This morning I’m up early, again. Last night after dinner, a quick batch of mac and cheese and farmers market salad shared with the kids on the porch, kids back from Texas with their dad, us back together, the damn dishwasher broke.

All week long I’d been smelling a funny smell, fishing bits of plastic from out of the inside of the dishwasher, hoping it was something up against the heating element making the burning smell.

Nope. The thing has gone kurplunk. The lights are out. There was smoke. The smell was fleeting. There were witnesses, and swearing, which I enjoyed knowing I was fully justified in using those bad words.

The damn thing is old. So am I. No fancy dishwasher here. Haven’t saved the money for that new kitchen remodel I had thought the dishwasher would hold out for. And the stove, and the refridge. Nope.

This morning I’m doing dishes, though, and it’s not so bad. I was way too tired last night. And done. Instead of washing after dinner, I walked away, after sitting awhile with my son and his gal laughing about the mess we find ourselves in, after imagining and dismissing the fancy dishwasher some folks at midlife might be installing in their soapstone kitchens. This kitchen’s all formica, all particle board, all the time, new faucet installed by my brother on his mission to stop the drips be damned.

After dinner I talked with my kids, walked with my friend, talked more with my kids, went to bed.

This morning I’m listening to Iris Dement, whose concert I may still attend, though not after the beach day and dinner out in Rockport with my kids and man I recently imagined. That dream too is dead, small loss in a world of bigger problems.

I’m washing dishes remembering the days I washed dishes with candles and flowers, out of gratitude for having made it out of one hard place and into another,  neither of which I had imagined when I was small. That can happen.

The flowers on my windowsill are from my man, left for me on his kitchen table two weekends ago with a cake and a card, a big rainbow of a heart thanking me for showing up. That’s what I do. Show up, in the kitchen, my man’s or mine, for meals and washing up and talking, not for fancy countertops or dishwashers with special features. For now, the showing up is what I’ve got. Those flowers are dead and dying. My man’s in a nursing home far away visiting with an even older guy who needs his company more than I do. The kids are in their beds, two in my home, one in their dad’s.

The music is playing. The ac blowing in the window of the living room was a gift from a day care family moved from Somerville to Winchester where their new home had central air. The fan I dug out of the cellar for my gal to take to camp, bought years ago for the day care, replaced by more hand me down air conditioners from day care families installing central air, is here on the table. My man is on his way from the nursing home with a load of Western Mass vegetables from the farmers market there. Grace happens. The world provides, whether in the form of flowers when I need them, a singer on the iTunes getting it just right, someone else’s good fortune spilling into mine, fresh veggies that make me smile, or dishwater to soak my hands in with the fancy soap I buy at Whole Foods that smells like pink geraniums, a favorite flower of my mom and grandma, familiar from my growing up as Iris Dement’s country music songs.

This summer I’ve thought a lot about time. One of my day care jobs is to be the scheduler. In the summer, some families work less or like to be away. Others have school age children who need care. I try to make matches, fitting requests to offerings. For awhile, the job has felt overwhelming. This weekend I got so many kind notes from families whose children will be joining us before heading back to school, that I remembered that part of the job, which is not only a chore but also a gift. Most things have many parts. It can be challenging to see them.

I’ve also been filling two last minute day care openings for fall. One family with two children is moving. This is complicated for them, leaving a place and day care they love for a new country they also love and jobs they’ve been trying hard to find. It’s also complicated for me. Most people looking for day care in the fall are all set, all those on our prospective families list included. It’s taken some new thinking about how things have changed for me to stay in the game at this point in my career. This morning I talked with my son about marketing. He interned on a local farm in Troy, NY and had read a book on marketing grass fed beef that he shared when I told him how different the market in Somerville has become, how larger centers have proliferated and how the going rate and offerings there challenge the way I market my program. It’s all about creating an emotional attachment, my son reminded me, something I know, but needed to hear. What that has to do with time, I’m not sure, except that I feel old, like time is passing me by, when I try to fill these spaces and see all the web sites and changes in the early childhood landscape that have occurred in the twenty years I’ve provided family child care from my home. Time moves on. We get old. We adapt or become obsolete. I worry about becoming obsolete, am not ready to close up shop, am not sure what the larger world will hold as time goes on.

