I was left in my “how did it get this bad?” disaster of a home. Clutter is the number one no-no if you are trying to practice feng shui or even if you are just trying to live a sane and normal life. I had two hours to myself, nothing pressing so I told myself I would do nothing else until I had made some headway.
Despite my devotion to feng shui, clutter continues to be the constant struggle for me. Its a relentless uphill battle, all this stuff that piles up in our home. It sucks my energy and stresses me out. I get on top of it only to slip and slide back down again.
There are so many reasons, so many excuses for why and how it happens. I am a single mom who works at a full-time job. I have a boy who frequently impersonates a hurricane. We have a small(ish) house. There are a lot (too many) toys. There are not enough hours in the day. I am not a naturally organized person.
Back in 2005, when I was in the midst of my feng shui rescue mission, I read everything I could get my hands on about getting rid of clutter. Perhaps, I thought, if I just studied it enough, I would know exactly how to get a handle on this, the house would just magically clean itself, a fairy godmother would come in and show me the way. Needless to say that never happened, but I do remember a Body and Soul magazine article I read that has stuck with me.
It said something along these lines. When you are faced with persistent clutter, don’t just rush to clear it but rather stop and really look at it. Then ask yourself, “What is my clutter trying to tell me? What is it telling me about my life? About lessons I need to learn? About things I need to pay attention to? About what’s going on with me?” The idea was that persistent clutter was really just a symptom of being stuck in another way in your life and by treating clutter as a teacher we could correct the real problem.
It was a fascinating exercise. Today, overwhelmed by the mess all around and sick of the constant batte I decided to repeat it. Here is what my clutter said when I actually decided to listen:
–I am having a hard time finishing things. Lately I am feeling a bit restless and am easily distracted. I get 90% of the way through a project then get up for just a moment–only to be sidelined for weeks on end. I assume I will wander back after I (get a drink, make this phone call, deal with the laundry, kiss the hurt) but somehow the project seems much less interesting once I have moved on. However, I believe with all my heart and soul that if I just leave all my tools out (whether its a journal, knitting needles and yarn, bills, screw driver, sewing kit) I will be motivated to come back and finish, any minute now, but instead I am just bored.
–When I am feeling guilty about my inability to get back out there and finish a project I start something new which I am certain will hold my attention longer and make me feel better. Its a cyclical process as I feel guilty I create more and more activity.
–I have become rather loosey-goosey and inconsistent. I am not enforcing rules around where toys go (or for that matter shoes and wine glasses) and am not insisting on regular pick-ups even though I know we both need these rules. I am avoiding the struggles with my son (and my own inner child) because I just don’t have the energy for the effort.
–I am moving way too fast and not alloting the proper amount of time for me to complete certain tasks. Groceries aren’t getting completely put away, dishes aren’t entirely washed, folded laundry not being put away because I am not giving myself enough time.
What’s interesting to me is that this is so different from what my clutter told me back in 2005. Back then I was drowning in the abundance of things–things I couldn’t let go of and things I bought to fill the void that Juan had left. I was clinging to things as a way to resist the loss of my marriage and my partner, hording new things to avoid feeling empty. I remember that day back in the spring of 2005 when I realized what was so obviously going on in my weary heart. It was a moment of earth shattering clarity. It enabled to me to move forward
I suppose this is another one of these moments but with new lessons, new challenges for growth.
Thank you messy house for showing me what I needed to see today: That I need to slow down and protect that which is sacred. I need to restore my energy and my will to protect my own boundaries. Thank you for giving me this new found awareness of a most uncomfortable restlessness, a searching for something, a yearning for newness. I don’t know what is behind it yet, but it’s worth peeking underneath it to see. To be honest, tonight as I sit in my straightened up home I am not entirely sure exactly how to tackle all of this but I believe a little compassion and gentleness is probably a good start.
Tonight is Boys Night at our house.
Alex, Julian and Max have been buddies since infanthood, sharing a babysitter, toys and their food. They fight and love each other fiercely. Like brothers. When Alex went off to Kindergarten, Max and Julian held hands and met him at the bus each day. When Julian joined Alex at the Spanish-immersion elementary school, Max waited patiently for that yellow bus to pull up for an hour of bliss each afternoon.
But now that school is out for the summer, they luxuriate in long sleepy days together under the watchful eye of their Nana. Building, running, climbing, hour after long hour wrapped up in imaginary play. Good hard physical boy play. Rolling on the ground, pretend fighting, all poopy jokes and pretend farts. And giggling. There is always lots of non-stop giggling. In the evenings it is hard to pull them apart.
