"It is solved by walking."
Fall is nudging into winter here in Portland: it’s chilly, grey, and the sidewalks are slick with decaying leaves. I walk every day no matter the weather, so seasonal change is a full-body experience. I never tire of this. Nothing more reliably resets my mood than a walk.
If I were to get a tattoo (which I’m 85% sure I never will), it would read solvitur ambulando. This is not a spell one learns at Hogworts. It’s Latin for, “it is solved by walking.”
Earlier this week I was walking with my friend, Mary Wells (that’s her first name). We walk for an hour every Wednesday morning. I’m barely aware of time passing as we wear grooves into the sidewalks of our neighborhood, swapping stories, laughing about nonsense. We often interrupt ourselves to identify an unusual plant in someone’s yard or to ruffle the ears of a passing dog.
Mary Wells and I met when our older sons (both Sams) were in preschool. We bonded right away and signed ourselves up for a “Mommy & Me”-type music class with our younger toddlers: her son, Asa, and my daughter, Mirabai. All four kids are off at college now, which is to say we’ve covered a lot of ground together.
The other day we walked by the old, brick Methodist church, site of our long-ago music class, and were amazed to see it’s still in session. There was the red-and-white sandwich board welcoming attendees. There were the mothers holding squirming marshmallow toddlers and juggling errant mittens, bulky diaper bags, and harried greetings as they made their way inside.
We stood there, marveling. “Remember when we did that?” I said. She responded with raised eyebrows and a wistful smile. Those mothers were doing both the simple and impossible. How did we do it? We just did it, 24 hours at a time.
A faint recollection from those years: whenever I caught a glimpse of two women walking together, relaxed and unencumbered, I thought, with exhausted wonder, will I ever do that again?
We gazed at the scene for about three more seconds, warmed by shared memories, then resumed walking, ready to move on. Cute as those plum-cheeked toddlers were, neither of us longed to be back there again.
I’ve been doing the empty nest1 thing for over a year now. Life is chugging along. Better than chugging along, really. The messiness of life is within tolerable limits. If you were to ask me whether I prefer being the parent to adults or young kids, I’d say ADULTS with an intensity that might make you step back. I love this moment, and I’m grateful for my life's particulars.
But this season also feels less settled than the first winter without kids at home. Not darker, exactly, but not easier, as I would have expected. I’m restless, distracted, questioning next steps even though so much feels right and hopeful. Part of me feels like the passenger in a car going 100 miles per hour. Another part of me feels stuck on the freeway shoulder, trying unsuccessfully to merge into traffic.
Is this because the Everest-level task of managing my Mom’s move is behind me, and an undiscovered cadence with her lies ahead? Is it because we’re living, Truman Show-like, in the 2022 episode of the Pandemic Holiday Special? Is this just my usual end-of-year reflectiveness?
Yes. No. Maybe. Does it matter?
Those music class moms reminded me that although much about my life has changed, my job, now, as then, is the same:
Keep going, 24 hours at a time.
Keep lacing up my shoes and bundling up against the cold, keep stepping out my door and looking both ways — to memory and to the future — as I cross the street.
This is Parent of Adults, a newsletter by Asha Dornfest about life after the kids grow up. Become a free or paid subscriber:
Hot links 🔗✨
Who remembers the fun of navigating the early blogosphere, before Google knew what to make of blogs? Getting around involved a kind of wayfinding; serendipitous hopscotch from one site to another via blogrolls and links and clues left in referrer logs. Conversations could migrate from the comment section on one blog to another. It felt like magic!
Sharing other people’s work, the stuff that inspired or helped us or got us riffing, and then following that generous trail of breadcrumbs wherever it led… that was one of the best parts of that Internet era.
“Hot links” was just one of the puns floating around for curated lists of hyperlinks. Which brings us here! With emojis for modern flair.
Note: The book links contain affiliate codes. If you buy through these links, I receive a small commission at no cost to you. Read my affiliate link policy here.
“Does ‘reinvention’ always mean some big, bold leap into a new future? Or, can it also mean adapting with grace to changing circumstances?” 24 hours at a time, perhaps?narrates her own non-linear path, reminding me I’m not alone on mine. is one of my “parent of adults” role models. Her books How To Raise an Adult (for parents) and Your Turn (for young adults) are goldmines. So is her newsletter, . I read her holiday “recipe for ease” last year and it grounded me in the days before my kids came home for winter break. (Note: Julie is migrating her newsletter to Substack, so to keep up with her, subscribe here.) writes the beautiful Substack newsletter, . In this post, she described the surprise and ordinariness of grief in a way I needed to hear.
Thanks for reading. If you have links (or thoughts) to share, leave them in the comments. Have a wonderful week.
For the record, I use the phrase “empty nest” under protest. It does the job, but it drives me nuts. I’m planting a flag: we’re going to come up with new shorthand for this parenting juncture. 🏴☠️ TO BE CONTINUED IN A FUTURE NEWSLETTER. Oh, and I also hate the phrase “adult children,” so be thinking about that, too.