When I Grow Up, I Want to be Like my Kids

We’ve been on a hamster wheel of non-stop activity and change since spring. Every day I keep thinking that’s the day my real life will start. The day when I own my life again. The day when I feel comfortable and ready and the hours stretch ahead of me in an organized and productive way.

Instead, I wake up to boxes that still need unpacking, blank walls begging for pictures to be hung, a worn out GPS app from needing directions to everything, and an ever-growing list of errands. To top it off, our school registration plan backfired a bit and the boys started their new year-round school this week. Our school district offers a variety of traditional and year-round schools. Unfortunately, the traditional options were closed to us and although we had been hoping to keep them on a traditional calendar because, you know, creatures of habit, it wasn’t meant to be. So a week to the day of our furniture being delivered to the new house, the boys packed up their school supplies into their back packs and started a new school.

The boys? They’ve been fine. Excited even. They were unfazed about starting school several days into the new school year. They have rolled with the change to their summer schedule. My boys are happy, optimistic, content. They play between the boxes. They sleep in their make-shift beds. They explore the new spaces. They still hug us tight, maybe a little tighter. But they come home excited about things they did at school, people they’ve met, ways that the new school is different.

And I wish I could be more like them. Instead, I’m still hungering for a normal. The school routine starting earlier than I expected threw my non-routine into further non-ness. I’m wandering the house tackling projects that never seem to get finished and wondering when I will ever get back to writing.

But the boys? They’re good.

We might have been the ones to initiate this great and risky plan to move to a new state, start a new school, uproot our entire lives for something bigger in the grand scheme. But in the little ways, my kids are showing me daily how to actually do it by being brave and open and receptive to this new life.

So I will follow their example. I will do what I can when I can. I will start to learn what the quiet feels like in this new space without their feet on the stairs. I will take a deep breath and realize that the non-routine is where I am and where I am is still pretty damn good. Because every day is different. Every day is an adventure. Every day is an opportunity.

My boys taught me that.

 

 

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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.

Three Hours

Three hours.

Every weekday I drop the little dude off at preschool, come home and have three hours before pick-up. Three hours to spend focused on those adult-only tasks that are done so much more productively without interruption or carousing  children running about the house. Three hours for writing. Three hours to take care of busy work. Three hours for a kid-free grocery stop. Three hours for neighborhood committee work. Three hours for school volunteer tasks. Three hours for errands. Three hours to start a load of laundry. Three hours to wash dishes (damn the broken dishwasher). Three hours to straighten up. Three hours to email a friend. Three hours to schedule appointments. Three hours to get to those appointments. Three hours for quiet.

Three hours.

If only one of those tasks were on the docket for any given day, three hours could be ample. But let’s face it. Who in this non-stop world of life, not to mention parenting, has only one task on their to-do list? Inevitably, I am forced to choose. Forced to squeeze, manipulate, compromise.

Typically, I block out writing time. I may run a quick errand on my way back after carpool drop off, but I try to treat my writing time as sacrosanct. The errands book end the writing time. The tough days are when I can’t do that. When an errand takes longer than a quick stop. When planning for a neighborhood event takes more than just sending an email. When volunteering and morning dinner prep because of a late afternoon baseball game collide.

Three hours.

I used to think that I needed to be in the right mood to write. The “write mood,” you might say. If the “write mood” wasn’t available, the words weren’t either. I’m not sure what the “write mood” is anymore, other than a procrastination and avoidance technique. I will always be too tired or too hungry or too distracted. There is no perfect storm that allows the muse to appear, holding your mind and fingertips in creative ecstasy so that the words just flow and the story just builds and the brilliance descends onto the page. There is no music or candle or writing position that will make me a better writer. Only the writing. And so I have learned that the only true muse is my ass. And a chair. And putting the two together. Once they are connected, creativity is available. You can’t force creativity, they say. Well, sometimes you just don’t have a choice. You practice it by just doing it until finally your creative muscle is like any other and responds more willingly, more eagerly and with more strength each time.

Three hours.

I don’t have time for perfection. I don’t have time for inspiration. I only have time for writing. For sitting down. For dedicating. For forced work. Today, I had 50 minutes. That’s it. And I knew it was the only dedicated time I’d have. So I sat down. And I hated it. I didn’t want to. I tried Facebook and Twitter for a few minutes before I turned them off. Before I forced my ass into the chair and my fingers to the keys. It wasn’t pretty at first. There was a graph that was instantly deleted. A mental reboot. Although I was short of a typical productive word count day, what I wrote wasn’t half bad. It was progress. It was another step forward on the path to completed manuscript. It was a step forward in a character’s evolution. It was a step that wouldn’t have been made if I’d waited. For the muse. For inspiration. For time.

