Life and Randomness, single parenthood

refugee

As I type this (or try to), I’ve got a house full of kids playing hide and seek while the rain pours outside. I hear screaming and laughing, and I’m guessing I will throw a few words here and then leave it alone for hours and return to it later tonight when the kids are sleeping and the house is quiet. This is the way everything works in my life lately – half finished bits and pieces that eventually get done, but never on the timeline I prefer or expect.

There are five straight days of rain in the forecast here, but it held off for us yesterday and we took advantage – a soccer game followed by a visit to my granddad’s place followed by a trip to our favorite local pumpkin patch. I always over-plan fall Saturdays, but they come and go so quickly around here. I just want to be sure we get every last drop.
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What a week it was. The news is killing me – from Vegas to Capitol Hill to Tom Petty. One foot in front of the other is the only way I slog through it lately, and sometimes it looks like the entire world is on that same page with me, none of us really knowing how to do this.

I also ran across this dense and lengthy article online this week. A few points in it reminded me of what I touched on in my last post – that thing that happens to women when we pass 35 and inch closer to 40 and don’t see things the same way any longer. The author tells us, “I think of what my friend who grew up in Mexico once told me: ‘The 30s are the adolescence of your adulthood,’ she said, ‘and when you reach 50, it’s a restart—empieza de nuevo—a second chance.'”

I’m wondering if my empieza de nuevo might begin a little early. Sometimes it feels that way. Not that life isn’t still hard. It is. The same pressures the article emphasizes – from kids to career to finances to single life with no confirmed expiration date – are all true for me. But I don’t know; sometimes it feels like I just got used to facing stuff I didn’t want to face, and now I’m not scared of much of anything anymore. Life is hard. But I know I can handle it somehow.

I’ve been revisiting some Tom Petty this week – like most everyone else I know. I can’t help but think of my favorite of Petty’s songs, one that felt like an anthem for as long as I can remember, but especially in this season of my life. When I hear Everybody has to fight to be free. You don’t have to live like a refugee in his voice, it leaves a bigger mark than just reading those words or hearing them spoken. Art and music continually amaze me in how they capture what we can’t quite say in our everyday lives but always feel just the same. And this week, I’m reminded again with his passing that what we create outlasts us – whether it is art or music or words on the page.

Petty apparently wrote that song about music business pressures and recording label arguments in the 70’s. Whatever the case, I feel its defiant message in my own way and always have when I hear its melody. Life pushes us here and there, but we can refuse it, too. Refuse the feeling of being evicted from our own space and lay claim to what is ours anyhow. It can take a long, long time for some people to own up to every bit of their lives without fear and without that ever-present human reflex of distraction. But the closer I get to that place of honesty and accountability, the more fearless I become. I can think back to moments that I felt like a refugee in my own life, running from myself. But once you find that center to call home, you can stop running. It is the best gift my life has given me.

We wrapped up yesterday’s busy schedule with a showing of The Jungle Book with the university’s theatre program. I wasn’t so sure it was the best idea, to be honest. Sometimes things go awry when you ask kids to pay attention and be still after such a packed schedule all day long. But the minute we sat down in our seats and they saw the set, they were hooked. They waited excitedly and passed the fifteen minutes before curtain call playing I spy, taking blurry selfies on my phone, and counting the twinkles and lights on the stage.

 

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The minute the house lights went down, both kids were following closely and watching for the next character to make an entrance. We followed Mowgli through his journey from a crying baby to a man who is finally ready to leave the only place he’s ever known. The play closed with the main character crying into his own palms as he began his journey to another place and wondering what the salty water was falling from his eyes. The character of Baloo uttered those words (straight from Kipling’s version as well) Let them fall, Mowgli. They are only tears.

It’s only ever tears, right? Though it always feels like ours are unique and somehow harder to bear than anyone who has come before us. But really, we are mostly all the same. Every single hardship in our lives teaches us the same thing – that we don’t have to feel like a constant refugee, that we can learn to stop running and eventually come home to ourselves. And when we are really lucky, we find the empieza de nuevo on the other side.

 

 

 

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Books, single parenthood

bottomless reservoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gratitude, Life and Randomness

make it true

It’s December 26th, and sometimes I think this might be my favorite day of the year. I know a lot of people feel a Post-Christmas let down, but I love these days just after the release of the pressure of such a big holiday. Gifts are opened, schedules are still relaxed. We have no one to answer to, and everything feels a little looser and slower and more free in the very best way.

