I’ve been tired all week long, packing in time with the ones I love, cooking, cleaning, talking, listening, celebrating life and love and death.

Yesterday I attended the memorial service of the father of a young child for whom we cared last year. It was the first time I’d attended the service of a parent of a child so recently in our care, second time I’d attended a service for a parent of one of our children.

The father died in his late thirties, as my father did. His sons are three and six. My sister and I were four and six. This dad was married to his wife eight years. On the way home in the car with Liana I tried to retrace my parents’ life together, to see how many years they had been married, arrived at something near eight.

When the young family entered the service, popular recorded music the father had loved playing for all of us, two young boys holding their mother’s hands, parents  and brother of the young father walking in front to the seats at the center front of the room, I needed my tissues.

The room was full of mourners. The service was lead by the same rabbi who had performed the wedding for the young couple. There were love and music, great sadness and terrible loss. I didn’t get to visit with the family, as I had hoped. In the car on the way to the service I tried with Liana to remember the names of the grandparents and brother, was happy to have my memory confirmed and corrected by the eulogists who named the family members as they remembered their lives with the young dad, had expected to talk with the grandparents and mother and children before returning to day care to care for the children there, was saddened to leave without making that connection.

This morning I think of my week, the week I turned fifty, the week that has brought unexpected tears all month long, and I am struck by the places I’ve spent time, in the company of my children and mother and Richard in a Chinese restaurant for my birthday last Saturday, with my sister and her family last Thursday on Thanksgiving, with my daughter and Richard watching Moonlight on Monday, so sad, with Richard in a fancy restaurant for my birthday on Tuesday, with the Sharing Circle on Wednesday, with the mourners on Thursday, with the day care children all week long. This weekend I’ll be in Northampton with my guy, sadness of holidays spent apart, highlighting a summer spent apart behind us, then we’ll be in Rhode Island with my college roommates celebrating the fiftieth birthday of the one whose husband is surprising her with a big party at their yacht club.

Yesterday at lunch with the children after I returned from the service the children wanted to know about it. We spoke about who was there, what it was like, how hard it can be for young children to sit in church, that this family is jewish so it was not a church, the fact that the child whose father had died had grandparents who had picked him up a lot last year because his father wasn’t well and his mother was working. I had imagined Tuesday morning that I might take some of the day care children to the service in order to attend, thinking it would be impossible to get a sub. Instead, my son’s girlfriend, a certified sub currently working in the day care and after school at the YMCA, came to take care of the children with Anne so Liana and I could go. We talked about how she was such a good day care teacher because of her other work, but also because she went to a school with mixed ages, as they do, and understands how to be with younger children, as they do, and they agreed.

I realized as I was leaving the service without talking with the family, that a good part of what I was doing in attending was showing the children in the day care that we care, that if any one of them were to lose a parent we would be there. We would sit and mourn that loss as important in the world. We would sit with the sadness of what life is, much of it loss upon loss, the loss of my own father echoed in my day, the loss of my guy, fifteen years older, echoes this morning in the shower as I think about this piece, know I would like to be the one to carry him into the other world, whatever that may be, imagine my children at his service amazed as I was at the service yesterday at the love and joy and meaning he had in his life, much of it revealed to us by others.

Jonathan was an amazing man. The stories and remembrances of his friends yesterday at the service, the love his family showed him in his final year, the only year we knew him and his family, the few interactions I had with him in the time we cared for his child, all that communicated to me that his life mattered, that he was real and full and alive, even as the children said, we didn’t see him much because he was so sick.

Yesterday morning I woke up early thinking of all I’d like to tell his children. I hoped to write a letter to them with the few memories I hold, had started it on my phone in the middle of Tuesday night, did not find time yesterday before the service to write it down. Instead I sent a handwritten card along with Liana who visited their home with the other mourners while I returned to the day care for lunch and nap, and promised to send the stories later. As I said to Richard when I called him after dropping off Liana and before arriving home, I wish someone had done that for me. As the rabbi said to the mourners, the friends and family carry the stories, which they can share with the children, who are so young they will otherwise not remember. That is all too real to me, and so I will do my part to share the stories I hold.

I’m in Maine this weekend. My daughter and I drove North with a friend last night after work and school. I left work early to beat traffic. That didn’t happen. We drove and drove. We arrived late, my daughter and our young friend to a Quaker Meeting House outside of Portland full of exhuberant young people, me to a farm house outside Woldoboro near 10:30, where I received warm welcome from three dogs and Richard’s sleepy kid. 

