05/13/2013 08:35 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Pre-Empt Chronicles: Why I Celebrate The Day After Mother's Day

Courtesy of the Shultz family

My grandmother used to tell me the story of how she came to America. When I asked her how long it took for the ship she was on to get to the U.S., she said it was hard to say in English but the ship inspired a phrase in Yiddish that translated roughly to "It goes and goes and stays in one place." Little did I know I'd soon feel the same way, standing in a sea of grass.

The feeling started the day after Mother's Day, and long before I moved to Texas. For years I'd done my best to brush it away, like crumbs on a black sweater. It's easy to do when you're a wife and a mother, going about your day tending to everyone else's feelings.

It was in Maryland in the house on the hill. The house that gave me the sense I was standing still.

Don't get me wrong. It was a beautiful place where the blue of the sky touched billowy blades of wheat -- where the moo of a single cow could be heard for miles, where, when darkness fell, only the light of the moon shone through the windows. But the contrast between the city life I had known growing up, and the country life I hadn't, was far greater than I ever imagined it could be. I longed for a grocery store closer than 20 miles away. For cable channels to flip through during the wee hours of the morning -- for water that still flowed when the power went out. For a reason to wear toenail polish.

Then one day the septic tank backed up. Big men in plaid shirts with calloused hands came and started digging. They dug until they found what reeked and when they did I stood there in the yard and wondered to myself if it was too late to start life anew -- pluck my family from this place and move to an apartment in New York City. Surely there was more to life than this -- 40 years old in sweat pants and looking at a giant hole in my front lawn where all the used toilet paper had gone.

That night while my family slept, I took my hot-flash self outside and hoped for a cool breeze. I watched for shooting stars. I listened to the crickets. I ate chocolate candy and stuffed the wrappers into the pockets of my once white terry robe. And I faced facts. If I were to escape, I'd need a fast car. And a pedicure.


I didn't end up escaping then, but I did leave four years later, along with my family, and moved to a city. My hot flashes are finally a thing of the past, the grocery store is a five-minute drive, water still flows when the power goes out, and we have more TV channels than I care to watch in a lifetime. As for cars, fast or otherwise, they no longer interest me, but I do paint my own toenails -- they emerge from thick socks, pale and dry, beginning on Mother's Day, and stay exposed until October, when they retreat for purely practical reasons: warmth.

Nana's ship? It arrived eventually. "It goes and goes and stays in one place" was a matter of perspective. She just couldn't see clear to the other side.

And neither could I. My expectations about midlife, and having a white picket fence around my home, obscured the real view.

So if it's the day after Mother's Day, and I know it is -- my last one with a child at home to tend to -- I've got a fresh coat of polish on my toenails, and a new project on the horizon.

How about you?

Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.