single parenthood

all in all the time

It is mid-afternoon on Saturday, and the kids are away. I had to give a work-related presentation this morning, so this feels more like a Friday than a true weekend, and I am trying to think of all the ways I can find the fast track to relaxation. Maybe a bath or a slow dinner or a good soundtrack. But writing always gets me there faster than anything else does, so here I am.

The kids and I went away last weekend for the Labor Day holiday – back to one of our favorite spots in the mountains of northwest Georgia.  It was fun, and it was exhausting… which seems to be the theme of my time with these two lately.

Untitled

We spent three nights in the woods, and I more or less just let kids be kids. It was three days of loud noise and sweaty shirts and sticky hands and a body that was so bone-tired every night as we fell asleep in the darkness that I didn’t mind the hard surface beneath me.

Untitled

I’ve had a lot of frustrations with parenting lately, and it is like some grumbling thing that I cannot even entirely put words to very easily. It’s under the surface, and I never have time or space or silence to comb through it. I think it is mostly just exhaustion. The start of a school year is a shock to the system, and every year the demands grow a bit. The homework and the expectations and the after school clubs and activities and the big feelings that begin to brew in these years. They have likes and dislikes and blooming personalities and so many needs. It is not the same as the never-ending needs of a baby which are just physical mostly. This is different.

They need me to be all in all the time with them, and it’s hard to even finish typing this sentence through the mom guilt, but the truth is that I cannot be all in all the time. I need a rest sometimes. And of course other times it’s that I need to think about something else — like my own classes I’m planning for my students or my own writing goals or maybe even a personal or relational thought sometimes about the million other things that make me a human being. In short, I wish I had super powers to be on all the time with them … or maybe just a clone of myself to be at home stirring dinner on the stove while this self takes them to activities or stays in the office a couple extra hours to catch up.

Untitled

I tried to stop the clock last weekend, to run away to the woods and hit the pause button. There were some beautiful moments, but it wasn’t entirely a pause button. My brain hummed the whole time with other things as well. It pains me to write that, but it is true.

Untitled

I’ve been listening to a Ram Dass lecture series when I’m in my car or washing dishes, and in a portion I heard yesterday, he said something along the lines of taking something seriously doesn’t make it go away any faster. It made me laugh. It’s so pervasive in our society to see everything uncomfortable as a problem to be solved or as a pathology of some kind. His words encouraged me to try to look at my current feelings of overwhelm with some playful curiosity instead.

What would it look like to accept that this is life and this is single parenting and I cannot be all in all the time?

What would it look like to do the best I can and leave the rest well enough alone?

What would it look like to lessen the weights in my life that bring me chaos by just taking everything a little lighter, a little less seriously?

Yesterday morning, the kids were moving slowly and it took at least five commands of BRUSH YOUR TEETH to make that happen. I couldn’t find the right mate for Norah’s sock, and when I finally did, I came downstairs to see that the dog had thrown up twice in the middle of the kitchen floor. As I cleaned that up, I remembered that we didn’t do Norah’s reading homework the night before, so I told her to get started then and we’d get it done just in time for the bus. Jude had his backpack on and begged to walk out to his friends at the bus stop, and I told him no. He’d have to wait on his sister. He paced and huffed and asked again, but when he realized I was serious, he just sat down next to her and helped her. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that the three minutes of their quiet concentration and his gentle help was the absolute highlight of my entire week. It was over fast enough, and we rushed out the door, and the rest of Friday’s demands tumbled after.

I am Jude sometimes – pacing and hurrying and sighing and grumbling and wishing things were different. But I think maybe if I would just sit down it could make it all better and let the space settle around me. Perhaps I need to take a deep breath and know that I won’t miss the bus, that I am here and this is real and I am always right on time.

Advertisements
gratitude, Life and Randomness, single parenthood

sacred

We are almost to the end of August, my least favorite month. Routines are not quite established yet, and it all feels new. Once we are in the swing of things, it makes me feel a little more firmly held. But not yet.