I won’t change our program philosophy to compete with programs that offer music and language and yoga classes and preplanned curriculum when what we value is play and relationships and conversation and time. I won’t lower the wages of our teachers to compete with places which charge lower tuition but pay their teachers much less than we do. I won’t lengthen our hours to compete with places which are open in some cases from 7 to 6 and require teachers to work overlapping shifts rather than to start and end the day with the children. I can take the time to get to know the families when they come, and to share some of the things we do that they might value. If I can find the time, and I get clearer about it, I can change our online presence to highlight some of the things we do that other places might not, like writing and sharing daily observations, delving deeply into things that come up with our kids and families, caring for siblings in the same group and for children over time. I can point out that we provide healthy, home cooked meals, that we spend much of our day outside, that we are all experienced, mature, long term providers, that we have a great deal of higher education and life experience and that we share both with our children and families in important ways. All this takes time, and requires thinking about things a little differently. After twenty years of mostly filling our spaces very easily, I’m finding this year its harder. If I want to keep our day care thriving I have to learn to do some things differently. That takes time to observe what is different, to learn what is going on around us, and to do some new things that might at first seem burdensome, but might end up to be quite rewarding. It never hurts to stop and reflect.

Other thoughts I’ve had about time include all the sorting out of schedules and calendars and transitions I’ve done with my own kids of late. I’ve been thinking with my younger teen about her summer, about how all the camps and traveling and camping fit with family life. Figuring out how to get it on a calendar in a way she can understand has been fun, if also tricky, a task she took on when she wanted to plan her summer this winter and asked for help in sorting it out. I’ve also been helping my older teen sort out his calendar, first time he’s really wanted to do that with me, prompted by jobs that involve him submitting his availability to work. My older son is home and finding his time in the evenings and on the weekends to be his own. After expecting to be busy with organized sports, he’s adjusted to making time to do other things, hanging with friends and family, hiking with buddies last weekend, including asking for a day off work, doing appointments he’s too busy to do during the school year, working out, riding bikes, even yoga tonight with me. Later in the summer he and his gal are planning two weeks of staycation, divided between her home on Long Island and Ben’s homes here and with his dad. You never thought I was much of a planner, did you? he asks. I didn’t, but he is.

In day care we talked yesterday with the toddlers and preschoolers about new toys, about the challenges of sharing them and figuring out where to put them. I had offered a bunch of new things the last few weeks, a tent, marble blocks, dolls and doll things, all pulled out of closets and the basement to settle or enliven the play. When new things arrive, the children have trouble sharing. I wonder if its’ about time. Sometimes when I remind them the toys will be around awhile it helps, though its hard for the kids to hold that thought when getting the first turn or having a long turn seems so important. Yesterday our three was holding a new baby the two wanted. First the two screeched. When I asked if she wanted a turn with the baby, she said yes. I suggested she ask if she could have a turn when the three was done. She asked very softly at first and needed help getting the attention of the three. Once she did, the three agreed to give her a turn when she was done. Then the two thought to ask, Will it be a long turn? What a good question, I noted, and repeated it to the three. It’s enough to agree to wait, important to know how long.

Over the last two weeks Richard’s father-in-law Bill has been very ill. We think he may be dying. We don’t know if and when. At first it seemed he was just ill and would go home. Then the hospital was hard for him to take, but he had lots of visitors. Someone was there much of the day, but not overnight. As time wore on, it became less clear he was going to get well. Visitors arrived from further away, one by plane from Florida. Now he’s been moved to a nursing home, under the label of rehab, though it seems more likely it’s for hospice. Richard and I visited quite a bit two weekends ago. Last weekend I didn’t go and Richard came and went. This week Richard visited friends in NYC and tended to his mom’s home in CT and worried about Bill. Today and tomorrow he’ll give Bill time, hopes to offer his full attention. That is a gift at this stage of the game, sitting in wait together, facing the unknown day by day. Without eating or drinking or getting out of bed, there isn’t much for Bill to do. He watches tv, he dozes, he visits a little when folks come by. I wonder how time passes for him, what is on his mind, if he spends much of it contemplating the end of life, or not.

Richard and Liana and I have all struggled various nights with sleep. Richard thinks it’s the death and dying causing it for him. Not sleeping makes time at work or in the rest of the day pass differently, reaching for the next round of sleep. It also opens up a part of the day we tend not to experience fully, the early morning hours when most of the world sleeps. At first I was up and busy. Some days I did wash, dishes, paid bills, cooked things, all before the rest of the world woke up. Liana had been in her garden at 5:30. Other days we don’t get up. I lay in bed and think, let the thoughts move through me, sometimes come to a place I’m grateful to have reached.