So every now and again we don’t. They will sleepover at one house or another. But our house has a special mystique–There are no big sisters here. Boys rule at our house. The will spend all night screeching with laughter, building blanket forts, and launching pillows at the mom at the computer and no one will roll their eyes or beg “MOM…make them stop!”.
Tonight they wait at the door for me to arrive home from work like puppies, wagging their tails and begging for pizza. Please please PLEASE can we order pizza AND have a movie?!?. I pick up the phone and call for delivery. Who can resist making such dreams come true?
As I write this they tumble through the dining room at full speed. Strip off their clothes and pull on pajamas, and then explode back downstairs to finish the movie, pure joy and silliness. I want to bottle their laughter.
And tonight, when the movie is done they will curl up like the puppies that they are, together in each others arms in a big pile in the living room. Sweet sweet boys.
Some days its not all bliss with these three. There are hurt feelings, hurt limbs. But usually compassion rules the day. When one of them gets hurt, the other two run for ice. When there is only one icecream sandwich left, Max and Alex let Julian have it because “We know he loves them SO MUCH.”
I pray that they will always have each other these friends who knew each other before the Boy Code reared its ugly head, before society tried to convince them that they shouldn’t cry in public, or express affection for one another. I pray that when the storms of adolescence rock their world that they will remember the security they felt on summer days falling down laughing and summer evenings falling into each others arms.
On Sunday I woke up at 6 am to paint my front door. It was glorious to be up so early on a Sunday–alone all alone–not a soul in the neighborhood was stirring. The air was still cool, the light still soft. A gentle breeze made music in the trees. I took out my paint brush and turned to the big pine door that I had sealed last month, then primed last weekend. I opened the can of rich semi-gloss black paint and began to lay down three coats with slow gentle strokes.
There is something about being up so early on a brilliant sunny Sunday morning that makes even the most mundane household chore a holy act. But this particular chore felt for me like a perfect prayer of thanksgiving, a milestone, a turning point.
Two and a half years ago, when Juan moved, out the house felt claustrophobic, still and heavy. The sadness and tension of the last year still hung thick in the air. I could barely breathe. Once upon a time I had read something about feng shui, an ancient Chinese method of improving the energy in a home. I was desperate enough for change to give it a try.
That is when the universe delivered my now dear friend Pat Lee to my door. And when she got to my door she practically fell down in horror. My door was a problem-and it was just the beginning. The house was a feng shui disaster area–cluttered and chaotic,–elements going in all the wrong directions. A perfect reflection of my life at the time.
Pat gave me a long list of things to-do, baby steps I could take to bring harmony to the house. She came by often and helped me out. I loved feng shui because unlike my personal situation which left me feeling helpless and paralyzed, feng shui offered simple solutions, things I could do. I had no idea how to mend my broken heart but I did know how to change the lightbulbs, to move the furniture, to elimate clutter, to light a candle. Each night when I woke at 1:30 am unable to sleep, mournful and sad, I got up and turned that energy into creating harmony in the house instead of weeping in a heap on the couch. Bit by bit the house became cheerier and felt lighter. Max and I motivated by the progress grew a bit lighter too. But try as I might, there was one task on Pat’s list that I could not quite tackle–that damned front door.
For practioners of feng shui, the front door is one of the most important elements of a house. It is an important gateway where the chi enters the heart of the home. And my front door–well it was a feng shui nightmare. The wood was split, the paint faded and cracked and dirty. The trim around the door was peeling. The storm door was broken in three places, creaked and was missing its screen. Juan still had the key to the door. Fixing it all just seemed too complicated, too expensive, too overwhelming. It was too difflicult a task for a single mom just trying to get her sea legs.
But if I am also completely honest I will admit that that the door felt right to me, awful as it was. My front door looked like I felt. A mirror, a metaphor for my broken heart–a little worse for wear. It served as a little warning to all those who visit–“Enter gently. A storm has passed through here”.
But that was two years ago. As 2006 turned to 2007, I looked around and felt incredibly blessed. Our life was populated by wonderful new friends, I was beginning to connect with creative women. A deep spiritual and creative force inside was beginning to emerge. I started to trust myself in a way I never had. I woke up one morning and realized the door no longer matched the home. It was time to tackle the door.
