Midnight. Imbolc.


I was 18 when I began keeping vigil with all that was lost; which is to say, I began writing.

My youngest is 18 now.

His older brother was home this afternoon for a quick half-hour, just in time to hop in the car with his father and head south to my husband’s family home 300 miles away.

I waved from the mudroom as they pulled down the driveway and then Aidan and I turned to empty the dishwasher. As I was bent over the silverware it hit me. “All three of you share something I don’t,” I said.

Home.

Turns out, it’s hard to give your kids something you never had, and not for the obvious reasons.

While it’s been healing to offer the kind of upbringing I needed, it’s also surprisingly painful, especially now that they’re the age I was when there was hardly a home or parents to turn toward.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about moving. Far away. By myself. Like the time I lived in London or the time I backpacked through Europe or the time I went out to the Rockies. At 18 and 23, my boys are like bookends of the age I was then. It must be time.

Integrity is one of several paths. It distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path, and the only one upon which you will never get lost.

I came across this passage in a framed print at the second-hand store years ago, and slowly it wove itself into our family fabric, especially as my boys entered adolecence and I asked them to recite it again and again.

I leaned into that instruction myself, intuitively, 30 years earlier, after a miscarriage, as I prepared to leave my first teaching position. A colleague remarked on my diligence with the end of the year paperwork. “Why bother,” she said. “You’re leaving for Vermont.”

It was something I would hear echoed, again and again, each time I left a job, a rental, a relationship.

Integrity.

Ending well.

Tonight I looked for jobs across the ocean.

What must it be like to have a home to which you can return? I wondered this as my older son sat beside me on the stairs before he left with his father. “I’ll be leaving right away when we get back on Sunday,” he said.

I marveled at how he could “drop-in” to the familiar sights and sounds and smells of a lifetime, and then be on his way again, securely rooted and released, without any need to grasp or hold on or catalogue the memories before they vanished.

The restlessness I feel inside is almost unbearable.
UPROOT, it says, UPROOT!

I don’t want a house or a husband or a community.

But I’ve cultivated a lifetime of tools that enable me to stay with what hurts and what is uncomfortable and what makes me want to run.

Writing. Breath. Music. Dance. Meditation. Spiritual texts. Self-compassion.

“Observing desire without acting on it enlarges our freedom to choose,” writes Tara Brach, in Radical Acceptance.

Freedom is on the horizon.
Especially with January behind us.

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At the moment of most abundance

My son calls about once a week, typically on his walk home from work or on his way home from class (sometimes sustainable design, sometimes women’s studies); and his brain at 9 pm is on fire, and the possibilities in front of him unlimited, and his capacity to ponder and purpose and pursue lines of thinking is exponentially expansive while my world steadily shrinks in the dark.

“I bought a new spice rack and a Q-tip holder today,” I tell him. “And I found a chai frosted pumpkin loaf at Trader Joes!”

Which is to say, I’m tired, and not just at 9 pm, but in 2018 and 2017 and 2016.

Has it been this long?

It won’t always be this way.

Once my guys (and the country) are set, I’ll rise up again, right? Just as soon as I dismantle all the photo albums and the bins and the boxes in the basement and the attic, 25 years of home-nourishing that in this empty nest weigh me down.

It’s just around the corner.

57 is apparently the peak of women’s happiness, not 18 or 21 as suspected. My mother died at that peak and my grandmother just before it, like the leaves who let go at the height of their beauty.

What is that poem? I have it somewhere. What’s her name? It’s something unusual.

Monza Naff, that’s it!

Wait, aren’t I FB friends with someone named Monza Naff? Did she write the verse that I’ve turned toward every September when the anniversary of my mother’s passing comes along? (Is that how we became friends. Memory!)

AUTUMN

~Urge me to drop every leaf I don’t need
Every task or habit I repeat past its season
Every sorrow I rehearse
Each unfulfilled hope I recall
Every person or possession
to which I cling-
Until my branches are bare,
until I hold fast
to Nothing

Blow me about
in your wild iron sky,
crush
all that’s puffed up,
fluff
all that in me needs
to go to seed,
send my shadows to sleep.

Tutor me
through straining night winds
In the passion of moan and pant
The gift of letting go
At the moment of most abundance
In the way of
falling apples, figs, maple leaves, pecans.

Open my eyes
to your languid light,
let me stare in your face
until I see no difference
between soar and fall

until I recognize
eternity
in single breaths,
faint whispers of cool air
through lungs.

Show me the way of dying
in glorious boldness
Yellow,gold, orange, rust, red, burgundy.

~

“At the moment of most abundance.”

Yesterday, I woke with the runs, today I woke angry. “Anger is sad’s bodyguard.” This is sometimes true about anger, especially if it is stuck. But I needn’t fear. She is coming. We saw her yesterday.

Dr. Ford–vulnerable, poised, transparent in terror and anxiety, clear, considerate, accomplished, tender, fierce.

What is leaving is just as certain.

