Yesterday as we walked to and from the park on a day which was unseasonably warm due to the hurricane off the coast, we talked for the second day about the weather. One three said, “I looked out the window this morning and the weather tomorrow is going to be very rainy.”

Another three replied, grinning widely, “Yes, and we will wear our rain boots, our rain pants, and our rain coats!”

Before long, another three exclaimed, “I wish it was winter!”

A woman alone with a long driveway and many feet of sidewalk to shovel, this had not been my wish. “What will you do when winter comes?” I asked.

“Make one hundred snowballs!” exclaimed the three with the winter wish.

“Yeah! We will make snow men!” called the fourth three with glee.

“We can make snow people, and balls and throw them!” chanted the group.

“Yes, we can make all kinds of things out of snow,” mused my three who started this conversation. “We can even make…snow mushrooms!” And this girl, these children remind me that yes, each day this world is born anew.

***

This morning I wake up in the quiet house, two of my three children sleeping here. The light outside my windows is an orange I am not sure I’ve ever seen. i wonder if its the hurricane making that light, check the weather, see indeed it will be a rainy day, worry about my son and daughter driving through he worst of it, think of my other son and his gal, parted ways yesterday, and the hard day they must both be having. In the Writers’ Almanac, there is a poem about prayer, and I’ve been thinking about prayer, again, since my beau and I’ve been struggling all this past month, and worked it over in my mind all this past weekend, throughout my Silent Retreat for Quaker Women, through the night I thought my love and I were bound to part. So this  morning, I feel differently about those in the women’s circle and in the weekly Sharing Circle I attend every other week at best, who offer prayers when the suffering is deep, when a hard decision looms, when a baby is born. I imagine doing the same myself, thinking I could offer a “prayer” rather than “good thoughts.” We’ll see.

This same morning, when I check my phone for the poem, I try to update my apps, as my battery is low, and I think that might help. Instead I end up with a Pandora channel singing to me, first Halllujah by Kd Lang, then something else that feels modestly religious, and I wonder on the word divinity, offered to me several years ago at retreat, as a way back in, I think, when god and religion and most words with spiritual meaning felt loaded, off-putting, not for me. Divinity I could wonder on. Mystery, too. Grace. Transcendence. Spirit. Even Soul, to some extent. There I found the surprise of childhood prayers coming back to me as I walked the paths, rhythm of the prayers in sync with my own steps, with my breathing, with my heartbeat. I spent time in a small hand built chapel, wondering on the meaning of the cross, found the heart shaped stones left there, the heart shaped hole in the acorn on the path more relatable, but still, the cross was everywhere, challenging.

******

Later yesterday on our walk home, the children held out their arms and began to wonder if they would get a sunburn because their parents had not applied sunscreen to their delicate skin. One child who told us her parents had put the sunscreen on walked in confidence. I realized aloud that we were in that same spot where the sun strikes our arms so strongly when this conversation happened the day before, walking home from the park, around the corner from the tree shaded lot where we play, beside the tall cement buildings which are home to the elderly and disabled people who bless us each day as we pass. On the other side of that same building is where the children remembered winter. i realize now as I write that in winter that side is where we always pause to put on the extra clothes, the wind and cold there is so strong. Winter side and summer side of that building never struck me so clearly as now. The children are sensors. I was once reminded that they are windows to the divine. something like that. The wonder of them does amaze.

******

After talking about the sunscreen, my small three said she was going to invite me and her other small three friend to her birthday party. It is dawning on me in stages that these people who I’ve known since they were one or two will soon be four, and that is a different place, four, where most of us begin the lives we can remember. But for now they are three, and talking so much more than last year, and I’m invited to the birthday party, where, my three tells me we will make apple dolls, and her family will save them to dry for one or two days, then give them to us to keep at home. My other three, who was also invited, says, “Yeah, because we love Maria” and I think about the other three who asked me why I didn’t come to her birthday party, who told me she would have liked the teachers to be there. A compliment and a burden to be thought of that way.

At forty seven, with teenage kids and a long distance beau, and a whole adult life to live outside my day care life I rarely accept the invitation to a child’s or a family’s party. Its not that I don’t feel welcome, but that I feel I have permission not to go.

