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.

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divorce, single parenthood

the right kind of loneliness

I’m on day 5 without the kids – something that only ever happens in the summer – and so far I’ve taken a yoga class, cleaned out my garage, completed two books, watched a full season of something on Netflix, hiked a nearby spot, cleaned out the kids’ closets, made a few trips to Goodwill, begun my book proposal, and accepted a freelance writing job. Today I have another yoga class and a lunch with friends on the books.

I guess as it turns out, I am not all that good at relaxing. I say I’m fine with being alone, but as always, the body keeps the score, and I’m up early every morning with more energy than I should have — all that end-of-the-school-year exhaustion hardly palpable this week as I suddenly have the fire to complete every task under the sun.

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I know I’m tired and craving stillness on the inside, but you have to carve away the layers to get to that spot, or I do anyway. I hope to get faster about that eventually, but for now, I can remember that this is how it works for me always. I squirm a lot and try to move to the right or the left instead of just sitting with it. I self-medicate with busyness. And then the buzz slows its pace little by little until the stillness finally arrives.

I can remember what this was like the first summer I was on my own, and it’s not nearly that bad anymore. But I’m surprised to feel that anxious fire still there a bit even now, two years later. You think you have mastered something and moved beyond it, but there it is again. I’m remembering what Pema Chodron wrote in When Things Fall Apart, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter…”

I think part of this, if I’m being honest with myself, is that since I’m seeing someone, it’s been months since I’ve had an extended time of being alone like this. He’s on a big trip across the country with family this week though, so I have to sit with it awhile again. Timing is never accidental, and I think I needed this. (We all need it from time to time.) There is no barometer that can allow you to check in with yourself except stillness and solitude. It’s also Pema Chodron who reminds me, “Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.”

This is the ultimate test of joy and contentment, I think. Can you sit with yourself without distraction for any period of time? Strip the roles away piece by piece – mother, wife, girlfriend, employee, friend, sister – whatever they may be. Strip it all away and stay awhile with the person underneath all of that. Sitting in the loneliness, the right kind of loneliness, for a minute, an hour, a day. It shines a light on all the places where you are holding something too tightly.

I can remember writing something in the early days when my life exploded, and I said I knew that there are women who grow stronger and wiser from life’s heartache but that I didn’t know how they got there. Now I know though. It’s that time alone to feel the pulse of what you need and want and what life is teaching you. That’s how you get there.

I’m recognizing the value of it all and trying to be grateful for it, even in the itchy silence of an empty house. Stillness and solitude always show me what I need to know.

motherhood, single parenthood

wide open

It’s been 16 days since I last wrote something, so here I am with no agenda but with a determination to mark this month somehow so that I don’t forget it happened. It’s still dark out, and I’m typing as fast as I can before the kids wake up. The only way to get it done.

I proctored my final exams yesterday morning – which means I am only about 240 paragraphs of grading + one long assessment report away from my summer break. My composition exams are always at 7:30am (university schedule dictates that, not me) which means I leave the house at about 6:30, Norah in tow. It takes a lot of coordinating. My mom always stays with us the night before to get Jude off to school since his bus comes a full hour after I leave. Then we drive, I check Norah in, I proctor, I grade, and I scribble our other spring priorities on the planner — dentist appointments this Friday, birthday party coming up, pediatrician visit, graduation ceremonies, and the list goes on.

Spring is crazy always, but the older they get, the busier life feels. And I wish there was a way to change that, but it mostly just comes with the territory. We have all these lofty ideals of what parenting will look like, and then we have the reality. These two pictures are generally not all that similar to one another.

I spent Friday night at a international festival nearby with countless food trucks and vendors and entertainers from all over the world.  After doing these sorts of things alone for the past 2 years, we finally have someone tagging along with us every now and then, and thankfully he has what seems like endless patience. There were a few sibling spats, some occasional long lines, and a little whining. But there were also some memorable moments and big smiles and full bellies. Jude climbed a rock wall and has watched my video footage repeatedly to relive his fearless pride. Norah charmed a few high school football players who were selling bottled water, and she lugged the bottle home and to bed with her that night. After one, long, exaggerated sip, she explained, “That ‘festibal’ was so fun, mama. This water is so good. I think it’s from China.” (This coming from the child who requested a hot dog over dozens of delicious international options.) Their imaginations are wild and unleashed these days, but their excitement and pride is, too.
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I decided to forego the occasional summer camps that I usually use to break up the routine. Instead, I figure we can do things together nearby and maybe squeeze in a road trip or two and a weekend away.  They have private swim lessons lined up in May so that I can finally exhale at the pool every now and then. (They are both so close to swimming efficiently, but one mom and two kids is not getting it done as securely as I’d like.) I find these sorts of things bouncing in my head a lot — that they cannot swim yet and that we still use training wheels and that my first grader can’t tie his own shoes. There are so many life skills I know they need, and it stresses me to remember that I am the one who needs to teach them when truthfully laundry + homework routines + mealtimes and bedtimes take up every ounce of time and energy lately. Do other moms think about this sort of thing? Envisioning some future where your adult child cannot ride a bike and knowing that it is all your fault for not teaching him?

