Teacher Development


Yesterday at lunch my three was singing a song. In the song a Sabur was looking after the sheep, counting them in the meadow and in the pasture and putting them to sleep.

While she sang, two other threes were covering their ears and exclaiming about being irritated by the song. The back and forth of singing versus ear covering and exclaiming was building.

I found the singing quite lovely, a lullaby I had never heard, sung in tune by a girl about to welcome a new baby into her home. I also wanted us to get back to lunch and conversation and peace. I wondered aloud if the children knew what about shepherds.

My singing three reminded us it wasn’t a shepherd in her song, but a Sabur. Still I wondered if the children knew about a shepherd. When one of the ear covering threes said she did not, I let her know a a shepherd’s job is to take care of sheep. I explained how a shepherd goes out to look after the sheep in the field and counts them when it’s time to move along, just like we look after the children at the park and count them to make sure we are all together before returning home. In that way, I pointed out, a shepherd could be anyone who looks after other things, even the earth.

Like the aliens’ job is to take care of the planet, added my singing three.

Connect the dots of thoughts never fails to delight.

 

 

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We are going on our third major snow dump in three weeks. Today is the first one I have to manage on my own. I dread it, come home last night to six inches of it after being away twenty four hours, don’t even shovel, just pull the car in, lay on the couch, eat leftover stew for dinner after nine, tuck myself into bed, and wait.

This morning I am full of dread, but also of a need to face my fears. I suit up after seeing my neighbors’ trash and recycling bins beside the snow banks and realizing I forgot to put mine out.  At least I can put the bins out, shovel the stairs, and walk to the top of the hill to fill the gas can before the snowblower runs out of gas.

Turns out my neighbor Gary is out already, blowing snow for several neighbors. He did my walk the first snow. Now we are partners in snowblower bliss, he passes me by for others who don’t have machines. I do, and after I drag out the bins, I go under the porch to see about the status of the gas, end up dragging the machine out, remember Liana telling me Steve wanted me to know his machine needs the extension cord to start the first few runs of the season, then starts with the pull cord and see if I can start it that way now, which I can!! For the first time, I pull start the machine. The primer button, the choke, the gas lever, the key, make sense to me now. The parts of the machine are familiar, I know how they work, and I can work them.

I blow snow at the back of my driveway first, a new technique, so I can move the car to the back as I clear the heavy snow up front. This goes so well, I finish the drive and walks before going to get gas. At the gas station, I find the attendant inside on his phone. He fills the gas can for me, and I tell him I wouldn’t have come looking for him except I thought perhaps they were closed. He tells me he is there to clean up, business is dead today, he will soon close up. I feel lucky to have gotten there when I did, before 10, unusual for me on such a snowy day.

When I get back to my house, Gary sees me with the can, reminds me to get dry gas so the spark plugs don’t freeze up, or something, more words that don’t make a lot of sense to me. I tell him I have gas stabilizer, which I hope is what he means, and I feel proud. Richard and Dave have taught me this, first Dave showed me how to run the riding mower in Ashfield, then Richard taught me to run the snowblower at my home, now Gary is inviting me into the club of those who maintain small machines. I feel almost like a man.

Except that when I go inside, I am wearing leggings, a purple cashmere sweater, and girly socks under my nearly thirty year old men’s Eddie Bauer coat, to which I’ve attached a key ring so I can pull the zipper up and down, zipper pull long gone, as well as several of the snaps, but not the down, which is warm and thick, nor the hood, which keeps the snow off my head, and because the coat is so old, I don’t mind that it smells of gasoline after I’ve blown the snow.

Today was supposed to be my first writing class. Instead I blew snow and now I’m writing here, alone in my kitchen, in the form I know best. Poetry would be a stretch for me, maybe a stretch I need. Writing here is as much like coming home as I am likely to find.

Time for tea and breakfast, maybe more beef stew, made in the last storm for my kids, nearly expired in the fridge that could feed me for months, no worries about getting out for groceries or running out of food, or preparing any for anyone. The snow is still falling, but some of it is blown, so I have time now, will attack the tax organizer, maybe fall contracts, find time for a walk if I have energy enough for that and the second round of clearing snow. It’s very quiet here without my loves, buried in deep snow, another day in the life of this single mom with shared custody and a boyfriend in western Mass.

