February 2019

This morning is another morning in a quiet house. Last night I went to bed early, so this morning I also woke up early. I’ve showered, washed the last couple of days’ accumulation of dishes in the sink, unloaded the dishwasher, moved the laundry I put in last night from the washer to the dryer and added another load to the washer, two loads for the whole week, neither full, including bath and dish towels from last weekend when my kids were here.

These are the details of a quiet midlife at home for a solo working woman who’s been working too hard too long and is ready to find out what next now my work load is beginning to lighten and the crises of the last two years have settled down. I’d say new normal here I come, but that seems presumptuous given what I know about life.

My kids are grown and I’m learning to be in relationship with them as we cease to share daily life. I’ll spend a long awaited weekend in New York with my son sometime in March. We’ll visit a museum, eat good food, walk in the park. I’ll see how he’s settled into his new place. Maybe I’ll meet a friend of his or two. I’ll drive and stay in a hotel, now my financial fears are lessened and he’s got a roommate who might not feel so sure of my sleeping in the kitchen like I did when he lived in a tiny studio and his brother and sister and I shared the kitchen and hall floor.

My Somerville son and I are developing a rhythm of shared meals, sometimes including his partner, sometimes just us two, sometimes his sister and/or my partner and sometimes my partner’s daughter, last weekend my daughter’s new guy. We text and communicate. He drives my van. I still help him with small things like filing his taxes and covering his cell phone and van bills. He stops by sometimes, to get his things, or to share a meal.

His room is in transition as was his brother’s room before he established himself a separate longterm home of his own. Now my older son’s room is a guest room/study/meditation space and my younger son’s room is still his, though I am beginning to envision what comes next. Last week I imagined his room becoming the library I’ve been wishing for for many years, to hold the books that are now all over the house. I’d turn the window out to the back porch into a french door, remove the wallpaper that we wanted to take down when we bought the house twenty six years ago, paint the walls and ceiling in a fresh palette, maybe move the bed out and return the sectional that’s been partly in my room, partly in the junk room upstairs, to it’s original home, maybe open the wall between that room and the kitchen, open the wall between the kitchen and back stair, add windows to the back wall between the kitchen and the back porch, bring in some light and air, open up the second floor which is now all living space, rather than shared between private bedrooms and shared spaces.

All dreaming has it’s down sides. I’m not ready for my son to stop calling this home. I love having my children’s belongings here to remind me of them in their earlier phases of life, collections of beloved books, games, toys, art supplies, projects left on the shelves, clothes in closets and drawers and bins, musical instruments, gifts from friends. It all reminds me of the life we’ve lived here together, of why this house is a place I still call home.

As challenging as it’s been at times to maintain and keep this big old house as a single woman, as big as the house feels for one person now the kids are gone and no partner has moved in, this is my home. I struggle with the privilege of it, of keeping and living in a home I’ve owned or at least paid a mortgage on since I was twenty four, through a divorce, through partnerships when I might have chosen to leave it, a place that is bigger than I need, which I am choosing not to share right now more than with the tenant in the day care apartment below.

I need time to settle in it again, alone, post relationships I hoped might become domestic partnerships, if not marriages, post raising my kids, pre-retirement by quite awhile. So, Friday nights and Saturday mornings I’m tending to it and to my feelings of loss and my dreams for the future. I’ve been taking these times alone at home. Feelings and images arise. I feel compelled to write about it, or to care for it, or just to rest, even to go to bed early and give up on the week’s work and the sorting out of life’s dilemmas. I’d like to learn to give my body and heart and mind time and care as I adjust to the new realities that are my home and life.

After writing this morning, I’ll flip the laundry, then walk to the accountant’s and pick up my revised tax return, stop at CVS for Vitamin D, as I’ve been low too long and my doctor tells me it might help with sleep and fatigue and aches and pains, then home for some desk work and home and personal care, then off to the ICA if all goes well, a museum trip to reward myself for a very long stretch of working hard, to remind myself the deadlines of March 1st are reachable, to immerse myself in another’s vision of creativity and hope, if the exhibits and/or films do their work, to spend time with my partner and his daughter, to be out in the larger world.

Today I read that working moms work an average of 98 hours a week, starting their days at 6:30am and going strong until well past 8pm. That, for sure, has been my life, for many, many years. I’ve made it through that stretch of raising young kids. Now I’m working hard to support my kids through high school and college, then to make it possible for me to eventually retire. How the upcoming years will look in the day to day making of home is something I’m dreaming myself into, one quiet Saturday morning at a time. Any ideas of how to make this stage of life rich rather than lonely, fertile rather than barren, soulful rather than sterile? Writing and words, I expect, will help, as will little things like painting a room or buying and burning candles, making plans to see my kids in their young adult lives, and visiting a museum with my son in New York or my partner and his kids here .

Midlife is not a glamorous phase of life, not one that gets a lot of attention. Recently I watched Rita, a Norwegian series about a woman in midlife, single mom to three kids around the ages of my kids, a public school teacher, finding her way through relationships, trying to hold onto her ideals and her kids, messing up, making change, starting again and again. I woke up this morning feeling really grateful for those images of life, which have made my own feel less odd and more real. She didn’t give up even though things didn’t turn out as she’d envisioned. Neither have I.

Today I’ve chosen to spend a quiet day at home. So far, at nearly 11, I haven’t heard a sound except the wind rattling the loose screen on my bedroom window, now the furnace kicking in downstairs, more wind rustling in the leafless trees outside, hurling itself around the gray of February at this end of the quiet neighborhood. When I pause I can hear the clock tick. It sounds loud, as do the computer keys clicking under my fingers. Even the steam in the bathroom radiator comes into focus as I think of what else I might have heard this morning.

