August 2015

Today I had eight kids in day care on my own. For the first time in I don’t know how long, none of the littlest ones were there. Instead, we had a three, two fours, a five, and four school age kids, one six, two eights, and an eleven. The older ones wanted to practice Act 2 of a play they began performing yesterday afternoon. They wanted the little ones out. Instead, I asked them to let them in. Soon the play practice was a performance. One eight wasn’t so sure the little ones could stay. She worried they would want to be in it and leave early. I said they might. I let them know that in shows like the Nutcracker and the Open Air Circus there are parts for young kids which don’t depend on them making ever performance. In the end, the eleven organized the young ones against the wall, where they sat mesmerized for a long, long time, not asking to be in the play or interrupted, or doing much of anything but staring at the big kids in their world.

The big kids and their play were a little random. They had costumes. The eleven changed hers several times in the bathroom next door. The six had no costume, needed prompting from one eight to remember the story and his lines, sat propped on the arm of his favorite chair between his bits. The eights debated whether one was a director or not. The one who had first said she was agreed she was not, confirmed she FELT like one. How nice.

After the play was over I asked if the performers would be open to a Question and Answer for the audience. They were thrilled. The audience of five was eager, too. The two fours raised their hands and wiggled. When called upon, they could say who their question was four, but didn’t have a question. I wondered if the performers could tell us about their process, who did they decide, for example, on their lines. What unfolded was a conversation I wish I had recorded. I took some photos, but my camera is so full I knew I couldn’t do a video.

The kids took turns starting from the beginning and going up to the end of Act 11, planned to do Act 111 in the afternoon, which they are doing as I type. I had no idea until I asked them what the play was about. The performance clearly had meaning for the kids. They spent much of yesterday morning and afternoon working on it. They guided one another, laughed, shared lines and characters and a plot they had clearly worked to devise. What I found out in the Q and A is that the play started on February vacation, when the two eights and the six were with us. When the eleven arrived this week, they added a part for her. First they told us about the characters, how one eight had found a costume she liked and that lead to her character, another chose to be a fairy, and found wings. The six became a warrior elf. The eleven became a dragon. Then they told about finding the setting, how the six had brought a book (which they had all gathered around not the couch upon arriving this morning and carried with them much of the day) and in it was a place they chose for they name of the island in the play. The island wasn’t an island in the book, according to the eleven, sister of the six, though the six disagreed. The name of the place was stuck in google eyes to a piece of cardboard propped on the chair, a sign the kids made yesterday afternoon. Then the kids relayed how they had come to a plot. One of the eights said the play needed something interesting to happen. So, the dragon came in handy this round. Another piece of danger had been in Act 1 and another would be in Act 111.

After we watched and heard about the play, we made a plan to go to Waldo Park after breakfast. At breakfast we talked briefly about my son and daughter and their friends who made a musical a few years ago, two years in the writing, one year in the song writing, practicing and performing. We talked about arts camps where one eight had spent three weeks this summer and one four had spent a week. How did they like it? They loved it!  At Waldo Park the kids played altogether, ages three to eleven. They made a fairy village and collected pieces of plants in buckets, climbed and ran and rode the swings and talked. At breakfast and lunch they served themselves and ate and talked more than eight children usually do. Excitement was in the air. We took our quiet time, but then it was back to the play. This afternoon around 4:30 we’ll have the final act, a smaller audience, perhaps, as the three believes she has a part, and one four and the five are back there now as well in the midst of the rehearsal.

Upstairs my son is packing his things for college. He’ll leave about the time the play is happening. When I told the kids he was going back to college they wondered why. I let them know he studies math and computers. The six let us know that is what his dad does all day. We talked about the subjects that we love. The three older girls talked about how much they love or hate math. I let them know I liked lots of subjects when I was in school, that I didn’t like math much but I was good at it. Two girls in the group felt the same way, while the other kept saying she loved math and was good at it, which tired the other girls out. I wondered if anyone was not good at something and loved it. This made the girls stop and think.

