To be honest, I don’t remember his name, just the red Schwinn bike he’d ride in on, ditching it on the lawn, his eyes gleaming as he excitedly gushed about how much he Loved washing windows—with a capital L. My husband and I had just moved into our very first house, and my 26 year-old brain at the time couldn’t comprehend how anyone could possibly be that passionate and proud to be washing windows. (Looking back, I may have been holding my head a little too high for my own good.) But then I heard these three words:
For decades, that tiny little sentiment has followed me around and whispered stressful little reminders in my ear. How would I ever find my one true purpose? The daunting and weighty gravity of the undertaking was so overwhelming that I spent what seemed like a generation (it kinda was), researching and planning. After all, what if I didn’t choose my purpose? What if I wasted my time working on your purpose because I thought it was my purpose? And what if I was the only person on the whole damn planet who didn’t even have a purpose? I was nearly positive I wouldn’t get it right.
The thing about finding our purposes is that it’s become a worldwide pastime, sucking out our creativity, hope, and part of our souls in the process. Ultimately, we make too flippin’ big of a deal about it. (Yeah, I said it.)
Okay, so maybe you haven’t exactly reached the same endpoint, but the lesson remains the same. When we focus so much on the perfect opportunity at the perfect time, we’re forcing ourselves to live lives that are less than. Less than we want. Less than we deserve. And less than we can achieve.
The good news? Your purpose doesn’t have to involve curing cancer, educating children in Africa, or ending world hunger with one grand flick of your wrist. The (dirty) truth is that most of us will not be Mother Theresa, Ghandi, or Oprah. (Though Oprah did do the heavy lifting when I had to teach my kids about sex, but that’s another story for another day.)
Honestly, most people don’t get struck by a lightning bolt of pure, certain purpose or magically stumble upon a huge flashing sign that blinks FOLLOW ME! FOLLOW ME! towards a goal that’ll end up scrawled in a record book. But when we take the pressure off ourselves, we can recognize the smaller purposes swirling around us all the time. They’re ripe for the picking, and they matter. (Also, contrary to popular belief, most people don’t know what their purpose is when they blow out the candles on their 13th birthday, so don’t plan on getting it right the first time.)
But there’ll be clues when you’re getting close to your purpose, big or small. A whimsical little flutter in your stomach. A rush of emotions that head straight down to the tips of your toes. A surge of energy, and inspiration, and happiness. How to get there? Trust yourself and follow your instincts. It’s no big mystery that life is short, and pretty soon you’ll have a really legitimate reason for not going after what you want—you’ll be buried six feet under with worms wiggling their way into the hollow where your dreams used to live.
Purpose is all about using your own unique superpower to make one little itty bitty corner of the world a better, brighter, and more meaningful place. As a bonus, using said superpower will also make you feel good about yourself, catalyzing an avalanche of confidence that’ll help you do more.
But the trick is that you have to DO. The doing is what makes all the difference, from creating a weekend side hustle to simply turning off the TV and getting off your arse, to going back to school, or picking up a book and signing up for a seminar. (Important note: complaining loudly to your best friend sitting next to you on a bar stool does not count as doing.)
The momentum that comes from taking the first actionable step? It builds, helping you do a little bit more, and then even more, which leads to doing a lot more. Every single step forward, sideways, and even backwards, (because spoiler alert: it won’t be a linear path), shows you what the heck to do next. Before you know it, all of the little things will add up to create the Big Thing you were pretty sure you could never—and would never—live to see.
LIKE FINISHING COLLEGE.
LIKE BUILDING A 7-FIGURE COMPANY.
AND LIKE BEING THE BEST DANG WINDOW WASHER IN THE TRI-STATE AREA.
My ambition is restless and my drive is relentless. There’s this need I’ve always had—a constant calling to do things differently than they’ve always been done, a calling to start something new. I’d already been an attorney, spending my days prosecuting Fortune 500 execs. I’d founded a luxury women’s wear company whose client list boasted the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom. I knew I couldn’t imagine my life without kids. (I mean, who else was going to take care of me in my twilight years? I say, mostly joking.) That said, I also knew if I had bionic eggs coated in teflon, I would’ve waited another ten years.
