August 2016


Day 7 in the woods i wake up not at four or five or nine or ten but eight, giving me time for a leisurely morning before we pack up a day early, the other campers in our group, and thus my gal, ready to go home. I am not eager, but I will. With lots to do at home, it makes sense. Plus, as I go through my morning camp routine, I gradually pack things up and realize that in two weeks I’ll be camping with the day care families at Nickerson. This won’t be my last night sleepimg out of doors.

As I putter I debate bringing home the wood that remains. While sittimg by the campfire in Maine, sometimes reading a Waldorf book describing a fall festival including fire and roasted potatoes, I’ve imagined fires in our Somerville yard, perhaps with the day care in celebration of the solstice or daylight savings time.

This morning, though, I want one last fire. I look around and see neighbors have started theirs. I’m not alone in my attraction to the flame.

I lay down three sticks of kindling over two crumpled sheets of paper, open the bundle of plastic covered wood, choose the smaller pieces, lay them atop the kindling, criss cross style, light the match, watch it take hold. As the fire burns I add larger pieces of wood, admire the flames in their power reaching towards the sun as the early morning rays of sun reached down through the trees capturing my attention as they were captured in the smoke.

At nearly fifty I’ve built a fine fire. hallelujiah. take back the night. in fire we shall rise. all that. now time to read and warm my feet before the work of breaking camp begins.


Yesterday I wondered what I was doing here alone in the woods. My son’s gone home. My daughter is off with her friends. I’m here at the campsite alone. 

Last night I built my first solo fire of the week and sat beside it all night long. This morning I woke up to the sounds of my neighbors and their six kids packing up their rv, to light rain, just in time to roll out of my hammock where I indeed slept many solid hours, and tidy up my site. As I pulled the hammocks from the trees, backed up the van so the tailgate lined up neatly with the shelter, tied down the fly of the tent, made my tea, I enjoyed doing all these things myself and on my own, as I’m enjoying sitting in the shelter on my camp chair facing out listening to rain on leaves and soft voices of the nana and grandchild on one side  and the mother and adult daughter across the way. No one else here seems to be alone. Again I’m the oddity. After awhile I can smile into it and the neighbors give me credit. Did you carry that heavy thing all the way up the hill? the older guy in cammo pants asked me last night near dinner time as I approached in my bathing suit carting a box of kindling and my towel. Yup, I’m pretty strong, I laughed, grateful for the first friendly interaction with a neighbor. 

As I read through my email and check facebook this morning I find a poem by David Whyte, whose words found me on my first Gilchrist retreat, when aloneness was more new and overwhelming. They strike again today, as I settle into the retreat phase of this summer. Wish me a happy day of aloneness in the woods. I’ve got my tent tied down, my electric kettle and plenty of tea, a bag of tea light candles, a votive and some matches, my writing homework with a conference call at noon, long johns presentable enough for neighbors to see, a cozy fleece, so far only light rain, many books and magazines, a yoga mat, drawing things, no end of things to do alone, if I choose to do other than rest or sit and stare. 

Here is David Whyte’s poem, The House of My Belonging. Enjoy:)

For eight days this end of August I’m making home in the woods. While the carpenters in Somerville rebuild the front steps, replace rotten sills, and paint the house here in the Maine woods I cook bacon and eggs on the stove top under our campsite shelter while my son builds a fire and makes toast. Tonight when I’m hungry I reacquaint myself with the art of roasting hot dogs, enjoying the scent and flavor of cedar burning in the fire. After dinner my daughter and I lay in hammocks fireside across from one another, reading and relaxing before she goes off to line dance with friends at the rec hall and I wash dishes and make tea. Now she’s dancing and I’m typing here. Tonight we will sleep in tents and my guess is we’ll sleep well, if Monday and Tuesday night’s nine hours are any indication. 

When we return home life will quickly change. Isabel will begin drivers Ed, day care will reopen, and Jonah will move into his Emerson dorm, all on Monday. For now we’re enjoying making home in the woods, luxuries like our own bath and outdoor kitchenette making it pretty easy, others like daily fires and time in the hammock easing our minds and bodies into a slower pace. Last night and this afternoon I swam out deep into the pond, today after paddling the perimeter in a canoe. Tomorrow I may do the same, Saturday, too. There aren’t any ponds or canoes in Somerville, so I’m enjoying them here while I can. Remind  me next year to end the summer out of doors. 

