September 2018

Today I woke up with Liana here with me. She decided to visit after another day in the hospital. She brought her dinner, leftover mac and cheese made by a friend I’ve known since her daughter was in Macky’s day care. Her daughter interned with us two summers ago and is as lovely as a teen as she was as a young girl. To the mac and cheese I added steamed broccoli, tea my son had given me made in a pot my mother had given me, a candle from my housemate Maeve, and cookies I had made last week which I had shared with my son’s ultimate frisbee team of young men. I had eaten dinner earlier with my son and his gal, but I had broccoli and cookies and tea and we talked.

After our late dinner and conversation Liana was so tired she fell asleep in my daughter’s bed. I cleaned the kitchen and fell asleep in mine. This morning we both woke early. Liana dressed and left for a series of appointments and time with her son at the hospital. I showered and ate and left for the Appeal Hearing of our case at DCF.

While we were away, Anne, our third teacher, Alice, our retired teacher/volunteer/sub, and Michael, our retired colleague, friend, and now sub, cared for the children of WFDC, and Macky, Michael’s wife and our colleague and my close friend, accompanied me and Brook, our day care mom and pro bono lawyer, and Mike, our paid lawyer, to the hearing. At the hearing I had the privilege of hearing Brook question Macky, of Macky recounting her life in family child care, and our collegial relationship of twenty three years. Her description of her lifelong work and commitment to young children and their families and to providers of early education and care, and of the life of our park community, brought me to tears in the stark offices of DCF, across from the DCF investigator who supported the charges of neglect against Liana and me, beside the fair hearing officer who was hearing our case. I also had the privilege of telling my story and of being supported by a very experienced lawyer who is a very caring human, and who allowed me to once again reflect on our program, on our relationships with children and families and each other, and on the professional competence and care we have brought to our work for many years, as well as on the events of the day we left our little guy at the park that have lead to the closure and reopening of our program and all the legal work and activism that has required and inspired.

At home, I was exhausted, took a rest and nap, woke to try to get Akira’s application for subbing in the day care to be finalized at last, though we are as yet unsure. I am sitting at my dining room table in a quiet apartment with muffled sounds of children’s and teachers’ voices below. I have a little time to write, to do a load of laundry, to pay some bills and prepare some checks for deposit, before two evening parties, one with a group of friends from the Charter School days to express gratitude to those who supported one of our sons through a very hard time, the other with a group of women brought together by a former day care mom, who is also my writing and yoga teacher and friend, some of whom are learning what it means to watch our children leave home and to make life without them by our sides.

There are so many ways of honoring the lives we’re living.

Later this evening I’ll watch my son perform at Improv Boston, in a skit that may involve the clarinet I played in elementary, junior high and high school and the trumpet his brother played in middle school. Tomorrow I’ll attend memorial services for my sister’s close friend’s mother, who was part of many of our family’s holiday celebrations and died in the spring of cancer. Sunday we’ll roast a chicken and vegetables for dinner for friends. My daughter will be here for the weekend. Early Monday morning I’ll do the two hour round trip in traffic to take her back to school, then start another full week with children, covering Liana’s hours as well as my own.

It’s been years since I worked five full days with children in the day care. It’s been years since we’ve cared for an infant, since we’ve had so many young ones in the group. I’m fifty one and my fellow caregivers are not young. We are wise, and experienced. We love the children and enjoy our days. The work is also exhausting. This week I cancelled all my outside commitments in order to have the energy I needed for the children. I may do the same next week. I’ll see what it’s like and take it day by day.

Why name this piece This is the Day the Lord has Made, let us rejoice and be glad in it? It’s a day like any other. And it’s unique. Life just got lifier as an old friend used to say. One new crisis overlaps the last. One period of immersion in deep suffering follows another period of lightness and grace. And yet..all of it feels holy on some level, holier than it used to perhaps, as I get older, as the layers stack up, as the past loves and lives live in memory and the new experiences feel somehow richer and the future more unknown, more uncertain. Mystery beyond mystery. Only god, or the universe, or no one, knows what lies ahead. Only faith and hope and love can lead us on. A day like today, surrounded by friends, full of small and large moments of significance and insignificance, can remind us we are surrounded, held, not alone, here. I am, according to my recent love, DW Winnicott, is an assertion, not just a passive statement, which we feel in certain moments, which we know in others. Today, now, is one of those. I’m alive. I’m living. I’m here. I’m held and surrounded and loved, through it all. I have no doubt for now, though doubt is sure to return.

This is a very hard week. On Saturday my day care teacher and close friend Liana’s son was admitted to the oncology ward with a serious blood disease. By Sunday it was clear it was leukemia and by Monday he was on heavy duty chemo, and we learned he will be in the hospital at least a month. On Monday my son was able to visit. They have known each other since they were toddlers in the day care, have grown up together and been close friends through to their now young adult years. Liana and her family have been our family, have joined us for holidays, have looked after me and my children through the most difficult of times, have continued to be the ones my children think of when they feel loved.

We all feel so, so sad. This morning I woke up from a dream. When my alarm went off I was searching for Liana in a crowd of quakers on a holiday. I was supposed to meet her there and I couldn’t find her. I got out of bed and dressed and the tears rose up. I left my guy’s house, walked the three blocks to my car, drove fifty minutes through some of the greatest suffering in Boston, through Dorchester and Boston neighborhoods full of homelesness and addiction, suffering so visible on the sidewalks, and school buses full of brown children on their way to school, blocks of new townhouses opposite rows of brick housing with fancy facades I imagine was torn down elsewhere to make room for progress.