Yesterday’s schedule had us leaving the house at 7:30 in the morning and walking back in the door at 7:20pm, a routine that will feel normal in a few more weeks, but last night I went to bed depleted and frazzled. These years and their packed lunch boxes and homework checks and ballet tights and sports practices. It’s no wonder older parents swear to me that it flies so quickly.  The rhythm of my academic life mirrors my kids’ seasons as my work schedule gains speed right when theirs does. Most weeks race like a mad dash to the finish line.

School year routines can feel good and firm and safe though – once I get used to them again. But they can also feel overwhelming. I was drowning in work tasks this last few days, unsure if I could finish things in time, and the frantic brain wasn’t helping. All of my mental browsers open at the same time, like a desk full of scribbled post-its. Yesterday morning I vowed to take a long look at my list, choose what was most important (not necessarily most urgent), and do only one thing at a time. Suddenly instead of spinning my wheels, I was checking things off my list. Multi-tasking never works as well as we think it does.

Urgency and priority are not the same thing.

The hard part about this time of year – and perhaps about parenting or even existing as a human in the modern world at all – is that it is actually up to me and only me to name the priorities in my life and to hold them sacred. No one is going to help me with that. And even worse, what the world demands of me, what is screaming loudest for my attention, is hardly ever what I truly value most. It is not easy holding those things firmly in their place at the front of my life.

I heard an interview with Wintley Phipps on the way to work this morning, and he talked about partnership and character. He said something like if you ask someone what they hold sacred and they cannot name a single thing, that person is not someone you want to be with. It’s a concept that made me stop and think and replay it in my head and then toss the word sacred in my brain and heart all day long. Sacred, holy, set apart, inviolable, unassailable, cherished, revered. (the synonym game)

He was speaking specifically about marriage and partnership, and it spoke right to me and gave voice to something I’ve thought a lot about in the last year or so and didn’t quite have words for yet. But apart from relationships, it also made me think about my own self and what I hold sacred.  What is revered most and what feels holy in my own life.

Sacred to me is never what screams the loudest for attention. It is early quiet mornings when it is still dark outside and my kids are sleeping, and I am stumbling through the kitchen to feed the dog and brew coffee. It is time with only the three of us. It is the ways they share the tiniest pieces of their days just before their eyes get heavy, just after I have turned off the lamp beside them. Sometimes sacred is something simple like a lunch at my desk with my office door closed to students, or early evening light through the kitchen window while I stir something on the stove. Sacred is laughing at something one of the kids said that I wasn’t expecting to hear. It is a handwritten card or a quick note from someone. The sound of a voice on the telephone line in the age of too many text messages. It is typing words on a screen and printing them on a page to edit with a favorite pen. It’s reading a book in the late lamplight before I go to sleep.

I am not always a pessimist about the modern world – usually quite the opposite actually. But this is one area where we are not winning at all. The very things that hold most of us together don’t happen unless we claim them and notice them. And somehow that gets harder to do with every passing year and the hurried pace we all measure ourselves against.

Perhaps my resolution for the academic year ahead is just to see things through this lens. To ask myself the right question everyday – Is this important or it this just urgent? To seek the sacred and recognize it for what it is and demand space for it everyday. I once heard boundaries described like the careful hand we place around the tiny flame on a birthday candle as the voices sing and we prepare the cake for its moment on the table. That tiny burning flame that needs a shield from the space around it in order to survive. It’s up to me to name what’s holy and to shield it from all the rest.

single parenthood

River

It is Saturday night, and I’m settled on my couch, and my kids are currently boarding a plane to fly across the ocean. They return to familiar soil in something like 9 more days, and then they are finally home to me a couple days after that.

I kissed them goodbye today by 11am, and since then I’ve walked the neighborhood with a podcast or two, cleaned the house, and browsed store aisles to waste time. I grocery shopped and watched television. And finally I took a bath and let the silence in my house settle around me like a blanket. All I can hear is the rhythm of the ceiling fan and the clacking of the keys as I type this.  I’ve been alone in this house a million times before, but it feels different with them going so far away.