This morning I wake up and need to write. When I open my computer, I am shocked to find it says 9:22. Naomi Shahib Nye is speaking with Krista Tippet on my phone, in a podcast from On Being, the latest in a series of podcasts that have been playing since I started listening to one with Thich Nat Hanh in the middle of the night when I had been up an hour or more, having fallen asleep on my side on my yoga mat near one am, fallen asleep after a day in my house, where my younger son sat mending his jeans at the dining room table, my daughter slept til one, helped me clean out the kitchen pantry, then painted her room for the second day in a row, and I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets. Around 10, after I had finished the phone conversation with my mom which had been interrupted by my daughter needing help finding the right tool to take apart her childhood bed, an antique four poster down to three posts, my gal asked me to help her move the queen sized mattress from her older brother’s abandoned room on the second floor to her newly painted bedroom on the third. We pushed and shoved and strategized, got it stuck in the door to the third floor, could not make the thing go through the opening or turn the corner and up the stairs, in spite of all our pushing and pulling and cajoling or my removing the childhood photos from the staircase walls, tender moments of my children’s early childhood captured by their father with his camera, hung there on the stairway walls on tiny nails by him in matching 4 x 6 frames in the years before he left, a patchwork of memories of our early family life together. When we get stuck, I suggest my gal call her dad for help, something I don’t think I’ve done in the seven years since he’s been gone. She called. He was in bed. He agreed to come then or today. While my daughter was on the phone and the mattress was stuck in the doorway turning the corner up the stairs from second floor to first, I sat down and rested my head against it, feeling tired and noticing my back hurt, sweating and feeling strong, but not strong enough for this. As I told my daughter, I didn’t know how to do it and I didn’t think we were physically strong enough to do it. Her dad is strong. The delivery guys who brought my new mattress up the stairs when her dad moved out had moved it down to her brother’s room, had refused to deliver the new mattress I had ordered because to get it up the stairs would damage it, invalidating the warranty. They took that new mattress back to the store and I was forced to get one made of foam that could be delivered rolled up like a burrito, which they unfolded in my bedroom, where it sprang open and smelled bad like chemicals for weeks or months, but was more comfortable for my back than the old mattress they put in Ben’s room for him and his girlfriend, which replaced the twin, or the futon I had slept on for years before the mattress stuck on the stairs, bought when my babies were young, shoved up the stairs originally by movers or my daughter’s dad, I don’t know which.

In any case, when I wake up I remember my son on stage at Improv Boston and telling him before he left for D and D with friends last night how funny his sister and I find his comedy work. I remember him on stage at Open Air Circus in Comedia Del Arte year after year after year. I remember him reading all the funny comic books as a young reader, Calvin and Hobbes, Joke books, Foxtrot, which are lined up on the shelves over his head where he sleeps on a futon we bought for a housemate who didn’t stay, on a futon frame bought for the back room of the day care, maybe, or for his bedroom when it was the project room rather than the master bedroom, I don’t remember, except I know it was from LL Bean and it was sturdy, and heavy and somehow we moved it. I don’t remember how we moved the frame, but I do remember buying the futon mattress from a place that is no longer there in Inman Square, across the street of a day care family, around the corner from their dad’s house, and I remember doing that alone, and carrying the mattress home in the van when the van is what I drove, and somehow getting that mattress up the stairs and into the back room, in preparation for that housemate, and my son taking over the room when Eduardo the student who was supposed to stay here returned to Spain, denied permission at the airport, due to the incorrect visa, given permission for a few days of visits in our home, during which he slept on that futon, before he was sent back to his home and mother, when my son took over the room he left. We here on Garrison Avenue have pretty much always improvised our life.

