Christmas morning found me in my pajamas, cooking pancakes and bacon and brewing a pot of coffee while Max and Juan played the boy’s new video game downstairs. It could have been a scene from the movie I used to play over and over again in my mind during the early months of our separation, the movie entitled, “If Only It Could Work Out”. So funny that we ended up here even though we haven’t really ended up anywhere near what I thought “here” would look like. Two separate homes. Custody agreement and child support.
Its been almost 7 years since we separated. Max doesn’t remember what it was like to live with his dad and sometimes he cries that he just wants to know what its like to have both parents in one house. I know that feeling of wishing my family to be whole too–that sense that THIS is not how its supposed to be. That sense that families are SUPPOSED to be together in one house or that parents are SUPPOSED to work it out for the sake of the children or that we are SUPPOSED to be rewarded for hard work with “happy ever after”. I once held onto those old stories too.
And yet, if life has taught me anything these past seven years it is that there is no “supposed to”. There is simply life, marching on, throwing curve balls and opportunities to learn new ways of being. There is no happily ever after but if we can let go of the SUPPOSED TO there are plenty opportunities to be happy right now.
The definition of our family is constantly shifting. Truth be told, every definition is really simply a story, made up, self constructed. We are just three people, two adults and one wise, funny, brilliant and gorgeous child doing our best to make it through life peacefully. Connected to one another in a thousand different ways that matter. (Disconnected in some other important ways too!) Juan and I are both profoundly awake to the fact that whatever we did to one another in marriage and divorce, the best thing we ever did bring this amazing child into this world. We have found a way to let the rest go so we can both bathe in that sweetness. We have found a way to dance a new dance so we can both be with our son and witness his glory on this most magnificent morning.
We have done Christmas lots of ways, but recently have found a way to a shared Christmas morning. Of being together the three of us around a tree because there is no where else any of us wants to be right at that moment than together. Next year it could be different.
I called the boys to the table and served up the breakfast on the Christmas plates that someone had given us a few years after our wedding. Its lovely to have this ritual now, this simple way of celebrating life, despite what it threw us.
Next year may bring new challenges to navigate, new rituals, new dances. Truth it, despite every tradition faithfully executed, its always new. Each of us is always showing up new and that means new dances every time. And so while this Christmas morning was pure sweetness, I simply breathe and let go of any attachment to the fact that this is the way it is supposed to be.
After all there is no way it is supposed to be. There is only just the way that it is. There are ten thousand ways to be a family–joyously, painfully, brokenly, messily, lovingly a family. Every one of them is perfect.
Every glorious one.
This morning I woke up and you were curled up the bottom of my bed, like a puppy, tangled up with the cats. I wonder how much longer this sweetness will last. I don’t care. I will drink it in as long as it lasts.
It is was ten years ago today that you entered this world, ten years ago this morning you lay curled up against my breast. A most marvelous decade, delicious and dreamy and its suddenly passed. It is likely that before the next decade is up you will have moved on–to college or a career, or dreams of your own. It is moments like this that I am thankful for a meditation practice because when I think of the moment that you will be grown, I can lose myself in a kind of future- looking-grief and I don’t want to waste one single moment. And so I breathe, breathe in the sweetness that is you at ten.
This was a big year for you. A year where you faced challenges head on and learned and overcame. You were the new kid on the hockey team. In the beginning you felt lonely but before long you made a world of friends and opened up a world for me too. You survived a bully and made it through the school year with your dignity and your values in tact. You tackled a math class that was two grades ahead and when it got hard I wanted to pull you out but you convinced me to let you stay and you showed me, showed us all you could not only do it–but flourish.
This is the year that someone knocked you out of swimming the backstroke in the A meets. Instead of beating yourself up, you emailed me your plan and asked me to help you. You worked out an extra hour or two each day that week. When you swam it at the B meet, you not only took first place, you not only earned your spot back on the roster, but you had taken three seconds off your time and made backstroke your best stroke. You rose to the occasion.
You rose. You rose so much this year–it was indeed a rising year. You rose to tackle your chores without complaint. You rose to set up the tent and the campsite. You rose in so many ways by facing adversity, sadness and disappointment. And I am so very proud to bear witness to the glorious masterpieces you created from situations that could have stopped you in your tracks.
You and me, we are close in a new way this year my boy. A closeness that comes from facing your challenges together. You are a bell calling me to laughter and courage. You are teaching me every day. I am so happy that you were born. Words cannot describe how deeply I love you, how exponentially more I love you each day.