Three hours.

Summer vacation is looming in my peripheral vision. With no paying job to help supplement our income, we’ve decided to go summer camp free. The boys aren’t thrilled, but I know it will still be a fun and lazy and adventurous summer filled with pool time and hikes and parks and movies and Legos and neighborhood football games. What scares me is three hours. Where today I look at three available hours to squeeze in carpool volunteer duties, an errand, yoga and 50 minutes of writing as not much time, I see three hours on a summer as a luxury I can’t afford. Literally and figuratively.

So I’m practicing. Practicing to force the work. Practicing working in strange conditions. Right now I’m writing this like my keyboard is on fire while the 5 year old watches a post-picnic-in-the-park-endless-game-of-tag-playdate and just before the 8 year old’s bus completes afternoon dropoff. I could be reading a magazine or getting those nasty baseball pants out of my sink and into the washing machine or working on background for a possible upcoming project, but instead, I’m practicing. Practicing writing under pressure. A different kind of pressure. A noisy kids, spontaneous availability pressure. Can I write in the park while they are playing? Can I write while they play Legos? Can I write during screen time? Can I write at night (trust me, I’ve tried this one over and over and it never works but perhaps I need to try again)?

Three hours.

Fitting in time for our passions shouldn’t be a luxury, but as a parent, I understand that sometimes it is. Particularly when I have chosen a path that doesn’t pay immediately and therefore requires certain responsibilities and sacrifices. The fact is that I am the at home parent. I am the designated chauffeur, cook, nurse, teacher and playmate. I am also a wife and a friend and a thinker and a reader.

I’m not sure if I’m a believer in “making time.” I think that concept insinuates too much, requires us to take on too much, to stay up too late, to multitask to the point we are merely competent instead of excellent. I think we have time already. I think we need to find time. Time we’re simply using in other ways or afraid to use for our passion purpose. Time we think isn’t appropriate for the muse. Right now I have three hours to spend on whatever I decide. Three hours to work, whether on my manuscript or on our family life. This summer, I may have three minutes. The big question will be how I decide to spend it.

School’s Out

Now that I am finally beginning to appreciate these lovely mornings of solitude – both kids in school, no job to rush off to – it’s coming to an end.

School’s out for summer.

Or will be in 7 short hours.

bus

Last morning bus pick up for awhile…

And while I am looking forward to lazy days by the pool, spontaneous outings and no more 6:15 alarm clock (oh, how I am looking forward to that), I am also looking ahead with some trepidation.

The boys are typical siblings and play well together until they don’t. I’m not thrilled about a summer of refereeing the (imagine nails on a chalk board whining voice) he hit me and I had it first. School provides a time structure for meals, screen time, getting dressed. I want a relaxed summer, but not one with my 7 year old in his jammies at lunch time or my 4 year old begging for more time on the iPad. And what about my time? I decided to take advantage of this layoff to focus on some writing tasks. With both boys underfoot all day, every day, how will I work that in?

It’s a challenge I’m not sure I can fully anticipate.

Parenting for me is a lot like sailing. You can check the forecasts, prepare the boat, ensure the life vests are ready and then set sail. The waters may be rougher than you expected or the winds not as swift. If you’ve stalled out in the middle of the lake with no breeze to take you, then drop anchor and go for a swim. If the seas are rough, you need to find your balance, adjust your course and know it’s only temporary. If the sun is shining and the winds friendly, take that moment to enjoy the speed, the warmth on your skin, the spray in your face. In other words – you deal with what comes and enjoy the moment.

Some days will be easier than others. Some days may not. I may not get time alone every day. I might not get the quiet or blocks of time I desire to write. I may need to learn a new normal of sneaking in bits here and there or writing in the semi-quiet while the boys are building race tracks down the hall or constructing towers of doom with every block, Lego and box in the playroom. I will need to take deep breaths and focus on new definitions of productivity.

And some days I’ll need to nurture my soul with the boys. I feel lucky that many of the activities that my children enjoy also fill me up. So while I may not be getting “quiet” time, I may be getting a lovely hike or exploring the local botanical gardens or perusing titles at the library.

And if all else fails, I may need to set that alarm clock after all and find my time where I can.