Why so much focus on the moving of beds and mattresses? Who knows? They emerged in the writing. My family is moving this summer. My older son moved to New York City to a rent stabilized studio apartment the size of a shoe box, after moving into the van which he lived in all summer long, old futon in the back his bed, after moving back from his studio apartment where he lived his last year of college. My younger son is moving to Emerson College in ten days, where he will also live in a shoebox, a shared dorm room in a suite of four guys, two from Asia, one from LA. In the corner of his room are a pile of plastic bins from Target, packed as I hoped we’d pack the boxes my son his older brother would take to New York City and did not, as my older son preferred packing in the purple handled cloth Johnny’s bags his dad used to move himself and the kids to his first apartment, probably used to move them to their first house with his new wife, bags which we used to bring the piles of clothes from Jonah’s bedroom and hallway bin at his dad’s house on Tuesday so we could wash and fold and stack them on the dining room table here and so he could sort and organize them as he moves on to college, bins of shorts, pants, shirts, sweaters, socks and undies for the dorm room, Johnny’s bags of the same  for his dad’s house, plastic laundry basket of the same filed in his newly spacious dresser drawers at mine. There are more of those plastic bins in the corner of Ben’s room, in his closet, in the corner of the basement I’ve designated for his stuff.

Today those bins may reunite in the basement corner, making space for Miranda, who has come this week to play her cello in various rooms, in various times and tones, hoping to prove to all of us that things will work out. As my son mended his jeans and I cleaned the cupboards and my daughter painted her room and Maeve polished the day care floors, Miranda played. As Jonah said, it’s not a problem. I like it. It’s a gift, I kept thinking. It’s lovely. Still, Miranda seems unsure, and until she is sure, my son’s boxes stay where they are, in his room and closet, with loose possessions on the shelves and in the drawers of his desk, waiting to go into the remaining stack of empty bins.

At Quaker Meeting a few weeks ago a member approached me to talk. We talked about our summers. He told me briefly about his, with travels to a Quaker Conference and a Native American ritual of dance. My summer stories were about my children and their growing up. You must be very proud, he said. Yes, I am, I assured him. I have lovely children and they are growing into lovely adults, making their own decisions, which are interesting to witness. Your life is very rich, he reminded me. Yes, it is, I was reminded. You should be grateful. Yes, I am, I was assured. I am grateful. I have lovely children and a rich life, which has turned out to be the focus of my summer. The summer Richard left my life and all three of my children move into different phases of their lives, I have been the ground, making home while they move on. This week Richard is beginning a three week adventure through Maine, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia, back through Maine. It’s a trip we planned or hoped to take together. I had worried if he took it without me I would miss him too much, would wish that I had gone. I had worried that if I took it with him I would miss this time with my children. Turns out being here is right. I’m happy to be the ground for my children, to take my daughter to the Cambridge Public Library on Tuesday to get her library card and her summer reading list, to help her paint her room, though she and her friend did the lion’s share of the work, to help my son organize his things for college, to clean the cupboards for our family and to make space for Miranda while Jonah patches his jeans using the sewing box given to me by my mother, fabric for patches from his childhood clothes worn out and a collection given to the day by Alice for the children. I am happy to be putting our house in order, even as two of my children move out. To witness and support their lives unfolding is the greatest gift. I’m a mom. That is what abides. The day care, yes, but that has been in support of my children as well as me. The kids will be here if all goes as planned and expected, as long as I live, in my life, if not in my home. If I make the house a place of love, they’ll return, my wise friend Macky assured me one day early this summer when she came for a conversation. When she returned this week for iced barley tea on the back porch and talk of our work together caring for young children, of her summer and mine, we talk about her children and mine my children, about the changes in our lives, and she assures me that I am doing fine.

