no truer north

My son, he leans into the door of the post office like a forty pound doorstop.  I mentally applaud his efforts and show him how to stand at the end of or behind the door to let other customers pass without having to step over his tiny sneakers.  These doors are much heavier than he and the double set of them makes his insistent manners that much sweeter.  I’m there to send off some signed papers to the attorney who will in a nanosecond have me divorced.  This rather anticlimactic thing made possible by a prolonged legal separation.  This waiting game of things left unsaid, now needs but a few pages, a few signatures.

This week, the weeks before and the weeks to come feel unbearably heavy.  There are so many small details of life and work and money and parenting that go unspoken.  I don’t have the close ties, that one close friend I had before I moved.  I sit in the quiet of the evenings, a small lamp taken from my father’s house lighting my quiet corner of the quiet apartment I quietly loathe for no necessary reason.  I look for grace in quiet moments anyway, that being necessary above all.

It figures in the midst of it all, I was my oldest to camp for a week this summer.  A week.  Away.  This is one of those things that I hadn’t ever planned on either.  A person dear to me suggested way back in the middle of winter that she might be interested.   Knowing almost nothing about the camp more than the brochure description, my girl still adamantly insisted it was exactly what she wanted. Not long after, the deposit was sent. The weeks til mid-summer seemed yet so distant. I knew she’d have a shorter weekend overnight camp before that to test the waters, but I shouldn’t have worried in the least.

With her at camp and only the little two as my companion, we moved about in a much more relaxed fashion.  Even post office paperwork three years in the making, was that much less arduous with only two to distract, yet missing her was not ever far from thought, wondering about camp life a big unknown. I managed to reach her for three short phone call during the week at the communal camp pay phone, all the affirmation I needed that she was at home there.  “How does this work?” I heard her ask as she picked up the receiver. “Do I just talk into it?”  I managed to stifle my laughter to soak in a sparse few details and about seventeen exclamations and declarations of awesomeness of camp.

Details continue to trickle in about activities, new friends and camp traditions.  Her sister will be old enough to attend with her next year and they are both mentally decorating their bunk spaces already.  I have tapped the pause button.  I need to savor this.  All of this.  In the middle of divorce, parenting and other unspeakable heavy things, there is this great joy.  I witnessed buy a few of the connections she had made, but I extrapolate and multiply and feel certain that somehow this is the evidence that I’m getting some thing right.  When all seems heavy, when sad is perpetually an all caps emotion, when there isn’t that one good friend you used to have in this still very new feeling place, that there is joy is all.

As we were heading out, she said goodbyes to counselors and campers and got a hug from the director who clearly was touched by my girl and probably knew she wasn’t telling me something I didn’t already know.  To hear it though, to know someone sees as you see is a healing thing.  We came home and tacked up the notes she had gotten from fellow campers and staff, akin to the yearbook autograph page I suppose.  More sweet words and genuine warmth spilled over.  Maybe summers from now she won’t remember that she gave most of her calling card minutes to a friend who was homesick and had used up her card or to another who hadn’t brought a card at all.

There is this tiny little place in a tiny little village on the way to camp where we stopped for a nanosecond on the way up to camp.  I brought my cameras in anticipation, but had but a few minutes to take make a few photographs with my beloved cameras.  The stifling summer heat had faded on our return trip.  The littlest two and I shared cameras and sauntered along the pathways, making images of this sweet little place.  I felt so rushed the first time, grabbed only a few shots I was pleased with.  Truth be told, we didn’t stay much longer today, but it was actually just the thing.  I think if I have more time or better light or something different, it will make a difference.  It isn’t that at all.

With my girl gone, it’s as if my way to find true north went missing.  Except she wasn’t, she was just away.  But she has always been the point we circle around.  Perhaps it’s by virtue of being the oldest, but moreso because of her peculiar and beautiful makeup.  She requires a thoughtfulness to parent that is exhausting and perplexing.  I almost never know that I’m getting it right except for those times like today when I see her amongst a group of kindred spirits and know that somehow it was me who brought her to this very moment.  She was more wholly herself this week than she may be again til this time next year.  I’m not sure any of us could tolerate more than that, but may it be for her that very point around which she orients her self and spirit.

Beauty gives us an ache, to be worthy of that creation. –mary oliver

My life is the most incongruent collage of realities these days.  I can’t wish for every week to contain this sort of renewal, nor can I afford to wait for next year’s post-camp affirmation.  Something good happened today and even a thousand words on I can’t say precisely what that was.  So here are another thousand.

july20_01

like no other

She had to be her best self more often than it’s reasonable for any human to be. And you know what’s so never-endingly beautiful to me? She was. She was imperfect. She made mistakes. But she was her best self more often than it’s reasonable for any human to be.  –Cheryl Strayed, tiny beautiful things

I handed my five year old son the tiny spoon to scoop some feta onto his pasta dish.  Chicken sausage and spinach are nothing without feta.  He knows this.  I know this.  We all know this.  We are a spinach and feta family through and through.  He finished his dish and asked for more.  My kids love spinach and this makes me a good parent.  Obviously.

My girls read over two hundred books last summer and are collecting summer reading incentive sheets with glee.  Only ten books for $10 from the bank?  Pshhht.  Nothing.  My son began kindergarten refusing to consider that c-a- t meant anything and now he reads on his own,  tells time to the minute and is generally going to be as hard to keep up with as my oldest.  I just know it.  He’ll likely have the same first grade teacher as my middle kid has now.  Life is good in our tiny, neighborhood elementary school.

