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.

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I come home from being out to the wild hedges in front of my house, sticking out every which way beneath the unkempt maple who stretches her boughs down to tickle passers by on the sidewalk below.

I had left the house earlier to take my daughter to Davis Square, feeling self-conscious as we pulled out of the driveway about neglecting my yard.

I should be trimming tonight, I told my daughter. Why? she asked. I hardly even notice them.

They are the hedges of a crazy woman, I say. She looks back as we drive away, notices the contrast between the hedges I’ve left untrimmed on two sides and the neatly trimmed hedges my neighbor manages between our properties, and laughs.

After being out and meeting someone new for dinner, then visiting my old friends at the Sharing Circle, full of love and soul around the candles, sitting on the folding chairs on the edges of the rug we roll out and roll up and put away, I came home to the wilds of Somerville with new vision.

I’ve lived my life here making a home of curb finds and flea market treasures. Sunday I visited the Providence Flea with friends. I brought home four glowing orange dinner plates, two hand made sunset dessert plates, a small serving bowl in sky blue, and two little golden bowls to hold our berries. I haven’t been able to keep my eyes off them all week. They catch the sun as it sets outside my windows and contrast boldly with the dark green kale and the bright red strawberries my daughter and I love.

I am not meant for new and shiny, for pure and white. I am attracted to old and colorful, to light and patina, to chips and stories. Anyone who can love me for that (including my sometimes more judgmental self) is welcome here. Anyone who cannot love me or this home for the wild (h)edges and the mismatched, glowing dishes need not worry.

As I come up the stairs to my home I notice the flowers blooming amidst the straying hedges. I am not meant for trim and tidy. I am the let it bloom and grow kind of Maria, the one who will trim eventually, when it’s cooler, when the time is right. Let the neighbors talk. Quiet my inner voices down.

Like the ants crawl freely inside this year, un-poisoned, the hedges grow wildly outside, untrimmed and blooming. Something about that is speaking to me, along with the birds in the trees and the squirrels who played chasing games on my roof at 4 am this morning, leaping from the overgrown branches onto my home, wreaking havoc with my sleep and causing me to look up the tree service on my phone, imagining they might be able to help me tame the nature invading my city world.

I didn’t call the tree service. Instead I planned a road trip with my daughter, bought camping supplies, plotted routes across beautiful, rugged terrain out west, fantasized about adventure and new worlds, in hopes of opening to new life.

What lies ahead at 52, another long term relationship ended, my daughter heading into her senior year of boarding school, my sons on their own? Its impossible to say, though I hope it will be soulful. For now, home will be my filter.

This week my pattern has been waking up in the fours. The birds and their sounds have been so prolific and profound they’ve gotten the attention of the neighbors on Nextdoor, who comment and wonder along with me what sort of birds are calling so early in the morning with such vigor.

The undercurrent of the Nextdoor conversation is that the birds are a nuisance, waking us up. The reality for me is that the birds have been keeping me company for awhile, and that they’ve again risen to the level of companions, especially in the hours I’m most alone, when their activity and voices remind me that in fact I’m not.

In 1992 when we bought our house, it was not surrounded by trees. There were two good-sized maples at the back two corners of the yard, which are still there, and one on the front corner, which is gone. We planted a garden full of vegetables that grew.

Over time, the trees have grown up into a bird paradise. From my living room couch where I sit now, I look into a canopy of leaves for which I have my ex-husband and mother to thank. He chose this particular Norway Maple seedling to allow to grow up through the front hedges, she trimmed around it in it’s early years.

From my back porch, where I rested in my hammock awhile this morning after waking in the fours in a hot house, where I rested last night at the end of a long week, my daughter off with friends, I looked into canopies of leaves. The two maples have grown larger. More have joined them along the side, along with enough mulberries to feed the birds.

While I ate my dinner on the porch last night a jay came and rested on the post across from me. He or she gazed toward me a long time, the feathers on his or her breast fluffier and more disheveled, the eyes larger and wider and more contemplative than I expected for such a reputably aggressive bird. The bird paused there a long time, reminding me of the world outside my phone when I’m alone, causing me to pause as well, to consider the bird’s perspective.

I set up my camera quietly to capture the bird. As I pressed the button, the bird flew off, up to the mulberry to eat, leaving me with a frame of nothing but my porch post and wicker chair.

Birds are ephemeral that way, a reminder of the connection between earth and sky, between heaven and earth.

