Transitions, middle age and chin hair

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life85 Comments

One week from tomorrow Cole heads out for his freshman year of college.

A few weeks ago, Aidan moved out to prepare for the start of her law school adventure, slated to kick off right after Labor Day.

Dan is teaching a new grade this year (a third and fourth split), luckily at the same school, but a whole new deal nonetheless.

And me? I get to navigate this new space of transition and uncertainty.


I wonder if anyone has written a book called What To Expect When They All Start to Move Out? I thought of this last week, when Dan and I were walking to our favorite neighborhood pizza joint and he was looking in every Little Library along the way, and there it was, a hardly touched copy of the seminal classic, What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

God, I remember those days. I remember buying that book. I remember reading some of the chapters with abject horror. WHAT THE HELL? That’s not even REMOTELY possible!

As I looked at the intact spine of the book sitting in that Little Library, I thought, did the previous owners also learn that all bets were off once those glorious creatures slipped out into the atmosphere?

Did they learn that nothing can really prepare you for the actual experience of becoming a parent? The uncertainty, the exhilaration, the pride, the sleeplessness, the frustration, the pain, the joy, the mundanity and the sheer preciousness and magic of it all?


We prepare so hard for bringing new life onto the planet. Most of the time, anyway. There is a never ending stream of information on how to do this thing, this parenting thing. This raise those kids thing.

I believe if you’re smart, you keep working it. You keep learning. You keep growing and changing to meet their needs at every developmental step along the way.

I wasn’t always that smart though. Therapy has helped a lot, and even still, I make a lot of mistakes.

But the way that I’m most definitely smarter than before? I usually learn from them.


For all the information out there on What to Expect When You’re… [ insert phase here ], it feels like there are fewer resources for when they start to leave.

Yes, there are some great articles I’ve read recently about sending your kid off to college, and it does feel a bit easier as we prepare to launch child no. 2.

But just the general time of the family unit transitioning… I feel there is less out there on that, so this post, I suppose, is geared towards exploring that.

And I’m not sure what I want to say just yet.


I titled this post Transitions, Middle Age and Chin Hair and you should know that chin hair is an easy topic. When you see one, and ladies, they will literally grow a half inch overnight in the brave new world of Menopause, you grab your tweezers and pluck those suckers out.


Transitions and Middle Age? Well, those are harder. Those require more skill and multiple tools. Those are the things I’m trying to work my way into and through.


This morning I woke up at 3:10 a.m. This has been happening a lot lately. I’m not really sleeping very well right now. I’m having anxiety about all of this transition and I really want to be constructive with it, as opposed to being neurotic about it. I know I don’t write as much here in this space. I don’t share as many personal stories as I once did. There are many reasons for that. Some of it really does revolve around stories that are not mine to tell. My children’s lives are their own now and that is something I respect tremendously.

But there is also the idea that the more I know, the less I’m knowing. That’s actually a line from a Cloud Cult song, but it’s really resonating with me these days because I’m working on stuff most days and do not always emerge with neat and tidy answers.

Neat and tidy used to be my favorite thing and a thing that I believe cost me a lot of experience in my life that could have changed and touched me in real ways.

I have learned that life is messier than that. It’s not tidy. It’s not neat. And when I let go and take it as it comes, I have the potential for a much more interesting ride.

So today, I’m just putting a bit of my experience back out there. I’m in a time of transition and I’m hoping to learn a lot from it.

And if I make mistakes, which believe me, I will… I’ll learn from them and keep moving forward.

That, and I’ll always keep my tweezers handy.