There are times though, when it is damn impossible to be a good parent in the relative sense.  There isn’t a way I’ve figured to be in two places at once, to attend an activity with just one of the three kids who are all mine to parent.  Insurmountable life scheduling conundrums courtesy of the two parent family norm with a side of retired grandparents.   There is a particular brand of shame to be asked continually if, “there isn’t someone else who could…”

That’s usually where it trails off, because there is no sensitive way to say that the shape of our family doesn’t quite measure up.  I’ve started here and there to insist that there is not someone else and what I/we have to offer will be enough.  I’ve already counted on one kid only showing up for soccer games and no practices because hello? five years old.  I refuse to divide and conquer.

I refuse to pretend that it’s possible to divide a single parent family or that we would want to conquer any more than seems reasonable in any family.  Who we are is quite enough.  I want it to make sense that I need to drop my kid off early or show up late or not at all.  There is that sense of less than that I want to shield my kids from with all the mama bear ferocity in me.

It just happens that they are amazingly smart little beings who tend to be the quiet and inquisitive presence in any room.  They eat their spinach, choose to be in the same room with interests overlapping more often than not and generally do not put up a fuss at bedtime. Ever.  My kids are better people because I always knew that was possible.  Having more than none, but less than much in the way of mothering, I still always believed that intention was enough to build a life on.

Moving back to the area I grew up in with the intention of building a happy life for my kids was easy in the most simple sense and harrowing in the ways they may never have to know.  I want them to remember my imperfections, my tiredness, the mornings I fed them PB&J for breakfast because we were all too tired to go grocery shopping the night before.  It feels much like being in the zoo sometimes, with all three of them grocery shopping.  It never was hard for me to shop with all three.  Dumb luck I suppose.  “All three yours?” heard far too often.  As if I would bring along a spare kid or two just to make the experience more interesting.

We were tired from a morning of letterboxing and an afternoon at the beach and somehow lunch and a stop at the ice cream stand and marveling at kites and seaweed and ginormous puddles of water and each other’s particular graces in the face of an open ended day of exploring.  We skipped church that day in favor of these adventures, this joy, that peace felt only among the four of us.  Almost no one who has the privilege of spending time with my kids says anything less than “wow” when relating to me their impression of them.

It’s not anything about being a better parent or a single parent or a better single parent.  It’s just there isn’t anyone else who could parent like me in any kind of family.  We have a thing, us four, and maybe it’s born of my time as a stay at home parent or my current single parent family reality, but maybe it’s not that at all.  Maybe it’s just the way of being a woman who embraces imperfection, who only knew the mistakes and foibles of mothering from a young age and yet found the tiny, beautiful things all around her.

I saw my mother quietly in the evening kitchen, dim light from over the sink, reading magazines and miraculously drinking coffee which never kept her awake to unspeakable hours.  The perfect apples in the perfect orchard on the most crisp fall morning made her happy.  Baking biscuits from scratch, anything from scratch made her happy.  For many months of my sixth grade year she drove me to school in her tiny new car, affordable and without a radio.  We made a game of switching stations and singing alone on the drive.  There was always beauty to be had.

My kids marched behind me, water half to their knees trusting I knew that this was a terribly wonderful idea.  On our hike, way too far on to turn back the recent rains left a virtual lake of cold, clear water in our path.  Being the bookish, quote-filled type a quick laugh was had recalling the “going on a bear hunt” book.  Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it.  I’ve probably never done anything quite that ridiculous in a very long time.  We dubbed ourselves “team wet shoe” and sloshed our way back to the car.

So yes, my life is not ordinary, but neither is it tiny.  Beautiful things run all the way through this life with the trio.  A life like no other.

time before

Andy:  I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them

When did it all get so green? is what I wonder.

The kids have let themselves out to wait for the bus.  I am ten ways tired from another 12 hour night shift and I look out to see that the towering trees behind our apartment building are entirely leafy and green and swaying in the morning breeze.  It only seems like I so attentively watched and stalked every little  movement of Spring as it unfolded.  That morning, there it was and I shook my head as if I had somehow missed the most of it all.

Subject: WordPress

Can you e-mail me some pictures of [the beach] from yesterday so I can create a post on WordPress about it?

I started blogging when my oldest was maybe four months old.   Now this kid is virtually grabbing pics from my iphone to compose a blog post for our family blog.   She started a weekly photo contest for her siblings and I.  Her brother won the first week with his “your funniest picture” entry.    I suggest maybe we make it a weekly thing.

Subject: Photo Contest

Sure. Do you want to e-mail everyone this week’s subject.  Good idea.

Who is this kid who navigates through new technologies with a swipe and a double tap?  Just yesterday she was fighting for breath and I was standing before an ominous chest x-ray.  The day after that I was running home to grab a shower and a plate of non-hospital cafeteria scrambled eggs when I had to conference call with her doctor.  Could they put in a PICC line and did I consent to them inserting a needle to ascertain if there was air in her chest?

So much happens when you look away, when you’re there and when you’re not.   With my tax refund, I treated myself to a small tablet and it quickly became a family endeavor.  Each kid has their own login, own email and own ways of spending their allotted screen time.  Most often this kid will be curled in the over-sized chair hovering over emails.  She emails with the daughter of one of the women I knew from my original blogging circle way back when.  They talk brothers and baby goats, writing and special interests.  Both these girls are simply more of the amazing spark they were back then.  It just seems so unreal to one day be sharing photos of diaper clad toddlers and the next these lanky kids are entirely something more lovely than we could have known.

I scanned my overstuffed camera roll and sent a few instagram shots via email.

I heart those shots.

That’s her simple reply.  Sometimes she signs it LOL and her nickname.  Always she adds in parentheses (lots of love) and I’m assuming she knows the acronym stands for otherwise or maybe I won’t ever clue her in.

