Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Parental Adolescence, Retirement, Teens, Tweens, Twenty-something

Permission to Retire!

Once upon a time, with a college degree and honors behind me, I embarked on an unexpected and ambiguous career.

21 years later, I’m ready to retire.

“You can’t retire from motherhood,” my sons say, even though they both shave.

And why not?
Many of my contemporaries are leaving the office and the classroom and the police force, and not only are they celebrated, but they’re told to relax. To kick back. To explore. To embrace plenty of leisure time to soften their minds into something new.

“I’m worried that I’m living like I’m retired,” says a friend, on a Tuesday morning at 10, when we stumble upon each other in the cafe at our local Co-op.

I turn my chair toward her table and explain that I’ve been considering just that. “Why are we expected to jump into the next thing without the opportunity to get to know ourselves again?”

She nods her head, “I’m not the same person I was before. How could I be.”

Although my friend and I are a decade apart (her oldest and my youngest are peers), we share a mounting anxiety about what we’re supposed to doing, and if we’re doing it wrong, and even worse, if what we’re not doing… is unfair.

It’s true that our partners lives have been reshaped by parenting, but they’ve moved forward with their identities, while ours have snagged or circled or more often, met dead ends.

I tell my friend about another mother who once asked me in a panic, “Is it okay that I keep changing my mind? Taking jobs. Leaving them. I don’t know what I want. I can’t figure out how to manage it all.”

My friend nods knowingly.

“We have to claim this time,” I say. “Not just for ourselves, but for all the other mothers (and fathers) who come after us. We should write a book!”

My friend laughs. We often take turns bouncing big ideas like this off of one another, in between conversations about homework and driving and emerging sexuality.

“One of us needs a PhD,” I say.

This time we both laugh, and she shakes her head. The parent years have robbed us of our inclination toward expertise.

“I think we have to start by recognizing caregiving as a career,” I say. “There is so little understanding and appreciation of its complexities, particularly after the early years.”

My friend and I discuss all the ways that parenting a teenager and even a young adult require careful attention and artistry. I think about the elderly mother my husband and I ran into over the weekend; how she was in town to help her son through his divorce. My husband was touched at this act of motherly devotion, but I felt something else. A sense of responsibility and devotion that doesn’t end.

My friend glances at the time. “I have to get to some errands before I pick up the kids.”

We hug goodbye, and I turn back to my computer to outline the trajectory of the caregiving role, and then realize that I am 20 minutes late to pick up my son.

The hours of the primary caregiver

  • Newborn: 24-7
  • Infant: See above
  • Toddler: See above
  • Preschool age: Overtime
  • School age: Full time
  • Highschooler: Night shift
  • Young adult: Contractural

Roles and responsibilities of the primary caregiver

(all of the above from the audaciously insightful Penelope Trunk)

Post script:  “It’s challenging to tell others what I do,” I say to my husband, on our way to an event “Everyone raises kids, but it’s what people do for a living that distinguishes them. It’s as if consciously raising two human beings is some small thing.”

Suddenly the enormity of my devotion occurs to me, not just to my kids, but to the world. “Two human beings. TWO HUMAN BEINGS. I’m so proud of me,” I say.  “I want a party and new pair of Birkenstocks.”

Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, Teens

when the end is near…

There was the afternoon
when i slid down the wall
in the hallway
in front of the bookshelf
and dozed there
with a lap full of journals;
until voices lifted my gaze
out the window
toward the hill,
where Aidan,
tall and lanky,
like a teenager,
used a plastic bat
to hit snowballs to his friend.

Unlike his older brother,
Aidan has lulled me,
with his child-like ways,
into the fantasy
that “we”
will always
be.

(Emily was right…
How softly summer shuts, without the creaking of a door.)

Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Teens, Twenty-something

Money Troubles

klimt-mother-and-childI’m having money trouble. On the inside.

I thought the pain in my stomach tracked back to summer’s surrender to fall (when my mid-life chocolate consumption spiked from a bar a month to a desperate nibble every shrinking hour of the day); but after some in-depth chakra exploration this afternoon, I realize that the pain came on last spring–as my self-employment income plummeted.

I’ve since restructured the budget, and found a greater place of ease; but my stomach is still talking.

I listen in more closely.

It flashes back… to a young mother, sitting at the top of the stairs, after a long day home alone, with an infant.

I’m weeping.
Or I want to weep.

“I don’t remember my last paycheck,” I say.

Twenty years later this seems a silly thing.
And a curious one.

It’s hard to remember a time when I was defined by a paycheck. I’ve spent so many years now prioritizing home and family that income has grown comfortable in the back seat.

In fact, when I sit down to shape my goals for 2016, I find that my visions flow easily, until I get to the category entitled: finances.

I try, but I can’t even begin to wish for more. I don’t know how. I feel wrong.

Apparently I’ve exchanged fear of not having enough to fear of having too much.

This is further complicated by my long established role in the home. Instead of bread winner, I’ve been budget maker, deal finder, abundance-shaper.

