One of the most difficult transitions in life is going from being a mother to being an ‘empty nester.’ From being a provider to being alone. And when it happens you’re not in your twenties or thirties anymore. The world has changed, and so have you, but you have to somehow regain your relevance and confidence.
After my youngest graduated from college I asked myself two questions. One: who needs me? (Nobody). Two: what do I need to do to stay relevant? (Grow). I decided I needed a ‘gap year’ of travel to shift my brain and make a leap of growth.
First I left my job where I had been rewarded with money and adulation and acceptance and a title and a predictable office routine. But it's not until after you leave that you ask yourself: what did it all mean? The number of hours and days and months and years wasted in the office…and at the end you have nothing to show for it. I can laugh now, but it was such a waste of time.
I sold my house in Stonington, Connecticut that I’d lived in for 14 years. It was a great house filled with great stuff, but I knew I couldn’t take any of it with me.
I took the money from the sale of my house and put it into my bank account. The guy who manages my money doesn't know I have the cash. I didn’t tell him because I know he'll tell me all the wonderful things he could do with the money. But sometimes I just like seeing the numbers in my bank account. Besides, I don’t really need the money for much. I live simply – I eat black beans rolled into tortillas and I grate own cheese.
Originally I wanted to go to France and I even rented a place in Lyon. But I changed my plans after a terrorist slit the throat of a priest at church in Normandy and another terrorist drove his truck through the crowds in Nice. Right now France is one of the worst places for terrorism. I just knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable there.
Instead I decided to travel throughout the United States. I rented a car with a sun roof and spent days driving through parts of the East Coast I hadn't explored before, just taking pictures out of the sunroof. I winged it – I had no definite plans to be anywhere.
My children would call me.
“Where are you mom?” They said. “What are you doing?”
I had told them I was going to take a leap year but they weren’t listening.
There is a spa in Burlington, Vermont called 'Where Is Mom?' I had a woman take a photo of me next to the sign and sent it to them.
I caught a ferry across Lake Champlain, drove through New York and into Toronto. After Toronto I just kept going West. I went from one national park to the next. I stood on top of 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak in the Great Basin National Park in Nevada. I went to Jasper National Park by train. The Rockies are beautiful but the Canadian Rockies are far superior to the American Rockies. As the train came around the corner everyone saw their first view of the Canadian Rockies and everyone on the train – French, Canadian, Chinese, Japanese, Americans – we all went, “AHHH!” It was incredible. I traveled to Haleakalā National Park in Hawaii. It’s 10,500 feet above sea level and based on volcanic lava, so it’s a very delicate ecosystem.
On my way back east I camped in Joshua Tree National Park. I camped right next to coyotes. Whole packs of them. I stayed long enough get to know them and their different personalities.
All of my times in the National Parks were special, but there were two really transformative experiences…