There’s a thin line between love & hate. That’s the chorus from an old song, right? But my therapist says something like that too–hate/love–two sides of the same coin.
Both my kids graduated this season–one from high school/the other from college. As I look through the photo albums and the keepsake boxes that I carefully prepared over the years, I think about putting all of it in a pile, outside, dousing it with kerosene, and lighting it on fire.
I share this motherly vision with Aidan as he packs for his interview upstate. “We don’t have kerosene,” he says, as he stops to wrap his arms around me. “But you could use the fuel for the lawnmower.”
I haven’t seen the baby foxes for more than a week. I left for 4 days and somehow they left too.I stare at the rocks every day, waiting for them. I betcha they were fed a Robin for breakfast one morning because she never returned to her nest either.
Maybe I should write fiction instead of memoir. This isn’t about me. This is what it is to have been devoted. To have loved and sacrificed. To have arrived at the other side of the bridge.
We’ve had a good run the four of us. I’m equally determined to be one again. To distill a singular focus. To make a gift of it, this wild & precious life I’ll call my own.
Yesterday, while holding an infant, I simultaneously experienced a heat wave—2 currents crossing in the same body—Motherhood meets Menopause.
By my age both my grandmothers had a dozen grandbabies around them, and deep into their own Change, I’m no longer surprised that they were grumpy, particularly in the morning, or drunk, particularly in the evening.
I understand their proclivities, resentments, depressions even while I abstain from more than a few ounces of spirit, not wanting to stoke the fire inside, particularly in sleep; and neither wanting to anesthetize it, so necessary is heat to Transformation.
We are such a mystery even to ourselves. Mystery with a capital M and mystery with a sad face, taking up so little space beyond our bodies—these objects of attention, adoration, derision & violation.
There is much to talk about and we have waited long enough.
These Currents Rising are directing the Change, not just within us, but among us, and Around the World.
Rather than enroll in a Masters Program in Organization and Development in New Hampshire, or in a vigorous life-coaching mentorship out of Colorado, and in lieu of resentfully renewing my lapsed teaching license in Vermont, I showed up at a place called Kripalu in the Berkshires of Massachusetts–to dance.
Now’s a good time to admit that all these detours were an attempt to avoid (and covertly bolster) what was truly calling me–a desire to write–which led to a companion desire–to create as much space around the writing as possible–apart from mothering/partnering/homemaking and earning some semblance of an income. Quite a dance!
What has also whittled down, in parallel form, is my income.
While I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to increasingly earn in creative and life-giving ways; this is often accompanied by angst around rising household expenses and the fear of not earning/being/doing “enough.”
And yet, after much inner struggle, I came into a place of surrender this summer, softening into mydeepening commitment to the bookas if it were a daughter, and into the limited income that caring for her affords me.
Out of this clarity came the decision to simplify my income–to two parallel offerings a season–one in writing and one in dance–two wings to support my own journey and that of others.
Ironically, my hard-earned clarity was met by my husband’s who shared that he was ready for me to make more money, three times as much in fact.
We laughed at the synchronicity.
After the laughter, was the nitty-gritty. I zeroed in on the necessity ofretiring one role (Motherhood) before landing the next; and so we sat down with the budget and made it work with a commitment to adhering to it more diligently; because after all hadn’t we managed to make ends meet in much leaner times when the kids were little and he was a new teacher.
With this commitment and clarity was met with Autumn’s back-to-school energy, I renewed by daily work on the book, and as a result, I experienced a growing sense of self-trust and possibility, both of which had waned as a result of inner conflict.
Meanwhile, I set to filling my fall sessions, which fortunately are the easiest to fill at this time of year.
After some initial sluggishness, my online writing journey was fully enrolled;while enrollment in the dancing journey stalled; and remained stalled, even as the starting date grew closer and closer; and my anxiety grew larger and larger.
Over the past decade, the dance has become an integral part of my own health, and my commitment and connection to community, not to mention a creative outlet for that part of me who is teacher, crafting music, movement and chakras in a conscious flow.
But faced with an unsustainable enrollment at a time when sustainability was key, I had to make a choice.
Suddenly, the point of the audio book that I ordered over the summer came into sharper focus. In Let Your Life Speak, author Parker Palmer introduces a form of guidance that reveals itself: When way closes.
