motherhood, single parenthood

second shift

Hi, remember me? It’s been a while.

I’ve come to realize that there are two distinct selves when you are in academics: my summer self and my school year self. My summer self is rested and grounded and sane, while my school year self feels like I’m treading water and a little breathless over here. I have a rare weeknight that is kid-free right now as it’s fall break for Jude, so they are spending the second half of the week with their dad. It almost feels like more of a luxury than a weekend off somehow – to come home from a day at work and have a few hours alone and quiet. A few nights without that second shift that working mothers know so well.

Dinner tonight was one fried egg on toast with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, a random concoction I decided I wanted and didn’t have to ask two others’ opinions on. I graded a few essays. I watched an actual television show from beginning to end which I haven’t done in ages. (This is Us. Worth the hype, I think!) I’ve been bad at even attempting any sort of balance these days. This was a goal I told my therapist I’d work on, but I am failing miserably. The minute the kids are in bed, I take a few seconds to clean the kitchen and then I’m asleep just behind them. The idea of time alone sounds nice, but the thought of sleep sounds even better. 9pm feels like midnight these days. It’s one foot in front of the other right now. I think I will come up for air soon, but not quite yet.

I did hit the pause button a little on Monday with a day for only my boy and me. Norah was in school, and he’s on fall break. We dropped her off that morning, and he hung out in my office a while so I could tackle a few tasks and then we spent the morning at the children’s museum and stopped for lunch before heading to a local farm for a little while. We picked a few things we had a taste for and then sat at a table and shared boiled peanuts and kettle corn before piling in the car for the drive back.

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It’s still hot here, but the change is coming. Early in the mornings, I can feel it the tiniest bit. We do a lot of pretending it’s fall here in the south before it actually feels like it. Life works that way, too, I think. Sometimes you have to act as if before you actually arrive there. And then it always comes eventually. You just have to trust that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other and put your heart in the way of change, it will come.

Last week consisted of the usual 5:30 am wake-ups and full days with the addition of soccer practice, a soccer game, an introductory Cub Scout meeting, a surprise morning carseat puke on the way to school (every parent knows that horror), and a dead goldfish.

Thursday night found us huddled in the tiny downstairs bathroom with a makeshift funeral, the three of us singing a hymn and watching as we swirled him to his eternal home. I live in a zoo. I forget sometimes to step out of the frame for a minute and see my life for what it is. That load of laundry that stays wrinkled in the dryer for three days and that email that went unanswered for far too long — these are the things that run through my head at the end of the day. When in reality, it’s actually somewhat impressive that I am dressed and reasonably prepared and professional in any capacity at all. I grade student work between ballet class pick-up and dinner prep, and I notice the smudges on my floor every single day as I walk right past them without mopping. I type hurriedly here in an attempt to record anything at all and hit “publish” without a lot of care and discernment. But it is what it is right now. Imperfect is better than not done, and this is life and the season I’m in.

We went to a family reunion last Sunday, and I was flipping through old albums amazed at how much the rural south has changed in only a couple of generations. You can see by the lines of worry on their faces that they worked hard, and in ways life was an endless struggle.

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Sometimes I think that we believe we are somehow beyond this now, that we’ve all grown bigger and better, but in actuality, that is not the case in every way. I have infinitely more possibilities in my life as a woman. We now realize that there is more than one way to skin that cat, as we say in the south. There is more than one way to mother and more than one path to walk, and things aren’t so restrictive and laid out for you. I’m grateful I have choices. But life is still hard work – just a different kind of work.

Society tends to tell us we must be doing something wrong if it feels hard, if we don’t always live in a magazine spread. But I’m here to say I think that’s wrong. Choices give us more opportunity to find fulfillment, but you’re still tired and still working hard if you’re doing it right.

The key is to work hard for the right things. Somewhere between the Cub Scout meetings and the dinner table conversation and bath splashes, between the goldfish funerals and the sticky floors, I think I’m doing something right

Take a minute. Pause the endless task list, watch the television show, eat the chocolate, call a friend, sit in the silence for a second. See your life outside the frame, and know it’s not hard because you’re doing something wrong. It’s hard because it’s real and worth it. So to those of you treading water right now, I raise my hand to say I see you, and I feel it, too. Your best is good enough. It’s hard work, but maybe we’ll make it after all.

