automatically turning off after an hour, like some apps). You can even combine your favorites into your own playlist.
You can also use the white noise app to create a sense of office privacy in a small space or to keep street noise from waking the baby.
Now, where’s that app that stops my husband from snoring…
For other help with sleep Join Nest with Covey or Rule the Roost for immediate access to our private chat room in our CoveyConnect app called, “Up at 3 AM”. For other Covey articles on sleep see: “It’s 3 AM. Why are You Waking Up?”, “4 Weird Sleep Tricks that Work“, “Take a Sleepcation from Your Spouse”, “My Sleep Rules” and “The One Beauty Treatment Every Woman Over 40 Needs.”
I'll be covering my gray hair forever. Everyone woman should decide how much beauty maintenance they want
Let’s pretend we’re old friends because I’m about to tell you something extremely personal.
It was a morning like any other. I stumbled into the bathroom, plopped down on the bowl — and then I saw it: a gray pubic hair. I was horrified. I was indignant. I was pissed.
After getting the kids off to school, I called my mother. “Are you kidding me?” I huffed into the phone. “Your pubic hair turns gray, too?!”
She laughed, “What did you think was going to happen? Of course, it does.” I fumed the whole way to work. Then it dawned on me: “F*ck this, I’m getting a Brazilian.”
That was 10 years ago — and yes, I’m still doing it today!
As for the hair on my head, I started coloring my hair much later than the rest of my family. My mother and sister have auburn hair, which means they’ve seen gray in the mix since their teens. Both of my children have inherited it.
So when my 17-year-old daughter wasn’t purple, green, or pink, she, too, had gray hairs. Truth is I don’t know how much gray I do or do not have underneath all the highlights and lowlights. All I know is that I like my hair just the way it is, and have no intention of going gray, ever.
There are a lot of opinions about going gray — even the famous ones. Jamie Lee Curtis declared years ago she was done coloring her hair. This very publication featured an article from a sister who decided it was time to go au naturel, which is what inspired me to pen my point of view. It’s also a conversation that I’ve had with a lot of women in my life, with some of my friends declaring, “It’s almost time.”
I think it’s the reasons they give for going gray that bother me. They are reasons like, it’s a natural process (so are weeds in my garden, but I take care of those!); I’m tired of dying my hair (I’m tired of emptying the dishwasher but seem to keep doing that); I’m not going to let society pressure me into staying forever young (I’m pretty sure the lines on my face give away the fact that I’m not a millennial); I just don’t care anymore (ugh, this is the one that hurts me the most). I’d much rather hear: my mother has beautiful gray hair so I want that; I like the way my gray hair looks, it makes me feel good; I’m happy this way.
But, I am not the hair police, so whatever the reason, everyone is entitled to make whatever decision they want. But me, I am going to my grave blond.
I like what I see when I look in the mirror. It makes me feel good, makes me happy. Not because I think, you’re fooling them all, no one knows you’re 50, but because I like what I see.
It’s the same way I like walking into the all-white kitchen I waited 17 years to renovate — it looks good, and it makes me happy. Call me shallow or self-centered. Call me whatever you want but I’ve come to the moment in my life where I truly feel that I should do whatever I think makes me my best me, by my definition.
So as far as my hair goes, anywhere on my body, I’m going to fight the good fight. Why else would I let someone put hot wax in my crotch and rip the hair out by the roots? Besides Keysa, my esthetician, I’m really the only one who notices it — or cares. I’ve been married 27 years and my husband can’t see that detail without his glasses on!
Yes, it’s a battle that takes time, commitment, and money but as some commercial in my youth told me, “Hey, I’m worth it.” Every four weeks I spend three hours on ‘maintenance’ — haircut and color, shaping the eyebrows, waxing where I need it. But I feel good. I feel confident. I feel pretty — and that’s not so easy for us women at this age.
Without medical intervention, we all start to show some wear and tear no matter how much we work out or how many expensive creams we buy. Stretch marks from babies, lines from life, veins from crossed legs, or bunions from years in too-high heels are inevitable.
So if my Brazilian, lowlights, highlights, and haircuts make me feel good, I’m going to keep at it.
And it all comes down to this: We should all do exactly what we want to do — color, pluck, wax, or don’t. Get fillers, Botox, surgery, or don’t. But do it or don’t do it because you like it that way, not because you just don’t care. After all, isn’t that what being an empowered woman is all about? Doing what we want to do because it matters to us and not because society has defined what a woman should look like, not because the man in our lives prefers blonds, not because that’s what our friends think or like.
That’s certainly what I want my daughter to mirror from my behavior. It’s why I’ve supported her going technicolor with her hair — because she likes it because it makes her feel good because it makes her happy.
After all, to paraphrase Audrey Hepburn: Happy women are the prettiest women, no matter what their hair color.
