My kids are home with me after a week away. For once, the time without them did not drag by slowly last week. I took dance class two nights in a row (sore muscles to say the least), finished up an editing project I’d taken on for extra income, and did a little reading and writing of my own choosing as well. I got some incredibly encouraging news on the freelance writing front with a submission that was accepted quickly, and I hope to expand on the details for that when it is published. It’s been a goal of mine to submit some personal essays to a few publications for quite some time, so this gives me the motivation to keep writing and keep submitting. On the whole, it was a really great week.
I’ve heard of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart for years, and a good friend of mine mentioned it yet again recently, so I decided to pick it up this weekend. It’s a quick read, and I settled in one afternoon to read most of it in one sitting and then finished it up Sunday morning. I’m getting better at enjoying the perks of solitude. A quiet house, cooking a solo dinner of my own choosing, reading for pleasure more than I have in ages, or even small gems like having a house relatively clean and listening to music at my own whim. These things don’t make up for the kids being gone, and I am happiest for certain when we are together, but I’m finding that recognizing the positives of my situation is helping me to ease into it a little deeper and not long for this season to be over. This summer is also affording me so much time to think and reflect on the past decade of my life, and I can’t begin to describe the difference that is making in my ability to process things positively and move forward to make things better.
This recent change of perspective relates to Chodron’s book as well. It’s hard – especially now with social networking to let us know what others are up to – to rest in your own imperfections and your own transitions and not feel lame or worthless. People are in performance mode almost always, and I know that. But I fall for it everyday and have to shield its impact a bit from myself if I can. I see it with friends and acquaintances – and yes even strangers – on the internet. I see it with my children’s father who is excitedly planning a wedding that is only three months away and relishing in a lot of happiness right now. I see it everywhere. But the point Chodron makes so well in this book is that change is the only constant in life and that suffering serves a purpose in the grand scheme of things. When you rest in your discomfort and use stillness to do that, you truly evolve from your pain or experience.
She explains near the beginning of the book that “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy” (8). Allowing space is the hard part for sure. I’m working hard in my current life to include fun experiences that take my mind off things for a while. Dinner with girlfriends, fun outings with the kids, trips to the bookstore, late night Netflix, weekends away, and lots of other things. But these past few weeks, I’m also letting myself sink into the loneliness and the feeling of being completely not in control, completely clueless about what lies ahead for me. Before I read this book and could give a name to it, I could feel what Pema Chodron is talking about already – the healing that only comes from allowing space for it all to be felt in the truest sense.
This idea of admitting and feeling suffering without fighting it is contrary to our nature. Chodron speaks at length about our culture’s tendency to avoid pain and suffering by covering it up with a multitude of things – alcohol, excessive spending and a desire for worldly attention, new romantic relationships – and more specifically, she explains how ineffective those distractions are if we really want to grow from our pain and become fuller and richer as a result; “We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated … When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart. We do everything we can not to feel anything threatening … When we breathe in pain, somehow it penetrates that armor. The way we guard ourselves is getting softened up” (89). I’ve seen this firsthand with friends of mine who have suffered unimaginable losses or pain or disappointment. They have emerged as completely different people than they were before. Life softens and deepens you if you let it, but only when you allow yourself the time to sink into your suffering a little and learn your way around what it all means. And though it is really inconvenient, I’m seeing more and more that you really can’t do that at all when you try to fill up the pain with something else.
I’ve let go of so many things this past few months. Material things – my car and house and leisure space in our family budget. But also I’ve lost so many assumptions about people and about life and about myself. It’s crazy to look back at the first post I wrote six months ago when I finally explained what had been happening for me, and even then I alluded to this act of letting go and the things I was still clinging to. And though that was only about six months ago, I feel like I’ve changed so much at my core. It’s like being completely emptied of everything you had and everything you assumed only to start filling yourself up again in a totally new way.
I wish there were other ways in life to experience this groundlessness as Pema Chodron calls it, but it usually only comes in these painful experiences of loss or profound disappointment. As she says, “We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure because sooner or later, we are going to have an experience we can’t control. … We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest. Trying to run away is never the answer to being a full human being. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life“ (72). There are so many ways we “run away from the immediacy of our experience,” and they seldom look like running. They often look like distractions or like “moving on,” “staying busy,” or “having it all together” as I hear people say from time to time.