Subject: tiny you

and your first favorite author

attachment:  .jpg of her on my lap reading an Eric Carle book

It’s no thing to send an email these days.  A text, a post on Facebook, or a half dozen square pics that tell the story of our days.   I know I will look back and think nothing more and nothing less than:  it was all worth it.  Our world opens up in ways we don’t expect.  I count at least a dozen of those bloggers I knew from my first months and years of motherhood as some of my fondest and dearest mentors and friends.  It is immensely weird to live in the digital age and trust in some strange and ever evolving way of communicating that belongs not to us, but to the moments themselves.  I don’t need a digital archive (though I have them) to know that something very real happens when you take the time to show who you are and expect nothing or everything in return.

Over the years, I’ve not kept up with watching The Office.  It’s a show I used to love and watch religiously.  I queued up the finale the other night and no matter missing large bits of the storyline and characters lives, it all came together in my head and closed a chapter in my life.  Television has a way of marking times in our lives, eras in the making if only we knew that was the case.  Necessarily, the character quotes did me in.  How do you wrap up a dozen years of your life and make sense of all that you thought you knew?

Pam:  I think an ordinary paper company like Dunder-Mifflin was a great subject for a documentary. There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?

So I’d suppose you’d have to have watched the show to get it, to have been immersed in some new love story that would falter, to have wanted your ordinary everything to be somehow something more than it seemed from the outside looking in to get why I can’t get that episode out of my head.   Every good comedy on TV has some sort of Jim and Pam element, the two you want to see get together, the one relationship that just has to work out in the end no matter the improbability.

You can keep it if you want some funny things to remember.

My son reads me aloud the “silly sentences” he wrote for a school assignment.  I kind of love that the teacher sharpied “silly sentences” on top so that I would know it was on purpose that he composed lines like  A cow climbed the crocodile  or something about a chair eating a kangaroo.  I love that he still forms the J of his middle name backwards and that at the end he is sure to scribble his nickname.  I won’t always be able to call him that at will.  But somehow, you get to keep it all whether it went by in a blur or not.

I have been goading myself to read more than I have been.  Topping almost nothing isn’t hard, but I’m rekindling a love affair with non-fiction.  I picked up Elie Wiesel’s Open Heart this past week and was astonished.  He writes of the events surrounding his open heart surgery and the time afterward, his mortality, his duty to comprehend the incomprehensible and honor the memory of all that is lost.  I still can’t come to grips with reading the words of this man, who in the most simple defining, has done so much.  Yet he doubts, he pines for more time and he is no less or more human than all of us.

One day I’ll write more, share less and somehow bring together the stories I’ve always carried.  For now, though it’ll just be a little more with the humming along.   I should preview this post, edit the typos and check the grammar.  Not today, not now.  There’s a school event to attend, birthday packages to ready and more stories to collect.

They’re all right and they’re all wrong,
It’s like trying to make out every word,
When they should simply hum along,
It’s not some message written in the dark,
Or some truth that no one’s seen,
It’s a little bit of everything. (–Dawes)

on my way home

On my almost first Mother’s Day weeks before my daughter was born, my own mother left my father.  She moved out of the only home I had ever known while he was in town visiting us under the guise of helping us finish up loose ends on our fixer upper so we’d be ready for the baby.  I don’t remember at which point in the weekend my sister bothered to call me and let me know what was happening back home, imploring me of course not to say a word at all.  I’ll never forget the phone call when my Dad returned home to see what my mother had left behind of their shared life.  Almost nothing.  She left the kitchen table, but took the chairs.  Because of course she did.

A very happy Mother’s Day gift from my alcoholic mother as she ended for good the deeply flawed relationship that circled around my entire childhood.  That my parents were so terribly suited for each other was always apparent to me.  At the age my kids are now, my mother had me trained in the art of the understatement.  Six beers was better described to the inquiring party as maybe she just had two or I didn’t know or something less incriminating.  I am incredibly well-versed in how addictions change over time, becoming less obtuse and more insidious.

In my work at the hospital, on a cardiac unit amidst the pacemaker and arrhythmic set comes also a steady stream of patients with various and sundry dependencies.  Addictions and abuse, withdrawals and excruciating recoveries amongst your baby boomer parents and grandpa and your dear sweet nana.  On any given night, my heart and head and skills are stretched beyond capacity.  Somehow it all flows through you, this way you have of soothing rough edges and tending to needs no matter the reason.

Mother’s Day is sort of about wanting.  What mothers want for gifts, for time alone, for sleep, for family togetherness and absence of squabbling.  Perhaps also it’s about what we want to say to the mothers in our lives and the gratitude we want to share.  My kids have promised me hot coffee and breakfast in bed and sleeping in and the seven year old has boasted about the many, many, many presents she has for me.  My now stepmom has sent a card from her and my Dad with a gift card to one of my favorite home stores.  I sent my mom a book from Amazon, a nudge of sorts, or perhaps a nod to the way we used to be somewhere along the way that I know her taste in coffee table books.

I am so with the crowd of mothers who ache this week before, this month, on the day of for one reason or many reasons why this day wants to shout that there is no ideal, that we really freaking got a raw deal and that there is no point in trying to find a unifying experience, celebratory or not in this most contentiously loving thing that is motherhood.  Celebrating as a single mom is such an emotionally blissful and taxing endeavor that embracing any part of the goodness that is flowing through my kids inevitably and perpetually feels like ripping off a bandage of all those child of a mother who didn’t quite get it wounds.