It’s nap time and only one four is napping. The others are all in the back room practicing and/or making up the play. It’s a nice way to end the summer, this mixed-age group thing. So many of our little ones are away or on vacation we have space for lots of big ones and only a need for one teacher some days. It takes me back to the days I wanted to make a school, and to the year I worked at Sudbury Valley. As we sat around the table, threes to elevens, I thought how it makes sense for SVS to start at four. As the kids occupied themselves this morning and I did chores, I thought of how at SVS the kids are so independent the staff do most of the administrative stuff interspersed with interacting with the kids.  I also thought of the years of teaching second grade when I tried to teach children about the parts of a story and how to write, and how so much of what I was trying to teach them was right here this morning, so visible as the kids recounted their process of constructing and performing the play, and I wondered how to think about those two pieces, and how they fit with what I saw at SVS of kids this age playing and creating special events at their school without much involvement from adults. It is powerful to organize one’s world, intellectually, socially, emotionally, psychologically, physically. I’m pleased to witness another day of big and little in my home, one week more to go before big kids head off to school and new kids enter WFDC.

Last night my boys were home. That and the sunshine and flowers and fresh veggies and dinner on the porch made me awfully happy. Here are a few photos of the light returning:)

This morning when I wake up in the house alone, Richard in Western Mass, my kids all at their dad’s, I try and count the days I have had my kids at home this month, August 2015. There aren’t many. There are none when all three were here. By the time my daughter returns she’ll have been away four weeks. My older son finished work the first week of August and I’ve hardly seen him since, hope to check in before he leaves again for college. My younger son has spent much of August at Improv Boston and with friends, has slept here only a night or two all month.

I’ve been a mom nearly twenty one years. In twenty one years, even more if you count the time my first babe was in my belly, I’ve never been apart from my kids so much. No wonder I’m feeling off. No wonder my home is feeling less than homey. Home is where the kids are in my book, no hearth here to gather round, just a kitchen table, some overstocked cupboards and a bursting fridge. This afternoon after day care I’ll toss the rotting mango I bought intending to make them happy. I’ll dump the jar of milk left behind by my boy and his gal when they departed sometime before I arrived. I’ll pay the bills, do the desk work, flip the laundry, await their return.

Friday is the day my two youngest are scheduled to come home. By then my oldest may be back to college. For days I’ve been seeing friends posts on Facebook lamenting the departure of their first kids heading off to college. So far, my kids departures haven’t coincided with their friends. My first guy left a year early, second guy is staying home an extra year. There haven’t been circuits of graduation parties, or time to commiserate with other moms. The preparation and grieving happen on my own, little things like waking up to an empty house after a summer of getting up with my son as he prepared for work, or walking by my daughter’s room, suitcase of clothes from camp still in the center of her floor, sitting there for weeks, doing a load of wash with no kid clothes in it, waiting another round of days wondering if any of the kids might show up or return a text.

The good news is all three kids are happy and healthy and enjoying life in the world. The boys have girlfriends. The girl has friends. The older two work, all three play. When they talk or write to me they tell me that they love me and I know they do. The hard part is holding down the fort while they move on, anticipating moving on myself and wondering how far apart we’ll drift before we say good-bye to our shared home.

This morning I’m on my own in day care. We have low numbers due to day care families on vacation. I find myself envying the closeness of the early years of parenting as I listen to one mom talk about spending every afternoon one week at the lake with her two young girls, imagine another small family sharing a tent and exploring the world together one long weekend. Those years pass fast. When a family breaks apart, it seems to me, the loss is magnified. Sharing teens with the world is hard enough. Sharing them with their other family across town is harder. Sending kids off to Sudbury Valley also adds to the dilemma, freedom versus closeness, independence versus need. I’ll take my life as it is, my kids as they are, no going back, but some days, it hits me hard that so much of my time I’m on my own, that the kids are not going to be around forever, and even now, they’re not here much.

