Another Goodbye

Motherhood can be a lonely, soul-sucking, monotonous struggle on a good day. Cranky kids throwing Cheerios on the floor and rejecting bottles and refusing to nap can make the torture of a self-assessment and review at work seem like a cake-walk – and you may even get a raise out of a review! With kids, your source of feedback as to whether you are doing a good job is the very task at which you are working on and boy, can they be tough customers some days. Life lines during those moments are your family and friends and mentors. Those people who tell you you’re doing a good job even when it feels like you’re the worst mommy in the world for ignoring that cough overnight that you only realized was an arbiter of much more when you found your kid covered in dried vomit the next morning (I know I wasn’t the only one, right?). 

My favorite life line was my husband’s Aunt K. She had a wonderful habit of calling me out of the blue, in the middle of the day, just to see how I was doing, to chat, to share something that happened that made her think of me. She would ask me questions and listen to my answers, really listen. She’d regale me with stories and anecdotes and just when a baby would start crying or a fight break out amongst siblings, she’d tell me what a great job I was doing as a mother. A woman who worked her whole life at making the world a better place through her jobs and board appointments and mentoring, she supported me when I chose to stay home with my first child. Then, after the second child and I decided to go back to work, she was equally as supportive, encouraging me to follow my dreams while empathizing on how hard it must be to balance work and kids. 

She also had this beautiful habit of complimenting our marriage. Who does that? But Aunt K would, pointing out something in a conversation or story I told as an example of how we were doing it right, how much joy she could see the hubby and I brought to each other’s lives, constantly reminiscing about our wedding and the loving, joyous occasion it was. 

Every time we spoke, I’d hang up the phone so much better for our chat. I would joke with the hubby that my ego boost had called that day. Aunt K and I didn’t chat as often as I would have liked, but every conversation was worthwhile, satisfying and cherished. 

Aunt K passed away last night after a long battle with a body that just couldn’t power her fabulously curious mind and compassionate heart anymore. Although we had been expecting this news all week and I truly believe her soul is now free from the struggle it endured in her corporeal body, I am still left deeply empty today. 

She left behind a sister, two nephews, a niece, two nieces-in-law (I don’t know if that’s a thing, but I’m making it one), three grand nephews, a grand niece, as well as more friends, colleagues and mentees than I can count. 

I wish that her body had been as strong as her mind and heart. The world is a slightly worse off place today because she’s gone, but an infinitely better one that she was here at all. 

Godspeed, Aunt K. May you set down your burden and let your soul fly free. 

No News is Good News

We haven’t been watching the news much lately. It started when Malaysian Flight MH17 was shot down from the sky. How do you explain something so mind boggling and reprehensible to an eight year old? How do you explain that because the wreckage looks like that there aren’t any survivors? How do you explain why someone would shoot a plane of innocent people out of the sky?

Then the violence escalated between Israel and Gaza and bodies were everywhere, women keening, centuries of complicated conflict couldn’t be summed up for two young boys. I couldn’t even begin to formulate the questions not to mention the answers. And so we turned it off. The hubby and I discussed the news in whispers while the boys cleared the table or when we passed each other in the hallway during bath time or after curious ears were tucked into bunk beds or simply not at all. 

This week, Robin Williams. No mention of his death goes without details of the brutality of his desperation. How do you explain to children the subtleness of depression and how it lies and badgers until finally the afflicted take the only method of control they feel available and act in the most final way? How do you explain that the Genie is gone because of a horrible disease, a disease that affects family members they love, without inciting the fear that those very family members might fall victim to believing the lies, too? 

And now Ferguson. What to say to my boys about Ferguson? How do you explain to your white children the inconceivable grief of Michael Brown’s parents who have no true explanation as to why their child’s light is now extinguished from this world other than the fact his skin is darker than my sons’? How do you hold up the lessons they learn in school about Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Martin Luther King, Jr., and separate bathrooms as antiquated concepts when that type of racism and frustration and stereotyping is still endured by legions today? How do you begin to explain that the police are meant to help people, not arrest reporters and blindly throw tear gas at protests that were yet to turn violent? 

How can I burst their anyone can do anything they want bubble with the pin of life’s realities? 

How do I explain that the reason they have lockdown drills in school is because people with malice in their hearts bring guns and shoot children? 

How do I make them understand that as white males they are made lucky simply by their genetics, but that their character will determine whether they earn it? 

How do I ensure that they feel safe and secure in a world that some days seems anything but? 

How do I explain all of this when it is so difficult for me to comprehend? 

