Finding My New Normal.

The first few weeks after my ex-husband moved out were surreal, to say the least. I vacillated between extreme highs and extreme lows.

I loved living alone!

I hated living alone!

Slowly, though, my emotions began leveling out and I found myself reaching small victories here and there.

I no longer waited around each evening, listening for the garage door to loudly announce his arrival. I flipped through our wedding album without shedding one tear. I left cabinet doors open in the kitchen and on purpose, because there was no longer anyone around that hated it.

But, without a doubt,  the hardest hurdle to clear was the new normal of being without my kids for days at time. Don’t get me wrong, they have a good dad who adores them and I’d never intrude on that to make myself feel better, but the loneliness was crippling and the pain was physical. I’d pace around my too-quiet house, exhausted and panicked, for hours searching for acceptance and peace. The first night without them I vaguely remember calling my best friend to talk, only I couldn’t talk for several minutes, because I was sobbing so hard. All she did was listen, because that’s all she could do, and what else are best friends for?

Fortunately, I realized early on that staying home curled up in a fetal position was only serving to make my transition more painful. So, one night, after going through Robert Flatt’s outstanding work for the umpteenth time, I grabbed my camera and went in search of his famous feathered subjects. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he found healing through the Night-Herons and Great Egrets that nest nearby. Generations of these exquisite birds have returned to this same spot, year after year, to ensure their legacy.

It was time to find some healing of my own.




I continued this strange coping ritual night after night and week after week, whenever the boys were with their dad.

At the same time I was getting to know these birds, they were also getting to know each other. I witnessed mating ritual after mating ritual. I saw rejection and acceptance, followed by bonding and connection.



I watched in awe for hours as they built their nests together, branch by tiny branch. The male fought with giant Oak trees, pleading with them to offer up a tiny piece of themselves, pulling and tugging until they relented. Once they had, he returned back to their growing nest and enthusiastically announced his arrival in a Honey! I’m home! sort of way. His best girl would then stretch her long neck up to meet his, and graciously accept his hard work beak to beak.







This dance played out again and again until the sky grew dark and, after weeks of hard work, they finally had a place to call home.

The irony of the situation did not escape me. I sought comfort by watching these new couples build their homes, but only because mine no longer existed. I laughed out loud through tears, in an attempt to push back the desperation.

This routine turned into my therapy. The once foreign esplanade had become the only thing I could depend on, and the only thing that made any sense.

I watched as they made their babies.


Then, I waited along side them for those babies to arrive.

Any day now…

After what seemed like an eternity, one evening the waiting finally paid off. I hopped out of my car and immediately heard them — little babies, squawking orders at their mama the same way my little babies squawked orders at me. It was all I could do not to sprint over but, always careful not to scare them, I chose to do the mom-walk instead.

When I finally reached them, I could see the tip-top of tiny heads, with mouths turned up begging for dinner, or comfort, or probably both.





I shut off my camera, sat on the ground below, and burst into tears. I cried for them, for me, and for the family I’d once pictured, but would never have. I’m not sure how long it took for me to pull it together, but  I eventually picked myself up and took around one million pictures … give or take.

On the way home that night, relief washed over me as I finally began feeling the acceptance and peace I’d been searching for from the start. It was the first time I knew that everything wasn’t just going to be okay, but be better than okay.

And, I was right. It isn’t just okay. My new family looks exactly how it’s always meant to look.

* * *

Today, I visited the last few remaining herons and egrets, the others having long since left for their journey down South. Sadly, some of them will fall on hard times and won’t make it. But, most of them will not only make it, they will succeed and they will thrive.

Thankfully, I’m pretty sure I’m among the latter.

31 thoughts on “Finding My New Normal.

  1. Allison — this is really really a nice piece. I wanted to leave you a note here, on your blog, not just on facebook. Although I’ll put it there, too. You really have a gift for words. Having been through divorce (twice, once at 30, once at 60) it is not an easy prospect. It will turn out okay in the end. If it doesn’t turn out, it’s not the end. (Or some very quotable line from The Very Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.)

    I love your photographs and I love the way you have adopted your bird friends and let them go on their perilous journey. I look forward to reading more about your own adventures and perhaps meeting you face to face one day.

  2. Allison, you make me laugh, you make me weep ~ but always, you make me proud. Sharing your journey in a way that will motivate, guide and let others know that their rollercoaster emotions are a normal part of of the journey after any life altering event. Thank you, I still think we should get you on “The Tonight Show” and “Jimmie Kimmel”! Hugs, continue writing and by all means, keep shooting those great images!

  3. My heart was sad when yours was broken. My heart is lighter for you as I see your new steps go forward. I love the beauty of your soul through your photographs and words. You a great young woman.

  4. Allison this is just huge and beautiful. It opened my heart and brought me to tears and filled it up again.
    Congratulations on your arrival to a new reality. Thank you for your passion and honesty. Thank you for these absolutely Gorgeous pics and documentation if the egrets journey.

