Rest assured I am writing when I can but not here. There are only so many words I can compose, and I know my limits, so I don’t prioritize this space like I used to. Today is December 21st, the Winter Solstice. The darkest day of the year. This is the week that we celebrate but also, for me, it is always the week that I put things to rest. I shut off some part of me, as my friend likes to say. The mom brain and the teacher brain and the long to-do list.
In the past ten days, I’ve had a sick child, well, then sick again. Elementary class parties, dress up theme days, gift exchanges, and teacher gifts. Two Nutcracker dress rehearsals with two Nutcracker performances coming up this weekend. Final exams for my own students with piles of grading. And another issue that is weighing enormously heavy on my heart and mind, but I cannot write all of the details here simply because it involves other people. (Nothing mysterious or dramatic or even personal, just part of the million surprises and stresses that compose a life.) It’s been a perfect storm of stress.
I was feeling it heavily on Thursday, and I texted my longtime best friend asking “Is it possible to raise two kids solo and be away from home 6:45am – 4:30 everyday?” I expected soft talk back to encourage me, but she responded with a one word NO in about 2 seconds flat. I feel this sometimes — that I’m doing the impossible and I can’t keep doing it. But look, I am. And a million other women in my situation are doing it, too. I have holidays and spring break and summer break to recalibrate which is more than many people have. I have family 25 minutes down the road when I need help and am in a pinch, and that is more than many have as well. My kids go to Dad’s four days a month, and I get that time to reset and recenter. I get child support payments on time, and many women don’t. I have lots of things that I’m grateful for, sure. But you can be grateful and also exhausted at the same time, and this is me. Raising the white flag right now to say that I’m carrying too many things, and I’m laying it down here with lines on the page.
I haven’t slept soundly in weeks. I’m out like a light every night without a problem, but the worry brain wakes me around 2am, and I have a hard time turning it off. Then the alarm rings at 5:00, and the marathon begins. Rinse repeat. I am using this last stretch of the year to let that tightness subside for me. It takes a while; I know this because I have done it before. But by the end of this week, it will fade, and I will feel human again.
I’m thinking a lot about my word for 2020. The last few years have brought Write, Intention, Trust, and Persist. I persisted in 2019 in ways that astound me in hindsight. I made things happen with sheer will and determination. The things I wanted that felt so impossible — travel with the kids, a new job, and a literary agent — happened because I wouldn’t stop until they did.
But now I am feeling the need to soften it all, to recenter and find again that pulse beneath all the madness. I’m leaning toward Create as my word to begin this new decade. I want to see 2020 as a space where I can create experiences that inspire me, writing that holds true to the promise I’ve made to myself and to others, and even create space in my life where there was none. It feels like so much of my day is a marathon, and there is no room to breathe. But stillness has to be there if I look hard enough. I’m determined to create room to breathe this year somehow.
Earlier this week, I ran across a Joyce Sutphen poem that did that thing poetry can do — harness a feeling you forgot you ever had and make you nostalgic for it.
There were moments, hours even,
when it was clear what I
was meant to do, as if
a landscape had revealed itself
in the morning light.
I could see the road
plainly now, imagining myself
walking towards the distant mountains
like a pilgrim in the old stories —
ready to take on any danger,
hapless but always hopeful,
certain that my simple belief
in the light
would be enough.
I miss the light so much this time of year. I wake to darkness, and by the time I am home to stir dinner on the stove, it is back again. I’m ready to see the road again, to harness that simple belief in the light and know that it’s enough. Merry Christmas to you, and if these words are finding you in a dark place, my wish for you is to find the light again in 2020. I’ve passed an entire decade writing in this space. (Which is crazy to reflect on!) So many moments and so many things recorded here. Both darkness and light. A whole landscape revealed itself here for me, and there’s more to be illuminated down the road. Let’s keep going.