The biggest change that has happened for me is that I’m done with that. I don’t have it all together. I am not starting some brand new life that will align perfectly by my expectations and look just like my old life but with a different person. The perfection veil was pulled away for me. I didn’t choose the actions that began that avalanche. But in the aftermath of all of that, it feels so liberating to have it removed and simply be in a moment in my life when I have no master plan and no grand storyline I’m trying to write. All there is in front of me is the here and now. I worried so much in these past few months that I was missing life with my kids because I was so overwhelmed and busy with life tasks and cleaning the mess in front of me. But now, in a weird way, I feel like I am missing less than ever because I have no idea what is ahead and I have nobody to answer to but my own calling and these two little people. That’s it. I woke up to that new lens as I finally reached the other side of all that has happened. I’m here, right now. I don’t know about the rest, but the rest doesn’t matter.
And I feel as though it has taken a lot of internal work to get to this statement, but I am finally beginning to feel genuinely grateful for it all – every moment and where I am now. I’m starting to look less at my current situation as a stepping stone to something else and see it as simply life and what I am. Yes, it is all part of who I will be and where I will go and forever changes the way I see the world, but really it’s just the path I’m on to learn what I am meant to learn in the only way I could learn it. I am exactly what I feared when I made decisions seven months ago – alone and completely unsure where I am headed next. But ironically, now I don’t fear where I am at all. I’m almost beginning to fear the other end because I don’t want to lose this lens if I move forward to something else.
Everything is at its most essential and distilled moment. Everything is immediate right now. It’s like waking up, and I want to remember these lessons and these moments – even the hard ones – in my years ahead. In hindsight, I had years and years of ease and happiness, and I was asleep for so much of it. As Chodron says, “When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone without exception, even you and me” (54). I’m awake to all of it now, it seems. Awake to the bravery and the kindness and the softness and all of it. I’m seeing it all in a way I haven’t witnessed when things were easy. I’m becoming grateful for the hard part, and I guess what I am trying to say – if this makes any sense at all – is that I’m enjoying the middle way as Chodron calls it. There’s so much good I’m uncovering, and even more waiting down the road if I can keep these eyes to see it.
We’ve been busy this week. It’s Thursday somehow – though I feel like the week just started. Life is happening so fast, it seems. In light of many changes for me this year, it is especially unsettling if I think about it too much. If I close my eyes for a minute and think back to being 29 years old as a stay-at-home-mom with a toddler and a house (two houses ago now) and a husband and what I assumed to be a predictable life plan stretched out in front of me, it makes me dizzy to even think about the speed at which life has changed for me. It catches me off guard sometimes, to look around at what I’m encountering every day and know this is my life. Right now. It’s happening now.
Norah is going to a little “ballet camp” this week at my hometown dance studio. It’s a 30 minute drive to get her there, and it’s not a practical solution for a busy school year schedule if she chooses to dance in the future, but for a summer camp, it’s worth the extra trouble to see her learn from my old instructor and interact in that same environment where I spent years growing. I was helping her get ready in a tiny pink leotard and twisting her wispy hair into a bun on Monday morning when I realized that this is it. Life is happening – not at all the way I planned it, but that almost doesn’t seem to matter anymore. It’s still my life, my one shot. And it’s happening now. The day I found out I was having a girl, about a dozen moments filled my head, and this was one of them.
Who knows what the future holds and if she will choose to dance long term as I did, but it was one of those out-of-body moments I’ve discussed before when it makes you catch your breath a bit. This is real. This is life. I’m gong to remember this. Happiness catches you off guard when you aren’t looking. How am I thirty-four years old and dressing a tiny ballerina for her first lessons? I don’t know. Where the past decade of my life has gone is a mystery to me. So fast.
I’ve thought a little this week about nostalgia and that lens we tend to use when we examine the past. I can’t believe it was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote this post. Looking back now, I remember that night and all its details (only because I wrote them down here), and it feels like a thousand lifetimes ago. I feel so much older and a little wiser but mostly just weathered and broken in.
