September 2015

This morning I wake up as I often do on Friday morning, in leaving for their dad’s after school, me leaving for Northampton or staying here, depending on my energy and my will. In a single parent family with shared custody and a long distance relationship, these are the transitions that give me trouble. Its rare I get to be with all the ones I love, my kids and my guy, even rarer these days I get to be with others outside that little circle, my mom and sister and brother and their families, my friends outside of work, the Quaker world to which I am loosely connected, rare also that I take time for anything on my own for pure pleasure, other than writing here or reading a book or article or fantasizing about houses that would put my ideal life back together.

The kids got me thinking about how we make our way through life. I continued thinking with Liana, with my kids, with Richard, with my park friends this week, not there yet. Feeling another round of lost and confused, also dazed and confused if Richard’s teasing gets it right.

But while I was puttering in the kitchen two nights ago, another quiet night with kids here and no partner at my side, so cooking was a solitary affair, I kept company with Eve Ensler being interviewed by Krista Tippett on my favorite podcast series, On Being, introduced to me when things were very hard by a loving day care family who knew how to make things better.

Eve Ensler talked about a lot of things related to mindfulness. Two things that stuck were her belief that we needn’t compromise in life, that compromise means lose-lose, while what we should be aiming for is win-win, and how if we change our thinking that is always possible. Good thought, Eve. The other piece she added, which has been resonating in my brain all week is that it is important to ask ourselves not if we can do something, but how we can do it.

She talked also about the power of words and ideas on real physiological outcomes, about older men who behave as if they were younger and whose bodies soon reflect that, about runners who believe that running makes them healthier and the question about what is causing improved health, the running or the belief in making oneself healthier. She talked about the placebo affect and how it’s been seen as a negative, as a mystery, but how she has spent her life studying how our beliefs can change our world.

In changing my own world, I struggle with my beliefs, as we all do in some ways. I didn’t expect to spend midlife as a single mom. I didn’t expect to live two hours from my partner. I didn’t expect to send my kids to SVS. I didn’t expect to spend my life running a family day care. Once upon a time I didn’t expect to live my life in Boston.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the dreaming and changing phase since Jungian thought hit my head a few years back, since the dreams reappeared and the impossible seemed possible. I’ve dreamed and fought my way out of a marriage, not a purely happy change, but one that was coming for awhile and which in the end seemed unavoidable. I’ve allowed my kids to dream and make their way out of public school into a place so unreal to most it’s hard to explain how it works. I’ve dreamed my way into and out of the founding of a charter school, after dreaming my way into and out of the transformation of a public alternative school, all in the company of a groups of intense people. I dreamed myself into a staff position at Sudbury Valley, and out of it again when that didn’t turn out to be the dream I was meant to follow. I dreamed my way back home, to Somerville, to my home, to my kids, to my family day care, and now I’m dreaming my way out of here, as my children grow up and leave home, as I spend many long weekends in Western Mass, as my circle of friends and community here has dwindled, as my connection to my home has felt less secure, as Richard and I have imagined a future together that can never be here.

But, boy is it a hard dream to follow. The place I’ve called home and the children I’ve raised and their father who they love dearly and his wife who’s become their stepmom and the work I’ve made my own and the partners and colleagues I’ve worked with and grown alongside for twenty some years are here. My house is full to the rafters with stuff and memories and I don’t know how to get out. But here is where Eve comes in, it’s not compromise I’m seeking, its win-win. It’s not if I can do it, it’s how, the it being the living of a more integrated life, where I’m not always choosing between kids and Richard, between here and there, between shouldering it all alone and having a full partner, between raising my kids and taking off, between financial stress and maintaining this big old house, between living for Richard and the kids and work and having a larger circle.. a larger life.

But at the moment it’s time to make the sandwiches and unload the dishwasher, to get downstairs to look after other people’s kids, two joys in my day I mustn’t leave out. Off I go. Time is my master at the moment, thoughts and ideas get sorted out making sandwiches and loving children as well as they do at the computer.

Today as we started off on our walk from the day care to the park we talked about how we hadn’t worn our bathing suits, about how hot we were. I wondered if we should go into our neighbor’s house, turn on the AC and drink iced tea. Then the conversation shifted to other things, to neighbors, to drinks, to families, to I don’t remember what.

A few minutes later as we passed the school my four asked me why we can’t take off our shirts at the park. I thought about it, wondered if it would be ok, decided it would not. It’s just not something that we do, I said. At the park we keep our shirts on. At home or at the beach it might be ok to take our shirts off but at the park in the city we don’t.

Another four let us know she takes off her shirt at the park if it gets wet, sometimes.
That is ok, I said, realizing that fours like to think about the rules, about what is ok here and there and everywhere. We talked about that a long while, about how learning what is ok in different places, about how we humans are always asking ourselves that question, and answering it in our minds, and the kids got it, completely. Then we talked about asking ourselves not just what is ok, but what we should do. The subtlety of the difference came out in our conversation, and I added a story about two young adults who had been to my house the night before, thinking about what they should do with their unrented apartment, moving mattresses and talking with me as their plan unfolded in their minds and between them and as my family tried to make dinner in the midst of it all, and how the coals on the grill nearly burned out before the burgers hit it and how my kids and Richard and I have to all pitch in during the busy times like getting dinner on the table..and the kids noticed that familiar four told us how she sometimes sets the table while her parents prepare the dinner..another talked about how sometimes things go wrong..and we talked about as we are asking ourselves what is ok and what we should do, life is going on all around us, and we are doing lots of things at once, sometimes well, sometimes not so well..and the kids understood this,too, families are like that, a lot..and they know it, as are friendships and games and plays and projects..we stop and we start, we reflect and we do, all the while making our lives the best we can.

At the park, I talked with a nanny who has been trying to open a family day care elsewhere. Awhile back we talked about her wish to make a program with her vision in Western Mass. Today she wanted to tell me what she had learned about Portland, Mass, how hard it is to open a day care there with multiple regulators, and how she had learned very few providers are renters, which she will be, but as she said, she hasn’t given up yet. Later she told me that she also learned most people want family child care for their infants, not for the preschoolers she hopes to have in her care. Life is like this, we try out ideas in our mind, we gather information, we test the information against our hopes and dreams, we evaluate our plans, we act a little, step back a little, reformulate the plans.

I’ve been doing the same in my life, as we all do, wondering what next as my middle son looks seriously at colleges for next year, my older son enters his senior year of college thinking about where he’ll live and work next year, my daughter becomes a high school age student, and I start another year living apart from Richard. Change is in the air, but we are mostly in the dreaming and planning stages, minor actions only so far, anticipating which moves might help or hurt the most, trying to create the visions we can learn to follow and wondering what might take shape out of fate and effort.

Which reminds me of the other part of the day care conversation, about how we learn to make our moves..The four who talked about why we can’t take off our shirts pointed out that one way we answer the questions about what is ok and what we should do is by talking with people and watching people..and we went from there to listening to our what makes us happy or sad, to what excites or frightens or pulls or pushes us.

It’s a process to learn to shape our lives with confidence, one that’s never done, and one I’m happy to do in the company of the youngest ones learning to do it for the first time. Amazing what threes and fours can comprehend, how much they’ve learned in their short time on the earth, how wise they can be when we have the time to talk and listen, and how many of our struggles are life long.