We saw that yesterday afternoon too.

Petulant. Entitled. Blaming.

Kavanaugh and Trump are emblematic of the Patriarchy unhinged; and day after day this creaking of the archaic contraction that has long oppressed so many wakes more and more of us, especially the women–from our illusion that strength and purpose and understanding is outside of us–finally realizing that we can lead–through tenderness, strength and purpose matched with commitment to voicing what is true, while loving husbands and brothers and uncles and sons.

“I can’t think of anything but Kavanaugh and chai-frosted pumpkin cake,” I might have said to my son when he called home last night, but instead I marveled at his capacities, and how I helped bring them to bear, and how if I’m fortunate, they will help make life better for others, and for himself, long after I’m gone.

Whose dream? (College Drop off, Part II.)


Friday is the day of detachment. Today we tell our children: Enjoy the journey.

I spoke those words to my youngest just before we took him to college last Friday (and every Friday before that for most of his life.)

But the body doesn’t care.
The body is unapologetically attached.
The age of the “child” irrelevant.

“He’s seeing someone from Istanbul,” I tell another mother about my oldest. “I’m afraid he’ll move there.”

“My daughter lives abroad,” she says. “We have such interesting conversations. Isn’t that what we wanted? To raise interesting children?”

“I want close children,” I say with a smile, before pushing my shopping cart in the opposite direction.

My oldest and I share a passion for conversation. He studies philosophy and economics. When he visited home in the first months away or after his return from a semester abroad or a winter living on a horse farm in Spain, he liked to engage in our well-worn dance of the mind.

I wanted to put my nose to his skin and keep it there, wishing I was a cat and he a kitten so that I could lift him by the soft folds at the back of his neck.

But back to my second born, our baby. The engineer. No matter how “interesting” he is, it’s irrelevant. I’m incapable of understanding so many of the thoughts in his head.

Both boys are brilliant and more importantly kind. “Why don’t you get better grades,” I often asked them.

“I had a stable childhood,” my oldest said, “I don’t need to overachieve like you.”

I applied the same pressure on myself as a parent which for me meant giving up a career.

“Aren’t your worried that he won’t get into a good school?” the other mothers asked after I announced that I’d settled on a play-centered preschool in the next town.

“I just want him to be happy,” I said. “To be kind. To like learning. To stay curious.”

I may have gone too far.
Both boys are comfortable going too far.

“My dream is California,” my youngest says.

My mind reproaches this resistance: This is normal. This is good. This is even welcome. (Or at the very least: This is how it goes.)

But the body… my body is horrified, trapped in a nightmare, looking for signs that she is not the only one that recognizes the tragedy being enacted on campuses across the country.

A family passes me in the parking lot of Vermont Tech. The mother didn’t think to wear sunglasses. (I wore mine inside which is a good thing because I cried as soon as the President of the college said, Hello, and pointed us to the coffee table.) The mother without sunglasses wipes her eyes with the side of her hand while her other arm embraces the shoulder of a younger teen as they head to their car without a body part.

“THIS IS WRONG!” I want to scream right there in the middle of the campus. (Where is the bell tower!)

But this is how it goes. It must be normal. Everyone is doing it. All around the world. Every day another post. Another drop-off.

Entire families accompanied freshman to their dorm rooms at Vermont Tech last Friday. I hadn’t seen that before. And I don’t mean both parents and all the siblings. I mean grandparents and aunts and uncles and exes and new spouses.

“We should have brought more people,” I said. “I didn’t know.”

(I made my father drop me off on the road outside the campus after he took me grocery shopping.)

“Don’t forget to drink water and eat vegetables,” I told my son.

It’s not that that I want something else. I miss my own rhythms of sleep and focus and food. I’m eager to place myself at the center of my life again. I may need to leave home to do that. Sell the house. Take a job abroad.

I’m reminded of the old adage about not cutting your hair right after… delivery? a breakup? I can’t remember. I tell myself to wait before doing anything radical. I cringe when I think back to dropping off my firstborn. Right away, I posted to my friends: Is it too soon to make his room my office?

I wasn’t getting on with my life. I was protecting myself from the gaping hole in the fuselage.

“I’m signed up to volunteer at the shelter,” another mother tells me. Her youngest and mine were at the same preschool. “What else will I do with this extra time?”

SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF!! I want to holler at this self-sacrificing mother, but we’re all just trying to cope.

I’m more inclined to empty than fill. “I want less!” I holler at my husband who wants to raise a pole barn this fall. “I want less house. Less responsibility. Less community.”

Divorce?

I think the greater risk is going on as if nothing has changed. As if laying down your life for decades is something tidily completed. “Well done, Me. What’s next?”

I want to feel into all the space, even if it means more fighting.

There’s so much space for fighting now. And movies.

The newly released film “Puzzle” is as subtle as early lung cancer, no signs of any impact until you’re too far gone.

There was a moment when the main character was alone, at the table, dying several dozen eggs for the annual family Easter Party, when it hit him.

