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Finding Myself Better Than Where I Left Off

By Pam Molnar

I started a five-year journal on New Year’s Day 2020 because my 50th birthday was the following week. It was the year that my oldest child would graduate from college and my youngest child would graduate high school. I wanted to document my journey as I was entering the next chapter and closing the door to a life that revolved primarily around my children. I had so many possibilities and adventures ahead of me and I planned to take advantage of it.

With a senior in high school that year, my husband and I were already getting a taste of empty nest life. Our son was busy with friends, work, and sports. Our daughters were away at school. We were excited about our new freedom which included more travel, more dinners out, and more time visiting with friends who had moved far away. It was going to be a great year.

Enter the pandemic. Suddenly, my almost empty nest was very crowded. My two college kids came home. My husband stopped traveling for work. Spring break vacations were canceled. Our calendar, which was once full of high school events and social obligations, was now wiped clean. My new adventures consisted of searching for toilet paper and finding a spot in the house where I could work without overhearing multiple Zoom call conversations.

As I watched the two week “Slow the Spread” drag on for months, I questioned if things would ever return to normal. Every day brought more change, dragging us deeper into the unknown. My five-year plan that I had written only a few months before ended up in a drawer. Like the rest of the world, I had to continue to pivot, making lemonade out of the lemons that were falling all around us.

Soon, my anxiety turned to anger as I was running out of positive vibes to keep our spirits up. My family, like many others, missed out on milestones that we have been dreaming of for years. I felt like a caged animal and mourned not only my pre-Pandemic life but those of my adult children whose new independence had been taken away. I felt like the light at the end of the tunnel had burned out.

Everyone reaches a breaking point. After a year of filling my journal with the repeated doom and gloom we got from every media outlet, I hit mine. I realized the road we wanted to take was blocked, with no plan of reopening anytime soon. We needed to take a detour through paths we never thought we would travel.

After much consideration, we packed up 50 years of memories, leaving friends and family behind, and moved across the country to a place where we only knew our daughter. At the time, I didn’t know if I was running away from crushed dreams or running towards new ones. It was both scary and exciting to take another road, but at least we were no longer standing still.

This was the start of a new adventure – one I hoped was worthy of documenting in my journal. As our children settled into their own dream-driven lives, my husband and I worked on rebuilding our lives in a new hometown. This was our chance to improve on an already great life. It was him and I again, our nest mostly empty as our kids moved through college and beyond.

We soon realized that a new life is so much more than a new address and furniture. Although it has its challenges, physically moving is the easy part. Rebuilding a new life means finding local friends, new groups and adjusting to how things are done differently than we were used to. The whole process was filled with exploring new areas, meeting new people, trying new foods and stepping way outside of my comfort zone. It was a humbling and exhilarating time.

This January, I started my last year of that same five-year journal. When I look back on those entries, I am happy to see they include hundreds of adventures, both big and small. It is also filled with setbacks, tear-stained pages, and the pain of all we lost. Through the good and the bad, I am proud of my growth and perseverance.

I realize the path I took to this point is not the one I thought it would be. However, I am in a better place than I imagined. I came out ahead – stronger, happier and with more accomplishments than I expected when I opened that journal five years ago.  I discovered that the blueprint of life, no matter how well written, serves only as a guide. It is up to you to make it happen, regardless of the obstacles that get in your way.

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