Sparkling Solitude

Someone on Facebook wryly observed that, unless you’re socially separating yourself in the Quarantine region of France happy, then you’re really only engaging in sparkling isolation.

I’ve had to segregate myself somewhat from my family since being diagnosed with pneumonia earlier this week. I’m still close enough, however, to be able sit for a few minutes in the cool crisp spring air on the deck.

The grass is slowly getting greener.

The cats and the dog are cavorting in the dappled sunlight.

And two housebound brothers who, by virtue of the wide range in their ages and recent, age-appropriate but painful geographic separations had begun moving in different directions, suddenly have nothing better to do than play a good game of catch and catching up with each other.

If that isn’t sparkling, I don’t know what it is.

Go Work, Young Man

One of the bonuses having lived with bipolar disorder for over 40 years is that you can see the signs of creeping depression in others. I see it in my students when they have trouble showing up to class for weeks at a time or sleep through most of their school day. I see it in myself when my energy level plummets despite having had plenty of sleep, and, at about 11 o’clock this morning, when I went to announce that pancakes were on the table, I saw it creeping over a still-sleeping Thing1.

The young man who takes most things in stride, who rarely admits to anything bothering him, has been quiet for the last two days since he came home for the semester. Some of the time has been spent texting friends that he won’t see you for a few months. Other moments have been spent looking for jobs that, because of the nationwide effort to socially isolate, won’t be available and, for him and his compromised immune system, are extremely bad ideas.

My first instinct is to S(Mother) him with love. To try to take away the sadness.

But that’s not what he needs.

Trying to get myself ready possible home working and needing more space for books, I’m organizing my study and art space again. The target destination for my desk and books hadn’t been repainted in over 13 years, so I made a coat of paint and some new flooring my project for the weekend.

The ache in my recovering foot, however, reminded me early in the morning that climbing on ladders and spending too much time rolling paint might not be such a great idea. Thing2 wandered into the office asking if he could help, and I suddenly realized I had a cheap workforce just waiting to be put to good use.

Since T1 was still in bed, I decided to let T2 (younger and hopefully less business savvy) do the collective bargaining for T1&T2 Handyman, Inc. I laid out my business proposition — The paint and, with a bit of supervision, lay down the floor, and we agreed on a price.

I texted “pancakes“ to T1 and then mentioned the job. Getting no answer I decided to climb the stairs to his room and drag him out of bed before the day was gone.

“Are you awake?” I asked.

Groan.

“Want pancakes?” I asked.

Another groan.

“How about doing a job today? I texted you about it earlier,” I said.

Suddenly I saw a little bit of movement under the covers. A muffled “what job?” could be heard.

I laid out the deal that T2 had negotiated for the two of them and got a verbal handshake from the senior partner before heading back downstairs for my breakfast. It took him 10 minutes to get dressed, load up his plate with pancakes and bacon, and head into my study to help T2 who was already painting.

He painted quietly for the first few minutes, ignoring his brother’s cheerful attempts to engage him in high minded debates about The Rise of Skywalker or the latest in video gaming furniture. It’s pretty tough, however, to stay detached when T2 is trying to be social with you, and soon they were chatting about the job and how they would spend their money. They had the room painted in less than an hour (T2 turned out to be a better negotiator than I gave him credit for) and were starting on the flooring almost before I could give them a quick tutorial on “measuring twice, cutting once.“

Thing1 commandeered the bringing in of the flooring from the car, perking up even more as he realized he was the only one of our trio who was strong enough do that particular job. As the day has worn on, he has chatted more, sounding more positive about the job outlook and asking what other projects he could do. And I realized that it isn’t just the money that he’s after.

For the last six months, living away from home, he’s been mostly independent. He’s done well in his classes and suddenly become an extrovert. He’s been tutoring and looking for jobs. He’s made plans for the next six months and the next six years. He’s been becoming a functioning and useful adult.

For the last two days, sequestered from society in the embryonic embrace of home, he’s been comfortable, but he hasn’t had as much opportunity to be useful. Right now I’m sitting in the living room having a snack to recover from the hard work of supervising my two young men and coming to terms with the fact what they are going to need over the next weeks is not to be protected.

