What the First Day after a Summer Co-Parenting Pass Off Looks Like

At 5:30 Saturday morning I left my children at an airport with their father. The kids are spending the summer overseas with him, and I won’t see them for 10 weeks. Pass offs never get any easier, especially when the separation is so long, and my emotions are like a ping pong ball bouncing all over the place. This is what the first day after a co-parent pass off for an entire summer looks like:
5:30 am: I stand by my car at curbside drop off with tears streaming down my face, waving at my 8-year-old daughter through the sliding glass door as she cries and waves back. Her father must have called her name because I watch her turn and walk away. I stare at the empty space for 5 long seconds before walking to my car and driving home alone.
5:45 am: My drive home parallels the beach where I frequently go to watch sunsets, and the colorful sky reminds me how early it is. I have nowhere to be, so I pull over and watch the sunrise. Sitting in my normal sunset spot but facing the opposite direction, I realize I had never seen the sun rise from this beach I had been to a hundred times before. It is awesome.
6:00 am: I cuddle with my boyfriend and my dog, and I cry.
6:15 am: I call my mom. And I cry.
6:30 am: Time for action! Strip the kids’ beds. Start a load of laundry. Put away Xbox remotes and school backpacks and stray Nerf darts and dirty socks. Start a list of things to buy in 9 weeks before the kids come home. Throw away all the random clutter the kids told me not to throw out “yet” because they’re gone now and in 10 weeks they’ll never remember the shoebox filled with cut up pieces of cardboard or the year-old Dave and Busters tickets they found two days ago or the paperclip necklace that kept mysteriously showing up after I disassembled it. And pencils. Where did all these pencils come from?!
7:00 am: I’m exhausted. Crash on my deck with coffee, a book and Facebook sympathy and support.

8:00 am: I have to get up and move! Another load of laundry. Tidy daughter’s room. Trash more random kid junk. 
8:15 am: I’m exhausted. Crash on the couch with a book and my foot spa. Is this day over yet?
9:00 am: Kids call during a layover. They sound so far away.
9:15 am: Have to get up and move! Another load of laundry. Hang Nerf guns on designated hooks. Clean son’s bathroom. Trash more kid junk.
10:00 am: Have I eaten anything since the banana at 4:30 this morning? Tropical Smoothie run. Surely this super healthy smoothie and questionably healthy breakfast wrap will energize me and put my day on track for mega productivity!
10:30 am: The food failed to energize me or generate mass productivity. Back on the deck with more coffee and a book. My brain isn’t processing what I’m reading. I watch the kids swimming at my apartment complex’s pool below. Just two days ago it took me 15 minutes to drag my daughter out of the water. As we walked home she said, “I don’t want to leave.” I told her I realized she was having fun with her friends but it was time to shower and get ready for bed. “No, Mom,” she said. “I don’t want to leave you for the summer.” That was when the real tears started for both of us.
11:30 am: I’m taking a bubble bath. Not a typical Saturday morning activity for me, but today hasn’t exactly been typical.
12:30 pm: Overheated and totally relaxed from the bath, I let myself take a snoozer. 
1:45 pm: Feeling a bit more human after a nap and a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. I look at my planner and sigh at the extensive list of to-do’s I created for myself days ago, anticipating I would need distractions from the emptiness I knew I would feel. But I know not a single item will be checked off that list today.
2:00 pm: Back on the deck with coffee and a book. I contemplate going to the pool, but it’s crowded and my introverted tendencies are on high alert. 
2:30 pm: Deck to couch to kitchen to bathroom to deck to kitchen to deck to couch. TV on, tv off.  I should go somewhere, leave the house. I should stay home, I’m exhausted. Music on, music off. It’s not so much the silence that makes me unable to sit still. It’s the lack of their presence. 
4:30 pm: Boyfriend and I settle on the couch for a night of binge-watching the new season of “Orange is the New Black.” After the first episode, he picks up sushi so we can eat and watch in our comfy pants. I’m not going anywhere the rest of the day.
7:30 pm: On our way to the beach! I realize I’ve never watched both the sun rise and set in the same day from the same spot on my favorite beach.
7:50 pm: Daughter FaceTimes! The kids reached their destination safe and sound. Tween son is too cool to chat, but daughter looks tired, happy and beautiful.