Was way closing on dance for me? After ten years? Could I let it? Couldn’t I try harder? Certainly I could bring the dance to one of the surrounding towns who had long asked for me to do the same…
I fretted. I gave one last effort. I meditated.
This morning I refunded the enrollments of a small handful of students who were ready to begin the dance this week.
In doing so, I felt a surprising sense of relief and also a predictable measure of unfolding grief, tinged with old essences of embarrassment and shame.
In the meantime, I’ve crunched the numbers, only to discover that even the simplest of jobswill meet what I’ve earned nourishing consciousness with music and movement and writing.
The absurdity of my past efforts on this account is hard to bear in the black and white of a spreadsheet. But not in the light of the matching absurdity of devoting so much time to a book that no one is waiting to read–at least no one with a check to match the years of effort; not to mention the absurdity of laying down so much promise–professional and financial–to surrender my body and life–as home–to two splendid human beings–twenty-three years ago and counting.
What I realize only now, as I write, is that this letting go brings me back to the yogic principle that guided me as I first set out to lead the dance a decade ago: Ishvara Pranidhana.
I could have danced all night, yes, but instead, I’ll return to the classifieds, seeking a fit for an increasingly un-fittable woman who is ready to accept the ease of income, in devotion to the calling that she cannot refuse.
I emptied a book-case, cleared a desk, set up chairs, bought a table–and created an office just for me.
At first I was a writer, and then because I was afraid it (or I?) wasn’t enough, I added life coaching, and then dance. Soon I was offering workshops and retreats and classes.
Next I explored activism, and blogging, and travel. I participated in rallies, joined an online writer’s group, and facilitated an international conference in Chile.
I began avoiding my office…
Most recently, I committed to a year-long yoga teacher training program, hoping that it would help deepen me into that which I have. When I returned home after the first weekend of training, I was overwhelmed by how much work lie ahead. “Where am I going to put all these books?” I said to my husband.
“Well, you can’t put them in your office,” he said, “It’s already overcrowded.”
I took a look. I can’t remember the last time I really worked in there. The horizontal surfaces are piled with debris; and underneath it all, I find binders and bins and boxes filled with the endeavors I embraced along the way… to me.
Only now, they’re so heavy, I can’t breathe.
At the end of that first weekend of training, we’re asked to come up with a year-long Master Project and share it with the group. I’m shocked by what I choose, and almost heartbroken by what I don’t–not a single one of my new-found passions or even the book that I “just had to write” last year.
I tell my classmates that what I want to accomplish is this:
She woke at 4:22 am, but didn’t go back to sleep. If it had been a Monday, she would have demanded it of herself; but since it was Saturday, every minute she stole from the dark would be hers.
She lay in bed considering consciousness, and contemplating whether or not she’d had enough sleep to survive a day. It was a tricky calculation. After a grueling afternoon at work the day before, she had collapsed into bed before 9, only to be wakened an hour later by the door latch and the creaking of the floor and then by snoring.
She woke then as if she had napped, feeling refreshed and better equipped to face her life; but it was 10 pm. It occurred to her then that she should have taken a nap at some point during the day rather than go to bed so early. But where? Under her desk or in some corner at the office? She was once capable of that kind of surrender.
Now she turned and tossed and stewed and sighed, but despite the comfort of her ruby flannel sheets and the Sleep Number bed set at 35, she could not return to slumber.
“I don’t want him to go that party,” she finally said to her husband, about their son.
He had the audacity to reply, “You’ve woken me twice already.”
Eventually, she bled her mind back into sleep, and now at 4:44 am, she decided to rise, tossing her calculations aside.
What will I do, she asked herself as she creaked across the bedroom floor and fumbled for her robe in the dark. Should I wrap presents? Write Christmas cards? Figure out last-minute gifts?
She should, but she didn’t want to. She had grown weary of the work of Christmas. Long ago.
Instead she went in search of eye drops. After sorting and discarding and reorganizing all three shelves of the medicine cabinet, she found the small white bottle on the counter where her son had left it; weeks ago; when he thought he had pink eye.
She worried that she had pink eye too. Her eye had been itching all night. She worried about all the clutter on the bathroom counter. She worried that she no longer cared to address it. There was even hair.
