divorce

the time it takes to paint the canvas

A few days ago, my son came home with a paper invitation in his backpack that explained his artwork was featured in an exhibition at a local church’s annual Festival of the Arts. He’s in first grade, so I’ve only had a school-aged kid for a couple of years, but I have already figured out that it’s really impossible to tell with some of these functions if they are a big deal, so to speak, or if you will rearrange your schedule and drag kids out for something they would’ve hardly missed. There was no teacher email or mention on this one either, but I stuck it on the fridge and figured we’d go.

Wednesday rolled around, and it’s speech therapy after school which makes for a long day anyhow. Plus it’s the end of the month when my finances are always extraordinarily tight, so I didn’t want to splurge on dinner out when we had food at home. We race home, I make a quick dinner, and we turn around to race back out in the same general direction we came from. My mom was at my house the day before and saw the invitation on my fridge, so my parents wanted to check it out and were a little ahead of us and already there. She texted that there were A LOT of people there, and she wasn’t kidding. We arrived and took a while to find parking and shuffled in a line with everyone else to see the student exhibitions with work from 21 different elementary schools in the county – plus middle and high schools. There was visual art and ceramics and fashion design and sculpture. It was pretty amazing. And amazingly crowded. But we did spot his work along the wall with the others.

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At 6:45, they shuffled everyone upstairs to the sanctuary to list award winners, and they read a long list of 20 Honorable Mentions for elementary schools. They didn’t say his name, which did not really surprise me given the volume of art and participants, and he seemed a little disappointed, so I was whispering that it was an honor just to be included and don’t forget that your teacher chose only you for this event. Only you.

Then they listed winners for elementary school, and when they said his name for third place, both he and I perked up in surprise! I have his art cluttering my fridge and my coffee table and the back seat of my car and nearly every surface in my house, but that is mostly just because he’s my own kid and he loves to draw and paint and create. I never compare his work with others. It is such a fun experience and a rare moment of genuine surprise when you hear your kid’s name called and see them recognized in such a big way. He was competing alongside kids years older than him from 21 area schools, and it was such a special moment of pride for him. I’ll never forget the look on his face.

I emailed his art teacher early the next morning to say thank you, and she explained that she “knew it was special when she saw him painting it.” And Jude’s only mention of it weeks ago was to tell me that they were studying Van Gogh, that he kept working, working, working on it when all the other kids were done, and that his art teacher let him work slowly and take a long time to finish. (How seldom we do that, right? Such a reminder to have patience and let the canvas take shape — which is one big metaphor for raising kids and for watching your own life take shape, too.)

I’ve written a lot lately about being exhausted and pulled to my limits, which I am. The long days are the longest. But the good days feel like such a welcome break in the monotony sometimes. Wednesday was a really great moment.

As any divorced parent will tell you though, these moments do not ever look like what you’d once expected them to.

Jude’s dad was on the other side of the country, so neither of us told him when the initial invitation came home as there was no point. As we were walking out the door though, I think it dawned on Jude that this was a big deal and dad wasn’t able to see it, so he sent a hurried text message to his step-mom detailing the time and location. She dropped whatever it was that she was doing and hurried there, baby in tow.

I let him contact her without asking otherwise. We slid over in the crowded pew for her to have a place to sit. My family flagged her down in the crowded sanctuary so that she would feel less alone. We waved her off at the end of the event so that she felt included. I say all of this not to say look at me, I am amazing. I am not. We are not best friends. I say this to say that after months and months of practice, it really is not impossible to look at someone like a human being.

I wrote a little last fall about seeing her in a different light and feeling commonality and even sympathy for her in many ways. I do. And yet the hardest part of this is that, though she and I have stepped up to drop the bitterness and rise to a higher calling for the sake of my kids, there are bumps in the road beyond the two of us. My parents and I will sit down at a soccer game with folding chairs near my ex so that kids see us as one unit, and my children’s father and his own parents will stand up, fold theirs, and move to the other side of the field to make it clear we cannot do that. I will greet with a hello and get nothing back. When we are passing bags of clothing back and forth between households, I reach my hand out, but it gets placed on the ground at my feet though I am standing 3 feet in front of him and an outstretched arm would be the most respectful and least awkward way to do this. There is so much more I could say, but I will end there.

I worry a lot about how my kids absorb this as they are growing old enough to watch and observe with their own thoughts. I don’t write a lot about that dynamic here because it feels weird to do so, and I always write with the intention of revealing my own heart, but sometimes someone else’s actions and the effects on your own heart are so tangled that you cannot unwind them to talk about one without the other. I know so many readers here are coming from the same story, and I’m being transparent for the both of us. If you are in it too, I see you and I feel your sadness. If you have emerged to the other side where you are treated like a real person and a human being and not a ghost, please tell me how to get there.