I’m in a weird place in my own life and in the life of my little family. I’m used to being independent and managing a household and all of the things necessary to get us from day to day. But then sometimes I realize with such weight and truth that I really could use an extra set of hands. I think families come in all shapes and sizes, and we are happy and feel complete in our comfort and routines. But I also think there is a reason it takes two people to create human beings – because it takes two people to tend to their growth if you intend to have any energy or sanity left. I try to do the job of two, and sometimes I am pretty good at it. But sometimes I fall short. I’m human, and I have a full-time job outside of this house, and there are only 24 hours in a day.

I tend to look at motherhood like project management these days, employing the village where I can to get us where we need to be. Delegating what I need to – like swimming instruction – and playing on my own strengths, trying hard not to worry about the rest and knowing that it will come together when it does and they will be okay. Eventually, we all will be. I give them a lot of wide open time to play and explore on their own, and even though that is mostly out of necessity for me, I tell myself that has its advantages, too.

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Among all the chaos and the sibling fights and the demands of the calendar, I do see so much independence growing among the both of them this year. I can see that kids need space and autonomy to grow and find their own way. I’m praying the goals and milestones will happen somehow in this stretch of time.

When I think back to my own life, I see how many times I have met goals this way, too. I chug along in the regular mess of life and look back to see I ‘ve actually learned something and crossed that big item off the list and somehow arrived at the goal along my own path. I’m hoping it’s the same for them – that they will look back and see the safety net of my own arms and our food on the table and our home and routines — and that wide open space of childhood everywhere else.

gratitude, Uncategorized

the light that lives

It is 10:26 pm on Tuesday night before Thanksgiving. I am alone in my house, and my eyelids are heavy, and it feels so good. I am allowed to say that, right? The best kept secret of single motherhood is that once you break through the painful, awkward first few times of being alone, it is such a welcome respite. In my case, it is only 4 days a month and a few extra days on holidays, and I crave it if I’m being honest. Just a little break. I need this solace so badly when it comes around, especially right now.

I attended a memorial service two days ago hosted by the hospice organization that cared for my grandmother. It was a sweet and thoughtful way to recognize those lost this year, and it is always comforting to be in a room surrounded by those on a similar walk with you. Grief is so particular for each of us, yet so universal for all of us.

As I drove home, it struck me how crazy the second half of 2016 has been for me. I can even see it looking back at this journal as well. My grandmother died. The world spun in that way it does in the weeks afterwards. Then schedules picked up and the whirlwind began. My ceiling fell in. The election happened. And here we are on November 22nd wondering how we got here and where the past 5 months of my life went.

We ate so much frozen pizza this month and went a full 9 days with my refrigerator in my living room as the kitchen was renovated. North Georgia wildfires have been raging for weeks, and on some days, there is a hazy smoke in the air here at home that leaves everything hazy and smelling of ash. It’s been such a surreal time.

I should have been grounding myself in yoga and meditation and prayer, but instead I have been soldiering on with one foot in front of the other and using the 15 minutes of story time at night to collapse into bed and  watch their little faces when they talk and sniff their heads as they fall asleep, and I still insist that is the best anti-anxiety medication I know.

I am here now. And I am surviving. And that is all I can do right now. Treading water with my head barely above the waves.

Life happens like this, doesn’t it? Or that is what I hear. A blog reader weeks ago passed along a Zora Neale Hurston quote that insists that “there are years that ask questions and years that answer,” and I am holding my faith there. This is a questioning year. So many questions.

I have so few answers, but I have a lot of gratitude. For the influence of my grandmother, the undying love that still hums in my chest. I’m grateful for it even as it illuminates the grief that results from what is left of love. Gratitude for these two kids who remind me of what is important every day and serve as that fixed center point and a counter to all my anxiety as they bring me to the here and now. Thankful for a warm house on windy November nights. For soup. For chats with girlfriends who know me as well as I know myself. Thankful for words to read and music to hear. Thankful for being here.