This week I’ve noticed a proliferation of mourning doves. Last weekend I counted nearly a dozen in my back neighbor’s yard. Last night as I lay in my hammock a pair greeted one another at the end of a long week, flapping their wings over and around one another in an entangled way. I had been moved to read about the doves this week after wondering why so many had appeared and had learned, as I had suspected, that the birds are monogamous, and as I had not known, prolific reproducers.

We have a lot. Last week when my seven came in from playing on her own with a collection of people in our back porch doll house she let me know she had been kept company by an owl. Ah, I had replied, the mourning doves. They sound a bit like an owl, whooing as they do.

Last night as I ate dinner then rested on the porch there were at least two jays, a cardinal, the mourning doves, a robin, some grackles, and other birds I didn’t identify or name. All these birds come to my backyard overgrown by trees, in a city lot, for which I’m grateful. In a sea of concrete and asphalt and buildings, I have nature, trees, birds, even insects. As the ants invade the house this year I teach the children to let them be, to coexist, to watch and wonder rather than to poison or to flee.

We are not alone, the world is telling us. The birds and flowers, the plants and animals, are here and we are with them if we dare to be, even in the city, especially perhaps, if we live in a place that is somewhat neglected, where trees are allowed to grow from seed and people have the wherewithal and/or the disinterest to let them.

The birds follow the trees, seeking shelter, food, rest, perspective. We humans become surrounded, called back to our own nature as ones of the earth rather than controllers of it, as ones seeking companionship as much as ones destroying, as ones who are not as alone as we might think. The jay looking into my eyes at dinner and the birds talking to one another when I woke too early this morning reminded me. Who reminds you?

Today my daughter beat me to the shower and she was first out the door to work. She is starting her first day in a job she’s been moving towards for years, helping people organize their homes and lives. I’m heading downstairs shortly to a job I’ve been doing for years, helping people care for and raise their children.

If my daughter is evidence of my work, I can be proud.

Monday she started joining me in my work. This summer she’ll be a teacher in the day care, helping me to care for ten little people in a space and program that helped raise her.

Monday night I attended a meeting at the Quaker Meeting House, learning a new role I’ve been invited to take on, a role that feels both familiar and brand new. I’m taking over for an old friend who is stepping down after twenty some years as co-clerk of the Trustees Committee, the committee charged with overseeing the facilities and finances of the Meeting.

As I sat in Meeting for Business in the Meeting House on Sunday, feeling the beauty of the space and community around me, I thought of my grandmother who was on the Altar and Rosary Society at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church, a church her father or grandfather helped to build. I thought of my father’s father and the country church he helped to care for if not to build, around the corner from the farm where my dad grew up.

Why do you work so hard?, a former co-chair of mine at the Choice Program once asked. I think I learned it from my family I replied. I think I did. Perhaps my daughter did, too.

Time for work!

Today I’ve been on the porch much of the afternoon and evening. I had lunch with my guy, rested in the hammock, caught up on social media and pondered life, made a call, wrote e-mail, texted with teachers, and wrote progress reports at the table.

Early in the day the next door neighbors were on their porches, too, the father of a day care child upstairs, two young adults downstairs, sitting in silence on their computers, facing the yard and trees.

I can smell the barbecue of the neighbors two houses down behind me, folks I don’t know gathered in the yard of one of the new luxury condos that are creeping one by one into this old school Somerville neighborhood of two and three family houses, surprising and paining me with their wall to wall white and gray, finished basements, master suites, open floor plans, and luxury prices.

When I arrived here we were the new people. We bought the house the year we were married, moved in a month or two after the lease on our old Cambridgeport apartment ended, just as I began my first and last full time job teaching in public school a long and difficult commute away from the city we had chosen for our home.

At that time, we were outsiders. Many of the folks living around us had grown up in the houses. Many were related. Some were old. Over time the older ones died, their children lived in the houses, sometimes their children and grandchildren shared them, too. There are a few of those multi-generation households left. A few of us still live in one unit and rent the other. As far as I know I’m the only one since I’ve been in this neighborhood who’s cared for other people’s children in a family day care. I’ve felt vulnerable, criticized, and appreciated for that fact.

Even so, without the day care, I wouldn’t feel so at home here. Almost every weekday for almost twenty four years the day care kids and caregivers, including me, have walked to and from the park greeting the neighbors, which once upon a time were on their porches and in their yards greeting us, are now only rarely home during the day to say hello. Once upon a time there were many yards decorated for the holidays or full of flowers for us to admire. These days, not many of us plant flowers and very few of us decorate for the holidays.