Cathy ZielskeTransitions, middle age and chin hair

85 Comments on “Transitions, middle age and chin hair”

  1. #1
    Lori V

    So true – all of it, most especially the chin hair stuff! One of the very best articles I ever read in a long ago lost issue of Parenting magazine talked about how we cherish all the firsts, but all of the lasts come & go quietly before one day we realize, “hey, that thing we did, we don’t do that anymore” – last tuck in with silly songs, last piggy back to the breakfast table, etc. It helped me to remember to cherish all of it, and also it taught me that parenthood is always about change, flux, flow, and moving in new directions – it ain’t easy, it, like growing older, sure as heck ain’t for sissies or the faint hearted, but it is, even on the really hard days, most definitely worth it❤️

  2. #2

    ah Classic CZ….yes a state of transition at my home too. We moved baby boy to college two weeks ago. After the first couple of days, I am beginning to find a new “normal” for now. 🙂

  3. #3

    And with those tweezers, a magnifying mirror soon becomes a necessity. Ask me how I know.
    Always love reading your musings, Cathy. It’s life-changing when the realization finally hits that life isn’t about reaching a destination/goal/self-actualized state, but the experience of the journey itself, ya know?

    1. #3.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Oh honey, been using a magnifier for YEARS. I’m also blind in addition to having chin hair.

  4. #4
    mary e.

    Feelin’ your pain, Cathy… our ‘baby’ left for college 2 years ago but she’s in Africa for the semester, and that has made it feel REALLY REAL – she’s so far away, and can’t communicate very often due to WiFi, so I’m really feeling the reality of life as the nest empties…

    FWIW, I still check your blog – love these posts as they make me feel like there is a kindred soul out there. Oh, and that I’m not losing my mind that that hair DID GROW 6 inches overnight.

    Sending good vibes….

  5. #5

    I made it thru my only child moving out, marrying, having kids…and leaving me behind as an empty nester. I was working then so that filled the days while I acclimated. Now I am at the point of retirement. It is not all glory days. I have done my stints of volunteering. There is a whole world out there and now to figure out how to tackle it…and do I really want to?

    and oh, those chin hairs!

    1. #5.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I hope to get involved with something volunteer based at some point…. hard to say what, though working in the Minnesota Ultimate community comes to mind! Helping younger kids discover an amazing sport!

  6. #6

    …and then the day comes when they move out of state and take YOUR grandkids with them! The nerve of them!

    Alas I, too, am adjusting to a new normal…

    1. #6.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Yeah, that would be hard. I’m sure it was hard on my mama that I didn’t live near home.

  7. #7
    Martha M.

    Cathy, oh my gosh this resonates so hard with me. I am in Austin, Texas, and my daughter leaves for Boston tomorrow to begin her college journey. She is nervous and excited because it is what she worked for since she was little. I am also nervous and excited. 2000 miles is a long way away and she is my youngest. I have not an ounce of doubt that she is ready for this. My son graduated in December and moved back to Austin. I have loved seeing him every day…but, he got an awesome tech job in Boise, Idaho, and leaves next week. 1600 miles in the other direction!!! He is also ready for this new chapter. Mama is keeping it together, but it is hard. We have our last moments together later today. I really don’t know when we will all be together again. Deep breath. Deep breath.

  8. #8

    Oh my goodness. Life certainly is messy… which is why I try to make things neat and tidy. Some days though I have to throw up my hands and give that up. I’ve had anxiety for the first time in the last year, and it’s not fun. My brain keeps me from functioning as i used to. I’m 90% better but that little 10% lingers on.. and interrupts things.

    I just turned 50 this year… so there’s that too.

    Started reading a book on this topic – There Are No Grown-ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story (by the author of Bringing Up Bebe). She had me from the first chapter.

    Middle age – yuck.

  9. #9

    Cathy…I just sent my baby to Navy boot camp literally 3 days ago and now I am an empty nester. I’m in this huge townhouse and I’m alone. It really hits you when you walk in and see your son’s shoes neatly stored in the shoe rack as soon as I walk in the door. I completely relate to all the middle age crap that we go thru especially as women and then to see our babies move on, I thought I was prepared for it but it hits you like a ton of bricks. Perhaps a gathering of paper crafters/empty nesters/middle age women is in order lol! Nothing better than crafty therapy!