Ten years ago a whole new universe rose in the sky. You keep rising, like the stars, like the moon, like the sun.
This week, I finally let her go. Turned her over the insurance company that had deemed her totaled even though it was only a fender bender. But she was old and belched smoke, and was scratched and dented and taped up in so many places she wasn’t worth saving. Thats what they said. I knew it was true, even though I resisted it. I had known it for over a year now but I was finally willing to admit it. She had been struggling through the last six months. She always came through but each time her effort made me realize just how unsure each trip was becoming.
In the weeks since she had been declared beyond hope I had shopped and searched for a new old car to replace her. At first overwhelmed I became excited and empowered as I searched for a car good enough to actually replace my lovely old car. I found one at last, a sleek wagon with lots of room for hockey equipment and carpools, fuel efficient and well cared for and so I called my adjuster and told him it was time. And as if to bring that message home, that night her front left tire went flat.
Many people aren’t attached to their cars–even their fancy, pretty, cars that can do all sorts of wonderous things. They trade them in after three years for something even better without a thought. That always struck me as more sane. But sane I am apparently not. For me, the older and more beat up my car became the more I loved her.
My car was simple and by no means anything to talk about but I loved her for what she did for me and what she witnessed. She brought me places safely. She carried me long distances and short distances and kept running, no matter how badly I treated her. I have to admit I kept coming up with excuses to go back out and run my hands along the back seat one more time. Even inanimate objects can love us and she loved us well.
Thanks you old girl for the 13 years you took care of us. Thank you for bringing my baby home safely from the hospital, for rocking him to sleep when he wouldn’t rest. Thank you for all the countless trips to preschool, for providing me shelter when I needed to sob in the driveway and get out my stress and sorrow before coming home to be “together and strong” mom. Thank you for seeming to expand almost magically to carry all our gear camping, for being a home to Max’s smelly hockey bag. Thank you for being a canvass for my bored toddler, for delivering me to work, to the doctor, to my loved ones. Thank you for being there when I needed to rush home, rush to school, rush to Max. You made it possible for me to rush. Thank you for carrying us without consequence through snow storms and ice storms and rain storms and for never dying in the heat–even when you had several non-working sparkplugs.
We will forever be grateful for the small and simple ways you made our lives easy, for the ways you allowed us to solve problems. I will not forget you. Nope. Not ever. I am grateful for the goodness your brought on all four wheels.
On Saturday night we went camping with the hockey team. The hockey team that made our winter feel like a Disney movie–full of warm heartfelt lessons and goodness and hard work paying off. For just under 20 hours we were together again. We parents, working side by side to chop, move, carry, sit, talk, rest, build and the boys to run wild and be free together again. With the whole campgrounds at our disposal I thought for sure they would be running wild all night, visible only as a blur of flashlights and glowsticks. They did some of that–but they also huddled in a tent with a hand cranked radio and told stories and ate stolen marshmallows and chocolate bars and giggled.
On Sunday as we drove home, Max sat in the front seat and sang along with the radio–sang at the top of his lungs with the window open. Until recently, such behavior was reserved for embarrassing mothers. But there was something about being among a whole group of people who understood him that cracked open his heart and let the music flow, gave him the confidence to express his joy. Being among people who see him as he is–who don’t expect him to be anything other –opened a door.
Magic happens when we are valued for simply showing up exactly as we are.
There are so many places where we are expected to show up as someone else–or we are given subtle or not so so subtle messages that it would be so much better if we showed up just a little bit differently. Whether we are teased gently or sternly corrected childhood– adulthood–is full of moments where the people who love us the most are telling us to be someone else: stronger, smarter, cleaner, kinder, faster, more popular, more cool, less whiny, more thoughtful. The list goes on and on. There are no shortage of those who would like to improve us, challenge us to grow into our potential. Its important to be pushed. But its also so important to simply just be–and be loved.
One particularly tough night this spring, Max broke down telling me that at school he feels he needs to change to be liked, that he is valued because of who people think he is–not who he is. Or worse still they like parts of him (his athleticism for instance) but other parts (his sensitivity) need to be checked at the door. We all remember that feeling I am sure–that sinking feeling that we are not OK just how we are. Its exhausting and at times debilitating to wonder what will happen, “when they find out”. Worse still is to hold a private shame around the part of us that doesn’t fit their expectations: Our sensitivity, our sexuality, our vulnerability, our desire to sing off key, our struggles.