In the early days there were also young renters who partied late at night, who lived in the more neglected houses, in groups that shifted over time. There were no condos. Most of the homes were owner occupied. Now that balance has shifted. Condos are becoming the norm. The groups of young people renting must have moved to other neighborhoods. The renters are mostly quieter, couples, young families, and single working people sharing space.

Over the years I’ve cared for a few neighborhood children. This year there are three who live in close proximity, two whose families rent, one who bought a single family where another day care family lived many years ago. I now get calls fairly regularly from neighbors looking for care for their children, whereas that used to be rare. When we moved in their were very few young children, mostly older children, teens, and their parents, young adults, and older people. I love caring for neighbors, love that there are young children and their families living here, hope that trend continues.

My neighbor just moved his trash and recycling bins to the curb. For many years he was our alderman. Then he lost to a friend of mine, a more newly arrived resident from a faction of the political scene that is less grounded in Old Somerville. When he first moved into the newly constructed house which was one of the first to be built, on a patch of ground that held a bunch of garages and open space my old neighbors used to play in when they were little, his daughter was a toddler I would watch as she and her dad listened for the ice cream truck that used to drive these streets. She lives in New York and has for several years. I haven’t seen her since she graduated high school, before that when she briefly babysat my kids.

I feel grateful my own kids come home, though my oldest, who also lives in New York, is an infrequent visitor. My younger two are here a lot. We hang out on the porch. We make dinner together. We still love this place, the porch, the house, the neighborhood, the city. In the midst of so much change, in our lives, in the neighborhood, in the city, we’ve persisted in our commitment. My middle child now lives on the other side of town, a renter with his partner, living the young adult hipster life in Somerville I think I missed. Though I was here as a young adult and loved my life, I was already married. We owned a two family house and were thinking about if and how to raise our family here. I didn’t ever feel hip, here or elsewhere. It wasn’t clear then we wanted to raise our children here, but over time we, then I, did.

It’s been hard for me to leave this place. One relationship after the other has ended and I’ve continued in my relationship to this house, to this place. Even through hard times when I was feeling pushed out of Somerville by my connection to the charter school group, when we endured hostility from the elected officials and those who opposed the charter school, I stuck it out here, committed to my home and family and day care life.

Yesterday my daughter let me know that old friends whose children I cared for and were friends of my kids, have sold their two family in another part of Somerville. She grew up here. They raised their kids, made friends, married and divorced here. Now they are selling the house I encouraged them to buy when they’d been renting just outside Davis Square from a woman whose children she had babysat as a teen. Their house is selling for a lot. They’ll start over somewhere else, with money in their pockets and memories of life here.

Everyday I get solicitations from developers and realtors who want my house. Every day I ask myself how much longer I can and should and will keep it. For now, I’m here, on my back porch, surrounded by folks who’ve been here longer and shorter than me, with someone’s boom box, a bird in the tree, and the gorgeous early summer evening light singing to me, stay, stay for awhile. If not forever, be here now.

This morning, after three weeks away, my gal is home. My guy was here last night and we had breakfast before he headed off to work this morning. He has work. A good thing. Which means weekends his daughter is with her mother he works Saturdays and I am on my own.

My close friend is suffering. I spent much of last weekend with her, visiting with her and/or thinking about her.

My sister had hoped I would spend this weekend with her and my mom and her sons at the graduation of my oldest nephew, staying together in Ashfield, attending ceremonies at UMass Amherst. I realized when the time got closer it was more than I could do, that I wasn’t up for a graduation for my nephew with his dad in the mix as he and my sister are going through a divorce, on a weekend my daughter would be home and not up for traveling, on a weekend my middle child, six weeks older than his cousin, might have been graduating, too, had things not changed so drastically for him.

Instead, I’m listening to Adrianne Lenker, singer songwriter, member of Big Thief, first introduced to me by my oldest son. Last time I had time to myself, maybe the last Saturday I was home alone while my guy was at work, I listened to her all day, and then sent my son a text wondering if he had heard of her, as she reminded me of Julie Byrne who I love thanks to my son recommending her to me, and as he had sent me a Big Thief song on a birthday playlist a few years back when I was new to Spotify. Yesterday he wrote back letting me know he had not only heard of her, he listens to her and likes her a lot. It makes me happy to know even though we see one another infrequently we can share music, share art, share common sensibilities.

So, today I think of Ben, think of Jonah, think of my friend, think of my sister and my mom and my nephews and their day, think of of my daughter upstairs asleep and wonder what will happen.