  10. #10
    Lisa Wright

    Oh Cathy you are so good at Expressing what is felt by so many of us. Navigating post high school to college is a ride. Empty Nest is a transition, and now I find myself navigating my son’s marriage, wife and new baby girl. All these changes are so wonderful but every step in life requires adapting, and finding a new way for yourself, spouse and your children.
    Great Blog entry, your words brought tears of happiness to my eyes!

    1. #10.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I guess I didn’t think of that… you know? every step is a transition to navigate, from day 1 until the last. : )

  11. #11
    Heather Crawley

    We have a son, Jackson, that is the same age as Cole, but a year ahead and school (lesson learned on that one) and we took him back to college for year two on Tuesday. It was still bittersweet, still somewhat anxiety inducing, but I realized it is all about me. He is fine. He is confident, comfortable and where he belongs on this next step in the journey. In my head and heart, I miss that little boy that I could mother. He doesn’t need that anymore and it is a little heartbreaking.

    We still have a child at home and will for the next five years, so we are far from an empty nest. I find myself trying to fix my “mistakes” with her and she is an entirely different kid. She makes us reinvent the parenting manual

    This is a very awkward stage, you are right. There are no books, no cute little “this is what it will look like at this stage” infographics. And, this transition happens differently for every single family.

    So, I guess I’ll go find my tweezers, a nice bottle of wine (low carb) and try not to cry.

  12. #12

    Love this. We just moved our oldest far away for grad school and it is hard. I can’t let myself get too far into the emotions of it just yet because it hurts too much. But, I know it is all good, and that we raise our kids with the idea that they will move out someday and flourish in their own grown-up life. I love that you shared this and while it is good to respect our kids’ privacy, I think it is okay to share our part in the story. Their life is changing, but how if affects us is a big part of who we are becoming now that we are entering our own new chapter. So, please continue to share. There is a whole world of us out here that can relate and appreciate knowing that we are going through the same things. Thanks for the words and be good to yourself these next few weeks as your family transitions into this next stage.

  13. #13

    speaking of tweezers….sun visor mirror is the BEST in sunlight…you will see chin hairs that were not there inside!

  14. #15

    I’m feelin’ this on so many levels. So many. What I’ve come to learn is that there are seasons and sometimes everyday can feel like a new season. I’m trying so very hard, like most of us, to just stay present in the moments that I’m in. Pausing. Just putting the old pause button on and living in the moment of this season. We only get this day. Trying to drink it all in.

    And for the chin hairs, I have no words. It’s an ongoing battle. I have tweezers everywhere including my car. BTW, in the car, you get the best light… and you can go to battle with them far better. HAHAHAHA!

    Big love! AND…. grace my friend…. lots and lots of grace.

  15. #16

    You are amazing. I had the same night of sleep last night that you describe here, as it dawned on me how different my life will be in about a week. I’ve known for a long time that it’s been coming, of course, but…as you say, nothing can really prepare you. Thank you for writing this and putting into words what so many of us are no doubt feeling.

    1. #16.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Maybe we’ll get better sleep in the fall, Colleen? : ) I know we can definitely have a glass of wine and commiserate. Love you!

  16. #17

    Yes, we are in the transition zone as well here and I find myself nesting hard this week trying to clear space physically and mentally for the month to come.

    If you haven’t yet, PLEASE watch the first couple of episodes of The Letdown on Netflix. It’s an Aussie show about those first parenting moments and insecurities and exhaustedness and it’s so real and funny, but you have to watch with Dan and enjoy together. You’ll be high fiving each other that you survived and eventually thrived through the stage. Can’t recommend enough to all my friends.

  17. #18
    Mary Jo /stewart

    Chin hair, the bane of my existence! I have found that our lives are nothing but transition. We go from childhood and race to adulthood. Then some of us enter into marriage and parenting. I was totally prepared for labor and delivery but when they presented my daughter to me to take home, wearing only a diaper, I thought “holy sh… what have I done”. Nobody told me that this parenting thing continues for a lifetime. Then we transition to empty nester. That took a little time to adjust (2 weeks, I think). Still worry about “the kids”. After that we enter into retirement transition. Still worry about “the kids”. Yes, many short nights but in the end, you look back and say, overall it has been a pretty good life. Of course, I am not looking forward to my next transition…yikes.

