February 2015

Several years ago I met with one of my best friends from high school to talk about midlife.  We had each recently ended long marriages and we hadn’t seen one another in ages. We met at a coffee shop in the hotel outside Boston where she was attending a swing dance event. What I remember is the joy of that evening, at reconnecting and sharing stories in the midst of a hotel full of dancers. My friend had found a new life, new friends, and eventually a new love as she learned to dance. Everyone there was smiling. I left near eleven, just as the ball room was filling with dancers about to start the night.

Richard and I love to dance together, whether to reggae in Northampton, blues at Johnny D’s, or classic rock at a wedding. Neither one of us knows how to partner dance, but we’ve been curious to try. This winter for the holidays I bought Richard a gift card to a dance studio in Northampton where we could take swing dance lessons every other Monday night.

Since the holidays there has been too much snow for me to dance. It’s been shoveling for me in Somerville on Monday nights.

Last night we found our way to Dance Northampton. It was scary and just fine, fun for us in our beginner East Coast Swing lesson and for the room full of experienced folks nearby, dancing the two step in preparation for a Saturday night performance. Today as I shoveled and tended kids in Somerville I remembered my hand on Richard’s shoulder, placed just as the teacher had taught us. I remembered my feet moving in the rhythm of East Coast Swing, and I smiled.

It’s a fine thing to go dancing on a Monday night, fun to learn something new at middle age, even nicer with my guy. After weeks of shoveling and bracing for more snow and storms, I’m happy to start this week dancing. Amen.

We are going on our third major snow dump in three weeks. Today is the first one I have to manage on my own. I dread it, come home last night to six inches of it after being away twenty four hours, don’t even shovel, just pull the car in, lay on the couch, eat leftover stew for dinner after nine, tuck myself into bed, and wait.

This morning I am full of dread, but also of a need to face my fears. I suit up after seeing my neighbors’ trash and recycling bins beside the snow banks and realizing I forgot to put mine out.  At least I can put the bins out, shovel the stairs, and walk to the top of the hill to fill the gas can before the snowblower runs out of gas.

Turns out my neighbor Gary is out already, blowing snow for several neighbors. He did my walk the first snow. Now we are partners in snowblower bliss, he passes me by for others who don’t have machines. I do, and after I drag out the bins, I go under the porch to see about the status of the gas, end up dragging the machine out, remember Liana telling me Steve wanted me to know his machine needs the extension cord to start the first few runs of the season, then starts with the pull cord and see if I can start it that way now, which I can!! For the first time, I pull start the machine. The primer button, the choke, the gas lever, the key, make sense to me now. The parts of the machine are familiar, I know how they work, and I can work them.

I blow snow at the back of my driveway first, a new technique, so I can move the car to the back as I clear the heavy snow up front. This goes so well, I finish the drive and walks before going to get gas. At the gas station, I find the attendant inside on his phone. He fills the gas can for me, and I tell him I wouldn’t have come looking for him except I thought perhaps they were closed. He tells me he is there to clean up, business is dead today, he will soon close up. I feel lucky to have gotten there when I did, before 10, unusual for me on such a snowy day.

When I get back to my house, Gary sees me with the can, reminds me to get dry gas so the spark plugs don’t freeze up, or something, more words that don’t make a lot of sense to me. I tell him I have gas stabilizer, which I hope is what he means, and I feel proud. Richard and Dave have taught me this, first Dave showed me how to run the riding mower in Ashfield, then Richard taught me to run the snowblower at my home, now Gary is inviting me into the club of those who maintain small machines. I feel almost like a man.

Except that when I go inside, I am wearing leggings, a purple cashmere sweater, and girly socks under my nearly thirty year old men’s Eddie Bauer coat, to which I’ve attached a key ring so I can pull the zipper up and down, zipper pull long gone, as well as several of the snaps, but not the down, which is warm and thick, nor the hood, which keeps the snow off my head, and because the coat is so old, I don’t mind that it smells of gasoline after I’ve blown the snow.

Today was supposed to be my first writing class. Instead I blew snow and now I’m writing here, alone in my kitchen, in the form I know best. Poetry would be a stretch for me, maybe a stretch I need. Writing here is as much like coming home as I am likely to find.

Time for tea and breakfast, maybe more beef stew, made in the last storm for my kids, nearly expired in the fridge that could feed me for months, no worries about getting out for groceries or running out of food, or preparing any for anyone. The snow is still falling, but some of it is blown, so I have time now, will attack the tax organizer, maybe fall contracts, find time for a walk if I have energy enough for that and the second round of clearing snow. It’s very quiet here without my loves, buried in deep snow, another day in the life of this single mom with shared custody and a boyfriend in western Mass.

My son turned eighteen in December. Some would say he’s a man. Others would disagree. It seems likely he’ll finish school this year. Beyond that he’s got no clear plan, he’s making plans.

This morning we’re up early. I hope he’s up early. He’s at his dad’s, was out late at Improv Boston, following his Friday routine, class at 6:30 followed by food or drink with members of the class, then back to Improv for a show. That’s where he’d most like to be next year.

Other parents of eighteens in my circle are waiting for the remaining college acceptances and preparing to say good-bye to their kids in August. We are visiting UMass Boston this morning, hoping to make it up as we go along.

