Where I spray-paint my thoughts…


This Bookshelf Sparks Joy


I can’t imagine anything less likely than me sitting down to watch a TV show about tidying up your house, but apparently some furor has been raised lately among those who enjoy such things. Everyone was loving tidy-up expert Marie Kondo, right up until she started telling people to get rid of her books. I think she’s the one who wants you to pick up your possessions and ask yourself if they “spark joy” before deciding whether to toss them or not. I don’t know how anybody has a blender or a toaster left after applying that method, but I can see the problem when it comes to book-lovers and book-hoarders. For us, it’s not just that an individual book sparks joy. Joy is sparked by the mere fact of living in a house that has a lot of well-stocked bookshelves in it. It’s about quality, but it’s also about quantity.

However, I have been, for the last two years, applying a kind of organizational mentality to my book collection. It’s a work in progress, and I’m not there yet, but the contents of my many, many bookshelves are going through some re-evaluation and in many cases replacement.

First, for context, here’s a video I made three years ago when it was briefly trendy for BookTubers to make video tours of their bookshelves. I share this (feel free to zip through it on fast-forward) to give you an idea of just how messy, random and oddly-stocked my shelves are).

Some of my bookshelves are still as messy and random as they were in that video, but others, particularly the highly visible ones in my living room have, as you can see in the picture at the top of this blog, undergone a change. I haven’t been following the Marie Kondo method; I’ve been following the Gloria Pritchett method, as inspired by Sophia Vergara’s character in Modern Family and explained in this blog post I wrote a year and a half ago. “Why isn’t all your underwear good?” is my guiding principle now for a lot of things besides underwear, and I someday hope to get to the point where all my books are “good” — that is, I’m only giving shelf space to books I actually want to have in the house.

One of the ongoing issues with my bookshelves is that book series, or just sets of individual books by an author I loved, came into my house in haphazard ways. Take, for example, one of the greatest series of all time: Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, some of my favourite books ever. I had the well-worn mass-market paperback of Gaudy Night I mentioned in the video above, that I had probably owned for 25 years and read nearly 25 times. I had copies of three or four other books of hers, all different editions, mostly mass-market paperbacks. Then a bunch of books from the series were missing because I’d original read them as library books and reread them as e-books, so I owned no copies at all.

It was the discovery of a new release of attractive trade-paperback editions of these books (trade paperback being my favourite format for books: mass-market paperbacks feel cheap and flimsy in my hands and hardcovers too heavy and clunky) that sparked a little joy in me and made me think: why don’t I finally get a complete, matching set of all these books? And behold, over the process of a year or so, acquiring them as they came out and as I could afford them, I have them.

Not all of the books in my new collections were new or expensive: I’ve bought the Dorothy Dunnett Lymond & Niccolo books in well-cared for secondhand copies, but again, I’ve made sure they’re all the same edition and match well together, so they’re a pleasure to look at on the shelf as well as reread. Although I still do most of my new reading on the e-reader, my goal is eventually to own a houseful of books that I have loved and chosen, not just a houseful of books that randomly wandered in here for some reason and are taking up space whether I’ve read and loved them or not.

So that’s my little bit of life-changing magic. What do you think about owning, buying, and organizing books? Have you made a conscious attempt to curate your collection? I’d really love to know what other book-lovers think about this.



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Too Bad to be True: A Social Media Cautionary Tale

A lot of people’s New Year’s resolutions involve social media. Things like:

  • “I’m going to get off Twitter.”
  • “I’m going to delete my Facebook.”
  • “I’m going to set limits on my social media time.”
  • “I’m going to stay on all my social media outlets but I promise to stop being a horrific ragemonster all the time. Well, most of the time. OK, some of the time.”

I, too, have made my fair share of plans to better manage my online time — sometimes at New Year’s, sometimes not; some successful, some not. But in the wee hours of this morning, unable to get back to sleep and finished the book I’d been reading, I was scrolling through Twitter when the tweet below came up in my timeline and provided me with a perfect example of a resolution we should all make.

Now I’m going to guess that a lot of people who are liberal (like me) and ardently pro-vaccination (like me) had a similar reaction to mine at that tweet. Tragic for any young woman to die at 26, how sad for her family, but what a rich and deserved irony in an anti-vax crusader dying of diseases that could have been prevented by vaccines. It’s like that gun rights activist who got shot by her own pre-schooler — how can you avoid a smug smirk at someone so clearly bitten on the ass by their own misguided beliefs?