“I’m so sorry I left you alone to do all that… all the holidays, everything,” my husband whispered, as I ate popcorn.

I couldn’t reply.

“That’s not me, that’s my mother,” I wanted to say.

I had been so sure I’d avoided her footsteps.

I wasn’t surprised when those a generation older than me, all women, laughed heartily at the scene where the wife intentionally leaves behind the item her husband expects from the store.

“Where is my Manchego cheese?” he asks. “Did you forget it again?”

I cringed as they laughed, knowing that they had spent too long in a supportive role.

The preview for “Puzzle” was “The Wife,” and it wasn’t like lung cancer at all.

Think: Glenn Close “Fatal Attraction,” but instead of a woman scorned, see the fierce, post-menopausal spouse who has revolved around your life for too long.

We drove home in the dark.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more films made like these,” I said. “Thanks to the Great Awakener in the White House.”

In the morning, I said what I couldn’t say aloud the night before, the cancer realized:

“I think I’ve been living all this time inside your dream instead of mine.”

~

(Demeter, College Drop-off, Part II.)

(The Edge of Now, College Drop-off, Prequel.)

Madness


She inspires me. She may be mad. She may not even be expecting. But she persists. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Winding small piles of straw on the narrow beam under the drip edge beside each cross beam. And each day, her work is blown across my porch and into my hanging baskets. But she doesn’t give up. She doubles her efforts, then triples them. The debris grows. Eventually, some of her work begins to take shape. And then the spitting begins. The mud. The moss. Across my porch. Until finally, one of her SEVEN simultaneous attempts stays put just as I rehearse the emptying of my own nest–my second son away at camp (and soon to fly.) Her efforts–so late in the season–like mine, at 54, attempting the delivery of a third child, the conception of a work of art, began 7 years ago. Straw. Spit. Mud. Moss. Another revision. Another revision. Persist.

From the You Can’t Make This Shit Up category…

Over the weekend we deposited our youngest in a dorm room on a university campus for a week at the Governor’s Institute on Engineering.

As he unpacked his things into a drawer, my stomach flipped with the realization that this was a rehearsal for what would take place–for real–at the end of August.

Meanwhile, on the empty home front, a Robin is attempting to build a nest on our porch, in July, and not just one, but several, each one on top of the beam under the drip edge of the porch roof which means her efforts continue to blow away, almost immediately, and as such, our porch is daily littered with her attempts, which reminds me of the long strands of silver hair that I find in dustballs and drains (on yoga pants and fleeces), abandoned by my head, which was once so full as to bust the largest of clips.

I was once told that I was a great nitpicker, which was meant as a compliment and a literal one at that. I had been picking nits out of another mother’s full head of hair, and I apparently had a knack for it.

Details. It’s true that I am good with them or that I came to be or once was. As a child, I lived beyond them, always frustrating my mother, whose eventual alcoholism, along with my father’s expectations, and a heavy dose of family tragedy, led me to adhere to details as if my life depended on it.

But yesterday. And increasingly so. I am mindless. I neglect to write down appointments. I leave things behind. I’m unable to answer simple questions like, “What did you do this weekend?”

There’s a line from a song I heard as a kid back when we lived in the Rockies, which is where my mother began drinking, and I began remembering, everything, before it vanished…

“I’ve been lately thinking about my life’s time,” goes the song, “And I can’t help believing in my own mind. I know I’m gonna hate to see it end.”

Did I know it would end even then?

I was once an excellent editor. “I barely have to make any changes to your work,” publishers told me.

But with age, I not only make an increasing number of mistakes but miss them even when I go looking for them.

And the truth is, I haven’t minded much. It’s been nice letting go.

“Community’s.”

I wrote that word and even posted it. I knew there was something off with it, but that morning, yesterday morning, as the Robin attempted one new nest after another, and my son slept in a dorm room 2 hours away, I couldn’t place the error.

I’ve thought this Robin mad. Disoriented. Foolhardy.

Is she even pregnant? Has she miscarried? Have her children flown, is that it?

Is all this a distraction from the maddening impermanence of motherhood? Is that why she persists with building a life on a ledge that can never sustain it?

How many days have I given to the relentless pursuit of nothing? What if my work is all potential, capacity, promise–without bearing fruit?

But aren’t we all a bit mad with this living?

Aren’t the talks shows and the standups and the memoirs filled with such admissions?

Could it be that the Robin is engaged in the art of deconstruction? A one-woman play. Off-off Broadway.

I could applaud her efforts rather than deride them.

It was a week ago, today, that a woman my age with a fine mind took a fall while walking her horse. On the way to the hospital, her mind left her, forever.

She left us on Sunday morning.

When I think of what it is I have to face–whether it’s leaving my baby off to live somewhere else or whether I should order more shampoo for the outdoor shower or whether this version of the book I’ve been working on will amount to something, I recognize the parallel that my old classmate will not take her daughter to college this summer, or harvest the basil, or effort at something that might very well amount to nothing.