Birds Have It Easy

There we were. Alone at last. Just the two of us: my husband behind the wheel, me in the passenger seat. We had just dropped off our daughter at camp and were ready to embark on the three-hour drive home. No kids. No dog. Just us.

My husband turned on the radio. I rolled down my window, put my feet on the dashboard, closed my eyes, and began thinking—which sometimes is not a good thing. “Birds have it easy,” I said to my husband. “They incubate their eggs for approximately two weeks, and then spend another two weeks raising their young until they leave the nest and fly away forever.”

“Try not to think too much,” my husband replied with the standard reply he always gives when I think too much. Unfortunately, it was too late.

As we all know, humans don’t have it quite as easy. My husband and I have been sitting on our nest for nearly twenty years, feeding our young, helping them with homework, offering unsolicited dating advice, and accompanying them on college visits. Not that we are complaining. We love being parents. But as the wind blew my hair and the sounds of the Steve Miller Band filled the car, I was suddenly reawakened to the woman I once was, before I became “Mom.”

I reached over and turned up the radio. “Some people call me the Space Cowboy …,” I loudly sang.

My husband didn’t need any encouragement as he threw his head back and crooned along with me.

Our singing slowly faded as we slipped into the comfortable silence two people share after being married for a long time. It was a beautiful summer evening. My husband tapped the steering wheel in rhythm with the song.

I closed my eyes again and smiled. In that moment, I allowed myself to embrace my seven-day freedom from motherhood. For one whole week, I wouldn’t have to ask my daughter, “Where are you going? What time will you be home? Does your car have enough gas? Why don’t you ever clean your room?” It seemed like heaven.

As our car sped past one cornfield after another and the miles separated us even further from our daughter, I knew she was probably already in the midst of her own form of heaven, secretly grateful that for one whole week, she wouldn’t have to listen to me ask, “Where are you going? What time will you be home? Does your car have enough gas? Why don’t you ever clean your room?”

I brushed my wind-blown hair out of my eyes and gazed out the window at the crops. Together, my daughter and I were welcoming our newfound independence. We were both learning how to live without each other—she for the first time and me again. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. Even though I knew she would eventually take a different path that would lead her away from her father and me, and that was okay. During that three-hour car ride, I had allowed myself to envision what life would be like in a few years—and I liked it.

I think the birds are onto something big. Maybe having an empty nest isn’t so bad after all.

“It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.”

—Joyce Maynard

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Yes Kids, Your Parents Were Once Super Cool

It all started with a Throwback Thursday status update on Facebook. Seconds after I posted a perfectly lovely photo of middle school me playing the cello dressed in purple suede hot pants with a matching vest, my son emerged from his bedroom for the first time in three days and muttered, “I need to move out of this town. That picture is not cool at all, Mom. Not cool.”

Even though no one was holding me down and forcing me to defend my adolescent fashion choices to a teenager, I knew I couldn’t just sit idly and listen to him tarnish the cool image I once worked so hard to attain. “Hey, I’ll have you know that suede hot pants were totally in style back then,” I retorted a little too defensively. He grunted while attempting to devour the entire contents of the refrigerator in four seconds flat. “And I’ll have you know that I was super popular in middle school,” I added for good measure. I didn’t feel he needed to know that I was definitely super popular … with all the other nerdy kids or that one of those nerdy kids had recommended I wear pantyhose and open-toed sandals with those suede shorts, which of course, I did.

While he continued eating, grunting, and believing I was the least cool person he had ever met, I found a box of old photos in the basement. “Look,” I said as I returned to the kitchen and placed a photo in front of him. He groaned. I smiled. In a time when presidents were thrown out of office, peace signs were more prevalent than stop signs, and Madonna was buying her first pointy bra, there I stood in all my glory, next to my locker. I didn’t think there was a single person who could legitimately dispute my obvious coolness in high school. After all, anyone who was anyone back in those days definitely had permed hair, eyeglasses the size of two fried eggs, and a polyester disco shirt.

My son flipped the photo over and pushed it back toward me. “Mom, seriously, I’m eating.”

I pulled out another photo and held it up for his viewing pleasure. “You see this? Here I am before prom with my date, Mike McGoo, star football player.”

My son rolled his eyes. “Nice dress.”