What stopped me from immediately liking, retweeting, or commenting, was simple human decency: a young woman in her 20s is dead; there were people who loved her; let’s pause a moment before pointing out the rich irony of her death. And it was that moment of decency, of pause, that gave me time to think, “This seems almost too perfectly ironic.” And while life sometimes is too perfectly ironic (see above story about gun-rights activist), I thought I’d take a moment to click the linked news story and see just how on-the-nose the late Payton’s comments about vaccines were, and whether the illnesses she died of were definitely vaccine-preventable. So I clicked.

And — surprise — the linked article makes no mention of Payton’s anti-vaccine stance. Odd, I thought, and did a bit more digging. What I found was that while Bre Payton was certainly a conservative writer and espoused a number of positions that liberals like me would find objectionable, the attempt to categorize her as an anti-vaxxer was based entirely on a single tweet from 7 years ago (when she was 19) that, out of context, could be read either as opposing vaccines or making fun of anti-vaxxers. Not a single other shred of evidence could I find to suggest that she had ever “campaigned against vaccines” or made public statements one way or the other about vaccines (unless someone’s since uncovered evidence of this).

Nor was there any evidence whether she had or had not gotten a flu shot this year, or whether the strain of flu that killed her could have been prevented by this year’s flu shot. And, in fact, the person on twitter (not the one I saw) who originally portrayed her as an anti-vaxxer took down his tweet and apologized after the error was pointed out to him.

Of course, by the time you’ve taken down your tweet and apologized, it’s like apologizing for that match you dropped in the drought-stricken forest. It’s too late, buddy. Your words are out there, and people are retweeting and sharing and commenting like there’s no tomorrow.

It’s interesting, a few hours later, to see what’s happening on Twitter in response to the death of this young woman I’d never heard of until she was dead. Along with the expected condolences and tributes that follow the death of any public figure, there are the also-expected bizarre right-wing conspiracy theorists claiming she was murdered for reporting on the Mueller inquiry, or the anti-vaxxers claiming she was killed by a non-consensual flu shot.

But there are still plenty of my fellow lefties out there perpetrating the belief that she was a vocal anti-vaxxer felled by a vaccine-preventable disease, or pivoting to suggest that because she vocally opposed universal health care (that part is true) she somehow got what she was coming to her. (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but even up here in Canada with our generally quite good public health care, people do still die sometimes. We have not conquered mortality).

One bottom-feeding scumbag has even made a parody account using her picture and a version of her name, to comment on her own death.

Aaaannnd it’s right about now that people say, “Yeah, I think my New Year’s resolution is to quit Twitter.”

I’m not quitting Twitter. Yes, it contains a sinkhole of the worst of human behavior, but it also contains Blair Braverman’s sled dogs, and I’m all there for the pups and the jokes and the cleverness.

But I’m not there for the bottom-feeding pile-ons of human tragedy, especially the ones that happen when we share or comment without taking even a moment to think and investigate. It took me five minutes, all told, to dig into the Bre Payton story and see that the original tweet was inaccurate, which prevented me from sharing hate and misinformation. It was time well spent.

We all need to do this more, but I’m speaking particularly to my fellow lefties here. We’re so quick to notice when those on the opposite side of the political fence make this kind of error on social media — whether it’s blowing a non-story into a story to foment fake outrage, or capitalizing on a genuine tragedy to demonize an innocent group of people. But are we vigilant about it on our own side? When I see a story that just seems so believable, so appropriate, so harmonious with the way I want to think the world works — do I share it without taking the time to think?

Years before Twitter or any other part of the internet was invented, as a child in Sabbath School, I was taught three rules that you’re probably familiar with too — three things to ask myself before sharing a piece of gossip or making a comment. They seem more true than ever in the age of social media.

  • Is it kind? There is nothing kind about immediately using someone else’s tragedy to score your own points. Whether you agree with a person’s politics or not, an untimely death is a tragedy for those who loved that person and not a time to mock them for what they said or did in life.
  • Is it true? Actually click on the link you’re sharing and read what it says. Check a few other sources. If it’s not true, don’t be a part of spreading misinformation.
  • Is it necessary? I absolutely believe it’s necessary to spread the word that vaccines are safe and essential for public health — but sharing an unkind, untrue story is not the way to accomplish that.

I learned a lot in about five minutes this morning — about Bre Payton, about the murky depths of Twitter, and about my own prejudices and assumptions. I’m going to work hard to apply those three rules to my own social media use this year. I invite you to do the same.