I keep thinking there will come a time when my role is no longer necessary, but as the kids come of age, it seems just as relevant, in new and different ways.

Over the years as a parent, I’ve chosen to have less, so that we can have more.

Can I have both?
More income and more…
What is the other more?

More me. More family. More connection. More values. More alignment. More passion. More contribution.

With this insight, comes release.
A big exhale.
A softening of the belly.

Posted in Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, Teens

Mommy Graduation

DSCN3500
Mommies graduate too!

Earlier this month I experienced mounting anxiety as my youngest approached graduation; but not because he wasn’t ready.

It was me.

flat,1000x1000,075,fI’ve devoted a lifetime to children, and not just the past 21 years to my boys and their school; but the decade before that to the children in my classroom, and even the decades before that, to my seven younger siblings.

Underneath the separation anxiety is
GRIEF,
and underneath that,
a deeper truth:

I AM READY!

I’ve been ready.

But the readiness doesn’t diminish the loss.
The vacuum.
Where there once was Everything.

hot-airLast night, he graduated.
I graduated.
(From the last of them.)

My baby will leave the hill that shaped our lives together,
and head to town,
to the high school,
where his father teaches.

And me?
How do I feel?
That’s what people ask, expecting
sorrow.

I barely slept.
I tossed and turned and fretted.

It may have been the champagne,
but I kept thinking of bubbles
and all things
that float…
up.

Finally, my mind settled in on
balloons,
and then to a single
hot
air
balloon,

and the way,

SHE RISES,

as she lightens

the
load.

Posted in Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, Takes a Village, Teens, Wisdom of Youth

the fading of the kindergarten wall

DSCN2882
Aidan at the bus stop, with his luggage.

3:36 pm. The school bus stops at our driveway, across from the pond, but no one gets off.

Our youngest, 14, has just, this very moment, touched down in Liberia, Costa Rica with his Junior High classmates.

When his older brother made the same trip a handful of years ago, I was a wreck; but he was only 12.

Still, I’ve splintered this entire day checking the status updates of Jet Blue and the posts in our parent Facebook group.

We brought our kids to school last night at 2:30 in the morning, and gathered in the parking lot in front of the bus until everyone arrived. We chatted like it was normal to be there, in the dark, in the middle of the night, hanging out. Someone joked about getting breakfast, and we all felt the pull of longing after a long winter that has protracted itself into spring.

3:00 am
3:00 am

The yellow school bus heading to JFK, manned by their classroom teacher, pulled out, on time, at 3:00 am, and two sets of parents cheered. Not for the kids. But for us. We were heading home childless. For 9 days!

By the time I got in the car though, the emptiness overtook me, and when I crawled back into bed, my mind skipped from thought to thought and wouldn’t let me rest.

Aidan graduates this June. People dismiss elementary school graduations as excessive and unnecessary, but they are truly poignant in our community. This particular rite of passage comes after 12+ years with the same peers before splintering off to a number of different public and private schools in the area. (Our town doesn’t have a high school so the tax dollars are applied to a school of choice.)

The graduation is also distinguished by the school itself. Completing your tenure at Marlboro Elementary is a one of a kind experience–steeped in ritual, initiation, rigor and love.

At the graduation ceremony itself, the students proceed through a canopy of teachers and staff joining hands above them; and then the students take the podium to host the ceremony themselves, even secretly choosing the guest speaker in the months before hand.

Theirs is a combined class of 7th and 8th graders, so it’s the families of the youngers who host the reception afterward; and the next day, these 7th graders return to their classroom, on their own, to greet the upcoming sixth graders.

Prior to the graduation ceremony, other rituals take place:

  • the reading of poetry from their own kindergarten days in the company of the current kindergarten class;
  • the weekly literature tea followed by an annual game of croquet–with students dressed in their finest hats and light colored clothing (a sight rarely seen in these parts);
  • a hands-on tie-tying examination which is a longtime rite of passage at Marlboro Elementary;
  • a private Consortium for graduates and their families where 8th graders step up to the podium in the Town Hall, built in 1822, to share an exemplary personal essay;
  • a portfolio presentation where an individual graduate (assisted by a 7th grade classmate) presents his best work from each of her years at the school to his parents and select teaching staff;
  • a Cabaret, put on by the Junior High, and held in the evening, in the theater at Marlboro College;
  • and my favorite–the last All School Sing–highlighting the favorite songs of the graduates at the final all school gathering.
sadly, the only photo I can find of Aidan and me at All School Sing
sadly, the only photo I can find of Aidan and me at All School Sing–a dancing day

This past Monday, feeling the departure of my son on the horizon, I attended the weekly All School Sing, and sat across the room from the boy who once insisted on sitting on my lap, and then at my feet, and then just a few bodies away.

Now he has his own chair in the outer circle with the adults while his younger peers take a spot inside the circle on the floor.

I look over at my son from time to time to see if he sees me, but his focus is on his peers until one of our favorite songs is sung: Kindergarten Wall.

