This was the photo I took of Max right before we headed out to school on Monday. Like kindergardeners all across America on Day 1, Max was a nervous wreck in this photo. He knew he would be OK but he had spent the weekend worrying about everything that could go wrong. We would be driving along in the car and suddenly out of nowhere a question would pop up: “Mom…What if I am sitting at a table and it is quiet reading period and we are not allowed to talk or even raise our hand. And I am sitting next to a bully. And he keeps hitting me whenever the teacher isn’t looking? What am I going to do then?”
Each time I tried to help him develop strategies to face his fears he seemed to get more and more frustrated. It was clear he just wanted to be heard. I saw how clearly torn up inside he was and I very much wanted to distract him, make him laugh, make him forget, tell him all the stories he heard about kindergarden weren’t true that it was the land of milk and honey. But I didn’t. Instead I hugged him and told him that it was OK to be scared. It made no sense to try and talk him out of his nervousness. Most people are scared before setting out on a big adventure and nothing spells adventure like K-I-N-D-E-R-G-A-R-D-E-N.
It is a challenge sometimes for me to remember that it is not my job to fix Max’s feelings. When he is scared I do not need to make him not scared. When he is angry or sad it is not up to me to make him happy again. I can offer support, listen and help him process what he is feeling. Its not up to me to rush in with solutions but it is my job to hold the space so he can search for his own solutions. If he wants my advice I give it. I will wait patiently and wait for my in. It always comes eventually. But damn that is hard…and I frequently screw it up.
When Max came home on Monday, he was full of excitement and joy. He faced a big fear and survived and that is a victory. He felt so good about himself because it WAS scary but he DID do it. For all my desires to kiss away his hurts on Sunday and tell him there was nothing to fear I was thrilled I didn’t because to do so would have been to minimize his triumph. I am so proud of him but more importantly he is so proud of himself.
I recently read this post over at the wise and funny Notes to Self. I love Kyran‘s writing – its not unusual for me to leave that site teary eyed. This time however, it wasn’t just the deep honesty and beautiful pose that moved me but a deep sense of empathy about living without margins. I read the post with tears dripping off my chin, falling shamelessly into my lap.
Kyran was writing about living on the financial edge. This is something I can relate to all too well. When Juan left me with a child and one income it didn’t take long for my social justice salary to leave us struggling. I remember nights staying up sorting through Max’s beautiful grandma-purchased clothes trying to figure out what we could consign to help pay the babysitter or emptying out the spare change jar that Juan and I had started when we started dating and cashing it all in to pay for food and gas for the week. The rollercoaster of panic (will we make it this week?) and relief–all the effort that went into figuring out how to keep it together left me depleted and a shadow of my best self. I was so scared to ask for help from anyone afraid of what it would say about me (Would it mean I had failed?!?) but bit by bit the universe worked its little chisel on my pride and finally one night I was on the phone with my dad, choking back tears and asking humbly for a little help to get over the hump. Not too much longer, I was on my knees sobbing praying for a little help from anywhere.
I am glad to say that I am writing this from a better place on the financial front. Ask and you shall receive is a truth I can attest to. We are still living paycheck to paycheck over here and savings are a luxury I can barely afford. We don’t splurge much on movies or pretty things and when we do I often reeling from it for weeks. My budget has very little margins for excess or comforts. But we are making it and I am no longer sick to my stomach each time I need to visit the cash machine. I am comfortable that as long as I stick to the basics the money is there.
But I wish I could say that about 2 other critical resources: time and energy. I am now in a similar desperate place that feels eerily similar to how I felt about my finances not that long ago.
I feel I don’t have enough time for even the basics–like the laundry and cooking dinner or picking up the mess that has become our house. I feel I have cut out all the fat I can (no mindless TV, no relaxing baths) but it is still not enough. My schedule operates with no margin of error. I drop Max at childcare at the earliest possible moment and rush in to the office and maybe make it to work on time but often am late to a meeting. I rush through my work day and need to leave at 5 on the dot. God forbid there is traffic because I need to be home at 5:30, not a minute later. We barely unpack our days before it is far too late for dinner. On too many occassions, I am dragging him out to run errands at the time most children his age are in pjs in bed. The mad dash and the fact that I go to sleep each night with so many loose ends dangling leaves me feeling edgey and like a top spinning out of control.