I can’t help but wonder what lens I will see this summer through – as I look back years from now. I know what stings now might not be most memorable in the future. The scrounging food from the freezer to make cheap meals as I’m still paying off attorney bills. The cluttered garage and late-night painting projects. The almost audible, heavy silence I can hear when kids are gone and I’m still not quite used to it. The itchy newness of all of it. I’m wondering if I will look back and see those details, or maybe only remember the sweetness of a new chapter and the exciting newness of being alone and the thrill of possibility.
I don’t know what I will see as I look back, but I do know this is pivotal. This is meaningful. This is life happening as quick as it ever has, and it feels long now as I look ahead and can’t imagine my way forward and what that reality will look like. But I think in the grand scheme of things, so to speak, this is a moment in time, only a little one. And though it is really, really hard not to wish this time away, I am trying to feel it all. To see it all.
As Norah was at ballet today, Jude and I spent some time at a local spot we’ve grown to love. It was fun to play with only him for a while. One of those moments when you look at them and they seem all grown and fearless; it’s amazing really. I’ve blinked and we are here. There is only one summer I will ever have when they are 3 and 5, and I am in this moment in my own life. I don’t want to miss it. Today is all I have right now. Every day is new, and I don’t know how long this period will last for me. Something tells me, like every other season of my life, the things I will miss the very most are the things I don’t even notice or cherish right now.
I’m exploring and observing new terrain everyday. I have no idea where it will lead, but it has to be somewhere good, right? (I’m asking mostly for reassurance as I look at unfamiliar waters.) I bought my mom Glennon Melton’s book for Mother’s Day, and I was flipping through it before I wrapped it up. There’s a chapter when she describes her sister’s divorce and the transition period before her sister moved on, and she explains, “Now we know that in order for love to be real and true and good, you need to have had your heart shattered. We know now that a broken heart is not the end of the world, but a beginning.” I’m not always sure where I am on that timeline, and maybe it’s a fluid thing. But I think I’m moving a bit from shattered pieces to new starts, and I will look back at this summer as the beginning.
The kids have been away at the beach with their dad and his family, and I have been on my own for fewer than four days, yet I’ve managed to paint two rooms in my house, freeze five quarts of homemade marinara and four family portions of baked ziti, and finish my first read of the summer. I also began putting my office and bookshelves back together after painting, and I’ve got my books organized once again as they were in pre-child days: by genre and then alphabetically. It’s so crazy how much time expands before you when you’re used to having kids underfoot. I miss them like crazy, but at least my productivity is making up for the weirdness in our summer schedule.
Today I intended to squeeze in a Pure Barre class with a good friend, but traffic held her up, and we decided to go for a quick hike nearby instead. I usually do this walk with Jude and go a little slower, so I couldn’t believe it when we reached the top pretty quickly, even in the sweaty, burning sun. We talked the whole way up, enjoyed a perfect view with the tiniest breeze, and then talked again as we walked back down. It was good for my soul in every way. I was gross and sweaty and spent when I got home, but it was worth it for sure.
I finished Cheryl Strayed’s Wild early this morning with my coffee, and I think I’ll be turning this one over and over in my head for quite some time. I feel like the last person on earth to read it, but I’m so glad I read it right now at this time of transition for me.
Most likely anyone who is reading this post already knows the premise of the memoir, but in case you don’t…. Strayed is grief-stricken from the sudden loss of her mother and the collapse of her marriage and sets out on a journey of walking over eleven hundred miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s a metaphorical journey as she wants to mark this passage in her life and put so many things behind her, but it is a literal one too – of scary and grueling physical challenges on the trail. The thought of a woman hiking for 100 days alone from southern California to Oregon is incredible to me. I couldn’t put the book down, and the details of long distance hiking were fascinating.
But more than that, it is Strayed’s perspective on her life and the transitions that occur for her that had me riveted and underlining so many special passages I want to etch in my memory. I’m not doing anything at all like walking 1100 miles on foot, but some days it can feel that way. The thing that was so perfect about the timing of this book for me is her focus on the value of solitude and the importance of transitions in our lives. The significance of recognizing those moments of change and passage should not be underestimated. As one of her friends on the trail explains to her about moments of feeling low or confused as your life changes in ways out of your control, “It’s a good thing… It’s the place where things are born, where they begin. Think about how a black hole absorbs energy and then releases it as something new and alive” (127). But as Strayed demonstrates so well, we cannot use the black hole to create anything new at all if we don’t take time alone to reflect on the experience and examine our own behaviors and motivation and where we intend to go next.