It’s nearly 3 am, the time I used to wake up when my marriage was falling apart, in the winter of 2009 when life changed. I’ve been divorced a long while, had thought I had adjusted, had thought I’d seen the light. At the moment however I’m here in the dark with the cat, writing on the living room couch while Richard tosses upstairs, end of a muggy week, windows open to change over the inside air after days of running the ac with the house shut tight. My children are all out. Its as though they’ve moved on, emptied out our nest. My gal has been away three weeks, will spend the next one with her dad. My oldest is with his gal enjoying two and a half weeks with her after working hard all summer, spending the night at his dad’s. The middle guy has entered the world of Improv Boston, around the corner from his dad’s, and is sleeping there, too, as far as I know. At fourteen, twenty, and eighteen, the children of divorce in Massachusetts, they have the right to come and go as they please, to choose where they’ll sleep. This summer it’s not been in my home so much, other than at the end of June and the beginning of July. I feel the loss.

Before falling asleep I read the Ann Patchett book I chose in Newburyport today, a gift from Richard. It’s a collection of short pieces of memoir. The piece I read before falling asleep was titled The Sacrament of Divorce. Anne Patchett knows the deal. Divorce isn’t easy. It’s not something most of us would choose. She was Catholic and married at twenty four as I was, when marriage seemed the way to go, in spite of challenging relationships to the men we were to marry. In her piece Anne Patchett describes feeling as a young woman that marriage was a sacrament to which she was entitled. I believe I felt that way, too, though I didn’t know it till I read it a few hours ago. Looking back on her marriage and divorce, reflecting on life in our time, Anne Patchett imagines there might also be a sacrament of divorce which could absolve us of our pain, offer forgiveness and healing, might even set us free. I could use that sacrament right about now.

As my children fledge, I’m renegotiating my divorce, trying to sort out with my ex-husband a way forward that keeps us solvent, divides our assets and earnings fairly, gets the kids through college, sustains our homes near one another until the kids are ready to live on their own, and if all goes well, allows us to arrive at that place other than flat broke. It’s no fun. I had thought we were doing pretty well, sharing the kids, marriage fully busted, friendships and family more or less divided, losses grieved, pain beginning to heal, finances on the mend. Not so much. We shall see how this round goes. For the moment it’s exhausting.

But today Richard and I walked Crane’s beach, communed with thousands who traveled to see the Strandbeests, including Jen, who met us there, but not my sister, who invited us but didn’t make it due to overwhelming crowds. After that Richard and I walked the streets of Newburyport, had coffee, bought the book. In the evening we ate seared scallops in a bar overlooking the Plum Island salt marshes, a spot that was pretty darn idyllic. We ended the day at the Parker River Wildlife Refuge, walked the beach near closing, talked with fishermen in the parking lots who were just coming in for the night, searched the internet on my iPhone for a place to stay, watched the sun go down. Richard and I are turned loose in the world. Not one of our five children needed us this weekend. Still we turned home, no room at the inn. By the time we realized our freedom, every place for miles was booked.

On my refrigerator are tickets to a concert. My son bought them early in the summer when he was planning this vacation with his gal, asked me to help keep track of them so they wouldn’t get lost. When Richard and I arrived home at the end of our long day, I texted my boy to remind him about the tickets. For a few minutes in the midst of our text exchange he was coming home. Then he wasn’t. He was spending another night at his dad’s. In our brief text exchange he thanked me for the brownies I had bought yesterday at Whole Foods, when I hoped to see my boy then offered him by text for when he stopped to get the tickets. He let me know they had planned to be at my place, had not been organized enough to make it happen, had a prescription waiting at CVS near his dad’s so would stay there. I wondered when he might be leaving for New York, found out tomorrow is the day, earlyish, and that he might be back on Tuesday, as I will be, heading off myself to Northampton sometime tomorrow, back for work on Tuesday. He’ll stop briefly for the tickets on his way out of town. We may cross paths then or we may not. Same with Tuesday. At twenty he gets to choose. I don’t get to decide where he sleeps or when he comes and goes..

