July 2016


This morning I woke up after having had a full night’s sleep for the first time in weeks. When I looked at the clock, instead of something in the fours, I saw 8:10 and could almost not believe my eyes. Then I noticed, I felt relatively rested, and if not at peace, not in enormous turmoil.

This week our course module for Align Your Story was called Joy. I wondered if it would speak to me, given the challenges in my life right now. In fact, that was the point, to find joy in the sorrowful places, as well as those with nuances of ecstasy. Our teacher illustrated this for us in particularly moving excerpts from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and War and Peace. We talked about those in our conference call on Thursday, which I was able to do because my son, who I’d hoped would join me for dinner, came at 8. Sorrow and Joy right there.

The boy is leaving. He hasn’t slept here once since he returned. He’s stopped by twice to deal with all the stuff he’d left behind. Both times I could hardly wait to see him. Both time we parted under duress. It’s  a hard thing to watch my son leave without time together in the same house. If I could have him here tonight, I thought this morning, sleeping in his own bed, I could let him go with greater peace. Seems unlikely that will happen but it might.

This morning the house is a disaster, a hell hole, looks like a bomb went off. And it is lovely. My home. There are roses on the table from Whole Foods, on sale for six dollars, down from 15, in deep pink, a color my gal and I both chose. I’ve lit a candle in spring green, with a lovely scent, named Clarity, which I think I need. The candle cost too much. I bought it anyway. Into the candle holder I’ve stuck two tea tabs from the tea I made late last night as my daughter and I put away groceries, did dinner dishes, folded laundry, filled out camp forms. The tabs spoke to me and I’d like to remember what they say a little longer. More evidence of my material based memory. This house is full of tea tabs reminding me of things I’d like to hold onto just a little longer. My son’s room has a piece of paper on the floor I couldn’t throw out because it was written by him in pencil, words I can’t understand, and I loved it because I can’t understand it, just like so much of him, my math brained, athletic, sometimes distant boy, who is both brilliant and loses patience with me when I want him to sort out his trash and treasure.

So, this morning, I’m starting with a shower and writing here before tackling the house again. I spent yesterday immersed in the world of home, under so much transformation I have been physically and emotionally and psychologically spent by the effort of managing it. Love in, love out, love in, love out, love in, love out. The life of mother, of a lover, of a day care provider, of the owner of a big old two family home in Somerville must learn to let the love in and to let it out, to know when and how and why and how much and who. That alone is a lot to think about, a lot to bear.

Who lives here? How much sorrow and joy can one life take? Three fine men, come and gone. Three fine children come and now one gone, one to go soon, the other here half time. Countless housemates, teachers, children, families, come and gone. Love in, love out, love in, love out, love in, love out. All the while I hold the wheel.

