Sage Advice

I got a call from a mom the other day. She wanted some advice on how to speak to her 13 year old boy about porn. She had been warned by other moms that a boy’s first impressions about sex and sexual partners could be devastating if porn was used as his introduction; that how he perceives women could also be tainted and lead to misogynistic ideas. So I did what I’ve done dozens of times in the past, I asked one of my elder sons. His response was simple and honest. He said that all media now, all of it – from Cinderella to the Adam Sandler family movie night choice, from social media to porn sites (and of course a good Jennifer Anniston rom-com) – all of it will influence how a kid looks at sex. But for most, none of it is a problem. The visuals are out there and most kids will figure it out based on the total media they are exposed to and the old-fashioned normal experience they will have. The uncomfortable fumbling around mixed with locker room chat and late night confessions with your best friends.

Sage advice. I’ve spent the week digging down looking for nuggets of wisdom to instill in my boys who are soon to be leaving home again. My eldest is leaving for good, for now. The delayed Covid move after college graduation that was supposed to happen last year is happening tonight. I tell him to be brave, be smart, be healthy. That life is going to kick him around a bit and then add an unceremonious spit when he’s fallen and his job is to get up, brush it off and learn from whatever mistakes he’s made. A little harsh, perhaps, but true – right? The cotton wool we wrap them in is perfect when they are young but not so fitting when they start to grow up. But he seems to know most of what I try and impart. His determination is fierce and necessary. ‘Besides,’ he tells me, ‘I’ve finally come up with a Plan B.’ ‘What is it?’ I ask with huge curiosity as having a Plan B was always scorned upon. ‘Poker,’ he replies with no sense of irony.

Just as one son will leave tonight, another one of my boys takes off tomorrow morning. Double whammy. My poor heart! This son though is still within the normal college rhythm of coming and going, but mostly, of returning home. You never think you’re going to get used to them leaving once they go to college, but you do. They’ll Facetime you from their kitchenettes wanting a certain recipe and you’ll take them through the sprinklings of spices quite chuffed that they actually think you’re a great cook. You’ll still cry, I cry hugely at every single airport drop off, but the tears fade a little quicker each time. The idea that they are living independent (ish) lives and trying out how life fits them away from home is the overriding thought I am always left with which really helps with the tug on my heartstrings. That, and the money call.

Then, two of my boys are coming home this week. One from a job on a farm – note to self, make sure to check all things in recycle bin can actually be recycled and fix dripping tap – eco warrior about to return. And my little one, the one who I encouraged to go on a 30 day wilderness trip, the kind where you are literally shitting in the woods and burying it for a month without a shower or real change of clothes – returns this weekend. We were not able to speak for the entire month. This was the first time in his entire life we didn’t speak every day, let alone for a whole month! I found this part pretty excruciating. I realized that not only do I miss his entire being, his voice and giggles, his energy, but also I still feel that mama responsibility to guide and offer intermittent advice on how to analyze something, process life. He and I talk about stuff. But somehow, I’m going to throw out a guess here, I think he’s going to come back from this insane trip, sharing a few pearls of wisdom himself. It’ll be my job, this time, to just listen.

We as mothers know that our children are our greatest teachers. They shine a light on our own strengths and weaknesses. I’m learning that sometimes my sage advice that’s needed or even wanted in a particular moment is literally just that: add a pinch of sage to round out the flavor, don’t overdo it. Simply add this to the recipe book of life and voila, problem solved.

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Boy-mom

Being a mother of four boys means you hear this a lot: ‘what a team you have’ (every sport, yes!), ‘wow – all that testosterone’ (uh…yeah), ‘what a clan’ (brotherhood is spectacular), ‘what a mess your house must be’ (true that), and of course the typical, ‘bet you wanted a girl’ comment that always leaves me scratching my head a bit. I admit, my life has become boy-centric and the male perspective can be heard in stereo. There are definitely fundamental differences between boys and girls (beyond food consumption) that often make me think that not only are men from Mars and women from Venus, but also I challenge the whereabouts of the universe they process information in!