I listened to the Super Soul interview with Richard Rohr this morning. I know I reference him so often here, but again, it is worth a listen if you have time.  He spoke about the general idea he explores in so many of his writings – that we all have a false self and a true self. That the task of growth and spirituality is that we have to shatter that false self somehow, crack that shell of the ego, to get to the real thing. And how it is often hardship that does this for us. I thought about that first post that I wrote years ago when I was trying to fit myself in the new box. I thought about all the times before and after that when I have had to shed a layer or two of ego and lean into the unknown. I thought about ways I am still learning that lesson. Like the Velveteen Rabbit in that classic story, becoming more real as I move along and as I age.

Though the initial crack, the big explosion, the biggest griefs of my past few years – those have forcefully pushed aside the false self that was so tightly wound – I am still losing layers sometimes, in both big and small ways. This is one of those things. as I sit here in the dark typing these lines. The removing of the motherhood hat, if even just for a week or two, the loosening of the tight grip. It feels itchy and weird to have no label or role to put on next week at all and to have half my heart across the ocean from where I sit now. But any good thing I have come to find has revealed itself at the edge of my comfort zone.

I told the kids yesterday that they could choose what we did last night since it was our last night together for a while. I was hoping for a cozy night in, but Norah had a Build-A-Bear gift card burning a hole in her pocket, so they begged for a trip to the mall. I do not enjoy the mall, and I think the last time I was there was perhaps Christmas time. It seemed like the opposite of what I was imagining our night should be, but I obliged. We got there, and they were short-staffed, so we waited for ages in line for her to make a bear. Jude got a metal fidget spinner to entertain him across the Atlantic, and then we opted for a food court dinner.

When we went to leave, the automated doors opened to heavier rainfall than I’ve seen since I don’t know when. I didn’t have an umbrella and didn’t want to swim to the car, so I suggested the little play area inside the mall to entertain us while we waited for it to pass. We did that and we browsed the displays in the Lego store, and I thought for sure the rain must be gone by now. We walked to the doors again and we found the same thing. Buckets and buckets of rain. At this point, I felt like we had to get home somehow, so I told them we would run for it.

We held hands and ran across the parking lot in that kind of rain that soaks you all the way through your underwear in only a few seconds. The kids were screaming and laughing, and before I knew it, I was too. When we finally made it to the car, Jude was cackling and saying how much fun it was while Norah was wide-mouthed and laughing at her reflection and at my dripping hair. Teddy bears and food court trays and rainstorms turned out to be the most perfectly imperfect and memorable send-off for what is our longest separation so far. But I would never have orchestrated it that way if I held the reins to it all.  Parenting always works like this, it seems. And the rest of life does, too. Even when life gives me something beautiful or perfect beyond my comprehension, it is never the way I would have written it myself.

I’m a planner to a fault and I know this about myself. It is hard for me to let go of things – to let go of timing and outcomes and expectations. I pay attention to my retirement account and I eat my vegetables and I wear sunscreen and I plan most everything in advance. And I think of the one million ways that something could go wrong in any given moment and how I could mitigate that damage if it does. I grocery shop weekly and write out our menu on a little dry erase board in my kitchen. I erased it this morning – no need to plan for only myself. And I wrote in its place a Rohr quote that I need to say again and again like a mantra: “Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it.” Amen and amen.

I am not pushing. It is hard, but I am holding steady. I’m leaning into the silence and the new and listening closer for the real. I trust that there is a river. I’ll ride the current.

 

Life and Randomness, single parenthood

one long look in the mirror

Yesterday I turned 37. We celebrated pretty simply with sushi the night before, and I indulged in a facial while the kids were at school yesterday. We played a bit in the afternoon, and then they went to dad’s for the weekend, so now I’m in a quiet house and looking at a weekend that unfolds a lot a work I need to get done. This season of life is ever-busy it seems. I paused it all yesterday for a day of indulgence, but that means I have to somehow pick up the slack today.

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago about the concept of aging. We went to high school together, so we are approaching 40 at the same pace, and she said, “Isn’t this age the best? I love getting older.” I think there would have been a time when I was surprised to hear myself say this, but I feel the same way. It continually brings me closer to some center that gets a little more solid every year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of self-accountability lately, the ways I am good at it and the ways that I need to get better. There are countless floating pieces of that equation: boundaries, discipline, honesty, delayed gratification, perspective, drive, and self-respect.