Someone asked me recently what do I love to make with my hands. For some reason I said I love to make things with my hands. I don’t know what I make anymore. The best I could do in answer was to say I am a hands on person. I love to work with food. I used to make art and music. I have tools and clay and wood and imagine I’d like to do carpentry, pottery, garden, but I don’t do much of that. Mostly, I realized, I make home, of the sorrow and joy variety. Right now it is a powerful mix of both. Richard’s few things left on Monday, some gluten free baking mixes, a book I never read, Men Explain Things to Me, a jar of granola I wanted him to have. My things from his place came home, also very few, shampoo, face cream, slippers, cross country skiis, a couple of books he wanted to read and I wanted back. That was it. Thursday night Ben filled the van with all the stuff he thought he wanted to take to his new New York City apartment. Yesterday I sorted through his room, washed all the clothes left on the floor, pulled stuff out of the closet, up from the basement, sorted out the obvious trash, empty cardboard boxes, empty water bottles, dirty tissues, empty plastic bags. When he arrived, there were more things he wanted, not many, which fit in one of the many plastic bins I bought at Target Friday night, after a long day and week of work, in hopes of bringing order to the chaos of our home. His sister and I worked with him a  couple of hours yesterday, until the strain of, as he said wisely, sorting through every piece of my life, broke him, and me. It’s not every last piece of his life, but it can feel like it. The third floor is still full of things from his childhood, as is the basement. Isabel and I have been working on both. The house is full of things even from my childhood, including a trash bag of fabric in the dining room sent by my mom and carried here by my sister from Western New York two weekends ago that is on my to do list for the weekend to sort out and give away or throw out or put away. I am a saver of things, as are my children. Their father’s home isn’t the place where their things reside longterm. Which is a sorrow and joy kind of thing. It’s both hard to be the one to ask my son to sort through his things, and joyful to have the evidence of his life with me here longterm. How can either of us really let that go? The boy is twenty one. He’s moving into a shoebox studio apartment in Manhattan for which he’ll pay more than I pay for my mortgage for our two family house in Somerville, minus taxes and insurance, and he’ll have maybe one closet, a couple square feet of counter space, no basement or spare room, maybe not even a place for us to sleep if and when we visit. His life needs more space than that. I don’t wish to kick him out, I just don’t want to keep the empty water bottles and stale brownies in my house. I want his room to look less like a war zone and more like a place a guest might sleep. I don’t know when he’ll be back, when he’ll sleep here again. That is the real deal. He’s starting his first job, with four weeks vacation and a few holidays and it’s unlikely this house will be where he spends much of that. Sorrow and Joy. Great job, great steal of a deal on a rent-stabilized studio in a neighborhood he likes, short commute, gone from home here. Gone and onto the next stage of his life. Which brings me to the next stage of mine, empty nest here I come, though Isabel will have three or four years left in High School. The at home family life is down to us.

Which means we will enjoy that life, too, just not as it once was. We’ve got a writing desk and a larger table for projects where the boys used to sleep, where their dad used to have his office. We’re contemplating house mates, making room for them. We are doing what we love, writing, art, yoga, revitalizing the house. Boys and men are wonderful. And they take some work. We are pretty self sufficient, co-existing kind of people.We can do our thing, eat a little something, watch tv or read a book or fuss around on the computer, go to work and school or camp, come back together, do it again.

This piece is much more rambling than I intended. Life is like that..not such  a straight path, pretty messy. I’m grateful to Christine Northrup for reminding me of this in her book Womens’ Bodies, Womens’ Wisdom which I read again last night at bedtime, when she talked about her own writing and how it starts someplace, wanders and connects to all kinds of other thoughts, finds its way back to the starting place. Sorrow and Joy, Sorrow and Joy, Love In, Love Out, Love In, Love Out, Let Go, Hold Tight, Let Go, Hold Tight, Good Morning, Good Night, Good Morning, Good Night.

 

 

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This morning I’m alone in the house. I’ve continued to wake up very early, many days before five. This continues to give me lots of time to think, and to develop my new morning routine..shower, yoga, write..all before work or play in the outside world. In fifteen minutes, I’ll take the granola out of the oven, grab my keys, and head out to yoga, then to meet my kids for breakfast, my first chance to see my son since his return from his cross country adventure and his trip to NYC to see his gal and find a place to live, which he did.

Both my boys are moving out this summer. Ben has been here only a night or two this summer, in between graduating from college and going to see his gal and getting on the road. Jonah has been around a bit more, though from here to the end of summer when he moves, I may not see him so much. At twenty one and nineteen, they have full lives, as they should. My gal was here nearly a month, now is at her dad’s, then camp, then Ashfield, then not sure where, then to camp with me and a group of school friends in Maine, then if all goes well, to drivers ed, then to school, though she isn’t yet decided which one. Our life is in massive transition.

To add to the excitement, after years of contemplating taking on various housemates, this fall we may have two to four new folks staying here, one in the day care back room, one or more upstairs. As my daughter said, we thought the house would feel empty when the boys moved out. Maybe not.

Outside, the house is under massive renovation. What started as a paint job to prepare for this fall’s relicensing visit turned into a large scale carpentry project, for which I had not budgeted. The third floor needed reshingling. The back porch needed rebuilding. Elsewhere there are sills and porch panels and various bits of wood trip in need of repair and rebuilding and replacing..all to come when the painting crew arrives mid-August, to work away through the two weeks the day care is closed.