*****

The same three who told me gleefully they would all wear their rain gear and who asked me why I didn’t come to her birthday party also asked me, early yesterday morning over breakfast, “Maria, why it isn’t it a Richard day?”

We were sitting in the kitchen, in the same place where last week, over lunch, my four turned to me out of the blue and asked, “Maria, do you have a partner?”

These kids know how to make me stop and think. I answer the best I can. “Richard has a home in Northampton” “I don’t know if I have a partner. I guess Richard. Who is your mom’s partner?”

The conversations move on quickly. “Today is Wednesday. Wednesday is a T— day. My sister comes for after school today.” “C– is my mom’s partner.” C— is his dad.

***

Friday afternoon my new three told me she has two moms. “So do my kids, sort of,” I replied. “They have me and a stepmom.”

“What?” she wanted to know.

“They live here with me and also with their dad and stepmom in another house.”

“Why?” she wanted to know. Harder question.

“That is the way our family is.” and she was happy enough with that, though puzzled if I had to guess. Turns out divorce and remarriage is less on the radar of these kids than two mom families.

Later, as I was helping her with her shoes, this same girl asked why it was Z–‘s day that day. “Its a Friday,” I replied. “That’s a Z– day.” and I realized they had connected that day, Friday being their only overlapping day. She had fallen at the park and needed a cuddle, was crying in my lap on the bench when he came over to talk.

“Why doesn’t she talk?” he had asked me.

“Oh, she does,” I replied. “Once you get to know her you’ll see.”

Then we had talked quite a bit. She had stopped crying and soon they went off to play.

It is a surprising window into their little selves, into their little souls, if I may, when they begin to talk.

My new one has begun to say my name. “Ria” I carry her on my hip to check the pasta on the stove, talk to her about our meals, ask her what she likes, cut her apples when she says, “Cut it up!”, offer her pieces as I work at the counter and she watches and talks to me from the high chair.

Later, when I’m changing her diaper, another three comes to visit and the one says my name, causing the three to remark. “She says your name.”

“She’s learning how to talk. She’s learning who we are.” And I think, it does feel good for a child to learn our names.

Later, in the yard, the baby calls to Liana over the gate where Liana is emptying the compost in the side yard, baby calling Liana “Ria”. “I’m Liana,” greets Liana. I recall out loud how our other one calls Liana by name, and uses Liana sometimes for other adults here, realize that the kids attach a name to us as caregivers and may universalize it until we all become more real. At the park, the one had come to me calling, “Ria” and my friend Macky had said, “Yes, that’s Maria. Is she your person?” And I had been pleased to confirm that “Yes, I am her person.” Attachment happens that way, small steps.

Here’s today’s Writer’s Almanac poem, in case you, too, are musing over prayer, or meaning, or transcendence or grace, or any of those other thoughts that are so hard to put into words. I can’t say I understand the poem, but that in a way, is what I like. More mystery. More to figure out.

LISTEN
Prayer
by Carol Ann Duffy

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer—
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

“Prayer” by Carol Ann Duffy, from Mean Time. © Anvil Press, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today as we were walking to the park, my four and I were talking. He let me know he had spent time with his grandmother recently and the following morning he had pizza for breakfast. I wondered what sort of pizza he likes, maybe cheese or pepperoni?

“I hate pepperoni pizza!” he bellowed, lowering his voice and his eyes as he finished the sentence.”

“Actually, I don’t prefer pepperoni,” he said, catching himself, and my eyes.

Then, grinning to himself, and nearly winking at me, he added, “I never find pepperoni pizza tasty.”

This one made me smile very wide, and remark about how polite my boy has gotten, and to think, how much more self and other aware he has become in the years I’ve known him.

For the last few years, my boy has begun many meals in the day care telling us what food he HATES! I’ve been asking for many of those meals for him to respect me and the food I share with him and his friends by choosing another way of speaking or of just letting the offending food go unmentioned. I don’t insist he eat the food, just that he let the rest of us enjoy it in peace.

Today, after my four told us he “never finds pepperoni pizza tasty” several threes found the impulse to share how much they love pepperoni pizza. I wondered if they would have done that had their older friend held on so hard to his hate. I was also reminded how long it can take to teach a small skill and to learn to change something small in our behavior, and how, often when something seems to be taking too long, it is just taking it’s course.