There’s no other reality for me than to be the second daughter of a young mom who from a young age was profoundly unable to cope with the life she had made, from the choices that became her own life’s story.  I’m not like anyone you’ve ever met because of it.  I spent a tremendous amount of time alone as a child.  It’s not that we didn’t have the things we needed growing up, but just that somehow that’s all there was.   I was left wanting for things you can’t touch, describe or enumerate.  The years when I stayed awake on school nights trying to listen up for her to come home from the bar were probably few.  A quieter addiction was easier to keep in the end.

So this is and every Mother’s Day, I find myself in the crowd of mothers who don’t know what it is, exactly, that they should want.  The places that feel empty will always ache in peculiar ways.   Being in the moment saved me as a child.  Any painful moment existed in only that moment.  So too with the joys.  The times when my mom baked with us, took us on picnics and was a more ordinary sort of person.  All of it happened.  Each part of who she was and how we were happened moment by moment.  On the whole, maybe she got it wrong.  But the things she did well were as true and real.

I really don’t know how I’m the type of parent that I am except that I probably knew before I knew just what my kids needed.  That they don’t have to go mining for good and true moments of joy is probably my biggest gift to them.  They have a mom who can be in the moment with them whether it’s to echo happiness and accomplishment or acknowledge they’re kind of missing the mark.  Accuracy is everything.  I don’t really mean that in the perfectionist sort of way, but simply that what’s true is true sort distinction.  My retort to an assertion that I’m being mean is probably to say that the child in question is right, that I don’t care and that they need to x, y or z.

Most of the time when something flashes in my head, some familiar twinge of childhood something or another, it’s easy enough to background it.  Other times, I just let it stay with me.  These days I feel like my mother a lot.  I really think it’s probably triggered by the ages of my kids, that at this age we ate out a lot at Chinese food restaurants.  A pu pu platter was somehow her drunken endeavor to show us that she cared.  Gin and tonic after gin and tonic set the atmosphere for these dinner outings.  After a while, my father gave up on her and just cancelled the credit cards that funded our mom’s indulgences.

We eat out every now and again, pizza mostly or Five Guys.  I’m not my mother.  I’m not.  I obviously work for my money, I budget well, I can afford to surprise my kids now and again with a meal out.   It doesn’t hurt that they proclaim me “best mom ever” when I do.  I never got to tell my mom that.  Secret wishes that she not get so totally trashed that she would be able to drive home somewhat sober-like fashion notwithstanding.  I did always appreciate that we got home in one piece, but that’s not the sort of thing you tell your mom.  There are no kudos for stupidly lucky drunk driving.

We had pizza tonight, slices for the short people and a grinder for me.  The teenage waitress was clearing our table and my son declared his mushroom pizza delicious.  I translated his garbled enthusiasm and as she walked away he added an emphatic, “AMEN!”  I mean, of course he did.  Being five means church and the language of prayer and reverence is just right there with all the other new and awesome and everyday things that you have when you’re five.  Like library trips and sisters to antagonize at the park and, of course, pizza.

On the way home all that is probably on his mind when we get there except can he watch something on Netflix, have tablet time or stay up late or sleep in my bed or can we have ice cream or will I pack him cold lunch tomorrow?  On an average day, I probably will only say yes to one of those wants and that really is more than fine by him.  I marvel that most days it really is just that simple.  Most days that simplicity sounds more like a cacophony of wants and needs as kids are less eloquent than insistent.  Tending to all that is the simple and excruciating work of motherhood.

So on my one weekend a year where I can take liberty to declare how I want to celebrate or be recognized, I remain as unwilling to admit to anything but that awkward sort of emotional in between state. My kids want to treat me, so I’ll ready the coffee maker and buy some muffins and leave a mug on the counter and hope the milk doesn’t spill.  I want to be in the moment.  I want them to remember my surprise, my gratitude, their somehow knowing that no matter where our lives take us, whatever our choices make us, whatever stories our lives become, that some version of this piled in bed on a Sunday morning sort of moment is always possible.

I stopped writing in the early hours of the morning, unsure of how to weave an ending to a deeply personal bit of sharing.  I knew and this has proven true, that somehow sleep and a new day full of new kid antics, general mayhem and the ordinary mix of joy and aggravations makes way for just that sort of peace that always finds me once and again.  Soccer was rained out, though it was hardly raining at all, so we found our way to the community center. Kids played, moms talked and leaving well past their lunch hour I dragged hungry kids grocery shopping.

It wasn’t and is never any one thing that makes the emotional heaviness of life segue into a gentler sort of longing.  It’s seeing my clumsily dyspraxic oldest daughter not have a clue how to work an umbrella.  The absurdity of it all, the rain, the acceptance of our deeply amusing quirks all just comes together.  “I know why you came this way, the lilac path.  I know it.”  There’s a side alley that leads to Main Street and the old brownstone church has a lilac bush abutting a back corner.  I’ve been watching it for weeks, days.  Stalking it really.  We shamelessly inhaled the deep, endearing scent and made our way towards the Thai restaurant where my Mother’s Day wish for good takeout was waiting.  As I’m wont to do, I snapped a quick and blurry pic of my three waiting for our order.  My son, perpetual motion itself, is a goofy blur.  We raced back across Main Street, up the alley and the aroma of lilacs smacked us in the face.