This morning is quiet. Ben is back from school, arrived last night past ten, to clean out the fridge and laugh and talk with us before we all fell sound asleep. I moved the van out of the driveway where he parked it, full up in back with the fancy bike his dad gave him last Christmas, otherwise, tidy as can be, so the other two could drive the car to school. Today I’ll visit my friend from high school, a charter school teacher in town for a national conference of Expeditionary Learning. I’ll walk and T it, or go along with Richard in his old car, 1998 Accord Coupe with leather seats and a moon roof our fancy mobile, bought from his mom when she bought her new civic several years ago, once upon a time belonging to his beloved dad, now gone. The cars and vans go down through the family that way sometimes. For the moment we have three here, after several weeks of barely one, since Jonah was in the crash that totaled his dad’s and mine was the one the kids needed every day, and took to their dad’s the weeks they were there. We got over that hump. This week their dad’s new car arrives, last night Ben came home with the van, all weekend Richard’s been here with his car. Walking has hardly been on my mind. And last week, to no one’s great pleasure, I drove my mom’s car, brought to MGH by my sister from the Cape where my mom was visiting before Thanksgiving, before she went to the ER last Saturday and was admitted, week of long days and long nights, visiting the hospital, driving back and forth between Somerville and Northampton, Somerville and Boston, working the usual shifts, including one on my own when Jen needed to stay home with her sick son.

And this weekend there was another car to move around. My brother and his son arrived Friday very late, left Sunday midday, visited and fixed things in between. My nephew and I had fun with old machines. We repaired a broken ribbon on the eighty year old adding machine in the dining room my nephew loved, replaced the ribbon on my son’s old manual typewriter. As I was putting store bought cinnamon buns in the oven for Sunday brunch, my nephew said, “I know what you can do. You can fix things and you can bake. You could fix a toilet, too.”

He’s right. I can fix things and I can bake. Somehow the two feel linked. All weekend long I cooked. Soup for Mom’s return from the hospital and her boyfriend Paul’s arrival. Pasta and meat sauce and salad Friday night for the kids’ return from their dad’s, Richard’s arrival from Northampton and dinner with Mom and Paul. Eggs and tortillas for Dave for Saturday second breakfast. Mac and Cheese and roast carrots for Saturday lunch for whenever folks got hungry, and beyond. Roast chicken and fingerling potatoes and spinach salad with egg and sweet potato and candied pecans and stilton and maple dressing for dinner with the brother and the nephew and my kids and Richard. Frittata and cinnamon buns for Sunday brunch to send my brother and nephew off, to bring us all together one last time before he was off to my sister’s on the Cape. Tortellini soup at my daughter’s request for Sunday dinner and to welcome Ben home at 10.

Today I’m not cooking. Leftover night has been pronounced, though by the time Ben get’s through the fridge it may be rice and beans for dinner.

Charles and I fixed the machines, then last night while I cooked and put away the shop, my daughter mended and hand washed her clothes, telling me she could do it, but I would be here guide. She mended skirts, leggings, dresses, washed sweaters and a sundress. It made me proud, inspired me to sort and tidy and mend the sewing box I’d recently moved upstairs, broken latch and wood repaired easily with the super glue and screwdriver I found in my newly organized hall closet.

My brother’s Christmas gift to me is a socket wrench set. The one our good friend Dave gave me and Eric for our wedding went to his house with the divorce. Since then I’ve done without. A woman without a socket wrench set all these five years. Who knew I could get along under such deprivations:)? But now I’m set. The snowblower is locked securely under the porch in anticipation of snow, thanks to Richard and Isabel’s U-shaped bike lock and some ingenuity and my brother and Richard’s persistence in rehanging the other porch door in the cold, so the wagon and stroller can stay there when the frost heaves up the brick walk. There’s a shovel on the porch and not much junk. The back porch pre-winter clear out is on my list for the day. Writing here is not, but I’m doing it anyway. Been too long. Been a hard fall, a hard few weeks, and yet not. Things are getting repaired and made and enjoyed, even as we speak.

My nephew’s lego toilet is in pieces in the lego bin my son brought upstairs. The house with the pyramid roof my son made on the rug beside my nephew is nearby. The legos are still in the living room, between the old couch and the new one, beside the stack of New York Times Richard bought and we read yesterday and the day before, under blankets I brought up from the day care where my brother and nephew slept Friday night. It was a cozy Sunday, and full, just the sort of day to start the week right.

Yesterday as we walked to and from the park on a day which was unseasonably warm due to the hurricane off the coast, we talked for the second day about the weather. One three said, “I looked out the window this morning and the weather tomorrow is going to be very rainy.”