I had debated taking on a larger mortgage, doing some other needed work while I refinanced my mortgage, thinking of redoing the old kitchens and baths on the first and second floors, maybe a furnace or two, replacing some windows, maybe fixing up the dirt driveway, doing something about the falling down fence on the side of the back yard. Until yesterday, that seemed wise, as according to the interest calculators on the web sites for refinancing loans I could lower my interest rate, decrease the term of my mortgage, and pay the bills, all while fixing up the old house that never seems to stop emptying my pockets. Bad news of yesterday was that cash out loans for two family homes don’t come cheap..so that deal seems off the table..Now time to figure out some creative financing maybe involving another form of credit and some payments for sharing space to keep our budget afloat..

All this is happening while my love and I are parting. Can’t say too much about that, except that we tried hard and we seem to be done. As when any two people part who’ve loved one another and shared lives for a long time, the break up is wrenching.

The four am wake ups are certainly partly due to all the disruption and transition and change. I’m also reading a book called Womens’ Bodies, Womens’ Wisdom about listening to our bodies and our voices..and I am wondering if some of what my body is telling me, or showing me, is that taking time to process change requires sacrifice, whether of sleep, of peace of mind, of energy..in my case, the change doesn’t feel optional, as it has not in the past when I’ve been overtaken by waves of need to alter something in my life, whether job, relationship, home, local. I do feel lead, as the Quakers might say, and in noting that, I must believe I am going somewhere new, as to feel lead implies a direction forward, as much as a leaving behind or loss of past life.

Time for yoga, another way of listening, which I am loving, thanks to the bad back I suffered last fall, another way, if I believe in Womens’ Bodies, Womens’ Wisdom, I was lead to make a change, that has been slow and steady and altered the way I think and feel. Thank you bad back, Thank you Liz Owen, thank you yoga, thank you mind and body for learning gradually to live more as one.

This morning I am awake again in the fours, something I’ve grown used to this summer. Coming apart for me seems to require many hours of wakefulness in the middle of the night and early morning. Sadly, this is a pattern I remember.

Richard and I parted ways three weeks ago today. I haven’t wanted to write about it, feeling it is too private for the blog, hoping not to write a story that would not be true. We’ve come apart before, but this feels different. Two of my closest women friends agree.

This time around I’m not going to be the one to make it better. I don’t know how.

I don’t understand love, don’t really understand it at all. You would think at nearly fifty that I might. I feel it. I love it. I just don’t know how to hold it together with a man lifelong. That would be a fine thing. It’s too late for a chance to be with someone who’s known me all my adult life. Maybe it’s not too late to be with someone who’d like to take me to the grave, a strange thing to wish for maybe, but I do, for that person who can imagine being by my side as I pass out of this world, who would want me to do the same for him, who feels as sure as anyone can this is what he’d like to do.

It’s strange for me for there to be so much kindness in the parting, but it’s there. We are e-mailing a bit. We talked last night, not about how to reunite, but a little about the day, about the kids, about the people we each know and have seen or spoken to or wonder about and love. That shared life has to break apart, and it is. Week by week the bond gets weaker; I know less of his life, he knows less of mine; the unravelling of our shared life has begun, as has the re-knitting of our separate lives.

This week Richard is in New York and Connecticut, with many of the most important people in his life. Today is his birthday. He’ll celebrate with his brothers and some of his oldest friends. I’ll be here, not baking the gluten free chocolate cake with raspberry sauce I’ve made the last three years to honor the man I’ve loved in all his chocolate loving gluten free glory. Instead I’ll drive my daughter to the T so she can spend the day at her newly beloved Mass Art Summer Intensives, studying drawing and fashion, then maybe I’ll do yoga and if my son is up for it and the parking lot isn’t too full, we’ll go for a swim at Walden Pond this afternoon. After that I’ll have dinner with both kids if nothing surprising comes up for either one, then maybe I’ll read on the couch or we’ll watch something together on tv, and after that, night after night, I’ll go to bed alone.

