transitions

The kids have been away at the beach with their dad and his family, and I have been on my own for fewer than four days, yet I’ve managed to paint two rooms in my house, freeze five quarts of homemade marinara and four family portions of baked ziti, and finish my first read of the summer.  I also began putting my office and bookshelves back together after painting, and I’ve got my books organized once again as they were in pre-child days: by genre and then alphabetically. It’s so crazy how much time expands before you when you’re used to having kids underfoot.  I miss them like crazy, but at least my productivity is making up for the weirdness in our summer schedule.

Today I intended to squeeze in a Pure Barre class with a good friend, but traffic held her up, and we decided to go for a quick hike nearby instead.  I usually do this walk with Jude and go a little slower, so I couldn’t believe it when we reached the top pretty quickly, even in the sweaty, burning sun.  We talked the whole way up, enjoyed a perfect view with the tiniest breeze, and then talked again as we walked back down.  It was good for my soul in every way.  I was gross and sweaty and spent when I got home, but it was worth it for sure.

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I finished Cheryl Strayed’s Wild early this morning with my coffee, and I think I’ll be turning this one over and over in my head for quite some time. I feel like the last person on earth to read it, but I’m so glad I read it right now at this time of transition for me.

Most likely anyone who is reading this post already knows the premise of the memoir, but in case you don’t…. Strayed is grief-stricken from the sudden loss of her mother and the collapse of her marriage and sets out on a journey of walking over eleven hundred miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.  It’s a metaphorical journey as she wants to mark this passage in her life and put so many things behind her, but it is a literal one too – of scary and grueling physical challenges on the trail.  The thought of a woman hiking for 100 days alone from southern California to Oregon is incredible to me.  I couldn’t put the book down, and the details of long distance hiking were fascinating.

But more than that, it is Strayed’s perspective on her life and the transitions that occur for her that had me riveted and underlining so many special passages I want to etch in my memory.  I’m not doing anything at all like walking 1100 miles on foot, but some days it can feel that way.  The thing that was so perfect about the timing of this book for me is her focus on the value of solitude and the importance of transitions in our lives.  The significance of recognizing those moments of change and passage should not be underestimated.  As one of her friends on the trail explains to her about moments of feeling low or confused as your life changes in ways out of your control, “It’s a good thing… It’s the place where things are born, where they begin. Think about how a black hole absorbs energy and then releases it as something new and alive” (127).  But as Strayed demonstrates so well, we cannot use the black hole to create anything new at all if we don’t take time alone to reflect on the experience and examine our own behaviors and motivation and where we intend to go next.

This was timely for me as I’m experiencing being alone for the first time in pretty much fifteen years – the entirety of my adult life.  And solitude felt so strange at first, but I am sinking into it and realizing I need it so badly and need to honor this time and space before I move forward.  Sometimes I wish I could fast forward a year or two or three down the road, but then again, I don’t know. This is such a sweet time of change for me. An itchy and painful one, yes. But also a moment when I am feeling all of it, so to speak. I’m in it deeply and boiling everything down to essentials with my kids and me alone.  And in a weird way, I feel like I am seeing things more crisp and clear than I have in the last decade.  I’m seeing and feeling everything for what it really is because I have no one else to lean on or consult as a co-pilot or partner, no one else to diffuse or cloud my perceptions.

As Strayed says when she camps a night or two next to friends she met on the trail, “Being near [them] at night kept me from having to say to myself I am not afraid whenever I heard a branch snap in the dark… But I wasn’t out here to keep myself from having to say I am not afraid.  I’d come, I realized, to stare that fear down, to stare everything down, really – all that I’d done to myself and all that had been done to me. I couldn’t do that while tagging along with someone else” (122).  I mean really, friends. Could there be a truer statement given to me at my current moment?