Fixing my door, like fixing a heart is indeed not a linear process. Unlike the simple feng shui fixes of 2005 it couldn’t be completed in one or even two sittings. There were several aborted trips to various retailers. Seemingly endless indecision about what kind of door (wood, fiberglass?). Appointments with installers that were cancelled for snow days, because the right weather stripping hadn’t arrived. Going back to the beginning all over again. I was convinced it was my destiny to be stuck with my old front door. It was 8, maybe 10 full weeks after my decision to fix it when the door itself was replaced. A lovely perfect simple six paneled pine door. At last.
Excited by the progress I ran to the store to buy paint. I didn’t know anything about protecting wooden doors. Looking at all the varieties on the shelf I wondered what type of paint do I buy? I skipped up to the counter and asked the kindest looking man for advice. He told me to buy Thompson’s Water Seal, seal the door, wait 4 weeks and then buy oil paint which they didn’t sell there.
Downhearted and disappointed I slunked away, dutifully carrying the sealer. The directions on the sealer told me I would be stalled again–I needed 48 hours of warm dry weather to successfully complete the task. March turned to April. The weather and my schedule could not coordinate. Weekends full of cold wet rains cursed me. Grumpiness settled in. A few nights I woke up dreaming of my old life with Juan and sat on the couch in a heap weeping. My door and my heart were stuck in process.
My frustrated eye turned to the peeling trim around my door. It looked even more offensive now that it framed a precious new (though naked) door. I considered scraping and powerwashing it myself. I agonized over when to do it. I made long to do lists that were supposed to get me moving but only made the task feel insurmountable. It pulled on me each time I brought the groceries through the door. In a fit of desperation one Sunday in late April, I just picked up the phone and called a reliable handyman. He was out that afternoon to give me a quote. The next day my trim was painted and fresh. Nothing like asking for help…
Then May offered the gift of a sunny afternoon. Max was on a playdate–I had nothing to do. I pulled out a rag and I sealed the door. It took 20 minutes. All that waiting for 20 minutes of work. I breathed a sigh of relief and then felt a sudden rush of frustration. One more month of waiting.
I went to Ireland. I came home. Max finished school. Before I knew it, more than one month had passed. Two weekends ago I sauntered to the paint store where they sold the supplies I needed. Purchased a can of oil primer. A can of rich black paint, a color Pat and I selected after consulting the compass. Perfect for an east facing door. I primed the door a week ago Sunday. Let it rest for a week and then woke up at 6 am.
I wish I could express the joy and exhilaration I felt looking at my new smart door, all shiny and black. Suddenly all the things in my life that seemed so difficut, so impossible seemed not only possible but probable. I put together my new people-powered push lawn mower and mowed my lawn for the first time in two years. I began to install a new post for my mailbox. I spontaneously invited the neighbors over for salmon and threw my first dinner party in over a year. I dreamed of falling in love again.
And Sunday evening as each family arrived, carrying ice, brownies, chocolate and the makings of mojitos they passed through a door, not yet perfect but more together than the day before, bright and hopeful offering a promise of better days to come. Instead of a issuing its warning, my door told the guests that we who lived there were mending, progress was being made. Sure I still need to remove the awful storm door, and install this guardian I have been coveting since January. There is still work to do on the entrance and then the rest of my house: the lawn that looks like the setting for a Stephen King novel, the garage that needs to be emptied. As my father says of home ownership, “It never ends”. Thats OK.
Its like that with hearts too.
everyone I know read this post by Jen Lemen, picked something on it and did it by Saturday next. I think the world would shift in small but amazing ways…I double dog dare ya…
I have always been blessed with nightimes full of lush rich dreams. For as long as I can remember I have had an imaginary world that I visit on many a night, a magnificent and magical place as familiar to me as my own home town, populated by friends from the real world as well as reoccuring characters I meet only at night. The colors in this world glisten, pop and shine. In fact the streets and storefronts often shimmer as though a rainstorm had just passed and the sun (or moon) is now breaking through. The narratives in these dreams are complex and long. While not always pleasant, and frequently trippy and surreal, my dreamworld is the place I go to listen to my heart and restore my soul.
But lately, my dreams have more resembled grainy, badly lit B-movies. I have dreamt in shades of gray and mud. The scenes are short and clipped–stark. The dialogue is bad. I have frequently awakened and wished not to dream again.
And this has made me sad. So very sad and desperate that this weekend I ordered Clarissa
audio CD called Bedtime Stories. The subtitle “a unique guided relaxation program for falling asleep and entering the world of dreams seemed like “just the ticket” and I figured it anyone’s voice would carry me back to my beloved world, the lovely Pinkola Estes would.