After my daughter was born, I was stunned by how much I’d not only fallen in love with her, but with being a parent. Honestly, I’d never felt so alive, engaged, and connected before. I’d never been so purely, simply happy. At birthday parties and in line at the grocery store I’d hear other parents talk about how hard it was being a parent, how difficult it was raising kids. I just couldn’t ever relate.
Nothing had ever felt so natural, like I was doing exactly what I was always meant to do. I had an instinct that guided me, and I skipped over the books and parenting “experts” to rely on my own gut (for better or worse). Given how foaming-at-the-mouth ambitious I was, my love for parenting was a strange realization. Almost overnight, my all-encompassing idea of professional success morphed from prestige and money to freedom and flexibility and I just loved how being a parent blunted my need to accomplish and succeed professionally.
I just never expected it to happen so damn fast. I was smacked squarely in the face* when my daughter entered her junior year and started to look at colleges and my son was touring high schools. It might sound silly, but I was so happy with my life that I had absolutely no idea what my purpose would be if it didn’t involve my kids. And then I panicked.
At my age, how the hell could I not know what my purpose was?! After all, I was the queeeeeen of self-development. I’d poured over every book, sat attentively in every seminar, filled out every last personality test, and even worked with a career counselor. Why didn’t I see that my work as a parent was coming to a pretty speedy end? Why didn’t I do something about it sooner? And why didn’t I get coffee last time I was at the store?! (A woman needs her coffee.)
Amidst all of this angst, I knew in my bones that it wouldn’t be possible for me to find my purpose if I didn’t know what my core values were. I knew I could find a new purpose. That’s what I would do! I just had to put in the work and figure out what I actually valued because now I was totally confused. (This time, I hired a coach to help me.) My values developed into things like challenging the status quo, living to your full potential, connection, excellence, and authenticity. I had the words. Now what? I just couldn’t make the leap on how this would get me to my new purpose?
And then my daughter sent me a note, and it was this note that sealed the deal:
That’s when it smacked me across the face (again—life was feeling feisty). I realized that the fact I was so happy, engaged, and vibrantly ALIVE as a parent had less to do with my kids, and so much more to do with the fact that my purpose had always been about human potential and connection. In raising my kids, I was 100% aligned with my core values, and without realizing it, I’d been living my purpose the entire time.
I got to thinking. (A dangerous endeavor, I know.) When did I feel the most alive, connected, and appreciated? When did it really, truly feel like everything was right and easy in the world? Cue the flashback to grade school when I sat on the playground rocks with friends, having one-on-one chats about what they wanted and how I could help them go after it. (The wants were mostly parent, boy and candy-based at that age. Just sayin’.) Still, I loved nothing more than learning more about who my friends really were, what lit them up and set them on fire. I wanted to figure out their superpower, watching what made them tick and pointing out when they were at their best—even if they couldn’t see it themselves.
Really, there weren’t any huge life moments that relentlessly shouted at me to PAY! ATTENTION! Rather, they were simple moments, perfectly peppered throughout my life and sneaking up to give me goosebumps and chills. In those small snippets of time, I knew I was exactly where I should be and life was so easy. My mind linked all of these moments together, and then laced them together with a golden thread.
(For the record, that’s also the moment Coretography was born.)
I know that we’re all granted a divine purpose at birth. In other words, we’re born with a calling. It’s all Easy Street until we muck it up by losing sight of who we are and what we value, replacing our values with the values of our parents, communities, teachers, “experts”or the media. The worst part? We’re surprised when we wake up years later, unhappy and uninspired.
(Just kidding about that last part. I’d never deny you croissants.)
Ultimately, they don’t know neeeeeearly as much as you do about yourself. What are your values? How do you connect with your purpose? And how can you let your purpose change just one little part of the world? (Change doesn’t have to be big, after all.)
The answers are inside you, right where they’ve always been.
It’s time you listen.
And buy coffee. (← Helpful reminder.)
I was newly pregnant with a baby girl, standing at a BabyGap check out counter. The saleswoman looked up at me, her thick acrylic nails toying with the ends of her permed, bleached hair.
“Oh, honey. You’ll have your hands full when she’s a teenager.”
“You think?” I responded, trying to force some semblance of easy, breezy nonchalance into my tone. (Even I know when it’s best to keep my mouth shut.) She gave me a knowing look, wrapping up the 3M-sized lime green fleece sweatsuit with its matching striped turtleneck and bomber hat. This would be my daughter’s first outfit. It was from the boy’s department.