I turned the photo around and admired my baby blue gown with a ruffle that graced the top of my platform shoes. Mike McGoo stood stiffly next to me with a smile plastered on his face that clearly indicated he was ecstatically happy he had chosen the hippest girl in school to attend prom with him.

I sighed as I placed the photo back in the box and closed the lid on my super cool past. I knew there was no convincing him. After all, my parents had once tried to persuade me that they too were super cool. But I knew better. What kind of cool person would ever dream of wearing white bobby socks with a poodle skirt? Or a hat with a business suit? Certainly, I was no dummy, especially when it came to fashion.

“Mom, just promise me, no more Throwback Thursday posts on Facebook, okay?” my son begged as I walked out of the kitchen.

I turned around and nodded. I didn’t feel he needed to know that I had my fingers crossed under that box of photos. That’s the kind of thing super cool people do, just in case you were wondering.

By Vicky DeCoster, All Rights Reserved

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Pre-Oscars Movie Viewing Fuels Popcorn Battle Once Again

Last weekend as the movie theater lights dimmed, the previews began, and the music blared, my husband and I looked at each other, nodded, and turned back to watch the screen. With a large popcorn bucket precariously balanced between our two seats, we looked like any other couple ready to sit back, share a snack, and enjoy one of the Oscar-nominated movies. But unbeknownst to everyone around us, we were not just like any other couple. We were a couple firmly entrenched in a never-ending clash of wills that first began twenty-three years ago on one of our first dates.

It was 1991. My love for my husband-to-be (HTB) was even bigger than my hair. We were seeing our first movie together: City Slickers. As we settled into our seats with a large bucket of popcorn between us, suddenly everything I thought I knew about my HTB flew out the door of the movie theater.

As the lights dimmed, the previews began, and the music blared, I turned to look at my HTB, smiled, and daintily placed my fingers in the popcorn bucket. As I placed three kernels of corn into my mouth and turned back to the screen, I heard a strange noise. Intrigued, I looked at my HTB who had suddenly transformed into a less furry version of Cookie Monster. As he stuck his hand back in the popcorn bucket, pulled out a handful, and shoved it all in his mouth at once, I swear I heard him say, “Num, num, num.” I looked down at the bucket. Half the popcorn was gone already. How did this happen? I frantically grabbed three more kernels and popped them in my mouth. He grabbed a handful and shoved thirty-five kernels in his mouth. Three. Fifty. Three. Seventy-five. In a matter of minutes, my husband had devoured nearly the entire bucket of popcorn. My stomach rumbled. He patted his stomach, leaned over, and whispered, “I’m stuffed, how about you?”

Fast forward twenty-three years to a dark movie theater. It was 2014 and my love for my husband was still big, even though my hair wasn’t. During all those years, we had become used to sharing most everything with each other: a checking account, countless bars of soap, and even a toothbrush on one memorable camping trip when I forgot my own. But when it came to popcorn … well, let’s just say that was still a work in progress.

As I daintily placed my fingers in the popcorn bucket, pulled out three kernels, and popped them in my mouth, I heard my husband’s hand enter the bucket. I may be older, but thankfully, I still have my hearing, cat-like reflexes, and peripheral vision. Before he could blink an eye, I grabbed his hand, which was full of popcorn, and shook it until just three kernels remained between two fingers. I smiled. His stomach rumbled. Then we laughed together because both of us knew that although he hadn’t changed his popcorn eating habits since that date long ago, one thing had: the movie theater now offered free popcorn refills.

Twenty-three years ago, I was a little more googly-eyed when it came to love. Although age brings things we don’t really want like aching joints, reading glasses, and hair in places that shouldn’t have hair, I like to think that age also brings wisdom about relationships and what is really important in life.

One day, I imagine my husband and I will be happily spending our days rocking on our front porch talking about our grandchildren, our doctor’s appointments, and where we think we left our reading glasses last. As the afternoon turns into dusk, I’ll ask him,”Do you want me to make some popcorn?” and he’ll answer, “Go find my teeth, honey.” Moments later, I’ll scoot my rocker next to his, place the bowl between us, and turn to look at him, knowing it’s not about how small or big our handfuls are, but that we are still sharing a bowl of popcorn after all these years. Then, I’ll eat three kernels, he’ll eat thirty-five, and we’ll laugh just like always have while the world goes by.

