starting to change

January 5th, 2018

This morning I went into the backyard and took this photo of the Japanese maple, which is just now starting to change color. You might look at it and think, isn’t that lovely, and it is, but the color change used to take place in early November. The old calendar is obsolete.

This is my daughter’s final semester of high school. In the fall, she will be moving to New York to start college. I don’t know any more than that. I don’t know what will happen then or after. It’s not my life. I might have pretended I wasn’t obsessed with the future for these last 18 years or so, but that was a lie. Before our children leave home we have a pretty clear idea of what we expect to happen the next day, week, month and year. We’re all in. But now the future has finally escaped my grasp, leaving my hands ready for—ready for what?

A new year always brings with it the drive for change and renewal, but this one seems pointed straight at my keister. Everywhere I turn I see the message: What will you do with your days? What will you try now? What is it time for? How far will you go?

My friend Mary Trunk has a new documentary project, Muscle Memory. A former dancer and choreographer, she reunited with her college dance buddies after 30 years and filmed them learning new dance steps while they talked about how they’d changed since their glory days. Were they still willing to take risks, create, and discover new things about themselves? I find the answers mesmerizing.

Muscle Memory #1 from Mary Trunk on Vimeo.

A few months ago my daughter asked me the very question lurking around these margins. “What will you do after I leave?” She beamed her electric smile at me, buzzing with her approaching freedom. I shrugged. “You could write a book about raising a teenage daughter!,” she said. She was trying to help, and she meant it. She was giving me her permission. It was a kick, a jump, a start. Let’s see how far I’m willing to take it.


Maia Duerr has written a handy new book right up this alley, Work That Matters, a wise and realistic step-by-step guide to finding a livelihood that you love. If the questions on my mind are the questions on your mind, this book can start you off in the right direction. Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a brand-new copy and a brand-new you.


  1. Dear Maezen, I find it so touching to read of your thoughts around your daughter’s leaving for NY (where I happen to live). This human experience is always shifting and it does my heart good to see that if you’re in a body and mind, there are certain things that are inescapable. Thank you.

    Comment by Rosanne Cassidy — January 5, 2018 @ 4:03 pm

  2. I, too, wondered this same thing, albeit on a smaller scale, when my youngest started Kindergarten. What would I do with my time now? The life I led up to that point had been full-time mom; of course it still is, it just looks slightly different since they are gone part of the day and I find I miss them terribly. But sometimes I wonder how long I can go on like this (she’s now in 1st). Maybe I need some more direction in life- this could be what gets me started. Thanks for the book recommendation. And as always, I adore your posts- so real, so true, so authentic- thank you.

    Comment by Allison S — January 5, 2018 @ 4:37 pm

  3. No children. No days to fill. Not even a burning desire. But. And there is always a but. I hear that voice asking ” what is it time for now ? ” And the voice has deepened a little in my mind making me aware it is not a sing-songy thing, but a real question. What is it time for now ? We don’t always orchestrate the endings, but we are falling short somehow if we aren’t aware when they are upon us. What is it time for now ?

    Comment by Bonnie Nygren — January 5, 2018 @ 5:28 pm

  4. When I dropped my youngest child off for the first day of kindergarten I didn’t think I would cry. I did. Okay, sobbed. (And then I went to graduate school.) As I drove my loaded car behind her in her car to college in the next state I had no such predictions. I cried as Cat Stevens sang “Baby it’s a wild world, and I’ll always remember you as a child” on the radio. Okay, sobbed. (I went home and started violin lessons to fill the breach.) I could barely let go of her at the airport when she left for the Africa and the Peace Corps. (What an amazing human I raised.) As she spread her wings wider and wider, I spread mine too. I have no doubt you will soar as high as your little girl does. You have raised her well. This is your time. Fly!

    Comment by Gretchen Staebler — January 5, 2018 @ 8:23 pm

  5. Beautiful.

    Comment by Mary Ann Rennick — January 6, 2018 @ 12:40 pm

  6. I, too, have been wondering the same thing. When both of my kids were first gone, albeit just down the road at the local elementary school for 6 hours each day, I found myself wondering, what would I do with my time? I’d been a full-time mom all these years, still am of course, but it’s taken a slightly different shape now they’re gone part of my days. My youngest is in first grade now and sometimes I wonder how long I can go on wondering what next, what am I waiting for, what do I actually want to do. Thanks for putting this book on my radar- it may be just the thing I need. You always have a way of doing that- writing just the thing I need. Thank you for that.