Walking out of the store, bag in hand, I couldn’t help but shake my head. Contrary to her warning, I knewexactly how I would raise my girl, starting with challenging every gender stereotype I could find.
The thing is, the stereotypical teenage hellian warning is something we’ve all been programmed to accept our entire lives–from books, movies, friends, waitresses in restaurants, strangers in the park, the clerk at the grocery store, other parents. Did I mention other parents? Because they were the worrrrrrst. It’s a given, right? Bratty girls are as American as apple pie. (But seriously, they are. It seems to be a pretty clear American phenomenon. As someone with a Japanese father and a German mother, I never would have dared, though most of my friends did.) All I knew was that I could care less about all that sugar and spice BS, I’d be damned if my teen wasn’t going to be nice.
Now that my baby is a 17 year-old senior, I can safely (and proudly) say that I’m the mother of a really fantastic teenage daughter. She’s smart, strong-willed and kind, but never disrespectful or ungrateful. And this I know for sure: she’s no sweet, timid flower of a girl.
After looking at my relationship with my daughter, and countless other mother-daughter bonds, here’s the key to avoiding the American Brat Phenomenon. (ABP for short, obviously.)
Get your SH!T together before you have kids. The funny (and frustrating) thing about kids is that they do what you do, not what you say they should do. And they will mirror your behavior at every opportunity, throwing it right back at you when you least expect it. When they’re young, kids don’t know any better but as they head into their teens, they can smell inauthenticity and manipulation a mile away. If it’s always been about you, it will be all about them when they’re teenagers. If they’re emotional, disrespectful, self-centered, manipulative, insecure (you pick the adjective) and don’t make time for you, chances are they learned that behavior directly from you. Confident, emotionally intelligent adults raise confident, emotionally intelligent kids.
Respect is required. But guess what? If you want them to respect you, you have to respect them, too. (Mind blowing, I know.) It means respecting their opinions, time, privacy, and decisions, even if you don’taaaaaaalways agree. Take the time to really try and understand your daughter’s point of view. A confident teen was a child who was valued, listened to and included as an equal member of the family. You want to practice children should be seen and not heard? Then plan on being seen and not heard as the parent of a teen. And honestly, quit lecturing. Sometimes you just have to let them figure it out for themselves.
Create real, open dialogue. It’s no big secret that kids lie to their parents to avoid freak outs over (relatively) minor things, but it’s important to be honest, authentic, and OPEN with your daughter. Open means that you put the lectures, judginess and false morality on hiatus and stop talking and just LISTEN. For example, I had real, brain-racing anxiety about my daughter driving. I constantly pictured every possible nightmare scenario, most of them involving a solemn-looking police officer knocking on my door. Initially, my daughter thought I didn’t trust her to drive, but once we talked it out, she realized that it wasn’t because I didn’t trust her or want her to go out and have fun. It was just the fear of not knowing where she was and worrying that she was safe. As a result, FindMyFriends is now my friend, and we’re better off for it.
Time with family is not an option – Bottom line, teenagers are there for family dinners, social events with other families or relatives, day trips and vacations, just like when they were kids. If your teenager isn’t excited about spending time with her family, it’s time to have a chat to find out why. Obviously, sometimes they’d rather do things with their friends, but ultimately, it’s about showing up, joining in with the family, and having a whole hell of a lot of fun together. When your daughter is a teenager, you still have control. When she’s an adult, you won’t, so show her now how important her family really is to her and how important she is to her family.
Spend time, not money. They don’t care about the stuff. They care about feeling valued and worthy of your time. My daughter had a friend who’s mother was never around, and would compensate by buying her stuff cluttered with designer labels to assuage the guilt. It was a buyout, passing over expensive bribes so her daughter would agree to be the pink-wearing, ballet-dancing, perfect daughter her mother believed would elevate her own standing in society. It was more about the show and what other people thought than who this poor little girl ever really was. I don’t think they ever spent a day together that didn’t involve shopping or pricey restaurants. I don’t think they ever talked. And the more the mother lectured, the more her daughter rebelled.
Figure out what she values. What do you value? What does your daughter value? What values do you share in common? What values are different? Sometimes you have a lot in common with your teenage daughter but other times you really don’t. (And that’s okay.)