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Who Are You Again?

Who are you? Those three words were screaming through my brain like a runaway train when a woman I swore I’d never seen before in my life shouted my name in a parking lot the other day.

As she approached and asked question after question about me, my children, and my work, I could not for the life of me remember who she was. While I frantically scanned her uniform for a name tag and mentally ran through a list of names, I cheerfully answered her questions with probably a little more detail than interested her. But little did she know that on the inside, I was stalling, freaking out, and planning my escape route.

Want the cold, hard truth? This is what happens when the stars unalign, hormones dry up and blow away forever, and tiny aliens invade an aging brain and scramble it like eggs.

As sweat rolled down my armpits and into my shoes, I tried to recall all the tricks for remembering names. Unfortunately, the only trick I could remember was how to make a coin disappear. Seven minutes later, the woman had learned more about what had happened to me in the last six months than my husband knew. As she reached out for a hug, I embraced her and enthusiastically remarked, “It was soooo great to see you again!” I knew that one day I would really mean it … when I figured out who she was.

Thank goodness I’m not the only one who is suffering from memory loss. Yesterday, while I was feverishly searching for the W-2 form I had somehow misplaced, my husband came into the kitchen, looked up at the ceiling for five minutes, and then walked out. “I’ll be back when I remember what I came in here for,” he yelled over his shoulder. This morning, he was telling someone at breakfast about the wonderful meal he ate last night at a local restaurant. After he completed a lengthy description of a beef and bean enchilada that would make a food critic proud, he suddenly realized there was only one problem: he couldn’t remember where he ate the spectacular dinner. “What was the name of that restaurant again?” he asked me in a panic while the person patiently waited. I just wish I could have helped him. I was too busy trying to remember where I put my wallet.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know it could be worse. Every night, I thank my lucky stars that I’m not wandering around the neighborhood in my underwear, howling at the moon, and calling out for one of my sixteen cats. Not that I could recall the cat’s name anyway. Or the way to get home. Or even that there’s a moon in the sky after dark.

Sharon! See, I knew I’d finally remember that woman’s name. I should call her up. Maybe she knows the name of that restaurant. Now if I could only figure out what I did with her number.

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A Holiday Tradition Stands Firm: No Green Jell-O Salad

In families throughout the world, the holidays are dictated by annual traditions like pushing down fellow customers in a big box store in an attempt to grab the latest “Scratch Me Santa,” pouring rum in the eggnog punch to see what kind of family secrets grandma will reveal when she’s tipsy, and attending church services for the first time all year in a last-ditch effort to avoid booking a room at the Hell Hath No Fury Inn when death knocks at the door.

In my house, the holidays are dictated by many wonderful traditions like the ceremonial untangling of the lights, the haphazard decorating of Christmas cookies, and the frantic last-minute wrapping of gifts. But there is one tradition that no one in my house wants to give up—at least not yet.

Every Christmas Eve, we follow the same protocol we have since the children were little. My husband fires up the grill, I make a chocolate cream pie, and my now teenagers set the table. Nothing varies … ever. The menu, seating arrangements, formal attire, and post-dinner television movie choice have remained the same since 1994. God forbid if someone has a hankering for green Jell-O salad or to sit at the head of the table instead of on the right side or to drink out of a water glass instead of a crystal wine glass or to watch It’s a Wonderful Life instead of A Christmas Story. It’s simply not going to happen. On this night, our tradition stands firm.

To be honest, I’m not sure why this tradition has remained set in stone since the year genetically engineered tomatoes were first introduced and I first discovered stretch marks. All I know is that it works and that each year, something memorable happens. One year I saw a bright object racing across the dark sky that I was certain was Santa’s sleigh. Another year my husband grilled our dinner in 70-mile-per-hour wind gusts and blizzard conditions. One Christmas Eve, my son dressed up for dinner like Robert Goulet, complete with a paper mustache and suit and tie.

I keep thinking that one of these days, my children who somehow turned 19 and 16 when I wasn’t looking, will tell me that they are heading in different directions on Christmas Eve. But for now, they are certain of one thing in life: they want to spend Christmas Eve the same way they have since they can remember: in our cozy little suburban house tucked away from the world where green Jell-O salad is not welcome, the seating chart remains the same, and the magic of this one night reminds all of us that it is the memories, not the gifts, that provide us the most comfort and joy.