My energy too is at an all time low and this is making this time crunch thing all the more troubling. I move so much slower these days. I fall into bed too early and wake too late. Precious hours are lost while I hit the snooze button or sleep through my alarm. I cannot multi-task anymore. I need to focus every bit of energy I do have on simply accomplishing one thing at a time. When I do pretend that I can move faster, things start to fall apart at the seams. This past week I had no childcare for Max so I thought I could bring him with me into work. In the effort to get him packed up to spend the day with me I forgot to pack my own purse and ended up with no wallet to pay for our lunch and parking. On good days I laugh light heartedly about the aburdity of this–my turtle pace, the chaos exploding around me, my inability to keep it all together. But at night when all is quiet I shiver a bit thinking about it all and pray that tomorrow it may feel a little bit better and I pray–please don’t let it get worse.
Every day is an exercise in pushing the limits of my comfort zone. How much stress and time pressure and “rock and a hard place” choices can I live with today? I laugh thinking about how I was three or four years ago–how little I could take. I simultaneously feel like a champion (what a victory to keep surviving in this climate!) and a loser (why can’t I just keep the kitchen clean or feed my son a real dinner?)
The time/energy crunch-its become a noose that I feel tightening around my throat–sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe. There are moments when I feel I am drowning from the stress of it all and I realize–I am holding my breath. Just the other day I thought if my life was a story written on a page I am spilling off the page. There are no margins on my paper. There is no room for errors, no room for scribbled comments–no place to put a forgotten word. I wonder when am I going to lose it living like this? I smile because clearly its not going to be today so if I can just focus on today I can loosen the noose a little. Yes…now I am breathing on my own. Good girl.
And yet I feel so silly even worrying about this all. Today my friend told me a story about a friend of hers–a woman who’s has struggled with so much more. Her story makes me understand just how wide my margins really are–or rather what its really like to live with no wiggle room. Hearing her story I hang my head in shame and embarrassment that I fret so when my life is really so precious and blessed. For God’s sake…I am writing a blog. Its not that bad when I have time to write a blog, is it? But the thought of giving up this newly reclaimed creative time feels like a dealbreaker. My journaling, my creative friendships they are keeping me afloat, they are keeping me sane. The laundry will just have to stay dirty and I will just have to forgive myself–but can I?
But I remember today this week when it has felt so loosey goosey that asking for help is magic and so I get down on my knees and ask the universe to deliver it in whatever way she sees fit. A cure for my energy blues? That would be nice. Someone to help me get organized and together? That would also work. A new way of working smarter not harder? Brilliant! A giant huge serving of perspective? That would do me just fine. Something I haven’t even thought of? Yes. Any help–any little bit of help at all. Its hard to ask for help but its the only way I know to expand the margins even just a tiny bit.
Even now, thinking about it, I wonder why I, someone who feels so well loved and cared for, am so in touch with the feeling of being left out. As a child it was the theme of my school day angst–much to the bewilderment of my parents. Is it the fact that Max will be starting a new school that has brought up all my own childhood anxieties?
I ask myself what I need to learn from it, as long as I am feeling it. I breathe in and think about all the people in my life who might be feeling like that right now. I wonder if there is any innocent mistakes that I make that leave others feeling a little more lonely. I remind myself that I need to be careful and vigilant to be inclusive and expansive and welcoming and not to treat my community as an exclusive club but rather to think of it like a mecca of connectedness.
And I smile a slighly bemused smile to learn that being included even now at the ripe old age of almost 38 I still long to be part of the gang and that my heart is still as tender as it was when I was 8. I marvel at how being connected and included and wanted and not forgotten still is powerfully important to me. And I find myself arguing with myself over whether this discovery is a good thing (self discovery, in touch with the tender inner part of our hearts) or a bad thing (I am too sensitive, not rational, childish). My inner mother ends the debate by declaring it just is and reminds me that this sensitivity is usually a signal that I need to hold myself with a little bit of kindness and love for awhile. That maybe I need to rest and drink tea. And be thankful for the big loving and expansive community that does hold me and has me feeling loved, cherished and appreciated
Today I am filled with a yearning. A sort of mellow sadness. A tightness around my heart.
Last night I slept a deep, delicious sleep. But in this deep relaxation a dream came to me—a dream which won’t let me go.
It is a dream I have had before. I am fixing up a new house, a house I bought in a burst of enthusiasm full of hope and expectations. It was so much bigger than my old one—so beautiful and spacious. But now I stand in all the construction rubble and I don’t know why I left my old one. This house that held the promise of being more is a disaster. Rotting plaster, rooms that seem so suddenly small, an old kitchen and bathrooms that barely work. It is dark an chaotic and smells musty. I miss my old house, cheery and warm. I am angry that I sold it—that I let it go. I want it back. I don’t know why I paid so dearly for this mess of a house, this house I only sort of want now, this house that seems like it will never rise to my expectations. I wake up with the taste of a longing in my mouth. I can’t shake it.