Another three replied, grinning widely, “Yes, and we will wear our rain boots, our rain pants, and our rain coats!”

Before long, another three exclaimed, “I wish it was winter!”

A woman alone with a long driveway and many feet of sidewalk to shovel, this had not been my wish. “What will you do when winter comes?” I asked.

“Make one hundred snowballs!” exclaimed the three with the winter wish.

“Yeah! We will make snow men!” called the fourth three with glee.

“We can make snow people, and balls and throw them!” chanted the group.

“Yes, we can make all kinds of things out of snow,” mused my three who started this conversation. “We can even make…snow mushrooms!” And this girl, these children remind me that yes, each day this world is born anew.

***

This morning I wake up in the quiet house, two of my three children sleeping here. The light outside my windows is an orange I am not sure I’ve ever seen. i wonder if its the hurricane making that light, check the weather, see indeed it will be a rainy day, worry about my son and daughter driving through he worst of it, think of my other son and his gal, parted ways yesterday, and the hard day they must both be having. In the Writers’ Almanac, there is a poem about prayer, and I’ve been thinking about prayer, again, since my beau and I’ve been struggling all this past month, and worked it over in my mind all this past weekend, throughout my Silent Retreat for Quaker Women, through the night I thought my love and I were bound to part. So this  morning, I feel differently about those in the women’s circle and in the weekly Sharing Circle I attend every other week at best, who offer prayers when the suffering is deep, when a hard decision looms, when a baby is born. I imagine doing the same myself, thinking I could offer a “prayer” rather than “good thoughts.” We’ll see.

This same morning, when I check my phone for the poem, I try to update my apps, as my battery is low, and I think that might help. Instead I end up with a Pandora channel singing to me, first Halllujah by Kd Lang, then something else that feels modestly religious, and I wonder on the word divinity, offered to me several years ago at retreat, as a way back in, I think, when god and religion and most words with spiritual meaning felt loaded, off-putting, not for me. Divinity I could wonder on. Mystery, too. Grace. Transcendence. Spirit. Even Soul, to some extent. There I found the surprise of childhood prayers coming back to me as I walked the paths, rhythm of the prayers in sync with my own steps, with my breathing, with my heartbeat. I spent time in a small hand built chapel, wondering on the meaning of the cross, found the heart shaped stones left there, the heart shaped hole in the acorn on the path more relatable, but still, the cross was everywhere, challenging.

******

Later yesterday on our walk home, the children held out their arms and began to wonder if they would get a sunburn because their parents had not applied sunscreen to their delicate skin. One child who told us her parents had put the sunscreen on walked in confidence. I realized aloud that we were in that same spot where the sun strikes our arms so strongly when this conversation happened the day before, walking home from the park, around the corner from the tree shaded lot where we play, beside the tall cement buildings which are home to the elderly and disabled people who bless us each day as we pass. On the other side of that same building is where the children remembered winter. i realize now as I write that in winter that side is where we always pause to put on the extra clothes, the wind and cold there is so strong. Winter side and summer side of that building never struck me so clearly as now. The children are sensors. I was once reminded that they are windows to the divine. something like that. The wonder of them does amaze.

******

After talking about the sunscreen, my small three said she was going to invite me and her other small three friend to her birthday party. It is dawning on me in stages that these people who I’ve known since they were one or two will soon be four, and that is a different place, four, where most of us begin the lives we can remember. But for now they are three, and talking so much more than last year, and I’m invited to the birthday party, where, my three tells me we will make apple dolls, and her family will save them to dry for one or two days, then give them to us to keep at home. My other three, who was also invited, says, “Yeah, because we love Maria” and I think about the other three who asked me why I didn’t come to her birthday party, who told me she would have liked the teachers to be there. A compliment and a burden to be thought of that way.

At forty seven, with teenage kids and a long distance beau, and a whole adult life to live outside my day care life I rarely accept the invitation to a child’s or a family’s party. Its not that I don’t feel welcome, but that I feel I have permission not to go.

*****

The same three who told me gleefully they would all wear their rain gear and who asked me why I didn’t come to her birthday party also asked me, early yesterday morning over breakfast, “Maria, why it isn’t it a Richard day?”

We were sitting in the kitchen, in the same place where last week, over lunch, my four turned to me out of the blue and asked, “Maria, do you have a partner?”

