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Life is short. Do all the things.

As I spend my 2nd Mother's Day without my mother and my 10th Mother's Day without my
One of my favorite multi-generational pics of me,
my mom, and Charlotte. 
first-born, I'm probably more reflective than usual. I blame the burgeoning pandemic. I'm still struggling with survivor guilt and an irrational, imaginary pressure to be more productive than I should be in a time of stress. I try to balance managing the influx of information for both my mental health and my need to be well-informed. I'm managing a new household with kids learning from home, replacing rehearsals and school with online tutoring, drum lessons, and playdates; none of which, by the way, are adequate substitutions for the real thing. 

I'm trying to embrace the new opportunity for more restful weekends (much needed) with my desire to still do as much as I can to be a force for good. I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes by E.B. White: 

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." 

As I returned a few weeks ago to writing online again, I realized that I never wrote anything formal in this space after my mother died last year. I wrote a lot about how inspiring my mom was when she was alive. And I posted her obituary on Facebook following her death. I'm not sure why I didn't post the eulogy I wrote or other thoughts that were going through my brain at that time on the blog. Sometimes it feels like oversharing. It feels like you're opening the door to virtual hugs, and I'm still ambivalent about those. Online forms of sympathy can be a strange kind of comfort. I'm just going to leave that there. 

What has been in my thoughts most recently, though, is part of my reaction to my mom's sudden health decline last year that led to her subsequent death only a week later. When I received that early morning call that nobody ever wants to receive ("Your mom is in the ICU. You should get here as soon as you can."), I responded. I left everything behind. I made it to Florida in time to talk to doctors but not in time to talk to her. She had been placed on a ventilator and slipped to a level of unconsciousness from which she never recovered. 

In the days that followed, our family listened to doctor recommendations and prognoses. We were told to watch and wait. We were told to expect the worst. Then we were notified that medical options had failed. All we could do was really keep her comfortable and watch her die. I had been there before and I hated it. Time entered this strange window where days dragged on and blended into one another but weeks went by in a blur (sound familiar to anyone?)

One day, I needed to take a break from the hospital scene and just get some fresh air. There was an outlet mall close to the hospital so I drove over there to stretch my legs and just distract myself from my current stress. As I wandered the outdoor mall without much plan or intention, I found myself in a Kate Spade outlet store. Those of you who know me well understand that I'm fairly no-nonsense when it comes to fashion and trends. I'm kind of a sucker for a bag, but my idea of a "splurge" is finding a new handbag at Kohls on the clearance rack. Next thing I knew, though, I found myself purchasing a new handbag in that Kate Spade store. It was more than I'd ever spent on a purse (even by outlet standards) but something about it spoke to me. For weeks following the purchase, I had this ambivalent feeling about the whole thing. On the one hand, I could have used the money I spent on this bag for other things our family needed. On the other hand, it was something for me. Just for me. It wasn't a need. It was something I wanted. And if I could do it without breaking our budget and it made me happy, why shouldn't I buy it and enjoy it, free from any unnecessary guilt? 

In the last year, I've carried that purse almost everywhere with me. (Further proof that I'm immune to many fashion trends: she carries the same purse for almost a whole year???) In doing so, it's been a constant reminder to appreciate all the things. It may seem silly or materialistic to some, but to me, it has been the tangible reminder I needed that my needs are just as important as those of others when it comes to my mental health and overall happiness. 

A few months after my mom died, I came to Roger with an idea. This wasn't a new idea. It was something that we have discussed many times over the years. Will we do this? We should! But the timing wasn't always right. Now, I thought, it was finally time. 

I know what some of you are thinking. No, I'm not having another baby and we are not adopting again. I am, however, getting ready to embark on a similarly life-changing endeavor. After 20 years outside of formal schooling, I am going back to graduate school this Fall. I will be a Ph.D. student at the DC campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology to pursue an advanced degree in Organizational Leadership. 

I'm excited and terrified (my work team calls this feeling exciti-fying). I have been working over the last six months to set things in place in my personal and professional life so that I can make time for the demands of this educational pursuit in balance with my career and my role as a wife and mother. It will be a blended program with in-person classes one weekend a month in Washington, DC, and online assignments and readings (sooooo many readings) in between. With a little luck and a lot of perseverance, I'll have a Ph.D. in about three years. My outside goal is by the time I'm 50 (which gives me a two-year margin of error).

As a life-long scholar of many pursuits, I know my mom would be very proud of me for even attempting this grand adventure. Thoughts of her have been a big part of this process. I wish I could share it with her in "real life" but I know she would approve. 

It may seem trite or cliche, but sometimes it takes life-changing circumstances to help us reframe our perspective or our priorities. It doesn't have to be as earth-shattering as a global pandemic or the death of a loved one. It doesn't even need to mean drastic changes on our part in order to make a difference. I think what it takes is a deep breath and a minute to think. After that, it takes listening to that small voice that says, "Keep going. You're not done yet." That's what I'm going to do. Life is short, and while I'm never going to have time to do all the things, I am most certainly taking more time to ask the questions that help me decide which of those things I will take the time to do. 

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