Sometimes I think it’s just that women are capable of seeing complexity in a situation and rolling with it in all its gray areas so that we can put or children first. Sometimes I think that it’s because I took the time to clean up my own heart after my divorce so I can make eye contact and say hello and sit in a chair near them and it doesn’t hurt like it did at first. I know how it was in the beginning when I couldn’t look at them without tears in my eyes, but I don’t feel that anymore now that we are 2 years out and I did the hard work of cleaning up the mess inside my own self with time and reflection. If you cannot make eye contact or pass a clothing bag with an outstretched hand or answer a hello, is your heart anything but messy? Sometimes I wonder if I can be my own self without bitterness and shame and anger because I was not the one who stepped out of the marriage before it imploded. Is it actually easier in the long run when you are the one left behind in the beginning? That seems so ridiculous and counterintuitive to say, but there are ways I think it is true. I have nothing to hide or explain.

And in a literal sense, I know if I never once wrote the first word here, it would be very different. I have laid out all my fears and my sadness and my hurt and my confusion in this space, and it has only ever been my own perspective and my own heart. I have always said that. Many, many times, I have been told to be quiet and stop writing anyway, and yet I never did. This space has evolved to something else entirely where I have written about a million more things but always with the simple intention to tell the truth and lay it all bare as I feel it inside – whatever it may be.

I am revisiting some Marianne Williamson this week, and she says, “Women are still in emotional bondage as long as we need to worry that we might have to make a choice between being heard and being loved.” That passage slays me because I can glance back at every moment in my life when I felt that being heard did not equal being loved and feel how painfully that suffocates you. I think I finally realized that love is not real love anyway if it comes with the condition that you cannot be heard, so here I am still writing. And here I am still loving – even those who are hard to love. I can know that someone made choices I would not have made and maybe still has some mess left to work through, but my only ability to change anything at all is to be responsible for my own actions – whether that means making room on a church pew, recognizing my son’s desire to reach out for love from his other household, or looking someone in the eye to say hello. I think I will have to wait on the hand of time to soften all the rest, and if it doesn’t, it is still softening me. Maybe that is the other side I am meant to arrive at — not some sitcom reality where divorced parents have dinner together with their kids.

It’s our small daily choices that paint the whole canvas in the end. And though my kids don’t fully understand everything now when they see someone move a folding chair at a soccer game or decline a birthday party invitation or leave a hello hanging in the air between us without an answer, I know that they will look back and see that if nothing else, mom stayed open and soft and honest and real.

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single parenthood

invisible notes, recorded

My kids slept until past 8am these past three days, which is beyond rare.  Even in the slow pace of summer, that doesn’t happen much. They both made their way to my bed in the middle of the night last night, so I woke up under a pile of heavy heads and limbs with my own back a little sore. The outright neediness of baby and toddler days has passed, but it sometimes doesn’t feel all that different now. Still always someone or something needing something from me. Kids or the dog or the job or the house. Or my own self which is the last thing I have time for in the frenzy of regular life.

Neighbor kids were over two weeks ago playing hide and seek, and my living room curtain rod was a casualty. One bracket came down, and the wall left behind seems a little crumbly where it was drilled in before, so it’s not a straight-forward fix. Add to that my apprehension on using a drill, and it has been abandoned for the past two weeks, along with a large box of self-assemble furniture sitting in my dining room for a full month now and at least three large piles of clean laundry upstairs that need to be put away.

Do you ever feel like the piles of unattended tasks in your life somehow take up real estate in your brain so that there is no fresh air there to move around? I prioritize what is first, squeeze by and turn sideways among all the lists and piles, glance the other way, and do all I can to function despite the unfinished mess. But sometimes it just reaches a point where I cannot do it anymore. As my students say, I can’t. [As one complete sentence.] I just can’t. I can’t do much of anything. It takes a lot for my brain to reach overflow status, but when it does, I’m done.

I think motherhood is a challenge because so much of our work is invisible to everyone else — the meals that appear magically on the table 3 times a day and the laundry that is cleaned and the school schedules that are recorded and the million other minutiae that are pulled together somehow. But when you are the only adult in the house, you can feel even more invisible somehow. Invisible to your own self, too. Treading water all the time.