  18. #19

    You engaged me with the title and completely hooked me by mentioning Cloud Cult. I saw them perform with their movie in Seattle last year. Amazing.

    I hear and feel exactly what you’re talking about. I am there too. My child moved out a few years ago, so I’ve processed that, but the rest of middle-paus is hitting with a gusto right now.

    My advice is keep being you, feel those feelings, process them and learn. You are terrific. Thanks for sharing your struggles and being real rather than just showing the perfection parts. I love you chin hairs and all.

  19. #20
    Christen p

    So beautifully written! We are driving home from dropping off our youngest at grad school and it surprised me that it was still hard to say goodbye! I wish there was a book about it to help navigate- good idea!

  20. #21

    OMG Cathy,

    Everything you wrote about rings so true for me….both my kids the same age as yours, daughter is out of state at her post- college job, dropped off my freshman son at college last weekend, just plucked my first chin hair, and my sleep is so messed up, that I can also assume is due to anxiety over this new state of empty nest life.

    Some good news, my son has called me much more than I thought, which is cool, the house stays a lot cleaner, and the whole cooking dinner thing is easier without my son’s picky palate around. I agree that not much is written about this season of life, so I LOVED your blog post. Thank you for sharing, and whenever you get wistful about “when the kids were little” you have all those scrapbook pages to enjoy and reminisce over!

    1. #21.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I do know one upside: less laundry. : ) And I hope my boy will keep me posted. But I do have his number, so there’s that.

  21. #22

    As a fellow mom of a college freshman, I can say there are SO MANY Cloud Cult songs that apply to this situation. Right on.

  22. #23
    Kathy Mc

    You nailed it, Cathy. There’s a funny routine on the Canadian show “Baroness von Sketch.” Three middle-aged divas force their way into the intensive care where their friend is in a coma, because all four of them had made a pact that if one of them was unconscious the others would make sure her chin hair was plucked. Finding your way after the first, all-consuming stage of parenting is done? You may get a short break, so just enjoy it. Things are bound to change (all good)!

  23. #24

    I love reading your posts – you capture so well what we all feel about these life transitions. As to the insomnia, I suffered through that during menopause. One coping method was I decided to not agitate over why I could not sleep, but instead decided that if I could not sleep I would just deeply relax. I concentrated on my breathing (literally chanting in my head Iiiiin….Ouuuut) and tried to relax my body deeper into the bed. Eventually I bored myself back to sleep.

    1. #24.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I figure if I can’t sleep, I can just get up and get shit done. Literally what I did today. I’m very productive at 4 a.m.

  24. #25
    Terri Conrad

    Been there…. done that! Sailed thru menopause while putting 2 kids in college and being separated from my spouse…..7 yrs of that…. working FT. Never had a pill. Not that I SHOULD’NT have…. just no time. Now 2 of my 4 kiddos are married and filling my life with grandbabies! As far as chin hair…. I’ve had it since I wa 18…. bad genes. So tweezers are long gone. We won’t say anything else about that. You’ll get thru! You’ve got lots of great support and a very healthy sense of humor! That’ll go far! You need both! Blessings!!!

  25. #26

    There are a few times in life when you have to renegotiate your relationship with your husband. You are entering the empty nest phase. IMHO, these are crucial times. Gone are the needs of children, so you guys will have to navigate new waters for the two of you. Tough work, new normal from here out. Make or break time. Give it your all and then live it out. Good luck.

  26. #27

    I am reading this while laying on our youngest son’s dorm room bed after moving him in…… I didn’t think it would be hard since we have been through this 4 times already, but he will be 8 1/2 hours from home…. and we will be alone. I decided to volunteer at the children’s community theatre he performed at to keep me in the theatre loop. I work at the library, and we plan to visit all of our children much more. Stay Busy with your husband and remember why you love him!