She was tired. Not from waking at 4 am, but from taking care of a house and a home for so many years. She had outgrown it. Prematurely. Her boys still lived there. They were 11 and 16. She should have had them earlier.
Into each eye, she placed a drop, blinked it in, and then tiptoed down the stairs to all the objects calling for attention. The dark woodstove. The kitchen sink. The table covered in projects, half-begun. The counters, continually re-populated with crumbs and butter and clutter. They hollered at her because she had ignored them, and they watched as she took her seat on the couch and whittled away the darkness with words.
Because Christmas was only a week away, she hid from it. It was impossible to keep up. And worse yet, she no longer wanted to. She had outgrown the management of her life. How long had she been at it now? Maybe even before her mother started drinking. How old would she have been then? 10, 11?
It was around that time that she began her career in management. At first it was clubhouses comprised of friends–with meetings and dues, field trips and community service projects. Later there were basement variety shows and backyard performances. There was talent to seek, acts to plan, concession stands and ticket sales to prepare. There was the man who told her that he could report her to the IRS after which she turned non-profit. Girl Scout Cookies, UNICEF boxes and Muscular Dystrophy carnivals.
At 12, she discovered self-employment–her calendar filled every night for a month in advance. There were the large Mormon families of 5 or 6 children, and tidy Protestant ones with only 2–who had exact bedtimes and routines and assigned snacks.
She marveled at the orderliness of one particular mother for whom she babysat every Tuesday from 6:00 to 8:30–she had short, perky hair; tailored jackets; and everything planned in half-hour segments–time for play, time for the Muppets, time for a story, time for bed; while she went off with her dutiful husband to attend something called P.E.T. classes.
She never needed Parenting Effectiveness Training. She could handle kids better than most grownups. It helped that she liked them, and therefore, wasn’t afraid of them.
“We know you mean business,” a student once confided to her during her first year in the classroom.
Before becoming a teacher, she had managed a restaurant. Ever summer during college, she hired and trained 50 peers, most of whom were happy and productive and loaded by August. That first summer, she worked a hundred hours a week. That’s how much it took to turn the place around, and by the second summer, the restaurant doubled it sales, and she reduced her hours to 80. She returned to school that first summer with Mono, but it would be another twenty years before she realized how tired she really was.
Acadia National Park. That’s where it hit her. It was her first solo trip since becoming a parent. She hiked and drank tea and visited the shops in Bar Harbor. Her days were delicately expansive, as if she could finally breathe, but her nights were a total wreck. After more than a dozen years as a mother, she could no longer sleep apart from her family, especially not in a cabin in the woods by herself.
This contrast of terrifying nights with glorious days exposed shocking thoughts. As she drove Acadia’s Ring Road, which circles the park with majestic views, she saw her mini-van turn off the cliff and into the air and down to the sea. The vision came to her again and again, but made no sense. She wasn’t suicidal. She was happy. She was giddily happy.
She was exhausted from trying to be.
Happiness was her thing. By 15, her mother had assigned it to her. If she wanted her sisters to have baths with rubba-dub-dub or lullabies at bedtime, she would have to do it herself. “It’s your turn now,” her mother said.
So she made the Sunday brunches and the popcorn and the Christmas cookies. In her mother’s defense, there were mountains of laundry in the basement, and piles of dishes in the sink, and a demanding husband to serve.
Her mother had been the oldest of eight herself, and had grown weary of families long before she became a parent. Drinking was probably the only way she knew how to let go, just like her mother had done.
This might explain why she now felt the urge to tie one on after her demanding week at work; which was funny, because unlike her mother, she preferred employment outside the home to the full-time drudgery of the housewife; though both roles depleted her in different ways.
Of course she didn’t head to a bar. She went home, and joined the family to light the tree, and then tussled with the world of homemaking; and finally escaped to bed–before any of them.
It’s 6 am now, and the sky is still dark, and everyone else is still asleep. The kitchen has stopped calling, and suddenly looks peaceful in its disarray. The room is gently lit by twinkling glow of the tree, and she feels as if she’s been writing among the stars.
It’s time to start the fire and load the dishwasher and settle in to let others know that she’s thinking of them this Christmas. Maybe she’ll write those cards after all.
It’s not so much her life that she’s outgrown, she realizes, but her orientation to it. That’s what no longer fits. If only she knew how to sew.