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My Reading Year

top10books2018 Well, it’s that time again. I’m looking back at the 100 books I read in 2018, and trying to pick a Top Ten. Some were VERY easy choices — there were books that as soon as I saw them, I knew they’d be among my favourites of the year. Then there was a second tier of books that I really loved, but if included them all, it would be WAY more than ten. (Ten is, of course, an arbitrary number. One year I did a Top Thirteen. But this year I was aiming to trim it to ten).

Some great books got left off this list. But these are ten books I loved this year — all novels, in this case, though I did read some good non-fiction too — and in the end my decision was almost always based on emotional resonance. Which books not only were interesting and well-written, but which did I feel strongly about while I read them, strongly enough that the feeling lingered sometimes months after I finished reading?

Before I link to my reviews of each of these books, a few stats about my reading this year.  100 books is more than I’ve read in any year since I started tracking my reading in 2006, and I’m not sure why, unless it’s that we travelled a fair bit this year and I always read a lot when travelling. For whatever reason, I’m happy to have had the chance to devour so many good books this year.

I like seeing trends and patterns, and some patterns remain consistent year to year because that’s just how I read. As always fiction outnumbers non-fiction by nearly 3:1, and books by women outnumber books by men about 2:1 (also, this was the first year I had a book by a non-binary author to include).


Preferring fiction by women is hardly a new trend for me, but I tried to mix up my reading a bit more this year by consciously seeking out more books by writers of colour. This effort introduced me to many wonderful books I would never have found otherwise. In tallying up how this affected my overall reading patterns, I had to make a few judgement calls. “Person of colour” or “non-white” is obviously a bit of an amorphous category, especially for mixed-race writers, but in general I went with how writers identify themselves. I find that I’m still reading a majority of white writers (a bit more than 2:1), but I’m finding a lot more great books by writers of colour, including three of my Top Ten picks (all three by Muslim women, as it happened).
2018colourAlso, out of curiosity, I looked into where the writers I read came from. Again, this is a vague category, because writers don’t always live and work in the same country they were born or grew up in, and again, I tended to go for the most part with where writers are currently living unless they identify themselves as “an American writer living in England” or something like that. I found that I read about the same number of books by British writers as by Canadians, but that I read more American writers than both of those combined — and very few (6) from countries other than the US, Canada, and the UK. (Also, 2 of those 6 were Australian, which means only 4/100 books were by writers from other than English-speaking countries).
2018countriesSo, that’s what I’ve been reading in 2018. You can see my full booklist on Goodreads, or on my Pinterest board, or by scrolling back through the full year’s worth of reviews on my book blog, Compulsive Overreader. Here are the links to my reviews of my 10 favourites, in the order I read them throughout the year:

  1. Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave
  2. We’ll All Be Burnt in our Beds Some Night, by Joel Thomas Hynes
  3. The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty
  4. Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin
  5. The Humans, by Matt Haig
  6. A Place for Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza
  7. The Map of Salt and Stars, by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
  8. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green
  9. The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai
  10. The Weight of Ink, by Rachel Kadish


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Christmas Rush (ish)


Ahh, December 24. Christmas Eve. When I had younger kids and the Christmas rush was more hectic, I used to make a Herculean effort to get everything done by the first week or so of December, so that I would not be doing any rushing around on Christmas Eve. I used to go to Chapters and get a coffee on Christmas Eve morning and sit smirking at all those poor souls still lining up at the checkouts getting their last-minute presents bought.

This Christmas, with two grown kids out of the house, no school concerts to attend, and a generally much more relaxed life, I somehow am one of those people. For various reasons, a lot of stuff got left till the last minute, and I’ve been running last-minute messages on December 23 and even today, December 24.

And you know what? It hasn’t been that awful. I mean, I wasn’t trying to get through the crush at Costco or anything, just dropping into a few stores for a few things (timing it for early morning or late evening when things weren’t as busy), and generally people on both sides of the counter have been friendly and glad to wish each other Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or whatever. It’s one more reminder that there’s no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays; do what works and free yourself from too many expectations, even the expectation that you have to be relaxed.

Amid these busy last few days leading up to Christmas, there have been some joyful moments and awful moments, and all the moments in between. In the five days leading up to Christmas Eve…

  • our college daughter Emma came home for Christmas, bringing back teenage laughter and so much delight to the house.
  • our musician son Chris sang a heartbreakingly beautiful Christmas song at the musical program we all participated in at church, and then bailed before the service was over so nobody could tell him how great it was and how happy they were to see him.

