It’s December 29th. I’ve been on vacation a week. I have four days before we re-open for the new year. My children have been home, intermittently. One left on the bus for New York after an early dinner last night. The other left for his gal’s apartment last night before bedtime. One is sleeping upstairs, will be here for some part of the rest of my vacation. Our plans are unclear. The kids, in their young adult lives, like it that way. We talked about this yesterday, along with the challenges of living in a family of divorce and all the ways we tried to make schedules that worked, and all the ways we failed and did our best.

The house this morning is untidy, in that post holiday, unstructured staycation way, someone’s charger cable tangled up with the throw pillow my daughter and I bought in a Portland indoor market this summer on the couch I rescued from the curb, Christmas tree in need of water, with gifts and wrapping and an unopened delivery tucked underneath it, table runner folded/piled at the end of the dining room table, box of vegan Christmas cookies at the other end, pen and pad in the middle, remnants of last night’s long run of Dutch Blitz, our new favorite family card game, introduced on Thanksgiving by my New York son’s new gal, played for hours by the rest of us after he boarded the bus last night and the Somerville son and his gal and the boarding school daughter had kindly cleaned the kitchen, aiming successfully to have it done by the time I returned from dropping New York guy at the bus.

At this point in life, the evidence of their being here is significant. I got up early, after going to bed at a reasonable time, hoping I’d have energy to clean house, to tackle paperwork, to pay bills, to take on some project or another, cleaning out a room or drawer or closet, hanging art back on the walls after painting, making and writing cards, even yoga and meditation and writing. Instead, I’m here on the couch opposite the charger cable and the pillow, next to the tree, in sight of the dining room table, hesitant to restore order, drawn to write here on the computer, wishing for the story to continue, not knowing at all what comes next.

Its that place in life, 52, kids now 18, 22, and soon to be 24. We’ve had Christmas Eve, Christmas, and three birthday celebrations in one week. The shopping and wrapping and baking and cooking and hosting are done. I’m tired. I’m a little sad. A little overwhelmed. A bit unclear about my own future, even as my children boldly and brightly take on theirs.

Midlife is messy. Its’ not the stage of life I played about in doll houses and Barbie worlds and under the cherry tree with the baby dolls and my childhood friends. We didn’t pretend about divorce, about financial fears, about friends and their health crises, about remaking home again and again and again. We didn’t have working or single mothers in those games, as far as I remember. Every child had two parents. Every family had one home. Every mother had sisters and a mother and friends nearby to help her carry the load. The houses were relatively clean, if cleanliness was even addressed in the game. The story was always unfolding. The homes were always being added to, redecorated, full of children and adults and activity.

We didn’t play about a quiet house in middle age the day after the adult children have left, four days before the single mom goes back to work, five days before the teenager returns to boarding school. This stuff isn’t in the books I read or the games I played, or even in the lives of the grown ups I watched and learned from and hoped to emulate. The single mom I knew was my aunt, and we all held out that eventually she would remarry, which she did, but only after the last child left the house. The other was my mom, who was widowed and soon remarried and stayed that way til we were all fully adults.

The kids I imagined left predictably, as I had, after a life in public elementary and high school, four years of college, and a decision to follow a job and/or a partner. This is not how my children have left or will leave. We are the family of the willy nilly. Start in public school, fight for that place, which falls apart. Go to Sudbury Valley one by one by one. Leave Sudbury Valley when you are ready, at 17, at 19, at 15, then return, if only for a few months. Go to college, graduate in four years or leave after a semester and a half. Go to Cambridge Rindge and Latin, leave after a semester and a lot of testing. Go to Landmark as a boarder, deciding less than a month before school starts. Move back home, move out gradually, then decisively.

All of this is within the range of normal. Almost none of it was expected or predicted by my early life of family stories and tv watching and modelling of my friends and family. We’ve made it up as we’ve gone along, as I’ve made up life after marriage, three long term relationships post divorce, no more marriages, no shared living, except time spent in each others’ houses, three pseudo step families of relationships, three worlds new to me I’ve entered, two I’ve left to return to what’s left of my own.

Through all the family and relationship changes I’ve had a pretty constant work life, though with phases of exploration of other options, home schooling, independent, and charter school startup ideas and attempts, a year staffing at Sudbury Valley, ideas about closing shop and moving to Western Mass, fantasies of returning to school to become a therapist or a financial planner, and this year, a six week closure and the loss of my long term day care partner and another of our four long term teachers.

It’s a lot. And yet. Love endures. Love finds new forms. The story continues. Its not entirely the story I expected or rehearsed, but some of it is familiar. Home and family and work and decency and love are all there and have been from the beginning. I was raised to cook and clean and to make a home for my family, to put my children first, to make community with others looking after children and one another, to travel, to enjoy life, in the food and fresh air and good company sort of way, to look after my finances, to be happy with a standard of living I can afford, not to acquire more debt than I can handle, to be a member of groups outside the family, to contribute in ways that matter, to take time to be quiet, to be in the woods, to be alone, to light a candle and make tea, to wear wool socks and flannel pajamas and cotton shirts and feel the comfort in close connection and even in silence, silence to which I will return for a bit while my daughter sleeps in her bed, bleach blond hair sticking out of the comforter cover of brown cotton and red poppies which her dad and I used to share when he lived here and she was small, worn and a little tattered, but still her favorite place to sleep, or one of her favorites, reminding me our home still a home after and through all the changes, a place with heart and soul and a life of memories, some we’d like to cherish, others we’d just as soon forget.

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