I had left my bedding and towels at home in the hustle to get on the road, as well as the homemade granola I baked Wednesday as gifts for my hosts. Oh, well. I had a bed to sleep in at the farm last night, will have another to sleep in here tonight in the staff housing where Richard’s kid lives. 

This morning I woke in the farm house to happy dogs, enjoyed the home of a family of blueberry farming teachers and architects and their sons. I walked the farm and ate greens in the greenhouse, saw wild blueberry farming off season for the first time, thought of Robert McCloskey, Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, Time of Wonder, took photos, took off. 

On the way to the semester program campus where I am now, I stopped for breakfast in Wiscasett, visited with a bookseller and his customer friend, talking of progressive and alternative and local public schools, then on to campus for family weekend where I was just in time for salad of local greens, cheese, roasted veg, and pumpkin seeds with visiting families, where I was introduced as family, as Richard’s partner. 

Then I wandered awhile, soaking in the details of another place to love, focused on the local and natural world, visited the new elementary school classrooms, the art displays of the high school students, the conference room with plans for the future of this place. 

Then back to the staff house for tike in a chair in the sun, now a walk in the woods by the water, time to get close to the earth as I haven’t been in too long, earth under my belly and arms and legs and feet, sun shifting down towards the horizon as I type, with a loop back to circle and cut thru the farm and back to the house for a shower and maybe writing before dinner, writing class this Monday on my mind. 

After a long fall and a tricky summer, hard year before that, a weekend in Maine is balmy on two levels, warm sun for my body, soothing energy for my soul. 

The traffic was worth it. 

Tomorrow it’s Meeting in Portland, a little social time there before heading home to Somerville for a short week of day care and a full week of hosting. My mom and boys are coming Tuesday and Wednesday, my sister’s family Thursday for our first Somerville Thanksgiving since my wedding China left the house. This round we’ll add the melamine picnic plates to the everyday dishes so everyone gets a plate, fancy gold leaf China be damned, it’s the people and good food that count, not the 24k gold the food is served on. 

Happy Thankgiving to you all. 

As I think of what to write, I remember my four-year-olds last spring, as they were about to turn five, chanting “Dump Trump! Dump Trump!” I wonder what they’re chanting today, three in their public kindergartens, two here with us downstairs, while upstairs I type, in between preparing for a meeting at my daughter’s public high school.

I fell asleep last night just after ten, after watching the election results come in on our newly installed cable tv. I had wanted access to public events like the debates, the Thanksgiving football games, the Olympics, all things we’ve gone without the last several years since we dropped access to tighten our belts single mom trying to keep it going style. Going to bed early means I wake up early, which I did, in the fives, in the dark, in fear of checking my phone for the election results, which I did, only to find on my Facebook and in the feed and in the New York Times online that they had not gone as I had hoped/expected/wished when I fell asleep. I am not a fan of Trump. I have Facebook friends and no doubt family members who are. I am afraid for what the messages he sends will mean for our country, my children, my friends and family, the world. As my housemate the teacher of middle school english language learners who watched the results come in with me on the new cable said on her way to work this morning, “What do I tell the Muslim children in my class?”

What do I say to my jewish boyfriend, whose parents and grandparents fled Nazi Germany, losing livelihoods, property, family members, belonging, a country, and a sense that the world is just and good?

What do I say to my children, two of voting age, one in public high school, about the future they can expect?

What do I say to the day care kids, who want the world to be a safe and loving place?

All I can offer is love and the belief that even in the face of a country voting for hate, love exists, that it will not be shut down, that it will grow. As the housemate said on her way to school, I can tell my students that millions of people did not vote for Trump.

I can work with this belief in the power of love to build connection in the world, something I must believe is lacking in those who want others to leave, or be punished for being born brown or muslim or in another country, even female.

I can find my own center and voice and learn to use them to treat those around me with respect and communicate to the world in whatever way I can that love and justice, not hate and punishment is the way.

So, this morning I text and call my boyfriend. I write to the family and friends who share my house to suggest a potluck meal, a place to come together and talk and find our way. I organize my thoughts for the meeting at my daughter’s school. I tidy my house, do the dishes, clean the cat box, eat leftover oatmeal from the day care with nuts and fruit and milk and Ashfield maple syrup, drink tea and light a candle, do my meditation, yoga, and now writing, shower, dress in warm clothes, put the storm window in the back porch door, caring for home and people as best I can, knowing the future holds more uncertainty today than it did the day before, also knowing that those who can live simply and on the edge must hold together and be prepared to buckle down, to stand up, to speak out in the face of whatever comes.

I haven’t been writing here much lately. It’s hard to know what to say. On an ordinary day, there are lots of little happy/sad moments. Somehow I’ve lost the thread of writing about them in a way that adds up.