    1. #27.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I am considering volunteering for the Minnesota Ultimate community, and I think it’s also because of this… Cole being moved out for the year, me missing what a joy it was to witness that amazing sport and wanting to be involved.

      And yes, Dan is a really good man. I’m lucky to have someone to work through it with.

  27. #28

    Definitely with you on the occasional chin hair . . . but what in heckfire is UP with the eyebrow situation? Mine are wiry and need to be tamed constantly. #notamused

    Our one and only kid is starting high school this year and I just know it’s going to be a fast toboggan ride to graduation. I’m going to try to really soak up these last four years of having her home.

  28. #29
    Helen High

    Ah yes. . .the chin hair. Crazy to think that I’m the only one having this issue! CZ, one more reason that I think you are the absolute best!

    Transitions are rarely easy, but I’m learning to buckle up and just ride the wave. You and raised good humans to go out into this world and now it’s their time. . .you are ready for this!

    Sigh and now big hugs!!


  29. #30

    Oh how I hear you Cathy. My kids have not left the nest yet but I so resonate with about how you have to change what you thought you knew at every stage. Years 14-16 taught me that more than any other period. Thank you for your candor. It helps all of us that are in, or getting close to, the ‘leaving home’ stage. Oh, and I’ll see you the chin hair and raise you some lovely peach fuzz…. sigh

  30. #31
    Sue TR

    * sigh Oh yes… In the thick of it… twin HS Senior girls started their last year of high school this week… Wednesday night was the “last first day dinner at the Border Cafe” (after 13 years). The last first day of school photo. the last first day of soccer practice… I’m with you everyone talks about the firsts but not about the lasts. My daughter and I were in a restaurant tonite and there was a couple w a newborn… so small!… the urge to stop at their table on my way out and say, hold on because when you blink they become adults like her (and point to my daughter)… but I figured that would totally freak them out. And the (not) sleeping and the weight gain and the chin hairs …anybody try permanent hair removal for the suckers… and college applications… and putting my dad in a nursing home and cleaning out his apartment… and, and, and… no one talks about this stuff… and we really need to so keep posting Cathy!!! You always keep it real!

    1. #31.1
      Cathy Zielske

      So many ‘ands’ make up our lives. These amazing, complicated, challenging, beautiful lives.

  31. #33

    *sighs. Life is a constant series of changes. You are so real – how could those sweet babies I waited years for turn 30 this year? Our three are all flying on their own, two married and my sweet daughter is single and in the Army. Overseas for the third time in seven years. She’s a wonderful woman, but I still miss her like crazy. My husband and I seem to have adjusted to an empty nest, and now we’re looking at his retirement in three years. Now that scares me. I love him, but home all day? And my beautiful 83 yo mom who has aged so gracefully, but is becoming more fragile…I tell you life isn’t for the faint hearted. You’ve got to keep your sense of humor through the tears.

  32. #34

    I love your writing, the comments and responses to this post. It’s great and makes me LAUGH. OUT. LOUD. I need that now. Thank you!!

  33. #35

    Oh, I forgot. About those chin hairs…they have a phenomenal root system and spread like weeds overnight!

  34. #36

    I have no doubt that Dan is a tremendous teacher and the kids love him. Thank goodness for teachers like Dan.

    I want to send out some words of support to this husband of yours because it is incredible that each year of his teaching career he has had new grades. What an amazing workload!!!

    And Cathy, I know that those at home are the support system that helps him cope. So, CHEERS to the Zielske family, and all the best on this new journey.

  35. #37

    I am just enough older than you that I have cop me out the other end. (Sort of). My girls are all 30 something’s and I still miss knowing ALL about their life, but I must have done something right because they still like to hang with us sometimes. I know you have done a great job parenting so even if they don’t come home often, know that they love you and and glad for your support. It is so good you have things you enjoy without them. ( cards and scrapbooks) Hang in there you will triumph. But do keep those tweezers handy, I keep finding more and more to pluck.

