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For years in my thirties and early forties I had a recurring dream. I had returned to school. My children were with me. We had no place to live, or the place we were living was absurd. In one of these dreams I was living with my three young children in a frat house, nursing my baby at night, wondering what to do with the children when I went to class. In another of the dreams we lived in a shack with deteriorating walls and little furniture. My husband, their father, was no place to be found in those dreams.

In some of the dreams I would arrive on campus, sometimes a version of Cornell, where I went for undergrad, and no one would know who I was or why I was there. Often, I would say I had deferred, and the administrators would try to find some record of that.

In some of the dreams I had not shut down the day care, and I would be on campus, not belonging there, with my children, not knowing how to care for them while I was in class, also aware I was leaving the day care children and teachers and caregivers in the lurch.

All of this came back to me as I arrived in Northampton this weekend, preparing for a four nights/three days all expenses paid exploration of the Smith Social Work MSW program. ‘

This week I got coverage for the day care. I told the parents I was leaving, let them know about my explorations. My daughter is in boarding school. One of my son’s lives in Somerville with his fiance, not with me. My other son lives in New York. This week/end nobody at home or at the day care needs me. I’m here for me, to figure out how to make a life I want to live as my children make their own, apart from me.

What I always felt in those dreams was the draw to return to school, the sense that I was meant for something more, something new, and that returning for another degree would get me there.

For the last ten years, I’ve been focused on transitioning out of a marriage, into the life of a single mom, on raising my three kids to adulthood, on building and creating a life in Somerville, with stints in long distance relationships in New Hampshire and Northampton, always wondering what next.

This weekend the social work option feels real. The Smith option feels possible, if not clear. And it is wonderful to be back in school, if only for a few days, to sit and think and feel and listen and grow with others who share my yearnings in this direction, to get to know new people, to stretch and imagine life focusing on a change in a new and positive direction.

Time for class. Wish me luck! I’m breaking up with the disaster dream, making a new one, following intuition and gathering information, sensing and calculating my way towards a future I hope will build on my past and allow me to flourish and to do more good work and to continue to support myself and to stay connected to my children.

Tonight my second floor is more or less tidy. I’ve washed my dishes, after a dinner of leftovers and steamed wax beans from the Ashfield farmers’ market, reminiscent of home in Western New York. Does anyone else call them wax beans? Can you buy yellow beans in stores?

My daughter left for her dad’s Friday after dinner. I dropped her off to an empty house where we piled her bags for back to school in the living room and I tried on things from her bags of clothing culled from her client’s closets, the remnants after Buffalo Exchange and Urban Exchange and my daughter took their picks.

I found a black tuxedo blouse, a pair of black sneakers, a black woolen circle skirt and a black fancy cropped jacket and tucked them in my car before saying good-bye to my girl with a warm hug and a kiss on her cheek and a text between her and her dad and stepmom who were hanging with the neighbors in their hipster hood, where my daughter would continue her evening.

For awhile I’ve been wanting to dance. Friday after dropping off my daughter I came home, changed clothes and headed to Boston Swing, where I’d been once upon a time with a date, a good dancer who guided me well enough I had wanted to go back. Friday nights there is a lesson at 8 and dancing until midnight.

I made it through the lesson and three dance partners before escaping near 10, not convinced I would be back, happy to have tried. It’s hard and takes courage for me to do these things alone.

That is life at the moment. It requires a fair bit of courage to break into new routines, to try things on my own, not to feel badly about being solo again, to find the joy in the experiences when they’re mostly mine alone.

Saturday I visited the farmers market, bought veggies and flowers for myself, maybe for a meal to share with my son and his partner, maybe for a salad for my day care staff, who I’ve promised pizza and for whom I might make a salad to go with it for our meeting Wednesday evening as we begin our new school year, one new staff person, one here six months, the other nearly six years.

This is the first school year in nineteen years I’ve started without my day care partner, who left suddenly last September. Its been a super hard two years. I’m hoping to come out of that trend this year, to find a new rhythm with new staff I hope will stick around, with mostly returning kids, with only one little guy and his parents entering this fall.

This is also the first school year I’m starting with none of my own kids at home, one of the few school years I’ve started without a life partner. I’m making up a lot as I go. I have fantasies of getting the house in order, of reading and writing more, of meeting someone new, of finding a new rhythm for two.

