Sister to Sister with Carolyn Schilling

She’s one of those friends who you find later in life and you’re like, “Where in the hell have you been all this time?!” Long story short, I met her through my husband and daughter. Both said, “You need to meet Carolyn, she’s a real standup gal.” So I did. And she is the real deal.

If you read the newsletter a few weeks ago, she’s the person I put on the pedestal for being an amazing listener – and always knowing what to say to comfort you or set you straight. I can tell her anything and I do. Why is she so good at this, you ask? Perhaps because she’s spent the past 28 years raising her three kids. Yes, 28 years of having kids at home. That takes a lot of listening and shelling out advice and comfort.

This coming fall, her youngest child will go off to college. She will be an empty nester. And when I say “empty,” I mean seriously empty. Her husband constantly travels for business, her son will attend school in California, one of her daughters live in NYC, and her other daughter is a busy marketing exec at Nike in Portland. So Carolyn will find herself going from a house that had years of kids and all that comes with them, to a very, very quiet place. Well, except for her two mischievous, but endearing and beloved yellow labs, Charley and Penelope (pictured above as a puppy).

In this Sister-to-Sister, Carolyn talks about her excitement and fears of the unknowns in the year ahead and how she plans to navigate her “next chapter.”

So, let’s get right to it, Carolyn, what are your biggest fears?

Emptiness. Hands down. After all these years – almost half of my life – of having kids – and not just my own – hanging around, cooking and baking for crowds, hearing laughter and chatter around the house, going to school and sporting events, it is going to be so incredibly quiet.

It’s also the fear of the unknown. I really have no idea what to expect. I have had a routine for 28 years, and it has driven my days. Now I’ll be on my own. No one to wake up and get ready for school, no one welcome home in the afternoon, no one to say goodnight to. And, yes, I do have my husband, but he travels a lot, so he’s really never factored into the daily routine. I have fear about what will continue to drive me and motivate me to carve out a new routine.

What excites you about it?

Well, I feel like I have a lot of opportunities in front of me. I got quite a bit of traction with my interior design business this past year – so that is perfect timing. It was just enough work so I could have a side gig and still guide my son during his senior year, and just enough to create a solid base of clients to build it up in the next few years. I love my clients and I love the creativity that comes with the job, so I am motivated to move that forward.

I’m excited with the opportunity to reconnect with my husband. We’ve been so focused on the kids over the years that it will be nice to have conversations beyond basketball tournaments, grades, and college plans, and to talk about just us and our own plans and activities. As I mentioned, he travels almost every week, so I also plan to take some of the trips with him – only to the cool places, though [laughs].

I also want to do things that really feed my soul. I want to do yoga – something ‘zen’ that will help center me. I want give back in some form of volunteering. I want to cook what I really want to eat versus what growing kids and teens would eat. And I want to play more tennis – I’ve found that I love the strategy of the game. It’s a chess match, and when you make a winning move, it is exhilarating.

Wow, now that I think about it, I’ll have a lot to keep me busy!

Okay, let’s step forward into fall when you drop your son off at college. How do you think you’ll feel at the time and in the days ahead when you return home?

I already know I’ll be super sad. It really is an end of an era for me. This has been my normal for so long, and now it’s coming to a close. Plus, he’s my baby, my only son, and we are so close. I’m going to miss his sweet smile and his energy. But I’m also so excited for his future and the incredible experiences he’s going to have navigating his next chapter. He’s so ready.

It’s going to be so weird coming home. It will probably be so quiet and I think I will really feel the emptiness. I know it will hit me most when I walk by his bedroom. I’m sure I’m not going to know what to do with myself. I’ll feel a little lost and not know where to start. I imagine it’ll be similar to that feeling when you’re kids were little and all the sudden you had free time and didn’t know what to do first – or to do nothing at all.

What do you think is going to help you the most with navigating your next chapter?

My friends who have already navigated through this – and they’ve done it very successfully. Everyone tells me that once you get over the initial phase, it’s great. I think it’ll also be a matter of being proactive versus reactive. I’ve spent most of my life in the reactive mode. Now I realize that I have to go make it happen. I also think that there will be lots of surprises along the way that will motivate me.

Getting out of my bubble will also inspire me. I’ve spent all these years on what feels like a hamster wheel – same people, same activities, same routine. I’m excited to have new experiences, to meet new people, and reconnect with old friends and family.

So, I’m going to check back with you in six months to see how it’s going. What do you think your life will look like then?

I think I will have found my ‘new normal.’ I hope to have a new routine, be established in my interior design business, as well as just rolling with whatever life brings me. It really is a bittersweet time of life.

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