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  • Holly

The Change Curve

Eleven days, that’s how long the house was on the market. To me it was just way too fast, for my realtor she acted like the sky was falling and wanted me to slash the price after the first open house weekend, which was just all the excuse I needed to pull it off the market and rethink my whole plan. I guess a couple came through and the woman made comments like the house was ‘too big of a project and had to be entirely gutted to be lived in.’ I calmly told my realtor that those people weren’t the people I was looking for while fuming inside and thinking about how much I wanted to slash the woman’s tires.

The buyer I wanted, was the couple with young kids who saw in the house what I saw, a home, a dream home actually, sure it’s got its quirks but the location and lot are to die for. While the stagers made me paint the whole inside a super pukey beige color called ‘burnt scone’, which just sounds bad to begin with, I just couldn’t bring myself to paint over the growth chart. You know, that spot on the wall where every once in awhile you make the kids all line up and you make a mark to see how high they grew. All our kids were fully grown so it was now just for my niece and nephew...and sometimes to see if I had started shrinking yet.

I stuck to boundaries mostly on the price and had a small internal victory when we got one offer from a young couple of my dreams. I mean...they gave me an offer I couldn’t even do a counter on and wrote a letter for my consideration so that I would pick them. Someone pinch me. This couple adored the house, had two young boys and gave us an option to rent back for 45 days, which offset the panic I suddenly felt about cleaning out the attic. But I clicked the ‘signature’ button next to ‘accept’ on the DocuSign on my phone as I was rushing out the door to meet my daughter at the Justin Timberlake husband was out of town. I love concerts, had great tickets wasn’t going to be late to that.

So as I’m driving I suddenly burst into tears and it felt like my heart had been torn out of my chest. Let me put this in context. Long story short is that I’m not a crier. I’m tough, battle tested. I take pride in having my life together at least 90% of the time. At work or in most things that are transactional, it is what it is and especially at work, I’ve learned to shove all my emotions right down into my pumps in a male dominated industry and crying just isn’t a thing I do, not even in the bathroom. Like ever. I just did not understand why I was just so sad. I showed up at the concert, parked my car and slathered my face with makeup powder. It was dark so my daughter didn’t notice I had been crying but no way was I going to tell her why on this night. It would just have to wait until I was ready to handle how she might respond. We had an amazing night to remember, it was a great time together.

Night together at the Justin Timberlake concert

Life went on for another week, except for the 45 people marching around my house trying to finish all the inspections in a 5 day window. General inspection, roof, sewer, chimney, pool, termite and drainage. They were concerned about flooding which is weird honestly for California because typically we are always in a drought every single summer for as long as I can remember, but because of the weird weather of course the month leading up to the on-market date it rained enough to refill all the lakes and dams in the state, with more rain on record than ever in decades. There was no evidence after all that of standing water but they were worried about possible flooding...not a concern I would have, earthquakes and fire is another story...but hey, it’s not my money.

They did the inspection reckoning and removed contingencies and we were moving into escrow. Now I had to tell the kids that the house sold for sure. We told our daughter living with us first, for obvious reasons. She also has the soul of a surfer so was just chill about it and said ‘cool’ and went back to her Netflix. I decided to tell my son next, he has a more laid back attitude and is focused on college so I would tell him and my ex-husband because I knew once I told my daughter the phone calls and group texts would start either with me or without me.

Here’s what I have to share about my daughter. She was born with a wild passion that I knew would be hard work, but I also knew she would be a strong, independent woman someday, and she is. She is on her own now, living in San Francisco, she has a great job and she’s killing it, working in circles of trendy startups and living it up on weekends in the Marina and North Beach. We are very much alike in our drive but she and I are very different in how we process change and many other things. The house was the only thing that tied us together in our past life with her father; it was the only tangible thing that connected her to her own childhood as she’s now moved on to life on her own. Mind you, it may be different if she came home on weekends, to say hello and do her laundry. It’s exactly 28 miles door to door and she has been home only maybe twice in the last year, and it was only when she had some other reason to be in the area….but I digress.

