I am an orphan. Ok, clearly that’s a dramatic attempt to grab your attention. While technically true, I have no grand story of being left on a firehouse doorstep or growing up with Mrs. Hannigan. However, I did lose both of my parents; one when I was very young and one when I was moderately young. And while I have had a wonderful life, they don’t call it loss for nothing.
I’ve spent much of my adult life and almost all of my parenting life as a mother without parents. That means no roadmap, no history and no one to call and ask questions when everything seems to go haywire as I try, sometimes in vain, to steer this family ship on a steady course.
There is one thing that could, in the right light, be looked on as a positive result of losing so much so young. I’ve noticed that I am really good at living in the moment with the people I love. I tell people how I feel. I encourage connections and I soak up every last detail of time spent in good company.
A few weeks ago, we flew out to California for a family vacation. Included in our time away was a beautiful lunch date with an old friend and an evening spent with some cousins. The only expectation I had for each of these meetings was spending time BEING.
Don’t get me wrong. We spent a lot of that trip doing. We ran from tourist spot to tourist spot that first day. We strolled Disneyland the second and the third day we were up early and off to see all that we could take in from the land of movies and television. There was plenty of doing on the trip. But most important thing was that in the midst of it all, we made time for being.
While I always wish the time was more plentiful, I do a pretty good job of making the most of every minute. The highlights of our trip were not the picture from the Friends set or our ride through Radiator Springs in Disney. No, the best moments were those spent with the ones we love.
I adored watching my girl interact with my cousin’s girl; adoring each other much like I did when I first spent time with my cooler cousins’ themselves when I was a teen. Sitting around a dining table with these women I so looked up to when I was a kid and loving the commonalities we found as adults, even living thousands of miles away. (Cheers to red wine blends and Dax Shepherd podcasts!)
I will remember for a long time sitting across from a high school friend chatting about our very un-highschool lives as grownup moms. Laughing at common problems and sharing a bond over our theater-loving daughters growing up in LA and NYC.
And of course, the very best parts of the time on the west coast were often when we least expected it:
- Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway and laughing so hard at my kids telling a story that I almost had to pull over because I couldn’t see through the tears in my eyes.
- Cupcakes in unusual places
- Hearing the soundtrack to a new musical that all three of my kids are obsessed with in a way I never would have listened if left on my own.
- Slow and quiet mornings with whomever woke first.
- Meals together where I got to bask in how well my kids get along-cracking jokes and teasing like only siblings can.
- Did I mention, the laughing? So. Much. Laughing.
It’s the regular, every day moments that I’ll hold dear from that trip. I think this is a direct result of losing so much so young. I have a very clear understanding that nothing lasts forever, so I do my best to soak up all the joy I can when I can. The trick is, recognizing the joy doesn’t always come with fireworks and warning signs.
Sometimes, the joy is quiet and regular. Sometimes joy looks an awful lot like an ordinary day. Sometimes, it may be on vacation but it’s still just breakfast, or a car ride, a pizza in the park or a cupcake ATM.
The key is to recognize that even these ordinary days contain beautiful things. You have to look for them and know that sometimes they’re in limited supply. So, get ’em while you can.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.
Beautiful piece. And you might want to check out my friend Allison Gilbert ‘s books about parenting without parents.
Thank you. I will.