I felt like Strayed was talking straight to me through so much of her memoir – which is my very favorite thing about literature. It’s why I teach and write. Those shared moments of real reflection on the human experience fuel my fire so much.  At one point, she refers to what Pacific Crest Trail hikers call “trail magic” which is simply “the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail” (232). And I’m certain you don’t have to be hiking the PCT for 1100 miles to experience “trail magic.”  It’s happening to me all the time – when I read something that pierces me all the way through, when I discover new music that moves me, when I catch my kids in just the right light to be overwhelmed with their sweet little features and the idea that they came from my body and call me mama, when I have shared moments or laughter with friends that fill me up in the best way.  There are so many little joys in life, even on a tough trail and among the tangled mess.

solitary

The kids have been gone for three nights. Three little nights; that’s it. It weirdly feels like a long time in ways, and I have a to-do list a mile long, but it’s hard to focus and get it done.  Truthfully, I think the lists and the busy tasks are all to keep my mind off the idea of solitude and the quiet house.

I play music all the time. I’m going to the gym every day and staying for an hour or more. My friends have been great about checking up on me, and my usually relaxed social schedule is actually mostly full for the rest of the week. I’m going to a concert with a friend tonight, watching the kids on Thursday during the day as their father needed help with childcare, and then I have plans on both Friday and Saturday night.  Which is not normal for me at all.  But I don’t even know what normal me is anymore.

Normal me used to be busy with work and kids and then happily on the couch with wine or knitting and Netflix at 8:30 every night. I’ve always been someone who was not scared of solitude, but I can’t explain it. A quiet house just feels so itchy and unnatural right now.

I fell off the train on Parenthood, a show I once adored, and I have picked it back up again thanks to Netlfix. Just two nights ago, I got to that episode where a recently separated Julia has to spend the first night alone in her house without her two kids, and it resonated with me so much. She’s tossing and turning and not sleeping at all and eventually moves to her daughter’s bed. The next morning, she’s up with the sun and going for a run which is pretty much my mode of operation this week as well. Her sister on the show has been a single mom for a decade and tells her it will get easier. Everyone says that, and I know it will. But I’m ready for easier. I am impatient for an easier time to be here already. But I know that’s not how it works.

I’m doing so much better than I was in November when I couldn’t eat or sleep or even talk about my life without anxious tears.  As I said before in this space, I am not sorry anymore. I know I have the core to push through this.  And I can’t explain it, but I even know somehow that there is something really good down the road waiting for me. I wish I could see it more clearly, wish I knew the time and place and had the foresight to see exactly how things will unfold for me. I don’t, of course.  And I can’t see the future. But I have this tiniest space of peace inside me, and it’s covered often by a yearning and a list of worries.  But sometimes in the still moments, I can feel it just the littlest bit.

I have a sign hanging on my wall in the kitchen, just next to my coffee maker so that I see it as I begin each day.  I found it for cheap the week I moved in this house, and I hung it immediately. It says simply “Joy comes in the morning.”  It’s a reference to Psalm 30:5 which says “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”  There is an echo of this concept in every major religion.  Yin and yang, life and death, pain and rebirth. I know my morning is coming, and that, more importantly, you don’t grow in the easy seasons of your life. It’s the trials that give us substance. I know that transitions are important, and when you skip them and move straight forward to some false kind of happy or distraction immediately, you have a major price to pay years later.  I know the internal work is the most important part. I know all of this.  But just when I think I am moving forward and making major strides on any internal wreckage, so to speak, I see that the kids have shielded me a bit from the loneliness that people experience after divorce.

And I have so many friends checking on me all the time. (A huge THANK YOU to you guys if you are reading this.) I had lunch with a good friend yesterday followed by book shopping and a sunny stroll. And so many fun plans are lined up for me this summer to fill my time away from the kids. But this is work, y’all. The knowing yourself, the moving forward with real purpose and intention and thought so that the next chapter will be the bright morning light I know it can be.  It’s just hard. That’s the simple truth as I’m feeling it now, so I’ll just say it.

I’m listening to lots of good new (to me) music to fill the time and the silence in my house. Redbird has been an obsession lately, and there’s a particular Gospel Whiskey Runners song that has been on repeat a lot.  Isn’t it weird how art – whether it’s visual or literary or musical – can echo your own thoughts sometimes?  It’s that human moment of “Wait, you feel that, too? I thought I was the only one?”  And that’s why I write, friends. You get it out and write it down and see it on a page or screen and know that it’s the human experience. Pain and joy, crying and smiling, death and rebirth, dark and light.  It’s all here for us, and at least when you’re in a season that stings, you know the next one is around the corner.