  5. Allison this opened my heart, brought me to tears and filled it up again.
    Congratulations in your arrival to your new reality.
    Congratulations on finding your journey ,healing and source in nature.
    Thank you for sharing this astounding healing event and parallel journey .

  6. Because you are okay – and even better. What a bittersweet story. I have journeyed across that desert myself. I frequent the Rookery/Heronry at High Island and marvel at the birds the community and the sounds that assault my ears while I am there – though not unpleasant. Thank you for sharing!

  7. I have always said that we never know what someone is up against in their lives. I had no idea that while we were laughing at your wonderful photos and funny quotations, you were having heart ache in your own life. You sound like a person who can overcome and keep moving. And I hope you see your way to write a book about all of your beautiful observations.Thanks for the joy you have brought your FB readers.

  8. Allison,
    I enjoy your writing and your insight in what you write and the pictures you take!!! You have a great heart!!!
    Birds have brought me peace and comfort during some difficult times in my life!!! I have been happily married for 55 years and I have 3 sons!! I have 2 grandsons with chronic illnesses, a daughter in law with Parkinson’s, and a grandson who has major dyslexia issues! Heavy burdens!!! And an ex daughter who left my son and their 2 chronically ill 10 and 13 boys. There is a hymn titled “His Eye is on the Sparrow” that is a wonderful reminder we are not alone on this journey!!!! I have sung it (in my head) many times!!! It does help …..does not take away the pain but it does comfort me!!!
    I am saying all of this to say….after 4 years my son has remarried and they are better off….in all ways!!! A wonderful woman with 2 kids!!! She is great with both boys 13 and 16!!! 13 yr old leans toward the mom but he really likes the new wife!!! He kind of liked it just the 3 guys!!! My son has custody of both boys!!!
    Take heart!!! You have a great eye for beauty in nature!!! I love your personality in your posts and pictures!!!
    I wish you well!!!!
    Emily Norton

  9. My heart hurt reading your blog!!! I watched my son go through a divorce!! Tough road but he made it and is great!!!!
    I love your pictures and comments!!! Brightens my day!!!!

  10. I am, among other things, a family court judge and a birder, and at one time the single parent of three young children. It was so nice to read your story, to see the process and the end result of you realizing you are fine. I wish more people were able to find this peace. You and your entire family will be better because of your ability to work yourself through to a place of acceptance. And it is nice to read that you have a good attitude about your kids being with their father. Nice of you to share, I hope others going through this can learn from you.

  11. Allison, our thoughts are with you!
    We are a married couple since 1957 , and very happily so. We dread the thoughts of what it could be like to be alone; thankfully, we haven’t crossed that bridge yet, but some day, one of us will and will know something of which you speak.
    All the best and…keep tabs on those birds! It’s when you love something outside of yourself that keeps you sane.

  12. If it is any consolation, I have cried and gotten all wet eyed reading this. I am thinking of the song, ” Hey Allison, I know this world is killing you ” Continue to shine girl. You are a special lady.

  13. I felt each and every word. I am still lost after Jim’s death. I chose to get a part time job (cause my my my I got old). But I have my 6 kitties and 1 dog, Willow, to make me get up and care for them. Sometimes it takes a bit longer for some to discover a new path.
    Thanks for sharing.

  14. So glad things have worked out for you. Love all your pictures and stories. Actually look forward to them. Keep them coming and the best to you and your family.

  15. Allison…I look forward to your posts each day. Not only are the photos amazing but your insights into what we are seeing bring awe and thought provoking messages. Now we learn the backstory. I want to give you hugs and sit by you and watch you work. I hope that you can find a way to publish so that even more people can share. While you may have been walking thru the darkness, you have brought sunshine to so many. Hopefully that sun will shine on you.

  16. If you ever find yourself on a weekend w/o the boys and nothing to do- PM me- I’m in Houston as well; let’s grab cameras and find an adventure or two. Trust me- it does get better ( seems you’re already realizing that) & it’s so amazing that you shared this. So many people wouldn’t have the guts.

  17. I believe you are not only helping yourself through your writing, but you are helping all of us too. It’s not often that we get a glimpse into someone’s soul. That’s really what you have given us, and we connect with you on so many different levels. We all love to see the birds, and “lifers”, and take joy in the stories of Bernadette….then the comedic captions on your beautiful photos. But really, this is the ultimate share, and we all love you for it.

  18. Hi Allison. Thought I’d suggest someone for you to follow on FB and blog: Hannah Stonehouse Hudson. You’ll probably recognize the photo she took that made her famous, and appreciate subsequent events in her life. Just last week, she did a TedX talk on the whirlwind, and the (almost oxymoronic) compassionate society of social media that enveloped her when her life took a tragic turn. I love BB and have so enjoyed your posts. We’re Texas folks, by the way, who live in Wisconsin. My husband is a born-and-raised Houston boy.

  19. Your wonderful pictures and funny comments make my day. Like you I have been fighting a battle this year but mine is care giver burnout. Your posts have given me such pleasure. Glad to here things are going much better.

  20. Pingback: The Stories They Could Tell. | Allison Zapata

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