I recently revisited that famous Joan Didion essay on self-respect published in Vogue in 1961. (First of all, wrap your head around that. That this essay appeared in a widely read fashion magazine years ago in America. Culture has changed a lot in fifty years.)  She tells us, “In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues.” If that seemed true in 1961 – that character can lose ground to what is more “instantly negotiable” –  just think a minute about how much more true that is today in 2018. When instant is the name of the game every single day.

Didion continues, “Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts.” Weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts is something I need to write a hundred times to imprint it on my perspective. Not just in my own life where I can constantly use some encouragement to keep my eyes on the long game. But also in terms of the comparison trap that 2018 living drops upon us. Immediate comforts are glorified everywhere — on our social media feeds, in glossy magazines, in storefront windows. Everywhere.

Self-respect runs out the door when you can’t see past the immediate. That is a harsh reality that finally, at 37 years along after some painful life lessons, I can see so clearly.

Maybe it is the changing air of spring that is opening up for us in small ways here already, maybe it is the newness of my 37th year, or maybe it is that after 3 years of survival mode living, I am finally getting to the real living part. Whatever the reason, I woke up two weekends ago, and I’d been looking at a room full of furniture that I didn’t choose, couches left from another life, for 3 years now with that tiny urge to wipe it clean. And I’d been ignoring that tiny urge or telling myself that I didn’t have the resources to change it – for 3 years now. More than one thousand days. But something clicked inside of me, and I could not look at it for one more day. Not once. I listed it that morning on a local sale site, and by 5pm someone had come to pick it up, and I went to bed that night with an empty room.

I had to do this on a dime, but I didn’t care. I got a new couch for cheap, a discount rug, and I moved a couple of chairs from elsewhere in the house. I spent that weekend scouring antique stores and found a little table and lamp I loved, and just a couple of days ago, I bought another used table for $28, and somehow we have all that all we need.

Untitled

I think when your outsides don’t match your insides, that incongruity can eat you up until it is unbearable. And this can work both ways – with an impeccable home and a stellar social media presence when the insides of that life are a mess. Or maybe, as it was in my case, you have come so far in the last few years, and then you suddenly wake up one day to open your eyes to some element of your life that doesn’t look like you at all. Stuff is more than stuff. It can cover up a lack of character and be used as armor sometimes. And likewise it can carry a heavy energy that just doesn’t belong with you anymore. I rid myself of all of it this month, and I feel like a two-ton elephant left my life.

Last weekend was sunny and 70, and I spent the afternoon in my backyard removing dead leaves and old stems from my flower beds, working pre-emergent in the dirt to ready things for the growing season come May. By the time I finished, my arms were sore from raking and digging. I swept the porch. I cleaned the front door. I left the windows open all day with the ceiling fan on and sunlight streaming through the house. Self-respect takes courage and elbow grease — whether that is selling something you don’t love anymore without a bundle of money to replace it yet, washing the winter’s dirty residue from your front door, taking an honest look at yourself and improving whatever makes you wince, or digging through overgrown flower beds.

Didion’s most famous line from that essay states, “character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs.”

It can take a long time to accept full responsibility in every way. 37 years for me, I think. You eventually learn that you own all of your assets and all of your capabilities but all of your incompletions and your mess-ups, too. It is all only mine to reckon with. Aging, if you are doing it right, is one long look in the mirror. It is honesty and backbone —  and eventually it is hard-earned self-respect.

single parenthood, writing

process and evolution

I’m almost to week three of this semester, but it feels like years. Winter can do that to you.

Where to begin? I haven’t written here in weeks, and I have been doing nothing and everything. We’ve had school closures during both weeks of the school year so far. Only little days sprinkled here and there, just enough to throw you off your usual routine. The kids have gone to dad’s for 24 hours instead of the usual every-other-weekend 48 hour routine because of his travel schedule, and it seems to be exactly enough time to answer an email or two, mop the floors, and grocery shop before they come pouring back in. Rinse, repeat. Do it again.