This morning when I come downstairs to do last night’s dishes, I pass my son’s open door. His mattress is up against the wall. The bookshelf is full of his discarded clothes. His snowboard boots are in the corner against a shelf. On top of the shelf are his bagged linens and two wool coats I doubt he’ll want, packaged for Goodwill. In the closet and under the desk are boxes of books and notes, castoffs from his desk. I put all this away when the electricians came this summer so it wouldn’t be covered in dust. The boy has barely returned since last Christmas holidays. He traveled for Spring vacation with his frisbee team. For summer he worked at school. When he was home, he visited mostly with his dad. This past weekend, instead of coming home the night of a nearby tournament, he stayed there in a hotel with his team.

For the last two years, I lived with his door shut. I wanted his mattress protected from the cat. This summer when the heat was horrid, I opened the door for circulation. Since the mattress was upended for the workers, I didn’t worry about the cat. Now, though, walking by the room’s a little haunting. Facing reality is like that. The moving on is quiet sometimes, shut up behind closed doors.

I saw a lot of Ben the first year of college. We went to Parents’ Weekend. He came home for long weekends and spring break, lay around the house both winter and summer vacations with his girlfriend until I almost wondered when they’d go. The launching surprised me this year. In February or March I found my guy on Facebook playing frisbee in California. I said sure to his plans to go Georgia for Spring Break. We talked on the phone to sort out last minute plans for him to work and live at college for the summer. Then I rushed to buy a car so he could have the van. All summer I wondered if our family vacation would include him,finding out last minute it would only be one night, and that night would be late.

The tidiness is a lot to take. I felt good at first to go through the bags against the wall, to sort out the q-tips from the books, to take the coats off the backs of the doors and put them into bags, to send the things he needs, so little, back with his gal last Sunday, to organize the remainders on the shelves and in the closet before starting my day with the other two kids.

Yesterday my boy texted during afternoon meeting in the day care to tell me the van, which was dead this weekend, lives. As predicted by my friend Michael, whose engineering son took their old van off to college, my son and his gal and his engineer friend fixed our van themselves, jumped it first, then bought and installed a new battery. Now the van runs fine. Better him than me dealing with the dead battery. Better me than him driving the new car.

As I clear out the toys, I imagine a place for the kids who someday visit. My grandma had a box of dishes in her cellar. We’d bring them up or play on the cement floor. My mom has boxes of toys in her basement, some in the bedroom upstairs, others in the garage and barn. My basement floods. I haven’t got an attic or a garage or a barn, so I’m thinking, where will those toys go? Who will come to play, now my kids are teens and near adults, the after school program is done upstairs, my nephews are grown or far away, the grandkids are a long way off? It’s strange to have a home without children, after nearly twenty years with lots, even if the day care downstairs is toy heaven, and kids come in and out forty eight weeks a year.

Today is Sunday. In my growing up Sunday was for Mass. For most of my adult life, Sunday has been for family. Recently, Sunday has begun to be for Quaker Meeting, though sporadically. Even before that, weekend mornings became time for contemplation, often at the stove and countertop, sometimes at the computer.

This morning I wake up early with an alarm going off that eventually stops, just in time for me to realize my son’s girlfriend is awake downstairs. She is leaving early to meet my son and I want to get up to visit and send her off with winter things for him, assuming she needs my help sorting through trash bags of stuff he packed last spring, which spent much of the summer in Richard’s basement, then came to Ben’s room, where I stashed some in his closet so the electricians could do their work.

We visit and I write. I’m back to my red notebook of Morning Pages and as it is meant to do, that writing clears my mind. We sort through the bags. She takes what we think he needs, gets on the road, and I sort the rest, shelving clothes he may or may not want, sorting socks with matches and on their own, putting aside snowboard gear and winter gloves for when I hope to see Ben next.

After she goes, the house is quiet. I finish writing, notice the browning bananas on the shelf, decide today is the day for banana bread, close a few windows after turning on the oven, appreciate the way the house and world have cooled down overnight.