8:26 pm: Sunset.
8:45 pm: Back in comfy pants. One more episode of OITNB. Wine.
10:00 pm: Time for bed. This tough day is over, and tomorrow it’s time to end my pity party. Daughter’s room will become the staging area for vacation packing. Meal planning will begin that includes more grown-up food and less chicken nuggets and squeezable yogurt. A new routine that includes exercise, guitar practice and writing will fill the hours I’d normally spend wearing my mom hat. 
I know the summer will fly by. I know my kids will have fun. I know I’m allowed to have fun too. And I know I need to spend this time reenergizing and doing things I can’t do when my kids are around. Let the summer begin!


This is How to Crush a Bucket List: A Year in Review

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Ask just about anyone you know if they have a bucket list of awesome things they want to do before they die, and chances are, they’ll say yes. 

“I want to travel the world,” some will say.

“I want to start my own business,” others will say.

“I want to win the lottery and retire at 45, never to work again,” other (delusional) friends might say.

But how many do you know who are actively working on their bucket lists? It wasn’t until I finally started knocking items off my own bucket list that I realized how long I’d been hiding in the category of all talk and no action.

People tend to reevaluate their lives when they go through major transitions. My divorce was no exception. It was during the dismantling of my marriage that I started on my bucket list. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing. At the time, I was just in need of a distraction, a goal, a reason to get out of bed and move. My bucket list came knocking on my door, telling me it was time, promising that the only way I could fail was by not trying.

That was three years ago. So how am I doing on that bucket list? I’m proud to say I’m kicking its ass. 

What all have I checked off? Well, a year ago I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post called, “How a Divorce Bucket List Helped Me Move On,” listing six big-ticket items on my bucket list. Here’s how I’m doing on that list:

1. Run a marathon

This is what kicked everything off. I decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon during one of the most difficult times in my life, and that decision didn’t just get me in amazing shape, a cool medal and the bragging rights to put a 26.2 magnet on my car. It also made me realize that I’d been talking about running a marathon for years in the same sentence as “bucket list” and “some day.” Crossing that finish line made me realize my some day had come. And I wondered why I waited so long for it instead of making it happen.

And just like that, I wanted more of my “some day” wishes to become “now” realities.

2. Remove a tattoo

When we’re 14 we think we know it all, don’t we? Well, we don’t. And I have a regrettable tattoo to prove it. (Click here for the story on that.) The tattoo is small and privately located, and I probably could have lived the rest of my life keeping it hidden and simply ignoring it.

But I wanted it gone.

What originally cost $40 and 20 minutes of my time is now a continuing project that has taken well over a year and over $1,000. At the end of this month I’ll undergo my 12th laser treatment, and it won’t be my last. Fingers crossed for lucky 13!

3. Write a novel

I’ve had a novel written in my head for as long as I can remember. The tricky part it seems is transferring it from my brain to my computer. I can’t say I’m accomplishing this bucket list item in a timely fashion, but the novel has officially made a home on my computer with several chapters completed. I don’t know when it will get done, and I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself with a deadline. Right now, the fact that I’ve started gives me hope that I’ll finish. Write on.

4. Learn to play the guitar

I’ve always been really good at listening to music, but not so good at making it. A million years ago, I played the drums in middle school, but I quit for fickle middle school girl reasons. My dad picked up the guitar after he retired and listening to him reminded me that I’ve always wanted to learn. With his help and encouragement, I set out on this acoustical journey that has proven to be way more challenging than I expected. But I take weekly lessons, try my best to practice at home and take pride in my efforts and accomplishments.

5. Sky dive

When I turned 39 last year, I had an overwhelming itch to do something epic and a new boyfriend who was more than willing to be my partner in epic-ness. What started as an outlandish suggestion over coffee one morning turned into a plunge out of a perfectly good airplane. It was a extreme lesson in overcoming fear with a bonus shot of adrenaline. It was pure awesome.

6. Go on a solo vacation

When  my ex and I first split up, I had a hard time going out to dinner by myself. I felt like people were staring at me, wondering why I was alone. I felt awkward with no one across the table to talk to. It was lonely and boring. 
But the more I started doing things alone, the more I embraced it. So when I found out that my kids would be spending last summer overseas with their father, I decided to take advantage of that time to go on vacation. By myself. 
I spent seven amazing days in Turks and Caicos. I swam, walked, biked, shopped, read, wrote, collected shells, snorkeled, sailed, flew on a trapeze and totally de-stressed. And I ate every meal alone, a concept I never would have entertained three years ago. I treasured every second.


