This blog post was written with love by Meryl Russo, Heart-Centered Life Coach and Campowerment Good Will Ambassador.
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This was the question that kept swirling in my head.
The other query that gnawed at my brain.
They were familiar thoughts. They have come and gone throughout my lifetime, Sometimes multiple times in one day.
A broken heart, “Now what?” Disillusion in my career – “What’s next?” The list is lengthy, and I will stop there, knowing I am not alone. Yes, it’s growth…and it comes with a plethora of emotions: grief, fear, loneliness, relief, excitement, doubt, confusion…fill in the blank. But…this one? It wasn’t a question. This was a fact:
I was an empty nester.
My thoughts were reeling, raw emotions all over the place. My body was numb, sleep deprived, appetite gone (this MUST be a biggie if I can’t eat!) – you name it. I felt it all over, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew what I was signing up for. I was once a kid myself and I left for college never intending to live home again. And I didn’t. Yes, I did sign up for this, 3 times! To my surprise, and especially after the 3rd one, I apparently did not get the “memo” that this was going hurt so bad.
With no instruction manual, I began authoring “The Book of Mom” on April 4, 1992. Chapter 1 – Zachary Aaron Russo. Lots of crazy ups, steep downs, unexpected twists, and blind corners. As mother and son, we took turns, switching on and off our roles as the protagonist and antagonist, we found our way through sleepless nights, croup (had NO idea what that even was), extreme gas, tons and tons of cuddling and cooing, and a lot of 1st’s. Oh, and then there was me returning to corporate life after a crash course in self-taught motherhood over the 6 weeks of so-called “maternity leave.”
June 21, 1994. Chapter 2 – Griffin Isaac Russo. Now we had 2 babies. Not that it was easier…but at least the newborn stage is familiar. I felt more “comfortable” writing this chapter.
December 28, 1999. Chapter 3 – Dylan Ellis Russo. Having mostly navigated the balance between being a mom, a wife, and an executive, 5 ½ years later is a BIG chapter. Starting over again and while overwhelmed and exhausted, I was surprised by the sadness that Dylan is the last character in This Book of Mom.
Here’s the throughline:
Raising 3 boys (or any number of humans) is not easy. It’s more like a bumpy roller coaster and the most thrilling ride of my life. With no mom to guide me (mine died when I was 26), my mission was to raise 3 humans who are kind, compassionate, loving, giving, and grateful. Three boys who woke up at the crack of dawn one Sunday a month for 10 years – to cook and serve breakfast at a transitional housing facility for people who have nowhere to live. Loving kids who adopted elderly Holocaust survivors into their family for more than a decade. Who’d “fail” time and time again in sports, academics, friendship, and girls. Imperfect, amazing kids who disappoint themselves and others and still feel worthy, deserving of love, equipped to flow with what life will throw at them.
Three always evolving humans who navigate life with a sense of independence and confidence, all who chose to venture to summer camp and college 2 plane rides away, rising to the adventure and challenge of impending change at every corner. All while remaining vulnerable, yummy, kind, affectionate sons.
And, in the most challenging (and best) of times, I am blessed to not have to do this parenting thing alone. For 33 years, I’ve had a partner who surely wants to throw The Book of Mom at me from time to time. But instead, we surrendered to being co-authors. I have been able to find communities to lean on; filled with other moms who I divulge my perceived inadequacies to. The things I thought were only my experience, we shared – kids being picked on, left out, teased for just being athletically average, pushing boundaries or not cool with the girls. Basically, I’ve had villages to support me through all of it, as my kids unknowingly began to explore who they were, how they fit in and where they belonged.
I wrote The Book of Mom knowing that there’d be a final chapter of “this” kind of mom – the one who has kids under one roof, my roof. I just couldn’t imagine how I’d feel when I got to it.
The thought always delivered a pit to my stomach. Yet, I embraced every milestone; preschool – high school, a lost tooth, stitches, broken bones, slammed doors, silent treatment, vacations, movie and popcorn night, laughter, and lots of tears.
August 7, 2018, Dylan, our youngest, started college. We flew home to an empty nest. I closed The Book of Mom with every emotion you can imagine. Profound sadness and grief accompanied with huge waves of pride and excitement. I rode those nonlinear waves and let myself feel. How did 26 years fly by so fast? Yes, my role as a mom was forever changed AND yet, I was still a mom. And in fact, I always will be.
The Book of Mom 2.0
60 years old, retired from corporate life, empty nest. Same thoughts. NOW WHAT? WHAT’S NEXT? A new book, filled with blank pages. With The Book of Mom as an incredible resource filled with experiences to guide me.
- “You are so capable.”
- “You can look at it as a failure or an opportunity to grow.”
- “You are enough.”
- “Go for it!”
…one-liners in the first book and all said by me to my sons MANY TIMES. Chapters on community, support, being vulnerable and not weathering the storm solo.
I had no idea what I would write in 2.0. I was open, vulnerable, authentic, brave, messy, and scared.
For the first time in 26 years, I was the main character – taking care of me. Each step was terrifying and exhilarating.
And yet, it was all there, in the pages of my first book and how my kids are raised – “Take care of you. Inside first. Be kind. The rest will unfold.”
I became a Grief Group Facilitator, holding space for people grieving the death of a loved one. In the pages of a random magazine while waiting for takeout, an article about Campowerment appeared. I inquired and became part of a new community that empowers and nurtures me. A community that lets me stumble and cheers me on. I got certified as a Heart-Centered life coach, for individuals and groups. I created WisdomWalks, taking groups into nature; connecting with themselves and each other. I brought the TreeOfLoveLA to life on a WisdomWalk in the middle of LA’s Fryman Canyon. On this tree, hikers leave tender notes of encouragement and share their humanity.
None of this was planned. There was a lot of stumbling. The formula? It’s all in The Book of Mom –
- Show Up,
- Be Yourself,
- See What Happens….
And so, I did.
My kids? Zach and Griff now live in New York City. Dylan, my baby, is in Los Angeles. Yes, we all live in different places and spaces, and yes, we are still connected. Differently and beautifully. Frequent face times, 4 Men and the Queen (our group chat) is where we share Thoughts of the Day, cheer on our sports teams, send silly videos, remind each other of birthdays and celebrations, to stay close to each other and the people we love. As I stand back and continue to write Book #2, I find this to be the most remarkable of all. Those lessons in The Book of Mom that are now embedded in our sons’ lives? They were not lost on my boys, who are now witnessing and cheering my every move.
Have the tides turned? I don’t think so. We are all riding the same wave, all as adults, supporting each other as we grow and thrive.
This is just Chapter 1 of volume 2.
As I always remind my boys, no matter who you end up sharing your life with and wherever you may land, our hearts will always be connected and when we’re together, we will always feel HOME.
EMPTY NEST? Perhaps – and there is plenty of time for all of us to fly.
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Ready for the jump? Join us this fall at Classic Camp – Sept 28-Oct 1 in the Poconos. Soar among other women ready to take on their next chapter, with community to back whatever it should hold for them. The world needs us to live our fullest potential, and you can’t do that from the nest. Discover what that can mean for you this fall.
And if you’d like to talk about it — with me — by phone, call me at 818-396-7556 -or- schedule a good time to chat HERE. I’d love to bring my Mom 2.0 energy to exploring your questions and curiosities.
From the campfire & beyond…