Maybe I’ll bake cookies and bring them to my friend. I’ve laid the chocolate chips on my counter, remembering my guy loved the last batch I made and my friend loved another batch I had made awhile back when she had spent the night and been here for dinner, something she isn’t up for now.

I’m on the cusp of more big change. My daughter is looking at colleges, preparing to go even further away after her senior year at boarding school nearby. After next year, there won’t be many weekends she’ll visit. The house will be even quieter.

My kids have left unpredictably ever since their dad and I split up ten years ago with the ever changing plans for sharing time between his house and mine. They each left public school for Sudbury Valley suddenly and in their own ways. Then there was early college for Ben, late college, then leaving college, then moving into his own place for Jonah, and an extra year of high school, then boarding school for Isabel.

None of it was what I had expected when I had my babies at the end of December and beginning of January, when I had calculated their entry into school and predicted their leaving home, their graduating from college, their moving on into the worlds of work as though it would all unfold predictably and on a schedule of thirteen years of public school, four years of residential college not too far from home, and starting independent lives after that, coming home for holidays and some vacations, assuming they chose not to live nearby.

I suppose I thought they would do what I had done, what their father had done, that they would follow our footsteps in that way, that I could know in advance how and when to prepare for their leaving.

Which is not, in fact, how life unfolds. It unfolds unpredictably. Fathers, at least mine, disappear sometimes, unexpectedly, as do children, into worlds of their own, on timelines of their own, and we are left, as children, and as parents, and as partners, in my case three times so far, plus one if you count my day care partner as well as my husband and long term boyfriends, again and again and again, most often in ways we cannot predict or prepare for or manage as gracefully as we might like. At all.

Sometimes the best we can do is lay on the couch and read Tuesdays with Morrie, or bake cookies in the kitchen while listening to Adrianne Lenker, or wake up alone in the house and read or listen to On Being, all to remind ourselves again and again and again, we are not alone. We are alive in a sea of humanity all there for the reaching out, the touching, the listening to, and the reading about it.

Adrianne Lenker’s song Indiana https://youtu.be/3mATEy0Avc4 captured my attention as it played on a Spotify ramble awhile back, and catches me every time I listen. I don’t understand it really, except for what I imagine and have read is its reference to her leaving Indiana, a childhood, Midwestern home as I left my Midwestern, Western New York home, as we all leave our childhood homes behind in one form or another, to become who we are meant to be, to leave behind who we might have become. It probably helped that in the lyrics she says she was six years old when she left, which resonated with my dad dying when I was six years old and so much of who I was might have become was lost, and so much of who I was to become began to take shape.

Tuesdays with Morrie was on my book shelf, gifted to me or collected by me, I can’t remember, when I looked up Thursday morning from my breakfast and found it there waiting for me, a gift from the universe in the midst of a hard week and hard time. I’ve been reading it ever since, in stolen moments to rejuvenate my soul. It’s that kind of book, a recording by a student of the end of life thoughts of a beloved professor. The process of capturing and reflecting and recording, as well as of reconnecting with his teacher is changing the life of the student as I read, causing him to rethink the direction his life has taken, his priorities, and who he is meant to be. As I read I find myself, as I imagine many readers have, wanting to do the same, to focus on what matters, love, family, good work, rest, beauty, nature, conversation, touch, food, caring for others and being cared for, caring for ourselves with compassion and kindness.

So, today, when my guy headed off to work, I made a cup of tea and read my e-mail, where I found another On Being e-mail that resonated, which I shared with friends, with my mom and sister, will reread before I start the next part of my day, which shared ways some of those Krista Tippet has interviewed and I have listened to over the years have talked about centering themselves in times of upheavals large and small. I read about favorite poems, favorite books, an hour a day to read, phrases, practices that bring each one of the wise ones back to ground, back from fear and panic into love and kindness and into a place of centering which allows them to go on.

After that it felt right to write here, the place I’ve so often turned the last ten and a half years to center myself, to follow my own thoughts, to share my story and my inner and outer worlds with whoever comes across my blog and reads my posts.

The indulgence of a Saturday morning with a guy off to work, a gal upstairs asleep, a house in decent order, if not clean and tidy, bills mostly paid, mail mostly opened, is a cup of cherry tea from Jonah, in a mug from the pottery open studios in Western Mass a few springs ago, at a table my daughter and I chose from the Davis Square flea, at my two year old computer, bought one of my last weekends in Northampton with Richard, (by Richard?), is to sit and write, here for you and me, about loss, about centering, about the gifts the world offers us again and again and again, which assuage our loneliness, which magnify and dull the suffering, whether our own or our friend’s or family’s, which bring us down to earth, to the place we live, to the kitchen table, the back porch, the desk, wherever it is we write, reflect, regroup, recenter, relive, re-imagine all that life is now and was and could be.