However, I did have the most incredible start to the day the other day. One of my boys rang me from the local supermarket from nowhere, California. He’s living and working on a crop farm this summer, flying solo there for a month. He Facetime’d to go over his shopping list for vegetarian meals he’s planning on making. I was, in fact, a vegetarian for eleven years so I have points in this area. It’s the weekend and after shopping and cooking, he’s going to read, and catch up with friends on the phone. With no wifi, and the heat intense, activities are kept simple. He’ll end the day with a sunset jog through the fields. Man oh man – sounds like an early version of many a weekend I had at his age, an age without internet and a lot of girl chat on the phone…minus the farm.

Then a bit later, my other son wakes and wants to read lines for his scene-study class. He’s recently discovered acting and is loving it. Going through the scene brings me right back to endless hours rehearsing for class, a play, a student film, a tv show – when I was a young actress. We start the scene and both quickly realize that it’s a story involving a couple just after they’ve had sex. Awkward!! My son ignores this fact and keeps going, so I do the same. Neither of us look up from our pages when the female character ‘ooh’s’ and the male character ‘aaah’s’. I mean, seriously?? But I was not going to give up my poker face first! He hits the beats whilst I disguise my inner disco freak out with equal conviction of lines (note the actress in me). He asks to do it again. I sigh.

Then, my eldest comes into the kitchen to make his morning coffee at the crack of 2pm. He’s playing his guitar, walking in circles whilst singing a new tune he’s written late night. I watch his creative process flowing- reminding me of how my best ideas arrived out of movement…and coffee. His hair is thick and wild and it honestly looks exactly like mine did when he was a wee baby and I decided to cut all of it off. I was in the middle of writing a screenplay and thought I’d look like Sela Ward. Worst mistake – even strangers told me it looked awful. Gotta laugh. But on him, wow, he rocks it and makes crazy hair look cool and interesting. We share some caffeine listening to his new creation. I feel his pulse and it takes me back to mine for sure.

Then my thoughts carry to my youngest. He is away in the wilderness. I never did such an adventure, but I had the same spirit. He is looking at stars (check) and living without screens – essential for our kids and own self too- but he’s doing something outside the box that I totally identify with and strived for when I was his age. Something different; an identity that didn’t just follow expectations. He doesn’t know it but he’s taken my ideas and transformed them into a reality. I miss him the way my mom must have missed me when she couldn’t connect.

No – I don’t physically see myself in my boys or note that they are just like me. But in this day, I saw a flip-book of my life and found each of them on the pages. It was so strange to experience what girl-moms must feel all the time; this comparison of self with one’s own child. Because I have four boys it’s not an obvious self assessment like it is for their dad. So to see myself in them was really cool.

I’ve always been a tomboy, happy to watch basketball with my dad on a lazy Saturday afternoon rather than shop with my mom and sis. They would come back having had a great time, and I wasn’t jealous; truly. My dad would light his pipe and we’d watch the Lakers, snoozing through the minutes sometimes on the sofa, depending on the game. Often I’d watch him finish a game of Snooker with his friends. I felt more at home listening to Chick Hern than looking at Chanel’s latest color schemes. So it’s not a surprise to me, really, that I am a boy-mom. Somewhere in me, if I’m honest, I feel more at ease. I have incredible women in my life and they mean the absolute world to me. In fact, they balance my life more than they will ever, ever know. But being a boy-mom feels so in sync with my energy and it is a wonderful pleasure to then see myself in them, the way girl-moms describe.

Gotta go…the European cup is on and Switzerland has just scored:)

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Hormones and Hiking

This morning I woke up out of sorts. It wasn’t the Covid hangover where the blending of days creates a general fog. And it wasn’t lack of sleep. In fact, there wasn’t a particular reason at all; and this is where my anxiety has been living. Nothing was causing me to feel unsettled, no clear reasons to acknowledge – other than the insanity we all have been sharing since COVID began and the slow return to our new normal. But the blank canvas of my day today made my heart race. Don’t get me wrong, I still had house chores, meals to shop and prepare for the boys, driving to be done, words to be written. But my mind went to the other place – the weird and unsettling place of no engagement, no clear connection to the outside world and my role in it. And the place where my heart races, my chest closes in tightly and I await the hours to climb back into bed.