These kids know how to make me stop and think. I answer the best I can. “Richard has a home in Northampton” “I don’t know if I have a partner. I guess Richard. Who is your mom’s partner?”

The conversations move on quickly. “Today is Wednesday. Wednesday is a T— day. My sister comes for after school today.” “C– is my mom’s partner.” C— is his dad.

***

Friday afternoon my new three told me she has two moms. “So do my kids, sort of,” I replied. “They have me and a stepmom.”

“What?” she wanted to know.

“They live here with me and also with their dad and stepmom in another house.”

“Why?” she wanted to know. Harder question.

“That is the way our family is.” and she was happy enough with that, though puzzled if I had to guess. Turns out divorce and remarriage is less on the radar of these kids than two mom families.

Later, as I was helping her with her shoes, this same girl asked why it was Z–‘s day that day. “Its a Friday,” I replied. “That’s a Z– day.” and I realized they had connected that day, Friday being their only overlapping day. She had fallen at the park and needed a cuddle, was crying in my lap on the bench when he came over to talk.

“Why doesn’t she talk?” he had asked me.

“Oh, she does,” I replied. “Once you get to know her you’ll see.”

Then we had talked quite a bit. She had stopped crying and soon they went off to play.

It is a surprising window into their little selves, into their little souls, if I may, when they begin to talk.

My new one has begun to say my name. “Ria” I carry her on my hip to check the pasta on the stove, talk to her about our meals, ask her what she likes, cut her apples when she says, “Cut it up!”, offer her pieces as I work at the counter and she watches and talks to me from the high chair.

Later, when I’m changing her diaper, another three comes to visit and the one says my name, causing the three to remark. “She says your name.”

“She’s learning how to talk. She’s learning who we are.” And I think, it does feel good for a child to learn our names.

Later, in the yard, the baby calls to Liana over the gate where Liana is emptying the compost in the side yard, baby calling Liana “Ria”. “I’m Liana,” greets Liana. I recall out loud how our other one calls Liana by name, and uses Liana sometimes for other adults here, realize that the kids attach a name to us as caregivers and may universalize it until we all become more real. At the park, the one had come to me calling, “Ria” and my friend Macky had said, “Yes, that’s Maria. Is she your person?” And I had been pleased to confirm that “Yes, I am her person.” Attachment happens that way, small steps.

Here’s today’s Writer’s Almanac poem, in case you, too, are musing over prayer, or meaning, or transcendence or grace, or any of those other thoughts that are so hard to put into words. I can’t say I understand the poem, but that in a way, is what I like. More mystery. More to figure out.

LISTEN
Prayer
by Carol Ann Duffy

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer—
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

“Prayer” by Carol Ann Duffy, from Mean Time. © Anvil Press, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today as we were walking to the park, my four and I were talking. He let me know he had spent time with his grandmother recently and the following morning he had pizza for breakfast. I wondered what sort of pizza he likes, maybe cheese or pepperoni?

“I hate pepperoni pizza!” he bellowed, lowering his voice and his eyes as he finished the sentence.”

“Actually, I don’t prefer pepperoni,” he said, catching himself, and my eyes.

Then, grinning to himself, and nearly winking at me, he added, “I never find pepperoni pizza tasty.”

This one made me smile very wide, and remark about how polite my boy has gotten, and to think, how much more self and other aware he has become in the years I’ve known him.

For the last few years, my boy has begun many meals in the day care telling us what food he HATES! I’ve been asking for many of those meals for him to respect me and the food I share with him and his friends by choosing another way of speaking or of just letting the offending food go unmentioned. I don’t insist he eat the food, just that he let the rest of us enjoy it in peace.

Today, after my four told us he “never finds pepperoni pizza tasty” several threes found the impulse to share how much they love pepperoni pizza. I wondered if they would have done that had their older friend held on so hard to his hate. I was also reminded how long it can take to teach a small skill and to learn to change something small in our behavior, and how, often when something seems to be taking too long, it is just taking it’s course.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a woman. Also about what it means to have trouble and to solve a problem, on one’s own, with a partner, in the company of friends, in community. Last night I heard a story from a young man with lots of troubles. Also with a young wife for whom he hopes to be a strong man, the person he wants to be, his words. This reminded me of my younger brother, who’s had his share of troubles, and who often comes back to this source of strength, his duty to provide for his wife and young son. Both men want to be the one to make the home, to earn the money, to keep the ship steady. I was reminded again of my own sorting out of what it means to be a strong woman, of what it means to make a home and to provide for my own family, with a partner or without. There’s a lot of glue in the world, holding us all together. Sometimes the glue feels like most of what we’ve got. What amazes me is how folks do hold up, continue to go on. When things are really bad most of us don’t give up.