We were home on Wednesday for school cancellations when I walked in my garage to grab something from the car and saw my back tire flat as a pancake. It’s a long and boring story, but this is not the first time I’ve had issues with this tire. I kept going back to the same shop because they were under warranty there, and the man on duty persisted to attempt to flirt with me in such an overt way that it made me dread walking in, and then he’d fail at fixing my problem so that every time I returned I was increasingly aggravated and uncomfortable. Car issues are a major trigger for me in terms of stress. I know next to nothing about cars, and I rely on mine so much with long commutes and kid pick ups and general life needs in the suburbs.

But here I am on Saturday morning in a warm and quiet house with a functional car again and a clean week ahead of me with a weather forecast that promises five solid days of work and routine. I’m feeling for the rhythm again and trying to use its beat to push me forward.

I’ve heard before that the specific challenges that emerge in your life point to where you need to grow. I hate car trouble. I hate being assertive in general and especially with an auto mechanic. I hate it all. I lived 35 years of my life without once getting a nail in a tire, and in the past year I’ve had this happen 4 times. I also ended up with a dead battery over the summer. And the broken compressor I wrote about a while ago. But this time I walked in with a different feeling. I was happy to see a different mechanic there, but I fully intended to ask for another one if I came in to see the same face who made me so uncomfortable before. With some instruction, I used a tire inflator to reinflate my own tire in my garage just before I drove over – which I know is simple and not impressive to anyone who knows anything about cars, but this is a major improvement for me.

I was watching this documentary last night on the Galapagos Islands and all the animals who have adapted and evolved to survive in such a strange climate. All kinds of miracles happen when you need to survive — you grow webbed feet or your wings get longer or shorter or you change your diet or you cooperate with the other species around you to get what you need from each other.

When I rewind my life three years back and compare it to my current self, that evolution is no less impressive than a bird growing webbed feet when he never had them before. Anytime I feel frustrated with myself, I think I just need to rewind the frame a few years and remind myself of that.

I ran across someone else’s words this week that said something along the lines of “People mistakenly think happiness is the goal in life and are persistently disappointed and endlessly searching for it. But when you realize that personal growth is actually the goal, happiness happens anyway as a byproduct of your growth and evolution.” The joy is in the process, isn’t it?

Part of the reason I chose Trust as my word this year is that so much of my life feels like process instead of completion. I’m trying hard to trust that this is, in fact, going somewhere very good if I just keep taking on the assignment in front of me. One foot in front of the other. Next right thing.

I haven’t been writing here as often because, as much as I love this space and all of you who read it, I’m seeing that it does take a little time and creative energy, and I am chugging away on this book one line at a time with real progress now. I’m seeing firsthand the feeling of that famous Doctorow quote about how writing a book is like driving in the dark with headlights where you can only see the little span of road in front of you. I get that. I can only really see one paragraph at a time. But at the same time, I see the whole vision now, too. Finally. I see the general shape of what this will be, and I trust the process that will take me all the way there.

The process is ugly sometimes. I’m digging deep and writing about moments that have been beyond hard for me. I threw out something like 33 pages last month and started all over, but I’m at that moment where I can feel my little boat floating from the shore with this project, and I think I will be on the water for a while. Letting it float me all the way home.

 

 

divorce, gratitude, single parenthood, travel

Love Story

I flew out last Friday morning to Austin, Texas and home again early on Sunday. I’m still recovering from a whirlwind of a weekend spent celebrating the wedding of one of my closest longtime friends. I’ve spent half my week a little delirious from the travel exhaustion and the excitement and the beauty that was all of it.

Traveling mid-semester is no joke. I carried a bag full of student essays with me through airports and airplanes, and I had to work hard to turn off the teacher-brain and the mom-brain living inside of me with that constant voice of rush and guilt and worry. But I managed to quiet those voices for a day or two as I celebrated with some of my oldest friends – some of whom live close or traveled with me and others spread from Texas to New York City.

We celebrated Friday night at the rehearsal dinner and an after party downtown, and then we woke early on Saturday morning and ate breakfast in a a little cafe before stopping by the LBJ Library for a while. Eventually Graffiti Park and Mount Bonnell followed, and the climb up gave us a beautiful view of the Colorado River. Austin is such a unique place, and I already find myself wanting to go back and explore a little more. It was full of so many fun and funky spots.

