single parenthood

all in all the time

It is mid-afternoon on Saturday, and the kids are away. I had to give a work-related presentation this morning, so this feels more like a Friday than a true weekend, and I am trying to think of all the ways I can find the fast track to relaxation. Maybe a bath or a slow dinner or a good soundtrack. But writing always gets me there faster than anything else does, so here I am.

The kids and I went away last weekend for the Labor Day holiday – back to one of our favorite spots in the mountains of northwest Georgia.  It was fun, and it was exhausting… which seems to be the theme of my time with these two lately.

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We spent three nights in the woods, and I more or less just let kids be kids. It was three days of loud noise and sweaty shirts and sticky hands and a body that was so bone-tired every night as we fell asleep in the darkness that I didn’t mind the hard surface beneath me.

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I’ve had a lot of frustrations with parenting lately, and it is like some grumbling thing that I cannot even entirely put words to very easily. It’s under the surface, and I never have time or space or silence to comb through it. I think it is mostly just exhaustion. The start of a school year is a shock to the system, and every year the demands grow a bit. The homework and the expectations and the after school clubs and activities and the big feelings that begin to brew in these years. They have likes and dislikes and blooming personalities and so many needs. It is not the same as the never-ending needs of a baby which are just physical mostly. This is different.

They need me to be all in all the time with them, and it’s hard to even finish typing this sentence through the mom guilt, but the truth is that I cannot be all in all the time. I need a rest sometimes. And of course other times it’s that I need to think about something else — like my own classes I’m planning for my students or my own writing goals or maybe even a personal or relational thought sometimes about the million other things that make me a human being. In short, I wish I had super powers to be on all the time with them … or maybe just a clone of myself to be at home stirring dinner on the stove while this self takes them to activities or stays in the office a couple extra hours to catch up.

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I tried to stop the clock last weekend, to run away to the woods and hit the pause button. There were some beautiful moments, but it wasn’t entirely a pause button. My brain hummed the whole time with other things as well. It pains me to write that, but it is true.

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I’ve been listening to a Ram Dass lecture series when I’m in my car or washing dishes, and in a portion I heard yesterday, he said something along the lines of taking something seriously doesn’t make it go away any faster. It made me laugh. It’s so pervasive in our society to see everything uncomfortable as a problem to be solved or as a pathology of some kind. His words encouraged me to try to look at my current feelings of overwhelm with some playful curiosity instead.

What would it look like to accept that this is life and this is single parenting and I cannot be all in all the time?

What would it look like to do the best I can and leave the rest well enough alone?

What would it look like to lessen the weights in my life that bring me chaos by just taking everything a little lighter, a little less seriously?

Yesterday morning, the kids were moving slowly and it took at least five commands of BRUSH YOUR TEETH to make that happen. I couldn’t find the right mate for Norah’s sock, and when I finally did, I came downstairs to see that the dog had thrown up twice in the middle of the kitchen floor. As I cleaned that up, I remembered that we didn’t do Norah’s reading homework the night before, so I told her to get started then and we’d get it done just in time for the bus. Jude had his backpack on and begged to walk out to his friends at the bus stop, and I told him no. He’d have to wait on his sister. He paced and huffed and asked again, but when he realized I was serious, he just sat down next to her and helped her. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that the three minutes of their quiet concentration and his gentle help was the absolute highlight of my entire week. It was over fast enough, and we rushed out the door, and the rest of Friday’s demands tumbled after.

I am Jude sometimes – pacing and hurrying and sighing and grumbling and wishing things were different. But I think maybe if I would just sit down it could make it all better and let the space settle around me. Perhaps I need to take a deep breath and know that I won’t miss the bus, that I am here and this is real and I am always right on time.

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single parenthood

River

It is Saturday night, and I’m settled on my couch, and my kids are currently boarding a plane to fly across the ocean. They return to familiar soil in something like 9 more days, and then they are finally home to me a couple days after that.

I kissed them goodbye today by 11am, and since then I’ve walked the neighborhood with a podcast or two, cleaned the house, and browsed store aisles to waste time. I grocery shopped and watched television. And finally I took a bath and let the silence in my house settle around me like a blanket. All I can hear is the rhythm of the ceiling fan and the clacking of the keys as I type this.  I’ve been alone in this house a million times before, but it feels different with them going so far away.