Last week I tried and failed to set up my cable television myself. Then last night, I tried and failed to put the furniture together myself.  Then I drove 2 kids at 8pm to purchase heavy duty Command strips and pray they’d hold up my curtains because I had also tried and failed to drill the bracket back in the wall, and there is only so long I can stare at the fallen curtain before losing my mind when what sits in front of it is a cable box that doesn’t work and what sits above it is a water stain that I should have attended to weeks ago but haven’t.

I had a ten minute span of time this morning as I finished my coffee where I thought my curtain solution would hold and felt mildly successful, but then it fell. And I consequently cried in the shower for a good 30 minutes while hiding from my kids. The little things feel big sometimes. And I think everyone always says just ask for help, but I do that in nice or subtle ways that no one hears. Or maybe they do, and they have their own agenda to tend to which is entirely understandable.  But whatever the reason, it just sinks in sometimes in that particularly heavy way: you are alone. entirely. on your own. man up. figure it out.

I’m so exhausted from figuring it out. I feel like I am out of creative solutions, and I’m spent. Done.

The truth is I’m not done, of course. The truth is that I have felt this way a million times before, and I just keep moving and the wheels keep turning, and it works out. Every time and always. Frederick Buchner says, “Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” Grace always comes along last. Just a little last bit, just a little more room to breathe deeply and say thanks for what is here and what shows up for me. Then tomorrow is new.

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We went to the park this morning. I was knee-deep in laundry and wanting to finish it, but a neighbor knocked at our door with a last minute invite, and both kids started jumping. So I dropped the laundry [again] and said let’s go. Jude took a notebook for his “field notes” and numbered his observations with his first grade penciled lettering. Seeing a blue bird, rubbing two sticks together to try and make fire, watching “a butterfly in spring,” and seeing a large ant.

He takes so much solace in these observations, like our time outside only really happens if these things are recorded for him to see and feel. I get that. Writing does that for all of us, I think. In so many ways, that is exactly what I do here – write my observations and experiences as they happen, not always trying to do anything with them, just writing them here to see them staring back at me and know that they aren’t invisible.

Sometimes I do that to reflect on what’s good so I can say yes, remember when? And sometimes I do that with the hard stuff, too. So when it gets better, or when it comes around again, I can say see, hear that? You’ve been there before and you did it. Just hang on; grace always comes last.

Life and Randomness, single parenthood, writing

the dirt in the corner

I turned 36 this week. I am not sure how that happened. I was just 33, I thought. And before that just 29. Then 27. I am doing that thing where I double-check my age by glancing at the calendar and then doing the math from the year I was born. I can remember hearing adults do that when I was a kid and thinking, how do you not remember your age? And here I am. But somehow the second digit gets fuzzy when the years fly by quickly. I am 30-something and nearing closer to 40, I suppose. That is specific enough.

I went to a funeral the week before. My great aunt passed, and the service was in the same chapel where I sat almost 9 months ago to sing hymns at my grandmother’s goodbye. Time is a weird thing, sometimes dragging slower than we thought possible and sometimes rushing and sometimes doing something in between that still somehow surprises you.

As I sat in my seat adjacent to the wall, I could lean a little as I listened to the eulogies and the pastor’s message. He spoke a bit about her last years and how difficult they were and what a testament her husband’s love and attention was. I think he quoted I Peter 4:12 which reminds us “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Hardship somehow feels like a surprise though, doesn’t it? Is that an American thing? A modern thing? A middle class thing? A human thing? I don’t know. But even now, after all the lessons I have learned, I am still sometimes surprised and exhausted at mishaps and trials of any kind.

A couple weeks ago I was off on midterm break while public schools were still in session. Jude woke first that morning and headed downstairs before I did. As I fumbled out of bed to make coffee, he came racing back up the stairs, Mama! There’s water dripping!

After what happened 5 months ago, I am ridiculously paranoid and react with almost PTSD panic about any water issues, so my heart jumped and I ran downstairs in emergency mode. As it turns out, the one bathroom that was not touched in the renovation had a leaking supply line. It was only a trickle, but it left a water spot below and a slow drip in the living room. I turned the water off at the main valve in the house, then at the street, then calmly called my plumber.

He came later that day and replaced it quickly and inexpensively, but in that process, we discovered that my hot water heater was slowly leaking a bit and on its last leg – which probably explains why my bath could only get half full these days before turning lukewarm. I took a deep breath. Here we are again. Two days later, I was $1700 poorer but have hot water and new valves throughout the house in every single sink and toilet.

It’s just life. This house is almost 12 years old, and it’s simply time for some wear and tear to be replaced. But it’s so easy to get frustrated with what Peter called the fiery ordeals, the flies in the ointment, the salt on the melon. Anne Lamott writes in Small Victories that “Life can just be so lifey. Life on life’s terms, which I don’t remember agreeing to.” Amen to that. Me either.