I didn’t grow up with anxiety or depression, so these emotions are new to me. My chest never lies and when it gets tight, my mind is usually to blame. But these days, my old tricks don’t work. Breathing in deeply doesn’t help. Meditating makes no difference and honestly, only a shot of vodka relaxes my body – which isn’t great if the anxiety takes ahold at 8 a.m. instead of 8 p.m. A lot of women my age are feeling the same, it seems, but not many discuss it. Hormones. Menopause – or to be precise, peri-menopause. The stage of life where your cycle behaves so erratically you are left guessing as to why you can’t stop crying reading a Hallmark card as you wait in line at the pharmacy, or your ability to rage at someone comes all too easily and seemingly out of nowhere. Your irritability is that of a teenager and the disconnect from your body makes you feel vulnerable and at the whim of a force inside of you that you don’t recognize or understand. I use the pronoun ‘you’ on purpose; I know that this is not just my story. This is the story of countless women I have spoken to going through versions of the same thing.

So what to do? Well, I do find one thing to be certain…swapping what’s in my head for the contents and emotions of someone else’s isn’t the answer. For once I don’t feel like phoning a friend. But getting out of my own mental way is a must. Staying quiet and in one position also doesn’t help me at all. As the spiral of thoughts continue, I do the easiest and most worthwhile thing I can do – I go for a walk.

I remember being a new mom, exhausted and feeling defeated by 9 am. I remember my first son crying all the time for five months from colic and trying everything to get that kid to shut up! And the only thing that ever worked was being outside. A walk for me with the baby carrier – a cradled child held by my arms under a tree; the wind in my baby’s hair at the beach. He always stopped crying, as long as we were outside. Now here I am, 23 years later, hormones raging inside of me but for very different reasons, and being in nature – outside and moving my body – is the only thing that seems to relax my anxious heart and open my seized up chest. My mind clears. I sometimes engage with fellow hikers and their dogs (making up salacious stories in my mind about their lives). My poor dogs have been on more walks since lockdowns and menopause entered my life – they look at me like I’ve seriously lost the plot when I pick up their leashes for the third time in a day. But it works. Everyone has their own form of meditation and mine usually involves a tree and some mileage on my shoes.

Living with five men/manboys means that there’s a lot of testosterone in my house but we run low on the girly stuff. Going through peri-menopause shouldn’t be a surprise but equally no two women seem to be on the same meds, if any, or on the same regime, and absolutely no one has great answers. There’s simply no rhythm when one month you’re connected to the lunar cycle and the next four you’re not. I feel like my hormones are playing a game of roulette in there; landing on black means nothing is going on and then the wheel spins round and it’s red, baby! Watch out! Either way, all I know is that I need to walk more.

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My Minivan, My Friend

I’ve had my minivan for over ten years. I remember when I got it. I thought, shit – I’m one of those soccer moms now. The ones who swap style for practicality, leather trousers for trackies, Saturday night cocktails for long-distanced tournaments. I used to look at the moms of such cars and think, wow – you look like a minibus driver. I’m far too cool for that car. But then I got one. No real option with four boys and their toys in tow. And slowly, especially once I realized that at the press of a single button half the side of the car could slide open, the ease in which I moved about the LA world with up to seven kids happily seated in the back, plus two dogs and the shopping, made me more happy (and comfortable) than my need to look cool. My life was as full as that car and I was gonna rock the minivan.

This car became the flagship embodiment of Hamm Fam enterprises, a real friend. It safely took us everywhere: skiing, road trips, camping (ok, glamping) and day in and day out mileage for playdates, parties, athletics and school outings. Reliable and protective, we have weathered many a storm together, both inside and out. It was one of the first of its kind to have that screen pop down from the middle section so that movies could be watched in the back seats. I will forever know the entirety of the soundtrack to Batman Returns, Sky High and Star Wars. That nice car smell inside lasted for longer than it should have until boy sweat and dirty cleats declared victory. And yet still, every time I open the door there remains an ever so faint reminder of the way it used to smell, and it feels like the van’s giving me a ‘wink-wink’. The bulk of my time in this car was a blur. All of those years running after the boys, around for them, going, doing. You never think that raising kids moves slowly when you’re in it, until it torpedoes so fast it makes your head spin and you’re the one chasing Time to slow it down, sitting alone in the minivan.