Whether you paused your career for 15 years or 15 months, there are specific steps you can take before reentering the workforce
After 18 years as a stay-at-home mom, Elizabeth Gish decided she wanted to re-enter the workforce but she wasn’t sure how to begin looking for a job. Despite having spent four years as a Wall Street investment banker, two as a fixed income trader, and holding an MBA from the University of Denver, Gish worried she lacked the necessary skills for today’s workplace. “I felt behind on technology,” she says. “I had so much self-doubt.”
Those feelings evaporated after she participated in a three-week career workshop on reentering the workforce from Reboot Accel. Participants met twice a week from 9 to 5 at several Silicon Valley tech companies and learned about networking and elevator pitches; they also met with other women who had taken a career pause and returned to work successfully.
“It showed me that I have great soft skills and that I can learn the technical skills,” says Gish, 54. “As the weeks went on, I became more confident.”
During her career break, Gish spent seven years volunteering for All Students Matter — a nonprofit that helps elementary school students improve their performance — tutoring third graders and managing a group of volunteers. Gish’s experience helped her realize that she didn’t want to return to finance. Instead, she pursued a career in corporate social responsibility. When Gish saw a job posting from Oracle, she used her network to find someone who worked there to pass her resume onto the hiring manager. Although that job was too junior for Gish, she asked the hiring manager for an informational interview, which eventually led to a position as Oracle’s manager of corporate citizenship communities.
Gish’s experience is not unusual. An estimated 2.6 million US women hold a bachelors, masters, or PhDs but are currently taking a break from their career, says Addie Swartz, CEO of ReacHIRE, a program that partners with large companies to help women gain skills, training, and mentorship when they return to work. About 1.6 million women want to return to work but struggle to find a path back into corporate life, Swartz says. Similar programs, including Path Forward and iRelaunch, also partner with large companies to provide paid “returnship” programs that allow women to gain skills and mentorship while testing out new, full-time positions.
Returnship programs provide an opportunity for the employee and employer to test the waters, says Diane Flynn, co-founder and CEO of Reboot Accel. “It’s a great way to embark on a lower risk solution for the company and it also allows women to decide if they’re ready to go back.” While 90-95 percent of women decide they love being back at work, returning to corporate life isn’t for everyone.
Here’s Covey’s seven-step how-to guide for jumping back in.
After a long break, many women are overwhelmed by the prospect of looking for a job. Decide what you want to do and then evaluate your skills against the current marketplace.
Like Gish, many women decide they don’t want to return to the same sector of employment they left in their 20s or 30s. Flynn says take time to figure out what brings you fulfillment and aligns with your values. Ask yourself: What did you like and dislike about your previous jobs? What was the last job that you loved? What job made you feel successful? Swartz suggests focusing on your strengths and skills: create a checklist of what you’re good at, not good at, what you love to do and what you don’t love to do.
Next, evaluate your list of skills in today’s marketplace. “You might have been good at business development 10 years ago but things have changed,” Swartz says. Do a quick online search and find what the latest tools are in your field. Take an online course to update your skills. “It’s possible to upgrade your skills without a heavy lift,” says Swartz. For instance, you can take an online class and be certified in Google Analytics in an afternoon. You can also check with your alma mater to see if your college or university offers alumni career services, offers Carol Fishman Cohen, chair and co-founder of career reentry firm iRelaunch.
The next two items on your to-do list are developing a strong network and crafting a 30-second elevator pitch.
About 85 percent of women returning to work find jobs through their network, so reach out to your former colleagues and talk to your friends, Flynn says. If you’re not sure what to say to your former colleagues and college classmates, Cohen suggests sending an email with this icebreaker question: “It’s great to be back in touch. I’ve been on a career break for the last 10 years and I’m currently in information gathering mode. I’m attempting to become a subject matter expert again and I’m beginning a deep dive into the latest thinking in our field. Where can I find expert opinion in our field? Who should I follow and who should I be reading? What podcasts should I listen to?”
Go public with your job search and tell everyone you know. More importantly, put yourself in situations where you will meet new people. If you’re not sure where to start meeting other professionals, Cohen suggests joining Toastmasters or attending a university lecture series. Toastmasters, which focuses on communications and leadership, has many local chapters and is relatively inexpensive to join, and it will allow you to meet people who are already employed. “It is a great place to start having conversations about yourself and your background,” Cohen says.
If you live near a college, sign up for a university lecture series with the goal of talking to the person sitting next to you. Then eventually work up to introducing yourself to the speaker. “You need to practice talking about your background and what you’re interested in doing,” Cohen says. That’s why developing a 30-second elevator pitch about what you want to do is essential. “A lot of time opportunity comes up when you least expect it but you have to start that conversation,” says Bobbie Grafeld, vice president of Human Resources at Walmart Labs, which recently partnered with Path Forward to offer a 16-week returnship program in both Sunnyvale and San Bruno, California.
If you’ve been out of the workplace for a decade or more you probably don’t have a LinkedIn profile or a resume but both are essential tools for your search. Grafeld recommends tweaking your resume for each position you apply for, but that can sound overwhelming if you’ve been at home for the last 10 years.
