Rites of Passage Part 2

It’s happening. Today, the little guy will “graduate” from preschool. In some ways, it’s been a long time coming. This is our sixth year at this preschool between the two boys and what I know for sure is that I will not miss that tuition payment. I’ve sat in countless carpool lines, attended a number of Christmas programs and Halloween parades and Easter egg hunts. I’ve received numerous laminated lists of things about mom on Mother’s Day. I have piles of artwork and a handful of Handwriting Without Tears workbooks. I have made mom friends that have carried through to other aspects of our community life – elementary school. church, sports, neighbors. It has been a wonderful experience and I cherish the time both boys spent there (minus that tuition payment, of course).

But getting both boys in the same school, on the same bus, with the same schedule? Can’t lie. I’m desperately looking forward to it.

And yet, this week, I have been weighed down. Slow. Going through the motions. I wanted to celebrate this week. I’d finished the rough draft. I was ahead of the game. I’ve been knocking out little projects the last few days that have festered while I immersed myself in my daily writing cocoon. None of it mattered though. Come 2pm every afternoon, I find myself floundering. Bored. Lonely. Not giving the kids my all or even what feels like a significant percentage of it.

I think some of this malaise is the milestone of preschool matriculation. My baby isn’t a baby anymore. I think some of it is anxiety about the summer. The time to fill. The fights to referee. The patience to stockpile. The activities to plan. The revision work to try to do while two active boys bounce off the walls and into each other.

But what I realized today is that our family is changing. Again. We haven’t had this big of a change since B joined us to make our family of three a family of four. I am now the mom of two school aged children. It’s a subtle change, but no less important. I can in no way be considered a  new mommy no matter how many new challenges present themselves on a daily basis. I am joining the ranks of PTA and sports leagues and real growing up. I’ve kept them safe and taught them their alphabet and prepared them for a world outside of our four walls. Now comes the emotional growing up that is fraught with peer pressure and real failures and stinging embarrassments and sparks of excitement and undercurrents of desires that will make my children the people they will grow into. I’ve had a toe in these waters the last three years, but somehow, sending a second child into this big, noisy elementary school world pushes me all the way in. I have no more split allegiances, no more conflicting commitments.

While I am ready for this, and even in some ways welcoming it, I am also feeling a bit unsure. My mom went back to work when my younger sister started kindergarten. In my 20s, when the future seemed simply to be a matter of making a plan and it would happen, I assumed I’d take time off from my career to have kids then go back when they were all in school just like my mom did. That’s what I knew. That seemed to work. That was a balance I felt I could achieve, manage, enjoy.

Life has a funny way of responding to plans, though, doesn’t it? I started having kids later than I thought I would (although by no means “late”) based on jobs, moves, money. Then I went back to work while B was still little. Something I never thought I’d do, but enjoyed and managed. Then that ended. So now, here I am. Back at square one with that deadline approaching at the end of summer.

The good part of going back when I did and being let go when I was is that I am much clearer on what I do want to be doing (and what I don’t). I have a direction, inspiration, goals. They aren’t the goals I was planning for eight years ago when I made the decision to stay home initially, but I’m at peace with that. So I’m curious as to why this angst seems to be creeping up as I head into this new stage of our family life. Is it the lack of a paycheck? The perception of not having a real day job? Or simply fear at no longer having any excuses? Or is it that sneaky doubt lady whispering again already?

I’m not sure I have an answer, or will any time soon. If parenting has taught me anything it’s that you can’t always be prepared for what’s ahead. Sometimes you just have to pack what you can, hope for the best and keep your eyes open for the bumps and detours that will become your greatest memories.

So if you see me this week, be a little gentle. I’m dealing with stuff. Stuff that doesn’t always have a name or an easy solution, or perhaps doesn’t have a solution at all, but just needs to be acknowledged with a head nod as you keep on walking towards your destination and understanding that wherever you are is not always where you end up and that where you end up might just be where you were supposed to go all along.

What I know for sure is that I will watch a happy, healthy, boisterous boy graduate from preschool today. Tomorrow I will greet my 8 year old off the bus from his last day of second grade officially marking the halfway point of his elementary school career. After that? Who knows for sure? There will be pool time and ice cream and probably more yelling than I want and sweat and smelly feet and movies and vacation. Through it all, we will grow into our next selves, our new school aged family, and come August, I’ll make a new plan and wait for life to laugh at it knowing that I will be prepared to see what she has in store for me next.

As long as these two precious babies boys and their dad are by my side, however, I think it will be a wonderful journey.