So I called her and gave her the news, she was incredibly calm and understanding. She said she wasn’t surprised it sold quickly and... that was it. I hung up the phone and went into savage mode to find a new place to live. I just moved on to the next thing on my list.

I was most interested to explore if I could buy a condo, live there, then convert it to a rental when we left. I don’t know if it was that I didn’t want to be a renter after owning a home for so long, or what it was. I made an offer on a condo with a carport which my husband shook his head at for an investment property (did I mention yet that he has the patience of a saint?). We went through all the paperwork and inspections and learned the rental conversion wouldn’t be a sure thing so I backed out.

I was lucky enough to find a duplex for us to rent before I started to panic at my transgressions. It was in a good location that was suitable for our little dog. For any dog owners, you know how hard it can be to find a decent rental that takes dogs. I marched my husband through and he was fine with it - but he just saw it as temporary...healthy perspective since it was temporary...but I still needed to live somewhere I could envision myself wanting to be in for the next year.

We both agreed we needed to keep it relatively small, enough of a change to force us to downsize, not just move our same stuff to a new place. This was a step in the process of getting rid of everything. So it began, five bedrooms, three bathrooms, an attic, a double garage, two sheds, grand entertainment kitchen and a cabana needed to be downsized to fit into a two bedroom (one for our daughter with one more year left with us), one shared office, one car garage and tiny galley kitchen. So...much….stuff had to go.

I’ll just put it this way, you realize how old you are when you start cleaning out your attic. Papers, books, baby stuff, skis and sporting equipment I hadn’t seen in decades, old toys, electronics (I found an actual Atari...why I don’t know since computers had been invented by the time we moved in). We boxed up games, sold furniture on Facebook marketplace and NextDoor, by the way, we found NextDoor to be better. We had a garage sale, we donated items to Paradise fire victims, I consigned large furniture, and finally had to hire a junk company for $500 to haul away everything else that was left...which is pretty much what we made at the garage sale. You have no idea how many cords and plugs and adapters I found...good reuse business idea if anyone wants to give that some thought.

Meanwhile, another part of this story that I haven’t mentioned yet is that 8 months prior I had signed up with 59 North to do one of their offshore passages. As it was turning out with timing, our move date was just one week after my passage was scheduled to be over so it was mentally very inconvenient.

We had to pack everything enough for me to be gone, come back and immediately move, while my husband still had to live in the house for basically two weeks like that without me. The packing had to be done but not done which is honestly my version of hell. Things half put away, boxes everywhere and everything else just strewn in random places so you can’t find anything. Yes...that would be hell if someone asked me to design it.

Oh, in case it wasn’t obvious, we are also both working full time. So needless to say, there was no date nights or couples time going on if you know what I mean. Totally out the window and any spark was immediately doused by the burning fire in my lower back from all the schlepping of crap everywhere we were doing. My head was telling me I was 30 but my back was saying, ‘nope definitely not.’

Somewhere in this timeframe it happened. My daughter and I had a chance to catch up on the phone and she was REALLY angry. I think I made it worse by reminding her that anger was a stage of grief...I’m just such an idiot. We agreed to meet for lunch but it was a disaster. I was too stressed and she was too emotional, she was seeing things through a very dark lens that made me defensive. This is the stuff that doesn’t show up on YouTube videos. Selling the house triggered in her a bunch of unresolved issues she had that any teenager would whose parents get divorced and remarried. All while I was 100% tactically focused on packing, so I had not been thinking or anticipating her real feelings.

The fun night at the JT concern was long gone and it’s times like these you second guess your life choices. After our lunch, she wanted nothing to do with me, which I remember feeling that way towards my own mom at that age trying to grow up and being scared at the same time. I think it’s really true that a child doesn’t fully appreciate their mother until they have kids of their own, going through their own stuff.

I got home from the lunch that day and called my mom and told her I loved her.

What I also realized was that she made some assumptions about my financial strategy that were VERY off the mark. Based on these assumptions, she formed an opinion that I was making reckless and irresponsible decisions and that I had no plan for what would happen when I eventually wanted to come back.