This morning I have a quiet day before heading to day care at 1:30. I found time with my son before he left for work. My other kids are in Texas one more day, so now I have quiet time to write and maybe read and do some house chores. Mid-morning I’ll shop for Richard’s birthday gift, then meet a friend for a late morning meal, something I rarely, if ever do on my weekdays at home. Then it’s day care with Jen and the kids this afternoon, time with her this week before her two week break, and I’ve got things I hope we’ll do. After work it’s yoga with my son, a first for us, in a place I haven’t been since I last went with my gal many months ago. Dinner after that, and bed. All the time in this particular day day will be used up, will have passed, and another will soon begin.

I’ve been listening to Eckhart Tolle on youtube. He talks about time and pain and being in the now. It never occurred to me to connect pain to our experience of time, but as he describes it I can see how much of what we experience as pain is about recollecting the past or anticipating the future in ways that feel not right. His suggestion is not to avoid those experiences of pain, but to be with them, to notice them, to make ourselves conscious, a term he uses a lot and defines in a way I do not really understand. So I might read or listen some more, hope for more help from this wise man in learning to be present, conscious, healthy and happy in the moment and over time.

Enjoy your day! I learned this phrase several years ago and like it so much, better than Have a good day, more intentional and proactive and generous somehow. I try and hope you will, too.

This morning, like so many this spring and early summer, I’m up and wondering just after four. The birds in the trees ringing my house twitter while my mind shifts from dreams to day and the light comes into the sky. 

This morning I think about home, about my mother and sister and nephew getting together in Western New York the weekend of Richard’s birthday, about the Iris Dement concert I thought we all might like, about the gorgeous concert venue in Rockport where she’ll sing, about my kids and whether or not they’d like it, about the beach nearby and the sand and the outdoor showers there will likely be there and I wonder if we can get the sand off our bodies if I manage to get Richard and the kids and I to that beach before dinner of fresh seafood and her show, about the free tickets I want for the kids and the best seats Richard has offered to split, about the big glass wall behind the stage overlooking the ocean I keep telling about to sell the show, and I listen to Iris on my iTunes, Sing the Delta, an album I found in Boomerang Records on an outing with James and all our kids in 2012 just after it came out and my surprise in finding Iris in the world of music again, after a haitus, as I was, so I bought but hardly listened, but this morning I do, in hopes my children and Richard will love her enough to make the day I wish for come true, beach, outdoor shower, seafood dinner, Iris by the ocean, singing at her piano in front of that glass window while I sit with my beloveds all around me soaking up her sound. 

Happy Birthday Richard, Happy Family me!

Turns out the song I want to hear hits it right, gets me to writing as I used to, sun and Iris and I aiming to offer a little light while the rest of you sleep. Thanks, Iris. I love the 4th of July reference and the way you make me feel so much less alone, this early morning and all these many years since I met you when I was a young woman out with a bunch of friends and Eric and you opened for Ricky Lee Jones at Symphony Hall.

Wednesdays, and I say that with some pride, Wednesdays, which for the last three weeks have followed a pattern, middle guy off at Improv, other two at home for dinner, have been quite nice, oldest and youngest and I sitting around the table on the porch eating, laughing, and talking, oldest and youngest showing a fondness for one another that is rebuilding after three years of college keeping them apart, oldest now twenty, youngest now fourteen, gap not shrinking, but there is the attempt to reconnect with old affection at the base, with new teen/young adult topics to explore together. We start with some talk about the World Cup. As a sports know nothing, I have questions to ask, which I hope will make the youngest feel more in the know, which give the oldest something to be expert on, again.

