Remember the old Mastercard commercials?
Flight from Raleigh to Las Vegas: $700
Tickets to Rod Stewart: $300
An invitation to spend the weekend with my son and daughter-in-law: Priceless.
My son called a couple of months ago asking if my husband and I wanted to join him and his wife in Las Vegas to see Rod Stewart. We couldn’t say yes fast enough. I didn’t care what it cost.
My son and daughter-in-law live in Grand Junction, Colorado, near the Utah border. During the first two years of COVID, I could count on one hand the number of times I physically touched them. The same is true for my two beautiful daughters. Despite all the precautions, we all ended up getting COVID. Like when my kids were little, I nursed my youngest daughter through it one Christmas.
Some people struggle through “long COVID,” which the Centers for Disease Control describes as lingering symptoms that may include fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, depression, anxiety, vertigo, and more. It’s real. My long COVID is different. It’s the relentless heartache of physical separation from my family.
As a single working mom with sole custody of my children, I always negotiated my calendar first. When they were in school, it meant limited travel, being home for dinner, and leaving early to attend school activities or sporting events. If they were sick, I stayed home. I was there.
Remembering the good old pre-COVID days — December 2019 — when I accepted the offer to be the CEO of the John Locke Foundation, the world was a simpler place. The economy was booming, and COVID-19 hadn’t entered our lexicon. Travel was easy and relatively affordable.
The plan was straightforward. I’d move to North Carolina in January 2020. My husband would join me after he retired from the Colorado legislature in May 2022. Our kids and other family members would visit, and we’d also be back in Colorado. We’d see each other often.
Eight weeks after I arrived in North Carolina, the world shut down. Everything changed. Two weeks turned into two years. Travel restrictions, vaccine mandates, and work schedules challenged the 1,600-mile cross-country trek. We talked on the phone, Facetimed, and texted often, but we usually spent birthdays, anniversaries, and many holidays apart. Virtual relationships can’t replace physical proximity. I’ve always worked, but we’ve never been so physically separated.
I threw myself into my Locke family. Together, we dove head-first into our response to government shutdowns. We navigated protests, violence, vaccine mandates, political toxicity, labor shortages, and economic instability.
Amid the madness and after several evenings enjoying adult beverages around a fire pit (where all good ideas are initiated), Donald Bryson, then president of the Civitas Institute, and I incubated a plan to capitalize on our organizational strengths and merge capacities.
In January 2021, we went from two separate think tanks to the battle tank known as Locke with the sole purpose of being the most influential driving force in public policy in North Carolina. Cost savings were reinvested in capacity expansion in government affairs, communications, research, development, and grassroots.
We reworked Carolina Journal structurally and aesthetically. We hired new talent, expanded our reach, increased our influence, and racked up policy wins for North Carolinians. Our network peers took notice and recognized our work with a national award. Quite simply, we are the best.
My father taught me not to define wealth and success professionally. As kids, my siblings and I rolled our eyes whenever he said, “I’m the wealthiest man in the world. I have seven wonderful children and a beautiful wife. What more could anyone want?” When I finally had my own family, I understood what he meant.
No matter what our plans are, God has his own. My husband John did retire, but he can’t leave Colorado for extended periods. My mother-in-law’s dementia has forced her into assisted living. Based on my experience with my parents, it doesn’t get better. It just ends. He’s needed in Colorado.
Over the last year, my kids have asked me to be more present. Despite DNA and role modeling that makes us fiercely independent, we get strength from our family unit.
In this spirit, I announce, once again, that I’m negotiating my calendar. I will retire from being the CEO of the John Locke Foundation on June 30. It’s been the professional honor of a lifetime to lead this great organization. Only my family could take me away.
Memo to parents of young children: The Song for a Fifth Child comes true. They grow up, move out of your house, and become fascinating people with their own lives. When they ask you to be present in their lives, do it.
Reflecting on my three-and-a-half-year tenure leading Locke, I am incredibly proud of our accomplishments. North Carolina is a little freer. Locke is healthy. We take our mission seriously rather than ourselves. We work hard and laugh often. I’m thrilled that the Board of Directors has ensured Locke’s tradition of free-market public policy excellence by naming current Locke President Donald Bryson as the next CEO. The future of freedom in North Carolina is bright. I wish I could say the same for Colorado.
As for me, I’ll continue to be the organization’s biggest champion, just from a slightly different vantage point. I’ll be doing some contract work with Locke on particular projects and working with development, which allows me the flexibility to split my time between Colorado and North Carolina. Anyone who has heard me fawn over my little house on Core Sound in Carteret County knows I can’t give it up entirely. Also, I’ll be reunited with my first policy love – energy – this time on a national level.
More importantly, I’m going to treasure every moment with my family. Time is priceless. Once spent, we can’t get it back. Since I will have the luxury of remote work, I plan trips to see my adult children. John and I will spend time with my mother-in-law while she still remembers us.
I want to thank all of you who have made my time in North Carolina so meaningful. You welcomed me into your hearts and homes. You and your families embraced me when I couldn’t hug my own. I cannot begin to convey my gratitude for your support and encouragement. North Carolina is a special place. But you already know that.
Song for a Fifth Child
By Ruth Hulburt Hamilton
Mother, oh mother, come shake out your cloth!
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking!
Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby, loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.)
Oh, cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby. Babies don’t keep.