    Comment by Allison S — January 5, 2018 @ 9:32 pm

  7. Dear Maezen, thanks for your ongoing writing with sparks of light and little questions that trigger. Between Muscle memory and Work that matters, my daughter already graduated, caring for my demented mother and my 5 months young puppy is keeping me ‘busy’, but speaking with the great poet Mary Oliver the underlying question always remains: ‘What is it, you’re planning to do with your one, wild and precious life?’

    Comment by Astrid — January 6, 2018 @ 12:34 am

  8. A quarter century of my life for theirs. Roots and wings, an empty nest, my sole reflection remains in the hallway mirror. Accusations that this calling “a waste of my life,” time will judge, but my heart is full. This was my choice and privilege. Now, with the final departure, this mother too is free. Where to fly? It is never too late, ever, to begin again, yet a wee bit of inspiration by way of this book offer would be most welcome. Perhaps a guide post in an unknown future.

    Comment by MJ — January 6, 2018 @ 1:13 am

  9. Hmmm….that book seems timely as I feel a change in my livelihood to be near. I was trying to explain to a friend just the other day about wanting to sell my business and they just couldn’t believe that my feelings about my livelihood had changed so drastically in the few years since I set out to be an entrepreneur. But I was delusional in thinking that being my own boss would solve all my problems. I have been fantastically unhappy since opening my business and feel that a way out will present itself soon, or at least I hope so. I have been struggling with what to replace this with to be honest. Thank you for your blog posting, as usual it is right on time.

    Comment by Nathan W Hayes — January 6, 2018 @ 5:01 am

  10. Although my children are still young, I too am going through a career/life change. I chose to stay home with them for eight years but am now returning to the work force seeking a life of my own that will both support and fulfill me. Although I love my children fiercely, I know I must make a life for myself so that when the day comes that they need to spread their wings I won’t mistakenly hold them back with my own unknowingly selfish desires. Your daughter is lucky to have a momma like you who understands all of this and provides a nurturing place to fall into when/if it is necessary.

    Comment by Tiffany — January 6, 2018 @ 5:47 am

  11. Your writing always brings me back to reality, and makes me wonder. Jannah-Rae turned 8. Yousef is turning 5. I am going to miss them when they leave, so I try to cling on. That, alas, is useless. They will leave, I know. And I will be left alone. (well with Jeff, but still!). It is a scary thought. For years I shaped my life around them, took my identity from them, and “hid” behind them. One day, more of my excuses will be gone. And I will be left, once again, to face reality. All delusions come to an end.

    Comment by Ranya — January 6, 2018 @ 5:53 am

  12. Thank you!

    Comment by Amanda — January 6, 2018 @ 6:29 am

  13. Timely. Grateful.
    Our youngest daughter graduating in May. One might think I’d be used to the new. I’m not. Who knew?
    Preparing for her moving to college by fall… beginnings <3

    Comment by Theresa Larson — January 6, 2018 @ 8:25 am

  14. My youngest is two, and I find myself wishing away the years that she will still be mostly at home with me and wondering what I will do when she goes to Kindergarten (her older brother is eight, so I have been through this arc before). Then I catch myself and try to hold on to this moment and not let her get any bigger. So many thoughts in my head of how to fill the time, what my role will be next…

    Comment by Emily P — January 6, 2018 @ 9:04 am

  15. What will you do after I leave? A question I have ben listening too. Coming from various places: parents getting close to death, children getting ready to leave the house. For now, I don t know is the answer. I am trying to be open to the new forms of life that I can not yet preview and surely will come.
    Thank you for your words

    Comment by Florencia — January 6, 2018 @ 9:41 am

  16. I recognize where you are, as I am too. I just sent you a letter related to all this. All I see is blanketed in the fog of not knowing

    Comment by Kathryn — January 6, 2018 @ 9:44 am

  17. I am trying to reinvent myself as a person who gets paid to do the work I have been giving away for free for years. So far no takers.

    Comment by Ivy Vann — January 6, 2018 @ 9:46 am

  18. Makes two of us.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — January 6, 2018 @ 9:48 am

  19. Who can I best serve at this moment, and how? Where will my unique gifts make the most difference? What will my heart be able to live with not having done? So far, my life hasn’t panned out as I’d planned and expected. It is smaller and more difficult and far richer than I could have imagined. Though I could lament the career that didn’t flourish, that would mean I would also lament the time spent caring for and being present with parents and children and spouse to whom I am devoted. I don’t regret a moment of my time in service of them. I don’t know what will be next, when my youngest finishes high school in two years and moves on to the next phase of his life. I trust that if I continue to base my decisions on the answers to the questions above, I will land exactly where
    I am supposed to be. Thank you for your post. And FYI, I’d SO love to read another book written by you.