Right now, I don’t explain it. I leave it all at the door with the muddy shoes and collection of rocks that fill my boys pockets after an afternoon walk. I help with homework, throw practice pitches in the park, push the swing, read stories and snuggle. After they go to bed, I let the real world back in. I read twitter feeds of reporters arrested in Ferguson and blogs by those battling mental illness trying to drown out the lies depression shouts by sharing their experiences, fears and vulnerabilities. I check on my sweet, quiet, sleeping boys before I go to bed and relish in their contentment, the twisted blankets, the damp foreheads of sleep imagining the brilliant, technicolor dreams that dance in their head. I kiss their little bodies, resisting the urge to climb in bed with them, to hold them physically closer to my heart in an attempt to shelter myself from the torment of the real world swirling around us. 

Dawn comes and the hubby and I wake resistant children, send them off to school and pray that another day finds them well. As we gather at the table for dinner each evening, I take comfort in our little guy’s daily proclamation that “Today was the best day ever!” For indeed, each day with them safe and happy in the cocoon of a world their father and I create for them is the best day ever. 

So yes, I’m sheltering my kids from the news. 

There’s plenty of time for them to understand the real world. For now, I want them to believe that the world is compassionate, fair and attainable. I’ll use this time now not to scare or intimidate them with the realities of our world, but arm them with the patience, understanding, grace and love they’ll need to navigate this world of chaos and make it better.

 

Walk This Way

Now that school’s back in session for the big guy, I’m up at 6:15 and, without work, no need to be primped and ready for anything at a particular time. So, this morning, I recommitted to a morning walk. Not only is walking good for my heart, it clears my mind and centers my spirit as my feet hit the road. The sights and smells of the season, weather, geography awaken my senses. The music in my headphones can energize or bring back a memory, the road in front of me giving me permission to indulge that memory or to put it down and leave it behind. 

My walk this morning brought to mind many previous walks in my life. The chatty walks with my parents after dinner when I was a kid and it seemed our entire neighborhood would be out walking our circular streets each evening, looping each other every 15 minutes. The walks with my college roommate along the picturesque and historic Gimghoul Road. The long, flat roads near our first home in Northern Virginia in the cold, early November air prior to each Thanksgiving meal we hosted for our families. The treadmill walks at 5:30 am at the Y before my hour long commute into the District. The stroller walks with my new born when I needed to simply get out of the house. 

This morning’s walk was muggy with the promise of a steamy August day to come. The crickets were eager in their song and the birds seemed lazier than usual, perhaps gone back to bed after an earlier, cooler breakfast. The hills were many and my legs felt stronger and stronger at every step. My mind opened up and I felt the creativity I’ve been lacking the last few weeks start to break loose a little. 

Tomorrow, I plan to meet the road again. To greet the day with purpose and motion. It’s a good habit I let slide in recent years. I’m glad I’ve found it again.

Routine

I am a creature of habit. Aren’t we all? But this week, I’m reeling a bit. School started for T yesterday. On top of that, the hubby and B are out of town enjoying the tail end of a family reunion weekend that T and I left early. As a result, I’ve had two days of insane quiet.

Why am I complaining, right?

Because I put a lot of pressure on myself to be productive. And sometimes I’m not sure what productive means to me at any given moment. Does it mean I should be writing, grocery shopping, cleaning, handling committee responsibilities, or even simply resting? Yesterday, I gave in. After taking the big kid to school and briefly meeting his teacher, I took care of the groceries and a few other errands then allowed myself to watch a random home renovation show marathon on TV. I took a nap. I read. And I know I needed it after a busy weekend and several nights of difficult sleep.

Today, however, I put T on the bus at 7 am and then felt the yawning gap of time until 3 when the bus will bring him back home. I did manage to edit an essay project I’m working on and I changed the sheets on the bed, but now it’s late morning and I’m not quite sure what’s next today.

It doesn’t really matter if I get anything done today, honestly. Another lazy day may be just what the doctor ordered. The hubby and B return later this afternoon. B doesn’t go back to preschool until much later this month, so pool days and games of Spot It will be back on the agenda tomorrow, the little guy determining the shape of my routine yet again.

But the past two days have caused me to pause and anticipate what my routine will look like in a month when they are both in school? Granted, a preschool day is much shorter than the big kid’s day at school, but there will still be hours that are just mine. How will I determine what hours are spent exercising (remember that concept? I don’t!), writing, household managing?

Just when I think I’ve gotten the hang of this no work life, something new slaps me in the face and I realize I’m sometimes still just as lost. Although I’m excited about the new opportunities this creative life I’m trying to build offers, it is also frustrating, slow and unknown. There is no road map.

So I’m working hard to embrace my inner spontaneity. At least until September when I can cobble together some sort of routine to call my own. Sorry, it’s just a habit.