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.

 

Advertisements

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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

sinking the ship

The sign of a good date is always when you return home to pour yourself a glass of Cabernet and take it to bed with a handful of Pirate Booty stolen from your kids’ lunchbox stash, right? Then you open the laptop to write a few words and wonder if you will ever even post them.

I don’t write a lot about dating. There are lots of reasons for this. First of all, there are the privacy issues. This blog is public, and anyone can read it, and nothing emotionally intimate grows between two people when it is shared with the whole world. You have to draw that sacred circle around the two of you pretty tightly until you get solid roots – or that’s my opinion anyway. Dating is something I like to experience in the moment. And to listen to my own wisdom, I need to be present enough to hear my gut. For me, that sometimes means not stepping out of it to write about it. Writing makes me take a step back to get the panoramic view. It makes me leave the moment. When I am with someone else, I like to be there in the truest sense.

Then, of course, there’s the simple issue that there are more important things to write about. Sometimes I date. Sometimes it’s really fun. Sometimes it’s not. I have some funny stories and some boring ones and some sweet ones, too. But frankly there are more meaningful things in my interior life to talk about and to chronicle here.

But sometimes it feels disingenuous to leave it out entirely when I share so much more in this space. So here I am, trying to string a few words together and tell you the truest things I can say.

I read an article earlier this week about emotional labor in domestic partnerships. I posted it on my personal Facebook page and was surprised by the resounding YES I heard through likes and comments from plenty of happily married women and single ones, too. There was another essay on Huffington Post titled “The Default Parent” that ran a couple years ago with a similar concept. I can remember reading “Default Parent” when I was still married at that time, and thinking I’d never read anything else that summarized my family life so perfectly.

I am still the Default Parent, the one responsible for 100% of the mental and emotional labor in my household – because I am the only adult in my household after all.  But it’s not as heavy now as it was when I had that mirror of another adult in the house who somehow got to live there without all the stress a Default Parent carries. Resentment. I had it in spades.

Fast forward three years, and here I am now. And I cannot begin to describe to you the degree of change I have undergone in reference to nearly everything in my life, gender roles especially. I will never do that again. I will never carry it all and remain in a partnership that drains every ounce of me like that. I’m not scared to walk away.

I feel powerful in a way that I never have before. I am independent in my own everyday life which is a liberating thing, but I have an unprecedented freedom in my future planning as well. I don’t ask anyone’s permission before I make plans on a Saturday night. If I feel like it, I dance in the kitchen with my kids while making dinner, and I don’t have to listen to someone else tell me to turn the music down. On the weekends my kids are here, yes, it is exhausting, and there is no one else to get up early and make them pancakes, and sometimes the string of 14 solid days with no one else to share the load makes me want to pull my hair out.

But on weekends I’m alone, there’s also no one else to tell me to take my toast downstairs before I get crumbs in the bed. Right now, as I type this. It is 10:48pm on a Friday night, and there are pillows piled in all the empty spaces on my bed. The sheets are soft, and in a little while, I will tuck them under my chin and scoot over to the very center of the bed with no worries about where my arms and legs end up by dawn. I will sleep until I want to get up, and then I will do what I want to do for hours and hours.

This is my life now. All mine.

Sometimes I am filled with this almost tangible longing to share it with someone else. Where is My Person? Where is he? I want someone to lean on.

But for every time I long for someone else, I think about how lucky I am to do whatever I want to do, and sometimes, to be completely honest, it feels like maybe I want to stay in this place for a long, long time. I cannot tell which I want. Maybe this means I have not met the right person yet, and maybe this just means that this is what it feels like forever after once you have finally arrived at that place where you enjoy your own company.

Do you know how many times I have have sat across the table from a man with all of the right credentials – attractive and successful and everything he should be – and heard every little word he’s saying with a resounding clarity telling me I’m better off alone? Is this where 36 finds you? Maybe so. I know he’s out there somewhere, but I’m willing to wait rather than settle. This is the thing I didn’t expect – that I’d feel so good here. So comfortable and real and solid in a way that I think makes it really hard to mold myself into a new shape to fulfill someone else’s desires.

Something happens for women when we near this spot in our lives. When we pass 35 on the calendar and our kids grow out of diapers and sippy cups. I felt so alone when I divorced at 33, but here we are a few short years later, and I am surrounded. I’m watching marriages drop like flies through the layers of my social circles. There goes another one. Here it comes, I guess. That time when the statistics tend to rear their heads and the one in two begin to fall away.

I hear it when I go out with girlfriends who are happily married with no real intention of leaving. They talk about changing. About seeing him differently now. About feeling his reins a little too tightly sometimes. About changing and seeing their own reflection a little differently. About how it feels like a lot to try and figure out sometimes. All these layers of a life well-planned built on the underpinnings of their own character at the age of 25, and now they feel the weight all these years later.