As does my mother last night, when she wonders if my circadian rhythms are changing, as she reminds me of her brother and maybe a sister who don’t need much sleep. Perhaps I don’t either, she muses, as I’ve been getting up at four or five or six and working all day long, not so tired as I would expect. She warns me off lifting too much, also with family stories of damage to the bladder for her sisters who lifted too much. As I lay my head against the mattress, sweating, my daughter on the phone with her dad, I remember her words, tell my daughter I need to take a rest and do some yoga, that I can’t afford to lose the use of my back, not now, and she understands. While I take care of my back with yoga, my daughter moves the mattress back to her brother’s room. After I stretch, I find her crying on the phone with her boyfriend, sitting on the porch where my friend and I talked with our barley tea. I bring her a bowl of watermelon she cut up early in the week that I’ve been nibbling on between washing dishes and talking with my mom and helping her move the mattress, return with chocolate bark I made early in the week, rest a few minutes on the couch while she talks on the phone, make a tidy shopping and to do list so the next few days continue to be productive and maybe I can sleep, go upstairs where my daughter begs me to sleep, please sleep, and then when I do my meditation with the candle and the tiny lamp I’ve put beside the yoga mat, she comes up and settles her self on the single mattress on the floor of her newly painted room, shuts the door and turns on the ac. After I meditate, I convince her to let me take the painting stuff away, open windows and her door, put the window fan in the window, so she doesn’t get so many toxic fumes and another headache while she’s sleeping. I return to my room, do a calming yoga routine around one, find myself asleep there with the candle and lamp burning around two or three am, worry I’ll be up all night, move to the bed, read about menopause and yoga and circadian rhythms and people who claim to need little sleep, finally turn on the podcast, fall eventually to sleep, wake up, late, hot, listening to Naomi Shahib Nye telling me about her blessed life, her child, her father, her husband, her writing, and then the podcast starts over, the unedited version, and she reads Kindness, which I will share here, closing the circle, wishing my back continues to feel good, wishing I continue to get good sleep, wishing the loved ones moving out will continue to come home, that the ones moving in become loved ones over time, that the two who will stay, my gal and I, continue to love our home in all it’s many changes, that even my cat Frances, who we tried to give to a shelter this week but who’s been rejected, may settle in here in better behavior with more consistent love in the house, that Richard on his adventure will find what he is looking for on the road and in his life as “and old man in Northampton”, the place we had joked he would be when if life on Garrison Avenue ended, which it has. Here we are, all of us, doing the best we can.

Enjoy the poem. It’s been awhile since I shared one here. I’ve gotten it from the Spirituality and Health website. Here is what they attached to the poem by way of permissions:

The following poem, “Kindness,” is from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 1995. Reprinted with the permission of Far Corner Books, Portland, Oregon. Click here to read an interview with the author, who tells the story about the making of this poem.


By Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

This morning I woke up early, again. I’m learning to see this as time my body/mind/soul needs to explore parts of my life that don’t fit into the 9 to 5 day. Today after some time rising and shining, I decided to take the van in for an oil change and a look see at the AC. The van has been in my son’s possession the last two years, first at college, then here as a commuting vehicle to Lincoln Labs last summer, this summer as a road trip van. My son folded down the rear seat, removed the second row seats, inserted a futon, all after barely clearing out the debris that traveled back from his college studio apartment with him in June, and headed off for four weeks on the road. Then, when I wasn’t looking, he moved back into a studio apartment of his own in New York City with help from his dad and brother on a day I did yoga, cleaned out his room where he had left a good deal of stuff behind so that our new housemate, the cellist, could live there

I have been doing a lot of household and vehicle archeology this summer. What has become clear is how much context and finding matters, and that is what is hard about it in many ways. Taking it all apart and sorting and organizing it somehow removes the context, and in so doing, I worry I destroy the meaning. I wanted to get the van to Eli’s early for an oil change and ac work so my daughter and I might take it camping on Sunday. So instead of taking my time cleaning out the van or asking my daughter who loves cleaning out cars to do it, I took one of the millions of plastic bins I’ve been buying from Target for all the transition magician work I’ve been doing on the house, and started loading up.  I moved quickly this time, unlike when I took a leisurely day packing up his room. Part of me wanted to take pictures, of the sage deodorant tucked neatly into a side compartment in the back, where I imagined my stinky boy would wake up, spray his unshowered pits, and drive. All summer long he drove around the country. Not one night did he sleep in his tent or in a paid accommodation. He slept in the van in Walmart parking lots and on the side of the road, except for two short stays with friends. My boy is braver than I am, but he still likes his fancy Waleda deodorant. I wonder if he has some in NYC, or in Dallas were he’s training these two weeks.