7. Go on a hot air balloon ride

This one is a relatively new idea and wasn’t on my list a year ago. In the months leading up to my 40th birthday, I wondered how I was going to top my last birthday sky diving adventure. And one day it hit me out of nowhere that I wanted to go on a hot air balloon. 

The logistics were a bit more complicated for this one because it required traveling, working around a university’s graduation and obsessing over weather reports, but it all came together in a chaotic, perfect kind of way. That new boyfriend of last year was once again my partner in epic-ness, plus my best friend who was also celebrating her birthday. 

Although both birthdays revolved around an up in the air sky theme, the experiences were totally different. Unlike the blurry rush of falling from 14,000 feet, hovering in the middle of the sky at 1,100 feet in the balloon was calm, peaceful and beautiful. I have to admit I had moments of frozen realization that I wasn’t wearing a parachute and one false move could hurl me over the side of the basket. But when we started descending, I felt myself trying to stop time so the flight wouldn’t end.

So what’s next on my bucket list? I haven’t figured that out yet. I think generally speaking, I want to continue trying new things, especially cool things I never thought of doing before. Since my boyfriend kindly amuses me by participating in my birthday adventures, I try to do the same for him. Last year we went camping in Shenandoah National Park, and I scrambled up rocks and bagged a peak when I didn’t even know what that meant. 

This summer, when the kiddos are once again with their father for 10 weeks, we’re heading out to Costa Rica for zip-lining adventures and sloth sightings. Other than that, I’m not quite sure what’s next.

What I do know is that I refuse to sit around and wait for things to happen. I’m going to keep getting up and making things happen.


Despite the tight squeeze in the hot air balloon basket and my fear of losing my grip on my phone and watching it plunge to its death, I did manage to take a Facebook Live video while up in the air. Check it out.

40 Things I Learned By 40

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post on my birthday called “Today is My Birthday…And I’m Turning Beautiful.” And for the last three years, I returned to that post, reread it, shared it and reflected on my life and the twists and turns it’s taken.

But this year, as I celebrate my birthday — the big 4-0 — I thought I’d take one step beyond mere silent reflection and jot down the lessons I’ve learned from the last decade of those twists and turns, lessons I plan to keep in my back pocket as I embark on my fabulous 40’s.

So what did my 30’s teach me? Here are 40 things I learned by 40:

1. Enjoy your own company.

2. Friendships require effort on both sides. 
3. You’re never too old to dye your hair pink. 
4. Don’t skip dentist appointments.
5. “Fake it till you feel it” isn’t good enough. It’s no way to live your life.
6. The longer you plan for something, the less likely it is to happen as you planned.
7. Life isn’t a competition. 
8. Trust your gut.
9. When someone offers help, take it.
10. Be a person who makes things happen.
11. Read voraciously.
12. Pursue passions, no matter how small or silly they may seem.
13. Laugh. A lot.
14. Always accept your children’s hugs when they offer. One day they won’t offer.
15. You never know what goes on behind closed doors.
16. Stop repeating bad patterns.
17. Dancing it out really works.
18. Don’t let your people-pleasing tendencies dictate your decisions.
19. The grass is always greener on social media. Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes reality to other people’s highlight reels.
20. Don’t talk for the sake of talking. Have something to say.
21. Wear the red lipstick.
22. You won’t always get the apology you feel you deserve. Don’t waste time chasing it.
23. If something is important to you, you can find the time for it.
24. Done is better than perfect.
25. Listen to your body.
26. Be careful what you say, but not so careful that your life is censored. 
27. Sometimes knowledge is power. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Know the difference and plan accordingly. 
28. Everything happens for a reason, but there’s a good chance you may not ever find out those reasons.
29. Pets can help you get through the toughest of times.
30. You never know until you try.
31. Take the time to snap photos, but not so much time that you’re not living in the moment.
32. Learn forgiveness.
33. Your children see and hear everything. Be a good role model.
34. If people want you in their lives, they’ll find a way to keep you there.
35. There are two sides to every story.
36. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself.
37. Be thankful for unanswered prayers.
38. Travel to another country at least once when you’re old enough to appreciate it.
39. Learn how to cut unnecessary expenses to save money for big adventures (like traveling to another country).
40. It’s never too late.