What I have not heard, are voices. What I suppose I mean when I think of silence, is the absence of other humans. The quiet is solitude. It’s my daughter on a mountain with her outdoor leadership class on their winter outing. It’s my son at work in the cafe, moved to his first adult apartment last weekend. It’s my older son in New York, waking up in his apartment in East Harlem, where I helped him move this summer, for frisbee day, which I know because he happened to be home sick when I called on my way to visit my daughter at boarding school Thursday night, where I had a rare sighting of her world, her teachers, her new guy, the play for which she was Assistant Costumer. I was grateful to sit with her, to have our legs brush under the table, to give her a hug and bring things from home to her room and things from her room back home.

I’m living now in a house of single women, me upstairs, my tenant downstairs, when day care is closed. We are quiet. I may hear her bustling around in the early morning putting things back together for the day care before heading to work or vacuuming Sunday night as her weekend comes to a close. We may meet up in the basement doing laundry, looking after the cat, or putting something away that doesn’t go in our private living spaces above ground. But mostly we travel separate paths, live separate lives, live quietly and in our own spaces, much of it in silence, save the sounds that travel between floors, sometimes her voice on the phone down below, likely my footsteps and music overhead.

My partner lives across town, a 35 to 50 minute drive along the river on both sides, with a bridge in between, in a house in JP he’s owned almost exactly as long as I’ve owned mine. We visit one another and spend time in both houses. He shares his with his daughter and her mother who live downstairs as I share mine with my daughter when she’s home and the day care and tenant downstairs. Today for breakfast he’s making french toast for himself and his daughter while I eat muesli I’ve had too long, leftover from a trip to Iceland a year and a half ago.

I’m finding myself eating through stores of food I have had in the house from days others shared it with me. Last week I pulled out two pounds of stew beef and two pounds of ground beef. I made beef stew on Saturday and chili on Sunday. I’ve shared them with my guy and eaten them every night this week except last night when I had a last minute dinner invitation from old book group friends and we ordered pizza, and tonight, when I’ll meet college friends for dinner to celebrate a birthday. There are still leftovers in the fridge, which I’ll work at for lunch, may freeze or toss, as I did with the food I had made the weekend before when my daughter was home and I roasted a tray of vegetables, cooked her favorite tofu, and made quinoa to make a “quinoa bowl”, the latest treat for my favorite vegan kid, only to toss the leftovers early this week.

The compost bin is overflowing with these cooking projects I make on weekends, try to eat all week, give up on the following weekend. I allow myself to feel ok about the waste, trusting the earth to take back what I cannot eat and knowing my intentions are good, to feed my family, to feed myself, to spend time cooking as I love to do.

This is the fifties for me. I don’t monitor my high school daughter’s whereabouts or have teenagers hanging around. She’s doing three years in boarding school and hopes to go far away to college. I am not married, don’t share a house and it’s upkeep and life full time with a partner, have not for ten years this month, if you count from the day we announced to the children we were splitting up and stopped living as though we were married. It’s been ten years of transformation, of partnering, endings and beginnings, re-partnering, re-figuring the future day by day and year by year.

Most, or at least many of us, face surprises in life all the time. This has been a stretch of hard ones for me. Today I’m getting my center back in solitude. My three-year-old day care friend has taken to using that phrase, getting my center back, after she’s been upset and has calmed down. Its a funny thing to find myself more centered in some way, and still somehow to feel lost, having gotten through the year since the day care closure, the six months since Liana stopped working regularly in the day care, the year and a half since Richard left, a little more since my daughter left for boarding school, the nearly two years since the day my children’s father had a terrible bike accident and my son left college mid-semester after a semester and a half of hard times.

I’m here. I’m still standing. Extraordinary generosity from friends and the world and a fair bit of hard work and creativity has kept the day care open and kept me on my feet. I’ve been worrying so much and working so hard I have hardly had time to stop the last year or so. It’s taken much of my time and energy managing crisis after crisis, learning to live in the ever-emerging new realities.

Tonight, though, the news arrives just as I’m typing “ever-emerging realities”, that I’ll dance with two of my oldest friends, in celebration of one’s birthday, at the Quaker Meeting house, to the music of two friends’ band, Opposite People, a dance I enjoyed so much with my daughter last year, when things also felt odd and new. We loved to dance in college..danced as much as we could. Tonight will be an early night, for fifty somethings not exactly in our youth. Reason to celebrate, get up off my bum and away from the computer, motivation to clean the house! Who knows what other fun may lie ahead..stay tuned.

Out of the silence and into the mystery we go.

And the mystery continues..in fact, it turns out dancing is too much for the friends, one a geriatrician raising three young daughters, married to a hard working lawyer in Providence, the other a high school librarian married to the Director of Emergency Medicine at Rhode Island Hospital. One has a head cold, the other has had a hard start to the new year and has become an early to bed regular. Instead we’ll meet halfway between us, in Sharon, a sleepy suburban town, for Indian Food, maybe a glass of wine, laughs and conversation. I’ll save dancing for another time, and hope that we all regain the energy it would take to dance together someday soon. We met when we were seventeen and eighteen. At fifty two and nearly fifty three, we are all grateful to be able to sit in a warm restaurant in a quiet town and talk and laugh together and go home afterwards to our husbands or partners and call it a night. Could be a whole lot worse.