Flynn says, don’t be shy about translating your “mommy skills” into job skills. While your past work history is relevant, so is what you did during your career break. Rather than describing what you did during your break, explain what you learned while volunteering and what skills you gained from that experience.
For instance, during Flynn’s career break, she sat on three boards and chaired the PTA. “I was managing 70 volunteers and that’s more challenging than managing people who get a paycheck,” she says. Skills to highlight include meeting deadlines, managing budgets, and teams, as well as your marketing and outreach skills. The key is to translate what you did during your pause into skills that match the workplace. “What people want to know is what skills you have that are translatable to the job that they have open,” Swartz says.
If you didn’t volunteer during your break, Cohen recommends pursuing strategic volunteer work that supports your career goals. You can find opportunities at Idealist.org, VolunteerMatch.org, and CatchaFire.org.
“Be sincere about why you took a break and why you want to come back,” Grafeld says. “While you might be returning for economic reasons, there is probably something else driving you to get back into the workforce and being able to talk about that is important.”
Be careful not to apologize for taking time off. Instead, acknowledge your time away from the workplace and move on to why you are the best person for the job. Cohen suggests saying something like this: “Yes, I took a career break to care for my children and now I can’t wait to get back to work. In fact, the reason I am so interested in this particular position is because of the work experience I had at Xerox where we faced very similar customer challenges. One of the most difficult situations was maintaining customer satisfaction and this is what we did.” Then share an anecdote that highlights your abilities, she says. To learn more about how to discuss your career break, watch this mock interview featuring Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski asking Cohen about her time off from work.
Women returning to work rarely return at their same salary level. In fact, a Stanford professor once told Flynn that most women sacrifice 20 percent of their salary for every year they’ve been out of work. While Flynn isn’t sure the penalty is that high, she admits “there is a huge sacrifice to pausing and it gets close to 20 percent every year, once you get past five or six years.”
Women who voluntarily leave the workforce don’t realize what they’re giving up, Flynn says. “When I took a pause, I didn’t really think about it.” But Flynn encourages women who want to return to work to get their foot in the door and then negotiate a salary review after six months on the job.
When Grafeld returned to work, it took her several years of lifting herself through the ranks just to reach the same level of responsibility she had at the job she had before leaving to take care of her family; it took another several years to reach a position with C-level visibility as vice president of Human Resources at Walmart Labs. Grafeld wishes she hadn’t taken a 100 percent step back when she left her full-time job. “Stay connected with your industry in some way,” she says. “Taking a step back doesn’t have to mean you have been completely out of the game.”
Sometimes women don’t want to go back to that big corporate job with that six-figure salary. Some women return to work not because they want to climb the corporate ladder, but to be part of a team, make a contribution, or sometimes they really just need the income or benefits because they’re recently divorced or widowed. After a divorce or the death of a spouse, you might need to take a low-level job that allows you enough flexibility to take care of your children or another aspect of your life. The job might fit another need — benefits, an opportunity to build skills, or the ability to be part of a community. Keep in mind that your first job back after a break won’t be your last job but it could be the right job for right now, Swartz says.
For instance, Flynn knew a woman who left a director-level job to take a 12-year pause. When she returned to work after her spouse unexpectedly died, she took an assistant-level job because it provided flexible hours and necessary benefits. “Women who reenter the workforce after divorce or the death of a spouse need to think through what is important,” Flynn says. “For some, it’s the salary and benefits, or sometimes just the benefits. Or they might need the flexibility.”
Your first week or month back at work will be stressful. “You can’t go from zero to 60 overnight. So before you return to work put systems in place so that when you get the job, you can give it your all,” Swartz says.
Consider restructuring your personal time so you’re ready to work 9 to 5, five days a week. That could mean finding afternoon childcare, investing in a meal service, or changing your schedule so you’re grocery shopping once a week, not three times a week. Creating this personal infrastructure also will help boost your confidence, Swartz adds.
“Be prepared for how rough the first couple of months might be,” Grafeld says. Outsource as much as you can and lower your standards. “Your house might not be as clean, the laundry might not get done as often and you have to learn to let go and prioritize.”
Knowing all made her feel powerful and valuable. Here's what happened when she lost her connection to Google
I’ve always wanted to know everything.
Not everything about a narrow though important topic like, say, the Treaty of Versailles. But everything about everything. And to my immense gratification there exists in my lifetime a means of satisfying this promiscuous curiosity. The moment I had my first connected computer in the late 1990s, the World Wide Web lured me down the rabbit hole. With my favorite search engine at my service, whatever I wanted to know, I could know it. Not the slightest curiosity went unsatisfied. Faust should have been so lucky, I thought.
As the Internet took over more and more of my life, I came to think of it as a marvelously useful auxiliary brain. Couldn’t quite remember the name of the movie I saw last week? Trying to win an argument with my husband about whether a full house beats a straight flush? No need to wait until my memory reluctantly dredged up the information. Instead, I could just consult Dr. Google, my personal know-it-all.