Sometimes we do, but those stories seem to be the exception. This summer I heard one about a friend’s elderly father, who seemed to have worn out from years of hard knocks, decided he was done, stopped eating and drinking. Two weeks later he was gone. For many years before that he’d taken care of his failing wife. When his own health began to fail, his daughter and her family stepped in, moved the two close to where they could look after them, and at that point, the man let go. Maybe it was that he could stop living once he knew someone else was there to look after his wife. While I was telling my daughter the story, thinking how sad this end of life had been, she surprised me again as she often does, reminded me how lucky those two were to have the love they had, how lucky the now demented wife had been cared for by this man, how lucky the man had loved her so deeply he provided the care he did, even in the limited life they lived.

This morning I read on HONY about a young Vietnamese woman who was taken in by a man one night. He found her sleeping with her son in a construction site, abandoned by her husband. He took her home, saying she shouldn’t have to live that way, looked after her and her son. As she said, after a few months a romantic connection developed. The two were pictured above the words, she on a motorcycle, he standing beside.

This morning I’m home on my own. It’s been a weird stretch. My kids and I and my guy are all out of our rhythm, summer vacation into fall, Spain to home a transition that’s been a lot rockier than expected for me and my guy, sorting out life apart and together a problem we’ve been working on too long, feels hard to go on. Haven’t given up, but it makes me think about strong women, strong men, home, family, solving problems, if and when we can.

So, today I make Gypsy Soup, my balm for what ails. I chop and sautee, stir, smell, taste, clean out the fridge, anticipate the weekend with my kids, a weekend plan that’s been in progress way too long, not settled yet, but Gypsy Soup worthy for the moment. The soup is good for lunch and calming no matter what the weekend brings. While I cook and wash the clothes, I also fight rats. Yes, the fine institution of WFDC has a family of rodents residing in the compost bin, now frolicking on the side yard, to and from the street. Yesterday a mom called to report a sighting after drop off. In the afternoon when I was in the yard with the kids, I saw one hopping from sidewalk to bin. Then Liana saw it or another, atop the nearby pile of bricks. The suspicion had been there, food disappearing from the compost bin, tunnels there that made us discuss a plan. Now the sightings have confirmed it’s rats not possums, as I had sort of hoped, I’ve called my pest control folks, who have given me the same advice we came up with ourselves, stop using the bin, get one that is rodent proof. The problem is dealing with the nest. So, today, I lifted the top off the bin, thinking I’d expose the rats’ home to light. I put mothballs from Liana’s home and ammonia from mine into the holes the rats have chewed in the wood platform to tunnel under the bin. Once upon a time a family of skunks made a similar show, parading out the babies at pickup time on the front walk, returning boldly to their nest beneath the trash can platform. My then husband and I researched getting rid of skunks, discovered the ammonia and moth ball trick, and it worked. The mama’s next parade was out of the nest through the yard, onto a new home. So far the rats seem more intrepid. Seems they are digging a hole in the platform under the second bin, which I thought might be less accessible. After I mistakenly dumped more compost in the second bin, and discovered that hole, I poured more ammonia there. Next step is either a new off the ground fancy bin or metal under the ones we’ve got. Haven’t gotten there. More research, more fun.

Sometimes I tell myself I wasn’t raised to deal with rats. My grandfather tended the barn while my grandma cooked and cleaned and grew the food. Maybe she did the mice in the house and he did the ones in the barn. That isn’t the picture in my head. My mom has had two husbands, neighborhood men, brothers, now a boyfriend and a son in her life who’ve helped with various chores. Still she deals with rodents, poisoning the mice and woodchucks, probably other critters I can’t think of now. I’ve dealt with mice at home and in Ashfield, but I’m a poison gal. When the mice come round live, I’m not so brave. When it’s time to trap them I look for a man.

We’ve had squirrels in the ceiling of the third floor. Seems they may have returned. Over the years we’ve had fleas, lice, grain moths, dead things under the porch, pets with creepy problems, floods, massive snow. Torrent after torrent of these critters and overwhelming situations have come to test us. Each time they do, I wonder if I’m strong enough, who I can count on to help. Each time I make it through, knowing I’m a little bit tougher than the troubles. I’m a lot like the young guy last night and my brother. They fight for their wives and homes. I fight for my world. We do what we can, men, women, children, to keep things working as best as we can.