This time I make two loaves, one for my kids and me, one for Quaker Meeting. Wednesdays when my kids aren’t here, I make the salad for Sharing Circle at the Meeting. Every time I do it makes someone happy. Often on those weeks that is the only real cooking I do, outside of preparing day care meals.

Many weekends after my ex and I split up, I made banana bread for my kids. Had I thought of it and gotten up early enough, I would have sent some to my son.

This morning while I make the batter, I listen to On Being, a podcast with four religious leaders, centered on the influence of the Dalai Lama, and on the role of happiness in our lives and in the world’s religions. The rabbi speaks of the role of food in the Jewish tradition. The Arabic leader speaks of the need to respond to beauty. The Dalai Llama speaks about happiness and hope in the face of trials. Someone, if not all of them, speak of the Sabbath as a time to stop and let life catch up. There I am at the counter doing just that. Others talk about prayer and meditation as similar in ways to Sabbath..the way they cause us to slow down to allow life’s blessings, a phrase I’ve not loved to use, catch up. If we can slow down, rather than always racing ahead, we notice all we’ve got, feel gratitude and love, go deeper. For that I’ll consider using the word blessings, may even turn to prayer.

Standing at the counter, stirring batter, putting the banana bread in the oven, listening to On Being, I do that, get centered, feel good. I come away as though I’ve prayed. I understand a bit more of where I am and where I’ve been. I feel connected where I may have only recently felt alone.

The last two weekends I haven’t been with my guy, his choice. This weekend is the second of three in a row with my kids, a rarity for me to have this many weekends without Richard, with my kids.

Yesterday my gal and I spent the day watching Ben play frisbee on a club team out of Albany, regionals for this adult summer league, his segue out of college into adult life. Shortly before the last of their three games ended, a young woman who had introduced herself when we arrived, who also had family at the game, approached me on the sidelines to tell me I had done a fine job as a mom to have raised such a good guy as Ben, that they loved having him on the team, and that his work with them would make his college frisbee experience that much richer. It was at the beginning of that game that Ben had decided he wouldn’t be coming home last night, would be spending the night at a hotel with his team, last chance to hang with them, as they wouldn’t be going on to Nationals.

Instead, I got his gal, Michaela, who joined us at home for the night. We visited. She and Isabel and Jonah and Jonah’s gal Isabella and I were together for dinner. After dinner the older ones sat at the table and talked and laughter. My gal and I watched New Girl, and also laughed. At the end of the night I spoke to Richard, something I had taken time off from doing while we sort things out, and we laughed some, too.

The weekend hasn’t been what I expected. It’s been just fine. Today is the Sabbath in the Quaker religion I’ve come for the moment to call home. Time to shower, to take the banana breads out of the oven, release one from it’s pan for the Meeting attenders, leave one on the counter for my kids, and get myself to Meeting.

Have a listen to On Being if you have the time and inclination. Enjoy the fall day, wherever and with whomever you are. Bake something delicious if that’s your thing, or do what is, thinking happiness as spiritual practice, recommended by the spiritual leaders of the world:)

http://www.onbeing.org/program/pursuing-happiness-dalai-lama/147

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I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a woman. Also about what it means to have trouble and to solve a problem, on one’s own, with a partner, in the company of friends, in community. Last night I heard a story from a young man with lots of troubles. Also with a young wife for whom he hopes to be a strong man, the person he wants to be, his words. This reminded me of my younger brother, who’s had his share of troubles, and who often comes back to this source of strength, his duty to provide for his wife and young son. Both men want to be the one to make the home, to earn the money, to keep the ship steady. I was reminded again of my own sorting out of what it means to be a strong woman, of what it means to make a home and to provide for my own family, with a partner or without. There’s a lot of glue in the world, holding us all together. Sometimes the glue feels like most of what we’ve got. What amazes me is how folks do hold up, continue to go on. When things are really bad most of us don’t give up.

Sometimes we do, but those stories seem to be the exception. This summer I heard one about a friend’s elderly father, who seemed to have worn out from years of hard knocks, decided he was done, stopped eating and drinking. Two weeks later he was gone. For many years before that he’d taken care of his failing wife. When his own health began to fail, his daughter and her family stepped in, moved the two close to where they could look after them, and at that point, the man let go. Maybe it was that he could stop living once he knew someone else was there to look after his wife. While I was telling my daughter the story, thinking how sad this end of life had been, she surprised me again as she often does, reminded me how lucky those two were to have the love they had, how lucky the now demented wife had been cared for by this man, how lucky the man had loved her so deeply he provided the care he did, even in the limited life they lived.