This was timely for me as I’m experiencing being alone for the first time in pretty much fifteen years – the entirety of my adult life. And solitude felt so strange at first, but I am sinking into it and realizing I need it so badly and need to honor this time and space before I move forward. Sometimes I wish I could fast forward a year or two or three down the road, but then again, I don’t know. This is such a sweet time of change for me. An itchy and painful one, yes. But also a moment when I am feeling all of it, so to speak. I’m in it deeply and boiling everything down to essentials with my kids and me alone. And in a weird way, I feel like I am seeing things more crisp and clear than I have in the last decade. I’m seeing and feeling everything for what it really is because I have no one else to lean on or consult as a co-pilot or partner, no one else to diffuse or cloud my perceptions.
As Strayed says when she camps a night or two next to friends she met on the trail, “Being near [them] at night kept me from having to say to myself I am not afraid whenever I heard a branch snap in the dark… But I wasn’t out here to keep myself from having to say I am not afraid. I’d come, I realized, to stare that fear down, to stare everything down, really – all that I’d done to myself and all that had been done to me. I couldn’t do that while tagging along with someone else” (122). I mean really, friends. Could there be a truer statement given to me at my current moment?
I felt like Strayed was talking straight to me through so much of her memoir – which is my very favorite thing about literature. It’s why I teach and write. Those shared moments of real reflection on the human experience fuel my fire so much. At one point, she refers to what Pacific Crest Trail hikers call “trail magic” which is simply “the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail” (232). And I’m certain you don’t have to be hiking the PCT for 1100 miles to experience “trail magic.” It’s happening to me all the time – when I read something that pierces me all the way through, when I discover new music that moves me, when I catch my kids in just the right light to be overwhelmed with their sweet little features and the idea that they came from my body and call me mama, when I have shared moments or laughter with friends that fill me up in the best way. There are so many little joys in life, even on a tough trail and among the tangled mess.
The kids head out to the beach early tomorrow morning, and I’m on my own for 8 days. Such a long time – longer than I’ve ever been without them before actually. I’m soothing that sting a little bit this afternoon by looking back at photos of our week together. We had so much fun doing things close to home, and it makes me feel grateful for their ages as they are now. All the magic is still here, but much of the difficulty of a diaper bag or sleep struggles or broken toddler vocabulary is gone. It’s easy to have fun with them, and they are so much easier to handle on my own than they were a year or two ago. I mentioned on my Instagram feed recently that it feels unnatural when they are gone, and I can’t imagine how I will do this for a total of 4 weeks this summer. A friend commented that it would make my time with the kids even better, and though I hate the separation in many ways, that is true. I miss them like crazy, and we make up for it with a lot of quality time – just the three of us – when they are around.
So last week they got to pet baby chickens with my grandad.
It never once passes me by how lucky I am that they get to maintain close connections with my family and especially my grandparents. Not many kids can say they know their great-grandparents well and see them often, but mine can. They are leaving such a mark on my own kids the same way they did for me as I grew up. In a world where everything changes, it feels immeasurably good to see something stay the same.
We also spent an afternoon at the lake with a close friend of mine who is always such a comfort to me. It’s surreal and beyond beautiful to see our kids playing together when our own paths first crossed about 16 years ago.
We caught a puppet show at a nearby theater yesterday, and I got to listen to little kid cackles for the hour-long production which was a treat. There’s a special energy when you’re in a room with dozens of little kids like that – all fidgety and full of energy and feeding off each other’s laughter.
Kids are so unguarded. It amazes me. They will hug someone they met on the playground only ten minutes ago. They will laugh without any regard for how loud they are or who hears them. They will cry without shame or apology. We shed that innocence along the way as we learn about what behavior is appropriate or acceptable. Life will be easier when I can count on them to filter their actions a bit, but the payoff now is that I get to watch this wide open enthusiasm.
While the kids attended a birthday dinner with their father’s family, I got to top off my week with a quick meet-up with some college friends to celebrate one of them returning to Atlanta for the weekend. Conversation with this group always meanders from little things to weightier topics, and it feels so good to have a friend or two who are true thinkers and see into the life of things, so to speak. We talked a lot about the events that shape our lives and how some of them feel so tragic and heavy in their immediacy, but they change our perspective in the very best way.