For a long time, I didn’t think of this as a problem. True, when I was home and sitting down, my laptop was nearly always in my lap. I might have claimed I was writing, but most of the time I wasn’t writing. I was “looking things up.” Whatever ran through my mind quickly found expression in my search history. Free of the tyranny of linear thinking, I’d bound from link to link as one thing reminded me of another and then another.
I didn’t even have to shut myself up in my office, thanks to the further liberation of a Wi-Fi network. I could pursue my investigations from anywhere in the house, and I did. In bed. In front of the TV. At the kitchen counter and the dining room table. Just as women used to consider conversing and knitting to be complementary activities, I could talk and web-browse at the same time — occasionally enlivening the discussion with a choice morsel I’d come across. And with Google as my home page, whenever anyone in the room ventured a question, I’d say brightly, “Let’s find out!”
My reputation as the Answer Lady spread beyond my immediate family, and I was always willing to help out with research, no subject too obscure. Once I found an acupuncturist in Wollongong, Australia, for my friend’s daughter, who had developed foot pain during her semester abroad. Another time I turned up a used kayak for a friend who wanted one. (Any excuse to browse Craigslist.)
The Internet kept developing other ways to consume my attention. I loved keeping up with my cousins’ babies on Facebook. (Who doesn’t want to watch a few minutes of video of a two-year-old discovering her shadow for the first time?) And when I posted a photo of my daughter in her cap and gown, it was lovely to hear from her favorite babysitter, now living three states away. But the world has changed in ways that make my time online seem even more compelling.
These days my Facebook feed is more likely to be crowded with pictures of pink-hatted marchers and urgent pleas to make phone calls to this or that politician. (It will only take two minutes of your time!)
Even though I’ve given a pass to Instagram, Snapchat, and endless other new modes of Internet communication, I’ve recently dipped cautiously into Twitter. I’ve learned it can be a real-time window into events unfolding around the world. After the Taliban’s Easter bombing in Lahore, I was comforted to come across a reference that directed me to tweets from #LahoreStrong, an organization that promotes tolerance in Pakistan. And my Twitter feed serves as a great curation service, offering links to must-watch Saturday Night Live videos and Meryl Streep speeches.
With so much to attract me in cyberspace, I am never voluntarily parted from my laptop for long. A few years ago, however, a thief in Washington’s Union Station made off with my machine. My data was backed up and the machine itself covered by insurance, but there was no reserve computer available and I was forced into exile from my virtual Garden of Knowledge.
Day one was brutal; I felt like someone had cut off my hands. Then I began to notice a contradictory dynamic: Everything took a lot longer to do, yet it felt like there was much more time. The “a lot longer” part I had expected. Compared to Google Maps, it seemed painfully labor intensive to figure out driving directions from a paper atlas.
The surprise was that I had more time. Frustrating though it was to be unable to search online for this or that, it slowly dawned on me that most things I was so keen to look up, I didn’t actually need to know. My days seemed to lengthen and I began to grasp what had happened to all the untold hours that had been disappearing from my life. I went on leisurely walks with friends (unaccompanied by Fitbits). I pulled out my mother’s favorite cookbook, A General’s Diary of Treasured Recipes by Brigadier Gen Frank Dorn, and attempted the chocolate cake recipe which is famous in our household because of its exacting instructions for sifting the flour.
In the fullness of time — about a week actually — my replacement computer arrived and I was again able to experience its cozy warmth in my lap. But I learned a lesson from my unconnected interlude.
I think I’ve come to understand why I find cyberspace so seductive. I’ve never been happy following an orderly progression of ideas down a straight and narrow path. A web is more my style. Lots of intriguing ways to get from here to there; lots of scenic detours to survey. And with the help of a willing and nonjudgmental browser, you can explore each and every one. Taking all the time you want.
But while you are taking the time to explore the Internet’s riches, it is also taking time. Yours. I’ve come to recognize that binge browsing is an addiction. I can’t say that I have conquered it. My search history continues to serve as a kind of stream-of-consciousness autobiography. But I am more aware of the costs, and every so often I declare an Internet fast day. Just to remind myself.
Women's participation in a peace negotiation makes the resulting agreement 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last at least fifteen years.
Woman of Passion & Purpose
The first black Northwestern University prom queen and Glamour covergirl is not done yet
Fans of the popular ‘90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air know Daphne Maxwell Reid as Will Smith’s “Aunt Viv.” (Reid replaced actress Janet Hubert in the role for the final three of the six seasons of the NBC series.)
Others remember Reid as the first woman of color to appear on the cover of Glamour magazine nearly 50 years ago, in 1969.
What many don’t know is that Maxwell Reid grew up in a housing project in New York City. In college, when the “n-word” was unexpectedly tossed at her, she didn’t get enraged but used the moment to educate the ignorant.
CoveyClub spoke with Maxwell Reid because she has reinvented herself as a designer, author, and now an education activist.
TheCovey: How did the opportunity to play the second “Aunt Viv” come about?
