Books, single parenthood

sifted

We are cleaned up and dried out. The renovations will begin soon. For now, I’m sharing a bathroom with the kids, and my kitchen floor is bare cement. We have no sheet rock on the downstairs ceiling or sofas in the living room, and Jude will sometimes lie on a blanket on the floor and inspect the ducts and wires exposed. It’s the awkward holding moment before the rebuild, where everything is uncomfortable and foreign and weird, but there is something really lovely on the other side of all of this if we just be patient. I know this well. Patience comes easier than it used to.

I’m reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior (along with everybody else, it seems), and it is so hauntingly familiar to me in moments. I find myself nodding and revisiting my own parallel moments as I read along. She speaks about crisis as a turning point, and she explains that it means to sift, which I didn’t know before.

Sure enough, I examine the etymology for myself and see that it is associated with to separate or judge in Greek, to sift or separate in Latin, and even a sieve in Old English.

I can remember visiting the tourist stops in North Georgia as a child and panning for gold, taking the sieve and lowering it in a muddy trough, scooping up sand and mess and shaking the metal sieve back and forth again and again to find the small gold flakes left behind. We’d pick them out and place them in tiny vials filled with water and stare at them all the way home on the drive back. The gold specks I found myself were somehow so much more valuable to me than something I could buy in a store.

Pema Chodron tells me that “nothing goes away until it has taught you what you needed to know.” And I think maybe she’s right. What if all of these moments that first appear to be crises are actually my teachers? If I listen close enough, I think they are.

With each defining moment in my past two years, I see the sieve working to let go of what I never needed to begin with. I am lighter and lighter and lighter with every crisis. It makes me laugh to think about the rhythm of our past week and the way it was remarkably unaffected by my actual ceiling caving in. The ceiling caved; I had the mess cleaned up; and here we are chugging along like always.

On weekends I have the kids, I give them a “kids’ choice” night where they call the shots on dinner, and we huddle together and watch a movie. As usual, they voted for pizza last night, and proclaimed it the Best Movie Night Ever! because we could spread blankets across the empty living room and lie on the floor while watching Ninja Turtles. Where I used to see mess, I now see magic and connection and possibility. Maybe what I needed to know, as Pema Chodron says, is that what matters isn’t going anywhere. No house can hold it. No title can contain it. No half sibling changes it. When I wasn’t paying attention, the past two years of time with just the three of us somehow cemented these threads even stronger than they were before. Ceiling or no ceiling, home is the space between the three of us. I knew that from the beginning, but as it all fell away last week, I learned what safe feels like. It’s all right here.

Jude’s birthday party was today, and I ordered the cake three days ago when he walked into Publix with me and decided he wanted the Godzilla one. I reserved a pavilion at the nature preserve nearby, and he spotted a pinata in Target this weekend. Nothing matched. It was perfect.

Untitled

Kids played and explored on the nearby nature trail. (Thanks, Pinterest scavenger hunt printable stapled on a brown paper bag.) They sang and had cake. They played some more. We came home to more play time with neighbors, and Jude dove into his new gifts. I roasted a few vegetables for a light dinner and bathed both kids, and the doorbell rang at 7:30 with a neighbor delivering a slice of pumpkin pie straight from the oven and oozing in that perfect way that happens when you cut it too soon to keep its shape.

How is my busy, overwhelming life with so many unanswered questions about my future somehow actually easier in the present than when my path was straight and predictable in front of me? Everything is simplified. Necessity calls for it when my finances, my energy, and my time are so restricted. But look what happened in the meantime. The strongest stuff remains, and the rest doesn’t matter. I have no one to answer to but the voice inside my own self, and she requires no check boxes.

The good thing about rock bottom – whether that is a life turned inside out or a house stripped of what it once was – is that it gives you a chance to rebuild exactly how you want it and take away all the extraneous mess that weighed you down to begin with. The view from the bottom seems pretty great today. I am the one to set the course. I’m tired and worn and sleepy, but I can see for miles and miles.