  • the aforementioned two offspring had the most bitter and pointless argument I have ever heard between two people who are ostensibly both adults, leading them each to declare the other the worst person they had ever met.
  • Jason, Emma and I, along with a friend, visited two Christmas house parties in one evening, and saw a great in-house performance of the play Penning the Carol, in which actor Aiden Flynn essentially performs A Christmas Carol as a one-man show, in character as Charles Dickens and everyone in the story, and it was amazing.
  • The brakes on Chris’s car completely failed and he was totally OK which is what matters but we had to help him out with getting a tow and an emergency brake job right before Christmas.
  • I joined a friend at her church to be part of an outdoor Nativity scene where I dressed up as a shepherd, along with a bunch of other costumed Christians and two very suspicious sheep who wanted nothing to do with me. It wasn’t even that cold a day, but by the end of two hours I was freezing almost to the point of bursting into tears — but also filled with Christmas joy at being part of such a lovely display.


It’s been beautiful, and crazy, and stressful, and peaceful, and everything in between. In other words it’s been, just like holidays always are, more or less of a piece with our everyday lives. Only the heightened expectations (well, and the decorated evergreen in the corner of the room) make it different. Shed the expectations like the tree will slowly shed its needles over the next two weeks, and you’re left with the bare bones of real life, brightened by a few decorations.

However you celebrate, however organized or busy or hectic or relaxed you are — this is it. This is your real life, your real Christmas, your real whatever. Enjoy it.

As for me, I’m off out to do two last messages.


Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Or, Do.

If there’s one fictional trope in books, movies and TV shows that drives me crazy, it’s this: Character dreams of being a writer. But she needs a day job to pay the bills. So she has to forget about writing and do her soulless day job, but always regrets not writing that novel. OR, she passes on the day job and lives hand-to-mouth while writing her novel, but it’s all great because she’s following her dream!

Either way it plays out, this trope makes me CRAZY. I was once a young writer with a dream, and I got a day job (teaching), and since then I’ve written twenty-some-odd books. I’ve taught every school year since 1986 except for one year I was in grad school, and then the seven-year gap while I was stay-at-home parenting two small kids, while also going to grad school part-time and writing both my own fiction and a lot of contract work for hire. As a writer, there’s been almost no part of my career where I didn’t have a day job.

Four years ago, I made a video about this very thing:

As I tried to convey in that video, different things work for different people, obviously. If you have to have 100% focus on your writing in order to be able to create, and you have someone to support you, or a lot of money in savings, or something else that makes that possible, that’s great. Quit the day job (or never get one!) and make a go of it. But the reality is that virtually every serious writer I’ve ever known has written alongside having a day job for some part if not all of their career. And those who don’t have traditional “day jobs” like teaching or librarian-ing or working in an office, are doing a lot of other things to pay the bills — whether that’s writing educational materials or PR for someone’s business, or teaching writing workshops, or doing something that vaguely relates to writing but, unlike their creative work, brings in a regular paycheque. 

So I’ve always been a big proponent of the idea that, while you can quit your day job if you want to/are able to, quitting your day job is not a prerequisite for being a writer, or any kind of creative artists. In the real world, artists have to pay the bills like anyone else, and usually come up with a variety of ways to do so. Sometimes more creativity goes into drumming up jobs to pay the bills than into your actual art (well, that and writing grant applications).

In fact, the reason I went back to teaching in 2005 when my youngest kid went to school was that after seven years of doing various freelance contract work, I was tired of hustling and stringing together contracts and still fitting my own creative work into my “free” time. If I was going to be looking for free time to write, I figured, I might as well go back to teaching, which paid a heck of a lot better than freelance writing and required no hustle whatsoever. And that’s worked well for me for the past 13 years, just as it did for the first 12 years of my teaching/writing career before I had kids.

But now … I’m doing it. I’m quitting my day job.

Well, sort of.

Yep, things have changed a bit since I made that video above. It’s a different stage of life and I’m trying something different. This year, I taught during the fall semester, which is drawing to a close this week. In January, I won’t be back. I’ve taken the winter semester off (my job will be waiting for me again in September though!) to see how I do with being a full-time writer. It will, of course, be a big change financially — only working 40% of the school year means only getting 40% of my pay. (Of course, this is mainly possible because my husband has a job that pays much better than mine, and with both kids moved out our family expenses have decreased).

It’ll also be a challenge in terms of how I use my time. For decades I’ve been fitting writing in around other things. How productive will I be when the other things are gone?