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motherhood, single parenthood

reflecting and absorbing

My alarm rang at 5:30 yesterday morning to begin the daily grind, and the very first thought that bounced through my head was I’m so thankful it’s Friday. Jude barged in the bathroom soon after I got out of the shower and asked if he could go downstairs to watch television while I got dressed. He’s obsessed with these Minecraft tutorials on Youtube lately. I made coffee and took the dog out, and then soon enough Norah came down the stairs in her underwear. She claimed she was hot in the middle of the night and took off  her nightgown to throw it on the floor.

So there we were: tired mom with coffee in hand, kindergartener watching Minecraft tutorials, and almost-naked preschooler piled on the couch before sunrise. She picked It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown from the shelf – of all things – and asked me to read it. A Halloween book in April at 6:20am wearing nothing but underwear. It’s how we roll these days.

When you grow older and look back on your own childhood, the smallest details can bring nostalgia – the particular plates you ate dinner from every night, the music you listened to on a certain road trip one summer, the curtains that hung in a kitchen window for years, or that singular dish your mom would make in a way that only she can.

I wonder sometimes about the bizarre list of things my kids will one day remember about our daily lives together: the loud hum of the wheat grinder because it’s how I insist we make Saturday waffles, the predawn cuddles on the couch, my books scattered everywhere and stacked on every surface, the board games we always spill out in the same spot on the foyer rug after school, the lettuce pots we pick from on the patio in the spring, the lakeside spot we visit in the summer, the old graying dog that snores loudly enough to drown conversation and follows us from room to room.

Some routines are habits I’m happy to see them absorbing. Norah draws pictures on tiny scraps of paper sometimes to add to my gratitude jar and calls it her “happy thing,” knowing what it means for me as a nightly ritual. And I’m sure there are other habits that I don’t even realize they are observing and taking on as their own patterns. It’s one of the scariest things about parenthood, a concept you can’t dwell on too heavily. The notion that they are always mirrors, always sponges. Reflecting and absorbing.

Truthfully, this house feels like Crazytown more often than not. I cling to routines because they give me something to hold onto. But in between the daily milestones and markers on the clock and calendar, we walk a path that closely borders chaos.

Sometimes I would give my right arm for some help in this house. I crave the comfort and certainty of having a partner to discuss parenthood with, and more than that, a partner to lend a hand when bath time and dinner time and clean up and homework are all happening at the same time. Single parenthood is no joke – especially for the primary custodial parent doing the daily work required to get everyone where they need to be, literally and figuratively.

But sometimes I feel so clearly that this is a unique season. Even if I stay single forever, this is our only time that he will be 6 and she will be approaching 4 and I will be exactly where I am in my own life and it is just the three of us. Always, just the three of us. I’m grateful for this time and the memories it’s giving us.

We had something to do almost every night this week – a neighbor who stayed with us as his parents needed help one night, the usual speech therapy appointment, and an annual art show at Jude’s school. I pushed aside the usual dinner plans one night for an impulsive stop at a Chinese restaurant the kids love. It is greasy. And predictable. And mediocre at best. But it felt like a treat as I pulled in the parking lot unplanned on a school night and the kids fumbled out of the car and ran in to look at the fish tank while we waited on a booth. We indulged in whatever made us happy in that moment. It felt good.

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We were reading descriptions of all the Chinese zodiac signs that were printed on the place mat and assigning them to each other based on birth years. And Jude said of one of the descriptions (The rabbit, maybe? Now I’ve forgotten.) you are that one, mom. It says shy and a peacemaker and you are those things. It’s funny that he sees these things in me. I am not shy with them as I have to be the voice asking questions and moving and advocating for them, but he’s right in a sense. I’m an introvert at heart, and I hate conflict. When life’s demands calm down and I can breathe a minute, I am exactly as he sees me. I worry that they will only ever remember me as the frantic orchestra director, the air traffic controller, the drill sergeant, the one giving orders to everyone else to keep all the balls in the air in our crazy juggling act. But kids see your true nature, I think. Even when you have to push it aside to tend to all the fires that await you as a parent. I guess they can see it shining through a bit.

It’s tiring. And one day, I hope to arrive back on a sure footing with less worry and uncertainty and perfectly balanced meals on the table every night and a house that stays clean more than chaotic. But maybe that never happens until they leave home, and I’m starting to accept that with gratitude. I find the glimmers in the smallest seconds, pausing images in my own mind and recording them here. And I’m just going to trust that they can sometimes see the real me through the madness.

motherhood, single parenthood

zookeeper

It’s becoming even more obvious to me lately how much of a lifeline writing was for me in some darker moments because as I settle in to life in our little circle of three and things become comforting habit instead of constant chaos, I have to remind myself to make time to write – whereas there were stretches of months at a time when I felt a burning need to record things here and couldn’t rest until I did. So this is me showing up tonight with no grand agenda.