I listened to the Super Soul interview with Richard Rohr this morning. I know I reference him so often here, but again, it is worth a listen if you have time.  He spoke about the general idea he explores in so many of his writings – that we all have a false self and a true self. That the task of growth and spirituality is that we have to shatter that false self somehow, crack that shell of the ego, to get to the real thing. And how it is often hardship that does this for us. I thought about that first post that I wrote years ago when I was trying to fit myself in the new box. I thought about all the times before and after that when I have had to shed a layer or two of ego and lean into the unknown. I thought about ways I am still learning that lesson. Like the Velveteen Rabbit in that classic story, becoming more real as I move along and as I age.

Though the initial crack, the big explosion, the biggest griefs of my past few years – those have forcefully pushed aside the false self that was so tightly wound – I am still losing layers sometimes, in both big and small ways. This is one of those things. as I sit here in the dark typing these lines. The removing of the motherhood hat, if even just for a week or two, the loosening of the tight grip. It feels itchy and weird to have no label or role to put on next week at all and to have half my heart across the ocean from where I sit now. But any good thing I have come to find has revealed itself at the edge of my comfort zone.

I told the kids yesterday that they could choose what we did last night since it was our last night together for a while. I was hoping for a cozy night in, but Norah had a Build-A-Bear gift card burning a hole in her pocket, so they begged for a trip to the mall. I do not enjoy the mall, and I think the last time I was there was perhaps Christmas time. It seemed like the opposite of what I was imagining our night should be, but I obliged. We got there, and they were short-staffed, so we waited for ages in line for her to make a bear. Jude got a metal fidget spinner to entertain him across the Atlantic, and then we opted for a food court dinner.

When we went to leave, the automated doors opened to heavier rainfall than I’ve seen since I don’t know when. I didn’t have an umbrella and didn’t want to swim to the car, so I suggested the little play area inside the mall to entertain us while we waited for it to pass. We did that and we browsed the displays in the Lego store, and I thought for sure the rain must be gone by now. We walked to the doors again and we found the same thing. Buckets and buckets of rain. At this point, I felt like we had to get home somehow, so I told them we would run for it.

We held hands and ran across the parking lot in that kind of rain that soaks you all the way through your underwear in only a few seconds. The kids were screaming and laughing, and before I knew it, I was too. When we finally made it to the car, Jude was cackling and saying how much fun it was while Norah was wide-mouthed and laughing at her reflection and at my dripping hair. Teddy bears and food court trays and rainstorms turned out to be the most perfectly imperfect and memorable send-off for what is our longest separation so far. But I would never have orchestrated it that way if I held the reins to it all.  Parenting always works like this, it seems. And the rest of life does, too. Even when life gives me something beautiful or perfect beyond my comprehension, it is never the way I would have written it myself.

I’m a planner to a fault and I know this about myself. It is hard for me to let go of things – to let go of timing and outcomes and expectations. I pay attention to my retirement account and I eat my vegetables and I wear sunscreen and I plan most everything in advance. And I think of the one million ways that something could go wrong in any given moment and how I could mitigate that damage if it does. I grocery shop weekly and write out our menu on a little dry erase board in my kitchen. I erased it this morning – no need to plan for only myself. And I wrote in its place a Rohr quote that I need to say again and again like a mantra: “Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it.” Amen and amen.

I am not pushing. It is hard, but I am holding steady. I’m leaning into the silence and the new and listening closer for the real. I trust that there is a river. I’ll ride the current.

 

single parenthood

in the soil under your feet

It’s finally Friday of our first week back. We did it!

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It feels so much easier this year. I know both of their schools and the parents and the communities present there. With kindergarten behind us, the hard transition is out of the way. Even though it takes some getting used to again after a few months off, the old drill seems comfortable and worn in.

Both kids are hard to get out of bed in the morning though, no matter how early I get them to sleep the night before. And August is that weird few weeks of late daylight and sweaty summer temperatures set against the harsh demands of the school schedule. It’s like the dress rehearsal for what’s coming next, the prologue to fall.

I’m having to constantly remind myself that it is okay to lean into what is comfortable. It’s okay to feel that things can slow down now. The last few years have been nothing but change, and then this summer with my grandmother was a huge shift in what I have known for the entirety of my life. It is not debatable that I need the rest and familiarity – as anyone would. But it makes me feel like I am always forgetting something, like I should be doing something more than keeping the pulse that strings our days together.  I’m not used to standing still and having no major transition in front of me.