That takes courage, too. I’ve been trying in fits and starts this summer, reaching out, trying to connect. It’s pretty confusing, pretty hit or miss, pretty difficult, scary sometimes, exhilarating sometimes, affirming and discouraging, hard, tiring, and maybe not the right time yet.

Tonight the house feels good, if quiet, if I feel a bit unsettled. I’ve been away so much this summer. Even this weekend I was out a lot, running errands, walking and sharing a meal with someone new, spending last night with my sister on the Cape, sharing conversation, breakfast, walking and attending Quaker Meeting with her this morning, driving back in traffic this afternoon.

In between I’ve been trying to get the house in order, washing towels and bath mats and the shower curtain, clothes, day care laundry, dishes, cleaning out the fridge, tidying up the kitchen counters, cleaning the baths, finally folding up the tent and organizing the camping gear from our vacation, opening piles of mail, paying a few bills.

There’s lots more to do. I hoped to sort out my closets and armoire, to shelve piles of books, maybe to set up more book shelves in my room, to clear out and de-clutter, to make room for whatever comes next.

Instead of all that I took a short nap, read the New York Times, texted and e-mailed a bit with friends, listened to music, thought, sat down to write here.

Change requires rest and time and reflection as much as doing. I’m going to remind myself of that, hope to find my way without too much struggle, notice where I’m lead. Taking photos, writing, and quiet slow down my heart and mind and give me space to feel my way.

Thanks to whoever reads. I heard from a friend yesterday who expressed gratitude for my posts. I never know who reads. Not many do. Still I keep on, less than I used to, but still it feels like home here, eleven years this fall since I began!

Who knew my goal of starting a new school and my questions about how people learn would be the beginning of eleven years of writing and taking photos, of trying to understand my life and all that’s happened since here on this blog? Someday maybe I’ll go back and reread and polish a piece or two. For now, that’s not right for me. Writing my way into the future compels me more than rereading where I’ve been. How about you?

Today is the day I drip cherry jam on my pink skirt.

Today is the day my daughter sleeps in and I get up early to prepare for my first day as co-clerk of the Trustees Committee attending the Facilities Committee, lots of words to say, Today is the day I begin to take on a new responsibility at and for the Meeting. And I’m a little scared.

Today is the day I do three appointments in a row after the meeting.

Today is the day my two more experienced caregivers care for the children while I attend to other things.

Today is the day I return to writing here, after a long time away and yearning to be back.

Today is the day I remember other years: when my husband moved out at the end of August ten years ago, making a new home for himself and our kids, when I was alone after a summer apart from Richard three years ago, still missing him, shortly before we reunited for our final year, when I was starting a new job twenty seven years ago, before my children were born and I was a second grade teacher in Mansfield, getting my classroom ready and figuring out how to teach on my own.

Today is the day I put on a blouse and skirt, after days and days of shorts and tees and a day or two of jeans.

Today is the day I empty the dishwasher from Monday’s dinner with two of my kids and my soon to be kid-in-law.

Today is not the day I have lunch with my son, as I had done many Thursdays over the past year, when Thursday was a day we both had free to meet at a coffee shop and talk.

Today is not the day I drum with my drum circle, as it is the last Thursday for a long time my daughter will be home, as she leaves Sunday to go back to boarding school.

Today is not the day I meditate, do a little yoga and write for myself on paper at the little green desk in my son’s old room, mostly tidied up and freshly painted.

Today is the day I put my words here, more publicly, if tentatively, a bit unsure of what I have to say or share, also earnestly, wishing for an audience, perhaps, wishing to find my own way in words again as in the past I’ve found my way here, writing into a place I longed to be.

This summer I’ve been living more than cleaning. My house shows it. There are piles in the corners, shelves stacked against the wall of the room I used for meditation and no longer find peaceful.

Last summer I shared my home with a crew, my son, my daughter, a family of three, and oftentimes my then partner, sometimes his daughter. This morning is quiet, painful and lovely at once.

In the past year, my house has been changing. I wanted to say transformed, but that isn’t right. First I took back my older son’s room, which had been rented on and off the last three years, painted it, spruced it up with old things that were elsewhere in the house.

My now former partner was out of work and handy and took on lots of chores around my house in exchange for pay I could afford and he could live on. Together we painted the living and dining room, which hadn’t been painted since the week my daughter was born, eighteen years ago.

He and a friend re-glazed the living room windows, oiled the back porch rails, refinished the back porch table, removed mildew from the third floor bath and painted it, then refinished the cabinets there. He stripped wallpaper and then painted one son’s room and then another.