There is no doubt that has happened to me this year, but I’m finding that I’m ready to move forward. Ready to discern what the next chapter will hold for me. One very good thing about so much alone time this summer is time to think clearly and deeply about what is next. Experience makes you no wiser without self-reflection. Not at all. My path took an abrupt turn, but I feel certain my destination is not shaping up to look much at all like where I came from.
I’m reading a lot, and I hope to finish some half-written creative non-fiction while the kids are away this week. I’m deep in memoir and non-fiction lately and fascinated by how people’s stories shape their own lives and then touch the lives around them through the written page. There was a time when I ran away from non-fiction, but I think teaching it so much in my composition courses these past couple years has given me a better appreciation.
It’s all we can hope for really – that our own pain and experiences are not wasted on us because our lives become fuller and richer, and then the reward is multiplied when you can shed light on someone else’s path a little bit.
The kids arrive home this afternoon, and I am so incredibly ready to see them. It’s felt like a long week for sure. I think my introverted self has been a little too extended on the social outings and distractions, but that aside, it’s feeling a little easier to settle into a comfortable pace around here alone. Silence and stillness at the end of the week did not feel as strange as they did in the beginning.
I lucked out that a reunion celebration coincided with my kid-free time this weekend, and it brought so much happy. I’m grateful for the timing. This keeps happening to me (Thanks, God) that these glittering moments and experiences shine through any darkness that starts to creep in. Sometimes these little things happen alone – when I’m driving and the scenery is sunny and pretty and the perfect song is on the radio, when I settle in on the couch and my dog curls at my feet to snore a bit. And sometimes they happen in the presence of others I know and love so well. However they unfold for me, I’m so grateful for these little moments of happy.
So last night brought an anniversary celebration for the ballet studio where I trained and grew up. I’m not sure that I’ve written much about my life as a dancer and my love of ballet before. But as any dancer knows, once that gets in your blood, so to speak, it’s impossible to shake it out.
Dance was such an enormous part of my life growing up, and I think I spent more time at the studio than I did at home by the time I was in high school. I eventually quit – after dabbling a little in a few classes in college but realizing my calling was certainly elsewhere – but the lessons ballet teaches you stick with you forever. Grace under pressure, determination, calm focus, and perseverance. And most importantly, a notion that you are competing with yourself, not those around you. As a tiny child of only three years old, I was placed in a dance class by my mom who enrolled me in ballet simply because I was so incredibly quiet and shy that she wanted me to maybe open up a little and have a new experience. As I look back at ballet pictures and memories, I see that tiny shy girl slowly evolve to something more self-assured, and it’s largely because of my dance training.
So many people don’t quite understand the focus and practice that goes into a ballet class or a dance performance. Whether it’s remembering choreography on the spot or trying just that much harder when you thought you’d already exceeded your abilities, it gives you skills and perspective that stay with you forever. In the midst of high school stresses and usual dramas and adolescent uncertainty, the dance studio was always the one place I could go to leave it all behind.
But the very best part of dancing all those years is the friendships I made. I was lucky to fall into a group of girls in my studio who can always make me laugh and shed some new light on the world. We were mostly from different area high schools which was enormously helpful in getting out of your own little bubble that seems to exist in high school. When I walked in the studio after a day at school, I remember knowing that these girls knew me for who I was and could put a smile on my face, no matter what. My greatest memories are not in the spotlight onstage but backstage and in dressing rooms and in a sweaty studio.
So when I got the chance this weekend to honor our Director and catch up with old dance friends, it felt like such a treat. And these girls? We have known each other more than 20 years, and so much life has happened since then. Happy things like career accomplishments and graduations and marriage and babies. But also hard things – parents lost too soon, medical trials and surgeries, divorces, heartbreak, and even the loss of one of our dancing sisters to Ovarian Cancer before she reached thirty. There were laughs and tears last night. And laughing through tears which I am convinced adds years to your life on the rare occasion that it occurs. Life, man. It’s crazy how fast it’s happening, no? But it just keeps getting better, and friendships just get richer once you weather a storm or two. It takes some heartbreak to know joy, I think. And I’m starting to feel grateful for that perspective.