This isn’t new anymore. It’s me. It’s the three of us. Life as we know it with a comfortable rhythm.

I read a thoughtful commentary this week from Parker Palmer expanding on a Marge Piercy poem, “The Seven of Pentacles.” She explains, “Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground. / You cannot tell always by looking what is happening. / More than half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.” It seems that way in certain seasons, doesn’t it? You cannot always tell what is happening by looking, but you can feel those roots deepening sometimes. And sometimes you can’t – even though the growth is there. I know the work I do now, in the still seasons, is giving my kids a sense of certainty and a solid ground to stand on, but in our society of make, make, make and productivity measures and checking things off a list, it can be hard not to see yourself as some sort of insufficient factory when your output slows down.

I’m not sure how much sense this is making to others, though I am writing for myself as I always do – so that I don’t forget that there were moments when it felt steady and easy (easier, that is) and simple. I’m working hard to “Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses” as Piercy encourages in that poem.

She is so good to remind us that “This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always, / for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting / after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.”

 

Every time growth feels slow, I’m reminding myself again and again: half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.

 

 

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gratitude, travel

same as ever, but different

Months ago, I booked a solo trip to a wellness retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains. With the stress of the past few weeks, I was unsure if it would work out or not, so I’ve been in touch with the reception office to explain that my grandmother was with hospice and I might need to postpone. They were unbelievably accommodating and said I could wait until the very last minute to decide if I wanted to go now or later. I didn’t want to miss time with her.

As it turned out, we buried her on Wednesday with a service that was sweet and sincere and sad. I was dreading the funeral so much, and at the end of the day, my eyes were swollen with tears. But I was also astounded at how such a simple life can be the most beautiful. I loved her because she was mine. But so many others came to grieve with us because they loved her for who she was and the countless ways she touched the lives of everyone who met her. The one and only request she ever made about her final arrangements was to drape one of her mother’s old handmade quilts across her casket, and so we did.
We laid her to rest in the piercing June sun, and it is always such a surreal feeling when someone you loved and knew so well is lying in the ground. You feel aimless and unsteady and unsure for a while. It’s a new way of life you have to somehow figure out, how to exist without the person you were once so close to.

As life would have it, though I had no idea this would be the case, I threw my things in my car the very next day to drive across the Appalachian mountains alone. The retreat center’s directions warned against GPS leading you astray and included details like “go straight under the stone bridge,” “drive until the road turns to gravel,” and “turn left and proceed to the top of the mountain.”

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When I finally reached my destination and checked in with the reception office, I found my room on the other side of the property. It was raining a steady drizzle and something like 6pm. I opened the door to find a small room with a bathroom, a simple bed, one sheet, one blanket, no television, open windows, and the most glorious view of the North Carolina mountains. I forget that stillness has a sound, a hum you can almost hear.

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I have a total of 68 hours to spend here, and I can feel layers lifting as the hours pass. The food is light, and the others here are mostly quiet but kind. I’m in yoga & meditation classes about 5 hours a day. We rose with the sun today and began class without coffee which normally would hardly be possible, but it was brisk outside and the sun greeted me in a way I couldn’t refuse.

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We’ve been talking a lot about some foundational elements of yoga which we tend to forget, and I can’t help but hear it as life advice as well. “Work hard but don’t struggle. When you feel the struggle, ease out of it a bit.” And “go to the edge of your comfort, and then just gently push forward the tiniest bit.”

My life has been loss after loss this past eighteen months, I am so ready to work hard but tired of struggling. I can feel myself, even now when the grief feels fresh and heavy, finding my place a little more everyday. My voice is growing steadier, not louder. I am ready to work hard for the things that are important to me, but I’m also growing more confident in my own ability to know when to ease off and recognize a struggle when I feel one. If you have to force it, (whatever it is) it’s no good.

I have so much more to say later and more to think about and still time left here. As I’m writing this on the tiny bed, I can hear birds out my open window. My muscles are sore and my eyes are heavy. My grandmother’s last weeks taught me the value of surrender, and I am feeling it now in this place, even in a physical sense.

I indulged in a Shirodhara treatment this morning, an Ayurvedic therapy when you lie on a table and allow warm oil to be poured on your forehead in a continuous stream. It’s said to soothe the nervous system and awaken the “third eye” of spiritual understanding and intuition. I think it does accomplish that, but only because it makes you melt into the present moment and feel what is really there. Me, same as ever but different. Still here, still breathing.