And that is why moments like our 20 hours in the woods are so important–when we go among our tribe, when we just show up–messy and imperfect and completely brilliantly beautiful and are just loved in a no-nonsense, no big deal kind of way. No one asks you to change as a price of admission. It can unlock something profound and gives us what we need to grow on our own, exactly in the direction we were meant to go. To become someone who sings at the top of our lungs with the windows rolled down with no worries what the world thinks.
There are seasons in our life where we are gifted with these moments–like our hockey season–the moments from which we are given space to blossom into our best selves. Their appearance feels random and lucky.
But I am learning that if I want to keep growing I need to create these moments myself. Sink deeply into the friendships that allow me to show up as I am. Because its only in their company that I will have the confidence, space and courage to transform and grow as I am meant to. With those friends and cousins, magic never fails to happen in my heart.
The night Max felt so sad, we made a list of the friends with whom he feels completely safe and pledged to make the summer about those kids. He is a lucky boy. Despite his struggles at his school, he has a long list in our neighborhood and among his team. With the summer upon us he can sink into the company of his tribe and grow strong.
The fireflies are just showing up, the summer just being born. The summer of tribe has just begun.
Sometimes in the most unlikely of places, you will find a tiny treasure that represents a world of potential. Look carefully! Pay attention! It is not always in plain sight. But there right under your nose you will find something that holds promise of sweetness and goodness. Something that promises that this sweetness, this goodness, it is yours for the taking.
Maybe you have been hunting for a long long time. Maybe you just stumbled upon it. Maybe the bright colors caught your eye and made you stop and look again.
You hold it in your hand, turn it over, can’t believe your luck. Even before you open it, even before you you know that its biggest promise is that the cold dark days have passed–at least for now. The sun is shining again and there is work to be done!
Happy (belated) Easter.
Tuesday nights are rink nights. After hockey practice I untie Max’s skates and while he is undressing get in line at the grill at the rink to order our dinner. Its always the same–a piece of pizza and a red gatorade for him, chicken and fries and a small coke for me. And his friend D. is always right behind me with a $20 dollar bill and his order: two hot dogs, a coke and a venti skim cappuccino for his dad. He leaves a nice tip for the grill guys. I like that about this kid. I always let him cut me in line because I like that so much.
One by one the 9 and 10 year old boys piling in to the booth next time mine where I sit with my computer. Dads are allowed to hover nearby but this mom needs to stay at a bit of a distance at least one booth away. This is male territory. They laugh and tell stories and quote movies and run around turning the grill into a basketball arena. No one seems to care as these cubs tumble about. Everyone seems to acknowledge that these young men are the princes here. And when their dinner is finished they each dig for pocket change and head for the rink’s arcade.
It brings such heady joy, this ritual of ours. The air is thick with silly boy joy. I can’t help but smile, reveling in the simple sweetness even as I hang back–a witness. I bring my camera because I want to capture its sweetness, so that I can remember that this is our life. Our life is a string of moments like these–moments of connection and friendship and learning and laughter.
Our life is also tears in the locker room and homework not yet done. Its it chores and messy cars and spilled milk and a frantic desperate gymnastics to arrive at school and work on time. It is forgotten lunches and major disappointments and sick days when I have to do the conference call anyway and he thinks that means that I don’t want him with me at work. But it is a steady stream of nights like this when love is a piece of pizza and a handful of quarters and your buddies all around.
Hockey is now over. I started to write this post sometime in January I think when it felt as though that rhythm of our life would never end, when I was awakening to the joy that that slog to the rink and the late nights and early mornings offered. But it has ended. All things shift and so we are spending our Tuesdays doing homework and setting up tents and getting the laundry done. We spend our weekends cleaning up the house and the yard, getting ready for baseball and swimming, plotting sleepovers and catching up with our our life locally.
I wanted to hold onto the sweetness I discovered this winter so dearly. I spent many tortured minutes second guessing my decision not to put Max in spring league this year. I knew our schedule would not abide it but I wanted so badly to not let it go.
And that is precisely why I held firm. My resistance to letting the season shift and change is why I decided we wouldn’t. I needed to practice letting things evolve naturally. I knew that holding on so tightly would not serve. Pushing ourselves to keep it going–just to keep it going felt wrong and counter to the easy way that hockey unfolded for us this year. As hard as it was to let go of something beautiful I know I needed to just to give space for more sweetness to be born. I want to teach Max how goodness comes into our life and how we can’t grasp at it like sand but instead need to let it go, transform, develop–that goodness is abundant and will flow differently, never stopping but always changing, always changing.