Advertisements
single parenthood

it will write itself

Sometimes a story is so big and messy that I don’t know how to tell it. Do I start at the beginning? Do I begin in the middle and move outward? Or do I give you the frame, the skeleton, and then fill in the color for you?

Here is the frame: in 48 hours, Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature, my kids met their new half sibling, my son turned seven, and half of my house flooded.

I heard my phone chime on Thursday morning as I drove to work, and she was in labor at the hospital. The same date, as life would have it, that I checked in the hospital to labor with my first baby as well. It took almost two days to get him out, and her outcome was much faster, but a shift has been working in me these past few months somehow, and the dam finally broke.  Now I see that everything has changed. Two parallel tracks now. Two separate families. Two entirely different worlds as our kids bounce between mom and dad’s houses. And most importantly, two different mothers exist now – each with her own children.

Divorce is real and final, and I have accepted myself as a single mother for almost two years now, but there is something different when someone you spent fifteen years of your life with has truly begun another family. It was surreal as they Facetimed the kids just an hour or so after birth and I saw the image on the screen. That tiny squealing baby, that other mother next to the father of my own kids. The image of him starting all over again. But all set against the contrast of mirrors and memories buried in my own mind from a time not so long ago.

My son turned seven yesterday, and my world is different than it once was. This is the first year I’m not posting his birthday letter on the blog – just quietly placing it in the safe with the others. He has his own ideas now, his own self, his own need for privacy and understanding. But I remember the beginning so well. Arriving at the hospital late at night, waking up the next day with contractions. The nineteen hours of work and the eventual surgery and those first few days when it was just the three of us, no one else.

It was the most incredible feeling to see that you created something with this other person, and that thing you created is a whole new life. A whole new family. Her reality is very different, I’m sure. And I cannot speak to any other mother’s experience. But a weird shift is happening where I feel compassion for her and a genuine sense of bewilderment at how different it must be when the other partner already has children. Do you still get that sacred bubble of time and space where you are the only people in the world who matter? That feeling that this is it; this is your family?  I don’t know. I hope so because even now as I stand confused at the memories behind me and what they meant or didn’t mean to him, my earliest days of motherhood are among the fullest and happiest memories I have as my heart broke open to make way for the path ahead. I want so badly for her to have that growth as well, that enhanced understanding of the world around her and recognition of her own power. I’m rooting for her in a genuine way that I didn’t expect to manifest like this. Life is full of surprises, isn’t it?

So the kids went to sleep Thursday night, and I cried in the bathtub for a while, if I’m being honest. Not so much at the sadness of the situation but at the way that life hands you something that is such a combination of ugly and beautiful that you don’t know what to do with it. This is my path, and that is hers. But we are one and the same. As Bob Dylan himself says, “Behind every beautiful thing, there is some kind of pain.”

I awoke at 4:30 unable to go back to sleep, but even when my alarm rang at 5:30, I laid there a while longer. I stumbled to the shower, grateful it was Friday. And as I was stepping out, I saw water pouring from under my sink. When I say pouring, I mean an ocean of water flowing faster than I could think. I open the door of the vanity to see a broken pipe and water spewing with what felt like the force of a hurricane. I used every brain cell available before coffee which is approximately three of them, and I did what all 35 year old grown women do in a crisis. I called my mom.

As I’m flying through the house in my dripping bathrobe, Norah wakes up, and I tell her there’s water everywhere. She gets excited like it’s an adventure, and I am downstairs in my robe panicking on the phone to my mom and looking frantically for the main cut off. These are things I should know as a single adult and homeowner, but there seems to be no room for this information among the files of school permission slips and food preferences and doctor appointments and work to-do lists in my head. After about three minutes, I realize that knocking on a neighbor’s door at 5:50am is a good way to give someone a heart attack and why should they know where my water cut off is? We have a fire department half a mile from my neighborhood and there is water falling through my kitchen ceiling at this point, so I call 911.