But at 36, I’m learning to change my expectations a bit. Leaks will happen, and funerals will too. Hot water heaters will break. Siblings will squabble. Laundry piles will grow more quickly than you want them to while bank accounts grow more slowly.

But we still have sunsets, thank God for that. And chocolate cake and music. And snoring dogs, laughing children, hot coffee, soft sheets. And occasionally I have mornings like this one where I am alone in a quiet house with a minute to be here without demands and expectations. I read Elizabeth Alexander’s “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” with my students this week. She claims “Poetry is what you find in the dirt in the corner, overhear on the bus, God in the details, the only way to get from here to there.” I think if we are being honest with ourselves, all of life might be what you find in the dirt in the corner. Those little bits of time are the only way I ever get from here to there, the only way I put it all together.

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I have so many hopes for my 36th year. Big ones, like a book proposal. But lately, I just keep swimming as best I can, and these goals are pushed to the back burner. I woke up at 5:15am on my birthday and set my intention with a yoga session before I began my day. I’ve got to carve time somehow to sift the treasure from the dirt. Books don’t write themselves.

Spring is here in Georgia. Ripe strawberries are making their way to grocery stores, and birds chirp at us in the rush of our morning routines. I’m trying hard to squeeze out every ounce of energy spring offers me. God is in the details, no doubt. And life is in the tiny pieces of time we carve away from the bigger picture.

Jude, Life and Randomness

scribble a note and hope

I packed my lunch this morning and placed it on the counter as I poured my coffee. And apparently I left it there as I drove away, my mind galloping elsewhere from one idea to another. I cannot seem to focus lately.

Field trip forms and speech therapy appointments. Wash the ballet tights before Tuesday, and sign the reading log on the first of the month. Make time for grading the essays that come in next week, and respond to that email that’s been sitting too long in the inbox. Make dinner, wash the dishes. Listen to the news, turn it off. Read about Washington, feel sick, turn it off.

I’m getting good at compartmentalizing, and I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. A coping mechanism perhaps. Come Friday evening, I turn it all off. I push it away beneath where it can bother me, and I try to recenter in the best ways I know how. But sometimes it’s hard to turn off the frenzy.

It’s weird how life can hand you good and bad at the same time, isn’t it? I have these moments that are so perfect and so sweet in their passing speed, never to happen again in that same way. But I have a thousand worries at the same time. And it used to feel heavy enough when those worries were only what was in my own home, but the weight of national politics is throwing me off center in a way I didn’t expect.

One thing at a time. Inhale, exhale. Repeat.

Jude lost a tooth at school today. It fell out as he was eating lunch, and then it fell on the ground later and he couldn’t find it. This happened last year, too. Last time his teacher wrote a tiny note on a Post-It explaining to the Tooth Fairy what happened. Today, as we exited the school parking lot and he explained it to me, he insisted the Tooth Fairy surely won’t believe him since it’s now happened twice. I assured him she likely would, and when we got home, he found the school nurse’s hall pass in his backpack explaining he was in the clinic at precisely 11:35am to deal with a lost tooth.

He scribbled on the back of the nurse’s note with his first grade spelling, “Tooth Fairy – I lost my tooth dubble times. Sorry. But this note prooves it.” He slipped it under his pillow tonight, hoping for the best. He’s sleeping soundly as  I type this, and I just tiptoed in his room to exchange the note for a few dollar bills.

Lately, that’s all I feel like I can do, too. Scribble a note and hope it will work. Say a prayer and hope for the best. Smile at a stranger. Help a student with a little extra understanding and patience. Play with my kids and ignore the growing clutter on the kitchen counter. Write when I can, which is not as often as I’d like these days. Try something new every now and then. Quit waiting on the other shoe to drop and just enjoy what’s here now, in spite of all my questions.

An Instagram account I follow was commenting on activism today and reminded us that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. That’s true about all of it, isn’t it? I forget that a lot and try to sprint to whatever goal is within view, but I need to pace myself. This month, I’m giving into the ebb and flow of whatever is here right now. Sometimes that means I’m frenzied and barely hanging on in the busy pace of what has to be done. But sometimes I just sink in to find a comfortable spot to focus on and forget the rest, just for a minute. The good and the bad, the easy and the hard. It all comes eventually anyhow. Here and now is what I know.

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.

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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.