Right now the kids are asleep, and I am in recovery mode from a week which was insane in every way. The summary is that Jude got sick which is no big deal, but it was the flu. And it required close to 8 days of care before he could finally act relatively normal again (just this morning). I feel like if you walked into my house on most days, you’d think we have it all together here with a good system, not that things are perfect or spotless, but that we are out the door at the same time everyday and doing our usual routines to get my kids where they need to be. Kid sickness is the fastest way to derail the train though. It’s on those days that I suddenly realize it is all held together with twine and just barely balanced.

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I love that Norah can come to work with me. Our on-site preschool is amazing in pretty much every way. Great teachers, caring environment, and steps from my office. But it inevitably creates this dynamic that I am the only one who really knows her schedule and how to get her there and has reason to drive that direction. It’s a haul from both her father and my mom who are the two people I have to call on when things happen that interrupt the daily grind. Jude’s school is 6 minutes from home, but it is much the same scenario. I am the one who knows what he is doing and when and what days he needs after-school care and how to pack his lunch and all the other details. I’m not special for this. It is almost always moms in this position somehow.

But then something happens that prevents you from doing the usual, and it feels like nobody can do things the way you can because you are the one to always do it. And the whole scenario ends up heaping more stress than necessary on everyone involved but especially mom. And truth be told, nobody else can orchestrate the schedule the way you can, and you are right about that. But it gets done anyway. Or most of it. We survive.

I save yoga and any semblance of relaxation for the hours after kids are in bed. But Thursday, I attempted to do a quick video while they were up. Sukhasana is not so relaxing with a three year old crashing in your lap.

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How do we get it done with little kids underfoot? Do you ever think of these things? (Talking mostly to those of you in my “season” of little ones at home.) I get frustrated with myself for not quite being the teacher I wanted to be on any given day or not cleaning that closet that I’ve been staring at for months or not prioritizing exercise or not writing something for a particular submission I have my eye on… But then I take a step back and realize that this entire three-ring circus is so ridiculously batty that it’s actually funny sometimes when you are brave enough to laugh. The fact that I shower and show up for work and make complete sentences on this screen is actually an accomplishment in light of what I encounter on a daily basis.

On Sunday evening, I made a whole chicken in the pressure cooker and had my weekly meals planned around it. I left the plate on the counter when I went upstairs for a minute and came back down to see that our dog had eaten every last bit of it. Jude spent all day Tuesday cuddled up next to me on the couch when I had loads of midterms to grade that were not happening due to his constant demands. Norah’s classmate bit her on the hand on Wednesday, and instead of telling her teacher, she bit him back. On the face. On Thursday, she got in trouble for calling someone “Stinkybutt” in the bathroom.  I awoke on my 35th birthday with 4 hours of sleep in the midst of a kid with a scorching fever who woke up so many times the night before that I lost count.

It makes me laugh when I stop to think about how I like to say lately that my life has calmed down exponentially since this time last year. It has. I’ve moved and settled and don’t feel the least bit of strangeness signing my maiden name. I’ve trudged head-first through the murkiest waters to arrive in a solid place on the other side. I’m feeling a burning sense of fulfillment and curiosity that I haven’t felt in years. But I still live in a zoo. I tend to overlook that sometimes.

And we all do, I think. So if you are reading this in the midst of caring for your own little people and juggling school and work and baseball practice and therapy appointments and mortgage payments and PTA meetings and grocery budgets, this is me waving from my own version of that tale to say I see you and I feel you, and you are doing a great job. I am too, I think. Even among the madness.

 

gratitude, motherhood

on day 341

I’m hearing the word adulting all the time lately. We’ve somehow turned “adult” into a verb, it seems. Like other trendy words (literally, random, totally) it will have its moment in our modern lexicon and then fade. It’s starting to wear on me a bit, and it’s mildly annoying to hear my students using it all the time. But I see the value in having a word that captures the essence of all those practical, not-fun tasks we have to check off the list.

I’m writing this as I recover from periodontal surgery. Which was every bit as unpleasant as it sounds. But it was necessary, and though I could have perhaps put it off one more year, I decided I might as well bite the bullet and do it. Fork over the $700 (gulp) that I would much rather spend on something else or save. But sometimes life demands that you put on your big girl panties, as some people say, and tackle the unpleasant mess in front of you.