“Ummm, hi. We are fine. No one is hurt. But my house is flooding and I’m looking for a main cut off outside and in my house and I cannot find one. I’ve been here a year, and I am the only adult here, and clearly I should know this but I do not know what I’m doing. Obviously.” The operator told me to head outside, and they would meet me there. And it occurred to me that I was not wearing real clothes. So I threw some on, and woke up Jude who was somehow still sleeping through all this, and we headed outside together.

Fire truck at the house at 6:00am. Kids on the porch wrapped in blankets waving at them. And I look down to see that I am bra-less with a shirt on both inside out and backwards. We are a circus.

In three minutes’ time, they had it off. From beginning to end, the pipe was open maybe 15 minutes – if that. The damage tells a far bigger story though.

Untitled

I managed to get Jude on the bus at 7:30, homework intact and hair combed, which is perhaps the single greatest accomplishment of my life forever after. (And thanks to a neighbor who let him brush his teeth there and walked him to the bus stop while I called insurance.) One by one, I checked the things off the list. Insurance claim number, restoration services. Right, left, right, left. Just keep moving.

We will be okay, and I know this. The kids bedrooms are untouched, and the kitchen is clean now and usable without the ceiling. Fans are here, and we are almost dried out, and the work of renovations will come soon. But the ceiling fell – literally and in that other way, too. Life is reminding me that sometimes you just have to start all over and that I can do hard things.

I know a day will come when I will think, remember that 20 month period when my husband left, I moved two little kids, he married someone else, Jude started kindergarten, I got in a car accident, I had gum surgery, my grandmother died, my ex had a baby with the new wife, and my house flooded? All in less than two years’ time, and here I am still standing on my own two feet somehow. Nothing scares me anymore. Nothing at all.

The house is not uninhabitable, but my granddad heard what happened and offered that I stay with him for the weekend since the kids are gone anyhow. I happily said yes and brought loads of heavy, wet laundry and a weary spirit. We talked a good bit, but we sat in silence a good bit as well, and it was good for the both of us. Talking with him does me more good than talking to anyone else lately because he takes the long view. He’s never looking at the here and now that can overwhelm and scare me. Always steady and always keeping in mind the greater arc of my story and the bigger picture, he brings me calm. Who knows what the long view is with my two and their half-sibling and the challenges of blending families, but the three of us are the family I can feel and touch and support and fight for. The rest is not my story to write. It will write itself, as he reminded me. It always does.

My weekend felt eerily similar to when I would stay there as a little girl. The floors creak in the same spots they always have and the sheets smell a very particular and comforting way I can never bury beyond the surface of my memories. Though I haven’t slept in that house in more than a decade, I know his nighttime rhythms well. The television was playing Saturday night’s rotation of gospel hymns, and he offered me ice cream before bed as we sat together and listened. I’m looking now, just across a river, to where my faith will end in sight. There’s just a few more days to labor, and then I’ll take my heavenly flight.

I cannot tell what is across the river in this life. I don’t know how the story ends when my season of growth and labor is over. I have grown so much from this season in my life, but if I can be honest for a minute, I am tired of growing. I know I can do hard things, and I can do it all alone if I need to. But I’m ready for rest. I’ve heard it said that if your obstacles are bigger than you’d imagined and God is making you wait, then be prepared to receive even more than what you asked for. I hope this is true. The wait feels long, and I’m ready to lighten the load.

But despite it all, I fell asleep last night grateful to rest in a space I know well enough that my bones recognize it. So much can change, but what matters always stays the same, doesn’t it? Me, myself, here, now. Safe and strong.

gratitude, grief

broken open

Fall is over in a blink in Georgia, so I’m trying to take it all in. We are sleeping with the windows open, but I always wake in the middle of the night to feel a chill and then close the window pane and spread the extra blanket over the bed. I made our favorite soup last week, and I’m already craving it again. My school days are busy with the frantic pace of midterms and the grading pile that ebbs and flows, but I live for the afternoon light everyday. What is it about October light just before dinner that makes it so perfect? I wish I could bottle it up for January’s darkness.