Daphne Maxwell Reid: I was asked to audition for Fresh Prince in the very beginning. They said, “It’s a half-hour sitcom with a young rapper…” and I said, “No, thank you.” Three years later, I got a call asking, again, if I’d like to audition. I [knew I’d] missed an opportunity, so the second time I [got right on a plane to California]. [Today we’re] on the third generation of Fresh Prince watchers — a real treat in my life. I had no idea how popular that show [would continue] to be. We’ve all stayed in touch with each other.
TheCovey: You’ve accomplished so much — tackled so much — and you’ve had so many transitions. Are these reinventions hard? Did you ever fear failure?
Daphne Maxwell Reid: Tim Reid [actor, writer, producer, and husband of more than 30 years] is my biggest supporter. [He’s also] the guy who sticks his foot in my butt when I slow down! He’s pushed, encouraged, and challenged me [because] I need [to have] a new adventure every decade! I think all people are filled with doubt until they step forward. I spend time wondering if I [can] succeed, but it’s only through doing that you reassure yourself that, “yes, you can!” You move forward and see where it goes, and you modify as you move along. I set certain parameters for what I wanted out of each endeavor.
[My feeling is:] if you woke up, you can do something. Don’t negate or talk away your God-given gifts. It’s imperative that you not waste them!
TheCovey: Your latest reinventions include a fashion line, photography books, and a new cookbook?
Daphne Maxwell Reid: I’ve been sewing since I was nine years old. Tim always wanted me to create a multimillion-dollar fashion business, and that wasn’t a sacrifice I wanted to make. I actually made the clothes I wore on the ‘80s TV show Simon & Simon.
Now, as host of PBS’s Virginia Currents, I wear Chinese silk brocades, jackets I made myself. In 2017, Tim convinced me to present my Daphne Style collection at New York Fashion Week. I have 50 different fabrics to choose from and I will create one jacket in the fabric of your choice. You can select one of two style choices: mandarin collar or shawl collar. Each jacket is custom made to order.
[My interest in photography came from] my daddy, Green Maxwell, who gave me a brand new Brownie (a basic, inexpensive camera) for my ninth birthday. Doors pique my curiosity [because I see them as a] metaphor for life and opportunity, adventure and curiosity. My favorite door is the red one I photographed in Italy that’s on the cover of my first book.
[Cooking came from] my mom, a wonderful cook, and a homemaker. I shared some of her recipes in my cookbook, Grace + Soul & Mother Wit, really a memoir of what food is to me. There are pictures of my memories of growing up in New York and each recipe contains a story [about what] it means to me. There are even some fun little jokes. I have a recipe called “King Tim’s King Crab Legs,” which is made with beer. When you follow Tim’s recipe, you drink the beer as you [cook].
TheCovey: You grew up in a housing project near Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. Who pushed you, academically and socially, to succeed?
Daphne Maxwell Reid: It wasn’t really a ‘push.’ I was told, “you are gifted, you are special. Use it, don’t waste it, move forward.” My older brother was the first to go to college. There were lots of kids in the projects who went to college. The projects back then are not what they are now. It was a vibrant and very caring, supportive community. Yes, there were drugs and things, but my brothers and I learned that doesn’t get you anywhere. We were expected to do the best that we could and heard statements like, “If you’re going to be a garbage collector, be the best garbage collector, and do it with purpose.”
TheCovey: You went to Northwestern University in the late ‘60s after high school at New York’s renowned Bronx Science. When you arrived in Evanston, there was a lot of racial division. What happened?
Daphne Maxwell Reid: I wasn’t used to racial division in New York. But in Evanston there was a stringent separation of races; I was aghast. [Some of] my classmates just didn’t like black people. They’d never had to interface with them and didn’t want to start now. My assigned [freshman] roommate said [to me], “I’m not rooming with any [n-word.]”
I wasn’t mad; I just thought she was ignorant and insane and asked her, “Where are the [n-words]’s? I don’t see any.” There were people who said to me because I was black, “I didn’t expect you to be like this; you don’t have a chip on your shoulder,” and I thought, “Why would I have a chip on my shoulder?” [So I told them,] “I’m here [to educate] you— what would you like to know?”
It never crossed my mind [to transfer]. You don’t run from a situation like that. [Never] let someone else set your agenda or limit your expectations. I found my way through [that] foreign land and had a wonderful time. I met my (first) husband [there]. I would never change a thing about my college experience because these experiences made me the strong woman I am now.
[In fact,] sophomore year, I became Northwestern’s first black Homecoming Queen. [The administration wasn’t] ready for that. I don’t think [the students] intended to elect me. It was me, and four white sorority girls running. I later heard that some grad students marched to oppose my nomination.
After I won Homecoming Queen, I was informed that my win wasn’t going to be in the yearbook because it wasn’t important. That was offensive to me. History is made by the notes that are taken, and whoever writes the history is the one who shapes what the future will be. Today, there’s a vibrant Black Alumni Organization at Northwestern. They presented me with an award about 15 years ago — probably because I was on TV— and invited me to come and speak. I explained [how I had won Homecoming Queen] and they had no idea. I said, “How would you know? They didn’t write it down.”