We walked the few blocks Saturday evening from our hotel to the wedding venue, and I had the best kind of butterflies in my stomach. I’ve seen this friend through something like 18 years of ups and downs and dating questions and heavy moments for the both of us where we thought we knew where the path was going but found soon enough that our assumed outcome wasn’t in the cards for us.

Weddings are almost always beautiful, but this one held its own kind of special for me. A reminder that sometimes the most uncomfortable bumps in the road and the very biggest heartaches are actually exactly what lead us to what is real and true. A reminder never to settle. A reminder that real love is always worth the wait, no matter how long that is for us. A reminder that we never really know where the story ends.

Untitled

Weddings can bring all kinds of sticky things for you when you are divorced, that first year or so especially. It’s hard to watch others make promises when you are emerging from the shreds of your own that were left unfulfilled. But this one was easy for me. It felt soft and real and not sharp or sad in the least. Maybe that means I have healed, or maybe that means they are the real deal. Or likely both. Whatever the reason, only love was there.

Krista Tippet writes about her own post-divorce wreckage in her book Becoming Wise. I’ve underlined and noted certain passages in that book and reread them so many times. She echos my own experience; “When my marriage ended, … I became one of the walking wounded in the wreckage of long-term love. After my divorce, I created a welcoming home, took great delight in my children, … invested in far-flung friendships, and drew vast sustenance from webs of care through the work I do. Yet I told myself for years that I had a hole where ‘love’ should be. This is the opposite of a healing story — it’s a story that perceives scarcity in the midst of abundance. … I suddenly realized that the lack of love in my life was not a reality but a poverty of imagination and a carelessly narrow use of an essential word.”

This season of my life has shown me how narrowly I’ve seen that word love. How much bigger it really is from what we perceive it to be. How much it stretches beyond the reach of two individual people and moves far and wide through the circles that make our lives what they are – if we are lucky.

These women are so much to me. Even as a writer, I can’t really describe it in words – which is something I don’t say often. We have seen it all in the past 18 years. They are there through thick and thin. The real thing. I knew it would feel good to see one of our own celebrated like this, but I didn’t expect it to feel this good. I think you know that friendship has reached that magic place when your sadness is truly my sadness, and on the other side, your joy is my joy. It was all joy last weekend, and it felt like such a gift to watch it happen.

Untitled

We stole her away for a minute during the reception to step outside for a second and get out of the madness of the crowd. The tears of gratitude wouldn’t stop for me. That joy that hums deep down inside where it is so much fuller when you’ve seen the other end of things. Who knew heartache could make your happy happier? Love is sweeter when you’ve had to wait it out to find it, and love is better when you have friends who see you like a sister. Someone’s husband snuck this picture, and it’s my new favorite thing. I’m the luckiest. 18 years together is something to be grateful for.

Untitled

I’ve stopped reading that script that tells me love is somehow less present in my life because I sleep alone. And it’s such a liberating thing to see my life for just a moment from the outside eye – from the camera lens or through the eyes of a friend. I’ve got more love than I can handle, and it overflows sometimes in the very best ways.

I was revisiting some of Laura McKowen’s writings recently, and I stumbled again on her musings on love. She resonates in all the right places for me and reminds me to “keep faith in the larger story….there is a through line that runs deeper and is more benevolent, surprising, and magnificent than you can conceive. … no matter what, do not be mistaken: this is a love story. Your entire life is a love story. It’s just not the kind you think.”

I feel that line running through the undercurrent of my life, and everyday that I get more solid on my own two feet and more grateful, it gets stronger. I don’t know where it’s headed, but it’s taking me with it.

I know there is a more typical love story happening one day in my life, too. The kind with two people and a white dress and all that comes with it. I can’t even explain why I know this except that I just do. The way you know the sky is blue and trees have roots. I can feel it pulling so clearly sometimes in a way that is more real to me than almost anything else in my life.

But I’m waiting it out. And in the meantime, this love story I’m in right now is not the kind I thought it would be, but it is as true as anything ever was for me and anything ever will be. Love is love is love is love.

