My son is leaving for college, and it's the best and worst thing all at once.

I find myself struggling under the weight of change. My heart is simultaneously so full and yet shattered into a thousand pieces.

I am teary all the time. There's a heaviness on my shoulders that I'm not sure will ever go away.


My baby is about to leave the nest.

My high schooler.

Sure, I know what they say. I know this is an exciting time. I know he's better off launching into the world and growing into a responsible adult.

I know I will adapt to him being gone. I know he's not dying. I am extremely proud of what he's become and what he’s going to be. I know he's healthy, competent, and strong. I know that I don't want him living in my basement until he's 40. I know how lucky I am. I know this.

But I cannot seem make my heart understand what my mind knows.

All the many sleepless nights rocking a newborn in the moonlight of a tiny apartment, I dreamed of what he'd become.

Bleary-eyed and exhausted, I soaked it up as best I could. Later, as I wiped peanut butter off sticky fingers after his lunch every day, I fervently longed for when he'd learn to do it himself.

With each tantrum and missed nap, I'd ache for just a few minutes of alone time. When I had a baby girl in the shopping cart and felt frazzled as I struggled to herd two wandering little boys, I groaned and fantasized about doing the shopping without them.

A lot of those days, I found myself wishing for time to move faster. Life with young children was a never-ending glance at the clock on the wall, minutes sometimes ticking by so slowly they felt like hours. If I could just make it until nap time. Or bedtime. Or Friday evening at last.

Watching a child grow up can go by quickly. Image from iStock.

The dirty trick no one tells you is that one day, you will spend every minute wishing for the opposite: watching the clock and willing it to stop.

They never tell you that your heart will hurt and swell at the thought of time moving forward. And move forward it will, at a pace so rapid your head will spin.

You will wish and pray for just a few more months or hours or minutes with these babies. Few people ever warn you that you'll look back and wonder if you appreciated it enough, loved them enough, taught them enough.

I have worked for 18 long years for these exact results, and yet I feel unrealistically angry at my own success.

I have achieved the perfectly predictable end to the story I have spent years writing. I have worked myself out of the job. I knew this was the outcome of the path I was on, but now that I'm here, I want a different one. One where I get to have my cake and eat it, too. One where my son flourishes and grows, yet never leaves my side.

Is that too much to ask of the universe?

And if I can't have that, then I at least want a do-over.

My young man.

I want to hold him one more time in the moonlight of that crappy apartment, smell his sweetness, and lose an entire day with him in my arms.

Watching your children leave the nest can be exciting and scary. Image from iStock.

I want to see those sticky fingers grasp at Cheerios on a tray and rejoice when he can finally pinch one between them and raise it triumphantly to his lips. I want to see that toothless kindergarten grin look for me in the crowd of parents during the painful squeaks of the beginner violin concert and watch his eyes light up when he finds me. I want it so badly that every cell in my body just aches.

But that's the thing about this story: We don't get a different ending.

We get this one. We build our lives around these busy, toddling, energetic, lovable creatures, and they walk right out of it. We are left with a hole in our heart where their daily presence used to be — an ache that will never be filled because the life we had built with them in it is forever changed.

Stevie Nicks brilliantly said it best:

"And can I sail through the changing ocean tides / Can I handle the seasons of my life? / Oh oh I don't know, oh I don't know / Well, I've been afraid of changing / 'Cause I've built my life around you / But time makes you bolder / Even children get older / And I'm getting older too."

I know I'll be OK and find myself eventually on the other side of this long, lonely bridge.

I know it's not the end.

But it's the end of something; it's the end of something pretty spectacular. And I just can't help but wish it wasn't so.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."