A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.
Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.
Last weekend, six friends and I gathered in a tiny cottage in Central Wisconsin for our annual Ya Ya Girls’ Weekend. (Yes, it’s named after the book Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood.) I’m proud to say that this is our 22nd year of packing up our swimsuits and towels and leaving our families behind.
When our Ya Ya weekends first started, I was a young, working mom. I had virtually no time for myself, let alone my family. So a weekend with just girlfriends was a little slice of heaven. Nobody hanging on me, no need to cut up anybody’s meat or put anybody to bed. Time to nap, talk and READ. Pure bliss.
Fast forward 22 years and nothing and everything have changed. Now my life is filled with lots of time for myself. My empty nest (which I adore) doesn’t miss me much when I’m gone, although I guess the dog is now the current equivalent of a young child. I still have to leave instructions for her.
People often ask me if I grew up with the Ya Yas and they’re surprised to hear that I didn’t. I actually met the first of the Ya Yas when she came to work for me 26 years ago. From work came a true friendship which grew into multiple friendships. I feel SO blessed for that.
Some of the Ya Yas now have young children but a few of us are sending ours off to college. I’m the veteran parent of the bunch and love to share my knowledge and mistakes, if it’s possible to help somebody else avoid the latter. So while we float on the lake, sometimes with cocktails in hand, we solve all of the world’s problems, if not the ones in our own homes.
This time, I noticed that our baggage (literal and metaphorical) had changed. The bathroom counter, which used to be cluttered with curling irons and makeup cases, is now filled with pill boxes and prescriptions. The kitchen counter used to be stacked with treats galore and now has more fruit than anything else. We talk of plantar fasciitis, back pain, hot flashes and weight gain. We count up the kids that we've added and the family members that we've lost. Nothing could be more bittersweet.
Our jobs have all changed – some of us have retired, some are still moving up the corporate ladder and still others are still impressing us with their growing resumes. We talk about wanting challenges in our daily jobs but, more than anything, wanting more time with our families.
The most important ingredient in the Ya Ya weekend is laughter. It comes from so many places, whether it’s giggling ourselves to sleep at night, telling awkward and embarrassing stories from our lives back home or sharing memories from years ago. Sometimes we create new memories ON the Ya Ya weekend, such as trips to the E.R., kayak rides around the lake or vehicle breakdowns on the way to the weekend. We rarely miss the opportunity to make something bad into a great story.
And then, on Saturday night, we do our only required activity of the Ya Ya Weekend. We set goals for ourselves for the coming year. I’m the goalkeeper. I haul out my notebook, in which I keep 10+ years of past goals, and scribble down our new ones. For us, it is almost more important that we set goals than that we achieve them. There’s something about saying it out loud that sometimes gets us to move outside our comfort zone and do something that even our families might be surprised that we can accomplish.
Therein lies the magic of the Ya Ya weekend – we believe in each other. Somehow, we’ve created this bond of friendship that is there to build ourselves up and never let each other down. We might go for weeks and months and not see each other, but once a year, we are each other’s greatest fans.
Boy, am I lucky.