Today I drove my daughter to her new school, the public school in the city where her dad lives, which means that when I return for parent conferences at noon, I drive around and around looking for a place to park my car, which doesn’t have a resident permit sticker that would allow me to park in most of the places near the school since I live in a different city. When I finally find a spot by a meter, I have  only two quarters and I’m too shy to ask a passerby for more in exchange for a dollar bill so I get in line with all the high school students out early from school trying to get lunch and coffee from the sandwich shop. After I order a coffee and a cookie, the cashier tells me I can have only four quarters. I hope for a fifth, but she is unyielding, so I return to the meter, fifteen minutes short of confidence for the conference.

I arrive a minute or two late to find my daughter’s dad already talking with the teacher. This goes on for all four teachers, the dad speaking to the teacher while the mom listens and waits, a pattern new to me after eight years of separation and divorce and no  shared parent conferences in all that time. We get through it relatively tension free. We learn about our gal, ask questions, share thoughts with the teachers in ten minute increments in between which we race around the maze like school trying to find the next classroom with a few minutes here and there to talk about our sons, our sons a strange sounding pair of words to my ears right now, as our is not something I like to call much that exists in the world when I refer to my ex-husband and me. Ours is in the past, for the most part. Our house has become almost gracefully now, my house. His house, also his wife’s house, is their house, has never been my house, still awkwardly called my kids’ other house, or their dad’s house. My house, is not called so much our house as my house, or mom’s house, and as I write this I wonder if other families have better names for the houses between which the children travel when they do.

Near ten, after a long and late dinner, two delicious artichokes trimmed and stuffed by my daughter and her friend from her old school, a salad made by me, sourdough bread toasted by daughter topped with tabouli we bought on sale on our now routine Sunday shop, my daughter and her friend take a few minutes to work on her Halloween costume for the dance this weekend where my daughter will be a guest rather than the organizer. I’ll drop her off at the start of the dance and pick her up at the finish. Her brother won’t be there to drive and act as responsible resident and she won’t be there hours before and after to set up and take down. Once again, though, she will wear a beautiful dress and fancy makeup, this time as an Alien, always with the beautiful dress and the makeup, since she was a small girl, one Halloween after another. When I drop the friend off in Watertown past ten, and they look forward to meeting again at the dance and again at Halloween, I find out they plan to watch a scary movie and give out candy at my house on Halloween even though it’s a dad’s house night. I feel mildly redeemed for all the small sadnesses of knowing that many days she sleeps at my house she goes to her dad’s between school and crew to do her homework with her dad and that the same doesn’t happen in reverse as I am working, as my house is not close to school, as I’m not so good at math and physics as her dad. These tiny inequities make me feel small when I notice them. They make my heart hurt and my throat tight.

Why do people say your heart melts? my day care five asked me again and again Wednesday and I wondered with her, talked about how our hearts do physically hurt when we are sad, and we talked about the warm feelings we have when things melt our heart, but still it’s not the same as when our heart is hurting, and it literally aches. How does it do that?

When my kids are hurting, when they are away and I don’t know when they’ll be back, when I try to plan holidays and it isn’t easy, when my love is two hours away in his home and I am here and without a partner again, my heart hurts, my throat aches, my eyes well up, I swallow hard. I don’t know what else to write about tonight. I thought maybe if I started writing it would come clear. Not so much. This stage of life seems not to be about clarity, but about surviving in the murk. What comes next? Which small hurts and happinesses will make up my day is more what goes on than what great thing will I accomplish or learn or do, what tragedy must I overcome? It’s a small world life I’m living. Finding meaning in it is a bit of a challenge. It’s day to day existence, with few plans other than work and chores and writing and yoga classes, Quaker Meeting, the routines.

It seems I say it again and again, but I didn’t expect this to be my life and yet it is. Maybe by writing about it I can give it coherence, make it good enough, find my way. I’m grateful for the work I do, for the house I share with the day care and my kids and now my housemates. I have a few good friends. I’ve tentatively reconnected with Richard. My kids are mostly happy and quite healthy. My finances are tricky, but I’m surviving, with more stuff and cash than many. Deeper meaning?  Still struggling. Purpose in life? Same old same old, or something new? Don’t know. Happy/sad/happy/sad/happy/sad.

***

Anyone else here with me? Seems from talking with my close friends in middle age with kids flying out of the nest that I am not alone, but the book club moms no longer meet, the evening school meetings are no longer for me, the friends I have don’t get together in a group and share about our kids, about our struggles, about the challenges we face as we transition from focusing on our children and building our careers to what. None of us seems to know what next. We aren’t getting together to talk about it and sort it out. Maybe others do, but I don’t. Maybe I should, but even that feels hard to figure out. Ugh..no more whining..time for bed.