Life will go on like this, parting ways. We’ll do separate vacations, one this weekend for me and two of my kids with old friends at Woodman Hill in Western Mass, one for him this week with friends and brothers in New York and his daughter and son-in-law and his family at the Connecticut shore, all places we’ve been together. This week we repaired our separate houses, major porch work for mine, minor porch work for his. Funny the outside of our houses is where the work needs doing.

The same is true in some ways for us. The outside forces have been wearing. The back and forth, life in two places, trying to meld lives in two different life stages has taken it’s toll. Neither one of us is ready to move to be with the other. Richard doesn’t want to live in Somerville or to live my middle aged life here with me. I can’t imagine moving my kids and work to Northampton or living a more leisurely life with Richard for awhile. Being apart is too hard for me, the ups and downs of life as we’ve known it are too hard for him. We are both tired of missing our homes and loved ones when we’re away and need the grounding living life in one place provides.

So, this round we part as amicably as we can. He walks and putters, run errands and goes to appointments, visits friends and family, swims, watches tv, goes to movies, travels. I do yoga, read, write, work, spend time with my kids, my mom and sister and my nephew, a few friends, the Quakers, yard sale, cook, clean, swim. We begin to make plans that don’t involve the other. This week I’ll reserve a campsite in Maine for one of my vacation weeks in August. I expect soon he’ll begin to travel more and spend more of his time visiting with friends and kids, maybe take on some new project, as other retirees might do. Someday I expect we will begin to see other people. Life will move on. There is no need to separate our belongings, as we shared none. There is no need to strip our houses of evidence of the other, as there is so little in either one. For three years we said to one another, I should put a picture of you on the fridge. We never did.

This is my first attempt to share the news with the wider world. When people asked about Richard after Quaker Meeting yesterday I couldn’t speak. So, you’re a flasher, a member of my writing group said to me about my blog. No, the writing teacher said. I don’t know. In writing here I tell myself I’m opening myself up so that others may see themselves, or some part of me that feels familiar, and in so doing feel less alone. I suppose my hope is I will feel less alone as well, and that in telling some of the harder parts of my story, I’ll give those parts a shape I can live with and better understand. So far, so good, on that end, I think. Wish me luck, in love, in writing, in truth telling as best I can.

This weekend I was in Ashfield with my mom, my sister, my daughter and her two friends. I had planned for more people and we had too much food. What I hadn’t planned for were all the ways the universe provided. I came home with a book my writing teacher had recommended and I had planned to buy online, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Dr. Christine Northrup, which I began and fell in love with immediately after dinner on the couch, across from my boy, home after over a week away. The yard sale at the Spruce Corner School House was productive. Besides that book, I found three others I’m eager to read, Deschooling Society by Ivyn Illich, a classic that changed Richard’s life when he was young,  a lovely picture book called Home by Carl Larsson, just right for the home theme on Garrison Avenue, where we are loving the big house and a doll house into a state of greater repair, carpenters, inhabitants, and kids, and another book by a Native American scholar and writer I knew of in college, Vine Delorian, about the influence of Medicine Men. I came away with those four books tucked into a lined wicker basket of beautiful hardwood blocks, three silk rainbow capes in the Waldorf tradition perfect for day care fairy dress up, three small wooden stacking toy people in rainbow colors I expect to please our incoming toddlers this fall, and a vintage drink carrier my daughter hopes to take to her first adult apartment, that was how charmed she was by it, all for eleven dollars.