Christmas morning last year felt so strange to me, waking in a quiet house with just the three of us. This year felt as worn and real and true as an old sweater. Jude was the last of the two of them to finally close his eyes at about 9:45 after hours of cousin excitement on Christmas Eve. I double-checked how soundly they were sleeping, listening for the tell tale slowed pace of their own breathing. And then I ventured to the garage to uncover all I’d hidden and begin to set it up. I stuffed my own stocking with a book and some chocolates and some fun bath oils so they don’t think Santa left me out. I set up their separate little piles and a few shared gifts in the middle. I didn’t feel the twinge of strange and lonely that I wrote about last year. This house is mine and this life is mine, and the further I get on this path, the more I love it. I don’t feel any void or missing piece when I am inside these walls. Just love and just us, the only way we know to be.

On Christmas day, they woke early and ripped into the packages as quickly as possible. They played while I avoided the mess and started on breakfast.

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My grandmother’s absence is humming under it all this year. Christmas does feel a little different without her here to guide me through it. But I made her food and I hung a few of her ornaments, and though my eyes water sometimes with the sting of loss, I can feel her here in such a real way sometimes. It’s that unique knife of both joy and sadness that pierces in the deepest place. I think when you sink deeper into those scary shades of loss and grief, it opens you up to feel that love and presence in a way you otherwise can’t. Feel the grief pierce you, sit with it a minute, and then you can feel the flow of love and memory and nostalgia and presence that comes after that stillness. I breathe it in as deeply as I can, and I say thank you.

What a year this has been. The news broke last night about George Michael, and the list he’s joining is such a long one – David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Leon Russell, Harper Lee, Prince, Merle Haggard, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen. Art never ends though, does it? After the news broke on each of those, I heard others reminisce on lines or films or songs or concerts or occasions that always reside in the back of our memories somewhere and firmly attach to our own life experiences. It’s wild, isn’t it? The way someone’s influence rolls into the million things that creates who you are and shapes how you see the world.

I was a dance kid in the 90’s, so of course I have my soundtrack of George Michael songs and moments buried in my own field of nostalgia. “Freedom 90” was such an anthem of joy and fun when I was younger. In dance dressing rooms or teenage bedrooms covered in posters or in cars with the windows down when we wanted a little nostalgia. I still never tire of that song, but I hear those lines now with a frequency I didn’t before as 35 years of life and loss have softened and weathered me. Today the way I play the game is not the same, no way…All we have to do now is take these lies and make them true somehow.

Make it true, make it true, make it true. It’s the only way to freedom, and now I see that. The truth is in the center, and it always rises to the top eventually anyway. You cannot avoid it. But life is shaping me continually to help me get to that center with more ease than ever before, breaking the shell of whatever is on the outside and reaching the pocket of truth in the middle.

As 2016 is coming to a close, I feel so much gratitude for the life that’s lead me to this place and the ways I’ve learned to carve away the outside layers, reach what matters, and reflect that authenticity back to the faces of those I see everyday. As I look ahead to 2017, I think I can see that this is where it gets fun. This is where the reward comes. I have learned through life and loss how to create a life that is true, and now I get to watch it take shape in ways that are not always perfect, ever evolving, and always surprising. But they are all true and all real and all mine.

grief, single parenthood

fire and ashes

I graded my last few final exams today and submitted my end-of-semester details to the registrar. I have a few summary tasks here and there, but it is a full four weeks until I have to tend to daily thoughts of grading and planning and prepping for class. I have lots of big hopes to complete neglected house tasks and do fun things with the kids – but mostly I just want to exhale from the mess that was 2016.

Perspective changes everything, and I am working hard to remind myself of that. There were some crazy moments and dismal details about my past year but also other things that were brighter than what I could have ever imagined and so far beyond my predictions.

There are things that have taken shape in my life this year that, simply put, I just didn’t feel ready for yet. Big things like time alone and my grandmother’s passing and less monumental things like a house renovation I didn’t ask for and publications I didn’t expect to come along. Sometimes you just want to put in an order to God to tell him to hold on a minute. I can do that later, but I am not ready. Not yet.