I have this dream only when I am at peace. It is though, only in these quiet and happy moments when my heart is most relaxed that I can face the truth. I am in the middle of soul renovations and I am feeling a bit restless and regretful, wondering why I started on this project–why I dare to look within.
My heart, my life—it is being reconstructed after the hurricane that was my failed marriage destroyed the place where my heart last dwell. The blueprints laid out are ambitious plans—plans that hold promise of space and beauty, but seem so far from completion. I am tired of construction that never ends. I am impatient. I am questioning this new dream of a house—the wisdom of it all. I want my old one back. Sure it was too small. But it was comfortable. It was home.
I have sat with this dream all morning, all afternoon as the children catch frogs and feed ducks. As I pack up our cabin to ready ourselves to leave tomorrow. As I run errands and watch the wind blow through the pines and whip up waves on the lake. I don’t know what to do to shake it and so I don’t. I sit with it until I am at last ready to let it blow away in the Maine breeze, the comfort that I can recognize what is going on in my heart at last what allows it to fade
At last, on Thursday, I rise before the sun. Lisa stumbles down with coffee in hand and drags me out of bed. Together we pull the kayaks into the water, though first we inspect them thoroughly with flashlights, making sure there are no sleeping spiders to tickle our feet. And then with few words we push off onto an ocean of glass and mist.
The lake is still. Only one lone bird is awake and singing. Fog hangs down silent and heavy over the pines—the distant shore but a watercolor—an idea of a forest—a memory of one long ago.
As I move silently I half expect the Arthurian lady of the lake to appear and whisper something wise, perhaps ancient mother secrets of creation. My paddle dips into the water. But the ripples disappear almost instantly as we glide glide glide along the lake, paddling to the middle. The eastern sky is becoming blue now and then from behind the Monet pines fingers of orange reach up, like a hand offering hope. Then the great globe rises brilliant and true—a drop of primary color oil paint on a watercolor masterpiece: brilliant, garish, warm.
We sigh, Lisa and I. We break our silence to talk of metaphors of God and sun. I point out that every ancient culture worships the sun in one way or another because of moments just like these when a dark night instantly becomes day. More birds are in the sky and trees now waking their children and their neighbors with hymns to this hope—this promise that we have one more chance to live. The mist is fading fast, giving way to a brilliant day of blue skies.
I breathe in the smell of pine and cedar and whisper thank you. It is late before we beach the boats. Activity has broken out now on shore. I enter the cabin to see my child raise his head and smile—“Good morning, mama!” I pick him up and wrap him in his blankets, snuggling him in my lap. “Yes,” I breathe into his little ear. “it is”
Stumbling over gnarled roots I traipse back home after the rain. So tired. Not the content sort of tired that seeps into your blood after a day of lounging but an ugly sort of, perhaps I am getting sick, I can’t think straight sort of tired. The fact that I am feeling it here in Maine, in a place of perfect peace is what convinces me that I am indeed suffering from something more than just regular fatigue. That I am not imagining this physical tiredness struggling to be acknowledged.
I don’t like to talk of this fatigue much. I don’t want to validate it, as though talking about it to anyone but my doctor or my father will somehow define me as the tired girl. I don’t want it to define me—I am –I want to be– vivacious, active, full of spunk. I want to live life to the fullest and to expand into every blessed moment. Somehow dragging wet feet down the lakeside path doesn’t feel like LIVING to me. The days when I just can’t lift my head, when all I want to do is crawl into bed, they feel to me like an insult or perhaps a traitorous act—my body and my mind set against my heart and soul.
These days have passed so quickly. Time moves fast when you move slow. I am sad that I have not been able to savor each minute of this precious time, waking up long past sunrise, going to sleep while the bonfire still roars and my cousins’ laughter echoes across the lake. Sneaking away from the communal dinner making because I can’t do one more thing.
But it has been precious nevertheless and that, I must remind myself, is the gift. The lesson is to take what I can from each moment—even the imperfect ones, even the ones that seem blurry and dull and foggy with fatigue. Living in the moment means accepting the moments when you are less than your ideal “living in the moment” self. Now that’s something to get your mind around, huh?