After eating, the youngest disappears to her room, leaving the oldest and me to talk about this and that. Partway into our conversation, I start to cry. Mom, are you ok? my boy asks..and it is that is has been such a long time we’ve all been falling apart, it feels so good to be put back together again for weeks at a time. I let my boy know its the first time in nearly six years I’ve had the kids with me for over two weeks, which is what brought the tears..When he asks if I’m ok, I can only say, It’s been so long, which launches us into a discussion of divorce, how it impacts the oldest and the others, about the Penelope Leach book on divorce and children I’ve been reading, about research he’s read and statistics he finds questionable, about courses we’ve taken looking critically at studies which are often flawed, about some mathematical/statistical concept my son explains at length, which takes all my concentration to follow, and we talk about my children in the day care, the charming story of the day, the concept that they shared that love is not without fighting, and I ask about his gal friend, and then hear about their summer plans, until it is nearly time to Skype the gal friend. We start the dishes together, he unloads the dishwasher, I put away the food, and I ask for some of his music I heard and liked earlier in the summer..we figure out who it is, Bill Callahan, and he plays a song, then goes off to his room, leaving me to listen to Pandora on my iphone, which last played Anais Mitchell, who I’m happy to hear again, will save Bill Callahan for another time, and I’m in my zone again, mom in the kitchen with Pandora on the radio, singing Skinny Love over the sink, looking out the window at my neighbor Michael’s darkened porch, all of us in for the night, and I’m grateful to have my center back, grateful for two and a half weeks together, hoping for more, knowing this is it for a long while, won’t be another two weeks with all three kids under my roof for a long time again, if ever, and that is sad and good, sad that I long for it so and can’t have it, good that they are growing up happy and strong. Mom’s dilemma, that, divorced mom’s dilemma more specifically; supporting my kids’ relationship with their dad means I have to make peace with their living half time in my home and make the best of the times I luck out and they’re here more.

Today walking to the park my day care gal noticed a statue on a lawn. “That’s Mary,” she let us know. “Yes, she is,” I replied. “When I was a girl, Mary was important to me.”  My little Jewish gal wondered why she was important, I wondered how she knew who Mary is. Her mom told her. I grew up Catholic, in a church named The Immaculate Conception with a statue of Mary out front. “I was Catholic then,” I said. “Mary is important in the Catholic Church. She shows us what it means to be a good mother. She was the mother of Jesus, according to the stories that are important if you are Catholic.”

“God is important in my religion.” my little Jewish gal says.

“Yes, that’s true. God is important in a lot of religions.” I’m struck by the joy of conversing with my turning fours, by the way the world opens up to them and to me when we talk.

Later as we’re walking home, we talk about marriage. My nearly four asks what a marriage is for, and I have to think, say it is about sharing a life, and my nearly four wonders why a person would want to share a life, and I say it could be about having children or sharing a home or sharing money or decisions, and my four and older three, both girls, talk about marrying girls, then plan to marry one another, plan a wedding for the afternoon, with fancy dresses and lipstick and makeup and permission from their parents, but the nearly four is not sure who she will marry, first thinks she will choose her papa, then thinks she will choose someone far away not in her family, and I let her know she has time, that I did not choose the one that I would marry until I was twenty one, and we didn’t marry until we were twenty four..all of this started when the older three told us her grandparents were married fifty years ago..such a long time, so much longer than my nearly twenty years. But it is a fine thing to be a mother, which came for me from the marriage, and that, at least, goes on for life, and beyond, to which Mary can attest.

This morning I put Write Something somewhere near the end of the to do list I made for myself, which mostly included house and desk chores, and needed something fun. Now, just past 11, I decide to make it happen, two hours after my oldest son checked out and went to his room, one minute before my second son arrived home from his night on the town, eight hours after my youngest, the gal, headed to Harvard Square to meet her friend, on her way to Holliston, far, far away, to spend the night with a group of friends, first sleepover of boys and girls together.

I’ve hardly written here this year. Life has been a little weird, not so writable. I tried writing poems for a class, found myself too busy in June even for that once a week commitment. So here I am, nearly into July, trying to think of what to say.

We spent a lot of this weekend and this morning syncing calendars. On Saturday my daughter needed help transferring all her summer plans onto the paper calendar I gave her for Christmas with children’s book illustrations of the classical, fairy in the wood sort adorning each month. This morning we added her medical appointments, after calling the dentist and the doctor, and then my middle guy and I edited the family online calendar so he could let his new job know his availability, a task he did on their online scheduling calendar he found hard to understand.

At dinner, my older son and I talked about various weekends he’ll do his thing and not our thing. That seems to be the way it goes.. As I said to him, I feel like the keeper of the calendar..without much of a life of my own to schedule..but I’m learning that, too. Tomorrow at 10 to midnight Richard and I will be at Johnny D’s listening to Afropop music, hopefully dancing, too. The kids will be all over the place, oldest at a dance festival in Cambridge, middle working tech at Improv Boston, youngest fast asleep in her bed, or texting, recovering from a couple of days with friends. The summer is shaping up like that..I’m learning after a rough start hoping for two of three weekends to be spent together in Ashfield, that this round is about syncing calendars, about knowing where everyone will be, or at least sorting that out in an ongoing way, rather than planning time together.