But we are never totally ready, I guess. Not for anything worthwhile. I know this to be true when I look back on the steps of my life that have brought me the most joy and delivered the greatest promise. The best details are always the ones I didn’t feel ready for. Life is all improv, isn’t it? I think that’s the thing none of us like to admit. We are all doing the best we can with any given set of challenges, and that is why, I’m realizing, it is so important to know yourself in a true and solid sense. Know your own limits and boundaries and priorities rather than checking things off some outside list and measuring yourself in someone else’s view. We make these decisions all the time, and one tiny turn leads to another, and you find yourself living in a reality you never could have predicted. When you make those decisions from a space of solid understanding and refined priorities, the results unfold beautifully. But when you make those decisions from a place of shaky ground or reflected sense of self, you will look around soon enough to wonder why your life feels so itchy and wrong. I thought 2015’s job was to get rid of all the itchy pieces, but as it turns out, 2016 kept doing that too. Refining, refining, refining all the time. Leaving only what is real.

Our little elf “brought” a board game from the North Pole today. (It helps to spread out the gifts with a couple of Advent surprises, I’ve found.) And we played a few rounds of Life Junior tonight after dinner dishes were put away and bath time was over. It’s the latest incarnation of the Life game I can remember playing growing up. This version has fun stops on the board like ice cream parlors and picnics and days at the beach. But the one I used to play had you check life milestones off the list. Remember that? Pass the university and collect your degree, get a job, pass the chapel and place a spouse in your tiny plastic car and ride off to get a mortgage and a baby with the next dial of the spinner.

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It’s what we’re told. Check the boxes and things will be perfect. But it doesn’t really work that way.

Here I am, two years out. And I am so grateful mine all burned down. I don’t see the same game board at all anymore. I see one with windy twists and turns and unforeseen corners, but not a specified beginning and end. And what a relief it is to see life like that, how it is meant to be. Poet David Whyte has a line I love that explains, “Sometimes with the bones of the black sticks left when the fire has gone out, someone has written something new in the ashes of your life.” How incredible it is when all we feel is fire and all we see is ashes, but then you find that the bones are left and they are writing something new.

I’m feeling the new emerge here at the end of what was once again a year of pain and grief and joy and transformation and space and air and warmth and darkness and light. All those nights of thinking I’m not ready yet have finally left room for the echo that tells me I’m ready for whatever is next. Open and able and willing for the next pieces to fall where they are meant to be.

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.

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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.

divorce, Georgia Love, gratitude, single parenthood

like a gift

My friends and I have had this weekend on the calendar for a while as a chance to catch up and do something fun. In the past few days, we decided maybe a North Georgia winery would be a treat, and we made plans for a tasting followed by dinner followed by staying the night at my house.

I wish I could somehow reach back to that person who was so itchy and uncomfortable in a house by herself. That person who was so scared and intimidated at a new life alone and trying to fit in new boxes. There’s this thing no one tells you about single motherhood after a divorce which is that it absolutely sucks sometimes and you think you might not make it out alive, but then once you get past the transition, your solitude will feel like a gift. You wake up. You suddenly have time again to do anything you want – to catch up with friends, to try something new, to dream and plan for what’s next, to invest in yourself. When you sink your heels in instead of trying to fly as fast as you can to the next chapter, you see it’s actually such an incredible place to be.

I woke up yesterday to the usual sound of the dog whining to go out. I let him out, brewed coffee, and took it back to bed with me. I read a little (a book that is not typical for me but I loved it) and drank a second cup of coffee in the bed, cuddled under my covers and surrounded by the quiet of a house that is clean, for once. I traded funny texts with a friend for a while and eventually got out of bed to do a little yoga and get in the shower.

When friends showed up in the afternoon, we piled in the car for a drive to the mountains just north of where I live and indulged in a wine and chocolate tasting at a small winery.

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After we finished, we sat outside for a while with breezes that were more generous than the usual July heat and then eventually headed into the small town nearby for dinner and hours of conversation. We laughed a lot. We walked around in the blue summer dusk after dinner and then piled in the car to head back to my house.

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This morning, I made waffles with sliced strawberries and we talked about big and small things until well past noon before realizing what time it was. After they left, I headed to my neighborhood pool to sit alone in silence, swim a bit, and finish my book. This afternoon brought a few house tasks and a quiet dinner alone and now some time to write so that I don’t forget all these tiny pleasures.

