Life After Sabbatical: Pop Tarts, Unemployment, and Mom

Family picture taken one week after returning to US, same day we were reunited with Molly (black) and Tucker (brown), and five weeks before we had to put Tucker to sleep

It’s been more than five months since we landed back home in the U.S. after six months on the other side of the world, and I have to say that the transition hasn’t been exactly what I expected. No judgment in that (that’s one thing I practiced on sabbatical-not judging, just being), but sometimes I do find myself thinking “Come on, Life, am I there yet?”

Sabbatical brought lots of change. Change in how I view the world around me and how I understand my fellow humans, with greater patience and understanding. Change in how I experience challenging moments in my life, with more love and acceptance and less judgment and criticism (of myself and others).

Sometimes it is hard to hold on to those lessons from sabbatical. Change can be disorienting, and we have found that sabbatical has served to deepen the complexity of the changes to our lives. It’s made us more aware of our own personal freedom and choice in all situations. That perspective has been valuable as we transition through some daunting welcome home circumstances. I find myself focused on staying present in and grateful for the possibility inherent in the unknown.

Mom, unemployment, and Pop Tarts. That pretty much sums up my life since coming back from sabbatical.

Since coming home;

  • My 72 year old Mom moved in with us.
  • I have begun designing my next career move and started consulting while I figure it out.
  • I re-gained all the weight I lost on sabbatical, and started trying to work it off again.

Mom and Reverse Parenting

Me, Mom, and Molly at Echo Lake, Colorado

My Mom is a sweet and stoically independent person. She always has been. She raised three kids on her own, and she is used to living her life as she sees fit, with no one telling her what to do. I admire that, and now it drives me up the wall. She is not in the best health, and with a failing memory, she now needs help to live that independent life she wants whether she likes it or not.

Except for one summer a few years ago when Mom came to stay with us on somewhat of a trial run, I haven’t spent more than a few weeks at a time with my Mom since I was 21, 22 years ago. It’s been wonderful 90 percent of the time, which is a pretty impressive stat for any roommate situation, let alone adult child and parent.

Me and Mom on Main Street in Frisco, Colorado
Mom’s puzzle – she won’t do a puzzle unless we tape it permanently afterwards. Otherwise, “what’s the point?”

We have taken a lot of mid-week mother daughter trips to the mountains, taking advantage of my current state of unemployment. And we’ve found fun activities to do together like puzzles and cooking, and watching Dancing wither the Stars (she’d rather watch football, but I just can’t).

The best times are when we laugh, and we laugh a lot. We laugh at how stubborn we both are and the sometimes ridiculous situations we find ourselves in together. One time we had to park at the back of the rooftop parking lot at the airport, and I had to push Mom what felt like a mile in her wheelchair, dragging her bag behind, all the way to the gate while her prosthetic leg started to fall off in the process. That was a long day.

We even laugh when we argue about how every time we grocery shop she tries to sneak loads of candy into the cart when I’m not looking (I end up leaving it in the cart in the parking lot) or how when I ask her to stop chewing ice she says “it makes your teeth strong” and keeps on crunching. If I didn’t love her so much I think we’d both be dead. I don’t know for sure, but sometimes it feels like having a kid.

The good times make up for the frustrating ones, most of which have to do with Mom”s memory. She just doesn’t remember things that just happened anymore, unless they are of utmost importance, and even then it’s a crapshoot. Dementia sucks big time. For everybody.

When we found out our dog Tucker was sick right when we returned from sabbatical, Mom couldn’t remember and she asked over and over again, “What’s wrong with Tucker? Will he be ok?” It hurt having to tell her over and over again. Or having to keep her from driving for her own safety. She has always viewed her car as her ultimate freedom to go where she wants to go when she wants to go. The idea that I am infringing on her freedom is so difficult to reframe as protecting her. Freedom is one of my top values, and hers. All I can do is value our time together as a treasure and try to be the best daughter I know how to be.

Mom at a cabin near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, on our first trip of the summer.

Unemployment and Embracing the Unknown

Not gonna lie. This has been hard on me. I have never looked for a job for this long before, and it hurts my ego a bit. However, the universe landed me a few consulting gigs that keep me engaged and a little busy, and have reminded me that I have the freedom to make my own path, including crafting what I want my career to look like. So, I keep throwing my fishing line out, strategically into the waters of my choice, and I test my patience as I wait for the right bite. And cuddle my little Molly dog in the meantime. I mean look at that face. You gotta smile.

Molly dog makes me smile always.

When I start feeling impatient or sorry for myself, I try to change my state of mind to embrace and appreciate the extended time off, the time with my Mom, the time to make homemade granola on a Monday afternoon, the time to plan date nights with my awesome hubby. Trent, by the way was rehired by his former employer into the job he left, and promoted within a few months. He’s pretty awesome, and he’s happier than ever at work because he too is becoming better at staying present and recognizing his personal freedom even under pressure.

Date night at Stranahan’s Distillery

View from July 4th Trail out of Nederland, Colorado
Taking advantage of unemployment for a mid-week solo hike
I rarely come across columbines on my hikes so this was a nice treat.

Pop Tarts and More Pop Tarts

On sabbatical we walked miles and miles in the Southeast Asian heat and humidity every day. We did yoga and hiked and ate the healthiest fresh veggies and fruits for every meal. That’s just life in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia. but man, I missed me some old fashioned American junk food, especially Pop Tarts.

Healthy in Thailand

So I guess it’s no shocker that once we got back and I let myself fall into the American way of life, those pounds found their way back to me.

Sugary unhealthy goodness in Denver (salted chocolate pecan toffee)

Processed food, sugar, lack of an exercise routine, and access to a car to get everywhere has made quick work of the trimmer waistline that came naturally on sabbatical. For a few months I let myself indulge, but now I’m making the choice to skip the Pop Tart aisle and make homemade granola instead, shopping around for cheap gym memberships, and trying to enjoy the opportunities for outdoor exercise in Colorado. My motivation isn’t always there, but I’m working on it.

Gluten free granola, we call it bird trash, and while it’s no homemade toffee, it is pretty good.

Summit Lake, Colorado on a blustery first day of fall

Life post-sabbatical has been different than life before and life during. It is it’s own adventure, it’s own challenge, it’s own opportunity, and I am trying to live it well while it lasts.


7 thoughts on “Life After Sabbatical: Pop Tarts, Unemployment, and Mom

  1. Hello from Canberra!!! An interesting read re the challenges of “parenting” reversal…… I would find it such a challenge and I applaud those who even make the effort!! 😇

    Liked by 1 person

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