It arrived on my doorstep last night and after I put Max to sleep I too climbed into bed and popped it in to my trusty CD player. To be honest I can’t give a complete and honest review–I was asleep a good 35 minutes into it but I am certain that it is as precious as diamonds.
For last night for the first time in weeks, I had the most amazing technicolor dream. It went like this:
I am supposed to go out to dinner with a long-time crush–a once upon a time guy who always made my heart just go a pitter patter. Its not a date or anything but I want it to go well so he will notice me, think I am special. Unfortunately as I am getting ready everything starts to go wrong. The beautiful outfit that I put on is ruined. I must run back and change. Each time I dress myself in less chic and flattering clothes, each time they are ruined and I am forced to try and put something together. He arrives and we attempt (for what seems like painfully long hours) to get to dinner but we cannot get there. Extreme personally embarrasing incident after incident keeps us from getting to the perfect restaurant–the one that serves the food I know he will love. I am feeling frustrated and a failure. And then as I teeter on the verge of giving up and going home this long-time Crush reaches out and kisses me–passionately. The rest of the dream is for me alone…
I wish I could say that I woke up certain that my long-time crush would walk into my life and sweep me off my feet, but the reality is I did not. I know that my dreams are not premonitions or foretellings. They are not clarivoyant. The Medium I am not. No, my dreams at best are whispered messages from my inner soul to myself. And last night this is what she said:
No matter how much it all falls apart, you are wrapped in an intimate and passionate embrace, held gently by something greater. No matter what you do, what you look like, how you unravel and mess up, you are loved–deeply in the way you want to be loved.
This is the most hopeful dream I have had in a long time. I am going to go put that CD on again.
Blessings to you all this night.
And sweet, sweet dreams.
It is Day 1 of our campaign to get the Racoon Family who moved into our chimney to move on to different living quarters. They have lived here since at least the end of April. It was then that I heard the squeaking of the newborn babies in the morning. To be honest at the time I didn’t even think that they were racoons–birds or bats perhaps. I was happy that they had chosen my chimney and happy to share my space with creatures who would help us by eating the bugs and mosquitos in the swamp that is our yard.
As the babies grew it became apparent that they weren’t little flying creatures. When the day turned dusky an enormous clatter arose as the family woke up. It sounded as though a herd of elephants had taken residence in my house. All night big racoons returned home to bring food to the babes and the little ones cried for their mama. In the early morning as I sleepily dragged myself out of bed and sat down to write my morning journal pages I could hear the drama of the racoon’s bedtime rituals. I would smile in solidarity.
I have to admit I have enjoyed their visit, even though everyone I know has told me I MUST get rid of them. For one, I have enjoyed the company of the litte babies on many a long lonely night. Their little voices were a comfort to me in the quiet. Second, I liked the idea that my little home could provide shelter to so many–That we could share our little space on earth with other creatures. I knew that flu was solidly closed and I know from winter evenings how damn hard it is to open it so I am not worried that they will get in and eat us at night. As a mama myself I could identify with the mother’s racoon’s desire to keep her babies somewhere safe and dry, warm in the chilly spring evenings, cool in the heat of the summer day.
But a call to the wild life rescue organization assured me that they do carry so many other viruses and diseases–its really not a great idea to have them here. And just a few days ago the summer breeze brought just a whiff of barnyard down from the chimney. This morning as Max and I sat down on the couch to read we had to hold our nose. The deep musky organic and disgusting smell of racoon poo was taking over my living room. Time for the campaign to begin.
From my call to the wildlife rescue organization I learned some things. For one, because of Maryland law around rabies specter species, any adult racoon that is trapped must be euthanized. The babies could be moved to a shelter and released into the wild if there were folks licensed to raise them but there were currently no spaces left in any of the Maryland shelters so they too would be euthanized. Therefor unless Max and I wanted to end this visit by killing our smelly little friends we must do this ourselves. We must convince these house guests that they would be so much happier somewhere else.
Now we are no fools We were warned not to get close enough to them for them to scratch or bite and I frankly have no desire to move them myself. So we must encourage them to leave by being bad hosts. We are going against our welcoming nature and trying to be as obnoxious as possible. Doing this without losing friends in the neighborhood will be a real delicate balancing act.
