Strange Territory

The other Friday night, Thing2 had a school dance.  Thing1 went over to SuperGal’s house for a quiet pre-prom night hang out.  The Big Guy went to play music with his traditional music band at the Wayside Country Store. For a few minutes, work was finished, school was out and I was somehow alone.

Then at 6, Thing1 texted he was starting home early, so he and I went to a new food truck discovery in Cambridge, NY. We got back just before the Big Guy finished up his gig. Thing1 went to bed early as he has been these days with his hair-trigger colon still sapping his endurance.  The Big Guy and I suddenly had the giant sectional all to ourselves. I had to keep reminding myself that Thing2 was going a sleep over after the dance since, even with the TV turned up to 50, the silence blared, heralding a new era.

When I started this blog about 6 years ago, Thing1 was just starting to pull at the fraying edges of my apron strings.  This year, despite the needs created by an acute episode of his illness, he’s been shredding the one on his side. What I hadn’t expected — but should have — was that Thing2 would start chewing at his share of the strings at the same time.

I’m wearing my UMass Mom t-shirt as I write this. It’s my new apron. There are no strings on it. Like that apron, it’ll get a few tears on it over the next few years, and, hopefully it will have a companion when Thing2 flies the asylum in a few years.

The geography of our new lifestyle is similar to when we were double-income-no-kids (DINKS) even if the absence of money reminds us that no matter where our kids are, there it is. Still, penniless or not, it feels like we’re entering new territory.


My favorite stories are the ones where people come to their reward after great struggle.  Tribulation becomes a path to growth or enlightenment, helping the hero or heroine see and not just achieve the love or live they covet with fresh eyes.  My life isn’t filled with tribulation, but it is filled.

From 7AM till bedtime, I am chauffeur, cook, tutor and maid (some days).  But for two precious hours every morning before the sun rises, I am awake and off-duty.  I write.  I draw.  I bask in quiet and calm that might not be quite as appreciated without a little chaos in the background.

The Momcave

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About six months ago, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s missive that a room of one’s own was as important to a woman’s writing career as a pad and paper, I decided to clear out our laundry room and create a studio/office.  At the time, I was drawing and even painting as well as writing, and, after a weekend of intense re-arranging, managed to carve out a bit of space among the drying racks and guest beds that get used 3 times a year.  I think I used the room for the purpose of writing and drawing exactly 3 times.

It should have been a hum dinger of a studio/office – the sliding glass doors look out on to our yard which is surrounded by mountains and forests – but for some reason I still felt the pull of our inherited round kitchen table.  I spend most of my workday there – it’s sunny and, when warmed by the wood cookstove, cozy.  However, while the kitchen table makes for a fantastic office, letting me stir dinner while I type, it was not so great for writing or drawing.  The activity around our kitchen table inspires most of what I write, but working at it requires finding an hour when it is not in use as an office or family community center.

Then, on my quest for more time (a key creativity ingredient Virginia, being single and childless, failed to mention), I stumbled into a room I had dismissed and forgotten.  Windowless and situated at the back of our house just behind the wood stove, sits a tiny room that was originally designed to be a photography studio.  Still used occasionally by the Big Guy when he’s at the computer, it’s been mostly a receptacle for crap being moved from the living room when we have guests.  It gets cleaned exactly when we have overnight guests who might actually see it with the door open.  Fortunately, one of those cleanings coincided with my pre-New Year’s resolution to try a morning writing regimen, and I was able to find my way from the door to my old-fashioned pull-down desk.  I’ve been using it almost every morning since.

Over the weekend I decided to pull the trigger and finish making it my own.  Knowing that the Big Guy will be moving his desk to his workshop soon, I planted my flag by doing the unthinkable – I cleaned on a weekend with no company (just this room, mind you.  I haven’t gone completely nuts).   Papers were filed, cords were coiled and organized.  Pictures of the boys were tacked up, along with a poster I did for a production of ‘You Can’t Take it With You’ at Hubbard Hall, a local community theatre in Cambridge, NY.  Then, with the help of the big guy, I brought down a tacky blue arm chair for Katy, my canine companion and took a picture (it won’t be this clean again for quite some time).

I think most parents will understand the sentiment that, in a family, there are very few things that belong solely to oneself.  Your time is definitely not your own.  For your kids, your possessions are curiosities.  If you’re a mom, even your body is often not your own.  Even long after they’ve been weaned, kids seem to have an innate sense that Mom and Dad belong to them – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

It’s almost dawn now, and I’m tapping away in the new and improved Momcave with Katy sitting behind me in her new chair.  I am keenly aware of irony that someone who’s carried a mental cave around for years has carved out a physical one.  But, while the silence and solitude and even the dark are luxurious, I am equally aware that, against the backdrop privacy and time, the people who inspire most of my life – on and off the page – are truly illuminated.

The Story of a Half an Hour

A few days ago we reached a new low in our parenting lives.  Or not.

Thing2, my first grader, is my social butterfly and my superhero.  He is a flitter and a flyer, particularly during homework time.  So on Thursday, after ordering him back to his chair for the thirtieth time, the Big Guy got a seat belt, plopped our wriggling six-year-old into his booster seat (which he doesn’t really need anymore), and looped the belt through the strap holes on the plastic seat.

The homework got finished in fifteen minutes.

I never thought I’d be belting my kid into a chair over a non-safety related issue.  But as I finally sat down to write at 5:26 AM (26 minutes late) this morning, I had to admit at least a little of Thing2’s fear of sitting was inherited.

I did get up at the appointed hour this morning, and, in my mental rule book, I had placed writing above everything except getting dressed (we’ll see what happens in the summer if the next diet resolution holds into spring).  Today I was even more efficient and decided my nightgown was fashionable enough for the back room.  But as I walked out toward the study and into the kitchen for a shot of caffeine, I had no idea what I was going to write.

So I stirred the coals in the wood stove.   They were nearly gone, and I decided a quick trip to the wood pile for a handful of kindling wouldn’t really cut into to my time too much, and I got my shawl and shoes and went out for a minute.  The cats greeted me, demanding a minute of head-scratching, and I obliged until the draft in my nightgown reminded me that my desk area was much warmer.  I got back to the kitchen at 5:08 and loaded up the stove, still wondering what I was going to write.

Thankfully, at 5:11 Nature called, and by 5:15 I was headed back to the kitchen for my caffeine.  The fire wasn’t catching, but as I bent down in front of the stove to play with it, I suddenly heard the Big Guy moving around down the hall in the bedroom.  I knew I had to appear productive so, instead of trying to start a fire that would heat the study by 7AM (when chef and chauffeuring duties call), I decided to pull on some warmer clothes.

At 5:24, I headed to the fridge again for my first infusion of caffeine.  I went back down the hall to my desk, shut the door to the study, still wondering what to write – let alone draw.  The light of my swing arm lamp illuminated the thermostat (70 degrees) just enough to let me know my fruitless quest for fire had been completely unnecessary.  But at 5:26 AM, as I was sitting down, I started to wonder if Thing2’s seatbelt would fit me.  And, suddenly, before the laptop screen had even lit up, I knew what to write.