    Comment by Amy — January 6, 2018 @ 10:47 am

  20. Ohhh; I remember the years that my kids left home for college. It was an emotional time for me but also so freeing! I was able to re-invent myself and follow my dreams. Now that I have just retired, I feel a similar sense of euphoria with my new-found freedom. It’s similar to what I felt when I left for college. As my friend said; it feels like you have cleared out a room in your brain. Enjoy the space and freedom that will come soon!

    Comment by Doreen M Kunert — January 6, 2018 @ 12:01 pm

  21. So much to say and yet I can’t find the words…. thank you for sharing yours. Love and light to you in all of your transitions.

    Comment by Jennifer — January 6, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

  22. Hi, I close my eyes and recall returning to work after a 4.5 month maternity and being away from my infant son to work like it was a blink ago. When kindergarten came calling I remember the teacher day interview and I cried so fiercely, so fully it was like my breath was shortened and my heart beat went on hiatus. In the middle school years he is quickly surpassing me in stature, surprising me with his sarcasm and stunning me with his evolution of the great young man he is becoming. The ‘What Will I Do Now?’ question accompanies the ‘What Do I Not Want to Miss?’ You will have comfort in seeing her further blossom into her own lovely self in the garden of love that you nurtured and cultivated through ages and stages of young life. The ‘What Happens Now’ phase will unfold and unfurl just as she did minutes after she was placed on your chest and enveloped forevermore into your heart.

    Comment by Trish — January 6, 2018 @ 12:28 pm

  23. I had two children I raised by myself, and there was mostly exhausted relief when the younger launched for college. It took me several more years to realize that I loved them but I was also attached to them; I depended on them to create my happiness. It took many months of meditation on this, and meditating on the impermanence of their childhood, for me to let go. My babies and my kids were gone and instead I needed to love the adults I now had the privilege of knowing, who were following their own path that was separate from mine.
    I feel your pain.

    Comment by Stephanie Hall — January 6, 2018 @ 1:15 pm

  24. Two months before my older went across the country for college and my younger began high school, awareness exploded within me that I was called to the ministry. So when they began new adventures, I did too. I left the nest with them. Four years later we finished our respective programs, younger went off to college, older remained on the other coast, and I began waiting. I waited. And waited. And avoided starting anything major because at any moment everything would change, I was certain. Twelve years of waiting during which I grew in spite of myself. Now in a situation nothing like what I expected, but being 12 years older, I don’t have energy for more.

    Comment by Jo Ann — January 6, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

  25. It’s quite something. I cared for our children and now they are bigger and I feel ready to work again the news tells me I’m too old to find work. Nobody will want me I’m told.
    My husband’s work will move us out of this country next summer. We are stumbling into some very interesting times.
    Just like you.
    I can never escape the impression that this moving 4000 miles or so at 18 years old to go to college is quite traumatic for all parties involved. But I could be wrong.

    Comment by Sim — January 6, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

  26. Blown away (once again!) by Mary Trunk’s work. Thank you so much for sharing it.
    I attended a high school reunion last week. We hadn’t seen e/o in 25 yrs and all seemed to be forgiven and forgotten. It made me put the experiences of my youth in a completely different perspective – talk about a brand-new me! Time and memory… they must be playing tricks with us.

    Comment by Ben Ming — January 7, 2018 @ 8:31 am

  27. I enjoy your blogs so much and often use them as a teaching tool. I am a psychotherapist and a yoga teacher. Both have been my calling for decades and, as a woman in my 60’s, I am deeply grateful that I continue to cherish the work that I am privileged to do. I often work with women who are uncertain about what their lives will be after their children have left the nest. Thanks for another tool to pass on.

    Comment by Kate Casey — January 7, 2018 @ 10:32 am

  28. My mom always told me the universe knows what you need when you need it. As I find myself in this same situation; kids have left the nest and I have all the time to do as I please–but figuring that one out is my new puzzle.

    Comment by Bridgette — January 7, 2018 @ 5:56 pm

  29. Karen, whatever you do I believe it will leave the world a better place. Selfishly I hope there will be more of your writing. Your books have really spoken to me and my understanding of the dharma. I go back to them often to re-read passages that help ground me in my practice. Thank you.

    Comment by Tom — January 8, 2018 @ 4:50 am

  30. I am 62 years old and I still, to this day, don’t know what to do with my life, I’m so very sad to speak of this. My heart breaks.
    Best wishes with your daughter. Mine just left and I am breathing deeply, allowing grief and back to that search of what to do with my life. Maybe this can be exciting as well!