They are going to need opportunities to be useful and a lot of them.

Rearranging Life

Rearrangements

Thing1 returned home from college today, saddled with the knowledge that he won’t be going back until September. He’s in the same boat as millions of other college kids around the country who are rearranging their futures right now.

Thing1 has spent the past few years rearranging his future thanks to his chronic illness, but this is the first time that a nationwide phenomenon has directly impacted his trajectory. this latest crisis makes me think of all the young people who had their lives rearranged with the financial meltdown in 2008 or the aftermath of 911. Every generation seems to have its crisis that requires rearranging of lives.

Even in the absence of a national crisis, however, it seems like there’s always something that requires you to rearrange your life. A job can fall through. A spouse can become disabled or pass away, torpedoing old plans to make way for new ones.

Thing1 seems to be navigating this crisis, like so many others, with characteristic calm. There’s talk of how to stay connected with friends and finish classes online. He strategizing jobs for the next few months, trying to make the best of an unexpected and desired situation as we spend the next few weeks on outstanding home and garden projects.

I’m hoping that he’s also incorporating this detour into the bigger part of his education – the lessons he’ll need for living his life.

Shit happens. Not just stuff but serious, Grade A bullshit.

I was never very good about navigating around steaming piles of trouble until I had to get good at for a then-infant Thing1. When I had to get good at it, the learning curve was steep.

Part of me would shoulder all these lessons for T1 and T2 if I could make their lives easier. The part of me that still has scars inside and out, is grateful that they’re getting these lessons sooner rather than later and that, somehow, this seems like the better way to learn them.

Care in the Age of Corona

A few weeks before exams, Thing1’s school sends around a mailer that lets parents fill out a greeting card and select an assortment of “healthy” candies and snack foods to get through the rigors of studying and testing. Most of the letters from Thing1’s college are pleas for money for one reason or another, but this one always gives me the giggles.

The first mailer instantly had me mentally grumbling, “When I was your age we used to walk 50 miles in the snow without any care packages to take our exams”.  College these days seems a bit like summer camp but with amenities like all night cookie delivery and bubble tea joints on every corner (and, in the case of Massachusetts, actual joint joints on more than a few corners).

Care packages seem more than a little redundant.

But this week there’s something I didn’t have when I was his age. In addition to the suppressed immunity I never had at any age, Thing1, who has faced his mortality more than once in the last two years, is hearing all the same news we are about the new Corona virus going around.

The new virus which has people suddenly washing their hands (who were these people who weren’t buying hand soap before last week?) and giving Vulcan “Live long and prosper” greetings instead of handshakes is the next thing we’re worrying about for him.

Thing1 takes things in stride, but his school has decided to keep dorms open over spring break to encourage people not to travel. His hospital has reported cases and is discouraging scheduling of new surgeries, including the next one he needs, in anticipation of an increased case load. I know that, despite his ability to take life’s little challenges one day at a time, this virus and all its potential implications are at least in the back of his mind.

Most of the time, COVID-19 news interests but doesn’t overly worry me. I’m mostly healthy. Thing2 is abundantly healthy, and the Big Guy is a rock.

The implications for Thing1, however, are on the top of my mind when I think too long about this new virus. So, even though I’m going to remind him that, back in the dark ages, we had to study for exams by candlelight and write our essays on bark using charcoal when we were his age, I’m sending him a a little care in the form of some hermetically sealed candy and snack food.

And there will be at least one giggle when I hit send.

Here’s to the Nice Guys

One of the best gifts any parent can get is a sign that they’re raising a nice guy or gal. The boots drying by the woodstove yesterday morning were my signs.

Thing1 came home from college for the day Friday to schlep his brother home from school and to help out around the house while the Big Guy and I were at the hospital. He had the wood bin loaded by the time we got back and, with the Big Guy, helped get me up the front stoop into the wheelchair.

He’ll go back to his glamorous life of studying (yeah, studying, all weekend 🤪) later this afternoon, and I’ll keep the picture of his boots drying by the woodstove as a reminder what a nice guy he’s become.