Now it’s time for smaller problems, those within my sphere of less fear, finishing the laundry, paying bills, writing up new contracts, tidying the house. Then onto the easier part of the day, nap time in the day care and evening with my kids..perhaps replacing the gate latch in there, too. No steam for yard work again today. Soon the weeds in the drive will die, the hedges will stop growing, the leaves and then the snow will fall..season by season I’m tested. Most times I pass. Sometimes I fail. Still standing, trying to feel proud:)

This morning I wake up with womanly worries. Turns out the person I thought was bringing paper goods for the party of 60 to 80 people is bringing plastic forks. Good thing my woman brain woke up in the fives to worry about the party, checked the evite comments, and reread that one about the forks. Good thing my not so perfect woman gave up groceries as planned yesterday for more time with my daughter shopping for second hand clothes. Cute jeans and sweater for her, no food for us yesterday, still time this afternoon to buy the paper goods along with this week’s groceries for the day care and home, and the party miscellaneous, to put it all away, along with my kids, to gather the sports equipment, the folding table, trash bags, like a man, and to decorate the cakes, remember to put together a card, like a woman, squeezed around the Quaker Meeting I hope to attend this morning, like a person on my own, and before the party begins at 4.

My early morning woman brain also remembered my kids’ question at dinner on Friday, about when their passports expire. My daughter’s passport memory is her dad’s car full of stuff for the move to a new home, parked outside the Post Office where we all met up, both parents, all three kids in the same place at the same time, just as we were coming apart. I hadn’t remembered. When I checked this morning, I discovered the kids’ passports expire August 29, 2015, which means my daughter’s is valid for her trip to Australia and back with her grandma this winter. Which reminded me of another womanly thing, to find out whether she needs a special letter to travel out of the country as a minor without her parents, which she does. Again her dad and I will do our legal duty so my gal can do her trip. I write this all in a group e-mail to my ex, to his wife, to our kids, to his mom, as much so I don’t forget as to inform the others.

After that, I check my blog stats and find someone’s been reading a piece I wrote on Disney Princesses, and I wonder who it might be, realize that putting myself out there as a struggling feminist isn’t new, and is something I might need to write about now. It’s not just this one early morning that I wrestle the good woman/bad woman, single woman/should be partnered demons.

It should be no surprise to me that being a feminist, while it’s something I deep down am and know, isn’t always easy.

It would be nicer to have a man around, I tell myself when there is too much snow, when I’m hosting a party involving moving furniture and hauling trash, when the hedges are too tall, my lawn unkempt, when I’m too tired to make the dinner and do the dishes on my own, at tax time, when I apply for my son’s financial aid, when I pay the bills, when I look at the air conditioners in the windows as the temperatures are dropping, or the lack of them in the spring when things are heating up. I’d like a man to help me with those things, be a back up with his strong arms and spatial skills, superior earning power and math brain.

Turns out, often its just me, and while I can’t always do all those things alone, I can sometimes find help, from other women, children, and also men. Other times I discover even men can’t do the things I suspect I can’t do because I’m a woman or wish I had a man here to do for me. My guy can’t paint, due to his asthma. He’s not real fond of yard work, any more than I am, maybe less. My plumbing and carpentry and electrical skills are sub par for a traditional man, decent enough for the average woman. When I talk to my friend Michael about this he tells me even he has to learn by trial and error for many projects he tackles around the house. This makes me think it might be more an issue of orientation or expectation or confidence than a lack of innate training or upbringing as a male that keeps me from fixing a faucet or installing a new light, while imagining that he can do it all. Other times he pays folks to do the work he can’t do or won’t. I have to remind myself this is ok, as in my growing up, men and women did much more of the work around the house than we do now, hardly paying for a cleaner or a home repair if it was something they could do themselves. It’s not just that I’m a woman that’s keeping me from doing these manly things. It’s not doing manly things that makes me a strong woman.