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Writer’s Freeze,
You are Writer’s Block’s less famous cousin, the one who lurks in the corner of the party because, despite the fact that you are bursting with things to say, you’re overwhelmed and paralyzed by all those words. 
Unlike Block, you don’t need ideas or inspiration or motivation. You have plenty of that. What you need, dear Freeze, is your confidence. All those ideas are frozen in a state of “I’ll write that later” or “I don’t know where to pitch that” or “I’m rambling and I’m not sure I have a point in all this mumbo jumbo.”
Right now you’re lurking in the corner of my brain, clutching onto all those words even though your arms are so full of them that they’re about to drop all over the place. Honey, I need those words. So go ahead and drop them. Let yourself melt and drop those suckers right onto my computer screen. Don’t worry where they fall. I’ll be sure to put them in the right order. Thanks for collecting them and keeping them safe.
A Writer Who Misses Writing
Dear Body,
For most of my life, I’ve asked more of you than most people ask of their bodies. I’ve asked you to swim to national rankings and college scholarships. I’ve asked you to run to state championships and half marathon finish lines. I’ve asked you to create, grow and deliver two human beings. I’ve asked you to respond to treatment, heal from injuries, recover from surgery, strengthen from physical therapy and dodge proverbial bullets. I probably don’t thank you enough or show my appreciation by pampering you with frequent massages or eating less chocolate, but as I stare down yet another health issue, I hope you know I don’t take you for granted.
So I ask you for help now, Body, as I get ready to have an MRI on my hip tomorrow to figure out why, after being able to consistently run 20 plus miles a week, I can now barely walk. I scratched the half marathon I was training for. I got a cortisone shot that offered little relief. I rested, iced, Ibuprofen’ed and hobbled on crutches just like the doctors told me to. It’s time for answers and a plan. Can you give us a hint on that MRI? Show us what the doctors and X-rays are missing? Sometimes it’s the not knowing part that’s the most frustrating.
Love you,
A Runner Who Misses Running
Dear 40th Birthday,
Now that April has rolled around, I can say that I will be meeting you next month. And I have very mixed emotions about our introduction.
I have 43 days left in my 30’s. If I was looking to shake things up in my life, I certainly used this decade to accomplish that. A baby. The loss of a dog. An overseas move. A blog. A new dog. A career path. Another career path. A divorce. A boyfriend. And more twists and turns than I can count. In a way I’m ready to leave this decade behind, claim that I tried my best and jump headfirst into this new decade that I keep hearing all these great things about.
I’ve been watching the last several months on social media as friends I went to high school with hit their big 4-0. With a May birthday, I was always one of the last of my peers to age up. Now I’m thankful for that lag because I can watch how these friends handle the transition. I love the photos from their 40-themed parties and the status updates reflecting on their past and their excitement for the future. Seeing that and talking to my friends who have already passed into the next decade makes me think this might finally be the age where we are beyond the overriding angst and self-consciousness of that part of our lives when we’re still trying desperately to figure out who we are. Maybe by 40, we have it all figured out.
Oh who am I kidding…will we ever have it all figured out? I’ll probably be writing the same exact thing when I’m 43 days out from my 80th birthday. But even if my 40th birthday doesn’t bring total enlightenment, at the very least I have a super cool celebration in the works to greet this new decade. 
A Believer That You’re Only As Old As You Feel
Dear Spring,
Thank you for making a brief appearance last week so we could enjoy our Spring Break in Washington, DC. The weather was perfect as we hung out at monuments, the zoo, and my favorite, the Tidal Basin, where the cherry blossoms were waiting for us. We may have missed them peaking a few days earlier, but that also means we missed the massive crowds. Cherry blossoms hold a special place in my heart after living in Japan for 3 years, and despite the kids’ whines about having to “look at some dumb trees,” I’d like to think they too appreciated our lucky timing.
Although I had to pull my winter jacket out of my closet again this week, I’m looking forward to your final push to overtake winter. 
See you soon,
Not a Fan of Winter
Dear Riding the Roller Coaster,
I neglect you, I know. You are the reason for my writing career, yet I’ve done little recently to keep you in the loop and show you some love. But I still need you, old friend, and I’d like to hang out with you more. I admit that I now save what little personal writing I do to pursue freelancing opportunities, but maybe you and I can chat over coffee every now and then. Maybe what Writer’s Freeze (see above) needs to thaw out a little is some random free association that isn’t going to be chopped by editors. Maybe I need to go back to my roots and remind myself how this all started, back when the words flowed with ease and a daily blog post was a reality, not a laughable daydream. 
I miss you, RC.