Not going to the rink means I need to call those families that I loved and miss seeing and show up at their house to eat spicy red kidney beans and brown rice. It means plotting sleep overs and reunions at stick n pucks. It means sending pictures in the mail and yes it means piling into the car and heading to the rink with the boys to watch the dads’ game and to cheer loudly for the men who had become so dear. We can do that now that we have the time. Creating the open space opens doors to new goodness.
Tuesday night we had no hockey practice. With a championship won and spring upon us, the long nights and early mornings at the rink have come to a pause. We have left the hockey season behind.
Once upon a time, there was a boy who didn’t know how to stay on-sides and who was tentative on the ice. Now there is a hockey player who is aggressive but does not cross the blue line without the puck, who passes with precision. In between was a coach who praised and encouraged and sat and taught and quietly smiled when he succeeded, who would tap him on his helmet when he got off the ice.
I opened the fridge at dinner time and realized there was nothing there. I had long since stopped cooking on Tuesday. For the last five or months we had rushed right from school to the rink, done homework at a table in the diner and after practice, ate our dinner with the team at the tiny diner. The boys would take over the booths, then dash to spend allowances at the arcade or shoot neon bouncey balls around with their sticks while we adults lingered at the counter. I give up and order pizza. I will have to shop for dinner tomorrow.
Once upon a time was a boy, all alone, who stepped onto an ice sheet full of strangers with head bowed, wondering if he would be accepted. Now there is a hockey player, who bursts through the locker room door with his head held high. In between was a kid with a hot dog in one hand, a goalie stick tucked precariously under his other, who pushed his way into a booth with the new kid Max. In between was another kid who knelt at his side when he was down, another who taught him to play the games at the arcade, the boy who always told him something positive about his play and one who told him that his mother was “the source of his greatest strength”.
On my coffee table is a stack of CDs with photos I have taken, labeled for each boy who face appears on the disc. I am shipping copies of my photos off to all the parents this week. Each of these boys tugs at my heart in different ways–it might be his soulful wisdom, his bouyant energy, his fierce loyalty, his joyfulness, his drive, but each boy carried a gift with him into the locker room, a gift I watched blossom with awe. I know each of their numbers by heart and have called their names over and over again out loud. Their parents too stick with me, and I think of them throughout the day, wondering when the adoption they have been dreaming about will come through, and praying that they stay safe while they fight that big fire, wondering if they will stay warm on this cold cold day while they work outside. Thinking about the miracles of family life that unfold in each home each day.
Once upon a time was a woman, who felt so small in this huge rink with its activity and the crush of strangers, who felt shy in the tiny locker room, tripping over other people’s bags. Now there is a hockey mom who walks into the rink with open arms and ready to wrap around someone in a hug, who holds her breath when any child has fallen, who tells the boys their stats while she tells them to pick up their clothes. In between were skates to be tied, equipment to be helped into, quarters to be loaned, juice boxes to be passed, penalty boxes to be guarded, scoresheets to be filled out, clocks to be run and photos to be taken. Thousands of tiny inconsequential moments that strung together, changed everything.
The championship trophy sits on our mantel, a central place of honor. Hockey was the center of our schedule for so many months, a pulse that pushed us through the darkest days of winter, so it seems only fitting. The golden trophy reminds us of what 15 boys can do when they learn how to work together, and how interconnected they all are but it also reminds us that this season was once magical but is now passed, the battle won, the trophy gained.
After a weekend of togetherness and parties, it was at last time to leave on Sunday, without any firm plans of when we would see each other again. No games on the schedule, no practices to make, the last party was over. Max stepped onto the driveway of his coach’s house and in the safety of the darkness collapsed against me and started to sob, saddened that this wonderous journey had come to its end. I held him, practically carrying his big boy body to the car, biting back my own tears for his sake. “I know baby…I know.” It was all I can say, it is all I can say.
A wise teacher once told me that nothing is ever gained or lost, it is only transformed. As I manage my own grief over the loss of such a sweet adventure, I repeat this wisdom over and over. Not lost, just transformed. Not lost, just transformed. Truth is it has always been transforming, always changing. The beginnings and endings are sometimes clearly marked with ceremonies and trophies and parties, but often they are blurred and more subtle. We have all been transformed all season by love: a love of hockey, of our children, of coffee at 6:30 am, of quiet time with our kids in the car, of pizza and hot dogs and pancakes, of arcade games and stories, and and lastly of each other. That was the magic we all felt. That transformative, alchemical love.