So often I see mom’s living their lives through their kids. Either they didn’t have the opportunities their daughters have or they feel that their teen’s achievements are a direct reflection of them and their parenting. Spreadsheet in hand they’re determined to get their child into the right elementary school, the right high school, the right college, the right career – their definition of success is so narrow. They never once take the time to figure out who their child really is. Instead they force them kicking and screaming into tutus and leotards when all their child ever wanted was to run a soccer ball or music lessons when there’s no passion or ability. Think about it, how in the world can that ever breed confidence in a child? Honoring your daughter’s values matters. Your most important job as the parent of a teen is to help her to find her own superpower.
Beyond all this, you have no idea how much your daughter can teach you if you let her. My daughter values music. There is not an hour that goes by where she’s not spending her free time listening to, writing, arranging or singing music. Coming from a family of musicians, I want to value music but no matter how hard I try, I just don’t. It’s distracting and makes it hard for me to think or focus. Whereas my daughter can’t drive without music, I can’t drive with it. Worse yet, her favorite genre of music is hip-hop. Yes, misogynistic, violent, profane hip-hop. If I had had a blanket policy to refuse anything related to hip hop I would have never learned that there are hip hop artists who promote positive messages about racial identity and social inequality and that schools like Harvard, Columbia and Stanford are leaders in this field of study. My daughter has a passion for hip-hop. By giving it a chance simply because it was important to her I allowed her the freedom to discover who she really was and what she valued irrespective of what I valued which can’t help but further strengthen our bond. I also learned that I love Kendrick Lamar.
Nothing in life is perfect, including me, including my daughter, and including our relationship. Heated talks and tense moments are an important part of our journey together, but because they’re always handled with love and respect, like Kendrick, I know that “We Gon’ Be Alright.”
It all started with a link on a client email, that led to a website, that led to a testimonial that led to a Facebook page, that led to a new marketing strategy, that led to a deep, resounding certainty that I had to completely change directions and run off to be a Russian ballerina or one of those women who swallow fire. (That’s still a thing, right? Imagine the heartburn.)
It’s basically what I’m famous for, my nature is to always look for better ways of doing things, every single time. (It kind of drives my husband crazy, to be honest.) So, after four hours of cramming my brain with every last iota of info about this new marketing idea that I was sure would catapult my business into a new stratosphere (!!!!), I realized that it was — after all — not actually a fit for my business in any way, shape, or form. I’d spent 4 hours studying everyone else’s business, but hadn’t actually done anything to move my own forward. I hadn’t even looked at my to-do list.
This was a year ago. Y’know, I hear comments all the damn time that people are stupid and lazy, and that’s why we can’t get out of our own way to move our lives forward. People are not stupid or lazy. We’re just busy. Very busy, being distracted by all the useless junk buzzing around us all day.
The average American will spend at least 10 years of their life staring blankly at a screen, whether it’s a TV, iPad, phone, or video game. Hell, I’ve been guilty of staring at several of those screens simultaneously! All of our energy is spent learning forklift-loads of insignificant rubbish that has absolutely nothing to do with anything that truly matters in our lives. Things like: batting averages, NCAA stats, who the Bachelor chose, or where the Kardashians or Housewives are vacationing. Does any of that stuff make a difference in our lives? Definitely not a positive one — we’re spending our time fixated on celebrity lives, when that same energy could be used to move our own lives forward.
(Quick aside: You and your life are what matter most.)
Ultimately, we’re watching other people do meaningful work, raise happy children, drink dirty martinis with their friends, open that bakery, and travel the world — instead of actually doing these things ourselves. (Also, perception on the internet is insane, and we all have those friends who dominate on Instagram but not in real life.)
Why? Because it’s easier . Buying a self-study course on change is easier than changing. Looking at pictures of Rome is easier than getting on the plane. And thinking we’re adding any meaning to our lives by watching others do the same is easier than actually adding meaning to our lives . Moving forward is work, but it’s worth it. Over the last year, I’ve developed a set of simple rules that’ll help you run your day on purpose, blocking out the distracting, easy noise so you can tune into yourself, your life and your business. So without further ado:
5 STEPS TO RUNNING YOUR DAY ON PURPOSE
(Hint: Doing the work may cause you to grow into a cooler human, burst out into raucus laughter with friends, and like yourself a whole hell of a lot more.)
