FOF Claire Fontaine is giving away three copies of her book, Have Mother, Will Travel. Three FOFs will win. Enter to win by answering this question in the comments below: Have you ever traveled with a grown up son or daughter?
FOF Claire Fontaine spent the first fifty years of her life “bound up being a mom,” trying to overcome her daughters drug addiction and dedicating years to her own self-discovery. Then, at fifty-one, Claire realized “oops, she forgot to plan for life after motherhood.”
Here, she shares the journey (literal and symbolic) that she took for regret-proofing her life after fifty.
A few years ago, when my daughter Mia asked me what I wanted to be doing with my life now that I was fifty, the answer wasn’t pretty.
“Not what I’m doing right now.”
To wit: on impulse I’d left Los Angeles, a city and a creative community I loved, to buy a historic fixer-upper in Florida, the hottest state in the nation, just in time for hot flashes and direct hits by four hurricanes; my marriage needed as much renovating as my house; I’d co-authored a bestselling book but hadn’t written in two years; my relationship with my mother had shattered; and my once close relationship with my daughter had grown stale and strained. The kind of mothering I was doing sends young women to postcardsfromyomomma.com. Everything else I was doing was sending me to fmylife.com.
When Mia called and asked me what I did want to be doing now that my life was half over (thanks, kid), my answer wasn’t any prettier.
“This isn’t going to sound very good,” I said after a pause. “But I’ve never actually had a concrete vision of my life at fifty.”
That was the wake-up call I needed, actually saying it out loud—I was fifty going on the rest of my life with no idea where that was. And leave it to my daughter to wake me up—again. Her dreadful downward spiral of drug addiction as a teen forced me to recognize that I’d been asleep in my own life, an experience she and I chronicled in our first joint memoir, Come Back. It also forced both of us through a lengthy and rather brutal process of self-examination that transformed our lives forever.
And let me tell you, transformation is hard work. I took courses and workshops on accountability, leadership, creating results; I meditated, carried affirmation cards, made Wheel of Life charts; I had terrific coaching on relationship skills and living intentionally. I knew the power of living consciously and intentionally rather than by default, I made a vision map years before most folks knew what it was. I even went on to counsel other families for several years. Yet, when life got tough, I didn’t fight for my own life the way I did for Mia’s when she hit the skids. Instead, I wallowed in irritation and blame. When I wasn’t blaming the house, the heat, or the husband, I blamed myself.
Shortly after that phone call with Mia, I came across that old vision map. I opened it up, flattened it out and marveled at the wrinkled images of my dream life: travel to Europe with Mia, become fit and strong, use my writing to help others, inner stillness, my daughter home, healed and healthy. It was the first time I realized, as wild as some of those dreams seemed at the time, I’d manifested every single thing on the map.
It was a life-changing moment for two reasons—first, I remembered how powerful I, or any woman, with a strong vision can be; second, it was a vision for who I was then: a woman whose sole identity was bound up in being a mom, a role that was prolonged first because of Mia’s dangerous behavior, then by writing and speaking about it nationally. I never bothered to dream up a new life for a post-motherhood, mid-life me.
A vision has the wondrous, empowering quality of keeping you both clear and focused on the future and fully engaged in the present. Without a clear picture of your desired future, there’s no reason to find a way around the brick walls we all hit in life. A vision prevents a brick wall from becoming a destination, a permanent address for a victim, with a BMW (Bitch, Moan, Whine) in the driveway. It acts as a filter for all your choices, big and small, sorting the wheat (future results) from the chaff (future regrets).
To know what I truly wanted, I knew I needed to remember who I truly was. Who was I before I became the “good girl,” always doing what I should – the “good” girlfriend, wife, mother, homemaker? What would make that girl I’d repressed for so long happy?
I decided to take time to find out, to hear my own voice again. And I decided to do it with the person who knew me best–Mia. We’d never used any of the money we’d made from our first memoir to celebrate its success. So we decided to finally use it and set off around the world together, to learn about ourselves, each other, and what mother and daughterhood looks like globally.
The first part of the trip was a madcap global scavenger hunt through twelve countries, followed by a summer together in South France. While there, I decided to make another vision map. I let myself dream big. And I had Mia there for support and feedback. I learned more from my wise and compassionate daughter than I ever taught her.
(Clockwise from left) Claire and Mia tour the Pyramids of Egypt on horse and camelback, Posing in front of the cliffs of Meteora, Greece, A rest stop in front of Veliko Tarnovo during their Balkin leg of the trip.
It was a happy, energizing undertaking, but bittersweet. During the trip, I discovered things about myself I’d forgotten, and acknowledged things I’d simply suppressed. And I realized that while you may not know what you’ve got till it’s gone, you also don’t know what doesn’t matter to you until you realize you don’t miss it. I gave myself permission not only to declare exactly what I wanted, but also to leave behind what I didn’t. Which was almost everything in my life: house, heat and husband (as wonderful a man as he is.)
My return would not be easy. It’s one thing to dream on a piece of poster board, another to make it happen in real life. But I did. One choice at a time. Over a year’s time I would leave it all—home, most of my belongings, the security of marriage. I didn’t even have a clue what city I’d live in. But I had a vision, I had trust, and I had me. I still do.
Claire Fontaine is the co-author of two memoirs Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back, HarperCollins 2007, and Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter Discover Themselves, Each Other and The World, William Morrow 2012. She’s also a national public speaker and certified life coach. She divides her time between the U.S. and France, most recently Paris, where she spent five months researching a historic novel.
Enter to win Claire’s book, Have Mother, Will Travel by answering this question in the comments below: Have you ever traveled with a grown up son or daughter?