Its rained a little everyday now. Not all day, just a bit. Enough to drive us all indoors for awhile to pop popcorn, or eat lunch inside before the sun comes out from behind the clouds again. And I have too admit, I have been a bit draggy and gray myself. Not all day. But I’ve been a bit more tired and grouchy than last year. A bit more foggy and tired.
Last year, my first year at the lake it didn’t rain at all. It was a picture perfect week—for both of us “the lake” and me.
Last year, the lake and I, we were like new lovers putting on our very best for each other. Every day I woke full of energy to witness her brilliant sunrise, the glassy stillness of the water at daybreak. Every day she sparkled, all blue skies and sunshine while I dwelled fully present in the marvel of every hour—“Look how lovely the trees look in the 2 pm light—how different from the way they looked this morning.” “Oh! The air smells so beautiful right now? Does it always smell so clean here on a Tuesday?” And every night we stayed up late together the lake and I, a chorus of thousands of grasshoppers playing along with the soundtrack of the restless waves rocking the boat knocking it against the dock, as I lay on my back on the green green grass and counted stars with my son.
But this year we are sure of our love for each other and so we are no longer pulling out the stops. I am too tired this year for sunrises. I wake well past dawn when the lake is already busy with swimming and kayaks. The nights are not always clear and bright. The grasshoppers are not always singing. And sometimes this lake she is even gray and choppy. And sometimes we both rain a bit.
Now don’t get me wrong…The lake is no less lovely to me. She is every bit as beautiful and peaceful as I remember. I am seeing a new side of her and finding new beauty in the rain rolling of the pines or the reflection of the dark clouds on the water. Furthermore, I am enjoying my time with my cousins twice as much as last year. There is a rhythm and a comfort this year—a routine that feels like it has always been this way—us here on the lake. We feed each others children and pick up our conversations exactly where we left off last year. There is not so much to catch up on. We can just look at each other and smile—holding hands while we watch our children play at the waters edge, helping gather each others books and towels when the storm clouds come.
And this comfort I think is translating to my relationship with these magic surroundings. The beautiful spot I call the lake–she knows I will come back each year a faithful pilgrim. And I too know that she will be here for me next year, a resting spot for my tired bones. This lake and I, we no longer need to impress one another. We are in that phase of a new relationship when you can relax and let a little of your imperfections show. I am really not that much of a morning person. She is not always sunny and bright. But we will love each other nevertheless. In sunshine and in rain. And that love is in the end better than a vacation full of sunshine.
Tomorrow Max and I are headed on a great adventure.
We are off to cabin #2 on a Woods Pond in Bridgton, Maine. We will be joined by a handful of my cousins on my mother’s side and their kids. The family will take over almost all of the ten cabins that surround Woods Pond. There is only one small pay phone there–somewhere between cabin #4 and #5 I think. Near the boat house perhaps. I never used it. There is no internet, and barely any cell phone coverage. At night it is so pitch black that you can actually see the stars. During the day you might see a bald eagle go fishing..
Last year was our first year “at the lake” although my cousins have been going for years. It was nothing short of pure bliss. I would wake at sunrise and sit on my front porch with my tea and my book watching Kevin come back from his morning walk or Eileen to float in on her kayak. Max would wake in the morning and skip out of the house immediately finding an “uncle” (read: grown cousin) to take him fishing or one of his cousins–perhaps 12 year old Zach or the teenage Al and Chris to take him out in a boat. Dinners were communal, and delicous and often followed by a bon fire in a huge outdoor firepit. I sat in an adirondack chair almost all day, reading, knitting, catching up with the cousins. Drinking in calm and relaxation and day after day of perfect sunshine.
Our crazy world with its swirling chaos melted away. There was only peace punctuated by the sound of wooden screen doors banging as little children ran in between the cabins or a cousin brought a cool drink out to share.
I needed this trip last year. I had been doing the single mom thing for 15 months and was feeling overwhelmed, tired and a little bit a failure. I need to sink into love. But was nervous. Aside from Eileen, I had really lost touch with many of my cousins. We hadn’t talked in ages. We didn’t know each other anymore. No matter how hard I tried all my memories of connecting with this crowd floated up from decades past. It had been a long long time.
I knew I didn’t have enough energy to put on a good face. I feared they would meet me at my worst.
But fortunately good faces aren’t required in our family.