I moved the stereo over to the fireplace and all morning have been blasting music at a volume so loud that the music sounds tinny and horrible. I briefly wondered what type of music would be most offensive to the mother racoon. I considered for a few minutes putting Jimmy Buffett”s “(Why Don’t We) Get Drunk and Screw” on a continuous loop but realized that this would provoke questions from my little one that I wasn’t ready to answer at worst and at best would lead to Max singing the song in the grocery store, on the playground and at friend’s homes at the top of his lungs. So instead we have blasted Benny More, Jimmy Buffet (minus THAT song), and soon I will switch to Broadway musicals. My neighbors must love me. Five hours and running and the racoons haven’t even stirred.
While it was fun to blast music for the first hour, there was much dancing and being silly, but the last few have been a bit more annoying. My ears are ringing. I took advantage of the beautiful weather and painted the front door (one of the many tasks on my long to-do list) but now have realized that I must keep the door open for 12 hours tying me to the house. The house that smells like a barnyard and sounds like a disco. Max has wandered off to a neighbors house. The little traitor.
Tomorrow if there is still a racoon family in my house we will have to up the ante. I will put a rag soaked with pinesol in the fireplace. I will buy a bright light and shine it down the chimney. And if none of these tasks work I will continue to invent new ways to be obnoxious. If we get really desperate we can pour urine down the chimney and then move to a hotel for about a week while the smell clears out of the house. Lets hope we don’t need to get that desperate. But I can’t even bear the thought of calling in a trapper. I am not ready to teach my son that lesson. Not yet.
On Wednesday night, I went out to dinner with my boss and some other colleagues at Morton’s steak house. Thats the place where they don’t give you a menu, they just wheel in a cart loaded up with steaks as big as your head. While it oozed testosterone and had the air of backroom deals and macho power lunches (not really my kind of place), I was so happy to be there that I practically glowed every single second. I didn’t even mind that my car got locked into the office garage and that I had to take a $25 dollar taxi ride home. I got to have wine and chocolate cake for dessert.
There are many days that I regret having to work outside the home. On a beautiful summer morning, when many friends are gearing up to take the kids to the pool, I grouchily struggle into hose and heels and head into the office. In the evenings, it can be stressful to mentally transition from the “shark-eat-shark”-ish Washington job to the gentler land of playmobil, playdates and parks. Most days I really struggle to go from patient, loving and infinitely curious to efficient and curt, and back again in the space of 10 hours. I long to live in just one world where it would be so much simpler. And since I know I couldn’t live without my Maxidoodle, I long to be a work-at-home Mom.
But tonight I relish having my foot squarely planted in two worlds.
For one, there are all those cliches that are actually true about the advantages of working outside the home: You get to stretch your mind, have 8 hours of grown-up time, wear pretty clothes without vomit on them. After a long days work at the office I can often measure progress concretely: a polished memo, a well-run meeting, a decision that’s been made. After a long day’s work at home the results are less concrete: the house is just as messy (even though I spent all day picking up), the boy is just as messy (despite 2 baths), and all the love and attention I have poured out leaving me drained is still sinking into his little heart with few visible side effects. The victories at home are smaller and can be missed if you blink. No communications expert will broadcast to the world “Max used kind words 8 out of 10 times today. Mom making progress on teaching compassion” the way my team’s successes might be touted by press release.
But I am not writing all of this to convince anyone that it’s good to be a mom who works outside the house. That’s not my point. Not at all. In fact, I love being with my son and in our home so fiercely I would give it all up without looking back if only I could. But tonight as I think about the steak I had at Morton’s, I find myself thinking that sometimes the universe puts me exactly where I need to be to learn exactly what I need to know. And lately thats been in this crazy duality called “working mom”.
Me, I have been known to be a “grass-is always-greener” girl. Its not unusual for me to realize I have spent whole minutes, hours, even days yearning to be somewhere different than where I am. This situation I am in–this living in two worlds–can bring out the best of that “grass is greener” thinking. As I rush out the door on a sunny morning–I wistfully watch the stay at home mom load her kids in the car and remember the joy of splashing in the pool or running in the park with Max. However, staying home from work with my little guy, picking up dirty socks for the fifth time in 3 hours, I find myself thinking about being at the top of my DC game, productive and making stuff happen.
Sometimes when I notice that I am doing this I get really really mad at myself and this silly way I torture myself. My inner critic joins in the fun. “What’s wrong with you woman? Can’t you be satifsfied?” If I am lucky I remind myself to breathe.