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.

gratitude, motherhood

wait it out, find the shine

Continuing my funk from earlier this week with my distaste of the stubborn Georgia heat, I’ve also ended up with some kind of allergy to the fall blooms or maybe the latest incarnation of my kids’ school germs. Whatever the cause, my throat is gravely and my eyes sting.

I rallied for Jude’s soccer game today, but other than that, I’m indulging in a lot of self care this weekend. I dropped in for a yoga nidra workshop Friday night at a local studio, which was essentially a long guided meditation. I found some homemade chicken soup hiding in the very back of the freezer today for lunch. I walked in the garden with my grandad pinching off early shoots of fall greens and fresh peas. I’ve listened to podcasts and read in a quiet house. And now I am writing a bit before an early bedtime.

I caught the latest On Being this afternoon and was completely hooked on a stunning interview with Ruby Sales, a prominent player in the early civil rights movement who still works as the Director of the Spirit House Project.

Being white and growing up at the end of the twentieth century, my life has little in common with the life of Ruby Sales in most noticeable ways, but she spoke so much about faith and optimism and anger and hard work and where those things intersect. It is in some surprising ways actually very reflective of the conflict I feel present for me now, the outer pressures I wrote about earlier this week when your own inner landscape doesn’t always match what you see in front of you.

She explained that she “grew up in the heart of Southern apartheid, and I’m not saying that I didn’t realize that it existed, but our parents were spiritual geniuses who created a world and a language where the notion that I was inadequate or inferior or less than never touched my consciousness.” Can you imagine? There are countless examples throughout history of these families who somehow created a new world in their own home. A place that was a respite from the pressures and opinions of the outside world and inspired social change that influenced generations. How do you do that?  How do you achieve that spiritual genius she speaks of and create a reality for your family that is so counter to the outside world?

She explained something that became a truth for her, an unarguable mantra. One I could use more of in my own life: “I can’t control the world, but I can control myself. And you are not going to coerce me into hating.”

Remember that this world she speaks of was a world where violence was an everyday act. Spiteful words and actions everywhere. Hate marches and constant messages of your own inferiority and yet, as she says when referencing an old spiritual, “That’s the meaning of the song ‘I love everybody. I love everybody in my heart. And you can’t make me hate you. And you can’t make me hate you in my heart.’ Now, that’s very powerful because you have to understand that this spiritual — it was an acknowledgement not only that we control our internal lives, but also it contested the notion of the omnipotent power of the white enslaver. That was very revolutionary and very profound.”

Revolutionary indeed. This is common sense, I know. But it is not in our human nature to respond to discomfort or conflict by just not participating in it. We always want to push back, but no conflict can exist if you choose not to participate in it. For whatever reason, today is the day my ears needed to hear this, and it turned a light on for me in a big way.

I can learn to use this with people around me who expect me to respond to resistance or hate with more of the same. I can use this in my own practice of self-compassion by not resisting my own growth, even when it is ugly. I can use this with my own kids by not resisting their own ways when it’s often just an expression of childhood and not purposeful rebellion anyway. We control our internal lives for sure. But we don’t control much else.

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Ruby Sales closed the interview with some reflections on lessons learned, and she said, “I don’t like aging a whole lot. The ankles, the knees hurt, et cetera. But one of the things I do like is that from where I sit on my front porch, I have hindsight, insight, and foresight. And that’s a beautiful gift of aging.” Ain’t that the truth? I am half her age and just beginning to see it unfold. Hindsight and insight are coming easily now, foresight is yet to come. But one thing I am learning is that love and truth always prevail. Always. Sometimes I just have to wait them out, I guess. Sit through the funk and wait out the discomfort. Try to find some shine in the meantime.

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Refusing to participate in hate or resistance and looking for the shine is actually a revolutionary act, I’m finding. People don’t know what to do with you when you don’t buy into the conflict or the constant messages of inadequacy that we hear everywhere. This is me, same as I ever was but different. I don’t believe in “happy” as a goal or a real state of being. I believe in surrender and honesty and all the things that come with that. I believe in grief and pain and having to wait it out until a new season arrives.

The hardest part about parenting is that you really don’t know if you are doing a good job or not until your job is all over, and then it’s too late. I want to create that world of spiritual genius for my own kids, that space in our hearts and homes where we don’t recognize the world’s messages of inadequacy or its false promises of happiness in all the predictable places. That’s not where joy lives anyway.

In “A Brief for the Defense,” John Gilbert writes , “Sorrow everywhere…But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants. Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women at the fountain are laughing together between the suffering they have known and the awfulness in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody in the village is very sick. … We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. …  We must admit there will be music despite everything.”

Despite everything, I hear the music sometimes. It’s faint but it’s there.