This morning I read on HONY about a young Vietnamese woman who was taken in by a man one night. He found her sleeping with her son in a construction site, abandoned by her husband. He took her home, saying she shouldn’t have to live that way, looked after her and her son. As she said, after a few months a romantic connection developed. The two were pictured above the words, she on a motorcycle, he standing beside.

This morning I’m home on my own. It’s been a weird stretch. My kids and I and my guy are all out of our rhythm, summer vacation into fall, Spain to home a transition that’s been a lot rockier than expected for me and my guy, sorting out life apart and together a problem we’ve been working on too long, feels hard to go on. Haven’t given up, but it makes me think about strong women, strong men, home, family, solving problems, if and when we can.

So, today I make Gypsy Soup, my balm for what ails. I chop and sautee, stir, smell, taste, clean out the fridge, anticipate the weekend with my kids, a weekend plan that’s been in progress way too long, not settled yet, but Gypsy Soup worthy for the moment. The soup is good for lunch and calming no matter what the weekend brings. While I cook and wash the clothes, I also fight rats. Yes, the fine institution of WFDC has a family of rodents residing in the compost bin, now frolicking on the side yard, to and from the street. Yesterday a mom called to report a sighting after drop off. In the afternoon when I was in the yard with the kids, I saw one hopping from sidewalk to bin. Then Liana saw it or another, atop the nearby pile of bricks. The suspicion had been there, food disappearing from the compost bin, tunnels there that made us discuss a plan. Now the sightings have confirmed it’s rats not possums, as I had sort of hoped, I’ve called my pest control folks, who have given me the same advice we came up with ourselves, stop using the bin, get one that is rodent proof. The problem is dealing with the nest. So, today, I lifted the top off the bin, thinking I’d expose the rats’ home to light. I put mothballs from Liana’s home and ammonia from mine into the holes the rats have chewed in the wood platform to tunnel under the bin. Once upon a time a family of skunks made a similar show, parading out the babies at pickup time on the front walk, returning boldly to their nest beneath the trash can platform. My then husband and I researched getting rid of skunks, discovered the ammonia and moth ball trick, and it worked. The mama’s next parade was out of the nest through the yard, onto a new home. So far the rats seem more intrepid. Seems they are digging a hole in the platform under the second bin, which I thought might be less accessible. After I mistakenly dumped more compost in the second bin, and discovered that hole, I poured more ammonia there. Next step is either a new off the ground fancy bin or metal under the ones we’ve got. Haven’t gotten there. More research, more fun.

Sometimes I tell myself I wasn’t raised to deal with rats. My grandfather tended the barn while my grandma cooked and cleaned and grew the food. Maybe she did the mice in the house and he did the ones in the barn. That isn’t the picture in my head. My mom has had two husbands, neighborhood men, brothers, now a boyfriend and a son in her life who’ve helped with various chores. Still she deals with rodents, poisoning the mice and woodchucks, probably other critters I can’t think of now. I’ve dealt with mice at home and in Ashfield, but I’m a poison gal. When the mice come round live, I’m not so brave. When it’s time to trap them I look for a man.

We’ve had squirrels in the ceiling of the third floor. Seems they may have returned. Over the years we’ve had fleas, lice, grain moths, dead things under the porch, pets with creepy problems, floods, massive snow. Torrent after torrent of these critters and overwhelming situations have come to test us. Each time they do, I wonder if I’m strong enough, who I can count on to help. Each time I make it through, knowing I’m a little bit tougher than the troubles. I’m a lot like the young guy last night and my brother. They fight for their wives and homes. I fight for my world. We do what we can, men, women, children, to keep things working as best as we can.