  36. #38

    You have expressed things so well! When our kids left for college, it was much harder than I expected and I kept saying to my friend that there just “must be” some type of support group for mom’s going through this stage.

    And it is funny…at this time of year I am always melancholy and those feelings quickly pop up again for me.
    It truly is a process of letting go….and embracing new realities.
    And it is difficult!

    And a hint….along with the tweezers…put in a magnifying mirror…as your eyes are changing too, and it’s a process that you may not even realize has happened! Although your close up vision may need some enhancing….looking at the big picture becomes more clear and makes more sense.

    Thinking of you embracing this new time in your life.

  37. #39
    Mel H

    I’m so in this stage of life, as my first one leaves the nest and the teenager is becoming her own person. And the chin hairs. I would like to create a blog about obliterating those things in the worst way. The kids are dealing with the changes way better than this mom.

  38. #40

    Getting your shit together is the easy part….it’s keeping it together that’s tough. I felt your pain a few years back. My youngest has been out of college for 3 years now (and I don’t miss the payments!). My oldest is getting married in November so we’re in the thick of wedding planning right now. The good thing about being an empty nester? I truly love my hubs to death and enjoy being with him. If that weren’t the case, I’m not sure what my life would look like. But I do know why no one talks about the big “M” or getting old, it’s not so great. I’m finding my way little by little and enjoying myself along the way. You will too.

  39. #41

    I don’t have kids so I can’t comment on that but this chin hair thing is crazy and unfair because I’m still getting pimples at 46. I hope you continue to share your stories with us because I feel like there is such a lack of voices our age online and I do so enjoy yours.

  40. #42

    Okay, I know now that you are unsure about the transition. I love reading your posts. But you are commenting on everyones posts. I don’t think you have done that before. Ha! I am right there with you with my 18 year old son. He though is going to community college and wants to live his own life with no help. I am struggling with letting him sink or swim because I am so on top of his life (ADHD/ODD/Anxiety). I just need to cut the strings and see what happens. Cole will do great. You will be fine just as well.

    1. #42.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Lol. Lately, because I post so little about my personal life, I feel it’s great to have anyone come here and leave comments, so… : ) Thanks for your perspective!

  41. #43

    My youngest boy started Kindergarten today, so it’s a different kind of good-bye. I still remember taking your class many years ago at CKU. I wanted so badly to be a mother, and it wasn’t happening. In your class, we did a journaling exercise about what we would tell our younger selves. I look back on that page, and it makes me cry. Because one year later, my oldest son was born. He is now almost 13. Time is a freight train. And that’s why I scrapbook (as infrequently as it is nowadays)! Thank you for this reminder….

  42. #44

    All you Mamas! Love you. I made it about 1/4 through the comments before I had to stop before I cry. Yesterday I went to lunch at school with my kiddos and my 10 year old is still young enough that he leaned against me and spread his legs over the cafeteria bench so I could hold him. I don’t know how much longer he’ll be willing to do that around his friends.
    Also, on the hair front, keep tweezers in the car!

  43. #45
    Christy Bridwell

    Read this through very blurry eyes. ❤️ Grateful for you and your willingness to share and put into words what so many of us feel.

  44. #46

    I started reading all the comments last week but then got a text from my younger daughter to say a former schoolmate had committed suicide so we’ve been dealing with that all week.

    My older daughter is home from uni at the moment, my younger one and our foster daughter are off to uni at the beginning of next year and my part-time job finishes at the end of the year. The future is scary at the moment so this is is a post I will keep coming back to to help me get through the next few months. Thank you so much Cathy for sharing where you are and thanks to everyone else for their comments.

  45. #47

    Ah love this post and so many of the comments people are making…I can relate to so much of it….and yet to none of it…we have six kids, ages 31-21 and it seems that just as the younger ones were leaving to college, the older ones, in their “adulthood” were now making their way back home and along with them are the many grandchildren we have been blessed with…no handbook to help us through the transitions of letting go and then learning the new norms with these adults who call you mom & dad…
    thanks for sharing Cathy!!

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