I come home to a nearly empty house. My former housemates’ and son’s room is in disarray. My guy is repairing the broken futon frame and it’s clamped together and askew while the glue dries. There are flowers on the table from last Sunday’s gathering of day care providers. I’m eating homemade bread and delicious sour cherry jam from that same event, after scraping a dusting of mold off the bread and freezing the remainder.

Soon I’ll be back at work, five full days while Liana cares for her son and we figure out when and how she can return. I contemplate day care life without her and I can’t quite picture it. We’ve been partners almost eighteen years, since my youngest child was born, and met years before that in our early twenties when we worked in adjacent classrooms at the Fayerweather STreet School.

I’ve got the children to care for and good help these two weeks we’ve given Liana time off. Today its me and Anne, other days its me or Anne and Michael and/or Alice, old friends, longtime colleagues, pros in the world of family day care.

Tomorrow is my hearing at DCF where I continue to appeal the charge of neglect Liana and I have carried since the spring. Fortunately she testified earlier in the summer. Of course, she will be there in the room.

No more time to write..Day care begins soon. I’ve walked this road so many times now I’m leary of the echoes in the shadows..when are the feelings I’m feeling about my dad? How will Macky and Michael’s experience with their son, or their day care child, or my mom’s experience or mine of my dad’s illness or my friends David and Elizabeth’s loss of their son Jamie, or my former partner Richard and his children’s loss of their mom to cancer, or my current partner Akira’s loss of his mom to cancer, or all the day care families we’ve shepherded through their experiences of cancer and death and loss mirror this experience now?

What I realized yesterday is that all of me comes to day day care is like i also have to figure out how to be myself and to hold the children tenderly through this, as we have through many other rounds of hardship and suffering in our community. Our ability to do that well has been the basis of my partnership with Liana. This round is sure to test our meddle and our strength. Wish us luck.

Today my son focussed all his visible energy on a task I’ve never attempted. He sat at the dining room table with a turntable his sister found on the curb, the laptop he and his dad pitched in to buy last Christmas, complete with music and film editing software, the sample pad he bought earlier this year to make a new for him kind of music, and a device I brought home from Akira’s today on my son’s request, which could connect the turntable to the computer for recording purposes. He worked on a piece of music from the time I arrived this afternoon until he left for his coaching job, and from the time he got back from that until I went to bed near midnight. My guess is he is down there working on it now.

My daughter returned earlier than I’d expected to boarding school, heading back with her dad last night rather than with me this morning. This year she’s in a debate class, hopes to build sets and create costumes for the school theater productions, take two math classes, maybe do roller derby and rock climbing, and change a bunch of things about the school she believes need changing, as well as earn money towards a spring trip to Europe with a group from school.

My son is living in East Harlem, playing club Ultimate frisbee, and dating a woman a couple of years older, working at a computer consulting company writing software and consulting, traveling to Atlanta one week out of every three, and earning enough money to live comfortably, pay off his student loans, and save towards retirement in his early twenties.

I have done none of these things! My children have surpassed me, each in many ways, each in ways unlike the others, as well as in some ways they have in common.

I long ago learned that my children were their own people, that they have gifts I don’t, that much of who they are and what they do is theirs, not mine, came from them, not me.

Still, there is something about this time in life, as I move beyond fifty towards sixty, and my children move out of their teen years into their young adulthood, that the surpassing stands out as a pattern that will only grow and continue over time. My daughter will continue to be more fashionable, more cool, more athletic, more self-organized than I will likely ever be. My middle son will continue to be more devoted to creative pursuits, to music, to writing , to performing, to radical politics, to solving the New York Times crossword puzzle, to absorbing and retaining information than I will ever be. My older son will continue to be more athletic, to understand the mathematical world, and computers, and hard problems i might never even be able to talk with him about in ways I can understand. He has already lived in New York longer than I did, even though when I was his age I had wished to make a life there.  He’s hiked more, traveled more on his own, than I have in my lifetime, and I’m well over twice his age.

There is a humility in this. As I accept that my career is likely going to become a smaller and smaller part of my life as I move through my fifties and into my sixties, I can see my children will be building their professional and lives as I let mine go. As I give up on a phd or a major career change, I may watch my older son approach a doctorate and my children make their way into careers that satisfy  and challenge them and bring meaning to their lives. I’ll watch my daughter bring her sense of style and design to larger stages, to more expansive personal and maybe public spaces. I’ll watch my middle child do things on stage i couldn’t have dreamed, more less pulled off.

This gives me hope. If my three children can surpass me in so many ways, what about all the children I’ve cared for and taught in my lifetime? What about all the children I’ve watched grow up and take on the world as adults? How many of them are surpassing me in how many ways? The world is lucky to have these young people and their energy to carry on. We middle and old agers are lucky to be able to begin to let go, to let those who follow consider and tackle and in many cases solve the problems of the world, to admire the ingenuity and creativity of the work the younger generation does and the art they make, the magic and beauty they bring to the world.

Tonight I’m up too late, having puttered on my computer, cleaned the kitchen, talked with my mother, and made my first fierce fall batch of stew. “My children have surpassed me” echoed in my head as I went about my evening, watching my son in his world of music and electonics, missing my daughter who I didn’t see this week for the first time in many, since she was at her dad’s for the weekend and didn’t get a ride back from me, and thinking about my older son, who I called earlier today but who I couldn’t leave a message because his voicemail box is full, cell phone message boxes not his technology. In honor of the artful lives my children are leading as they surpass me, I wanted to do my bit to hold up the model of a creative mom, so I finished the stew, cleaned the kitchen, and just after midnight, took my last half hour of wakefulness to write. We middle agers have life left to live and things to say. In my case a good deal of it still revolves around thinking about and admiring our children.