But lately, sometimes, with a little bit of grace something else may happen. I ignore my inner critic and simply make a note to self. On a lovely summer workday not that long ago, as I dragged the briefcase to the car I found myself wistfuly dreaming of the look of pure joy on my son’s face when I tell him we are pool bound. Instead of indulging in the drama of “Oh why can’t I be doing that? Its not fair!” and then “What’s wrong with you? Many women would kill for your job” that morning I simply smiled and filed it away. Later that week when I was up to my ears in dirty dishes and dreaming of being fabulous in a meeting I did the same thing. Notice. Sigh. File.
I have to say this has been much more pleasant than beating myself up. But its not the end of the story. For the universe had a few tricks up her sleeve these days. Sometimes she mixed up my files.
It went something like this. I am telling Max to put on his shoes for the 29th time. With great tension in my voice I say “If you want to get to the pool before it closes we need to go NOW”. I instinctively reach for the file–the one that tells me I would rather be at work being smart,well-dressed and listened to. But instead, the picture I take out is the one I filed a few mornings before–the one that reminds me how much I want to be in this spot. How fabulous it is to take Max swimming. How much joy it gives the both of us. How there is no other place I want to be in the world than exactly where I am. The reminder I never would have filed unless I had to go to work. I sigh…the edge falls out of my voice and I relax into the moment.
And then there I am on Wednesday night, a little bit grouchy that I am missing my baby’s bedtime to go to a stuffy restaurant with a bunch of men. I go to pull out the yearning for my boy’s sweet smell but again I grab the wrong file. I pull out the one I filed at the kid-friendly restaurant where I said “Sit down and eat” for the 14th time. The one where I told myself how much I wish I could be at a grown-up restaurant with people who ask me any question but “Can I please please please have soda?”. And then something shifted. Suddenly there was nowhere else I wanted to be than Mortons. Yes, there I was, enjoying every single bite, laughing at the guy I didn’t know was funny, basking in the fun of the work dinner at the steak place with the guys. Its a miracle of sorts. A funny sweet joke. A knock me over with a feather life lesson.
It seems that all the while that I had been whining about my two worlds, I was really building up a catalogue of all I love about my life. A catalogue I had simply been accessing all wrong until a little bit of grace set me right.
I am trying to figure out how to wrap this post up. How to summarize this insight in a clever way. But I am still giddy with the miracle of figuring it out and therefor not feeling pithy or clever. Instead of mourning this reality I will just giggle and enjoy the gifts of this moment and spare you a conclusion. I will simply smile and just enjoy being exactly where I am right now.
Blessings to you this night. May you find yourself a gift in every minute of this weekend no matter where you are.
Six little words. Six little words were all it took to let Sadness in the door. And last night at this time Saddness she was sitting on my chest, refusing to get off.
Mondays are Max’s day with his dad. For me, they are a rare break. At first they felt empty and alone. I would stay long hours at work or wander aimlessly through the downtown. But lately I have claimed Monday nights as me-time. I write. I draw. I wander with purpose. I eat ice cream. Every Monday I arrive home between 7 and 8. Technically, I am not back on duty until 8. But Max loves having Juan and I in the same place so much. Its now part of our routine. I come home a little early. Juan leaves a little late. We play a card game. Kick a ball around. Watch a movie. The three of us. The whole family. For twenty minutes, once a week.
Yesterday we played a made up game with the Pokemon cards and we asked Max if he was excited about his impending graduation from pre-school. He was thoughtful and serious. “Yes,” he said. “We are going to sing. But don’t tell anyone. Its a surprise for the parents.” We pinky promised the three of us. As Juan kissed him goodnight, he said to him “I will see you tomorrow, mijo. At your graduation.” “Yes,” Max said wide eyed and solemn. “The whole family will be there”.
When Max says “the whole family” he does not mean a carload of siblings, or a parade of grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts. No, for him the whole family means Papi, Mommy and Max. Sometimes when he is feeling generous and expansive he includes Rosie the cat. But usually its just the three of us. Together in one place.
Having the whole family together is something most of his friends take for granted. Its a weekday supper, a Saturday morning, a regular, banal affair. But for Max it is a rare treat to be savored. A holy serious and noteworthy occasion. And I hate this. I hate it with ever fiber of my being.
Long after Max had laid his tired head to sleep, these six little words left me sobbing audibly, mourning all he has lost and all that which I too have lost through this separation–this soon to be divorce.
Because those words signified a deeper truth that none of us dared whisper–Our family is not whole. And this has left all three of us a little worse for the wear.
As I tumble through the never ending days with their up and downs I am saddened and angry that I cannot process the day with the only other person who loves Max as much as I do. I am lonely in my worry about his cough–“Did that sound OK to you?” I ask to noone in particuar. There is only a journal to reflect my memories back at me. No one to giggle with over the silly jokes at the dinner table.