Untitled

Saturday brought a soccer game followed by a visit to a local pumpkin farm. It’s a small family operation just down the road from where I grew up, and our families have known of each other for ages. On the way over, I texted my cousin that we were headed there, and she walked over from her house next door to the farm. It feels good to belong somewhere with a long history, but autumn makes you crave it even further. We all settle in a little more snugly, I think. In whatever ways we can.
Untitled

We ate popcorn and boiled peanuts, and I watched cousins get lost and found again in a corn maze. We took the hayride around the pond like we do every year and followed that with the long and important task of picking out the perfect pumpkin.

Untitled

My grandad came with us as he works pretty steadily lately to stay busy and occupied when he can. There is still a hollow spot in the space where she has always been, that lull in the conversation. It is so stark at their house especially, where Norah will wander upstairs when we’re there and say it’s because certain rooms “still smell like Grandmother.” And they do. The scent lingering everywhere – literally and metaphorically.

On the other hand, I’m also finding moments when it’s getting more comfortable in ways as well; her absence is a little more predictable and familiar now – which is always a scary moment in the grieving process. It almost seems like the person lingers and hovers for a while in a very real way. You can feel their touch and see their belongings and hear the voice and smell the scent. They are close for a while to gently ease us out of the solid presence we are so used to, and then they fade a bit so that the haze wears away from your vision, and you can handle what life is sending you next as you create space and possibility instead of loss. Everything she taught me is still here and even somehow distilled to a cleaner and more concentrated form. But her physical self isn’t hovering in the way it first was.

This is life. This is how it goes. Seasons change and leaves fall and people fade from our lives in that way they are made to do. Mary Oliver says, “to live in this world you must be able to do three things — to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” That is so much easier said than done. But here we are, four months after her passing, in the midst of a new season she has never seen. It looks both terrifyingly unfamiliar and newly beautiful all at once.

It’s also Mary Oliver who claims it is worthwhile “to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.”

As I look back, heartbreak has broken me open again and again. It is never happiness and assurance and predictability that get you someplace new, is it? A decade spent in the classroom – first high school kids and eventually university students – gives me a special glimpse into that phase of life when you feel so sure about everything and everyone. When you assume that the path in front of you will unfold exactly like you see it in your mind’s eye. How funny that loss is what actually moves us on the path if you let it happen and feel it honestly.

Here I am in the thirty-fifth October of my life, and I’m seeing that you really are not capable of understanding that without a few decades on this earth. Life chisels away all the rough edges when we let it. It makes me look forward to the Octobers ahead as I will undoubtedly deepen and soften in ways I don’t yet understand.

Leaves fall and seasons change, and autumn is here to remind me again that nothing is permanent. It’s hard to wait on the hand of time to reveal the treasure to you, but it always does eventually.

divorce, gratitude, Holidays and Parties

Thanksgiving

I’m officially on Thanksgiving Break – minus the twenty research papers I need to grade and the hundred or so house tasks I need to accomplish. I stayed home with the kids on Monday, and now they are at their dad’s for a few days but get to return to me for Thanksgiving itself and the Sunday after.

We have a rhythm now with our weekend visitation schedule. I can handle two little nights alone, but the holiday breaks still feel weird to split it all 50/50. My empty house and me.

I had a student once who was falling behind, unable to focus and complete assignments. She cried big tears to me after class one day (after weeks of struggling) and told me that she was stressed and anxious and that she was raped the year prior and currently involved in the court proceedings about that incident. I remember stopping her just after she said that and holding her hand for a minute and telling her to take a deep breath and give herself some credit. She was getting out of bed everyday. She was coming to class. She was holding a part-time job outside of school. She was bearing so much more than anyone should ever have to. Stop being so hard on yourself and understand that this is a lot.