I wanted to round out my summer by reading a book about goal setting and “manifestation” which is a term that understandably makes people roll their eyes. It’s not as easy as claiming you want something and having it delivered on your doorstep. But when I dusted off the journal I used at the Jen Pastiloff Atlanta workshop last year, I see this list of things that felt so incredibly far away for me that have become my daily reality now: writing for an audience of connected readers, deepening my friendships, feeling comfortable and authentic as a mom on my own with my two, a sense of home and community for us, comfort in my solitude.

These are things I lusted after a year ago as such far away goals, but when I look at my life as it is now, every one of these things is my daily reality. Every one.

I’m not done yet. I have more to do. I’m ready for the next chapter, and I think it’s going to be a big one. I wrote a list today in that same notebook, and I trust that these things are coming for me. Moving in the direction of joy is the answer, I think. When you feel that stir of curiosity, that voice that says yes this is it, you have to do it. There’s that famous Rumi passage that claims, “What you seek is seeking you,” and you can feel it push, push, pushing when you follow your own calling. It’s incredible to see the way your heart finds its purpose, bit by bit.

There are so many things I will never be because that is not who I am, and the older I get, the less afflicted I am by the list of things I am not and the more interested I become in the list of things I am. There are so many dreams I’m fulfilling that only unfolded after a long, meandering path that no human could ever have orchestrated. If I made a list of all the seemingly random occurrences that led to my life unfolding in the way it has, I would never stop writing. One tiny thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another. And eventually you arrive at a destination that feels like home. I had no idea this season would feel like such a gift.

 

gratitude, Life and Randomness, single parenthood, writing

April Insanity

Weeks are passing by incredibly quickly lately. Work is on overdrive; I can’t even begin to explain how insane April feels for those of us in higher ed. We got home Friday afternoon, and my kids ran straight outside to play with neighbors and enjoy the late daylight. The season is a welcome change, but I’m finding that my energy level doesn’t match theirs lately. I feel tired and depleted while they are gaining momentum with the growing sunshine.

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Both of them are away for a few days at the end of this week, and I will miss them and feel on-edge about their being states away, but I need the time badly. The ability to work late without the afternoon shuffle and exhale a minute when I get home instead of the usual routine of packing lunches, making dinner, cleaning up, bathing kids, and bedtime cuddles. Thinking about their absence brings that old familiar tension of relishing the time alone but also dreading the distance and heavy silence in a house that is usually full and busy.

Life has been so busy lately that I haven’t been catching up with friends in the way I’d like. I squeezed in a birthday celebration three weeks after my actual birthday with friends who are worn and comfortable in the best way. There are six kids among us which means it almost takes an act of congress to convene us together these days, but we never forget to celebrate each other’s milestones and successes, something I’m incredibly grateful for.

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People are not always good at recognizing someone else’s achievements, and I think that’s rooted in the idea of comparison and scarcity. If you land a good job, that means there is not enough for me. If you move into a gorgeous new home, mine is somehow less. If you are finding happiness in a new relationship, that somehow means I’m eternally single. I’m grateful that, as I’ve aged and refined my priorities a bit, the friendships that remain for me are those where we can celebrate one another’s successes and be honest and solid in the face of each other’s challenges as well.

I wrote about this a bit last summer when I talked about compassion and bodhichitta, but the events of my past few years have really worked as a filter to mine the gems of true friendship in my life. It’s been interesting to see that the same women who never forgot me and offered real support when I was in the trenches of the hardest moments are also the women who find genuine joy in the good things as my life mends itself on the other side. It makes me see my own self in a different light and strive to offer the same to those I love.

Our conversations have changed a lot in the last 9 years – from work troubles to questions about pregnancy to frustrations about nursing babies and lack of sleep and now to kindergarten curriculum and that strange aching gratitude you feel watching kids grow independent. You never know what life holds, but it is such a relief to me that though I don’t have that box to check anymore — no legally recognized next-of-kin, the absence of “my person” as I’ve spoken of it before — I have a handful of others who would step up in a heartbeat for any little thing. Or any big thing. I feel lucky that I got to rest in that for a bit this week with a marathon dinner and endless conversation.

There are so many other things I want to write about, ways that life is changing and opening up for me. I listen to ideas float in and out all day while I’m engaged in other tasks. But life intervenes, as it does for all of us. I’m hoping to commit more time to writing when the rush of April is done.

I have been writing a bit here and there though. An essay about motherhood and forgiveness and how those two intersect everyday is up over at the March issue of Mothers Always Write. And my latest on Huffington Post was just published this week as well. Read and share if you’d like. More soon.

Happy April, friends. Spring is here.