Under the space between the front seats were many empty bottles, water, gatorade, starbucks coffee drinks, pieces of peanuts and ramen noodles, wrappers from energy bars, bottles of Mio, which my son drank when the instant Maxwell house that I also found under those seats turned out to taste not so much like coffee. I learned of these habits one night over a short dinner with his sister, or maybe in the coffee shop where we met for a late breakfast with his sister and brother before he left for NYC.  I cleaned out two razors, one from the floor, one tucked into the pouch behind the front seat, and I wondered if he lost one and replaced it with the other. The razor cover was on the table between the front seats. I brought that home in my hand as I walked down the hill after dropping off the van. Luckily I didn’t cut my fingers when I found the razor in the pouch behind the seat. Life as I let go of my boy has edges. I have been hurt, but mostly its not the razor and blood kind, but the deep down longing kind that turned happy when he texted yesterday afternoon to ask me for help sorting out his taxes yesterday and promised to call later to catch up and did. I am still his mom, even though he’s off and running young adult style. Time to linger over the detritus of his van dwelling summer comes here in the writing, as the project this morning was quick, and I didn’t take pictures.

Just before I sat down to type I saw Frances the cat sniffing at the bin of Ben’s possessions, left in the living room while I decide if and when to sort it. There is a toilet paper roll topping the pile, a melted plastic dish from his fancy camping set poking out in outdoorsman orange from amidst crumpled tissues, wool socks, a cotton one balled up in it’s argyle I miss my partner in NYC way, brochures from national parks, not one map, a few receipts, this and that, not too much of it memorable, except for the fact that it’s evidence of my boy’s van dwelling ways, along with the photos he posted on Facebook with the caption, photos from a van dweller, and I’m happy to have fixed the damn thing up so many, many times, happy my boy had the opportunity to cross the country in an elderly family vehicle with a futon in the back, as I did at twenty one in the K car, carrying the San Francisco futon back to live the East Coast life with me. Ben’s futon lives now in his New York Studio. He’s asked me to bring his childhood dresser when I come to visit. I think I’ll bring the armoire top as well, clean out the twin bedding that’s in there now from my kids’ three twin sized beds, all moved on or moving on this summer, making way for young adult lives. I’m happy the futon he’s dragged back and forth to Troy the last two years, now to NYC is a gift from a day care family, which reminds me they offered us some blocks last week while I was on vacation and I forgot to reply. Time to do that now, as well as a whole slew of house projects here, many of them archeological. As I move things around in our house and van I find layers of our lives that bring me back, that remind me of the richness of our life, in spite of and in some cases, because of all the loss.

I had a wonderful day yesterday. I had a nibble and conversation in Davis Square with Liana and her son and Jonah and Isabel as a little marker before the boys leave for college in the coming weeks. I made a nice dinner and had company at the dining room table, my son and his gal, my daughter, and our new housemate the cellist. After dinner everyone was here until past eleven. I sat at the dining room table and organized my big pile of financial documents, while the cello filled Ben’s room, along with the boxes of things packed up and ready to go down to the cellar, the things I have yet to clear out of his desk and shelves, the porch furniture moved there in anticipation of the paint job, and the plastic bins from Target, along with other things I had bought at Target when I was feeling  inspired towards home improvement. In the tv room there was our newest new to us air conditioner, installed by my son and his gal and me, duct tape to seal the gaps, and my son and his gal on our beat up couch, surrounded by white curtains I’m trying out which all the kids say brighten the room and which block the glare so the kids can watch tv, which they did, The Big Short about the financial scandal, not for me, but nice synchronicity as I sorted out my finances in paper on the table, and in more three d ways with housemates moving in, helping to share the load of keeping up this big old house. Isabel was upstairs face timing with her boyfriend in the room she rearranged in hopes of taking her brother’s, formerly her parents queen sized mattress  in trade for the twin she has now, and of painting her room white, covering the lovely lavender Ben chose to the delight of the paint store guys when he was small, a great eye for color the paint guy said, and he was right. The lavender looked great with navy blue when the boys slept there, but has never made my gal that happy. She prefers white so she can change the rest of the room as much as she likes, which she will.  Maeve came in from a day with friends as I was bringing down the first piece of mail in her name, set on the dining room table by my son when he brought it in before dinner..