From the minute we pulled in my cousins accepted that I just was–asked nothing from Max and I other than our presence. Reconnection came almost instantly and the love that was woven during childhood, the adoration I had for my big cousins, the fondness I had for the younger ones, it all came flooding back to me as though it was summer 1978. It rose up in me like a song I had sung years ago and upon hearing again knew all the words–but with a twist. They had all grown up into such amazing, brave and interesting people.
But what was even better was watching Max discover the joy of a big huge crazy family. We have been such a small unit of 2 down here in Maryland. Last year with each fishing trip, each frisbee throw, each search for minnows and dragonflies he was weaving his own blanket of connectedness and family. I breathed a sigh of relief. He will have others who call him family, even long after I am gone. I saw it with my own eyes.
By the end of the week, it pained me to say goodbye to my long lost loved ones now found. I knew that the distance and the craziness of all our lives would take over. We made lots of ambitous plans on how we would get together–meet somewhere between New England and Maryland–let the kids play, pick up where we all left off. But I think we all really knew it would likely not happen. So just in case we all just immediately booked another week at the lake in advance. I can’t believe it is already here.
Its true I haven’t seen any of them (accept Eileen- once- last fall) since we pulled out of the woods and hit the highway. But last week I had a message on my cell phone from Kevin. “Are you still coming?” he asked the playfulness of a 9 year old in his voice. I know he is just dying to dunk me in a kayak.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ”
A few days ago my a dear friend fell through her upstairs floor into her living room. Just like that. Even as I write this is sounds absurd. One minute she was showing me the progress of renovations in her new bathroom, the next second she had almost disappeared–only her curly hair framing her terrified face and her grasping hands left in sight.
It was one of the most frightening moments I have experienced. It felt as though I was moving in slow motion. I ran to grab her hand and just hold her in case her grasp slipped. I knew I probably couldn’t pull her back up but I was terrified that she might just be gone–in one instant just like that–disappear from sight if I didn’t hold her with everything I had.
The story has a happy ending. Her very tall strong husband had heard the crash and was there in minutes to help her down. Also she had the good sense to fall through the ceiling right above an overstuffed chair loaded with piles of cushy laundry. Her fall would have been broken gently.
Her injuries were minor: bruises and ugly scrapes. And those muscles that she hasn’t used in years are sore. Now that she is on the mend we can laugh about it. We talk about how she can decorate the hole in the ceiling, the graffiti that can be written across the plastic. We tell the story to ourselves over and over processing it–like a couple of two year olds trying to make sense of what happened.
But laughter and a good story aside, the metaphor contained in her fall does not escape me. It has happened to all of us in one way or another. We are excited and hopeful, thinking about the future (new pedestal sinks! a happy marriage! a new baby!) when BAM! the floor unexpectedly drops out from underneath us sending us plummeting down–how far–we don’t know. If we are lucky we find a strength we did not know we have, perhaps have a friend who will hold on for dear life in case we get tired, another one to catch us and hold us and comfort us.
But sometimes its different. In the hour after her fall, the what ifs were heavy on all of our minds. What if she had landed on her back? What if she had not caught herself? What if she fell on something hard, sharp or fragile? It happens. We didn’t dare utter these thoughts aloud but you could see them floating across all of our eyes as we made the dinner, taped up the plastic, took care of the children.
I made a mental note as I came back home of another lesson I took from the fall. It was a stark reminder. Perhaps a message from an unseen angel. We never know when the bottom is going to drop out. There are no guarantees we will be here in the next minute.
Note to self: Stop worrying and just LIVE. I have been making so many excuses these days for why I can’t pursue hidden dreams in my heart. Its too risky. Too scary. Too hard.
Living fully in the moment can be so difficult. Just surviving in this modern world takes so much forethought and planning. There is so much to juggle, so little margins for spontaneity, so little room for risk. Sometimes I look up and find that the planning of life has consumed me–and stopped me from noticing the joy all around from participating in my life fully. Sometimes its all I can do just to breathe. Letting go of the trappings and expanding into the opportunity the day has brought, finding the courage to say WHY NOT takes faith and courage.
Living in the moment also can be scary. It is so easy to put ones head in the past or the future in order to avoid that which is scary in the now. Every day I have to remind myself consciously to stop and make the choice to sink into whatever the day offers instead of obsessing about the future or past.
Tonight I close my eyes and ask for the wisdom, the courage and the strength to get out of my head and into the now. To be fully embrace each chance I have to walk in the park, hug my child, appreciate the chance to just be to connect with a dear one, a neighbor, a stranger. To take the risk to try scary, hard new things. To stop making excuses for why I can’t. To get out of the bud and blossom while I have the sun on my face.