So today, when I drove to get it washed, not because of the chaos and dirt from the boys but because of the rain, I felt nostalgic and dare I say emotional. My boys are grown and growing into young men. Three were supposed to be living away. But then Covid changed all that. They came home. And Family Hamm got another year living together as older boys. Time; a neglected and undervalued commodity in our modern society. Everything is so immediate and set up for instant responses we are zoomed into a now now now expectation and we aren’t accustomed to waiting for anything anymore. Or, taking our time. Time to be together; time to connect; time for a response; time to do nothing; time to do something you always wanted to do. Covid has stopped society from advancing in the way its used to and has made us all pause. Because it was enforced and came with great suffering, this pause hasn’t always felt like a positive thing to have to do – more like an endurance test. There has been real loss and undeniable grief in the stillness of our lives. But I have reflected, and the time spent with my family, those lockdown, slow days of nothingness and togetherness, yielded a greater understanding of who is in my pod and how lucky I am to have them all. And my minivan came back to life once again.

We had many unexpected trips with all of us spending this time together. It saw In and Out leftover wrappers shoved into its creases; sand from playing on the beach more often; enough paper masks, hand sanitizer and wipes in its side panels that an entire football team could get cleaned up. And of course, who could forget the new rack that was assembled on top to support Husband’s new paddle board- a rack never used when it is way more fun to shove the whole thing inside the car and let the boys hang out the open back. Having all four boys home again felt like a gift, even though it was ultimately counter-intuitive to where they are at with their own, independent journeys. Gotta say, I loved it. And so did my youngest. To have all ‘the brothers’ home all year – he said he was living his best life!

It wasn’t all rosy, what lockdown/shutdown can be, but we did well. Memories were made that we all appreciated. And that thing called Time, well, I’m still learning how to be in it and not chase it; to be productive and not wasteful and to be reflective without losing my momentum. I daydreamed about it all until the guy at the carwash waved his rag and screamed, “Whose minivan?” I got up, while eyeing the other Porsche and Audi owners next to me, and proudly said, “Mine.”

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Groundhog Day

I woke up really early this morning – too early to actually get out of bed. Someone forgot to give my hormones the memo that we are involved in a pandemic and giving me hot flashes throughout the night is just not playing fair. As I lay in bed, I was trying to figure out if it was Wednesday or Thursday. Literally, for the next half hour, I went through every possibility of why it should be Wednesday. I tried to go back from last Saturday when we picked up our older boys from the airport and move through the days until today. It was definitely Wednesday. After all, the Ralph’s market delivery service was scheduled for Wednesday night and nothing came last night so it had to be Wednesday today.

Then I got up. Half my face was throbbing from a brand new stye in my right eye, and now it had spread down, past my puffy bags, to my cheekbone…nice look. Husband was just awake staring at me cautiously – like I said, not a great look I’ve got going – and confirmed that indeed it was Thursday. The only other time I ever make this mistake is during the week between Christmas and New Year. That special week every year the world seems to shut down. Most people aren’t at work, at least full time; stores are closed but for food and alcohol; families are together watching endless movies on TV; life becomes simple. But this ain’t Christmas.

Plusses: All my boys safely at home. We are all healthy. We like each other. We live near the beach.
Minuses: The world order feels out of control. People are scared. You can’t turn on the news without bracing yourself. There’s no end in sight. Yet.

Only a week ago I was still getting on a plane to see my son’s band perform at a cool venue in NYC. One week ago we were still planning our lives in the near future. One week ago there were eggs and toilet paper at the local supermarket, and you didn’t feel like stopping for a request to take a photo for a random couple on their Iphone was a stupid thing to do. And now all of our boys are home with online school sessions and I am speed reading Maya Angelou’s beautiful novel ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ so that my son (wink wink) can do the homework assignments! Speed reading Maya Angelou – that is a sinful and madness act in and of itself! Caged birds singing here, that’s for sure. I’ve never seen so many kids on our streets driving their parents nuts. Until, of course, the sunset walks, where said parents slowly walk behind their little ones on scooters as they sip from their enormous roadies, six feet away from the next family.