I imagine that I began punctuating the lines, “CLEAN UP YOUR MESS,” to his older brother long before I began turning toward Aidan with them; and it’s become a family joke; a duel of sorts; particularly as Aidan turns the song back in my direction with his own emphasis of a handful of lines, punctuating the “grownups”:

But lately I’ve been worried as I look around and see
An awful lot of grown-ups acting foolish as can be
Now I know there’s lots of things to know I haven’t mastered yet
But it seems there’s real important stuff that grown-ups soon forget…

I am relieved to see that at 14, Aidan still plays along, even from across the room; although now he does so with his eyes more than his voice. After school, he reminds me that the part directed to adults is a whole section long; and I smile, happy for the connection, with a tinge of loss, knowing that  has already left the messy stage of childhood and had has headed into the foolishness of aging.

The last song sung was another family favorite, one which is always shared at the Sing before the Junior High takes their bi-annual trip abroad:

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Long mistaken as Peter, Paul & Mary’s, my boys and I know to whom this song belongs.

Their sixth grade teacher, a jazz lover, detests John Denver’s crooning, so we make a point to emphasize that this is his song; and David makes a point to leave the room.

Last year, Aidan argued at great lengths with his music teacher about it. She finally conceded in a phone message to our house that evening: “Aidan was right; but Peter, Paul and Mary were the ones to make it famous.”

a classroom, transformed
a classroom, transformed

As we sing, “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…” a lump forms in my throat, just as Aidan motions for me to turn toward the back of the room where David is departing.

I smile and simultaneously realize that Aidan and I have sung in this room together since he was a babe in arms. We sang Leaving on Jet Plane to every class since then.

But when that school bus pulls back into the parking lot next week after midnight, there will only be a few All School Sings left between us.

Kindergarten Wall

When I was a little kid not so long ago
I had to learn a lot of stuff I didn’t even know
How to dress myself, tie my shoes, how to jump a rope
How to smile for a picture without looking like a dope
But of all the things I learned my favorite of them all
Was a little poem hanging on the kindergarten wall

CHORUS:

Of all you learn here remember this the best:
Don’t hurt each other and clean up your mess
Take a nap everyday, wash before you eat
Hold hands, stick together, look before you cross the street
And remember the seed in the little paper cup:
First the root goes down and then the plant grows up!

Well, it was first, second, third grade, fourth grade, too
Where I had to learn the big things the big kids do
To add, subtract, and multiply, read and write and play
How to sit in a little uncomfortable desk for nearly half a day
But of all they taught me my favorite of them all
Was the little poem hanging on the kindergarten wall

Chorus

But lately I’ve been worried as I look around and see
An awful lot of grown-ups acting foolish as can be
Now I know there’s lots of things to know I haven’t mastered yet
But it seems there’s real important stuff that grown-ups soon forget
So I’m sure we’d all be better off if we would just recall
That little poem hanging on the kindergarten wall

Chorus

©1988 by John McCutcheon. Published by Appalsongs (ASCAP).

Posted in *Workshops, Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Nuts & Bolts, Teens, Tweens, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

CHORES–Why they’re WORTH the FIGHT

children-parent-tug-of-war
I’ve written about the importance of chores before, including these posts:

The Necessity of Chores

HALF! Day

How Full is Your Plate? an online workshop for moms

But what I’ve failed to fully admit is how much easier it would be to  do everything myself.
(And it would be done a lot better.)

Why do I bother?

I’d like to say that I do it all for them–to make them better citizens, humans, energetic beings (and that is true); but another truth is that I don’t want to do everything so it’s worth it to have some jobs done less than perfectly.

BUT the angst. THE ANGST!
The reminding. The redirecting. The reprimands.

Sometimes I find myself questioning if it’s worth it, and questioning whether I should be encouraging other people to suffer like this by leading workshops on chore sharing in the home.

And then there are those other times, when in the distance, I hear the sweet and soothing sound of a boy swishing a toilet, or vacuuming a room, or emptying waste baskets; and I think: I AM BRILLIANT.

But what if you like doing your own chores and want them done perfectly?

I still recommend sharing the load. Here’s why:

The Necessity of Chores

But what if your teen’s resistance is so strong that it takes way more energy than you can manage to keep them in the game?

It’s still vital. For them.
Try a dose of creativity, like this:

HALF! Day

And now for a new chunk of highly salient information expanding on why it’s worth the EFFORT:

Kids need conflict to grow up. Particularly teenagers. It’s part of the individuation process. It’s how they begin to separate from our cozy nest and shape their own flight.

When I accept that conflict is necessary, I surrender to it, and not just that, I RESPECT it.

This is quite revolutionary.

Conflict isn’t in the way,
it IS The Way.

I’d like to take credit for this awareness, but my therapist gets a lot of that.

See this post for how I put it into action:

Episiotomy (of love)

And here’s something even more radical for your consideration:

Since conflict is a necessary part of the developmental process, particularly with teens, then how cool is it that they get their daily/weekly dose of parental conflict in a way that makes such a foundational difference in family life–working together to honor and contribute to the space we share–rather than investing it in other areas with much higher stakes.  (Think sex, drugs, alcohol.)