Living as a single mom, unmarried at 47, after five years of living on my own and dating men who live far away, I often think my life would be easier if I did things in a more traditional feminine way, found a guy to marry me, to do the work I’m not doing, whether due to lack of time or expertise or preference or energy or money or just plain neglect. I think it would be easier to travel as a mate, to sign the taxes jointly, to have a shared bank account, to raise the kids with a partner in my home, even to have a man to wash my car, as though anyone in our house has ever done that, girl, boy, woman, man. It was the clue I got that my ex-husband was dating, the car washing thing. My then small gal questioned her dad for cleaning his car. What’s going on? she wondered. His first evidence of trying to impress another woman was there for her to see, and came to me as she told me about her day and I wondered, too, and then she revealed the dating, searing a hole in my heart, probably as much because he hadn’t cleaned the cars we owned together as because he was going on a date, and because I felt like I had turned my daughter into a spy. And probably because I wasn’t that Disney Princess. I didn’t win that race. I wasn’t the one rescued by the knight in shining armor who cleans the car and pays the bills and shovels the walk and cares for the kids. That time around, that’s not my fate, at least not in the way Disney lays it out for us lost souls looking for a myth or mate. (In reading this two days later I think to edit the sentence above about no one in our house ever cleaning the car. For two or three years after her dad and I split up, part of our summer vacation was devoted to cleaning the van, my daughter leading the way and doing much if the work, her grandma and I sometimes pitching in. Seems important to add that here. It was a fine gift which got us through those years with a van much cleaner than it would have been. )

The whole time I was married we wished for a wife, for someone to stay home and look after the kids while we both worked full time, to tidy the house that was often untidy, to vacuum and dust and shine, to buy the groceries and cook the meals we bought and cooked between us, often with some debate as to the fairness of our division. We wished for a woman to take some of the traditional roles so neither of us would have to, and so we wouldn’t have to fight about how we shared the work or didn’t. Now, in my post-marriage, five years of separation and divorce, I’ve become the man/woman, and he has a wife, who like me, works long hours and isn’t any more traditional than I was. We share paid cleaners, who often do our houses on the same day, one before the other, he does some groceries for their household, others he and his wife buy together, divisions I learn from my children as we discuss house chores over dinner Friday night, more spying, or learning from each other? I do shopping with my daughter for our home, and my sons do dishes and take out trash and my gal folds clothes, and everyone is cared for in the mish/mosh man/woman girl/boy way we’ve figured out in 2014, with a boyfriend thrown into my household every other weekend or so, and me not here most weekends the kids are with their dad. On those weekends the cat is in charge, here on her own to look after things, and my day care partner Liana looks after the trash and recycling my son and I do on our weeks here and I am a partner to my boyfriend in his home, which is run for a single man and hardly has a chore for me to do, folks paid to clean and do the yard and fix most things that need fixing. We get to play, to hear music, to eat out and take walks and visit friends and family and hike and swim. Where is the woman or the man in that, in the life nearly sans chores? In that life we took my van for repairs at the local Honda dealer many Mondays until on Mother’s Day weekend we bought my sporty new Impreza, boyfriend beside me talking with the sales guy, me stepping up to pay the bill, so I could hand off the mini-van to my son, starting adult life.

It’s a fine mess I’m in at 47, preparing for 48, in terms of being a feminist and holding it all together. I’d like for my kids to see me as the woman who can do it all, and then I wouldn’t. That would be a set up, for both the girl and boys. Near 10 last night, after watching New Girl with my gal, I texted my guy who is not here this weekend, to say good-night. He had fallen asleep early, texted back had I done my party chores? No, I was most certainly not done with my party chores, who did he think I was, Super Woman?

Turns out I am and I am not, Super Woman, that is. I do cook a nice meal most days and nights the kids are here. Yesterday we ate frittata for brunch, falafel and rice from a box, salad, and homemade tzatziki and tahini dip for dinner. I do the shop. I make sure my kids have clothes, that the critters move out of the compost bin (with help from a day care parent and Jen). I get stuff fixed when it needs fixing, mostly. I let the yard go, except when I don’t, and most times now when I do yard work it’s with my gal. I shovel snow. The kids and the man help. Sometimes friends help, too. Other times I pay. I pay and I pay and I pay for the things I can’t do as a woman, as a person, as a single working parent, as someone who would rather read and write and shop than pound a nail or scrape paint or trim the hedges in fancy shapes. I’m lazy sometimes, and tired, and I’m not a real great man, which for some reason is how I rate myself as a lousy feminist, sometimes, in my head when I can’t get past not wanting to shovel the snow.

And now it would be fine if I could go back to sleep for an hour, but I’m wound up and it might be a good morning for chores, even if I got too little sleep and the day is long and I have to be ready for the party at 4. We’ll see.

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