Half our family is in the UK and at first they had all the intel and we were two weeks behind. Then we jumped ahead and ‘recommendations’ to socially distance changed everyone’s lives here; in the UK pubs and some schools are still open! Like everyone I’m sure, I vacillate between ‘what the fuck is going on’ to ‘this too shall pass’. I sat all my boys down as we were trying to figure out our personal family boundaries for movement, seeing friends, life as we know it now – and told them the truth. That in my 22 years of being a mom, this is the first time I genuinely haven’t got a clue what to expect. I don’t have the answers and yes, our decisions can change as quickly as the news does. Let’s borrow from the last generation, ie their Gma, one of their most valuable tools – common sense.

Common sense dictates to try and keep your immediate circle just that, immediate. Do you really want your best friend over, and their kids? What if, god forbid, someone coughs? All paranoid eyes will pierce them before they can say ‘excuse me’. Even my dog’s wheezing had me googling if dog’s can get coronavirus. I’ve been told recently that I have the disposition of someone that holds onto hope and wishful thinking. Probably true. I’m a glass half full kind of girl, same as my mom. So for now, today, when the glass dips below the half way line, I’m just gonna drink the rest and pour another.

Be well. x

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Wings

My second son is going away to college today. My heart strings are being pulled beyond compare. This child at 18 represents my heart more than any other part of me. Each son – I have four – seems to have brought me a different understanding and reflection at times of my own, true self. They have given me far more than I have given them. This son has shown me how to understand silence; how to find a path when it’s foggy; how to fail; how to love.

He sleeps now, as they all do, during these summer mornings. Our house has been full with my eldest son’s band staying here for three months. Some called me crazy, loving the madness of this energy but happy to then go home at the end of the night back to their calm. But I found it calming here. Probably because I knew it would end. Just as we all settled into our rhythm, it would change again. And now here I am drinking coffee with summer bug bites raging on my ankles knowing in a few hours everything for my son will change forever.

Of course they’ll come back, as my husband reminds me daily whilst picking up socks strewn around the house. Of course they will. But each time they come back it will be measured. What pulls my heart is that the end of their childhood is also drawn in the sand when they take off for college. All you can hope for is that they are ready, able and fully willing to fly. That has been my job all these years. His wings needed to be strong and powerful and with this son, they needed to also be soft and flexible.

At nearly two he still hadn’t spoken much. His elder brother used to speak for him. ‘He wants this to drink…eat….play with’. It was frustrating for me as I felt I couldn’t connect with him well. I didn’t know how to listen then and I certainly didn’t know how to hear him. Over the years when feelings got the better of him, he would hide. Try scolding a child you can’t find! It took me such a long, long time to understand that his silence was part of his processing and that his hiding was an ability to make sense out of all that he was feeling. His emotional intelligence far exceeds most. To this day I know when he’s really, really mad because he goes incredibly quiet.

My husband, on the other hand, is very loud. He loves and lives out loud. The good news about that is all the boys always know where they stand, where they are with him. I worried about those dynamics with this son and his incredibly different way of being. It was a few years ago when I saw the full shift and knew his wings were being constructed. It wasn’t a fight, per say, just a loud discussion about this or that but he stood there grounded and said his piece without faltering. He didn’t go quiet or hide away; he found that he could translate his emotions into words and argued back. When he finally walked away I couldn’t help but feel proud.

We packed his bag yesterday – I waited till the last minute for this exercise. One, because boys don’t much care about what clothes get taken, aside from a particular hoodie or pair of shoes, and two, because I didn’t want to see the suitcase out for long. I know I must be strong for him and I will. That’s the mother in me talking. That’s what we do as mothers. We are whatever they need us to be. Like I said, they show us in the end how dynamic we can be ourselves. Today is a day about letting him fly, watching him soar, embracing the space between us.

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50 is the new….50

I’m turning 50 in a few weeks. Universally, the comments I’ve had the most this past year are either, ‘Oh my God, you look so good for nearly 50!’- or, ‘Wow, I would have thought you were so much younger!’ Understanding that these are meant to be compliments, I take them well and smile back. But it really has got me thinking.