These women. I’m thankful for everything they are and realizing that sometimes it takes someone who’s known you a really, really long time to understand you in the way the rest of the world just never will.
And my abs got the best workout imaginable last night because I laughed until I hurt. And I mean that. My voice was raspy this morning, and my tummy is tight and sore from the laughter. How can old friends and old memories do that to us in the very best way?
It makes me see the possibility in everything else, too. I feel so old and so new, all at the same time. So much behind me and so much in front of me. And at 34, I still find myself laughing and dancing in a parking lot with my oldest friends, and I hope it will always be this way.
I drove home thinking of all I know now that I didn’t know then, the many ways my life has become better and richer since I was 18 with a world in front of me. And the very best part is that I will have those same thoughts twenty years from now as well. It’s getting better and better, y’all. It feels so good to look ahead and see nothing but possibilities on the horizon.
The kids have been gone for three nights. Three little nights; that’s it. It weirdly feels like a long time in ways, and I have a to-do list a mile long, but it’s hard to focus and get it done. Truthfully, I think the lists and the busy tasks are all to keep my mind off the idea of solitude and the quiet house.
I play music all the time. I’m going to the gym every day and staying for an hour or more. My friends have been great about checking up on me, and my usually relaxed social schedule is actually mostly full for the rest of the week. I’m going to a concert with a friend tonight, watching the kids on Thursday during the day as their father needed help with childcare, and then I have plans on both Friday and Saturday night. Which is not normal for me at all. But I don’t even know what normal me is anymore.
Normal me used to be busy with work and kids and then happily on the couch with wine or knitting and Netflix at 8:30 every night. I’ve always been someone who was not scared of solitude, but I can’t explain it. A quiet house just feels so itchy and unnatural right now.
I fell off the train on Parenthood, a show I once adored, and I have picked it back up again thanks to Netlfix. Just two nights ago, I got to that episode where a recently separated Julia has to spend the first night alone in her house without her two kids, and it resonated with me so much. She’s tossing and turning and not sleeping at all and eventually moves to her daughter’s bed. The next morning, she’s up with the sun and going for a run which is pretty much my mode of operation this week as well. Her sister on the show has been a single mom for a decade and tells her it will get easier. Everyone says that, and I know it will. But I’m ready for easier. I am impatient for an easier time to be here already. But I know that’s not how it works.
I’m doing so much better than I was in November when I couldn’t eat or sleep or even talk about my life without anxious tears. As I said before in this space, I am not sorry anymore. I know I have the core to push through this. And I can’t explain it, but I even know somehow that there is something really good down the road waiting for me. I wish I could see it more clearly, wish I knew the time and place and had the foresight to see exactly how things will unfold for me. I don’t, of course. And I can’t see the future. But I have this tiniest space of peace inside me, and it’s covered often by a yearning and a list of worries. But sometimes in the still moments, I can feel it just the littlest bit.
I have a sign hanging on my wall in the kitchen, just next to my coffee maker so that I see it as I begin each day. I found it for cheap the week I moved in this house, and I hung it immediately. It says simply “Joy comes in the morning.” It’s a reference to Psalm 30:5 which says “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” There is an echo of this concept in every major religion. Yin and yang, life and death, pain and rebirth. I know my morning is coming, and that, more importantly, you don’t grow in the easy seasons of your life. It’s the trials that give us substance. I know that transitions are important, and when you skip them and move straight forward to some false kind of happy or distraction immediately, you have a major price to pay years later. I know the internal work is the most important part. I know all of this. But just when I think I am moving forward and making major strides on any internal wreckage, so to speak, I see that the kids have shielded me a bit from the loneliness that people experience after divorce.
And I have so many friends checking on me all the time. (A huge THANK YOU to you guys if you are reading this.) I had lunch with a good friend yesterday followed by book shopping and a sunny stroll. And so many fun plans are lined up for me this summer to fill my time away from the kids. But this is work, y’all. The knowing yourself, the moving forward with real purpose and intention and thought so that the next chapter will be the bright morning light I know it can be. It’s just hard. That’s the simple truth as I’m feeling it now, so I’ll just say it.