Someone asked me recently what I would do for an evening if money and logistics were no issue. I said I would have dinner on the back porch with all three kids and a partner, eating delicious homemade, mostly local food and talking and laughing together. Last night, first official night of day care vacation, I got very, very close. We weren’t on the porch, as the table was moved off it for the project. I haven’t got a partner. My third kid is in Texas, but this morning, cleaning out the van, he was with me, as he was via text and phone yesterday. He may have moved out, but his spirit is here. As the house fills up again with housemates, it feels alive again. This morning as I dug out the cans of watco oil for Maeve, who has been waxing the floors in the day care and wondered about oiling the back porch furniture,  I remembered the first weeks we owned the house when my young husband ripped up the carpets, sanded the floors, and covered them in Watco oil, a remnant of life in Texas with his dad, whose remodeling of their childhood home and work with wood lead us to believe we would care for our home ourselves, making it beautiful while raising a family and making community. Much of that we did. It’s time, after seven years of separation and divorce, two long distance long term relationships ended, for me to make a new version of home and family, sharing this house and it’s care with those who want to live here, hoping the life of the house will continue to provide the sustenance we need, no life partner this round, but others willing to take a chance on making our home theirs, if only for awhile.

I wake up this morning again in the fours. I have lots to do. I am due to pick up my daughter’s friend in Amherst by 11:30. Before then, I am to prepare the house for power washing, that manly term for which I myself have no manly powers to prepare. This is the point of all the yoga, writing, meditation, so I can do it on my own, I tell myself bravely. This is why I’ve been working on core strength, flexibility, love, so I can do it on my own.

When I get up to shower, I look in the mirror and imagine my menopausal belly might be flattening. After I shower, I put on yesterday’s yoga clothes, anticipating the yoga I will do before starting the rest of my day, when I will be hauling air conditioners, lowering storms, moving a large rug, various junk and furniture, as well as the more feminine plants and pillows and porch swing, off of all four porches. As I told a friend last night, this house has forty four windows. This is a number I remember from an early painting estimate, is no doubt no longer entirely accurate, but forty four rolls nicely off the tongue, and you get the picture, I have a lot of windows.

In many of those windows there are air conditioners. At this point, I am the air conditioner mover. My brother, who used to be the strongest guy I knew, who was perhaps last here three years ago, in the week before I met Richard, could carry an air conditioner like nobody’s business. I haven’t been on his good side in a long while, since October, and don’t expect him to take the ac’s out. My older son Ben is probably the second strongest guy I know. He came in June and put on a pair of old leather gloves I believe my mom or I had bought for his dad, and picked up the air conditioner that was stacked in his room and helped me fit it in the living room window. He wasn’t here long enough this summer to put the one stacked below it into the window above it in his room. He moved to New York last Monday, and won’t likely help me take any of them out. I believe I’m on my own, as my second son Jonah will move to Emerson College dorms on August 29th, before ac season has ended, and Richard is no longer in this part of my life, only in my mind, where due to love, for now he will remain.

Every morning all summer long, I’ve gotten up early to do yoga. From the first time I did it with the voice of my teacher coming through the iPhone, I have been reminded that yoga will make me strong, that loosening my spine will make me flexible so that I am prepared for life’s disasters (the yoga teacher didn’t exactly say that, but that is what I hear), that by doing the modified life stretch I am strengthening my core. Sure enough, I found myself able to carry on my own on Sunday what on Wednesday I could barely carry with a friend, a new to me, hoped to be light enough for me to carry on my own air conditioner, ironically sold to me by a young friend moving in for the first time with her boyfriend, to an apartment offered to her by Columbia University in New York, where she will have a study of her own, as well as a bedroom for her and her boyfriend, a living room, kitchen, and central AC.

After moving that air conditioner from the car to the porch on my own, and being helped by my new housemate to carry it into her room, and to wedge it in the window, as I was maneuvering it the old window fell on my finger, drawing blood, causing me to need one of the bandaids in the hall closet where we keep day care first aid supplies. All week I’ve worn beautiful bandages, first covered in rainbow hearts, now in rainbow stripes, and explained the the day care children who ask, that I cut my finger putting the air conditioner into Maeve’s window, that the old window fell on my finger and cut it.