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Click here to read the original Rites of Passage.

The End

I typed the words “The End” in the middle of a page with blank space below it. No new chapters. The words were done. The story complete.

Well, complete for now. Step one, rough draft? Check. Notice I call it a rough draft, not even a first draft yet (not even close). Now the hard part beings. The part where I figure out what the book is really. Friends and family ask how the work is going and what the story is about and I hem and haw and keep it vague. It’s not literary, I say. It’s women’s fiction, I proclaim. It’s about four women at various stages of life, I babble. It’s still a work in progress, I defend. But truly I don’t give a clear answer because I haven’t really been sure. And that’s scary. Really scary. Keeps me up at night sometimes scary. Should I know? Should I have a goal, a meaning, a more defined story arc while writing? Who knows? This is the first time I’ve ever done this and I’m learning as I go. I’m making mistakes and finding what works and what doesn’t. The next step is all about going back. Figuring out the key ideas and making them sing. Cutting those darlings and polishing the real story.

I’m excited about the work ahead. It feels like the real work. What I’ve been doing for the last several months feels more like laying tarp, washing walls and taping off molding when you paint. It’s tedious and takes time and all you want to do is get that new color on the wall to see the completed job and enjoy the difference. But, if you don’t do the preparation work correctly, you end up with a sloppy mess and no one is happy. For the story, now comes more in-depth character study and analysis, setting development that evolved as I was writing and has finally become a clearer picture in my head, continuity checking, additional story fill, and deleting all the overwritten, trite and boring prose and dialogue that I slogged through and might be weighing down the story but helped me springboard into a more productive day of writing at the time.

But I’m trying to take a little space – not a lot, but a little – in an attempt to have some perspective on the story. It’s the last week of school and there are parties and preschool graduations and teacher gifts and other time commitments. I know it will be smart for me to simply take this week for me and the boys. To truly enjoy this time as we wind down into summer. But I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit to the pressure of knowing the next four days boast the only truly free hours I am guaranteed for the next 10 weeks.

And that’s when the fear and anxiety and doubt started to creep in. That doubt, she’s a bitch. She’s sneaky and second guesses everything I do. She laughs when I post on Facebook I finished a book, relishing the moment I’ll have to tell all these wonderfully supportive people in my life that offered their congratulations and words of encouragement that I am really a fraud. That sure, I wrote something that will never sell, never see the light of day, never amount to anything but a giant file on my laptop. She’s the one that is attempting to take up residence, snickering at the dream nearby, teasing it, taunting it, whispering to my logical self that I should start scanning the job boards for PR work now so I can have a “real” job by fall. She makes the dream hide, cowering behind practicality, hoping nobody notices it for a little while.

The thing about doubt, however, is I’m on to her. That’s why I’ve been so public about what I’m doing, the journey I’m on, the lessons I’m learning. By posting about dreams and sharing my tiny accomplishments with my friends both in person and online, I create a chain of believers who believe in me, who speak louder than doubt’s whispers, who hold tight and prop me back up when I attempt to sit down. And those moments have been invaluable on this leap of faith.

So it was with added joy that an envelope was waiting in my mailbox for me Saturday afternoon. Enclosed was my very own flower from a dear friend who has offered the kind of moral support I can never begin to thank her for. Her words are always spot on and impeccably timed. She was a coworker of my husband’s. Then we both had boys. Then she moved. Far away. And somehow, this strangely tangential connection fostered between cubicle walls and a third party has strengthened to a bond that I’m not quite sure either of us understand, but I think has been mutually beneficial to both of us as we navigate motherhood and big questions about careers and personal definitions of success. On a day when doubt was threatening to get louder, she sent me a dreamer flower.

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(If you aren’t familiar with Fellow Flowers, get familiar. I’m not a runner. Trust me. But the message this organization imparts to women goes so much deeper than running, so don’t be scared off by the running background.)

The dreamer flower description states:

“Dreamer. To show grace and courage. To embrace the challenge and welcome new beginnings. Putting yourself out there. Doing it scared. I will run through the fear to feel the joy.”

Just what I needed, just when I needed it. My aunt congratulated me for completing the book by saying that “The End” was only the beginning. So true. We are all diamonds in the rough, formed by the pressure of life and challenges and accomplishments and successes and failures, that we now must polish into our best selves. Just like I’ll do with this book. We are all works in progress. Rough drafts.

Now the hard part begins.

And I couldn’t be more excited. I’m putting myself out there. Doing it scared. And that makes it feel even better. Because today? Today is the next beginning. And I can’t wait to get started. Again.