Let’s be real. Will Smith is one of the most likable human beings in existence. (<–Not actually hyperbole.) In his movie, Concussion, he plays real life Bennett Omalu, a Nigerian born pathologist with no knowledge of football who fights the NFL after they try to discredit his research that repeated blows to the head ultimately leads to memory loss, dementia and ultimately death.
In the movie, Dr. Omalu amasses all the classic trappings of success: multiple degrees from prestigious universities, respect from the medical community, a black Mercedes and an impressive new home, nestled in an upscale suburb of Pittsburg and built for his beautiful, pregnant wife. Plot things happen, and before long, Dr. Omalu has lost his job, his child and his brand new house.
You see him leaving his beautiful new home in Philadelphia and arriving at a much smaller home in a lower middle class neighborhood where he accepts a job as a coroner in Lodi, California. Ultimately, Omalu is completely vindicated, the NFL eats crow and Dr. Omalu is offered a job as the Chief Coroner in Washington D.C. The movie ends with Omalu rejecting this prestigious new job in favor of his current position, home, and life in Lodi. (Spoilers. Sorry.)
I was elated by the feel-good ending. After all, Omalu knows what’s important to him and chooses happiness and family over fortune, fame and a silly house.
Then, I looked over at my daughter, tears streaming down her face.
“I hate this movie!” she said. “It’s so depressing.”
She was so angry at the injustice of it all.
And therein lies the perfect example of how our definition of success changes as we age. For my 17 year old-daughter, it’s about the multiple degrees from prestigious universities, the fame, the fortune and the beautiful home, all consistent with the classic definition of success. But after we have children and a few years under our belts, our meaning of success often changes into something new. Something better than those Gossip Girl ideals.
Obviously, success is tricky to pin down. There are four simple questions— simple to say, but hard to answer—that’ll help you define what success actually means to you.
Question 1: What do you value?
What are the activities you prioritize in your life right now? It might be your job, your friends, your family, your pet iguana, or travel. How would your list of priorities change if you could start from scratch? What values would you take off or add? You’re allowed to replace your priorities.
Question 2: What do YOU value?
This might sound just like Question #1, but the difference in emphasis is really important. After all, we internalize values from those around us—our parents, our friends, our boss, our church—and those messages seamlessly seep into our own values before we have time to realize if they’re things we actually want. Take a moment and think about the priorities you listed for Question #1, and decide if they’re your values, or values you adopted from your family, friends or community. You have complete, sweeping permission to only keep values which are important to you.
Question 3: How do you want to feel?
The dirty truth is that we value things that don’t make us feel very good. Maybe you think you value your career, which actually means that you work 80 hours a week and never see your family, or you think you value a friend who blasts holes in your self-esteem. If what you really want is to feel loved, happy, and appreciated, maybe that 80-hour a week job or self-absorbed friend isn’t the ticket. Success is supposed to feel good, and living your own success means letting go of anything that doesn’t. Once you’ve identified the things that don’t feel good, start to focus on what does. That’s actually what you value.
Question 4: What will it take to feel that way?
Once you’ve figured out how you want success to feel, what will you change to make it happen? Will you give up your soul-sucking job for one that only requires 40 hours and still makes you feel accomplished but gives you more balance in the rest of your life? Will you minimize or eliminate time with your negative friend because you’ve realized you want to feel happy and positive? Or will you add in new things—travel, connection, philanthropy, watching more Will Smith movies?
Success is not the same for everyone, but there’s one overlying principle that ties us all together—
That after all this time, Will Smith’s still got it goin’ on.
She folded in on herself in an instant, her legs tucking neatly under her body as her shoulders slumped. Her eyes shining bright with huge unshed tears, my beautiful friend Kate was crestfallen, her Princeton-educated brain fixated on the text that had just popped up on her cracked iPhone screen.
Best friends since 10th grade, I couldn’t stop myself from interjecting. “Don’t you ever take another call from him,” I hissed, my eyes drifting of their own accord over to her grandmother’s lasagna baking in the oven. “It’s not his fault,” she said, like always. “He wanted to come but he’s so busy. There’s only so many hours in a day, y’know?” Kate was stunning, impossibly witty, a master of sports trivia…and reeeeeaaaally good at explaining away the bad behavior of every man she’d ever dated.