And I am thankful for this space and what it shows me about my own path in the past few years. It shows me that I have been here before, that I have seen nothing but questions everywhere I look but that a little ways down the road, I will look behind me to see answers, too.

I’m thankful for the light that lives in my chest and dims occasionally but never goes out. We might rest for a season, but we glow brighter later as a result.

More soon as I promise to return to this space and make time for it again. For now, I am holding my head above water, and I can see the faintest outline of what is ahead. More space, more room to breathe, more to hold in the next season.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

 

divorce

the truest pieces

It’s the first day of October, and Georgia somehow finally got the message. I grabbed a sweater and a full cup of coffee as I took the dog out this morning. I felt a real chill. Fall is here. Finally a new season.

I drove a few winding roads to my grandparents’ place today and accompanied my grandad to my grandmother’s grave site to place new flowers for the season. Today would have been their 62nd wedding anniversary.

They were never the types to revel in attention and didn’t want a party or big occasion for their 50th. So twelve years ago, my sister and I orchestrated a secret campaign for letters from family and friends far and wide and put them together in an album for the two of them. It’s at their house still, overflowing with pictures and letters from a life spent together and the world it creates when you love like that. As it turns out, they were a fixed center point, a solid unmovable ground, not just for me but for loads of others, too.

We walked the cemetery a bit with him today and watched him take out flowers that were hardly faded and replace them with new ones. Huddled over the iron vase in the bright fall sunshine on what would have been the beginning of year 63, he carved a bit at the tough foam base of the arrangement and fit it snugly on the metal marker.

He is honest and real and can do hard things. Do men exist like that anymore? I honestly don’t know.

I ran into my former mother-in-law at a soccer game two weeks ago, and she asked me if my grandad was meeting women yet with plans of another wife. I didn’t even know what to say to that. He is in his eighties and spent a lifetime with her. There are tears in his eyes still when he talks about her sometimes, and there’s not yet grass fully on her grave. Is this really how people do it now? They just skip all the hard parts and move on to the next distraction.

I am nearing the two year mark of single motherhood, and people are starting to ask of me (and of course, ask others about me) whether or not I’m seeing someone. There is so much I could say on this topic, volumes I could write, but the short answer is that I’ve changed in a thousand ways in this season of my life, and the bar is set high.

Something happens to you when spend time alone and do things you never thought you could do, when you carry the impossible. I take out the trash. I sleep alone. I pay the bills. I’ve attended real estate closings alone. Parent conferences alone. Soccer games alone with my chair for one. Cub Scout meeting alone with dads everywhere else. And at first it is all terrifying and depressing, but then you break through that initial moment, and it liberates you from everything that tied you before. I’m doing hard things, but I’m okay. What you want in a partner is a list that begins to change with the first passing seasons of your time by yourself, and the bar creeps a little higher each time.

And in the midst of all that, my grandmother got sick, and I watched my grandfather do all of the hardest things. The taking care and the letting go. Never once in those last days did he try to control her pace as she drifted. He just left a sacred space between them for her to do what she needed.

He is 6’2 with clear blue eyes and an uncommon steadiness and more strength and integrity than anyone I’ve ever met. I was there in June when a hospice nurse told us it would likely be less than a week or so until the end, and after the nurse left, I could hear him sobbing in the room where she was laying as I waited downstairs. Never once pushing her to abide by his own plans and always holding steady in the hard work of compassion.

I hear talk shows and see articles passed around online where people talk about marriage tips and what to do when you are struggling in a partnership. I’m realizing that people think marriage is hard these days because you aren’t always happy. Because you feel tired and you work too much and the kids are always demanding something and the other person can’t make all that go away. Is that hard? Really? Because now that I’ve seen what the hard part really is — the grieving and the accepting and the letting go — burnt dinner on the stove or noisy children or a cluttered bathroom counter don’t seem like a cause for unhappiness. Whatever “happy” means anyway; it’s always a moving target when you depend on the other person to provide it.

It’s all connected though, I think. If you can’t do the hard work of putting aside your own selfishness in the earlier years, what do the later years look like? It took 62 years to build what they had, and I understand that. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that maybe the little things are actually the big things. Honesty and integrity start with lending a helping hand and showing respect and saying I’m sorry and meaning it. If I knew then what I know now. But isn’t that always how it goes?

I’m so grateful for every bit of it — my own pain in the earliest days of discovering something that felt like a knife’s edge, the itchy pain of being alone and figuring out what it all meant after the dust settled, and even the hardest pain of watching this season happen in the lives of the couple who was always my fixed center point, and likely always will be.