My inbox is full of it, too. There’s nothing I love more than hearing from readers who reach out across the wide internet to tell me that something I’ve written resonates with them. For most of 2015, the emails were from women who were in the wake of divorce or infidelity, and I still get those as well. But more so these days, I hear from people who feel that thread of self-discovery and reinvention in a more universal way. They find pieces of my own path that feel true to them, even if the details are different. Just last month, a California reader tells me, “I am in an itchy time.  It’s uncomfortable and confusing and just plain not fun.  Even within a good marriage, individual growth can be so hard.” We corresponded back and forth a bit with some ideas and solidarity and reading suggestions, and she explains something I know so well, “I was telling a friend recently that I feel like I’m molting, whether I want to or not, and it’s leaving me feeling so soft and tender and vulnerable and scared.  I think I’m trying to find myself again, the same way you had to after your divorce.” I hear this all the time. Face to face with friends across a table. In comments and emails with people I’ve never met before who find me across the internet. The story is the same. Growth and discovery and trying to find a place for a partnership in the midst of all that.

I know these women worry about how their marriages can possibly grow and change and leave room for who they become. And judging by the wave of divorce that seems to come as we near our 40th year, I guess a lot of marriages don’t survive that. In ways maybe it is easier for me with all this space to grow and no one to judge or tamp it down or box me in. But likewise, I worry that I am growing too big, too solid. The cold hard truth of the matter is that there aren’t many men who will fit the bill now. When you reach a place where you aren’t willing to settle, you have to swallow that hard truth that this could take a while.

Sometimes it’s character that drives me away from someone. He reveals something in conversation that doesn’t settle well with me. (A gift of divorce is seeing those red flags so loud and clear.) Sometimes it’s talk about him that makes its way back to me through mutual circles we share. Sometimes it’s timing when underneath it all, I can see an incredible well of potential, but he’s not where he’d have to be for this to work. Not enough time and space between his last relationship and this one, not enough individual accountability and clear-sightedness to make solid choices and be someone I can lean on. There’s character. There’s compatibility. And there’s timing. Each of which is no small feat. All three together? A unicorn. But every person I meet is my teacher. I observe, I listen, I pause there a moment if I feel I should, and I move on when it’s time. Sometimes I am up for the challenge, and sometimes I go months and months without any desire to share as much as a coffee with anyone. It ebbs and flows.

I’ve written about Richard Rohr before. I get his daily emails, and so much of what he writes speaks straight to me and straight to these common refrains I hear from friends and strangers alike. He talks a lot about the “first stage of life” and the “second stage of life.” The first is when we are obsessed with playing the game – the education and jobs and titles, the house and the things we fill it with, the money. The second comes when we have something that shakes us enough to lead us to see how empty the first one was. That is when we reinvent and love as we are meant to, when we make it real.

I remember reading him once when he was cautioning that not everyone wakes up. Some people reach the last months of their lives still stuck in that first stage of life. He explains that usually happens from people who never encountered that much heartbreak to begin with and those who just rush through a potential awakening by “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” I love that metaphor. You can rearrange those chairs all you want – buy a new house, get a different job, attach yourself to a different partner. But that boat is still going down.

I think what has happened to me in my mid-thirties is that I decided to sink the whole ship. No rearranging anything to mimic what was there before and do it all over again. Something brand new has to emerge in its place if it’s going to somehow float me safely through the remaining decades of my life.

It’s the same thing I hear from my single friends and my married friends, too. From readers far and wide. I don’t fit in that box anymore. And I want to be seen.

 

 

 

bottomless reservoir

It is finally the weekend after what felt like the longest week ever for no real reason at all. My kids and I were both out of school a few days the week prior – due to Irma’s storm path and power outages – so maybe that interruption threw us off a bit. For whatever reason, it’s been hard to keep the rhythm and forward motion this week.

I flew through JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy last week on Audible. (As a side note, this year marks the first time ever that I’ve had a kid-free commute as a working mom, and I am loving it! Catching up on audiobooks and podcasts makes it fly by and feel like a bit of an indulgence instead of a chore.) There are a lot of varying opinions on this book, and it’s received a ton of criticism. It has its weaknesses, no doubt. But on the whole, I loved it so much, and it won’t leave me alone – which is the best measure of a book well written. I’ve been tumbling its scenes and lines in my head ever since I finished it, and it will stay with me a long time.

It essentially tells the story of a man not much younger than I am who grew up poor in Appalachia and is now a Yale-educated lawyer. There is a lot in between those two pieces, and therein lies the story. There were things that I related to as a southerner, and there were things that seemed like far-reaching generalizations that were nothing at all like my own childhood. But I think it is a brave and unflinchingly honest look at his own family and at the difficulties of rising from one social class to another.