    Comment by Sandy Levy — January 8, 2018 @ 10:06 am

  31. The circle of growth, the same questions over and over again. I remember my mother, old and frail, a week before she died, musing, ‘what should I do next?’ It seemed sad to me then. Now, not so much. 🙂

    Comment by Gail — January 8, 2018 @ 11:56 am

  32. These are the questions that arise at each new stage of lliving. As Mary Oliver puts it and with so much poignance, “What will you do with your one wild, precious life?”

    My husband will retire from his job later this month. Both of our beloved dogs died last year. Our parents have all left this earth. Our only son has a lovely life and family of his own. And though sadness attends some of these things, I also realize that for the first time ever in 42 years of marriage , we are footloose and fancy free.

    The possibilities are endless…

    Comment by Becca Rowan — January 8, 2018 @ 1:16 pm

  33. My sons are 24 and 28 and still when they come and go, visit, stay a while, and leave again, I am full of a mish mash of thoughts and emotions. Thrilled that their lives are evolving and grateful for the quiet that remains in their absence, yet an aching heart and empty arms. Still.

    Comment by Debra — January 8, 2018 @ 4:54 pm

  34. Oh, this takes me back.

    My son (who is now 28!) also went clear across the country for college. I cried like a baby when we drove away from his dorm. And then I had to deal with some sadness once home.
    I don’t remember thinking about what I would do with my time. He seemed to still need us a lot. There were many phone calls and visits and plenty of worry and fretting about how he was adjusting. Much of it was the same, same.
    And now that he is more independent and immersed in work and a life of his own, I have my elderly mom to care for. Much the same, same still. 😉

    Comment by Clare — January 8, 2018 @ 6:19 pm

  35. Life has a way of finding you. Some days are full of questions and others are full of gratefulness, but they all lead me to where I need to be. Not always where I think I want, but where I need.

    Comment by Anita Otto — January 8, 2018 @ 6:51 pm

  36. I am awed by everyone’s wisdom.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — January 8, 2018 @ 6:53 pm

  37. It really does seem that the more things change, the more they stay the same – at least, your writing here always seems to chime with something going on with me. Thanks for your writing, as ever, and for the pointer to the book.

    Comment by Clare — January 8, 2018 @ 10:33 pm

  38. Yesterday I heard that it had snowed in Algeria in the Sahara. My heart stopped for a moment and I thought about your trees… I understand how unsettling that must be.

    Comment by Sim — January 9, 2018 @ 2:03 am

  39. Oh, how we humans perpetually label ourselves as in transition, thinking of things in discrete phases. I suppose it’s our way of making meaning and sensing internal progress. I too sense a more intensive pull toward work that matters, lately. At the same time, I know deep down that impermanence is the the only truth. Thanks for this beautiful post!

    Comment by Julie — January 9, 2018 @ 10:43 am

  40. The current issue of mindful magazine (Feb 2018) has a very interesting article on the subject: “Is your life designed for you?”
    Very interesting perspective and great insights, you might find it of interest.
    Best wishes!

    Comment by Jenny — January 9, 2018 @ 1:22 pm

  41. That is an interesting perspective. I am going to go out on a limb and answer the question: No, your life is not designed for you. Your life is designed to change you.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — January 9, 2018 @ 1:28 pm

  42. Yes indeed; even we with multiple children have had similar experiences. Life is like a river with many ports of call. How interesting to read so many mini-histories in comment section!

    Comment by Mary Petro — January 10, 2018 @ 9:47 am

  43. Just wanted to say that when I commented, I couldn’t watch Mary’s film, but I came back to see it and really enjoyed it. Watching these people celebrating who they are, makes me feel better about who I am….if that makes any sense.

    Comment by Clare K. — January 10, 2018 @ 6:19 pm

  44. Oh, my friend, and now you embark on the great What Now? adventure. Perhaps you’ll feel, as I still do, that the answers change moment to moment. Knowing you, my guess is you won’t shy away from any of them. The empty nest turns out to be a fine place after all, but I’ll admit, I still catch myself, at times, longing for the old days and the full house. Congrats to your girl. And how kind of her to offer you some suggestions on how to fill the time after she’s gone!

    Comment by Katrina — January 11, 2018 @ 7:45 am

  45. Do it!

    Comment by Kirsten — January 30, 2018 @ 6:59 pm

  46. Mary Trunk’s video was so beautiful, and I watched another of hers. It was set outside, with women using the most beautiful hand gestures and eye movements. Right after, it was time to get my daughter up from nap time/quiet time. There she was, “building a house” with the same beautiful gestures as the women I had watched. She gracefully moved her hand along the floor, and there was the floor. The wall was a wall. This is how I want to spend my days–dancing in the most simple way. Thank you for helping me see this.

    Comment by Kenzie — February 7, 2018 @ 7:10 pm

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