This is life.  Ordinary and weird and emotional and just plain happy.  It is nothing less than exhausting to raise three kids with but one mom’s energy and way of knowing, being and trusting in this flawed and gifted world.  But there you have my motherhood, my vaguely mothered childhood and the now that is so very possible.  Many parts of our week are filled with I don’t knows, but the certain bits are true and real and for once and finally all mine, free from fear.  We run in the rain, we stop and smell the flowers and we tumble out on the living room rug way past bedtime.  Mugs of lemonade, a bowl of popcorn and a movie or three to fill the dreary Spring evening with just the love and peace that some long ago little girl always knew would find it’s way back home.

same as ever

Apartment living was something I lived and loved in my twenties.  After moving to Philadelphia at 19, I  moved pretty much once a year until I moved out to the suburbs, but even then I was still on a train line so I felt connected to that sort of always going somewhere life.  Not long before my oldest was born, we closed on our fixer upper north of the city.  I don’t even think it qualified as suburban Philly, owing to it being much closer to Allentown than anything else.

Settling in and settling down meant a house and a family to grow into it.  One of the things that sold me on the house other than the ginormous (to me) 23′ wide kitchen was that the kitchen opened to mudroom which opened to a shady backyard.  My vision of watching kids racing around the backyard, slamming the screen door and more often than not letting the flies in or the cat out came true.  It really did.

The above ground pool came down, an over-sized swing set went up and dyspraxia be damned, my oldest learned to ride her bike in that backyard.  We moved from that house at the beginning of summer nearly two years ago now and some of the last photos I took there are the kids in the backyard.  Although they have a visit schedule that takes them back, the house is no longer theirs, mine or ours.  Losing everything that was the dream somehow makes recreating the comforts and familiarity a peculiar task.

Single parenthood is a unique experience, but all too often it means that recreating the fullness of the old family life and home isn’t the wisest thing financially.  We initially landed amongst the hospitality of family and when that ran out my only goal was staying in the same school zone.   The reality of a city apartment living was a  three bedroom townhome somehow made into five or six or apartments, yours being the smallest. A dozen years makes all the difference.  The configuration of the indoor space meant nothing.  A windowless kitchen is universally depressing, but a brick high rise allows exactly no outdoor space for the kids to play in.  Yes, we have a pool, but no you can’t ride your bike there or practice soccer juggling or even just go play so mom can have twenty minutes to cook dinner in peace and quiet.

I don’t know how to move on.  I used to.  I did it every year or two.  Every relationship or so.  Girlfriends, boyfriends, roommates.  You just moved on and the city was your constant.  Your favorite coffee shop was still yours.  Moving a few blocks south and east did nothing to disrupt your sense of anything.  But this?  This  moving back “home” near family and having 700 square feet and not much beyond that is positively suffocating at times.  I really don’t know how it is my kids don’t complain about the change, about not having what they always had.  It might have something to do with having moved here in the winter and then not long after the weather turned nice–pool!

Our backyard now is 3.4 miles away, six or seven minutes depending if I take the shortcut.  The township just filled the sandbox to the top and my five year old seems somehow not to notice that it’s not his alone.  He runs for it leaving a trail of socks and sneakers and throws his whole being into digging and dirt moving.  In his glee at the newly full box, he actually proceeded to show me (before I could object) how easy it is to make “sand angels.” And yes, we’ve gone every night since.  The girls were more of the mind to shove each other back and forth on the tire swing and best each other on the monkey bars. We stayed til it got buggy tonight, passing the soccer ball amongst each other.  The baseball practices had long since ended and everyone was heading home.  It was nice for a change to realize that we were already there, sand in our pockets and the sun setting on our days the same as ever it may have.

a little bit of everything

Half-finished invitations litter the table hours after you’ve climbed into the top bunk bed. You sleep tucked in next to a dream lights stuffed bear nightlight something or other you just had to have.  A birthday gift.  Impromptu.  Early.  Indulgent.  Your birthday month.  Nine.

We’ll finish the invites in the morning maybe, pass them out at school breaking some sort of etiquette rule or another to ask a couple dozen of your friends to come celebrate at a roller skating party. You don’t know how to roller skate.  I cut off the invite list after the first thirty names, younger cousins only accounting for a handful of all those many friends and schoolmates.  Maybe the busy stuff of life will keep many from attending.   Maybe just a handful will spin wildly around the rink for the two hours we’ve booked for a private party.

You, my girl, who needed PT and OT and riding therapy and prodding to run, to skip, to background your love of order and predictability to just be in the moment amongst those who you knew best is now this girl.  This girl who will soon become nine and then ten and then eleven and on and on.  I count out the years in my head the way your younger brother sings out in anticipation when he will become seven after he is six and somehow is so very five all the while.

The years they fly by. There is no thought when standing there with you in the Walmart but to scoop up packages of rainbow tye-dyed peace sign plates and table covers and invitations and everything but the confetti.  Pizza and cupcakes will keep it simple we tell each other. Even if only five kids come, that will be something won’t it?

The night before you were born I sat up in labor in the hospital, waiting, white knuckling my way towards this motherhood that began with you and unfolds in ways I would never ask for.  The disbelief I felt that you were so very here, that you were born and here was swept away by other disbeliefs all too quickly.  Your breathing was labored, you had air and fluid in lungs in ways that made you so very sick for a short while.   All that was long ago now stays in the long ago, some sort of quaint sadness that time gifts to memory.

But I love disbelief yet.  Disbelief is wonder and a wish wrapped up in hope and it is the very moment when that hopewishwonder is finally here.  You were in my arms, you were so very warm and so very mine.  Those being the first two things I thought when I held you in the crook of my arm in that afternoon of the day you were born.  I shake my head in disbelief that tiny you who for so many months and years held close to me, to a world small and known now is this kid.  This nine.  This invite the many, order the pizzas and so who cares if I really don’t know how to roller skate version of you I never could have imagined into being.