I have done a lot of that this year. Countless unpleasant tasks: meeting with attorneys, paying said attorney, selling a house and dealing with the hassle of showing it with 2 little kids and a full-time job, buying another house, changing my name on a million legal documents, trading in a car, dealing with insurance hassle when an inattentive driver hit the car I bought only 9 months earlier. … The list goes on and on and on and includes managing a thousand tiny details to make my life run smoothly on a daily basis. …. Kids, house, work, all of it….  At the risk of using that trendy word one too many times, I have been doing nothing but adulting for the vast majority of 2015. Frankly, I’m growing weary from it.

One of the biggest lessons of growing up – especially in America in our puritanically based, capitalistic, work harder to do better kind of society – is to learn that you don’t always get a prize. This is life. It can be full of stuff you don’t want to do, and you don’t check a bunch of things off the list and then never have to struggle again. You aren’t doing something wrong if you have difficult tasks in front of you. You don’t somehow arrive at a place where everything is magic and sunshine and roses. Perfection is an unattainable quest. The beauty lies in those tiny seconds in between, and it’s our job to find it among the mess.

I think I like it better here in real life anyway.

 

Family Pics 2015   Family Pics 2015

 

Family Pics 2015

We worked with Andrew Thomas Lee again for photos a couple of weeks ago. I’ve known him for years, and I have his images of my growing kids all over my walls. His work has grown a different direction recently, and he doesn’t do family photo sessions any longer. But he was kind enough to meet up with the kids and me at a green space in Atlanta a few days before Thanksgiving and get some images I will cherish for a long time.

Family Pics 2015

Family Pics 2015   Family Pics 2015

The kids were far from cooperative in the traditional sense. It took a lot of coaxing for Norah to get down from my arms, and at one point they ran off to play with someone’s dog on the other side of the park. By the end of the session, Norah’s hair bow was ripped out, and her shoes were off. Andrew is incredibly patient and such a talent though. He always manages to get some really authentic images that convey the real us.

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I live with these two kids everyday, and it’s sometimes a blur. But I look at these photos, and I can see it how I feel it in those still moments, those tiny spaces in between the chaos.

Family Pics 2015

 

Family Pics 2015

 

Family Pics 2015

Family Pics 2015

So here I am on the 341st day of 2015. My mouth is swollen. I’m a little fuzzy from post-surgery meds. My house is usually messy, and my plate is always too full. But there will never be another December 7, 2015 again.

I am really thankful to see 2015 make its way out as it’s been so full of hard things. But I can’t bring myself to see it as a terrible year. More than any other year in my life, it has been a year when I know I’m really alive. The pain and growth and change – all of it for the better. I see that now.

Jen Pastiloff posted something this morning urging readers to “Take a picture of your face. Remember that in ten years’ time, you will be amazed at how gorgeous you WERE. Be amazed NOW.” This is so true, not just about what we look like, but about all the other details in our lives that seem overwhelmingly difficult in the moment. Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees. So just for today, I’m seeing it.

I’m looking past all the challenges to see my beautiful little family – all three of us. To see the life we’ve created this year.

Family Pics 2015

I’m still standing. And the view from here is pretty spectacular. Bring it, 2016. I’m ready.

gratitude

keeping the pulse

Thanks so much for the kind comments, texts, and emails after my last post. It’s natural to become overwhelmed and feel buried beneath the weight of the everyday mundane sometimes, but we all forget to be kind to ourselves. Just hearing, “yes – me too” from a few of you plus the encouragement to take care of myself helps so much. Thank you.

This weekend picked me up a lot, and though it wasn’t restful with two kids and a busy schedule, it was a good reminder of what I’ve got. It’s more obvious to me in recent months that I am a part of a larger whole, a larger community, in a number of different ways. And a sense of belonging can make such a difference.

Friday afternoon brought Norah’s first soccer “practice” – or really soccer play time if we are being honest.  She mostly wanted to do this simply because her brother does it as well. It’s a 6-week session for 3-year-olds, and it’s cute to watch.

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They are both getting to these ages that are obviously still very young in the grand scheme of things, but feeling big to me in the immediate moment. We have real conversations and they are their own unique little people. Aside from that, I also see them developing their own relationship between the two of them as well. They know each other in a different way than I know them, if that makes sense. Their little world with their specific perceptions and observations.  Sometimes I just try and stay out of the way as they feel that out.