Let’s hold that thought for a minute as I take you back a few weeks.

During the time we were starting to make the little improvements you make before selling the house, before we staged the house, I was doing a lot of financial planning calculations to determine how to make the plan line up. I will actually do a whole series on this aspect in a future podcast because it’s a big topic. Anyway, in our household I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, so the financial planning part of this adventure has tended to be my area of focus. I’ve got a complex relationship with money because growing up we never had any, so for me, making sure I can take care of myself is a big makes me feel secure and gives me a way to convince myself that I am in fact, a responsible adult.

When I show my husband too many spreadsheets he starts going into the specifics of the formulas in the various cells, and how I set up the columns and the conversation deteriorates quickly because I wasn’t born with the patience gene. I decided instead to map out the big picture in a series of post-its, like a timeline with major financial milestones for what happens when, how much money you need to live on during what time periods, where it comes from and how the various investments benefit us and when, or when SS kicks in, that sort of thing.

It was my effort to create a narrative where I could get his input to the strategy without getting lost in the weeds. Walking him through this went pretty well so I put the post-its up on my office wall for that week.

During that week my son came home over the holiday break and I walked him through it as well. While he didn’t ask for the information, he said it helped him understand that I had thought through a financial strategy and that he shouldn’t worry. I have to say, I was surprised by his comments because in my head I was like...dude, I figured out how to get myself to college when statistically speaking my upbringing has me in a gutter somewhere, I built a career AND raised two kids at the same time, I provided a nice neighborhood, I paid for college for you is it possible that you can think that this boat plan hadn’t been WELL THOUGHT OUT?!?

Cut back to the lunch with my daughter, given the way she had spoken to me what I realized is they had come up with a belief in their head, that this boat plan was some random impulse with no real plan. I do think it would have been different if they had been living with me, but they were out of the house now, living their own day to day.

Upon deeper reflection as I write this blog, I have to remind myself that what makes the cruising plan so random to my family is how completely out of character it is for someone like me. I think that’s what they were struggling with. Someone like me who they see as a pillar of stability through what they perceive as being monumental phases of change in their life, suddenly doing a 180 after they are gone, tossing my life up in the air. To them, the whole thing as random.

What business has taught me is that to take teams through large scale business transformations, you have to bring people along and make them part of the change, but I wasn’t doing this in my personal at all. I was leaving them out so there was a lag, they were miles behind where we were.

As I was so busy with prepping the house, packing, moving and working, I had completely forgotten to bring them along. It was not intentional and it is hard when they aren’t around much and when you talk on the phone maybe once a week if I’m lucky. I want to hear about what they are doing and listen to what’s going on in their lives so bringing up cruising topics just seems so out of the blue and self-centered.

Why was I leaving them out, I think the reason was because I wanted to shelter them from the worry, I mean, I’m learning as I go along too. The biggest part of building this boat plan is being thoughtful about a risk management (also another future topic), so if my kids ask me questions like, what happens if someone gets seriously injured, or what if you hit a container? or how do you avoid unpredicted and increasingly stronger storms off-season? These are all kind of scary questions that I don’t want my kids asking me until I have good answers. But keeping them out of the details was backfiring and it all bubbled up with the sale of the house, because this had an emotional impact where everything surfaced.

As with most aspects of parenting and making a life transition as an empty nester, I’m a rookie at all this, making stuff up as I go, trying my best to figure out the right balance of protecting my adult kids from worry but also giving them enough information so they are mentally in the right place when we cast off. There’s a huge gap when your waking thoughts are about sailing and boaty things, and your kids’ who quite literally think it’s a mission to Mars with no return trip.

So here’s the lesson I learned with the sale of the house. You don’t set out to make a big change without anticipating what the road will look like getting there. Change has curves, and you have to be ready for them. While I was good at anticipating risk at work, risk in sailing, risk in selling the house, I didn’t at all think about the risk of not properly bringing my kids along the change curve.

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