Anyway, here’s a little listen for you if you want.  “My bones are tired but they’re still shaking, and my heart is torn but it’s done breaking, and my hope is set on things unseen”  Amen and amen and amen.

summertime

School officially let out a week ago for the kids, and I’ve been home with them all week. God knows I will never get rich in academics, but it is fulfilling to me in the best way, and I love what I do.  It’s the icing on the cake that I get summers off to spend time with my kids. The first month of summer is always the very best for me. I don’t feel guilty about being lazy.  We aren’t itchy yet from the languid heat or lack of routine.  And the weeks ahead stretch before us in a long view that seems like the season will last forever.  And it won’t, of course.  It will come and go, and I will look back through the lens of nostalgia that always colors our memories in the sweetest way.

We started with a little birthday celebration on Memorial Day weekend. Norah has been requesting a party at this little girls’ hair salon near us. The concept is half ridiculous and half adorable, but it’s what she wanted, so I obliged. We kept it simple with just a few close friends, and the girls had a great time.

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It cracks me up that she is into this stuff already. She is so much fun at this age, and it’s a challenge for me to lean into all of this – princesses, nail polish, pink everywhere – so that she can love what she loves without apology. But at the same time, the women’s studies reader inside me is always trying to maintain some kind of balance. I want her to always feel loved and accepted though, and I think she does. So much fun, this one.

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The day after that event, the kids were invited to a little classmate’s party at a horse farm a half hour north of us. The drive was rural, and the weather was beautiful. The party invitation said they’d be painting horses, and I thought surely I was misunderstanding something, but no. We painted horses. The kids loved it. They painted them, rode them, and then they helped bathe the horses at the end. It was a lot of excitement and such a fun experience.

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We followed that party with some family time to celebrate my granddad’s birthday, and I watched my kids get dirty and chase lightening bugs with their little cousins as adults sat on my grandparents’ back porch and talked until way past dark. It fills me up in the very best way to see my kids enjoying these experiences that echo my own childhood. We drove home exhausted and filthy, and I carried each of their sleeping bodies up the stairs to plop them in bed after a full day.

It’s taken me a while to embrace the suburban yet rural (I once heard it called “suburba-rural”) feel of where I live. I’ve come to love it though. At a certain age, you finally begin to love what you love and know who you are without apologies. I am a small town girl at heart, and I have no desire left in me to live intown, regardless of how uncool it is to say that. We have such beautiful places just down the road, and it’s important to me that my kids get outside and see life as more than a strip mall.

In the past week, we’ve explored a bit at a nearby park with small hiking trails and a covered bridge; we’ve enjoyed the neighborhood pool, and we’ve had the chance to ride horses yet again for a second birthday party yesterday.

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Life with these two never stops. But I feel so lucky to be here for all of it. To watch them grow and learn in that unstructured, wide-open way that summer provides. So much to see and do.

That said, this summer also gives me a lot of time away. They are with their father every other week as school breaks are split 50/50 in most custody agreements.  This is such an odd feeling for me – to be alone and left to my own schedules and desires. Half of me is relieved given that the pace of the last few months has been insane, and I have so much left to catch up on inside my house. Boxes still left unpacked, rooms to paint and organize. But the other part of me is sad a bit. I miss them terribly, and I hate this aspect of divorce. The two homes they have to bounce between, the lack of insight about what they see or do when I am not there and who they are with.  It is what it is though, and life is never perfect. I am trying to embrace the time alone, and my friends are so great about checking in with me and planning a few fun things for us.  I also picked up some editing work which will help fill the time and provide a small boost for my finances after what has been a very expensive year.

On the whole, I am looking at the days stretched before me with hope for lots of possibilities. Being mom feels comfortable, and it’s where I am happiest. But now, I need to get comfortable in the old skin a bit and explore who and what that is to be in the years ahead. I’m grateful the pace of summer leaves time and space for that. And I’m so excited for what lies ahead.