I’m grateful for the chance to start all over and do it right. And I don’t care how long it takes. The truest pieces of a life well-built always grow slowly.

gratitude, Life and Randomness, single parenthood

real talk

This is real talk here today. I’m admitting some ungraceful moments, but I’m just going to pour it here so that it doesn’t fester inside.

I decided to take my kids to The Compassion Experience this year as I’d heard so many positive things about it before. I thought it could be a good antidote to holiday greed and give us a space to think and talk with a new perspective.

I chose a Sunday night just after the kids got home from their father’s which was the WORST possible idea in hindsight. They are always complete lunatics and erupt in predictable tears and tantrums in the three hours that exist between the 5pm drop-off and bedtime. I read everywhere that this is completely normal and expected as kids return to their primary custodial parent, and I know that it illustrates their comfort level with me and their feeling of safety. Any therapist will echo that. But it is hard in the moment, I admit. They save all of their tears for me, it seems. Monday morning we are back to normal, but Sunday nights following a weekend away are rough.

Anyhow, I selected Sunday because I didn’t want to do this amidst the weeknight rush, and I was pleasantly surprised as we walked through the rooms of the exhibit. Both kids were listening closely, asking questions, looking curiously.

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There is such a disconnect though – between our reality and the reality in front of us as we walked through. Our warm beds and clean water and award-winning schools, their communities full of poverty that bring concerns we never think about. I can bridge this disconnect with empathy and compassion, and for a brief moment, my kids can, too. But it is all so far away from us in the land of excess.

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I’ve been wanting to sponsor a child for a long time, and I know from my experience growing up that reading their letters and hearing their stories can be so fulfilling and enlightening for kids here at home. It feels like a personal commitment and a friend. And almost anyone can manage $38 a month. So at the end of our time there on Sunday, we were glancing at the cards and deciding on a child to sponsor, and I made the terrible mistake of explaining our sponsorship in terms my own kids could understand. (“We can send her pictures and letters, and it’s just the cost of one toy, and it helps her go to school and see a doctor and eat healthy food.”) And my normally mellow, sweet, kind-hearted kindergartner had a full-on tantrum of the worst kind. Put that picture back! I want toys! I don’t want to send her our money! at a volume that assured it to be my most humiliating parenting moment ever. Hands down.

I was so shocked that I stood there stunned for a minute and tried to reason with him, but nothing worked. He was out of it (expected 7 pm meltdown after a weekend away), and I asked my mom (thank God she was with me) to guide him out while Norah and I finished the sponsorship process. When we got home, he was still not himself and not exactly understanding the significance of why I was so bothered by his behavior. But eventually, before bed, he came around a bit. He wrote me an apology note on his own accord – complete with kindergarten spelling. (Really, this kid!) And I found him crying in the bathtub which opened the door for us to talk about a lot of things.

This makes the third time he’s come home on a Sunday night for me to find him crying in a room alone, and it leaves me so broken. Growing pains are hard for all of us right now. I’m grateful he feels comfortable talking to me, but the things he says are enough to break my heart.

Add this to my car accident on Saturday night, and this past few days have felt heavy. I didn’t work that into my last post because I wasn’t really ready to talk about it yet. But a driver took an illegal left turn and plowed into me on Saturday night. I emerged fine, but a few feet’s difference, and the impact would have been on my driver’s side door. And you can’t help but think of the what if scenarios that leave you terrified.

The kindest woman stopped as a witness, and I am forever grateful for her. She hugged and offered water and spoke to the police and told me what to do as I was still a little shell-shocked. My brother came to pick me up, and the hassle of insurance and such will consume most of my week, but I’m okay. Which is obviously what matters.

But sometimes it just feels like so much. It’s moments like this that I realize I’m alone in a way I have never been in all of my adult life. And it’s such an unfathomable thing for me that the first person I would have called to help for the past 15 years of my life is the absolute last person I could call and expect to help in my roadside moment on Saturday. It’s weird not having a person, you know? Or it is for me when I’ve spent all my life having someone. These are lessons so many people spend their twenties learning, but my timing is not the standard path, and I’m just learning them now.

Despite these moments when solitude feels so vast and heavy, the universe is sending me constant messages I am not alone; I know this. There are so many friends who would have been willing to come and get me as I was stranded on Saturday; my family who was there to help me in a moment’s notice; the kind witness who stopped and stayed with me until help arrived. There are miracles that exist everyday in my life if I have eyes to see them… One of which is that I escaped without harm on Saturday night. I see this and I know this, and I prayed these prayers of gratitude all weekend.