I was sitting in our local main street coffeehouse last week, trying somehow to transcend the aches that come with editing your life down to size.  This song came on the radio and I listen to it now out of earshot of you all for the first verse is a little dark and moody, but some things just get to you that way.  I don’t mean to say you are as simple as a song, but you are  moody.  It’s the age, it’s you in all your growing into a world that asks of you things you have no interest in.  Yet you confound and delight and make life how you need it to be, a little bit of everything.

They’re all right and they’re all wrong,
It’s like trying to make out every word,
When they should simply hum along,
It’s not some message written in the dark,
Or some truth that no one’s seen,
It’s a little bit of everything. (–Dawes)

So as we wend our way on the next nine years that will see you at the arbitrary mark of adulthood, perhaps it will be about that.  About not trying to make out every word, understand every way about you for you now do that for yourself more and more.   I’ll just hold on to that magic bit of disbelief that we’ve gotten to that place where I can simply hum along to the tune and rhythm and cadence of your days.

You are an inevitable force of knowing good things are right around the corner.  Your sister may show us all the sunny version of the good things are right here, right now.  Your brother may show us that he remembers every good thing, wants every good now and could not worry less about the good to come because isn’t life just awesome waiting to happen?   You have somehow landed here with me, with us and with this way about you that confounds and delights and allows more impossible things into being than I could ever dream up.

I have

For weeks now, I’ve been listening to expressions of gratitude with cynicism.  That seems all wrong.  It probably is in a lot of ways.  Then again, I’m someone who leaves posts in draft form for weeks because they’re not sounding just quite right.  Getting it right matters to me.  I worry in ways that other people don’t have to imagine worrying.

—-

“Oh it always smells soooo good in the hallway,” is what she said as we headed out the door, down the stairs, across the parking lot and on to one errand or another.

I’m not sure why that one tiny observation from my six year old knocked me sideways, but it did.  We have neighbors.  We live in an ugly, cinder block hallway apartment complex built in the 1960’s.  Every apartment on all six floors is like the next, just that one half of the bedroom hallways are off to the left and the other half are down to the right.

Coming and going at the dinner hour, more so on Sundays always smells divine.  Simmering goodness of some sort wafts into the halls.

“It kinda makes you want to knock on doors and invite yourself in, huh?”

She laughed.  And agreed.

I grew up near the town we live in now, a much smaller town, but this town.  It feels smaller now too.   Rec league basketball only costs $15 and comes with a tee shirt.   Practice was winding down and we had the surprise of finding out her soccer coach was coaching the same age group, but the following time slot.  We switched.  Familiar things are good.  We ran into the same coach and kid at soccer clinic the next night.  I always swore that I wouldn’t turn into a soccer mom or one who over-scheduled her kids, but somehow we’ve found a happy medium.  Two activities for one, three for the other, none for the youngest.

My kids eat spinach.  My kids complain when pizza does not come topped with spinach and/or feta.  My oldest wonders why school pizza doesn’t have a spinach option.  All three of my kids received early intervention services for feeding issues once upon a time.  My oldest wouldn’t touch food, let alone let me imagine the day she would be raving about a meal that included sauteed butternut squash and spinach.   I’d say she has far surpassed any goal that was ever set for her.

I procured car insurance for the first time as an adult last week.  I never needed a car all the years I lived in the city and then it was just one of things my ex took care of.   It’s the first of many other small steps that will finally get this divorce taken care of.  Finally.  Getting said insurance required an absurd number of online quotes and phone calls and I may have chosen the broker at random because he had the same last name as a television show character that makes me laugh.  I love when random works out.  Lets hope this turns out better than having met my ex on a blind date orchestrated by a mutual friend.   Sometimes random does not work out.  Even when you try long past the point it deserves.  I’ll own a suburban minivan with proper state tags before too long.   This van we bought just before my youngest was born because life seemed like it would need a minivan for the years to come.

The time change means I drive home into the blazing sunrise.   Ordinary nights at the hospital often beget ones that are not.  Some mornings I think that maybe I need a break from watching hearts fail.  As part of my job, I monitor cardiac patients, a hospital’s worth.  It is the most interesting job I have ever had.  A screen full of room numbers and green rhythms is not so anonymous as it appears.   Someone’s Pop Pop died during my shift the other night.  I know because I read the obituary.  I don’t always, but sometimes I do.  I also know because I watched it unfold on a screen.  It’s hard, this work.  I seem uniquely drawn to one patient or another, but not hardly all of them.  Too many stories.  Most nights I leave feeling like I’ve done too little, but at the same time just enough.  It is the smallest gestures that reverberate.

When you learn to do this job, you are told that  most of the rhythms will be normal or benign variants thereof.  The acronyms for these soon make sense and flow out of your pen while you interpret strip after strip, patient after patient.  Six months of mostly ordinary and hundreds upon hundreds of patients later and then one variation of a heart block that is not so benign.  We aren’t able to fix every heart.  A code is not like a code you see on television.  Hearts fail or they respond to treatment.

Moments of connection more often then not arise out of unpleasant circumstances.  A year ago, I would not tell you that I could remain calm in the face of death.  I didn’t know that dying was not at all about the last moment or moments.  I remember my first patient who died, the last and some of the almosts.  I got to see a patient one more time the other morning.  I got to tell him it was good to see him smiling.  I got to see the gaze between him and his nurse who sat with him through the night while she charted, partly to assure he remained in bed, partly to do what it is we do.  Paying attention, being present and saying thank you are good medicine.  Sometimes hearts respond to intervention.