And I know that Juan mourns too. But his pain must be so much worse. For he must feel a deep emptiness that comes from not being there to bear witness to this great life he helped create. Most days he misses so much.
But mostly I mourn for Max. He recently shared with me that he can’t really remember what it was like when Juan lived at home with us. He only knows that he misses it. That it is somehow a little sadder without his papi around.
We are trying, the three of us, to make something new out of the ashes of the old. It will never be the way it was–it cannot be. And while I mourn what is lost, I am proud that we are trying to make something meaningful out of the messiness. I know too many families who cannot be together for their kids–they split up holidays, birthdays, trade off on special events. Their children will never even know what it is like to have the Whole Family There. We lurch about gracelessly but at least we try.
Today Juan and I sat together, side by side and watched the singing, the parading. I cried in the beginning. Juan teared up at the end. Together we heard Max’s teacher talk about how he wants to be a policeman just like his Uncle Sean and we smile at each other knowingly. “Of course,” we say “Yes.” Together we beam with pride. Max beams back at us and points us out to his friends. “Look” he says–“my mom AND my dad” giggling with delight. His friends look at him blankly–they do not know the joy of whole family-ness even though they experience it each day. And maybe, just maybe, Max is rather blessed to learn at such a young age to appreciate such a precious gift.
This morning for just an instant we were whole again. The whole family was there together. Different, maybe not better, but most definitely for a brief moment whole.
I am feeling rather anxious today. I can’t say exactly why–Its a generalized anxiety that leaves me feeling jittery and a bit skittish as though I have had too much caffeine. My chest feels a little tight. I peer around each corner warily. I have learned that when I feel this way it is best to draw inward. To not try and chase my anxiety away with distractions. I am quiet today and still and just sit with this buzziness. I remind myself to breathe and that helps. Alot.
Last night Max and I played this game where we climb under blankets with flashlights. We take turns lighting our faces and telling stories. It is one of those games that seems to bubble up from a big collective childhood memory– hardwired in every child’s DNA. Like saying “Is not”/”Is too” or twirling around and around until you fall on the grass.
Max’s stories are usually about Pokemon or superheros. Often these days they are spiced with potty humor. My stories tend to be old favorites–stories told hundreds of times. Sometimes when Max is feeling scared I tell him stories about a dragon named Max who is very compassionate and brave. A dragon who feels sad and angry and sometimes scared and always does the right thing anyway. Max the Dragon is a blatant propaganda tool, I know. But lately Max seems bored with such lack of subtlety. He asks instead for stories from my childhood. Last night he asked me to tell him the story about Uncle Sean and the racoons. My brother is a big bad macho guy. Ex Army paratrooper, Iraqi war veteran, current NY City cop. When Sean and I were teenagers, a family of racoons invaded our house when my mom and dad were away for the weekend. Sean barricaded us into his bedroom with his dresser and then he made me, his smaller, meeker sister climb out the window using the ladder from his bunkbed, so that I could open the back door and let the poor scared creatures out of our house while he cowered under his bed. Max loves this story, I think, because he is able to see his larger-than-life uncle for who he is, a real live human being, with fears and vulnerabilities. Scared sometimes just like him. And Max is able to imagine himself one day big and strong, like Uncle Sean even though he might be just “a little freaked out” about something now and then.
Tomorrow Max is going to graduate from preschool. I have been wistful all weekend thinking of the last three years. When we started at this school he was still in diapers, chubby cheeked and terrified. Leaving him at school was so hard that fall–he seemed so vulnerable–so tender–so small. He has grown now into a long-legged freckled-face boy with a wiggly tooth–a boy who jumps out of the car and runs to the tire swing without so much as a look back at his mama. He went from a clinging toddler tenatively exploring to a boy running wild on the playground.
And while he is still sweetly boy, all cuddle and kisses, each day there are moments when I need to look just a little harder to spot his vulnerability. He tries so hard to be fierce and strong — using the boy code trying to mask his tender self. “You are SO going DOWN” he says to me when I challenge him to a Pokemon battle. He has permanently dirty knees. He has started to roll his eyes. To be a little bit elementary school. He is ready.