I’m listening to lots of good new (to me) music to fill the time and the silence in my house. Redbird has been an obsession lately, and there’s a particular Gospel Whiskey Runners song that has been on repeat a lot. Isn’t it weird how art – whether it’s visual or literary or musical – can echo your own thoughts sometimes? It’s that human moment of “Wait, you feel that, too? I thought I was the only one?” And that’s why I write, friends. You get it out and write it down and see it on a page or screen and know that it’s the human experience. Pain and joy, crying and smiling, death and rebirth, dark and light. It’s all here for us, and at least when you’re in a season that stings, you know the next one is around the corner.
Anyway, here’s a little listen for you if you want. “My bones are tired but they’re still shaking, and my heart is torn but it’s done breaking, and my hope is set on things unseen” Amen and amen and amen.
School officially let out a week ago for the kids, and I’ve been home with them all week. God knows I will never get rich in academics, but it is fulfilling to me in the best way, and I love what I do. It’s the icing on the cake that I get summers off to spend time with my kids. The first month of summer is always the very best for me. I don’t feel guilty about being lazy. We aren’t itchy yet from the languid heat or lack of routine. And the weeks ahead stretch before us in a long view that seems like the season will last forever. And it won’t, of course. It will come and go, and I will look back through the lens of nostalgia that always colors our memories in the sweetest way.
We started with a little birthday celebration on Memorial Day weekend. Norah has been requesting a party at this little girls’ hair salon near us. The concept is half ridiculous and half adorable, but it’s what she wanted, so I obliged. We kept it simple with just a few close friends, and the girls had a great time.
It cracks me up that she is into this stuff already. She is so much fun at this age, and it’s a challenge for me to lean into all of this – princesses, nail polish, pink everywhere – so that she can love what she loves without apology. But at the same time, the women’s studies reader inside me is always trying to maintain some kind of balance. I want her to always feel loved and accepted though, and I think she does. So much fun, this one.
The day after that event, the kids were invited to a little classmate’s party at a horse farm a half hour north of us. The drive was rural, and the weather was beautiful. The party invitation said they’d be painting horses, and I thought surely I was misunderstanding something, but no. We painted horses. The kids loved it. They painted them, rode them, and then they helped bathe the horses at the end. It was a lot of excitement and such a fun experience.
We followed that party with some family time to celebrate my granddad’s birthday, and I watched my kids get dirty and chase lightening bugs with their little cousins as adults sat on my grandparents’ back porch and talked until way past dark. It fills me up in the very best way to see my kids enjoying these experiences that echo my own childhood. We drove home exhausted and filthy, and I carried each of their sleeping bodies up the stairs to plop them in bed after a full day.
It’s taken me a while to embrace the suburban yet rural (I once heard it called “suburba-rural”) feel of where I live. I’ve come to love it though. At a certain age, you finally begin to love what you love and know who you are without apologies. I am a small town girl at heart, and I have no desire left in me to live intown, regardless of how uncool it is to say that. We have such beautiful places just down the road, and it’s important to me that my kids get outside and see life as more than a strip mall.
In the past week, we’ve explored a bit at a nearby park with small hiking trails and a covered bridge; we’ve enjoyed the neighborhood pool, and we’ve had the chance to ride horses yet again for a second birthday party yesterday.
Life with these two never stops. But I feel so lucky to be here for all of it. To watch them grow and learn in that unstructured, wide-open way that summer provides. So much to see and do.
That said, this summer also gives me a lot of time away. They are with their father every other week as school breaks are split 50/50 in most custody agreements. This is such an odd feeling for me – to be alone and left to my own schedules and desires. Half of me is relieved given that the pace of the last few months has been insane, and I have so much left to catch up on inside my house. Boxes still left unpacked, rooms to paint and organize. But the other part of me is sad a bit. I miss them terribly, and I hate this aspect of divorce. The two homes they have to bounce between, the lack of insight about what they see or do when I am not there and who they are with. It is what it is though, and life is never perfect. I am trying to embrace the time alone, and my friends are so great about checking in with me and planning a few fun things for us. I also picked up some editing work which will help fill the time and provide a small boost for my finances after what has been a very expensive year.
On the whole, I am looking at the days stretched before me with hope for lots of possibilities. Being mom feels comfortable, and it’s where I am happiest. But now, I need to get comfortable in the old skin a bit and explore who and what that is to be in the years ahead. I’m grateful the pace of summer leaves time and space for that. And I’m so excited for what lies ahead.