I cannot begin to know that pain, and I am not comparing my grief and trauma to hers. But I am comparing my resistance to admit that something is hard. Sometimes things are painful, and you just have to say this sucks. This is a lot. I’m doing the best I can.

The holidays are heavy sometimes. Even in their very best moments — wide-eyes walking down the stairs on Christmas morning or aging relatives around the table at Thanksgiving dinner — it is all tinted with that bittersweet, happy-sad feeling of nostalgia and transience. It’s like you already long for these seconds even though they haven’t left you yet. Or that’s how it is for me anyway. An awareness that this year, this moment, is not going to happen again.

Last year’s holidays were hard. I was in the middle of the hurricane, honestly unable to really see my way out at that point. I can remember arriving home from a grocery run all red and swollen in the eyes, unable to stop sobbing. The car time in the short ten minutes from the store was a little slice of solitude I had to feel what I felt without judgment and questions and demands from someone.

This year’s will be easier, I think. In ways at least. But it is painful, if I am being honest as I always am in this space. It’s still a lot. I am taking my own advice given to my student before and telling myself congratulations for getting out of bed on some days. For baking the pies and mixing the hot chocolate and pulling out the advent calendar and doing all the things I have always done even though I’m doing them alone now.

Sometimes I can’t look at a day or an occasion with too much significance. It feels much better to find the miracle moments in the everyday than to put an occasion on a pedestal and expect it to be perfect. I’m already finding myself focusing more on the mundane this season. Weeknight dinners around the table. Popcorn and a bedtime movie with the kids. Pajama cuddles on the couch. The little seconds are bringing healing more than the big milestones, I think.

Untitled

I saw someone at a little gathering recently, and I hadn’t seen her in over a year. She asked how I was, and I had a hard time answering that question in small talk. What about my life hasn’t changed in the past 12 months? Not much. Everything is different. Inside out and upside down and I’m still standing.

I have shed the comparison trap this year in that I no longer compare myself to other women or other mothers. I no longer compete for worthiness and perfection. I stand in my own truth in a way I never have – like I am with this post when I say this time of year is hard. But what I need to shed next, I think, is my constant bewilderment and comparison over how the other side has moved forward with such speed and excitement and intensity. There are no feelings, no remorse, no compassion. Instead of praying so hard for that situation to change, I am going to focus more on removing myself from it. I’m writing that here so that I can hold myself accountable.

I am a thinking and feeling person in the world. I refuse to apologize for that or be made to feel less than others who don’t appear to feel much at all. I don’t shut it off – not my own pain or my students’ stories or my kids’ perceptions. I let it all in and I let it pierce. I roll it over in my own mind and heart, and I let it change me and then use that change of perspective as fuel for my own actions and decisions. As I see this last piece that I need to shed, this confusion and comparison of how the other side has dealt with 2015, I see so clearly that I’m shamed for feeling pain and talking about that pain. It’s a game I need to remove myself from a bit to remember that I am not embarrassed to be a human. To act like a real living and breathing person with real imperfections and insecurities and hard moments.

There’s a Kate Light poem I know that says, “There comes the strangest moment in your life / when everything you thought before breaks free / what you relied upon as ground rule and rite / looks upside down from how it used to be. […] How many people thought you’d never change? / But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.”

It is beautiful and strange, right? All of it. Life is not hard all of the time, but it is all mixed up together. The good and the bad and the heavy and the light. This week is all about celebrating gratitude, and I’m thankful for so much in my life.  There have been some moments in 2015 that are nothing short of miraculous. Coincidences that are divinely orchestrated and moments that pierced me straight through. And in hindsight, even the other moments that felt like nothing but pain when I was in them have molded my heart and my character to emerge completely different than when I walked into the fire.

But I don’t feel like I am done, and I am grateful for that most of all. Thankful that my story doesn’t end here and that I am continuing to change and grow and move forward to a plan that I can feel unfolding in ways I never expected.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Prayers for peace and joy in these last few weeks of 2015.