The Windchime

The Windchime

Windchime

After the storm, the windchime is still in its spot.  It was a gift from the Big Guy’s sister who is not my sister-in-law.  She’s my sister.

We didn’t have to go through all the in-fighting that adolescent sisters inflict on their parents.  She lives in Southern New England, so we see each other a few times a year.  Over the years, we’ve become friends and then truly family.

She brought this chime as an xmas gift a few years ago, and I keep thinking when we build a deck (which could be very far in the future given our ability to procrastinate building decisions), I’ll design a special spot for it.  Now it’s hanging form a post that’s sunk into a corner of our very over-grown stone patio.  I actually like it there.  It seems to survive all kinds of storms, and it’s seems like it’s there to remind me to suck it up and stand firm when things don’t go perfectly.

It’s a lot like the giver in that way, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot the last few weeks as the storms of late autumn bluster through our mountain.  My day job has claimed all my daylight hours and even most of my waking night time for the last few weeks.  Everything else has disappeared – running, writing, down time.  Even if I can set the alarm for my 4 AM writing time, often I do the numbers, realize I’ve slept four hours and reset the clock.

Sometimes it seems like it should be nothing.  Writing’s just a hobby, right?  But it’s also who I am.  Not doing it makes me incomplete.  Not providing for my family, however, would create an even bigger hole.

I’ve been there before and not by choice.  A few years ago the Big Guy spent a week in the ICU because our then lack of health insurance had deterred him from seeking medial attention until a minor infection became an absess that nearly ended his life. It took years to pay off that bill, but it isn’t the fear of another ruinous bill that helps me accept being incomplete right now.  It’s not even the determination never to let lack of insurance determine when we get care.  Right now, what’s got me up at 5AM, girding my soul for another soulless day is that wind chime.

The Ministry of Organization

The Ministry of Organization

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This may come as a shock, coming from someone who blogs (I don’t brag about it either) about being a bad housekeeper (blogs – not brags), but I am not naturally organized.  Staying organized always seemed like a juggling act that required advanced skills.  I pick my battles, but the need to organize my day is forcing me to pick a new fight with my life.

There are certain balls I can always keep in the air.  Apparently having kids endows you with some hormone that keeps you from letting their priorities slip through the cracks (thank goodness), and the desire to eat regularly keeps me signed in at work on a daily basis.  But the house, writing and fitness are a few things that tend to hit the ground more often than I’d like.  

The house has always been the lower priority, but almost a solid week of intense cleaning and vacuuming dictated by a sudden flea infestation put it at the top of the list.  With kid not yet in school, I’ve been able to juggle a few things, but fitness and writing have become casualties more than I wanted them to.  A few days ago, out of desperation, I pulled out my organizer and created a weekly schedule. 

The plan was to get up early and write, then exercise and then clean before the kids got up or had to go to school.  The morning writing is relatively new – the morning thing is new.  I’ve traditionally been a night owl, but last winter decided to try and change my body clock.  It worked – sort of. 

At the time, I was a serious caffeine addict.  Over the summer, a change in my diet helped me mostly kick that habit.  At first, I keenly felt the absence of my old stimulant, but better nutrition and fitness helped to compensate during the day.  The one time of day I still notice the dearth is in the early morning, and I finally realized that maybe even moms need more than 4.5 hours of sleep a night.

Last night my body, intensely aware of that need was not able to convince my brain that it was time to shut down.  Minute after minute passed as I watched my planned six hours of sleep dissolve into five and then four.  In the past, I’ve gotten up and written, but the last few days worry has inspired my insomnia, and I did what I do best – worried.  About braces for Jack, about the lemon I call a car sitting the driveway, and – naturally – about every flea (phantom or in-the-flesh) that might still be crawling toward our beds.  

Finally, I picked up my alarm/organizer and, surrendering the idea of writing or doing yoga this morning, I set the alarm to go off an hour later.  Then I scrolled over to the organizer trying to find another hour in the day.  It took an inordinate amount of time to remember that once I would have used this kvetching time for creating, but when I did remember, it was an ‘A ha’ moment (the nearby slumbering Big Guy just incorporated it into a dream).  Fortunately, I hadn’t scheduled worrying into my night yet, so the slot was free.  Suddenly there was time in the morning to walk the dog, clean, get exercise out of the way, eat, get the kids out of the house, and get to work.  And there was time to sleep.  

This morning the alarm went off an hour later. There was an actual to-do list (something that’s only existed in my imagination until recently).  Another hour later, the must-do’s were done.  The worry was gone, and there was an unscheduled hour, so I sat down to do what I love to do best  – write – and what could only have happened when I started to what I hate to do most – organize.

A Day with the Boys

A Day with the Boys

the boys

Once upon a time I would have traded blood and organs for the chance to be a Work At Home Mom (WAHM).  A few years ago, I stumbled onto the right ad on Craigslist and, without making any deals with the devil, joined the growing legions of moms who work from home.  For the most part it’s been a win-win.  I’m home on snow days and sick days.  There’s no dry-cleaning to worry about, and the gas and rubber saved is significant.  It has also, however, taught me a lot about the difference between quality time with my kids, twelve-year-old Thing1 and six-year-old Thing2,  and simply more time.