As winter shifted into spring, the spring will give way again to a hot summer and the pool and grills. We will run around in sunshine instead of huddling in the cold rink. Some will fade away, others will join.
And we will not be lost, not at all, just transformed. Over and over again.
Sometimes it is easy to forget who is underneath these pads. Once dressed, they emerge from the locker room with a swagger that suggests gladiators, warriors heading off to battle. But then, the game over, sweaty and stripped down, their sweetness emerges again, those cheeks, that shy gait, the silly jokes, the awkward way they talk about girls.
They are standing on a bridge between boyhood and manhood. They try on toughness along with their pads and then leave it in the locker room, trading it for bubble gum and hockey cards and bright neon green bouncy balls. Hockey gives them a space where they can walk easily between these worlds, at once little boy and tough man, protector.
Max’s hockey team, The Ice Warriors, has had an amazing season which has taught both of us a tremendous amount and offered us many gifts. On Saturday they will be playing in the championship game against a team that has become their arch -rivals: the Penguins to their Capitals, the Yankees to their Redsox, the Ravens to their Steelers, the Jets to their Patriots, the Kiwis to their Kangaroos…you get the point. Calling on all Soul Sisters to send positive energy our way…
We had spent the day at the beach–a crazy day with waves so hard they could dislocate your shoulder if they threw you just right. We spent the day on an endless expanse of white flying kites and looking for wild horses. We wanted to go home but we were hungry and the boardwalk was close by. The sparkling arcade lights which started to twinkle as the long day gave in to night captivated this boy and made me hold on far longer than I ever expected to.
When I took these photos I was so fully aware that Max had turned a corner his life. I saw he was no longer the baby I wished him to be. The changes of the last year felt palpable and sudden. On the cusp of turning nine he was fully a big kid now, no longer the little babe I had once rocked. Be-freckled and strong in limb. A little unsure. A bit tentative and awkward. Starting to grapple with the what it means to make the world his own.
I have one of these cool journals. A ten year journal where you have just 4 lines to capture the essence of the day. It is laid out so that on one page one can see what happened on the same day over a period of ten years. February 19, 2009…February 19, 2010…February 19, 2011. After writing the days news yesterday, I looked back over the last three years and sighed. “Nothing’s changed,” I shrugged. Reports of ice time and Caps games and playdates. Same problems, same sadnesses, same simple pleasures that stitched together a day. I grumpily closed my journal and turned over to turn out the light, murmuring about the lack of movement in our simple little life.
But the simple fact is everything changes. All the time. The sameness is just an illusion, a cheap trick. But all it takes is a shimmering ray of sunlight to break the trance.
In the last 3 months, this boy has grown an inch. He’s made friends this year, who don’t live so close to home, on the other side of the county. The first night that he is over there, it is as though he is half a world away. These changes snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking, slowly bit by bit, the way the baby fat disappeared leaving a lean young man at the dinner table doing his homework. Subtle.
Someone I love who was very sick got well, and another person I love who was well got very sick. These things happen, like that, a bomb dropped, a miracle. Sudden.
Jobs change. Addresses change. Adventures arise when we least expect them. People leave. Others come. Some stick around for now. And every now and then we are struck with a remarkable moment of pure laughter and love.
Pay attention to this moment, girl, for all that it brought, tinged with joy or sorrow or maybe both, all it brought is about to slip away. You can try and hold onto it but it will only make you cry when it pulls away from your desperate grasp. Because it will. Are you going to waste this moment here trying to hold onto something that has gone? This is the way we miss our life. We can miss it without even noticing that we are missing it. We can miss it by grieving that we missed it.
A wise teacher once told me that letting go of every breath is the most basic act of faith. The exhalation does not come with a guarantee in writing that if we let go of this air there will be enough to breathe next time and yet we breathe. We are already so practiced in the act of faith. We have been faithful since birth, since the first time we breathed out without knowing if we would ever fill our lungs again.
This is a good thing, because I need that sort of faith to loosen my grasp on the moment and to let it go without knowing what comes next, without worry, without fear, without expectations. All those things get in the way of paying attention. Quick sink in and let it wash over you and bathe it with its warm warm light before it goes again with the exhalation, whoosh…