Would I enjoy a little nip/tuck in a few areas to preserver my outer youth? My bags, belly and back fat would scream yes, please. But the truth is my bags come from longer nights with usually a good cause; my belly housed four strapping boys and those tummy muscles never stood a chance of reuniting again; and my back fat is nature’s way of storing fat – literally something we humans are meant to do for survival. The lines on my face represent years of laughing and crying, stress and awareness, loving and thinking. With age comes wisdom, they say, and looking back a few generations in our past, I’d be considered an elder. The wisdom literally comes from those years of one’s own experiences – trials – triumphs and like it or not, that wisdom is seen on your face.

My husband and I recently returned from a bucket list trip. We were together by ourselves for nine days. By day three he joked that it would be great timing for one of my best friends to be teleported in just to talk for an hour so I could ‘get out all the girl chat’. He’s right – I would have loved to have talked endlessly that day about all that was in my mind and he did so well listening as long as he could! But talking ‘so much’ (not ‘too’ much he was careful not to say) has also been the basis for my wisdom. For me, when I talk I also listen and observe. Sharing stories with the people in my life provided a classroom of consciousness and understanding of how the world works. From motherhood to Hollywood, politics to professions, all these years behind me has provided a breadth of information for my own growth and perspective. The net I cast out has brought in all sorts of different ways of looking at the world and I am grateful to be able to see that now.

So yes, gravity is playing an evil trick on my body and my inner youth doesn’t always match my outer face, but I wouldn’t trade the freedom I’m beginning to feel in owning this new decade. Owning my years. Wisdom shared or stored, it’s empowering knowing oneself and what one needs to be happy. It’s time to be proud of 50 rather than afraid of it. Be accepting with the ageing process and finding my smile back in the mirror. Be 50. After all, 50 is the new…50.

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Drop Off

The final drop off. We had two days together before the big move into my son’s dorm. He’s moving in, not me…I have to keep reminding myself. It was crazy hot and humid and although I was having my first real ‘I know how to get around in NYC and isn’t this all exciting’ moments, my son was beyond anxious. We fed him, a lot, and talked of budgets and balancing whilst dining on $40 steaks. It was a mish-mosh of emotions building in him, and Husband, and myself, and I suppose we were all waiting for the moment when we were going to say goodbye.

Then Sunday came.

His room was as small as I expected and perhaps a bit bigger than he pictured. His roommate already had flashes of OCD mixed with a boyhood mess when it came to anything on his bed. We noticed all his button downs and ties that lined his side of the closet as we unpacked my son’s leather jackets and t-shirts. They are both the eldest sons of an all boy household so I’m hoping that common denominator alone will bond them…because by the looks of their wardrobes, they are miles apart. His roommate’s mom was there and invited my son to dinner any Friday night he wanted…she has no idea what she’s just done and how much he can eat!

His other two flatmates were global kids who look like potential buddies, although one did resemble my friend in high school who was a drug dealer. Hmm. Husband dealt with his nerves by greeting everyone moving into the flat as my son and I made his bed together. Dare I say for the first time?? I bought him the most ridiculously expensive tempur-pedic mattress topping, and a mattress allergy cover, and a mattress pad that goes over the whole thing to keep it together, so with all of those additions, his bed was about a half a foot higher than normal and looked like a throne of some kind. It gave us something to laugh about for sure.

My son didn’t want us to fill the fridge or put up his posters or buy him more lights. He, dare I say, didn’t want us to take over in any way. So we fed him one last time at a local restaurant and then walked down the street away from his dorm to say goodbye. He took my hand as we were walking and I kept looking forward so as not to lose it completely. I did catch a tear running down his face and I literally gulped mine down while we walked. He told me not to be sad and I told him I wasn’t; we were just going to miss him – easiest explanation for the torrent of emotions crashing into each other in my heart. And then we all stopped walking and my son now turned to his dad to say goodbye. And there he was, big and strong dad, leader of our family, sobbing and sobbing and sobbing on the streets of New York. He just couldn’t stop; it was the funniest and sweetest thing I had ever seen. There was nothing left to do but to laugh at him – Husband was literally hysterical. All my gulping down and helpful hubby is like Niagra-friggin-Falls next to me!