Earlier in the weekend, I realized I needed to renew my Ashfield Library Card, which one can do in Ashfield simply by talking with the librarian, sharing the basic information for an update, cell phone, address, name. My mother was amazed. Didn’t I need an actual card? Not there. I’m not just a number, I’m a name, an address, a citizen. For that, I walked away with a pile of books and dvds for our women’s weekend, all free and all returned through the slot in the heavy wooden doors before we left town today, headed back to Somerville, though not before my sister snapped photos on my daughter’s iphone of all the vegan recipes the girls had marked with orange strips of post it notes, or before we all watched Gilbert Grape piled on mattresses and beds in the small bedroom the girls had rearranged and shared with the tv in the corner on the twenty dollar bureau from the Cambridge yardsale long ago, nor before I spent hours on the beach by the lake and on the torn quilt covered couch in the living room of the Ashfield house and on the relatively new picnic table beside the shrinking pond out back reading Mary Oliver poems, some my oldest favorites, one or two darker than any I’d ever read about a father and a mother and forgiveness, or something approaching that, reading the biography of an ordinary American woman of the baby boomer era written by Susan Cheever, and the story of Alice Waters and the history of Chez Panisse, read after our trip to the Farmer’s Market and interspersed with cooking meals of local vegetables and eggs, and the story of yet another woman, Annie Lamott in her book Grace (Eventually) which made me laugh out loud at the humor in dark and unexpected places. Grace is what I needed this weekend, finding myself in a dark enough place the last week or two I’ve been up in the night and early morning nearly every day, sleeping much less and much less soundly than I’d like. But that, too, is a gift from beyond, if I let it be. Here I am writing, 3:44 am, after waking at 2 from a dream in which the Barbie underpants had interior pockets I was admiring, shown to me by the wife of an old friend, now a fashion curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, whose studio apartment my young husband and I visited (stayed in?) on one of our trips to San Francisco long ago, then the girlfriend of our friend, who came to paint this house nearly twenty five years ago, instead slept with the lovely tenant downstairs, same friend who ran the painting company my college boyfriend turned husband painted with in Providence the summer I prep cooked and chamber maided on the Cape, where I shared a small cottage behind the big house with three male college friends, one now the Ashfield housemate of my ex-husband and me, along with my college roommate and good friend, now the wife of that guy and mother of three of my kids’ lifelong friends, who have vacationed with us each year since the first of the six were one and two, my former roommate whose Dad is in poor health and up from Florida, so their family wasn’t able to be there this weekend, the tenth fourth of July weekend since we bought the house, during which my ex-husband and his new wife were celebrating his fiftieth birthday in California with the former house painter and the curator of fashion, now parents of two in London, which is no longer part of the EEU. Why I dreamed the curator shared with me Barbie underwear with inside pockets and why I thought it was so clever I coveted underpants with inside pockets for myself, I don’t know, but in so doing, she started this reverie, woke me awake bright as day in the middle of the night, got me to thinking about life and memory, reminded me of the way both are shaped by conversation and connection or not, reminded me to tell my children stories about their father, made me wonder how invisible we have already made one another to our children by not telling stories of our younger days, of the young lives of our children when we were a family, as my own mother made my father invisible, through no fault of her own, by not talking about him much, and this weekend, she told me a story including his words and I wondered if it was in response to this blog, as the last entry had referred to the mostly physical memories I retain and this morning in the middle of the night I made that connection to the missing stories not shared, as that is how children learn, not only by hearing and remembering what they hear as it happens, but also in being told stories again and again and again, stories of moments they might recollect on their own, and many they never could.

In the day care we’ve taken to telling stories to the children and they ask for more. We tell them about our childhoods, about our children, even recently about our parents and their childhoods. This is what I remember from my childhood, adults telling stories at the dinner table, in the yard, at family gatherings big and small where we heard about how it was so that we almost imagined we were there. It’s as though I was with my grandfather milking in the barn or tricking the kids from town into asking for chocolate milk from the brown cow or choking on horse balls with the spaghetti and tomato sauce served when they came for dinner on the farm, when in fact my grandfather died shortly after I was born. We can make those people and moments in the past come so alive in the minds of our children that they feel they were there, that those stories are part of them, that they have a history, whether in a family or in the human race.