He makes it clear that were it not for his Mamaw and Papaw, as the calls them, he wouldn’t be where he is today at all. Though the personality of his feisty Mamaw could not be farther from my gentle Grandmother, I share that common thread of owing much of who I became to my grandparents.

Vance tells us about his grandparents’ insistence that he work hard to rise above his current place in life and that “Mamaw often told a parable: A young man was sitting at home when a terrible rainstorm began. Within hours, the man’s house began to flood, and someone came to his door offering a ride to higher ground. The man declined, saying, ‘God will take care of me.’ A few hours later, as the waters engulfed the first floor of the man’s home, a boat passed by, and the captain offered to take the man to safety. The man declined, saying, ‘God will take care of me.’ A few hours after that, as the man waited on his roof—his entire home flooded—a helicopter flew by, and the pilot offered transportation to dry land. Again the man declined, telling the pilot that God would care for him. Soon thereafter, the waters overcame the man, and as he stood before God in heaven, he protested his fate: ‘You promised that you’d help me so long as I was faithful.’ God replied, ‘I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter. Your death is your own fault.’ God helps those who help themselves. This was the wisdom of the Book of Mamaw.”

That was the wisdom of the Book of My Grandparents as well – that God helps those who help themselves. It’s a concept I continue to think about, and I can trace that line to where I am now. I still think I have a ways to go, and I know that it is entirely up to me where I end up. My final destination is up to my own stubborn ambition and determination to help myself – and to the choices I make and the karma I create which follows all of us eventually.

I’ve always believed it was a combination of fate and choice that gets you where you are, and this just gets clearer and more defined for me as I steer my own ship now – a privilege I never really had until I was 33 years old and fate pushed me off that seemingly comfortable boat into some rough waters that have smoothed out now to give me more space and freedom than I’ve ever had.

Something strange is happening these past few months  where instead of seeing this season of my life as a storm to weather, I’m feeling its very best pieces passing so quickly that I’m a little scared to let them go one day. My main fear, as I wrote about a few weeks ago after the Jen Pastiloff workshop, is that I won’t finish the work I know I’m meant to do because I drown in the little things. I know this season I’m in is ripe for my own ambitions, and I guess the challenge is to hold onto that even when life moves me to another page. This season might be one for my own ambitions, but it’s also ripe for drowning in the responsibilities of single parenting, and I feel that, too. My intentions and ideas are clearer than ever, but unfortunately, my pace is more frenzied than ever as well.

My kids have this thing about sleeping in my bed. If they had their choice, they’d be there every night, but they are getting bigger, and it just gets too crowded, so I bribed them a year or two ago with a sticker chart and a grand prize of a 5 dollar bill to get them out. It worked for the most part, but they still beg or use any special occasion (Mom, I had a fever today, so I need to sleep in your bed, right?) as an excuse to sleep there. It’s not that I even care all that much, but I just sometimes want some tiny piece of the day to be mine, some tiny space in this house to be mine. I try to limit the indulgence when I can.

But Jude read some ghost story last week that completely frightened him worse than I have ever seen, and every bit of it was real to him. You could tell by the way he described it and the expression he wore when he was telling me. He begged to sleep with me, and I said yes – which of course elicited It’s unfair! tears from sister, so there we all were. All three of us huddled in my bed with the last blaze of September heat outside my window, heavy heads and limbs all over me all night long. Three nights in a row last week.

I feel like this is the dance we constantly do over here. Sometimes it is me pushing them away for a little freedom and sometimes it is them doing the same to me. We are all trying to spread our wings a little wider and needing one another to give us space, but then also needing each other a little closer sometimes. I think that is the magic sauce in any good relationship – to give that person space to breathe and be but also be willing to drop everything to listen and just be there when you’re needed.

In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance tells us about his sister’s tears when his Papaw died, how she suddenly felt that she’d taken advantage of him. What he said when reflecting on that is something that will stay with me for a long time: “To this day, being able to ‘take advantage’ of someone is the measure in my mind of having a parent. For me and Lindsay, the fear of imposing stalked our minds, infecting even the food we ate. We recognized instinctively that many of the people we depended on weren’t supposed to play that role in our lives, so much so that it was one of the first things Lindsay thought of when she learned of Papaw’s death. We were conditioned to feel that we couldn’t really depend on people—that, even as children, asking someone for a meal or for help with a broken-down automobile was a luxury that we shouldn’t indulge in too much lest we fully tap the reservoir of goodwill serving as a safety valve in our lives.”

My kids see me as a bottomless reservoir, and I know this for certain. It is the thing that drives me crazy sometimes. That feeling like an invisible stagehand as I’ve written about before. The one packing the lunches and washing the ballet tights and checking off the homework charts that no one else in the world sees at all. But it’s still my greatest privilege and my greatest responsibility.

I’m writing and planning and dreaming in tiny pockets of time when I can. But for now, it still feels like the three of us here and the whole world out there – waiting for me to find it when I can.