I was looking for my book this evening. I set it down somewhere and it seems I can’t find anything in this newly clean house. One thing I find a lot of are these little orange Nerf gun darts. They live in every nook and cranny of my house and just when I think I have cleaned them all up, there is one more. They are ubiquitous. No matter how much I fuss at Max to pick them up, no matter how much he searches there is always at least one more lurking..
Just like the pillows piled at the end of my bed–the ones that kept my made bed from looking truly neat. Max had moved them in long ago so that he had pillows when he came and climbed into my bed. He he declared himself “too big” enough to climb into bed next to me and share my pillows. And yet, sometimes when nightmares came or his room got too cold he wanted to be near his mama so he insisted on placing a pillow (or two or three) at the foot of my bed–so he would have a home there. I would put them back on his bed but they always found a way back. They were ubiquitous.
Tonight was our last night of summer vacation–School starts back tomorrow. Max will be a 5th grader–his last year of elementary school. It will be our last first day of school at the little neighborhood school around the corner. I suppose then that it was nothing short of perfect timing when at bedtime Max came to me and said, “Mom–I am going to take my pillows back to my room now. I think I am going to sleep all by myself all night this year.” It was as though he was preparing himself, preparing me, for the shifts that will take place this year as he moves from elementary school kid to middle school adolescent.
Changing and growing. The transitions are ongoing, never stopping. I know that one day, I will clean up the last nerf dart and notice that he is no longer shooting them around the house. They will be gone, just like the pillows are now gone from my bed. Just like he will one day be gone from the house, out on his own, a man.
Someone once told me that motherhood is an exercise in never getting used to anything–as soon as something begins to feel normal–or maybe drive you over the top crazy–it shifts. So I smile when I see the darts in the corners. They tell me that Max is here–that he is playing–that he is in a sweet phase of childhood and imagination. No matter how much I want to cling to that sweetness I know it will shift and so I breathe it in now while it is here. These orange darts are my bell calling me to pay attention now while it is here.
Many of my friends have sent children off to college this year. Some friends are sitting with a truly empty nest after watching older children step out on their own. Others are just starting the journey of transitioning their children out–where there were once 3 schedules to juggle there are now 2. I watch these families with teary eyes–knowing how short the years are before Max spreads his wings and I can make my bed as neat as I want and look for books without finding orange foam bits in the corners.
My cousin Jackie told me that when her youngest son moved out of the house, the thing that she missed most was the non-stop sound of a bouncing basketball. She never really noticed how it was the soundtrack to her life as the mother of teenage boys that constant thud-thud-thud. Yet, the sudden absence of it reminded her of what it was like with a house full of boys and no milk left in the fridge. That steady beat of a ball bouncing (in the driveway, in the kitchen, upstairs in his room), it was the soundtrack of love–as clear as a heartbeat.
These transitions are glorious–they are what I want for my son. I want to see him big and strong and independent. I want him to flourish and feel capable of moving out of our little nest. And yet, I pray for me, that I can sit back and watch and marvel as these changes, resisting the temptations to grab hold of his childhood and weep as it passes through my fingers. Instead, these darts tell me to open my eyes NOW and see him as his is NOW. Enjoy these moments while they last–we will never know when he will tire of little boy games. These orange darts remind me to wake up to the sweetness before it shifts and I realize I missed it.
I am halfway through the most luxurious vacation. Ask me where I am going and I will tell you I am here. Right now.
Once upon a time, I would step out of my office for lunch and watch the tourists wander the streets of DC with envy. I would wish it was me in their shoes, walking my streets without the rush, the to-do list, without my head buried in emails or lost in a conference call. I would watch the tourists and sigh and want to be them. And then I would go on vacation to some wonderful far away city and watch the locals with envy. “It must be so wonderful to walk by this river every day!” “I wonder what it’s like to come to this amazing coffee house every morning?” “I wish I knew what it feels like to pass through this park in all seasons and weather!”. I would watch the locals and sigh and want to be them. The irony (and dare I say maddness) of this was not lost on me.
Its been such an adventure filled year. It has been quite a dance, learning to balance a full time school load along with the job that pays the bills and parenting a busy 10 year. Life is so very full and truth be told, I don’t remember being happier. This year I woke up to the fact that the life I have always wanted was actually the only life I have ever had. It’s always been here this life, not “out there, beyond the to-do lists and someday achievements”, but right here. The good, the messy, the sometimes sorrowful or maddening or sweet. Its all right here. I am so blessed.
And yet, there have been times this year when the crush of the work at home, school and work was so intense I could barely breathe. What I did in those moments was breathe. And when I got real still, a tiny voice inside me would whisper, “Tend my life, just tend my life”. And I would. I would do the dishes, fold the laundry, answer email, print out my homework and smile. Smile for having had food to eat, clothes to wear, a job and the incredible privilege of returning to school as a 42 year old. In tending my life I would rediscover the joy of it.
When talking about this month I have off from school, a friend said to me, “I bet you can’t wait to get away–escape the craziness!” It was then, there in that exact moment that I knew I wanted to do nothing else but stay here and take 16 days to sink into my life, this life I am creating, this life that supports and sustains me, this everyday existence. I wanted nothing more than to wander the streets of my own life and practice being awake to the beauty of it. To tend my life and not to miss one sweet thing. I wanted to host Max’s friends for playdates and to fold the laundry and go for walks and nap. To walk to the grocery store and read books about acupuncture and have dinner with friends. Truth is I wanted to do everything I have done all year with peace in my heart, more ease, more gratitude. I wanted to use the space created by no classes and a few days off from work to really drink in my life with slow sips and deep gulps. It is here that I am practicing letting go of the agenda and the striving and the to-do list entirely and instead do what is in front of me because it needs tending, because I love it, because it is everything I ever wanted afterall.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from The Summer Day by Mary Oliver