But it’s so easy to get caught up in our own little worlds, our own little problems. I got so frustrated with Jude for doing this on Sunday with his insistence that his toy box not suffer for us to send someone else food and schooling. But here I am doing the same thing as I have so much to be grateful for, and I still get overwhelmed with the relentless, gritty mess that life leaves sometimes – the broken car, the piles of laundry, the unexpected bills, the stinging comments of someone who doesn’t have any care or empathy for me now and likely never will.

It really is up to us, isn’t it? To choose how we will perceive the world around us. To choose what we will focus on and what mark we will leave. 2015 has brought so much to me, some incredibly hard times and some almost unbearably good moments, too. In these last few weeks of the year, I’m trying to hold a space of gratitude for all of it. For all it’s shown me.

It was midnight by the time my brother dropped me off on Saturday night at home. The kids were gone and the house was quiet, and I turned down the sheets in my big empty bed. I’m sometimes alone in what feels like a vast, empty world that is spinning faster than I can keep up. But I’m in my own living and breathing body. I’m safe and cared for and alive in both new and old ways, and I recognize that all of it is a miracle.

Life and Randomness, single parenthood

stolen moments

Life is so incredibly busy these days. I already look at summer’s lazy pace and miss it so much. Everyday is full of things I need to do and things I don’t quite get finished. Planning for class and grading piles of papers. Putting out fires with overwhelmed students in conferences everyday. November is a rush in academics. … Then afternoons and evenings are a blur. Tuesday afternoon ballet. Wednesday speech therapy. Friday afternoon soccer practice. Saturday soccer games. It just never stops.

I try to shield any feelings of chaos from my kids. I might be thinking ahead to what I’m making for dinner and how many minutes it will take or how bad my car needs cleaning or how I’m going to pay that bill. But I don’t want them to feel it. It’s getting to that time of the semester for all of us though, made worse by the early darkness of fall time change. They are tired by the end of the day, too. We are all ready for a break.

UntitledAnd we will get one soon enough. The holidays are around the corner. But then that calls for a little fret and worry and effort on my part as well. I’m hoping to be completely done with Christmas shopping by December 1st so that I can slow down and enjoy the season. But right now, that’s another thing weighing on my daily thoughts.

I miss writing. I miss knitting. I miss reading. I miss leisurely evenings. I miss sweaty miles at the gym. I miss (I admit it) television. I watched a movie last weekend when the kids were gone, and I realized that the last time I watched anything at all was July, and I am not at all kidding or exaggerating. It so rarely happens anymore. I miss moments of mindlessness, moments of doing my own thing and recharging. And then I wonder, to be totally honest, how I will ever find the time to fit someone else in this life when I feel ready for it, how I will ever even find the time to meet someone to begin with, when this is my pace.

I stumbled on this essay by Anne Lamott a few days ago as I was compiling a few things for my composition students. She asks, “what manic or compulsive hours will they give up in trade for the equivalent time to write, or meander? Time is not free—that’s why it’s so precious and worth fighting for. […] I’ve heard it said that every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour. I promise you, it is there. Fight tooth and nail to find time, to make it. It is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day.” I’m trying hard to find that hour, but in a house with two little kids, a dog, and one adult with a full-time job, it is not an easy thing to find. I manage to have the house quiet (most nights) and the dishes clean by 9:15 or so, but I am so incredibly spent at that time that I can’t give the best of me to whatever I am working on.

I don’t know where I am going with this except to say that I am committed to finding some pocket of time, some stolen moment in my day. I need that time and space to create or think or accomplish something that is only for me. Writing it aloud here holds me accountable. I am determined to find that time and use it well. I’m an introvert in the truest sense, and I have lived long enough in this skin to know that about myself. I need time alone to recharge or I sink quickly. I feel like I am always chasing that moment in my day to exhale and recalibrate. It doesn’t always appear the way I’d like it to.   Untitled

I try to let the little passing moments pierce me with their stillness, even if it’s only for a second. Norah skipping across campus to her classroom. Jude’s intent focus as he draws. A warm bowl of homemade soup eaten among the chaos of a messy kitchen. The flop of my dog’s ear as he rolls from one side to the other in his laziness. But these little glimpses, even strung together, cannot give me the peace or satisfaction of a full hour to myself. I’m determined to find it, wherever it may be hiding.

Moms, (or any other readers who have a full plate everyday) what are your secrets for stealing time? Where does it hide for you? I’m all ears.