Our son used the comic relief as his exit and left us on the sidewalk waving goodbye with our puddle of emotions. We stood there, sobbing and laughing and waving for a while, and then walked slowly back to our hotel crying the whole way there. Life moves on as it should and dropping your first child at university is one of those defining moments when a cycle is completed. I’m grateful I feel I did the best job I could and gave it my all because that is the only solace I have to take away. That, and that massive smile on my son’s face.

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New York, New York

I am confused. And emotional. And flustered all in one. I want to articulate so much about how I feel, about what’s in my heart and yet seem to stumble through it. My eldest is going away to college this week, – the college of his dreams – and I am feeling everything from gratefulness to desperation. I remember when I was pregnant with him and the idea of having this son took form and began to shape my thoughts as a woman slowly transitioning into a mother. It wasn’t obvious for me; I was the first in my friend group to get pregnant after being told getting pregnant was going to be impossible for me. Needless to say it wasn’t, but I equally hadn’t given much thought to having babies either. Over 18 years later the first cycle of life concludes for my eldest which in turn means I have to gracefully exit this chapter as well. And it’s hard; and I don’t want to necessarily, but it’s not up to me anymore.

I made a lot of my mistakes as a mom with my eldest; I’m sure we all do. I was the most paranoid, the most nervous and unsure, and the most confused. But I was there for nearly all of it, always. Between life in London and LA we traveled as a team, and as each son came along for the ride, my eldest naturally took on the role of co-pilot. I think I have relied on his strength of character his entire life and I will be eternally grateful to him for that.

I suppose that’s what’s difficult; not sad, but challenging. I am two people at the minute. One knows I couldn’t pick a better program or greater city for him to begin his next journey; New York, NYU Clive Davis Institute, the whole enchilada. He’s been wanting to bite out of that Big Apple ever since he laid eyes on it a few years ago and it’s so damn exciting. His music comes from the depths of who he is and I see, and hear, the complete beauty in that. The other me, though, is devastated for the change his absence will carry in our house and for the understanding of the term empty nest. It’s one of those phrases that I’ve looked at without emotion, until now, even though I have three more to go. Of course it’s not over, he’s not out of our lives, gone forever. But there is a turning of the page and while the excitement is tangible for him now, the deep ache of wanting Time to move a bit slower; of the reconciliation that this stage of my life of motherhood with him is over; that letting him fly means prominently stepping aside and not spotting him every time he climbs, just in case he falls…is all so much to take in.

As much as his leaving is about him, it’s also largely about me. Having been a full time mom all these years, I have honestly put most of my time into raising my kids so marking their departure is real for me, in real terms. Who am I? What am I going to do when they’re gone? These are questions I have battled with before but always had my boys right there, front and center, unabashedly demanding attention and invariably there to fill me up again. Perhaps part of the emotion I’m feeling is about the spotlight I’ve been able to avoid (or haven’t had the space to indulge in) to see who I am after all these years of motherhood?

I have lost a father before; I know what loss looks like, and feels like. So I also know not to dramatize loss if I don’t have to. But the words that keep coming up for me are how much I’m going to miss him, which feels a heck of a lot like loss. His life, as we all have known it, will forever change with the flight to NYC. Where will ‘home’ be? Will coming back here feel like a visit? It will never be the same again for all the right reasons and for that I am overwhelmed with emotion and not quite sure yet how to deal.

My sis in-law says I’ll just get used to it; like any change in the household, once a few weeks pass you sort of just get used to it. That thought also depresses me a bit right now as I don’t want to get used to him not being an everyday inspiration and pain in the ass to all of us! Sadness, however, isn’t on the cards for one simple reason: at 18 he was clearly ready for stage 2 to begin, clearly ready. Having an 18 year old live in your house can feel like trapping an outdoor cat and making him live indoors. There’s a lot of scratching that goes on…and if you’re completely honest, it hurts more to get scratched than to chuck a few chicken chunks outside and let them wander a bit.

I’ve long since known that children teach you as much as we teach them. For me, my boys have shown me how strong I can be, along with patient, moral, capable, loving, the list goes on. They have brought out the very best in me for sure. So when I see passion and the wonderment of having a dream and the leap of faith needed to take the steps towards it, I suppose it’s a powerful reminder that passion prevails and happiness truly comes from doing something in life that makes you happy…simple lesson. I’m going to hold onto that for now, while I try to gently let go.