To Whom It May Concern

Dear NaNoWriMo,
November is almost here and so are you. National Novel Writing Month. Writing a novel in one month. I attempted you last year, but after the first half of the month my energy and motivation dwindled to zero and I completely abandoned you. Time to redeem myself this year.
Of course I worry about adding one more plate to the lineup of plates I already have spinning. I’m a single mom with 2 kids, a full-time job, a boyfriend I want to spend time with, a need to exercise daily, a passion for the guitar that requires practice, and all the other unexpected life surprises that pop up, like flat tires and lingering sinus infections.
But I can’t sit here and make excuses for failing before I even start trying. It all boils down to creating time where I thought time didn’t exist, asking for help and accepting that some things just won’t get done. Restricting my social media check-ins throughout the day, taking my boyfriend up on his offers to cook and being okay with a messier than usual house will all create pockets of time for me to write. My schedule might need a little rearranging, but the time is there and waiting for me to use it wisely.
Plus, I’m kind of cheating. The novel I’m working on this year was already started last year, and I’ve noodled with it here and there since then. So technically I have a 3-chapter head start, which feels like a much smoother jump off than a completely blank page.
So please be kind to me, NaNoWriMo. You are both my muse and my nemesis. You gave me the gift of the beginning of my novel, but you also slapped me with the bitterness of failure. Let’s be friends this year.
See you in 6 days,
A Writer Hoping to Call Herself a Novelist
Dear Sinus Infection,
Please. Go. Away. And. Never. Come. Back. You are killing my productivity, and I have no time for you. (See above.)
My Eye Sockets

Dear Residents of My Apartment Complex,
You know that movie “Good Luck Chuck,” where Dane Cook becomes a relationship good luck charm because every time he breaks up with a woman she then meets the love of her life? Well, it seems I am the Good Luck Chuck of real estate. Over the weekend I helped with the move of my fourth friend to leave my apartment complex after finding a cool house. I will miss my across-the-hall neighbor and girls’ night out wine gal pal, and Gunner will miss his canine play dates.
So if you’re in search of your dream home just start hanging out with me, and I’ll be helping you move out in no time!
Good Luck Heather

Dear Halloween,
I’ve never claimed you as my favorite holiday, and I’m not one of those adults who goes crazy decorating my house or dressing up in anything more elaborate than a witch’s hat with black hair attached to it. But as I watch my kids grow up in the blink of eye, I realize that your special magic that I get to experience through the eyes of my children won’t last must longer. 

My 11-year-old son may be dressing up for you this year, but he refused to participate in the pumpkin carving, I practically have to chase him and hold him down to snap a picture of him, and worst of all, he had no desire to join in the annual viewing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” It’s only a matter of time until he announces he’d rather stay home while I take his little sister out trick-or-treating.
Thankfully I have several more years of entertainment with my 8-year-old daughter. And she never fails to entertain. The same girl who wanted to change her name to Cannonball in preschool decided she wanted nothing to do with princesses or anything else that might be construed as remotely girly. Nope, this year Cannonball is dressing up as Captain America.
Happy Halloween!


Halloweeney Sweeney

Middle School 2.0: 7 Tween Anxieties that Don't Age

Last month my son started middle school. I thought I’d be hyperventilating the first day he ventured out into the world of tweens, but I was surprisingly calm.  It wasn’t until I went through a mock school day at the back-to-school night last week that everything I hated and feared about middle school the first time around came back to haunt me the second time around.

Check out my list of those fears in my latest over at the Huffington Post:

Middle School 2.0: 7 Tween Anxieties that Don’t Age

50 One-Word Resolutions for Life After Divorce

Did you make a one-word New Year’s resolution this year? Well, since New Year’s, I’ve collected a list of 50 one-word resolutions. These resolutions apply not just to my 2015, but to my life as a single woman in general.

Want to read the whole list? Click on over to the Huffington Post and check it out. And let me know if there are any words I should add to my list!

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