Annie Lamott had a line today about being human and how some days she can hardly do it. That felt true, as did a story she told about her son at 10 when they moved to a new house with bedrooms further apart than they had before, and how he had to get used to it by sleeping in his sleeping bag, first on top of her bed, then at the foot of her bed on the floor, then in the doorway, then down the hall, gradually, night by night, calling out to his mother that he was there, until at last he could sleep in his own room. Annie Lamott tells us this is how we come to grace, not miraculously and suddenly, but in fits and starts, scooching down the hall. When she told that story, I had to read it out loud to my sister and my mother, as I had remembered my nephews and their struggles to sleep on their own, and as I had known Annie’s story got it right. That is the way I’d like to write, not about all the shiny, polished stuff, not about all the dark and dreary on it’s own, but somehow bringing the two together, so others (and I) may understand, we are not alone, we are not alone, we are not alone. As my mother helped to make my father invisible, so we are doing to the fathers and mothers of our children, to those who have left us through death or divorce or betrayal. It is hard to tell their stories, for them to tell ours, and for us to do it in a balanced way. It’s hard to give our children all we wanted. Sometimes being up in the night helps, so these weeks of wakefulness, I am listening, as carefully as I can to the voices in the night, wondering what they have to teach me, trying to write it down.

The universe provides, if not always in the form of good sleep, at least in the form of dreams and stories, to which we can learn to listen and respond if and when we choose.

Today the workers arrived just past seven and got to work reshingling the driveway side of the house. The kids arriving at the day care were greeted by the work happening on the outside of the house as well as a large Victorian doll house sitting on the bench on the front porch waiting outside the day care door. I explained to the first child that the doll house was sitting on the sidewalk in Northampton with a Free sign on it and Richard wondered if I wanted it for the day care and that I couldn’t resist, and it had been in my car all week. I had gotten it out last night when I loaned my car to a friend moving house and put it on the porch without looking carefully at it. I wondered if my young friend would like to bring it inside and take a look, warning her that it might be too broken or fragile for the day care, but that we could bring it inside to see. I wondered where we should put it. She suggested the back room. I didn’t want it there, but she reminded me we had a doll house table there to hold it so we brought that out to the front room. The rest of our inside time this morning we loved the dollhouse and found it a home in the day care. First we looked inside. Then we got damp rags and washed it from top to bottom, noticing the details and broken places as we did. Then kids brought some furniture and dolls and fabric pieces from our day care doll house and talked about what each room might be. Then they wanted to make dishes out of clay. I offered an old batch of playdough and they got to work. The five who is about to have triplets in her family made a baby bed. Others made plates and cups and bowls, a platter. I offered fabric scraps and soon the table was full of children cutting fabric with sharp fabric scissors, being careful not to cut their clothes, exploring a bin of luscious silks, prints, and brocades given to us by Alice. Children made rugs, pillows, blankets, and then took many of them and put them into the house.

We put the dollhouse in the front room against the radiator while we dressed into bathing suits for the park. We wonder what else we will make for it, if we will find ways to repair the broken places, a missing door, a broken window sill, wallpaper coming loose from the wall.

Meanwhile in the project room Anne was surrounded by children working with Brio Mec Builder, a set of tools, plastic hardware, wooden pieces, and two pounding boards. Some simply filled holes with pegs and hammered. Others made complicated constructions. Everyone had fun.

As we left for the park, we watched the workers on the house outside. We talked about how they got up so high. I explained the pump jacks they had raised in the early morning before day care began, and showed them the ladder the workers ascended to get up to the third floor. One child asked where the workers lived, but what she really wondered was how they could rest, if they could nap. She had noticed how hard they were working and how long was their day, and we talked about the stamina and energy they needed to fix the house. We visited with the general contractor’s dog. We watched him load contractor bags of debris into his truck and waved to him as he rounded the corner. One three asked where he was going and we talked about taking away the old materials and bringing the new wood. We admired the work they’ve done thus far, talked about how nice the gray shingles and white trim look on my house, talked about the colors of the children’s homes. One girl thought it was interesting that her house is orange and her favorite color is orange, and yet her house was painted before she was born. Another child said he doesn’t like blue, and it turns out his new whouse is blue. Oh, well.

When we returned from the park the workers were working on the front of the house. Some thought it was scary to see them on the roof just above our heads. We found insulation on the porch and walked around it and wondered about it.

While we waited for meals and after meals we looked at a books of babies in the womb and studied caterpillars we expect to become butterflies, all versions of home of sorts, and transformation.

We didn’t write down a curriculum or theme or even think about the day much ahead of time. Today houses, homes,  building, and transformation were what interested us and what was in our lives. That, in my mind, makes for a wonderful day.