TheCovey: You were the first black woman on the cover of Glamour. You’re a trailblazer.
Daphne Maxwell Reid: This is how I see it: I happened to be the first at so many things because I happened to be there. I didn’t cause them to happen. [The] people who came before me, my mother included, planted seeds [that] provided me the opportunity to [pass the] “finish line.”
My freshman year of college, I was profiled in a “Real Girls” issue of Seventeen because a junior high school teacher passed along my name to be selected. Eileen Ford saw my picture in Seventeen and asked me to join her agency. They’d call me to New York to do a shoot and then I’d go back to college. I was 19, almost 20 when they signed me to the Ford Agency.
TheCovey: You do speaking engagements that stress the importance of education for students of color. How did you come to choose youth education as a priority?
Daphne Maxwell Reid: In the 1980s, Tim and I started a scholarship fundraiser for students who needed help at his alma mater, Norfolk State University. We raised more than a million dollars over a 20-year span and assisted over 100 students by providing them with financial aid. The recipient’s only requirement was [that they promise to do the] same for the next generation of students.
After giving commencement speeches at many historically black colleges, and receiving honorary degrees, the commitment to continue helping students was firmly implanted in my psyche. I tell students who think college isn’t an option that your environment does not define you. If you’re from the projects, you don’t have to stay there. Inspiration can be found from so many sources and I always try to point students to someone who can be inspiring to them. It’s easy to make excuses, but it doesn’t mean … you can’t try.
Make Your Voice Heard
What to do if you know someone is being abused
I am a survivor of domestic violence and abuse.
I almost lost my life.
I know firsthand how hard it is to help a victim to leave.
While I thought I was hiding the reality of my own abuse, there were signs. The woman who rescued me saw my excuses and requests and confusions for what they were: red flags. If you are concerned about a friend or family member, ask yourself the following:
If this all sounds familiar, remember that getting a victim to leave is not simply about encouragement. First, to believe you, a victim must believe in herself. Yet that ability has long been stripped away. It can take an average of seven times for a victim of domestic abuse to actually leave for good. As an advocate, as a friend, you cannot give up on her.
Second, a victim needs more than to hear what you are saying. She needs to really see that you support her. It’s crucial to understand that by helping her, you are asking her to change her reality. And even if it’s violent and dangerous, what’s happening in her house is the only reality she knows. That’s why taking her to a new situation — a situation that doesn’t appear clear to her — can be more frightening than the abuse.
The following is compiled from a variety of expert sources, from my own experiences as a victim, and from what I have learned helping others. Most importantly, I have learned to tread lightly.
Acknowledge that she is in a very difficult and scary situation.
Listen. Let her know that the abuse is not her fault. Reassure her that she is not alone and that you will help her get support. It may be difficult for her to talk about the abuse, but let her know that you are available to help whenever she needs it. What she needs most is someone who will believe her.
Encourage supportive environments.
Help the victim participate in outside-the-relationship activities. It’s an important first step in getting her out of the isolating environment her abuser has crafted, one that can help her find a way to talk to professionals who will one day provide help, guidance, and escape.
Help her develop a safety plan.
Find a local domestic violence agency that provides counseling and support groups. Offer to go with the victim. If she has to go to the police, court or lawyer’s office, offer to go with her. Let her know she is not alone. Whether she is choosing to stay, preparing to leave, or has already left, creating a safety plan can give her the confidence she needs to know it’s possible.
Respect the victim’s decisions.
There are many reasons why a victim stays in an abusive relationship. She may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize her decision to follow this pattern. Do not guilt her into leaving, and remember that you cannot “rescue” her.
Even if she ends the relationship, continue to be supportive.
Whether she returns or stays away, a victim needs support. If she has left, she will need time to mourn the loss of the relationship. Like the end of any relationship, the loss of an abusive relationship can be devastating. Even abused women had dreamed of a happy marriage, they had known about “in good times and in bad.” And they remembered the good.
The person who rescued me was the mother of my daughter’s best friend. She was the only person with whom I “socialized” — I would call on her to watch my daughter when I felt an incident coming. Let’s call her Angela. Angela started asking questions: How come you are always wearing long sleeves? Why are you always so secretive about your husband? And after a while, she asked the most important question: “You’re being hurt, aren’t you? Can I help you?”
The night I left my husband for good, I told Angela that I was in a bad situation that was getting worse. She listened. She made no comments about my decision to stay all those years or that night. She never asked me why I would stay with an abuser. I had disappeared, but she saw me.
I promised Angela that if she let my daughter spend the night at her house, I would sleep in my daughter’s room with a portable phone nearby (it was an era before cell phones) and call her if I needed her help. She was worried, but she didn’t push me.
I got home from work and found my husband already drunk. He’d been fired from his job months prior, so I was supporting the family financially and his anger had escalated.