Now it’s time for smaller problems, those within my sphere of less fear, finishing the laundry, paying bills, writing up new contracts, tidying the house. Then onto the easier part of the day, nap time in the day care and evening with my kids..perhaps replacing the gate latch in there, too. No steam for yard work again today. Soon the weeds in the drive will die, the hedges will stop growing, the leaves and then the snow will fall..season by season I’m tested. Most times I pass. Sometimes I fail. Still standing, trying to feel proud:)

This morning I wake up with womanly worries. Turns out the person I thought was bringing paper goods for the party of 60 to 80 people is bringing plastic forks. Good thing my woman brain woke up in the fives to worry about the party, checked the evite comments, and reread that one about the forks. Good thing my not so perfect woman gave up groceries as planned yesterday for more time with my daughter shopping for second hand clothes. Cute jeans and sweater for her, no food for us yesterday, still time this afternoon to buy the paper goods along with this week’s groceries for the day care and home, and the party miscellaneous, to put it all away, along with my kids, to gather the sports equipment, the folding table, trash bags, like a man, and to decorate the cakes, remember to put together a card, like a woman, squeezed around the Quaker Meeting I hope to attend this morning, like a person on my own, and before the party begins at 4.

My early morning woman brain also remembered my kids’ question at dinner on Friday, about when their passports expire. My daughter’s passport memory is her dad’s car full of stuff for the move to a new home, parked outside the Post Office where we all met up, both parents, all three kids in the same place at the same time, just as we were coming apart. I hadn’t remembered. When I checked this morning, I discovered the kids’ passports expire August 29, 2015, which means my daughter’s is valid for her trip to Australia and back with her grandma this winter. Which reminded me of another womanly thing, to find out whether she needs a special letter to travel out of the country as a minor without her parents, which she does. Again her dad and I will do our legal duty so my gal can do her trip. I write this all in a group e-mail to my ex, to his wife, to our kids, to his mom, as much so I don’t forget as to inform the others.

After that, I check my blog stats and find someone’s been reading a piece I wrote on Disney Princesses, and I wonder who it might be, realize that putting myself out there as a struggling feminist isn’t new, and is something I might need to write about now. It’s not just this one early morning that I wrestle the good woman/bad woman, single woman/should be partnered demons.

It should be no surprise to me that being a feminist, while it’s something I deep down am and know, isn’t always easy.

It would be nicer to have a man around, I tell myself when there is too much snow, when I’m hosting a party involving moving furniture and hauling trash, when the hedges are too tall, my lawn unkempt, when I’m too tired to make the dinner and do the dishes on my own, at tax time, when I apply for my son’s financial aid, when I pay the bills, when I look at the air conditioners in the windows as the temperatures are dropping, or the lack of them in the spring when things are heating up. I’d like a man to help me with those things, be a back up with his strong arms and spatial skills, superior earning power and math brain.

Turns out, often its just me, and while I can’t always do all those things alone, I can sometimes find help, from other women, children, and also men. Other times I discover even men can’t do the things I suspect I can’t do because I’m a woman or wish I had a man here to do for me. My guy can’t paint, due to his asthma. He’s not real fond of yard work, any more than I am, maybe less. My plumbing and carpentry and electrical skills are sub par for a traditional man, decent enough for the average woman. When I talk to my friend Michael about this he tells me even he has to learn by trial and error for many projects he tackles around the house. This makes me think it might be more an issue of orientation or expectation or confidence than a lack of innate training or upbringing as a male that keeps me from fixing a faucet or installing a new light, while imagining that he can do it all. Other times he pays folks to do the work he can’t do or won’t. I have to remind myself this is ok, as in my growing up, men and women did much more of the work around the house than we do now, hardly paying for a cleaner or a home repair if it was something they could do themselves. It’s not just that I’m a woman that’s keeping me from doing these manly things. It’s not doing manly things that makes me a strong woman.