I still can’t quite explain my cynicism.   Feelings to me flow from some variation of “I am…”  You are happy, sad, relieved, anxious or annoyed.   Gratitude is born of I have.  It is easiest to list the things that one has.  Things make it easy to look around and be appreciative.  People, too.  People are good to have.  In your life, in your corner.  I have a certain five year old that wakes me each and every morning with the biggest hug.  That’s the first thing he does every day.  Sometimes I get a weather report too.  The sun is up.  It’s too cloudy.  Why is it raining?  Will it snow today?

There are layers of gratitude and perhaps I just prefer the quieter variety.  I am grateful for things that no one else gets to have.  Is that it maybe?  It’s also about connection for me I think.  It’s about that moment where you may have absolutely nothing going for you and you can stop somewhere between the in and out breath and find the I have.   I also think it is impossible and unintended that we  all attheverysametime take stock of our objects of gratitude.  I give myself license to take for granted much that I have.   An apartment, a minivan that is much too much car, a tiny elementary school with a big heart, kids that are bright and wise beyond their years, a job and work schedule that makes life as a single parent something that we four all can love most days,  friends who are open and loving and kind, a faith that is unshakeable, the ability to make photographs nearly every day, an innate desire and ability to please my kids palates with meals and yummy things, infallible knack for being on time.  These are but a few of the things I take for granted.  I trust.  I trust that these things have been earned truly, are appreciated honestly and that is enough.  For me, I save my gratitude for a text from a friend you will never read, for a kind word from someone who could have easily not recognized the moment, for seeing my patient’s smile after a long night and morning where his heart tried to fail and he persevered.

gratitude.

honest love

She came home on the first day of school with her arm scratched red.  It was a only a small area, but I knew.  My middle kid is my always happy kid, but still ever the quietly anxious one.  I like to say that she started smiling at five weeks old and she hasn’t stopped since.  She is always happy. She is ever the one that sees the beauty and purpose in the smallest object, the oddest combination of trinkets and toys.  In preschool, she announced that she and her friend, K, were going to start a fashion house in Paris.  Except that they would probably just need me to drive them to the airport.  Many a day, many hours a week, does she devote to drawing fashions or studying characters in her favorite chapter books.

I sat at the computer earlier, trying to research some inane details of tasks and annoyances that need to be sorted out to finalize the separating and divorcing and dividing of things.  I make notes on scraps of paper at the computer, one of my most disorganized of habits, the serial to-do lists.  I played a voice mail from her soccer coach, jotting down his cell number.  I turned over the paper only to realize it was the back of a card she had made on printer paper. A simple yellow heart on the front, my favorite color.  A picture of us drawn on the inside, me in all yellow, shoes even.  I love you.  You are the best.  I love to hug you.

Last week was a trying week.  This weekend bested it.  It seemed that not much that I did could reign in the collective anxieties about school and change and new things on the horizon.  I just now moved the alarm clock on my desk and found yet another card that my girl had gifted me.  Inside a handful of tiny markered drawings of our favorite foods tumbled out.  I love you.  and her initials on the inside.  On another corner of my desk is a tiny pink ticket to a fashion show, one of many I’ll attend this year.  Each and every day am I glad that I get to be a mother to girls, to this girl.  She is so opposite her sister, so familiar to me and so not like anyone I’ve ever met.

The kids took turns riding their scooter at the park this morning.  I have a twenty-seven second video clip of my girl criss-crossing the basketball court, the ride not the most important part.  No, the best part to her was dismounting with a flourish.  That’s so her.  We went back and forth to the soccer field and I did my best to show her what little I know of the game.  This is going to be so fun.  I’m going to be great at this.  I can’t wait.  It’s all the best part for her.  It’s all sweet and simple.  So when the world is bigger than that, when it’s not so simple, she crumbles.  As they head back to school again after the holiday, I take a deep breath or many.  I’ve rallied her new teacher into her corner and the big worries will wane.

I mark my transitions with televisions series.  I watched Friday Night Lights in one fell swoop as the separation and all the changes it brought set in.  Grey’s Anatomy got me through the next chapter.  How I Met Your Mother came sometime after our move to this apartment.  I’ve put off watching Parenthood until just recently and season three has me in love (and hate) with the characters in that family all over again.  The best part of many shows I enjoy is the music.  Winding down from this week, this weekend brought me to the ‘Tough Love’ episode and a Jack Johnson song I hadn’t heard before.  It’s worth a listen that song.  It’s good stuff.  In a frustrating bit of reality, I share bedroom space with my son, and my quiet typing and the light of the computer screen woke him.  He sauntered over to my lap and his sleepy arms draped my neck, sound asleep. It’s good stuff, the carrying him back to bed, tucking his favorite fleece blanket on him and returning to this space.

I write, as I’ve always written about parenthood as some way to connect, to fit in, to stand out, to stand apart.  There’s little in my life that matters to many, but stories always matter.   At the same time I took up blogging, I also was determined to teach myself to knit.  One endeavor involved much more swearing than the other.  Her older sister was a baby at the time and motherhood was so new and unknown.  How much have I been humbled in the last eight years, how much am I glad I didn’t know back then.  So tonight she’s getting ready for bed and she asks me to choose which scarf she should sleep in.  One choice is the very first thing I ever knit, a ridiculous baby pink and baby blue acrylic (acrylic!) scarf that was also ridiculously baby-sized as if babies wore scarves!  In any case, I told her to go with the silk scarf and that was that.

All around me are reminders of my old life, of what parenting and motherhood used to look like.  I stayed home and blogged and learned to knit and whiled away the hours at playgrounds and kids’ museums.  But I find these notes and it makes me catch my breath.  I find these notes,  I stay up late watching as  many episodes of any show I want,  I sleep alone, I miss my friends and I have this life.  Almost nothing goes as planned and there aren’t enough hours in the day or an easy way to fix what feels broken.