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post analyzing what I got done on a “free” day that I supposedly had to devote full-time to writing, and concluded that I might not actually be that much more productive if I had all day to write. I hope that now that I’ve taken a personal and financial risk to dedicate time to writing, things will be different. I have a lot of projects to pursue and goals I want to accomplish, and I hope I’m going to be disciplined enough to put in the time I need to get those things done.

But there’s no way to know until I’ve tried it. So I’m packing up things in my classroom, making lists of what I want to accomplish in January — and looking forward to this new adventure.




100 Years Ago

One hundred years ago today, the guns fell silent.

war memorial photo

Newfoundland War Memorial. Photo credit: Tom Clift

They fell silent, that is, on the battlefields of the First World War. A last few men died on the morning of November 11, in response to orders that the men at the top had already decided were meaningless. Then, at the pre-arranged time of 11:00 a.m., everyone stopped shooting. It was so simple, after all: just stop shooting.

Of course, the guns started up again soon enough. In other places, and then, twenty-one years later, in the same places. They have rarely fallen silent, ever since we invented guns. Before that, we had quieter ways to kill each other, but we’ve never stopped.

Every Remembrance Day, we pause in our different ways to remember all the dead and wounded in all our wars. We remember on the day that commemorates the end of the once-called “Great” War, November 11, 1918. And after all the bloody conflicts of this century, that First World War still captures our imagination.

It wasn’t the deadliest war of the century. But falling as it did between the invention of the machine gun and the widespread use of airplanes for bombing, it was perhaps the first war with death on such a horrific scale, and the last where that scale was still possible for the human mind to grasp. It was a conflict that illustrated in vivid colours the bravery and suffering of ordinary fighting men, and the vanity and stupidity of those who ruled them. It was a war that need never have been fought: a petty power struggle that cost millions of lives.

Due at least in part to the bungled peace process that followed that November 11 armistice, the “war to end all wars” was followed by its inevitable successor two decades later. This time, Germany was led by a villian of such comic-book awfulness that few questioned the necessity of war, either at the time or in retrospect. The horrors of Nazi Germany, especially the horrors of the Holocaust, were so intolerable that we could forgive or overlook the horrors committed by our “good guys” in the attempt to stop them.

And once again, millions died — brave soldiers, and probably some cowardly soldiers too, and lots and lots of civilians who had never made the choice to go to war, but found war exploding all around them or dropping on their heads.

The power struggles among the victors of that war led to the world I was born into: the world of Cold War, where humans, for the first time, developed weapons theoretically capable of destroying all life on the planet. For forty-five years, while smaller conflicts flared and died and killed around that planet, the great powers played a long game of chicken over who would dare use these deadly weapons.

In the end, they tired of that game. As a species, we seem to have decided it’s less work to destroy the planet by greed and consumption and laziness than by dropping bombs. And largely, we have outsourced the business of killing in large numbers to terrorists and “rogue states.”

We didn’t get rid of the bombs, of course. We kept them around, just in case.

For all the Great Literature it produced, my favourite World War One novel will always be the first one I read, L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside. At the end of that novel, nineteen-year-old Rilla records in her journal the words of her recently-returned soldier brother:

“‘We’re in a new world,’ Jem says, ‘and we’ve got to make it a better one than the old. That isn’t done yet, though some folks think it ought to be. The job isn’t finished — it isn’t really begun. The old world is destroyed and we must build up the new one. It will be the task of years. I’ve seen enough of war to realize that we’ve got to make a world where wars can’t happen.'”

The fictional Jem Blythe speaks these hopeful words in 1919; Montgomery published them in 1921.

In 1921, Adolf Hitler was named leader of the Nazi Party in the Germany.

It’s hard to know what to celebrate, 100 years after the end of the war that began all the other wars. In that century we have made so much progress as a species. Diseases have been eradicated. Advances in communication and transportation have made possible things that were only dreams before. Huge groups of people who were considered barely human in 1918 now enjoy the same rights under the law as wealthy white men did in 1918. People are better educated. Workers have more rights. Poverty and infant mortality are declining almost everywhere.

And yet. The climate is changing and we can’t be bothered to figure out how to stop it. And in the face of a more and more globalized world, where we all have to deal with each other, an unimaginable number of people in “free” countries (sometimes whole governments) have responded by turning inward: condemning the Other, boosting an imagined racial superiority, building metaphorical and literal walls. In World History, I teach “nationalism” as a deadly underlying cause of World War One. After a century of mostly moving away from me-first nationalism, more and more countries and leaders — including the president of the United States — are now proudly declaring themselves “nationalists.” “Our people first, and screw the planet and all those other, lesser people on it.”