 

Life and Randomness, single parenthood

refugee

As I type this (or try to), I’ve got a house full of kids playing hide and seek while the rain pours outside. I hear screaming and laughing, and I’m guessing I will throw a few words here and then leave it alone for hours and return to it later tonight when the kids are sleeping and the house is quiet. This is the way everything works in my life lately – half finished bits and pieces that eventually get done, but never on the timeline I prefer or expect.

There are five straight days of rain in the forecast here, but it held off for us yesterday and we took advantage – a soccer game followed by a visit to my granddad’s place followed by a trip to our favorite local pumpkin patch. I always over-plan fall Saturdays, but they come and go so quickly around here. I just want to be sure we get every last drop.
Untitled

What a week it was. The news is killing me – from Vegas to Capitol Hill to Tom Petty. One foot in front of the other is the only way I slog through it lately, and sometimes it looks like the entire world is on that same page with me, none of us really knowing how to do this.

I also ran across this dense and lengthy article online this week. A few points in it reminded me of what I touched on in my last post – that thing that happens to women when we pass 35 and inch closer to 40 and don’t see things the same way any longer. The author tells us, “I think of what my friend who grew up in Mexico once told me: ‘The 30s are the adolescence of your adulthood,’ she said, ‘and when you reach 50, it’s a restart—empieza de nuevo—a second chance.'”

I’m wondering if my empieza de nuevo might begin a little early. Sometimes it feels that way. Not that life isn’t still hard. It is. The same pressures the article emphasizes – from kids to career to finances to single life with no confirmed expiration date – are all true for me. But I don’t know; sometimes it feels like I just got used to facing stuff I didn’t want to face, and now I’m not scared of much of anything anymore. Life is hard. But I know I can handle it somehow.

I’ve been revisiting some Tom Petty this week – like most everyone else I know. I can’t help but think of my favorite of Petty’s songs, one that felt like an anthem for as long as I can remember, but especially in this season of my life. When I hear Everybody has to fight to be free. You don’t have to live like a refugee in his voice, it leaves a bigger mark than just reading those words or hearing them spoken. Art and music continually amaze me in how they capture what we can’t quite say in our everyday lives but always feel just the same. And this week, I’m reminded again with his passing that what we create outlasts us – whether it is art or music or words on the page.

Petty apparently wrote that song about music business pressures and recording label arguments in the 70’s. Whatever the case, I feel its defiant message in my own way and always have when I hear its melody. Life pushes us here and there, but we can refuse it, too. Refuse the feeling of being evicted from our own space and lay claim to what is ours anyhow. It can take a long, long time for some people to own up to every bit of their lives without fear and without that ever-present human reflex of distraction. But the closer I get to that place of honesty and accountability, the more fearless I become. I can think back to moments that I felt like a refugee in my own life, running from myself. But once you find that center to call home, you can stop running. It is the best gift my life has given me.

We wrapped up yesterday’s busy schedule with a showing of The Jungle Book with the university’s theatre program. I wasn’t so sure it was the best idea, to be honest. Sometimes things go awry when you ask kids to pay attention and be still after such a packed schedule all day long. But the minute we sat down in our seats and they saw the set, they were hooked. They waited excitedly and passed the fifteen minutes before curtain call playing I spy, taking blurry selfies on my phone, and counting the twinkles and lights on the stage.

 

Untitled

The minute the house lights went down, both kids were following closely and watching for the next character to make an entrance. We followed Mowgli through his journey from a crying baby to a man who is finally ready to leave the only place he’s ever known. The play closed with the main character crying into his own palms as he began his journey to another place and wondering what the salty water was falling from his eyes. The character of Baloo uttered those words (straight from Kipling’s version as well) Let them fall, Mowgli. They are only tears.

It’s only ever tears, right? Though it always feels like ours are unique and somehow harder to bear than anyone who has come before us. But really, we are mostly all the same. Every single hardship in our lives teaches us the same thing – that we don’t have to feel like a constant refugee, that we can learn to stop running and eventually come home to ourselves. And when we are really lucky, we find the empieza de nuevo on the other side.