November 2017

So, it turns out the 51st birthday wasn’t so bad. I got many loving messages from friends and family near and far, many of whom I didn’t expect to hear from.

I made cupcakes and sang and shared them with the little people, who really love cupcakes, and cooking, and also are lovely and loving and lovable.

I visited with my friend Michael at the park and we talked about what it’s like to be 51 and 65, what it’s been like to be different ages, what we hope we’ve learned and are learning still.

My co-teacher Anne was steady and kind and a pleasure to work with and my other co-teacher Liana is recovering nicely from the surgery she underwent yesterday, and it is a big gift to know she is doing well.

My son made cake number two, and was home in time to have dinner with me and my old friend, who showed up with flowers, her super power, and positive energy and good stories, and a love for my son, who she’s known his whole life. The stew was delicious, the hard cider I’d bought for my older son which we never drank at Thanksgiving was yummy. We topped the meal off with the cake and tea my son gifted me, third year of this fine gift, becoming a tradition.

The improv show was one of the funniest I’ve seen. I laughed beside my friend in a sold out theater of appreciative guests, all laughing and smiling for ninety minutes of sheer fun.

When I got home, there was more cake and more tea and a computer full of well wishes from folks all over the world writing to say they were thinking of me.

It turns out that even a birthday that coincides with a break up can be quite lovely. Even my fine man, who is no longer mine, managed to send me two just right cards, and I was able to use the lovely napkins and the lovely tea pot he gifted me at our parting breakfast, and not cry. I’m making progress. I’ve been and am loved. Hard to complain about that.

Perhaps the most interesting wish I was gifted was hope for a fine year to come, and faith that good things are in store.

The world is large. Love abounds. On a birthday I worried I would be alone and lonely, that did not happen. Instead I felt surrounded, held, loved. At fifty one, that’s the biggest gift of all, nothing else required. G’night.

I’ve made a batch of stew for myself and my son and my old friend who is coming to dinner for my birthday tomorrow evening. I used the stew beef I bought from the farmer at the last Union Square farmer’s market of the season where I got carried away and bought twenty five pounds of purple potatoes and three large bags of delicious apples. No regrets, but my fridge is crowded with apples and I haven’t figured out where the potatoes are going to live. For now they are in the box they came in resting on the kitchen floor.

While the stew meat stewed, I picked through the portobello mushrooms, reserving half the pieces for the stew and sauteeing the rest with Northampton Farmers Market garlic and cippolini onions to go with the last of the Thanksgiving Turkey hanging out in my fridge, added a splash of sherry, some fresh ground pepper and sea salt, heated it all through, then stirred in some sour cream left from the pre-Thanksgiving taco night with my kids, boiled a bag of egg noodles, labeled “America’s Comfort Food”, and enjoyed my version of turkey stroganoff with a candle and a cup of tea and the birthday playlist my son set up for me on Spotify.

All that is to say, I am doing my best to feather the empty nest, sans partner, sans kids. The cooking settles me. The delicious food reminds me that I can cook and enjoy fine food even if there is no one here but me to enjoy it. And that I can cook for others, even when they aren’t here, like the stew for tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to adjust my life to work for just me, post break up, post my daughter’s move to boarding school this fall, as I adjust to sharing home with my son who’s out most evenings and weekends. How can a half gallon of ice cream make sense when I eat so little ice cream? Should I even be buying potatoes in five pound bags? How little do my son and I really eat in a week?

The fridge and freezer and cupboards are overfull with food. I don’t know how to shop or cook or plan meals for such a small crew, don’t know what it looks like to cook for just one.

The house was full for part of last week when all three kids were home, but as I should have predicted, I bought and prepared more food than we could eat when we were together and now the kids are gone I don’t know how to sort out what remains.

Tomorrow, for the first time in a long time, I’ll celebrate my birthday without a partner. It takes a lot of strength right now for me just to get through the day. Celebrating feels like a real stretch. The good news is my old friend is joining me and maybe my son for dinner (stew:)) and then an improv show where my son will perform. Maybe I’ll bake a cake with the day care kids, who would be more than happy for a little party and a treat. My kids and family celebrated with me on Thanksgiving, with a candle in a pie and gifts and lovely cards. That was my celebration. Tomorrow I just need to endure.

And then it’s on to the rest of my life. What will 51 hold for me? I don’t know. I’m seeing it as the beginning of the second half of my life, hoping I’ll live to nearly one hundred, as my grandma, who died the month before my fortieth birthday did, two and a half months shy of her centennial.