There are a few plans for some of us to hang together. One weekend I’ll be at Woolman Hil with two of the three kids and Richard. Another few days I hope two of the three at least will be in Ashfield with Richard and me and the housemates and some combination of their three kids. I invited my mom and brother and his family and my sister and her crowd of kids and teens and our Ashfield housemates with their three teens and young adults  to join us in Ashfield one or two of three weekends in June and July. After wrestling my three and waiting to hear back from the others for nearly a month, I’ve given up. Not to mention Richard’s two young adult kids who figure in there somewhere, too.

I’m starting to catch on. Planning with teens and young adult children is a bit like Improv, a bit of a mystery, requires tenacity, patience, humor, more self-esteem than I had when I began, a willingness to let go of the need to be together, and hope that the small connections over dinner, before and after work, late at night, will be enough to bind us. In this awkward stage of life there is also the beginning of the life that lies ahead, of the return to life alone and/or as a couple from a life of being mom, some parts ease, some parts loss.

This winter/spring I signed up for a poetry class, even though I can’t remember ever writing a poem. The instructor was a former day care mom and friend who had invited me to join, whose class I had hoped to join for years. I only made four of the eight or ten sessions, wrote only three poems, but the third one made me feel I might write more, and the class made me so happy I hope to join again if and when the timing works. Thank you, Nadia, and the poetry group, for making my winter into spring so much lovelier.

Here is the third poem, which the class seemed to like, and which made me think I might learn to write a proper poem.

A Week After Mother’s Day

Mothers learn later than fathers
that our children can live without us.
I’m learning today,
taking a mac and cheese out of the oven,
mixing up the batter for a banana bread,
while all three children go on
eating and making plans
outside my kitchen.

Later, they’ll eat what I’ve made,
standing at the counter,
over a laptop at the dining room table,
in front of the tv,
maybe at the table on the porch with me
if I ask and we time it right.

When I pause from mixing to take my mug out of the microwave it shatters.
Milk and love splatter all over my kitchen.
I hold back tears and step away to write this poem and catch my breath.

A week after Mother’s Day I lose what feels like the last of my children’s father’s love for me.
The handmade mug, part of a set now split between our houses,
a glowing purple globe that matched the kitchen cupboards he painted to make me happy, breaks just where a whole cupboard of Mother’s Day mugs and wedding plates smashed over my daughter’s high chair many years ago,
making us grateful our girl wasn’t buried in the dishes.
That day my mother helped me sweep the shards, next Christmas she replaced the wedding plates.
This round my son walks into the kitchen, looks on in amazement, says,
There sure was a lot of milk in that mug!, goes to his room, shuts the door,
comes out and calls good bye as he leaves the house, late to meet his friends in Boston.
I’m on my own, sweeping the shards into a dustpan I’ve had for years.

I wake up before my children. My guy has gone home to Western Mass. The house is quiet. While I was showering, my daughter got up, brushed her teeth, said good-bye while I dried off. Now she’s out running with her dad, third day in a row, something I never learned to do, run like the wind, other than as a kid.

In poetry class this week a classmate wrote about learning to skate and the contrast between the ease his kids found on the ice and the work it required for him to learn as an adult. Another classmate talked about marveling at the things her children have learned to do, and the adults they’ve become, often experiencing or becoming things she never did.

Meanwhile, Richard called from Northampton. While Isabel was out running with her dad, Richard was out collecting boxes for his mom’s belongings. On Tuesday, he’ll go with his brother to clean out her closets and drawers and files. Now she’s gone, and it’s spring, nearly summer, they plan to sell the house. Before someone else moves in, they’ll need to move what remains of her out.

Here I am in the middle of the two, my gal finding her way in the world, at fourteen, anticipating becoming an adult, my guy ushering his mom’s spirit out of the world. Some days I imagine going for a run with my daughter. Most days my to do list includes clearing out my house so my children won’t have to, also so we can live freer in the days we’re here. Time now to live in the moment, tea for three. My son returns from college Friday, reminding us of another cusp in life, preparing for his first full time job this summer at Lincoln Labs. Richard’s daughter graduates from Smith College this weekend, interviews on Monday a second time for an art teaching job she really wants. My middle son took his SAT two weekends ago, will look again at colleges this summer. My nephew graduates from high school in less than a month. Life moves on, whether we’re running or studying or clearing out. Tea is every day.


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