Yes, it did. Some days it seems this old house is out to kill me, old windows, rotten wood, expensive paint job, forty four g-d old windows, twenty five years of stuff to sort and move about and clean and care for. Other times it seems it holds every last one of my secrets, notebooks from college, letters from old lovers, a wedding ring and a diamond in my bedside table, a handwritten card from my dad, none of that really secret, but as I sort through what my son reminded me was every last piece of his life, I sort through what feels like every last piece of mine. The building sets I am sorting which were stored in Maeve’s closet bring back my sons in their early days, the trips to toy stores when I was in love with building toys and bought them for my young builders.  I take the sets out one by one, then in great piles, and fill the day care project room with them, tempting the children in the day care to play with them. The ones they love, I keep. The ones they don’t I pass along, marble runs, k’nex, even a K’nex carousel I bought my three kids for Christmas which is unopened and still has the sticker attached to the top, to Ben and Jonah and Isabel from Santa. That dream I’ve passed along, offering it to the day care listserv, getting a taker within minutes.

I wake up this morning with the stark realization that this is the year all the men have left me. I remember each of them in my mind, the circumstances of the leaving. I remember all the holidays and trips with Richard and his kids and mine, close the door on that chapter of my life of Christian and Jewish holidays, dying old people and Christian and Jewish passing on, of pseudo step siblings and life partner wishes, and I get myself back on e-harmony, a place I really don’t feel ready to be, not feeling so harmonious as stirred up and stressed out, but who knows? Perhaps the harmonious life can come to me through the internet this round.

At 5:47, I’m signing off. Time for yoga, meditation, journaling, a million (did I say forty four) windows to be managed, porch furniture to move, vacation clothes and food to pack, trash, recycling, compost to take out, all the usual house leaving tasks to accomplish, plus some errands to the bank before leaving on my vacation to Ashfield, then home for another week of sorting, then a week of camping in Maine with my daughter, maybe my son and his gal and/or a friend, after which my son is off to Emerson, three days later I’ll host the day are graduation celebration where we’ll send off five young lovelies I’m going to miss a lot. The good-byes just keep coming, to people, stuff, life stages, money, time. My hope is somewhere in that I find what abides, my center, my core strength. For now, I have words, and music, the day care, my home, my sister, my mom, my daughter, my boys even though they are going to be living on their own, some friends, mostly women, my strength, getting stronger every day, girl power, is what I reminded the kids when they asked about the bandaid. I’m  Super Girl, I joked, and smiled.

This is the weekend I’m doing it, emptying my son’s room, opening my heart to a new young woman who will share our home, a professional cellist whose first moments of playing on the back porch on Friday brought tears to my eyes. For her I’m taking every last thing out of my son’s room, all his personal possessions, and putting nearly all of them in plastic bins in one section of the basement, winter gear, textbooks, sporting goods, memorabilia, Magic Cards, all the treasures that have accumulated since he moved into that room at 14 the year his dad moved out, seven years of his life, from public middle school to Sudbury Valley to RPI to NYC, all the detritus of those formative years. I’m picking it all up, piece by piece, and putting it all to rest.

When I finish, the room will still have things he doesn’t claim as his own. None of the furniture seems to mean much to him. As he said, I’ve slept in so many places in the house, I don’t have any particular attachment to that room. The other night as we were discussing the possible clearing out of his room to make room for a housemate, we reminisced about all the places that he’s slept. Turns out, if I add in the back bedroom that he slept in with us as a newborn, he’s had four different bedrooms in this house, in so many combinations, it’s hard to list, from sleeping with his parents, to sleeping on his own in a crib in the room I’m clearing now, which we made beautiful for him with handmade shelves, a hand painted bed when he was old enough, a beautiful coral pink on the walls and shelves, a handprinted ceiling of clouds. All that welcomed our baby boy to the world, welcomed his young parents at twenty eight into a brand new world of parenting. Later his baby brother shared that room, then the baby moved out to what is now our tv room, then there were bunk beds for both boys, then we built the third flood dormer and we all moved up there, and his dad took over the boys’ bedroom as his office, then our third child arrived, and for awhile, all three shared a room, bunk beds on one wall, crib on another. After that the boys slept in the open place at the top of the third floor stairs, Ben under the eaves on a mattress on the floor, Jonah against the window in the blue hand painted  bed I moved to the basement this year after giving the mattress to two young friends for their AirBnB, Ben’s mattress gone years ago to a friend who’s son needed it. Then, when Ben wanted a room with a door, his dad’s office was no longer an office, Ben moved back to the now forest green room. He shared it with his first girlfriend for two summer vacations and a winter break, then with the second girlfriend when she visited the last two years. I don’t know where he will sleep when he returns, what I’ll do if his girlfriend also comes to stay. That is to be figured out. In this house of many rooms, we must trust this too will work out. As my son said yesterday in the first texts I’ve received since he moved to New York, when I asked if he was really fine with my giving his room to a housemate, Yes, as long as you are. Don’t want you getting in over your head. My reply, Yes, well it wouldn’t be the first time. I think that’s my comfort zone.