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When we got home, our neighbor was having an impromptu tea party that was decided the night before and casually mentioned in the driveway as the kids played. I’ve touched on this before, but I got so unbelievably lucky landing in this little spot. There’s no doubt in my mind that there was divine intervention guiding us here. Anytime I feel alone or overwhelmed in this parenting journey, I need to remember to open my back door or look out my window. It’s a village, and my kids feel the comfort of belonging here in the very best way.

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Sunday brought a baby shower for a college friend of mine, and a few of us got to catch up over lunch just before the party. Including baby boy yet to arrive, there are ELEVEN (How did that happen!?) kids among us, I realized. We each have our own stories of triumph and loss and disappointment and new beginnings, and it’s created such a safe space free of judgment. I can tell these girls anything — and I often do. We talk parenting and life and nonsense when we are together. And we laugh a lot.

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I ran across an Anne Lamott quote a week or two ago that I shared on Facebook that explains, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.” I’m gripping to this idea and knowing it has to be true, right? I keep doing the next right thing, and the next, and the next – as best I can with every move. And I know sometimes I miss the mark because I am human. But I’m trying hard.

I have no vision of exactly what my future will look like, but I assume if I keep stacking up all the good things around me, it has to work and all come together. Right now, I am waiting and watching and working, as Lamott says. The waiting is the hard part. It’s harder than the work. But sometimes I forget that I am not waiting for some blanket of grace and wholeness to cover my entire self all at once. It never works that way. It comes in tiny drops and little waves, and you have to keep your eyes open to see it.
UntitledRight now, I just have my finger on the pulse until the rest unfolds. I can hear that rhythm –  thump, thump, thump. Good things are there when my eyes are open to see them.  I’m still keeping up with my happiness jar and scribbling notes each night before I head up the stairs for bed. Sometimes I grab a handful and read what I’ve written. These tiny beautiful seconds I might have forgotten otherwise. How funny that they are what glimmers at the end of the day. August 23rd Clean house, rainstorm, midnight, in bed alone with a new book. // September 19th Grocery run with kids after dinner on a Saturday night. Both helpful, so sweet. Late summer sun perfect on them as they skip across the parking lot. // September 13 Kids back after a weekend away. Downstairs clean, soup in the crockpot, all of us home. // September 10 Jude drawing at the table while I wash dinner dishes. Quiet concentration, long eyelashes looking down at his paper. Last weeks of late daylight.

How strange that we all focus on the big things, those big moments of achievement. When really the pulse of my life – the moments that remind me I’m safe and alive – it is all held in the seconds we forget.

motherhood

back at it

Jude’s start date was last Thursday, and Norah’s was 4 days later on Monday. My faculty start date is 7 days after hers, and then my students come 7 days after that. All that to say that we are easing into it and getting used to a new routine around here. August is never my favorite month, so many transitions.

Norah was so excited to move up to the “big kid side” of her preschool. There are two hallways and two playgrounds, and this year marks her transition to the older one. She was feeling proud and ready on that first day.

Untitled It’s definitely going to be an adjustment for them to be at different schools for the first time ever. They miss each other by the end of the day
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It’s an adjustment for me, too. It will take a few weeks to get in the rhythm of a new year and our new normal. I think about Jude often during the day, worry that he’s doing alright and getting used to things. I see him a little differently. I’m more mindful of the million things that can happen during the school day and the million ways I hope he stays safe and happy.  (Like adding a sticker over the name of his school in the above photo because the internet suddenly even seems a little scarier, as does the entire world.)   The hard truth about parenting is that if you are doing it right, you are just preparing to let them go. Preparing them to meet the big world outside without your help eventually.

In ways the world seems smaller than it did a month ago though. We are meeting more faces in the neighborhood during our bus stop chats and getting to know other families better through the shared experience of watching little hands wave as they drive away each morning. Norah’s little class has familiar faces she adores and a teacher who has known her for two years already. And though I’m exhausted from my first week back after a summer of leisure, I’m happy to see my colleagues and tread my feet in the familiar setting of my university.

It’s so weird how the world can seem big and small at the same time. There’s a lot out there, but really we all exist mostly in our own little orbits. I’m looking after my own two in all the tiny and exhausting ways moms come to know well – packing lunches, waking them from sleep, listening to stories about teachers and friends, baths, bedtime reading, all the planning of the weekday lives that give us rhythm. There’s so much life in the mundane though. This is where it happens, I’m finding.

I’ve got big hopes for the academic year ahead. Growth in my kids, growth in me, and the combination of burrowing in the comfortable routines we come to know so well and stretching ourselves to new unfamiliar places.