I was raised to believe two stories about the history of the world.  One was taught to me in church, the other by the surrounding humanist culture. Both were, in their way, hopeful.

The church taught me that the world would get worse and worse and then God would dramatically intervene to save us. The culture taught me that the world would get better and better and we would solve all our problems and save ourselves.

Looking back 100 years to the day the guns went (briefly) silent, wondering about those soldiers who died to help build a world they could not imagine, I can find hard evidence to support both beliefs — which means neither feels completely true. The world is getting much, much worse, and much, much better at the same time, and while we have not seen evidence that God is going to dramatically intervene, we also, to be frank, haven’t shown much sign of saving ourselves either.

There are plenty of people who believe neither story: who simply accept despair and defeat. Who look back at 1918, and all the war since, and say that it will never get better. That we can rely on neither divine help nor human goodness to break the endless cycle of violence and hate.

100 years after the horror of the trenches…
70 years after Kristallnacht…
29 years after the Berlin Wall fell…
A day or a week after whatever the last horrific headline was …

…it’s hard to be hopeful. Hard to know, sometimes, what my hope is based on.

But I still hope. I don’t always know why, or in what. But the hope I hold to is the only way I know of not breaking faith with those who sleep: in Flanders Fields, and in cold graves at the bottom of the ocean, and in Auschwitz, and in Hiroshima, and at Ground Zero, and in Afghanistan, and in every place humans have slaughtered other humans for the past 100 years.

I try to keep faith.


This Nest Feels a Little … Empty

On Labour Day weekend we dropped our daughter, Emma, off at college in another province. Our eldest, Chris, lives here in town but shares a house with a bunch of friends, so while we still see him lots he hasn’t lived at home in nearly two years.

So we drove back home to a house that, only a few years ago, seemed almost too full. Now it mostly has just Jason and myself, and Gal, our dog.

You might remember that our old dog, Max, who grew up alongside our kids, passed away about a year ago. The decision to get another dog never seemed as smart as the day we drove back home from Nova Scotia and went into the house to find Gal there waiting for us.

All the cliches are true, as it turns out. How it seems like only a breath of time since they were both small, how the hours and days that passed so slowly at the time seem in retrospect to have flown by. How your heart permanently walks around outside your body, only now that heart is split in two and lives in two different places. 

Mostly, being an empty-nester is what I expected. I knew I would miss having the kids in the house: their presence, their conversation, their sense of humour. I especially miss the Emma of last year when she was a high-school senior, basically grown up and not needing a lot in the way of parenting, just hanging out with me and her dad like another adult in the house.

The things I don’t miss, the things I actually like about this stage of life, are also pretty much what I expected. I’ve never been the kind of mom whose whole identity was tied up in being a mom and “needed to be needed.” If anything, I’m a basically selfish person who loved my actual kids a lot but often found it hard to spend two decades with my life organized around the needs of other people. When the kids were younger I often had that “But when do I get time for meeeeee?” whine in my head. Now I have that time and yes, I do enjoy being able to plan and do things without having to take as many different people’s needs into account. I enjoy the time Jason and I get to spend together as a couple of adults.

One aspect of empty-nesting that I was completely prepared for, based on watching my own parents (especially my mom) was that even when the day-to-day care and feeding is done, the involvement and the worry never is. I hope I don’t take this to the level my mom did — when I was forty she was still perfectly capable of looking at me going out of the house and saying, “Is that all you’ve got on? It’s cold out, put on a hat!” But with an eighteen-year-old college student across the water and a twenty-year-old aspiring musician across town, I never feel entirely free from worry. I think about them and worry about their struggles approximately 120% of the time … and do what I can to help, but that’s very little compared to the days when I could put bandaids on their skinned knees and make it all better.

I think back to how I relied on “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” before my kids were born, and its sequels “What To Expect in the First Year” and “What to Expect in the Toddler Years.” I remember feeling bereft when Chris hit age 3 and I realized the What To Expect books had run out. Who would tell me what to expect? And why is there no “What To Expect When Your Kids Leave Home” book? Even though the first month has been pretty much how I thought it would be, I can’t shake the feeling this is uncharted territory and I’ll need a guide sometimes.

Oh well, maybe I’ll write that book. You know, in all that spare time I have now.