—-

I began the above post two weeks ago.  That probably says a lot about life these days and the way it just flows from one necessary thing to the next.  As I type, my girl is tucked into her brother’s bed across the room.  All tears at bedtime, insisting she needed to sleep with me, accepting sleeping near me as a close second.   Today was a trying day and my unwinding routine beckoned, but I stopped, I hugged, I asked once more what the real thing was behind the tears.  Her best little buddy is moving on Friday, the funny one, the one she writes love notes to as only a six year old can.  Hearts break, even tiny ones.   This being a thing I can’t fix, well I was only slightly less tearful than she.

She has a backup funny boy in her class and many friends.  She has soccer, her new love.  Her new black and pink tball glove just came in the mail and life tumbles on.  It is stories and friendships and love after love that carries me through.  Sleeping now with our kitty curled up at her feet and all is as right with the world as it will be for today.  Some days I find the tidy ending, the words to weave together the story.  Some days in real life end well and others just wind down with sadness and longing and no good answers but the honest ones.

ready or not

They tell you to roll back bedtime to an earlier hour, to shore up routines and get ready, get ready, get ready.  Eight thirty comes and eight thirty goes.  Giggles and laughter and the sounds of a  Ben 10 episode fill the air.  My soon to be first grader comes to me with a hilarious passage in(literally) the 87th book she’s read this summer.  There are fashion drawings strewn about and dishes piled high in the sink.  Hours at the park in the morning, lazy afternoon everything, homemade macaroni and cheese and an after dinner trip to the library.  We stopped at the grocery store for a decadent pile of sundae fixings and settled in as the sun settled down for the night.  The sounds of summer fill our tiny apartment, windows flung open to let the cool and breezy air in.  Good sleeping weather as they say.  My kids know what this means now that we’ve moved a few hours north of our old home.

School begins next week and I’m fully confident that we’ll never be ready.  Being ready is some combination of planning and worry and foresight that I don’t think we’ll ever have, us four.  Driving home tonight, ever so present in this tiny moment, heading home with happy kids, dessert, a pile of last minute school supplies and the promise of yet one more lazy summer evening ahead.  We moved here last summer, we left behind so much and we moved forward into an unknown life.  In these little kid days, as my own, life was marked school year to school year.  Our summer was filled with a whole lot of nothing remarkable and in that was everything meaningful.

Never perfect will our life be and perhaps that is the only thing I am most wholly ready for these days.  We come back to center.  We come back to laughter and favorite things.   Favorite parks and favorite libraries and the same same sameness of our days is all I could hope for a year ago.  Settling in to this less than perfect, settling in as just us four will content me for a while yet.  Change will come, whether it be school for me or love or moving on once more.  Now is never more nor less than I could hope for.  I carry with me so much hurt and so much history and to be able to exhale and leave that aside for much of my day, for most of my days is a win.

Tonight was my victory lap of sorts.  Just one day out from a long stretch of visitation with their dad and they are settled back in as if they’d never left.  In some moments I see that as acceptance on their part.  It is what it is.  It’s not perfect, but life is good on both ends of their journey.  Good being relative.  Journey being necessary.  They are loved and they are home once more and there is this year ahead of so much new and the promise of unexpected everything.  My victory lap is but wending my way around and through this ordinary life as a single mom with three kids.  I have no expectations of life anymore and what it may hold. There aren’t possible dreams or perfect endings ahead.  There are just these moments strung together portending joy.

my birthday boy

I collect little stories, names and moments.  At night in the hospital, there are many moments and much of the night is a sequence of lulls and activity, quiet hours and then attending to necessary tasks.  As part of the nursing staff, a little bit of everything works it’s way into the job description.

On this morning, this Mother’s Day, it was birthday wishes.  While first birthdays are wrapped in brightly colored everything, party dresses and balloons, the last ones aren’t quite the same.  I happened to be charting on this patient and realized that it was indeed his birthday.

My shift nearly over, my thoughts on heading home, on being with my kids later that day to celebrate I went to offer some birthday wishes.  My patient hadn’t had quite so many moments of lucidity through the night, pain and illness more prominent as the hours went by.  He woke and seemed grateful that I was there.

I noted that it was Mother’s Day, that his birthday must have fallen on Mother’s Day quite a few times.  He mouthed that he had indeed been born on Mother’s Day.  In a gesture more memorable than I can convey, he took my hand and kissed it sweetly.

As happens in my area of work, patients are transferred to other units or facilities to continue their care.  He had been discharged before my next shift, but returned some weeks later.  Time and continuity are just not the same in a hospital. I’m not sure that it’s owing simply to working nights or simply just for only having but small spaces of time with your patients.

At some point during the night, a co-worker mentioned to me that “my guy” had passed and I had a chance to help his nurse with his final care.  Bittersweet.  Time is always too short and then somehow you hope to make sense of just what the time we are given can mean.  For me, time and moments and patients like these give me the chance to be present in a way that doesn’t happen the same way in the rest of life.

Every now and then, I will browse obituaries in local newspapers to see if I recognize any familiar names.  The little details therein somehow embellish those small hours I had had with something slightly tangible. Not every patient gets to me. There is, in the end, an anonymity of sorts that comes with the sheer volume of patients, the sameness of care and the necessary lack of continuity.

But there was my birthday boy, no boy at all as you can imagine, but a man revered by colleagues, distinguished in military service and loved dearly by his family. Over time, I will perhaps forget many of the details of this particular patient, of my many other patients, but a bit of reflection gives meaning to the work and leaves me more open to the moments and stories to come.