I turned on the oven to heat dinner. While I had done nothing specific to provoke him (an abuser never needs anything to provoke — it’s all in his head), he grabbed me by the hair and threw me to the kitchen floor, kicking me as I tried to crawl away. He opened the lit oven, grabbed my arms and shoved them inside. I fell to the floor, screaming. He kicked me again, stormed into the bedroom and, soon after, passed out. The house grew dark as I lay there on the kitchen floor, waiting until I thought it was safe to move. When I heard him snoring, I crawled to the bathroom and put salve on my arms. I was exhausted from the evening and from the daily torture of my existence. I finally crept into the guest room and fell asleep on the floor.
A few hours later, I woke to pounding at the front door. It was a police officer. And, standing next to him was Angela. She had tried to call, she explained, but I hadn’t heard the phone. She had cared. She had listened and she had worried and she had cared. Suddenly, I cared too. It was my sign. I walked outside and into her waiting arms.
I never returned.
My abuser died on December 22, 1995. Until that day and for 15 years, I carried my protective order wherever I went and, despite moving hundreds of miles away, I never stopped looking over my shoulder. Then, when I saw his obituary, I knew I was finally safe. That was the day I removed the protective order from my purse. He couldn’t hurt me anymore.
Ultimately for me, it boiled down to the fact that Angela cared. She had simply cared.
And, now I care. I made a promise that if my life were spared, I would help others living with abusers.
Remember that you can go to the abuse hotline website to find a local support group and information about staying safe. (Safety alert note: A computer can be monitored and its history is impossible to completely clear, so calling or texting can be a better plan.) If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence and need assistance, call the hotline or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also text 1-800-787-3224.
I mourned my kids moving on. Until I ditched the empty nest myself
Ten years ago, I watched my Montana friend go through Empty Nest. Her solution: drive a massive ice-breaking truck at the McMurdo Station research center in Antarctica (because she’s a badass). She brought some homemade Hula-Hoops too (because she’s the maker of fun), and a few instruments (because she knows the power of music).
She faced Empty Nest with the same electrifying spirit and adventure with which she’d raised her boy and girl…and now they were off to see the world, replete with badassery, fun, and music. And she was, too.
Back then, my boy and girl were still thick in the throes of music lessons and sporting events and homework at the kitchen table and weekend slumber parties. I couldn’t imagine letting them fledge the nest, much less myself. Not like that. I was sad for her, even though I knew she’d come back with tales to tell and more life experience under her frostbitten belt. But I felt like she was running away from the grief. I mentioned it to another friend and she said, “Are you kidding? Motherhood is great. But you’re always a mother, even after they leave. It’s just different. Your kids are onto new things. And you get your life back! Reclaim it!”
My life back? I felt like I was finally getting the life I’d dreamed about.
The End of Raising Children is the Beginning of Something New
Being a mother was the most fulfilling thing I’d ever done. Sure, I’d traveled all over Europe and the Eastern Bloc in my teens and twenties with a backpack. Intrepid, stubborn, solo, and full of wonder — writing my way through it all. But it felt like all of that was preparation for the most hair-raising, plot-twisting, heartwarming, soul-feeding work of my life: raising children.
And I did it well. For 22 years. The last stint as a single mother.
And here I am.
My daughter just graduated from college and moved into an apartment in San Francisco. She’s got a great job, great friends. A mother couldn’t be more proud.
My boy is off to college. He’s got a great roommate and will be living out his dream playing baseball at an institute of higher learning. We both moved him in. My daughter flew back to California. I flew back to my house in Montana.
It’s over. That part. And I’m afraid of the grief. I’m afraid of who I’ll be without them. Here. In my Empty Nest in Montana.
But I’m not here for long.
Just like my friend…I anticipated this pain and tried to prepare.
Two years ago, I started imagining the next chapter of my life. The fear of Empty Nest had me by the throat, but I took my friend’s lead and my other friend’s comment, and I decided that I was going to grab this chapter by the ponytail and yank the weeping woman attached to it back out into the world. To trust-fall into travel and adventure, as the woman she is now.
Exploring the World Again — On My Own
So this winter, I’m hitting the road. I’m going to live my own version of breaking the ice in Antarctica with my own version of Hula-Hoops and instruments: my journal and a group of seekers.
I’ve started a new Haven Writing Program: Haven Wander. My primary programs still take place here in Montana, but for people who are less writing-focused and more travel-focused, I’m offering new adventures to exotic places around the globe. With the help of some fabulous and inspiring locals from Marrakech, I have put together a week of intentional wandering around Morocco using writing as our guide. It will be a powerful feast for the senses and soul that will ignite us in ways we all need deeply.
Because I need it too.
I need to reconnect with my stubborn young dreamer/traveler. I know that her confidence and curiosity are still in me. I want to meet her with the wisdom she’s gathered along the way as a mother and as a woman and an author and teacher. I want to scoop my whole self up and tell her that there’s so much on the other side of her motherhood. And that just because she has an Empty Nest, it doesn’t mean that she has to be alone. Her nest, in fact, does not have to be limited to the walls of her home. Her nest can be movable. And she can feather it with women who are just as curious and hungry for connection as she is.
