Been wishing to write here, but my heart has been awfully heavy, and the aching feels too private for the blog. For now, here’s a song I’ve been craving, even tried to teach my young ones today, who must know things aren’t right. We tried to sing along with my phone, but it was too hard. Instead, we sang You Are My Sunshine, for which we know the tune, first along with Elizabeth Mitchell and then with Johnny Cash. Misery loves company, and these songs know the deal.

I’m hoping to be back in the swing sometime soon, for now will sort out my thoughts in other ways. Enjoy the tune.

Laura Cortese singing Train on the Island with her band of four. Richard and I saw them play at The Parlor Room, saw Laura Cortese with another band or two. This morning at breakfast the  kids loved watching and listening to her and her team play and sing on my iPhone. Life won’t be the same without my true love and listening to music at The Parlor Room.

Here are a link to a profile of Laura Cortese talking about the song and a you tube video of her playing it with the group. Lovely images and performance. The song is moving me today in many ways.

http://www.hearthmusic.com/blog/inside-the-songs-laura-cortese-moves-way-beyond-the-fiddle.html

Yesterday I met with a realtor to help me understand the value of my house, to consider work I might do on it, and options going forward in this real estate market. I was on my own for the evening, and spent much of it getting my books in order, entering data from checking and credit card accounts to help me know where I stand in terms of cash balances and flow. I pay my bills when they come in, deposit the checks as they arrive. The money comes and goes. I pass out cash to my kids for allowance, gas, spending money, clothes. We don’t live high on the hog, but we have what we need to get by.

Nearly six years since I realized I was going to be a single woman, I still am. Finances are a big deal. They were a big deal when I considered splitting up with my ex and they’ve been a big deal ever since as I’ve relied more on myself than I have since grad school, when I didn’t have kids or a home or a business to take care of or employees counting on me for wages. Six years later, I’ve kept the business alive, put shoes on my kids’ feet, sent one boy off to college, paid private school tuition for all three. We’ve had some meals out, travelled a bit, made small improvements to the house, here and there, painted half of it, or more like a third, added a few storm windows, repaired old windows, added two new ones in the basement, in anticipation of a renovation that never happened. Our appliances are old..twenty to forty years for fridges, stoves, dishwasher, washer and dryer. The furnaces are oil, nearly twenty years old. The water heater is tankless, now almost ten years old. The electrical is improving slowly, still needs work. Same with the plumbing and the fixtures, new faucets, newer toilets, old tubs and tile in both lower baths, new vanities in those baths, old kitchen cabinets with wobbly hinges and drawers, layers of paint to disguise the old fashioned fake brown underneath, contact paper to cheer up the inside view.

So, I’m looking at this house, worth more money than I’d like to know, and I’m looking at my bank balances, my budget and my projections for the future, and I’m wondering if and how things will play out. Can we do the kitchens and the baths, take down a wall or two, finally do something with the mud pit, weed-filled driveway, finish adding storms and/or replacement windows, convert the furnace to gas, remove the remaining wallpaper and paneling, repaint, with the day care showing wear from lots of kids down there and the upstairs needing painting, with most of it fourteen to twenty years old, take up the last of the linoleum in the day care kitchens, freshen the place up?

This year I borrowed money to buy a new car, after spending thousands on my old van to keep it running. I hadn’t expected to do that. I thought for years I’d never have a new car, that I’d always drive a junker, because saving enough cash was out of reach. The loan made it happen. My credit is good, the car is great, the payments are manageable enough, and my college boy gets an old minivan to drive until it dies.

I could sell this gold mine of a house. A developer could buy it and snazzy it up, sell it for much more. An investor could buy it and rent it to lots of working stiffs, more or less as is. A wealthier person could buy it and invest the money to make it the place they’d like it to be, converting it to a single family or renting the half they choose. I could move out and move on, look for a smaller place nearby in better shape, with new kitchens and baths, a tidy yard and drive, gas heat, but the chances of me finding a place like that where the day care and my kids and I would thrive feels very, very slim. It’s not a buyers’ market, and so not only would I need to scramble to get my house cleaned out to sell and move, I’d need to be in a competitive place to get a home nearby in time to make a move for my family and the day care, not something I can easily do.

The value of this real estate is scary. It’s great to own a place worth this much. It’s also a weird dilemma, to live in a place I couldn’t afford to buy, ever, if I were starting out now, and which I could rent out for much more than I could afford to pay if I were renting. The work I do is so poorly paid in so many places that if I were to move, I don’t know what kind of living I would make. Folks in this part of the world pay so much for child care that I can afford to live above the poverty line. If I moved to a place where housing was cheaper I’m not so sure that would be true. And I’ve got teens and one car. They need to drive to school and I need not to be trapped at home when they have the car. If I moved to a place where we didn’t have access to public transportation or nearby shops and friends, that scheme might not work.  Plus, my day care families walk and bike and take the bus and t to get to us, and many of them have only one car. If I moved away from my neighborhood, I don’t know if they would follow. Plus, I love where we are and the parks we visit. I’ve know the other providers in the neighborhood nineteen years. I’ve followed their lives and they’ve followed mine. Friends like that are a gold mine, too.

So, I think I’m here..but it’s a lot to sort out. I’m glad to have quiet this weekend to get the numbers in order, to talk with the realtor, to exchange e-mails with my accountant, to give the mortgage brokers a call, to think, and tomorrow to meet with a contractor to get his sense of things.

The good thing is my house is solid. The appliances work, if the fridge is roaring at me now and the dishwasher will be soon, and the stove knobs are mostly missing and the old laundry machines are in the grubby basement down three flights of stairs from the bedrooms. We have a squirrel in the attic, trees overhanging the roof from my neighbor’s yard which need to be cut back, untrimmed hedges, and snow coming before long..I’m one person, with two teens who are here part time, and helpers in the day care, but it’s a lot. Some days I think I can do it. Some days not. Don’t ask me which is today. I’m still deciding, numbers, heart, head, doing their best to help me out. I’m off to Quaker Meeting as soon as the banana bread is out of the oven. I’m hoping that, too, will help.

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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