I’ve taken on a lot this summer, two sons moving out, two housemates moving in, major work on the exterior of the house. Its a whole lot. And I’m trying hard to keep my heart open, to let the tears flow as they come, and to let the joy arrive though the same open place in my heart. Before I began to write today, I was thinking about the book I read awhile back, The Wisdom of a Broken Heart and about the fact that when something is broken it is often more exposed, vulnerable, and if it’s a vessel, like a heart, the broken places are often open to the world, to the light, to the air and world around. This summer, without Richard, with my sons going and new housemates coming, with my online course in writing, yoga, and meditation, and with my yoga class, I am finding all that to be true. My heart is broken, again. I recognize the feeling. I’m vulnerable. And I’m stronger than I was. The marriage breakup was a killer. Not just as an expression. The end of my marriage killed off many other pieces of my life. Many will never grow back. But I did learn and continue to learn, as I imagine we all must, how to be strong in the face of challenge, how to take care of myself, that I can, that I will, how to take care of my children with little interaction with their father, how to be my own person, how to be a single woman in the world, how to see the world through the lens of someone who has to think very carefully about every financial decision, who isn’t rich or poor, who can keep on keeping on, who might be of interest to others if I risk the openness, who might live in quiet isolation if I choose.

Life at nearly 50 is so much different from life at 40. I’m less connected to my family of origin, less needed by my children, less a part of the political and organizational aspects of my community, more a solo flier, more spiritual, more grounded in my body, less anxious and afraid, more open to what comes next, more curious in some ways, less so in others. The good news is I made it through those ten hard years. I don’t know how I’ll celebrate being fifty. Forty was one of the hardest birthdays of my life. All around me there were parties for others celebrating their fortieth birthdays, beginning with one I threw for my then husband. Mine fell between the deaths of my grandmother and my mother’s oldest brother. We had a quiet dinner at home, just two years before my marriage fell apart. I planned a wise women weekend in the country for my closest women friends, my mother and my sister, bought us all books to read in preparation about the ways women make home, ended up with day surgery the week it was to happen, on pain killers, enjoyed a meal with the friends and sister in a fancy restaurant instead, went home and went to bed. I don’t expect so much at 50. Maybe we’ll sing happy birthday at Thanksgiving. Maybe I’ll write something I’ll want to keep. Maybe someone will write me a card or letter that will make me feel. Maybe there will be cello music in my home that week from the new young woman living in my son’s room, maybe a child in the day care will call me grandma. Something will mark the day, the passage from the forties to the fifties. I don’t know what it will be and that is all right.

Staying open is the theme I’m working with as I sit here with the breeze blowing through the leaves of the tree outside my living room window, the tree that grew up in the hedge and was cared for to maturity by my ex, in a house shaded on all three sides by trees that have grown up in the twenty five years I’ve lived here, all due to neighborhood neglect, making homes for birds, shade for the children, cooling the house, creating privacy on the porch, a whole ecology for me to connect with when I’m here alone, writing, awake in the night, eating meals on the back porch. I watch and listen to the birds, the squirrels, keep my eye out this week for the raccoon that was spotted in the back yard tree house by the kids, listen to my neighbor play and sing with his guitar, dream about the future, wonder once again what comes next.