It’s been a long month with very little contact with my kids. In the late spring and first half of summer the old ones died. First it was Richard’s mother the week we returned from Ecuador. Then it was Richard’s father-in-law, who lingered all through July in the hospital and nursing home, then died in early August. The service was the first day of my two week vacation. In between it was a friend’s mother, whose service in Northampton I missed as I was working, whose husband had died last summer during this same August vacation. His unveiling was last weekend. Richard and I brought food from the caterer to the friend’s home, carried trays of middle eastern fare from the downtown Northampton restaurant to Richard’s trunk and into the friend’s house, laid them out on her dining room table, found serving utensils in her kitchen, read the New York Times on her couch while the others gathered graveside, and put out drinks just before the guests arrived. This was the most grounded I felt in our two weeks of vacation. Perhaps it’s being needed that grounds me. As my mom said, Richard and I do this stuff well. We do. We know how to be there when people die, how to say yes when a friend asks for help, how to sit quietly and read and wait, how to visit when the others arrive, how to clean up if that is our job or go home if it’s not.

This month my friends in Somerville will say good-bye to their children as will my sister on the Cape. Their eighteen year olds are off to college. The mother child book club that’s met these last ten years has lost half its members to growing up, the other half to being lost without them. My son isn’t leaving for college, but in ways has grown up faster than those who are leaving home. He manages his own life, works and interns and takes classes at Improv Boston several nights a week, has a girl friend, comes and goes from his dad’s and my home this summer according to his needs, rather than our predetermined schedule. I’m learning to let him go in his way. Unlike my friends and sister, who are organizing bedding for their kid’s dorm, I’m finding my time with my son when I can and grieving his regular presence in my home, wondering what his route to adulthood will be, maybe college next year, maybe not.

I’ve sent the tuition check to Sudbury Valley, the place that set my children free. The school sets a different tone between parent and child and in turn the family changes. The children learn to be themselves, to run their own lives at school and eventually in the world. The parents learn to let go on lots and lots of levels. My daughter told me this summer she’s had the best year of her life. I’ve never missed her more. That is the nature of the beast, the children growing up, the parents finding our own way.

This past year Richard and I went to Spain together and to Ecuador with my two younger kids. Our friends from both places were here the last two weeks. We had dinner in Somerville with my sister and the Ecuadoreans, spent a day in a Connecticut State Park with the friends from Spain. Next summer Richard and I hope to go to Nova Scotia, the place we would have gone this week if not for the old and young people to whom we we were tethered, from whom we were cut loose. Nova Scotia’s been on Richard’s bucket list, like the Harbor Islands we visited Thursday, and is a place we’ve talked about going together, like Crane’s beach, Newburyport, Plum Island, and the Connecticut shore, where we spent today and Monday and Tuesday of this week. As the kids grow up and make lives of their own, Richard and I are learning to do the same this vacation one day at a time, longterm who knows.

Before they happened to me I hadn’t thought much about divorce, about midlife transitions or watching my kids grow up. If I’ve thought about anything this vacation, it’s that it really is amazing all life sends our way and how much strength, creativity, and endurance it takes just to cope.

Happy end of summer. It’s been a fine vacation. I’m also ready for life to be a little more predictable come Tuesday, when I return to work in the day care, and September, when the new kids arrive in day care and my own kids return to school. I’ll miss my college guy, who’ll be returning the end of this week. I’ll miss the swimming and the beach and the extended time with Richard. These last two weeks have been the only two we’ve spent together in a row, ever. I’d sure like for there to be more, a dilemma that conflicts with spending life with my children, not a place I’ll go further exploring tonight. Time to hit the sack before the sun comes up. Au revoir.  Buenos noches. Good night.

Yesterday we visited a big old house in Ashfield, once name Mizzentop. In the night I was unloading my dishes into the shelves of the butler’s pantry, imagining my wedding plates with their painted fruits stacked on the glowing wood, thinking of the swinging door between the butler’s pantry and the dining room, with the ancient hinges that allow it to move through the doorway without sound or stop.

When we arrived at the place, which I had visited online many times, had visited from the end of the driveway twice already, had driven down the road to see from every angle, we met the large beech tree with the tire swing on a long rope. We saw the woods on that side of the house thinned of underbrush laced with branches stacked against trunks by children making forts. We saw the owner in her shorts putting her daughter and the dog into their four door sporty car, preparing to leave. Instead, she gave us a tour while her daughter hung around. When our kids asked the daughter if she liked living there, she let them know she hadn’t, covered by saying the house was great, added something about not having enough friends nearby.