Living in Lessons

Tree of the Knowledge of Good

I don’t tend to be a mourner. I shed a few tears, maybe a sob here and there, and then the person I love lives on in my memories and, if I’m lucky, in the lessons I’ve absorbed from them.

I’m blessed to have been born with a small army of Great Aunts. I don’t mean that  they were a generation removed from mine. I mean that they were and truly are great – awesome. They adventure. They dive into learning. They are helpers and nurturers. They have always been what I want to be when I (eventually) grow up. Kind. Brave. Extraordinary.

One of my League of Extraordinary Women passed away on Sunday night. She was a prominent fixture in our lives when Thing1 was born, helping us navigate the German healthcare system (where he was born). A counselor and mother, she helped me learn to trust myself and my love of Thing1 when I was getting my parenting sea legs.

I am thinking of her even more intensely this evening as I take a break from writing IEPs to absorb Thing1’s news from his latest visit to Dartmouth Hitchcock where he spent a good part of his senior year and what should have been his freshman year of college. We are learning, yet again, that having a chronic illness means that he has, what his doctor once warned was, a permanent diagnosis, inspite of having had a colectomy.  Now, instead of thinking about summer jobs, he is faced with another, riskier surgery or the very real possibility of cancer by the time he’s in his thirties.

He always seems to take the news in stride, but I know he’s frustrated and a little frightened. Hidden in my office where he can’t see me, I give into a few sobs before acting on the lessons my very awesome aunt taught me everyday.

I know if she were here, she would offer a hug and tell me to trust my love for Thing1 as we help him over this next hurdle. She would remind us that we have the strength to get through this together and that it’s okay to cry. And, as she showed us everyday of her life, even when her own child faced a debilitating illness, she would remind us to care for others around us. She would show us how not let fear steal the happiness we do have with each other.

I will sob for a few more minutes before I get back to writing IEPs, and then I’m going to remember her by living her lessons.

 

What Next?

This time last year, I was holding Thing1’s hand as he recovered from major surgery and navigating an unwanted gap year. I was still working at home, and Thing2 was still getting his feet wet in middle school. They were the center of my world and the center of my life, and I thought I knew who I was – a mom, writer and artist. The last twelve months, however, have changed all of that.

When I first started this blog seven years ago, I was a work-at-home-mom. The boys were 12 and 6 and, in addition to being the center of my world, were the centers of my days. At the time, the messes and chaotic rituals that go with raising creative kids in the country were endless sources of entertaining and, sometimes, heartbreaking, inspiration for post after post. Trying to preserve the moments, I got back to drawing/illustrating and then found my way to painting.

While Thing1 and Thing2 starred in many posts, I resisted making this a “mommy blog“ for reasons I couldn’t explain then but, after this year of change, I am starting to understand now.

I changed work venues and careers at the beginning of summer. Then Thing1 left for college after a summer of work. Thing2, a case study in extroversion, waded enthusiastically into the middle of middle school, and, while they are still the centers of my life and my heart, they are not always at the center of my day. Thing1 is carving out his own life. Thing2 is working his heart out to be better than his brother at everything. I’m getting to know them both as young adults, and it is an exhilarating experience. It’s also a confusing one.

The kids seem to be forging their identities almost effortlessly. I’ll always be a mom, but with each snip of the apron strings, my ‘mommy’ days seem to be slipping away. I’m still new enough at teaching to think of it as something I do and not yet as something I am, and that distinction has, over the last few months, repeatedly prompted a question about the other important part of my life of “What do I create?” Am I a writer who paints or an artist who writes?

With our family stories evolving away from the kitchen table near the wood stove, for the first time in seven years, I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to paint. I even started taking internet personality tests (always a reliable source of wisdom), hoping the results would spur an obvious answer and direction.

Then a friend reminded me that an artist is an artist, regardless of the medium. That meant the answer was simply in getting back to creating again. The task, now, is to start with writing something – anything – every day.

I know he’s right.

I know that the act of creating will be the discovery of the next stage of life. So bear with me as I get my new bearings. All topics are on the table, and the journey has just begun.

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