Hi, remember me? It’s been a while.
I’ve come to realize that there are two distinct selves when you are in academics: my summer self and my school year self. My summer self is rested and grounded and sane, while my school year self feels like I’m treading water and a little breathless over here. I have a rare weeknight that is kid-free right now as it’s fall break for Jude, so they are spending the second half of the week with their dad. It almost feels like more of a luxury than a weekend off somehow – to come home from a day at work and have a few hours alone and quiet. A few nights without that second shift that working mothers know so well.
Dinner tonight was one fried egg on toast with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, a random concoction I decided I wanted and didn’t have to ask two others’ opinions on. I graded a few essays. I watched an actual television show from beginning to end which I haven’t done in ages. (This is Us. Worth the hype, I think!) I’ve been bad at even attempting any sort of balance these days. This was a goal I told my therapist I’d work on, but I am failing miserably. The minute the kids are in bed, I take a few seconds to clean the kitchen and then I’m asleep just behind them. The idea of time alone sounds nice, but the thought of sleep sounds even better. 9pm feels like midnight these days. It’s one foot in front of the other right now. I think I will come up for air soon, but not quite yet.
I did hit the pause button a little on Monday with a day for only my boy and me. Norah was in school, and he’s on fall break. We dropped her off that morning, and he hung out in my office a while so I could tackle a few tasks and then we spent the morning at the children’s museum and stopped for lunch before heading to a local farm for a little while. We picked a few things we had a taste for and then sat at a table and shared boiled peanuts and kettle corn before piling in the car for the drive back.
It’s still hot here, but the change is coming. Early in the mornings, I can feel it the tiniest bit. We do a lot of pretending it’s fall here in the south before it actually feels like it. Life works that way, too, I think. Sometimes you have to act as if before you actually arrive there. And then it always comes eventually. You just have to trust that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other and put your heart in the way of change, it will come.
Last week consisted of the usual 5:30 am wake-ups and full days with the addition of soccer practice, a soccer game, an introductory Cub Scout meeting, a surprise morning carseat puke on the way to school (every parent knows that horror), and a dead goldfish.
Thursday night found us huddled in the tiny downstairs bathroom with a makeshift funeral, the three of us singing a hymn and watching as we swirled him to his eternal home. I live in a zoo. I forget sometimes to step out of the frame for a minute and see my life for what it is. That load of laundry that stays wrinkled in the dryer for three days and that email that went unanswered for far too long — these are the things that run through my head at the end of the day. When in reality, it’s actually somewhat impressive that I am dressed and reasonably prepared and professional in any capacity at all. I grade student work between ballet class pick-up and dinner prep, and I notice the smudges on my floor every single day as I walk right past them without mopping. I type hurriedly here in an attempt to record anything at all and hit “publish” without a lot of care and discernment. But it is what it is right now. Imperfect is better than not done, and this is life and the season I’m in.
We went to a family reunion last Sunday, and I was flipping through old albums amazed at how much the rural south has changed in only a couple of generations. You can see by the lines of worry on their faces that they worked hard, and in ways life was an endless struggle.
Sometimes I think that we believe we are somehow beyond this now, that we’ve all grown bigger and better, but in actuality, that is not the case in every way. I have infinitely more possibilities in my life as a woman. We now realize that there is more than one way to skin that cat, as we say in the south. There is more than one way to mother and more than one path to walk, and things aren’t so restrictive and laid out for you. I’m grateful I have choices. But life is still hard work – just a different kind of work.
Society tends to tell us we must be doing something wrong if it feels hard, if we don’t always live in a magazine spread. But I’m here to say I think that’s wrong. Choices give us more opportunity to find fulfillment, but you’re still tired and still working hard if you’re doing it right.
The key is to work hard for the right things. Somewhere between the Cub Scout meetings and the dinner table conversation and bath splashes, between the goldfish funerals and the sticky floors, I think I’m doing something right
Take a minute. Pause the endless task list, watch the television show, eat the chocolate, call a friend, sit in the silence for a second. See your life outside the frame, and know it’s not hard because you’re doing something wrong. It’s hard because it’s real and worth it. So to those of you treading water right now, I raise my hand to say I see you, and I feel it, too. Your best is good enough. It’s hard work, but maybe we’ll make it after all.