This wasn’t the first time she cut her boyfriend undeserved slack. Not with him. Not with any of them.
Inevitably, the relationship would go down in flames, and she’d meet someone new who’d dash in and sweep her swiftly off her manicured feet. But somewhere along the line in all her relationships, Kate would stop being Kate. Her insecurities would bubble to the surface, anxiety leaking out of every pore. And she’d morph into whoever it was she thought they wanted her to be.
Despite having a continuous slew of boyfriends, she always faced her boring holiday work parties alone. She made the rare (and terrifying) trips to the hospital without any support by her side. And she was never confident enough to introduce her friends into her romantic relationships because the fear of ruffling feathers or making demands loomed large (and in charge). What she didn’t understand was that by not being true to herself, by not drawing a line in the sand, and by not asking for what she deserved, she was inviting pain and heartache straight into her core.
But how could she ask for what she needed when she didn’t know what she needed? How could she set boundaries when she didn’t know who she was? And how the heck was she supposed to stand up for herself when she didn’t know what she valued?
The answer is that she couldn’t. So instead, she spent her life chasing everyone else’s definition of love, happiness, and success. Her life became an inauthentic compensation for not having a clue about who she was, morphing into who her parents, friends, boyfriends, and bosses wanted her to be.
But the thing about identifying your values and what’s important to you, and then asking for it, is that it’s going to stir the pot — and possibly cause it to boil over. That said, it all comes down to this quote, one of my favorites, by Winston Churchill:
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not encouraging you to run naked down the road, setting fire to mailboxes while screaming like a banshee. There’s no need to be mean, cruel, or an angry spectacle challenging people at parties, just like there’s no need to tell teachers how to teach or frankly to belittle anyone.
I’m simply talking about being comfortable in your own skin. Being able to disagree when passion bubbles up in your belly. Being able to speak up when someone isn’t being respectful of you and your time. And being able to pinpoint your values.
At the end of each (and every) day, it’s okay to be unpopular. Taking a stand, having a voice, and being bold attracts your people, instead of the gray, faceless folks who nod along with the norm. You become a magnet for people with similar interests, passions, and gin preferences.
Sounds great, right? Here are 3 ways to get the backbone bus on the road:
Take time to figure out YOUR values. If you’re clueless about what YOU value most (not your parents, friends or significant other), you’ll end up living in a world built on everyone else’s values—which is a surefire path to unhappiness and self-loathing.
Stand up for yourself. If you aren’t in your corner, how can you expect anyone else to be, either? Obviously, it’s okay to be the only one, but I pinky promise you’ll be surprised by how many people rally beside you when you make your voice known.
Be willing to walk away. More often than not, we’re afraid to walk, skip, or jump away—from relationships, friendships, and jobs—because of the great unknown. But if what you’re facing now isn’t revving your engine or feeding your soul, it’s okay to stride confidently in the opposite direction.
Look. We all fall into The Kate Trap from time to time. That wishy-washy place that’s filled to the brim with fear and self-doubt. It can shake us up, shove us down, and urge us to be plain, bland, and boring. Yet the fact of the matter is that not everyone will like you, and that’s okay. Rather than playing chameleon, morphing into wisps of personalities past, and hiding your opinions in the dark corners of your mind, embrace who you are. Embrace it, and cuddle it, and give it one hell of a hug. And then promptly crawl onto the nearest roof and shout your identity from the highest heights.
I never really wanted kids. When other girls my age were playing house with their dollies, I’d shoved the doll my grandmother had sent me into the farthest corner of my closet. (Real talk: I couldn’t sleep unless the closet door was completely and totally shut.) I was terrified my punishment for imprisoning her was beheading by her razor-like finger. Simply put, I wasn’t traditional mother material. I was bossy, opinionated, and intent on getting things done, but never particularly nurturing. (Just ask my younger siblings.)
BUT ON THE OTHER HAND, I COULDN'T ACTUALLY IMAGINE MY LIFE WITHOUT KIDS.
Which explains why I waited until the last possible moment, and at 35, had my daughter Atea. She was perfect. By day seven, she was sleeping through the night—except for the week of colic where between 7 - 9pm only my friend Rick could stop her crying. She amazed other diners by happily sitting through French meals that lasted three hours (okay, I know now that was bordering on child abuse), was internally motivated to reach her goals (I never once asked her if she did her homework), and she told us all the time how much she loved us and how grateful she was for everything she had. She was just an unbelievably easy child, and it wasn’t anything we did or can take credit for—she was just born that way.