Gracias, universe, beloveds near and far, here and gone, gracias for all you’ve done and been and will be, on track, off track, sad and lost, energized and loving, hopeful, hopeless, lost and found.

To close out, I’ll share the piece of the Pablo Neruda poem I read in the On Being e-mail this morning, as shared by Sylvia Boorstein in her interview with Krista Tippet, which I began earlier in the week and hope to finish soon. Enjoy.

Many years ago when I first discovered Parker Palmer he talked about third things, songs, poems, pieces of writing, images in art and nature, that can connect us to deeper parts of ourselves and one another. These three things are doing it for me today. Maybe one or more will be a Third Thing for you, too. Enjoy.

At the end of this week’s On Being, Sylvia Boorstein reads “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda, a poem she keeps with her at all times. It begins:

“Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment,
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness …”

Today I’ve had a quiet day. I kept thinking I ought to look at my to do list. Instead, I did as I was led. Mid-afternoon I wrote my letter to Friends Meeting in Cambridge, requesting to become a Member.

For years, I’ve been heading this direction. Thursday I walked with a Clerk of the Membership Committee, learned more about the process, shared some of of my story, learned some of hers. Today I felt ready to write my e-mail, not a few lines, or a few pages, but an e-mail, with some typos, written and reviewed, not agonized over, sent with a sense of readiness.

Since writing it I’ve been feeling tender. There is so much we humans feel around belonging, membership, community, spirituality, religion, most of it not spoken of in our day to day lives.

I’ve been thinking so much about loneliness. I read a passage by David Whyte this week that struck a chord, about our loneliness as a longing, as a guide leading us to deeper connection, reminding us that we seek something deeper. May the depth of our loneliness be met with a deep sense of connection and belonging.

For many years I belonged to the Catholic Church. My sense of belonging there was complex, fraught, beautiful and painful, young and hopeful, disappointing, enraging, influential, not my long term home.

After I married, to a profound atheist, I lost track of that side of myself. Parting from him was simultaneous with wanting my spiritual side back.

Still, it’s taken ten years for me to commit again, to feel a sense of belonging that is sure enough for me to commit.

I haven’t committed to a group, to an organization, to a new community like this in awhile, in a formal way, taking steps to consider and talk with others, to reflect and process.

For years I thought I was leaving. I hoped my love was strong enough to overcome obstacles it couldn’t overcome. For now, I’m not. I’m here. This community is the one to which I belong, as much as any other. Someday there may be another, elsewhere. For now, there is not.

When I first found the Quakers, in a way it was falling in love. I was moved. I cried. I was often overcome.

My newest relationship/partnership isn’t like that. I’m in it, I’m loved. There hasn’t been a moment of being swept away or of being immersed and carried into an intense current of passion. And yet. I’m here. I have space for other things.

Today that space allowed me to be quiet, to clean my freezer, to eat defrosted and reheated posole soup I made a long time ago, to read, to tidy, to open mail and pay bills, to bake and make salad for tonight’s dinner with friends, to apply for membership in a beloved community that’s taken me in as I’ve been ready, wholeheartedly and with patience, with love.

That is a gift we don’t all discover in a religious or spiritual community. I didn’t know when I left the Catholic church if I would return or find another spiritual home or if I’d be adrift in a world of unbelieving, solo flying best intentions.

It feels good to admit to a home outside the one I spent the day and much of my adulthood building here on Garrison Avenue, one where I’m not in charge, but where I have a voice and a say and a role to play, where I’m cared for and have come to be known and to belong.

Whatever mysterious process lead me here, I’m grateful. I think I’ve needed to be alone more that I realized to need it so much. Spiritual longing has space to be noticed for me when I’ve been on my own, when the Meeting or the commitment isn’t competing with my personal relationships to beloveds. This time around it might even make those connections stronger, might help me become more of who I want to be for myself and for the beloveds, for the world, might lead me deeper into the kindness I feel when I am with the Quakers or the kids, with my family and friends and the partners when I’ve had them and it’s been going well.

Step one, only one step on the way, but a big one, regardless. Next step Clearness Committee, something I’ve wondered about and haven’t experienced and look forward to, along with some reading and reflection and no doubt other pieces I don’t yet know.

I’m becoming, still at it at 52, in lots and lots of ways. There is still so, so much to learn and to become and to be.