We toured the house from kitchen to butler’s pantry to dining room, from grand staircase to living room to bedrooms, through doors separating the owner’s side from the servant’s quarters, from bottom to top, from inside to out. The house and grounds were grand, spectacular, dreamy. The family moving out had left a hammock in the trees, a tonka truck in the woods, a tree house with a 2007 plate hung over the door and the same dragon sleeping bag from Garnet Hill my boys have somewhere in one of their houses. There were boxes in the hall, an air conditioner in the mother’s room, a tiki style bar parked on the back porch, a fire pit, weeds overgrowing stone paths and walls and plantings from long ago. The living room with windows on three sides, built in bookshelves, comfy furniture, a new wood burning stove with wide screen tv had been their winter home place the mother said, while in summer they had spread out, as the place had lots of room to roam, as well as space for a summer boarder.

I won’t likely unpack my dishes in the butler’s pantry. It was only in my dreams this house became my home, though at the price for which they’re selling Mizzentop, it seems absurd on some level I wouldn’t buy it. At less than half what my home in Somerville is worth, less than the price of most two bedroom condos in the city, it has eight bedrooms, two grand staircases and several fireplaces, a fine treehouse, and some woods.

It’s hard to imagine there are enough children in driving distance of Mizzentop for me to run a family day care, even if I could charge the rates I charge in Somerville and learn to pay the bills to heat and maintain the place, which I probably couldn’t.  A bed and breakfast is a nice idea, but the plumbing was old and with only three bathrooms to eight bedrooms and none of the bathrooms on the third floor, that would take some investment, never mind giving up privacy and outings on the weekends.

But when we left the house, my kids and Richard and I and our housemate and her sons, we all were smitten. Each of us could imagine life in that home. Dominic imagined taking over the third floor, three rooms and a hall full of random furniture, the space nearly unchanged from when the place was built in 1850, high up over the trees with views on three sides, up the servant’s hall staircase from the kitchen. My daughter imagined returning home from college to my grand home in the country, helping me paint and decorate the fabulous rooms. My oldest son had warned me last week when I only dreamed of visiting Mizzentop, that my dreams were only dreams, that I ought to picture what it would be like to live in that place alone, as I wouldn’t likely fill it with people as I wished. I imagined reading, writing, hacking weeds, finding the mysteries the house would surely hold, as well as being overwhelmed at points. Richard imagined fixing the place up, how much it would cost until the place was “done,” less likely on our dime than on the dime of someone with deeper pockets.

I wish only for Mizzentop to be lived in and loved, not to be changed too much, for the swinging door of the butler’s pantry not to be painted or refinished, for the kitchen not to be rebuilt with cherry and granite and tile, for the big old windows to remain, though some glass was cracked or missing and would need to be replaced. I’d love for children to continue to play in the woods and build with sticks and stones, for someone to keep trimming back the brush and weeds that threaten to obstruct the views and cover the paths and plantings, just enough so that they don’t disappear, not so much the place would be manicured.

It’s the sort of place my mind has wandered into many nights when I was sleeping and revisited in the early mornings as I woke up. Last night I was half awake, not fully dreaming, as I pictured what my dishes would look like on the pantry shelves, compared what I have in my kitchen now to what might look right there. Most times I wander in my dreams through a big old house and imagine the family day care or my family there, find rooms and outside spaces I never knew existed, find I have more space than I expected, that life is both dangerous and full of possibility.

It’s not very Quakerly, I thought out loud last night with Richard, a big old house with servants’ quarters. Still, Mizzentop spoke to my soul, and will remain one of those homes I’ll return to in my imagination as life goes on, wondering what might have happened had I lived inside it’s walls, gardened it’s lawns, come up with the energy and money to look after it and live in it for awhile before passing it on, as the current owner said, to the next one who’s meant to be there.