I’m going through another break up, one I’d hoped I wouldn’t ever go through. I held onto the until death do us part fantasy even as I knew marriage wasn’t on the table. One part of me still hopes the break up isn’t real, while another part is trying to accept the end. I’ve been here before, as some, or many, or most of us have been, though I live in a world of long-married couples, and no one I know right now is sorting this stuff out.

I’m working hard not to go down in the dumps, to hold onto what I’ve got. I have three kids I love a lot, all expected home for Thanksgiving, the first time we’ll be together in nearly a year. My sister is hosting Thanksgiving on the Cape, and my brother and nephew will be there, as well as my kids, my sister’s family, and my mom, the first time that most of our extended family will be together in a long time.

I still have a family, just not a partner. I’m no longer a pseudo stepmom to two adult kids. I’m no longer connected to the community of people and places my boyfriend and I shared the last four and a half years, no longer setting aside my weekends for fun with my guy, or sorting out how to spend time with him and time with my kids, no longer wondering how and when to shut down my business, sell my home, and move to Western Mass, no longer imagining early retirement and a life shared full time with my older guy.

I’m undoing it all, mostly in my imagination. Life for us was not so entangled as I might have hoped. We didn’t have a shared home, own almost nothing together, have never joined an organization as a couple, or formed new friendships where we weren’t before we met. The undoing is of a future I hoped we’d share, relationships I’d grown to count on growing into the next phase of life, a place I’ve loved and hoped would be my future home, favorite coffee and coffee shops, beloved walks, a writing desk and chair I had set up is his back bedroom in hopes of a future spent writing when day care was no longer a full time job, some empty drawers where I’d laid my clothes, rather than leaving them in my suitcase, a closet that had only recently been empty enough so that the last visit I was able to hang some clothes, a pile of black walnuts washed and spread on his basement table to dry I’d hoped we’d shell and eat together, though even that seemed far-fetched, recipes I’ve learned to cook from him, trips to the farmers markets together, farmers I’d come to know, the last of the garlic and cipollini onions on my counter from one of them I refused to put in today’s batch of his lentil soup, not ready to let them go.

The first two weeks I’ve kept myself so busy, out each night finding things to do to ward off the panic as the reality of the separation set in, that today I am at last in need of slowing down. All day I haven’t left the house. My daughter is here. My son stopped here midday. I cooked lentil soup, made two batches of chai tea, have one loaf of vegan chocolate chip banana bread cooling on the counter, one loaf of banana nut bread (with eggs and butter and milk) baking in the oven.

On my son’s way out to see a friend’s dance performance he knocked a huge aloe vera plant onto the dining room floor, where the pot smashed. My daughter and I divided and repotted it, using a collection of lovely pots I had gotten with my guy at a yard sale and kept on the porch all summer filled with basil and squash plants given to me by his friends in Western Mass when we spent time helping them in their garden for her birthday. One pot will go back to school with my daughter when she returns early in the morning, the first time we’ve had her return on Monday rather than Sunday, neither of us able to imagine driving back tonight. One pot will live in her bedroom, the other in our dining room.

My daughter is sitting in the kitchen, sewing, first attaching a charm to a ribbon on her daily planner, now patching a cashmere pillow cover our cat tore with a piece of a butterfly sock of mine which has forever lost it’s mate. There is little that makes me happier in a purely contented way than spending a day making and baking, eating, listening to music, and puttering at home, my kids doing their thing while I do mine. Even my son sleeping on the couch under the down comforter while I made soup and my daughter puttered in her room and set the table for lunch was a moment I noticed for the rarity and specialness of it in this current place in our lives.

Having one or more of my kids at home is not something I currently count on. They are sixteen, twenty, and twenty-two, all soon to have birthdays. The youngest is in boarding school, home some weekends, though often out with friends even when she’s in town. The middle guy divides his time according to his preferences between his dad’s house and mine, is out most evenings and much of every weekend living the life of a performer and a worker in Improv theater. The oldest lives and works in Manhattan and hasn’t been home since New Year’s, except for a quick dinner here and overnight at his dad’s the week of his dad’s bike accident in March. Life is like that. First they are sleeping on your chest, then before we know it they may be coming home only rarely.

All week long I take care of children and their parents. The parents wonder how to get a good night’s sleep, how to get a moment to themselves, while most evenings I’m thinking about how to spend my time without my kids, and if I’ll sleep well, not due to children waking me, but due to thoughts of all the life changes I’m negotiating keeping me up at night.

Life shifts, life shifts, life shifts.