I worry I’ve somehow let my second son down, want him to know he has options, expect it will all be ok. Negotiating the passage from childhood to adulthood is tricky business. One minute he was on my hip or in my lap, then he was off to school, now he drives and lives his own life much of the time, gradually he’ll make most of his life away from mine.

Today we’ll be together a few hours figuring out a little more about next steps my son might take. Everyone tells me not to worry. He is a great, kind, sharp, swell guy. He’ll find his way. My friends wish their kids would take a “gap year” and I wonder. Do they mean they wish their kid had not taken the SAT or applied to college, that their kid would wing it out of high school into the big wide world like mine? Or do they wish for an internship or a year of structured travel, a sheltered path of transition into adulthood unlike the one my son is likely to have?

Shower power. My son the responsible has texted. He’s on track and will be here shortly to pick me up. Better get my own life in order. Can’t say it’s a lot clearer at 48 for me than it is for him at 18. Wish us luck:)

At breakfast our four plans his birthday. Everyone at our table would like to go to his house, some in his car, some with their family.

I comment that it sounds like he is looking forward to his birthday.

My three comments, I’m looking forward to Halloween! I’m going to be a carrot.

Her friend the three adds, I’m going to be a blueberry. Or Hermione Granger.

The four concludes, I’m going to be Optimus Prime!

So much to look forward to in life!

Last night my daughter asked me if I had a Joni Mitchell song she was playing on her iPhone. I told her I had the whole album, was surprised she didn’t, which lead to a conversation about another kind of cyber friendship, one that we thought would have allowed us to share our itunes collections. It didn’t, but we do anyway, without the help of Apple.

Later she asks me while I’m doing dishes in the kitchen and she’s folding laundry on the couch, how old Joni was when she made Blue and we guess late twenties, my gal thinks the photo on the album looks older. She wonders on my favorite Joni song and I don’t know, say I’ve listened to the album a million times, which I have. This disappoints and I tell my gal I don’t have her memory for songs, but I’ll tell her when I hear it which is my favorite, but my gal is done folding and off to her room.

This morning as I finish my shower feeling sad about my gal heading off to her dad’s after only a week, Joni sings her sad love lost songs through the bathroom wall from my daughter’s room, now through our two closed bedroom doors, down the hall to my bedroom where I write, still unsure of my favorite song, listening with new ears, wondering if this might be material for my first poem, writing class scheduled for Monday morning with me afraid to go.

This Sunday my children are home again, minus one, who has returned to college. Earlier this week, during the snowy weather, I cleaned his room, stood the mattress up against the wall, washed the sheets and the castoff clothes left behind, tidied the shelves, pulled the dead leaves off the succulents that live here, with space around them where the ones he took back to school lived for the past six weeks, and opened both doors, so we can walk or look through the space where my son used to be.

Richard left this morning, after nearly a week in my home, a first in our almost two years together, and quite lovely, though its harder to say good-bye after getting into a longer term rhythm together. He was my partner in snow removal and quiet this week, when school and day care were closed and my younger two were at their dad’s. We cleared our driveway and walks and helped two neighbors clear theirs, and for the first time ever the City cleared the even side of the street where the plows dump the snow, and carted much of it away. Progress comes in many forms. I wondered as the day care kids and caregivers watched the snow removal operation near pickup time on Friday if the tax increase I’m feeling this year is being used to take away the snow.

I was at Quaker Meeting this morning, first time in a long time. The meeting for worship was entirely silent, except for a moment when two people debated the merits of leaving the glass fireplace doors open or closing them, and for a single message about grief and memory. I felt the quiet as a shared experience of winter, having had such a quiet week myself. Afterwards, I had coffee and a clementine, and sat with others who wanted to share in the Afterthoughts circle, an experience I always more find more rewarding and comfortable than trying to stir up conversation in the looser crowd of the community room.

This afternoon I’m making beef stew, meat and broth simmering while I attend to work at the dining room table, my middle guy and his gal watch Star Wars in the tv room, and my gal putters upstairs. The City has declared a Snow Emergency and we wonder if schools and day care will be closed again. My daughter and I will wait a little longer to do the shop, hoping to know whether we need to buy day care food for tomorrow, or for just the remainder of the week.

I’ve been thinking a lot about good-byes, about joy, about connection and community, about home. Last night at bedtime I wished for one meal with my two kids and my guy, which didn’t happen, not even one moment of four of us together this week. The perfect is the enemy of the good, Richard reminded me, as he often does.

We had just watched the Stephen Hawking movie, and I had been challenged by the ending as I had been challenged by the other movies we watched this week, Like Father, Like Son, and Sin Nombre, quiet inside week of movies ending with a trip to the theater, all three movies offering images of other lives to put my own not perfect but very good life into the be happy with what you’ve got because things could be a whole lot worse category of lives.

As I type here, pausing to talk with my gal and to check e-mail, I find out school and day care will be closed tomorrow, another day of snow blowing, shoveling, desk work, cooking, movies, reading, more life in the quiet bubble of Somerville we call home, less food to put in the cart when we hit Whole Foods sometime in the next few hours, and to unload when we get home.