Together we chose colors that shifted the energy in my home, creamy white for the walls of the living room, dining room, and bedrooms, with accent walls of deep yellow in the living room, bold green in the older son’s room, deep magenta rose in the other’s.

We painted the stairway hall a pair of greens, changing the entrance way into a place that I first worried was too much and which now feels welcoming.

He repaired a bunch of screens, many broken drawers in a bureau, a file cabinet, and my kitchen, and added two to the bathroom vanity where we had none. There were doors and gates that wouldn’t open and he planed them. There were holes in the walls and he patched them.

My oven broke and he helped me choose another and installed a microwave above it, leaving counter space for a new toaster oven where the microwave had been and a beverage station where the old toaster oven had been, complete with bean grinder, Aeropress, electric kettle, and seltzer machine, where we made lots of coffee, tea, and cold drinks.

At the moment my freezer is overfull of ice cream, which we ate together and he ate alone, in between the projects and often before meals. I need to stop buying more, as on my own I eat very little.

Even now we’ve parted ways, he’s continued to help me out, finishing a frame for a poster for my older son’s room last week, the frame itself a work of art, and coming yesterday to repair and paint the gates again in anticipation of the my day care re-licensing visit.

This morning when I got up and made my tea, I missed making our coffee together, sharing eggs and berries and yogurt and our days.

I haven’t felt like cleaning. I’ve wanted to be out or with my daughter. I’ve been working a lot. Someday, someone new will be here, a new partner, maybe someday new housemates, my daughter’s friends. For now, it’s mostly me and my daughter, with an occasional visit from my son and his fiance. The house can be ragged. My daughter and I live together amicably, taking turns washing dishes and tidying and doing laundry, working together in the kitchen and sharing meals.

For now, the house and I are in a state of wonder. Will I redo the kitchen? The second floor bath? Will I paint the third floor again at last, make bookshelves in my room to hold the piles around the house? Will I hang the files in the file cabinet and tidy up the room meant to be a study, maybe move the shelves stacked there against the walls, maybe even turn them into bookshelves in my room, as I imagined when I lay awake this morning in the fours, feeling the alone-ness and uncertainty acutely, as I have all summer long?

There were sometimes flowers on the table and he brought more, live as well as painted ones when I was recovering from surgery and at birthday and holiday time.

Today there is a bouquet from one of my day care families beside me on the table, to honor a long and worthy partnership, brought at pick up yesterday on the child’s and mother’s last day here of many.

For now, the day care shapes my days. My daughter shapes my nights. Travel and being with others far away has shaped my weekends, as well as a lot of time alone, driving, swimming, trying to reshape my life in an image I want to live into now and going forward. Wish me luck.

This summer my daughter has been working with me in the day care. Today my son stepped in so I could keep my commitments elsewhere and the teacher scheduled to work could attend to personal business.

As I drink my morning tea, I can hear Jonah reading down below, relaxed, animated like the performer that he is, gentle, kind.

My daughter and I talk at night about what is happening with the children. She asks perceptive questions as she always has, a person of exceptional emotional intelligence, and offers insights I might not have come to without hers.

It’s a rare pleasure not many of us have these days, to work with our children, to share our chosen profession with those we’ve raised, to have our children step into our shoes in our world of work.

When I first had my children, I mourned each passing phase. My mother reminded me that every stage can be wonderful. My kids and I have been in hard places. At the moment, we mostly aren’t.

I find their emerging adulthood fascinating. Perhaps they see me differently now, too, from this vantage point of working alongside me, of struggling with some of the challenges of adulthood they’ve witnessed me struggle with over the years, of experiencing some of the deep pleasures and joys that surprise us in adulthood.

A long time ago someone somewhere said the measure of raising children well lies in enjoying their company as adults. I feel quite lucky in that department. I love and admire and enjoy my kids and can only hope the feelings are mutual.

Middle age, the letting go, the watching our children grow up and move away, is such a complicated place, of loss, of longing, of remembering, of unknown, of loneliness and solitude, of new hope and facing fears.

Young people becoming themselves, taking on the world in new ways, relating to me from a vantage point of greater autonomy and experience, are enlivening.

They allow me to lay down my burdens, if even for a day, and to trust, incrementally, that they will be the keepers of the flame, the caretakers of tomorrow, and that some days, its ok for me to relax and allow them to show me the way.