Tomorrow he will leave preschool behind, in the dust. Like babyhood and the toddler years, this period of our life will fade, captured only in photos, boxed up artwork and not enough anecdotes written down in our memory books. Fade away until at last we are left with only fragmented memories of these precious years. The mothers’ day teas, the days when I co-oped and brought his favorite snacks, the silly games we played on the drive to school. Perhaps he will remember the wind on his face as the tire swing spun. Or waving to his mama as she drove away. Will he long for his best friends and their games–or simply the utter the joy of ruling the playground? Or will he move on to the new joys of elementary school without so much as a look back?
Knowing how fast his childhood is slipping away I long to hold on to each precious minute. I vow to relish each chance to kiss away hurts, to learn about the person he is becoming, to connect with him, to not leave him feeling alone. But then the phone rings, my computer beckons, the dryer tells me the clothes are done. I am distracted. I look up only to find he has fallen asleep for the night on the couch while I finished one last email, the book I promised to read him on his lap. I pick him up and carry him to bed.
I know now what has set my heart a flutter this day–this eve of a transition both so big and so small. I am afraid I will blink and I will miss it–this magical childhood of his.
Life has been a little crazy here this last week. Yesterday Max and I went to the dentist. He is OK, although he has a few cavities. The loose tooth that made me so crazy the night before will fall out on its own in a matter of weeks. While the dentist wouldn’t have given me the prize for Dental Mother of the Year he also refrained from calling me a bad mother. And perhaps I only imagined the dirty looks.
Last night when getting ready for bed Max was complaining about his foot. He has lots of small aches and pains my wee one. Nevertheless I turned on the light and took a good hard look. A foot that was perfectly fine just hours before when he was running and jumping at the pool was inflamed. A strange sore had grown upon his big toe and the infamous red streaks all moms dread were creaping up his foot. I took one look at his foot, and bundled him up to take him to the emergency room.
I was a mama bear acting on pure instinct. I had put shoes on that foot just hours before when it was dirty but otherwise normal. Who knew how bad the infection would be by morning? As I rocked him while the doctor lanced his wound, cleaned it out and gave him a shot of antibiotics I knew I was no bad mom.
This morning we woke up to a new crisis. A stomach bug and bronchial thing had taken hold of his poor little body. I called in sick. My beautiful little angel needed me more. He was having a rough couple of days.
I have been back to work for all of half a week and already taken 2 days off. I will need to take Friday off as well to shuttle him to follow up appointments. I think about the work piling up, the patient colleauges who are getting restless, all the things that are getting put on hold. I think about the house which in the matter of three days has turned into a complete disaster zone. About the laundry to be done, the lack of clean underwear, the lack of healthy food in the fridge.
At times like these I have been known to throw open the door to a pity party. I want people to feel sorry for me and to acknowlege how hard it is to be a single mom. I want them to give me permission for my bad mood, my frustration. I want them to give me a pass on the things that won’t get done and to give me permission to stop at Cold Stone Creamery and buy two half gallons of ice cream. I want them to let me sleep.
Other times I steam with the unfairness of it all. I even indulge in a little envy–the friends with partners who will split the staying at home with the child shifts, who have the grandmas who live close and will run to the drug store or better yet will take a shift. I think about how much easier it would all be if only I could JUST be a mom and put the crazy career on hold. If managing the stuff of life could be my full time job. I dream of winning the lottery.
Sometimes, I plow through these days with humor, laughing at the absurdity of it all so that I won’t break down and cry. I keep my head down and pay attention to the most important things–Max, trying to work from home, getting to the drug store, the doctors office. I step over the clutter piling up in my house and triage the crises at work. I try to block out the voice inside me that likes to lecture and blame.
And sometimes, like tonight, it dawns on me that this suffering that I am feeling is really quite universal. I am grateful for the moment when I can feel at one with all the single moms who are trying to keep it together. I think about the moms who can’t work from home: the waitresses, the store clerks–the ones who lose a days pay on days like this or worse yet lose their jobs. I think of the moms whose “helpful” families make them feel small. I think of the moms and dads who need to calculate how many days off they will need to give up in order to pay for the visit to the emergency room, the dentist, the doctor. Knowing that my frustration, suffering and pain, while real, is just a tiny drop in a great sea of mom suffering doesn’t make me feel better, but it makes me want to take a pass on the pity party.
Sometimes my life needs a little unraveling. Like when I am knitting. Sometimes I will look at the last week’s work and realize that it is just not right. It always pains me to throw days of work down the drain as I pull out row after row but ultimately the finished product will be better. There is something to be learned when the universe pull on our loose ends and unravels our supposedly perfect plans. And I dear friends am a work in progress. A little unraveling won’t hurt.