So my new baby, Haven Wander: Morocco, is hatching this February. Seven women will join me on a week-long journey of intentional living and being. And before that, I’ll travel throughout Morocco alone for a month. To the Atlas Mountains. The Blue City. Fez. Tangiers. I’ll see southern Spain and take the ferry across from Gibraltar. I’ll be solo and as Joni Mitchell wrote, “unfettered and alive.” Deep sigh. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that woman. I’ve missed her.
Taking a Pause Between My Chapters
First, however, and most pressing: I’m taking a very deliberate and very serious pause between my own chapters. A full stop to honor my transition. I think that this is vital for all of us in Empty Nest, no matter how we navigate it.
I’m borrowing from the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva. Of mourning. Of stopping your world and observing your loss and your grief. I’ll light a candle and sit on chairs around the house and reflect in thought and prayer, and write. No TV. No computer screens. Just observations of my motherhood and of who these children of mine have been. I’ll “sit shiva” for the learning to crawl and learning to walk and learning to speak and running barefoot in the grass and swinging on the swing set and making mud pies. I’ll “sit shiva” for piano lessons and guitar lessons and school plays and orchestra concerts and soccer games and track meets and football games and baseball, baseball, baseball. I’ll “sit shiva” for all the birthday balloons I put on the garden archway and the streamers taped to the corners of the porch. I’ll “sit shiva” for the pony rides in the front yard and the badminton, and the croquet, and bocce, and backgammon and cards and Farkle and Scrabble and Bananagrams played on the screened porch by candlelight. For all the bonfires and marshmallows and star-gazing in sleeping bags on the dewy cool grass. For every ahhhhh to every shooting star.
And then, on the seventh day, I’ll take a walk around all four corners of my land and return to my front porch to symbolize my return to society. I may even call my rabbi friend to read these customary words from the Old Testament:
No more will your sun set, nor your moon be darkened, for God will be an eternal light for you, and your days of mourning shall end. (Isaiah 60:20)
Before I begin my week of quiet in this house, I decide to have a video call with my kids. I tell them about my plans this February, especially about the part where I’ll be traveling alone. I haven’t wanted to overwhelm them in the midst of all their endings and beginnings.
“Mom. Just make sure you have Wi-Fi wherever you go. You walk so confidently…even if it’s in the wrong direction!” They’re making fun of me. Millennials.
“I like getting a little lost,” I tell them. “I always find my way. Maybe it’s our sea merchant ancestors.”
They part laugh, part roll their eyes. They don’t know that I used to be without them.
I stare into my computer, looking at them in their new rooms, new homes: “You two are the joys of my life. I’ve loved every minute of mothering you. And now…it’s time for me,” I try to convince myself. “I need to fly the nest too.”
I press into the bruise of Empty Nest, and more words erupt out of me. “The truth is…I’m tired of trying to be everything for everybody. I’m tired of being so responsible. I need to just…wander for a while. ”
I smile at them and try not to cry. They hate it when I cry. “I hope…if you have children…that once they leave, you’ll have this time of reclaiming yourself too.”
Their faces fade a bit — perhaps the way mine did when my friend announced her Antarctica adventure. They think that it’s nice, their mother wanting to travel. But they’re startled by this gung-ho, fling-the-doors-open mother I’ve been, now pushing all of us out the door at once.
“I’ll be back. Don’t you worry. This nest isn’t going anywhere. Not for a long time, if I can help it. And I can always fly home if there’s an emergency. I’m not going anywhere too remote.”
“Good for you, Mom,” they both smile and say. “You deserve it.”
“Thank you.” It feels like the most important bow of my life. And also…permission to fly.
And I realize, my motherhood is not over. It’s just different now. I can see that — even though it’s brutal to walk by their empty rooms, through the empty rooms of this house, and imagine all of the living that has been done here, now in the rearview mirror.
This week I’ll face it. I’ll watch the flocking birds, preparing for their migration. I’ll walk this house, this land, revisiting it all. And then I’ll learn from birds, and do my best to let it go.
Soon…it will be time for my migration, too.
“I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming… suddenly you find — at the age of 50, say — that a whole new life has opened before you."
Dawn Colossi grew up and still lives in Freehold, NJ, Bruce Springsteen’s hometown, and listens to more Bruce than her family can stand. Dawn has big ambitions to grow up to be a “lady who lunches” but for now, she is the Chief Marketing Officer at FocusVision.
Cheryl Kravitz is respected nationally for her expertise in community relations, motivational speaking, crisis communications, media relations and training, feature writing and so much more. She is currently President and Lead Consultant of CRK Communications and The Gentle Yogi. As a survivor of domestic violence, Cheryl speaks and writes frequently about the topic for local and national audiences.
Rachel Sokol is a Manhattan-based writer, editor, and mom. Currently she edits American Teen, is a frequent contributor to Univision.com, and writes for numerous publications including, Best of New Jersey, Shape.com, Reader’s Digest, Redbook.com, and Country Living.
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