I spent this past Sunday morning in the company of Quakers in Western Mass. My daughter attended her first retreat for young friends with other high school students there. Three of those others had spent their early years with me. I had watched them and held them, known their parents and their families, wondered what they would be like when they grew up. This weekend I got hugs, we took photos, I caught up.

One of the young friends lost his mom a few years back. The memorial service which marked her passing was so meaningful to me I was lead to commit myself more fully to learning about the Quakers.

What I remember this morning, though, as I think about my week, and try to prepare some thoughts and writing for a project I am working on with a more recent day care family, in which that family and Liana and I will grapple with how we in the day care handle loss, is the morning I learned of the death in each of these families, and of the sorrow I felt each time, and the sorrow in me that loss connected to.

When we feel another person’s sadness we also feel our own. It seems to work the other way as well. When we feed another person’s healing we feed our own. Each time I’ve been with a family who has experienced great loss, and there are always many, I find myself reconnecting to the losses in my own life, pondering them, wondering on them, sometimes doing something for that child or family I might have liked done for me or mine.

I’m off to day care today. In the moment, we don’t have anyone really struggling with major loss. We have a family with newborn triplets whose life is in disarray. We have families struggling to understand behavior of their children and the parenting that works best. We have families, no doubt, in financial distress of one sort or another. We have children who may not want to say good-bye when it’s time for parents to leave. There are sadnesses I don’t know and will never. But even in the little ones, the sad good-byes, the crying over physical hurt, I expect to feel those moments as places of connection with potential for deeper understanding, even healing. Here I go. That’s my day.

This morning I’m taking time out to write at my kitchen table, having showered, seen my daughter off to school on her bike with her dad, whose been biking cross town to meet her and help her learn the route, having done my seven minutes of meditation, my short attempt at journal writing, having read and responded to e-mail, having collected laundry from the bins upstairs, having attempted to paint the touch ups in the day care, only to find the cleaning crew already hard at work, having collected the day care files to work on in preparation for our surprise licensing visit which will happen any day. But here I am, again, writing in an attempt to sort out life, to connect with some inner voice, to find you in whatever place you live, to put myself in a place of greater ease, to figure out where I’m headed and where I’ve been and how those places may be connected, to make meaning, the lifelong task of everyone I know.

I’ve been watching the children do the same each day in day care, in their ways, the younger ones learning how to be and play together, one three learning how to use the toilet while at home the newborn triplets shake up life, his five year old sister redefining her life as the oldest of five, a gentle, reflective, physical soul. I’ve been watching the fives make sense of this new, more chaotic group of ones and twos and threes, and of their own growing up, one five learning math and thinking about big questions, one five telling me how happy she is she doesn’t have to do school work and homework, just the work of day care living, like cleaning up at clean up time, and how happy she is we have time to chat and that her mother and I enjoy chatting even more than she and I do. I’ve been watching the work with scissors, tape, paper, markers, crayons, pencils, for the youngest just learning how to make marks, often on herself for the one, for the twos the surprise of patterns emerging a they move the pens, surprise at how the scissors work, overwhelming surprise at tape. For the threes, emerging representations that look like the real world, and for the fives, the emergence of scenes of intention, rainbows with clouds at either end, houses with grass and flowers and trees, people moving the world with many modes of transportation, family portraits, sense making in a world that can easily overwhelm.

My own children are doing the same, at fifteen, nineteen, and twenty one, they are each trying new things, and I get to watch, and occasionally help: public high school for my daughter, with classes, subjects, homework, crew, and friends, college for my middle child, with papers, classes, reading, friends, living away from home, work and independent living for my oldest, making life in Manhattan with a shoe box apartment with a brand new, decent job. It’s fascinating to watch and to engage when we do, about all they are taking on.

Here on Garrison Avenue I’m learning again to live on my own, sans partner, and that is it’s own life stage, one ripe for making meaning, for writing, meditating, thinking on. My mothering and day care provider selves live on. At the same time, somewhat separate from all that parts of me are seeking solitude and partnership and friendship and connection to my extended family, as well as some sense of artistic and spiritual and physical life. Life at this moment is rich with opportunity, also with a certain amount of dis-ease.

I’ve been working on finding a voice in my writing. This past week I shared a piece in writing group about losing my dad when I was a small girl and how that has shaped my life and work. I’ve been writing a lot about midlife, about divorce and dating, about the struggles of a single mom. Often this feels whiny, though it is the stuff of my life. I’d love to write something that both acknowledges and transcends all that. How do we live in the world and stay connected to the larger meanings? How do we live through the hard places without losing hope? How do we write about our lives in all their gorey detail in ways that give us voice and connect with others?