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2015

I am sitting in my home in London at the end of a very long and twisted year. It all started off with the right amount of Christmas cheer, but then the energy surrounding me, and Husband, took a turn for the worse. It truly felt like dark shadows were following us. People we love got sick; our home here got hijacked by squatters; our nanny betrayed me in the most profound way; jobs were dangled and then snatched away and I began to lose my confidence in my perception of the world. And all the while my boys seemed pretty oblivious which was wonderfully real at the same time.

That is not cynicism or a pejorative comment towards them; it’s the incredibly powerful ability children possess to remain selfish enough in their endeavors to not see or feel the chaos around them, and the expert ability of their parents to hide it. What I learned, again, is to dig down deep when pain and suffering or just pure fear enters the soul. Dig down and figure out what I am made of, how far can I push myself and what do I need to keep it all together. It is only when the chips are down do you really know who you are. The boys, for me, actually kept me sane because they were unaware enough and their needs remained constant.

When spiraling occurs, I tend to simplify life – it’s a control exercise that gives me the ability to have a greater cause and affect ratio in my day to day living. Stop spending, cut down on the social occasions where I have to lift myself up insincerely, and stay on top of the boys’ lives so there are fewer surprises. Oh…and keep the pile of unopened post at a minimum. And then, wait for the shift. Look for the signs and as soon as the light comes back into my life, dive in.

And that is what happened this year. Husband got his film and although he had to move away to do it…for SIX months!!…he was so fulfilled and happy it only brought me joy. (Until last week, that is, when I had had absolutely enough of being a single parent and hit the wall in the most spectacular meltdown). The squatters finally left our house and with a bit of sage (and an almighty legal bill) they were gone. Our nanny got replaced by a very sweet Manny – a much better energy to have in our lives all around. And most importantly, our friends and family got healthier, all of them. Obviously this all didn’t just ‘happen’ without a crap ton of worry and paranoia and tears and fears being rattled around on what felt like an emotional roller coaster, but each scenario did happen and the lesson for me was to dig down, find a new threshold for coping and give myself what I needed to not lose the battle over all the stress.

What I didn’t realize by Fall was that all my new found understanding about coping was to be utilized immediately as my eldest started applying to college/uni. My patience, love and understanding have never, ever, been pushed that far as I journeyed with him on the road to getting his applications ready. Oh, my, God. Pause. The reason being is that his method of work involves the deadline being so close to him he can smell it, feel it tickling his nose, and then he works in a frenzy of often genius to get it all done. All I need to say is that I don’t work quite the same way. I need to feel the deadline, for sure, but more boxes need to be ticked along the way to get my creative juices flowing. I gave myself the deadline of this morning to write this blog, and have managed to make a coffee and check my emails while writing…but I will finish. My son and I went through the entire Fall with the same conversations circling us like vultures preying on our relationship, until finally he was ready to rock and roll and finish, well, start and then finish, his applications. And while we were waiting for the results, I was finally able to express to him what was so palpable to me this whole year; dig down, find what you are made of and know that whatever the outcome from the schools, you will figure it out and be ok. It is in the darkness you know where your light is.

Sage advice; not really. But words that were very meaningful to me this year had resonated with him through their simplicity. He told me he was always the kid who didn’t get in, or got waitlisted, and even though he wanted this more than anything, my words made sense. He applied to a school that takes 3% of its performer applicants – he’s a musician – so the odds are stacked against most getting in. The day came for him to log in and find out if he was accepted to his school of dreams. His four best friends flanked him on the roof top of our house in LA to lend support which was a sight to behold. ‘Updated status of application’ button flashed on the school’s website. And in one push of a button, his journey would be revealed.

He got in! It was an insane feeling to watch him get the validation he wanted, needed, as a musician and as a student. His path was definitely not an easy one as he often fell outside the golden box where other kids sit comfortably. And as for me, I put every ounce of energy and wisdom I could muster into helping him so yes, it felt great to get the result we wanted as so many times before we watched from the sidelines.

Haven’t quite allowed myself to ponder the beginning of the emptying of our nest, but no doubt that’s for another post. In the meantime, a healthy and happy new year to all.

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