Living as a single mom, unmarried at 47, after five years of living on my own and dating men who live far away, I often think my life would be easier if I did things in a more traditional feminine way, found a guy to marry me, to do the work I’m not doing, whether due to lack of time or expertise or preference or energy or money or just plain neglect. I think it would be easier to travel as a mate, to sign the taxes jointly, to have a shared bank account, to raise the kids with a partner in my home, even to have a man to wash my car, as though anyone in our house has ever done that, girl, boy, woman, man. It was the clue I got that my ex-husband was dating, the car washing thing. My then small gal questioned her dad for cleaning his car. What’s going on? she wondered. His first evidence of trying to impress another woman was there for her to see, and came to me as she told me about her day and I wondered, too, and then she revealed the dating, searing a hole in my heart, probably as much because he hadn’t cleaned the cars we owned together as because he was going on a date, and because I felt like I had turned my daughter into a spy. And probably because I wasn’t that Disney Princess. I didn’t win that race. I wasn’t the one rescued by the knight in shining armor who cleans the car and pays the bills and shovels the walk and cares for the kids. That time around, that’s not my fate, at least not in the way Disney lays it out for us lost souls looking for a myth or mate. (In reading this two days later I think to edit the sentence above about no one in our house ever cleaning the car. For two or three years after her dad and I split up, part of our summer vacation was devoted to cleaning the van, my daughter leading the way and doing much if the work, her grandma and I sometimes pitching in. Seems important to add that here. It was a fine gift which got us through those years with a van much cleaner than it would have been. )

The whole time I was married we wished for a wife, for someone to stay home and look after the kids while we both worked full time, to tidy the house that was often untidy, to vacuum and dust and shine, to buy the groceries and cook the meals we bought and cooked between us, often with some debate as to the fairness of our division. We wished for a woman to take some of the traditional roles so neither of us would have to, and so we wouldn’t have to fight about how we shared the work or didn’t. Now, in my post-marriage, five years of separation and divorce, I’ve become the man/woman, and he has a wife, who like me, works long hours and isn’t any more traditional than I was. We share paid cleaners, who often do our houses on the same day, one before the other, he does some groceries for their household, others he and his wife buy together, divisions I learn from my children as we discuss house chores over dinner Friday night, more spying, or learning from each other? I do shopping with my daughter for our home, and my sons do dishes and take out trash and my gal folds clothes, and everyone is cared for in the mish/mosh man/woman girl/boy way we’ve figured out in 2014, with a boyfriend thrown into my household every other weekend or so, and me not here most weekends the kids are with their dad. On those weekends the cat is in charge, here on her own to look after things, and my day care partner Liana looks after the trash and recycling my son and I do on our weeks here and I am a partner to my boyfriend in his home, which is run for a single man and hardly has a chore for me to do, folks paid to clean and do the yard and fix most things that need fixing. We get to play, to hear music, to eat out and take walks and visit friends and family and hike and swim. Where is the woman or the man in that, in the life nearly sans chores? In that life we took my van for repairs at the local Honda dealer many Mondays until on Mother’s Day weekend we bought my sporty new Impreza, boyfriend beside me talking with the sales guy, me stepping up to pay the bill, so I could hand off the mini-van to my son, starting adult life.

It’s a fine mess I’m in at 47, preparing for 48, in terms of being a feminist and holding it all together. I’d like for my kids to see me as the woman who can do it all, and then I wouldn’t. That would be a set up, for both the girl and boys. Near 10 last night, after watching New Girl with my gal, I texted my guy who is not here this weekend, to say good-night. He had fallen asleep early, texted back had I done my party chores? No, I was most certainly not done with my party chores, who did he think I was, Super Woman?

Turns out I am and I am not, Super Woman, that is. I do cook a nice meal most days and nights the kids are here. Yesterday we ate frittata for brunch, falafel and rice from a box, salad, and homemade tzatziki and tahini dip for dinner. I do the shop. I make sure my kids have clothes, that the critters move out of the compost bin (with help from a day care parent and Jen). I get stuff fixed when it needs fixing, mostly. I let the yard go, except when I don’t, and most times now when I do yard work it’s with my gal. I shovel snow. The kids and the man help. Sometimes friends help, too. Other times I pay. I pay and I pay and I pay for the things I can’t do as a woman, as a person, as a single working parent, as someone who would rather read and write and shop than pound a nail or scrape paint or trim the hedges in fancy shapes. I’m lazy sometimes, and tired, and I’m not a real great man, which for some reason is how I rate myself as a lousy feminist, sometimes, in my head when I can’t get past not wanting to shovel the snow.

And now it would be fine if I could go back to sleep for an hour, but I’m wound up and it might be a good morning for chores, even if I got too little sleep and the day is long and I have to be ready for the party at 4. We’ll see.

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