For the moment, I’m just trying, following the inner voice as best I can. The meditation, yoga, and journaling help a lot. It’s been hard to keep those going with the shift to fall, but I’m still here, still trying.  I do feel this tremendous sense of opening in my life, even as I say good-bye to so many things and people I loved and thought I needed to be me. What abides? a writer in our group asked me the last time I shared writing in the spring, naming a theme he saw in my work. Great question for all of us, especially those of us going through great change. What gives us hope and meaning? What grounds us in ourselves? In our families? In our work and communities? In our faith? What do we believe? What keeps us on the earth and wishing to be here?

For the moment, it’s keeping my day care license! So, off I go to look through the childrens’ and teachers’ files and see what’s here and missing, off I go to wash my daughter’s clothes, off I go to yoga, after drinking the last of my tea and blowing out the candle, off I go to do an errand at CVS for my daughter, then to return home again for more of the licensing and home chores, followed by an afternoon in day care with the kids and my co-teacher Jen, then dinner for the two of us, followed by an Ann Patchett reading in Harvard Square (yeah!), then time to pick up my daughter at her dad’s near bedtime, to bring her home to me, the ride across town with her bike in the back of the van worth every minute and the exhaustion of making our life together as best I can. Full and rich day. Learning to shift my description of life from busy to full and rich, to remember I am fortunate, that I have been both blessed and worked hard, that the connections I have are two way, and that the effort I put in will come back in most cases, and in some cases not, that my heart is both a lonely hunter, as in the title of one of my favorite books, and a reliable companion, making the richness even richer, as I experience it with greater depth of feeling when my heart is working well.

I wake up this morning thinking about prisons, about charter schools, about people I’ve known, battles I’ve been involved in and invisible struggles I’ve yet to consider. My mind is being stirred in lots of ways..two weekends ago by the funeral of my uncle, who had served as a corrections office at the Attica prison during much of my childhood, along with several of my mother’s and father’s brothers, the last two weekends by college essays my son was writing on economic systems of oppression and how they contribute to and/or construct divisions of class and race and economic disparity, this week by an episode of On Being with Ruby Sales, a civil rights advocate who sings of love in her heart for everyone, last week by the men in our sharing circle who have experience of prison life as those who were formerly incarcerated and family members of those who are in prison, this week by a Facebook article talking about the benefits of charter schools in urban areas of Massachusetts where they are shown to better serve the needs of children of color, ELL kids, and I believe kids with special needs and kids of lower income and the arguments in response to the sharing of that article against the support of charter school by a group of people, mainly white and mainly middle class, many of whom have found options outside the district schools when their children needed them, who oppose charter schools and who opposed the Somerville Progressive Charter School I tried to help found.

My daughter has left Sudbury Valley for Cambridge Rindge and Latin, another way a white middle class family has found options, as her father lives in Cambridge, where my daughter worked out yesterday with the novice crew team in a workout space full of fancy workout equipment I’m sure no school in a poor district could afford. Again we take advantage of white privilege, as my daughter finds her way, and I am aware not all of us have this.

Meanwhile, my cat Frances has chosen to live in the basement and I think again about her situation, choosing solitary confinement down below versus the freedom of living outdoors, now I have given up trying to share my home with her and the habits that made my life too difficult to bear, regular poop and pee on furniture, tearing of the upholstery, cat hair everywhere every day. But why not go outside, I wonder? Why does she, why do any of us see confinement as solution?

All this is in my mind, bubbling around. This morning I found an article in The Atlantic with an interview about Attica and how the uprising/riot there set the tone for prison conditions ever since. My family’s farms were up the road and up the hill from Attica. Looking down from the farm where my mom grew up the view is over the walls of the prison, which my daughter or son once wondered about because it looks so much like a castle. I realized this morning, I never have had an image of the inside of those walls, never considered all the black and brown and white faces in captivity, not in any real detail. I had sympathy for my uncles. I knew they did not want to talk about their work, that they looked forward to retirement, that in the life we shared they were kind and loving men who had taken options available to them to support their families, to earn a living wage and to have benefits. I’m going to read the article. I may read a recent book published which looks closely at the Attica riot/rebellion with fresh eyes.

We all have pieces of our history we’d be better to explore than to deny. For some of us, we are called again and again to explore the themes that draw us. For me, I am thinking a lot about confinement and captivity, freedom and liberation, trying to notice how those themes have shaped my life, wondering what they are calling me to do.