Happy Holidays, from my cozy little house to yours.

 “Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.”

Dr. Seuss

By Vicky DeCoster, All Rights Reserved

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I Am Still Here: A Life-Changing Mantra

The thing I remember most from that day four weeks ago is the sound of my daughter crying on the phone as I informed her from the side of the freeway that both her father and I had been in a serious car accident. It was my birthday. It was the day my daughter realized how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken away. It was also the day I began to live by these four words:

I am still here.

I am known for a few things in my neck of the woods: my addiction to Hot Tamales, my gift for sneezing like Donald Duck, and my knack for worrying about everything including potential chemicals in my drinking water, the amount in my retirement fund, and the person standing behind me in the grocery store line who has just revealed she has a suspicious mole. But while sitting on the side of the freeway on a windy October afternoon, all that worrying suddenly seemed irrelevant because only one thing really mattered:

I am still here.

Yesterday, I shared the sauna at the gym with a stranger. After a few moments of nothing but the sound of my sweat dripping onto the bench, we exchanged greetings for lack of nothing else than to keep ourselves conscious. Soon, we were engaged in conversation that led to him disclosing that he had recently lost the most important person in his life: his wife. As he contemplated out loud all the things they had wanted to do together, but now couldn’t, I listened. When the sauna filled with silence once again, I shared my story of what I learned on the side of the freeway on that windy October afternoon. In a matter of minutes, two strangers were strangers no more. There are those who might say we were brought together for a reason. Maybe so. I like to think we both helped each other reinforce what we already knew: that living in the moment is the best way to live. After all, we are both still here.

My bucket list is entirely too long. Although I’ve been trying to whittle down the list for years, there are still many things I have yet to accomplish, see, and conquer. My drive to continue seeking adventure is stronger than ever. And so out of the mangled metal comes a positive, life-changing mantra that I hope is contagious.

I am still here.

Feel free to make it your own.

By Vicky DeCoster, All Rights Reserved

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Find a Way

Earlier this week, my husband and I intently watched as Diana Nyad staggered out of the water in Key West, Florida, and made history by being the first woman to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. As I picked up the remote and turned off the television, my husband whispered, “Here we go.” After twenty years of marriage, he was already predicting the future more accurately than Nostradamus.

I sighed, “I don’t think I’m doing enough with my life.” I walked to gaze out the window of my suburban house nestled in the middle of suburbia. “It’s really not hard to figure out,” I said to the cardinal who made the mistake of landing on the deck railing in front of me. “I need excitement.”

There was no need to call the doctor. I already knew the diagnosis: I had just come down with a bad case of adventure envy.

I turned and sat on the couch next to my husband, whose eyes darted about the room searching for a quick escape route. I mentally moved down a list of possibilities. Swimming a long distance was out, mostly because I hadn’t yet been able to make my way across the community pool without first strapping on a life jacket and oxygen. Competing in the Ironman Triathlon was out because … well … see above. Due to my fear of bears, heights, and everything in between, climbing a mountain was out as well. After just a few seconds of contemplation, I was already back to square one in Boringville.

Now that some time has passed, I have come to the realization that Diana Nyad’s record-breaking swim was not just about a woman who sought adventure in her life and found it. Her journey across the sea was more about perseverance, inner-strength, and achieving something no one had ever before. Diana Nyad fought for thirty-five years until she found a way.

You’re never too old to live your dreams.

Life is short. Every day, I have a choice, even here in Boringville. You have a choice wherever you are. Adventure comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and prices. Adventure comes when we step outside our comfort zones, face our fears, and walk into the unknown simply because we believe we can do it. Each morning when the sun comes up, we are all provided with a chance to do something great. It can be as simple as running a mile at the gym or as monumental as swimming one hundred and ten miles from Cuba to Florida. Or it can be somewhere in between like mentoring a troubled child, starting a business, or writing a book. But first, you have to believe you can do it.

Find a way.

Today, close your eyes, hold your breath, and jump into the unknown. You never know who you might inspire. Do it for Diana Nyad.

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