I was so desperately in love with everything about my daughter that every day, I felt like a little piece of Atea was dying, never to return. After all, she had to shed small pieces of her kid self to morph into the young woman she’d become. Within a week of Atea’s birth, I started fixating on the day she’d leave for college. Literally. Every single day of her life I thought about it, and then shoved the thought aside with a glib, “Oh, that’s sooooo far away,” even as it loomed closer and closer.
Because Atea was always so sweet, affectionate, and verbal, she was also the glue in our family. Though don’t get me wrong—I adore my son, and revel in the 24/7 banter we engage in, the same banter that drives my husband nuts but if negotiating was an Olympic sport, my son Markus would medal. Repeatedly. He’s like me: sarcastic, matter of fact, and opinionated. Everything is a game with him.
My daughter on the other hand, while outwardly tough, is also emotionally expressive, apologizes when she’s wrong, always tries to understand my point of view (even if she might not agree with me), and when she’s having a bad day, she somehow manages to be both humorous and cheerful through it all. The rest of the family—and world, for that matter—could learn a thing or ten from her.
I say things like, “I’m not your friend. I’m your mother.” She says things like, “Mom, you’re my best friend.” I’m proudest of the fact that she looks at the sunny side of everything, believes that the world is always conspiring in her favor, and thereby makes her optimistic goals come true.
It was no big surprise to me that she chose to go to college in NYC. She’s a social girl, loves people, experiences, opportunities, parties, and pretty things. She sings like a bird, and isn’t afraid to be the lone voice standing up for what’s right. She sees every challenge as an opportunity to overcome, and Tisch School of the Arts was custom made for her. Unfortunately, it also couldn’t be farther from home.
Cue all the standard worrying. What will I do without her? Who else will I raid the fridge with, scoring Diet Coke and raspberries for a marathon session of 48 Hoursthat starts at midnight? Who else will help me eat an entire watermelon in one afternoon? Whose room will I run into to get a last minute opinion on whether or not the outfit I’m wearing actually works? Notice that I have zero worries about her safety or whether or not she’ll succeed.
I’ve been thinking about all of this for a long time. Years ago, I started reading all the heartbreaking accounts of parents—like the one from Rob Lowe when his son went off to college. I heard all the stories from friends about how hard this would be, and was told that there wasn’t anything I could do to battle the post-college blues because that’s just the way it’s always been. Kids grow up, go to college, move away from home, and drift apart from their parents, right? Wrong. Because I thought about the fact that I’ve never, ever listened to anyone when it comes to raising my kids. I’ve instinctively known what’s right for them and my family, and this whole college thing won’t be any different.
This is what I’ve decided. If I want a family with adult children who are regularly in each other’s lives, who take vacations together, who value each other’s opinions, who see each other or talk to each other almost daily—who are best friends, then it’s up to me to create it. I need to be the one who makes the effort to keep our family together while it changes. After all, I’m still the parent. I will always be the parent.
Right now, we’re all in a hotel in NYC. Tonight is Atea’s last night before she moves into her new dorm (and life) on 5th Avenue with a little bit less of “us,” but still just as much love. Just as she did when she was a baby, she’s challenging me to dump the status quo and create a forever family that loves, respects, and values each other no matter where life takes us or which son or daughter-in-law walks into our family. She’s also daring me to stare down every fear I’ve ever had and adapt to a new life of meaning and purpose, which no longer includes raising her. This means making sure that I rise to every challenge in living to my full potential so that I can continue to model a life lived with joy, happiness and meaning.
I’d be lying if I said that I won’t sometimes get a lump in my throat when I walk past her room and notice how surprisingly tidy it stays without her. But there’s so little time for sadness because the joy and gratitude I feel that my daughter is exactly where she needs to be overshadows the blues.
I also feel enormous gratitude that we get to experience this as a family, and immense pride that my husband and I had a hand in creating this special human being that Atea has become. We have no regrets, no looking back and wishing we’d done more, been there more, because we took every opportunity we could to switch up our lives and careers to make both of our kids the center of our universe.
And to my beautiful daughter Atea, I remain forever your mother—and now your best friend.