Our town has school choice, so Thing1 and Thing2 go to different schools in different towns.  The schools are a mile apart, and, while the calendars often overlap, there are somedays when one school is closed and the other is not.  Yesterday was Thing2’s day off, and, enjoying a unprecedented state of organization last week, I remembered to schedule a day off for myself.

The kids are in school full-time now, but summers and holidays mean that I’m often scrambling to entertain them while I work.  More often than I’d like, this results in kids playing on iPads or computers and me snapping at them to stop fighting over this or that toy.  It’s more time together, but it is not quality time.

Ironically, spending more time with my kids has fueled my desire to carve out more special days with one or the both of them.  It’s a tradition that started when Thing1 was still Thing-only.  Mommy-Thing1 days started with a special breakfast and then a visit to a museum or even just a day on the couch watching a movie of his choice.  It’s one-on-one face time, and it’s become a sacred ritual for both kids.

Thing2 and I started the day with breakfast and haircuts.  Money he had earned was burning a hole in his pocked, so we took a quick trip to the toy store and then went to visit a friend who’s recovering from surgery.  By the time we got home, my day with Thing2 was drawing to a close, and a planned evening with Thing1 was about to begin.

The Dorset Theatre was in its final weekend of its production of The Crucible, and, since we don’t have a regular babysitter, the Big Guy and I had decided to take turns attending.  We’ve been dragging Thing1 to plays for a while now (with increasing levels of enthusiasm), and I decided we would go out to dinner before the play.  Thing2’s palate is getting more adventurous so we ended up a Thai place in Manchester, VT.

The restaurant was a little more upscale place than we usually go with either child, but Thing1 warmed to the subdued atmosphere.  Absent distractions, we began to have a different Mommy-Thing1 day.  Thing2 is still at that stage where Mommy and Daddy are at the center of his world, and our special days are basically one big mental cuddle.  But Thing1 is at the border of adolescence, and the independence that accompanies that stage of life means that our special days have changed in content and character.  Last night, as our special day consisted mainly of  very grown-up dinner conversations about technology and society and later about the play and the performance, I began to see for the first time how that change is bringing us closer.

Good Parents Never Retire

Good Parents Never Retire

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There are a lot of things I love about my parents.  I love that they never pull out a tape recording of all the things I said I’d never do as a parent when I do exactly that.  I love that they are flush with great advice but wait until it’s asked for.  I love that, as I begin to understand their point of view on so many things, they never say, “I told you so.”   And I love, that at the ages of 70 and 72, they’ve never really retired – not from their jobs or from parenting.

My dad knew he wanted to be a doctor pretty early in college.  He’s been in medicine in one way or another for most of his life (not just his adult life – his life).  His career has changed over the years, taking him and us around the country and even the globe.  What never changed was his drive to learn.  My mom started her career as a history professor when my sister and I were a little older, and, while her job didn’t involve as much globetrotting, she had the same insatiable lust for learning as my dad.   

When they got closer to their retirement age, we expected they might slow down and transition into being full-time grandparents.  My dad, however, kept traveling for one lecture or research project, and my mom kept reading and writing and teaching.  They did have tentative plans for after retirement, but they constantly seemed to get pushed further down the road.

My dad announced his retirement first.  I wondered how long it would take this man who was constantly traveling to go stir crazy (or make my mother crazy).  But he already had plans.  He barely seemed to stop for a breath before launching himself into a different incarnation of his love of medicine and learning and service.  He may have left his job, but, even now, years later, he is still a medical man.  It was not just a job or even a career, it was and remains a passion.  

My mom continued this pattern.  Her job ended, but her work continued.  Like my father, her retirement was marked by the end of a paycheck and the beginning of projects.  She joined another history organization, investing almost as much time on research and writing as she had before retiring.  She’s been retired for several years now, but she is still every bit a historian, and, with my dad is still busy teaching me some valuable life lessons as she navigates this phase of her life.

They don’t work as many hours as they did when they were employed, but even when they’re on vacation, they will retire to their office/bedroom for a little research or writing.  Most days I like my job very much (absent a winning lottery ticket or  writing the next Harry Potter, I’ll probably be doing it till I retire).  Only unwillingly, however, do I let it intrude on my family vacations, and it wasn’t until recently that I ‘got’ why my parents invited their ‘work’ into their holidays and their retirement.

What helped me ‘get’ it was finding the Writer’s Project at Hubbard Hall led by author Jon Katz.  I always loved writing, but there had been times when life got too hectic and I let it fall by the wayside.  The Project demanded that everyone who was intent on staying with it needed to write and share regularly through our blogs.  At first, this was as an act of  discipline.  Then it became my regular indulgence in ‘me’ time.  It was not until we went on vacation with my parents, however, that I began to realize that it was giving me a brand new perspective on my parents and on work.

Determined to have a real vacation last year, I only took my iPad and left ‘work’ at home.  But from the moment we left our dirt road for the paved highways, I wrote.  Every place we stopped I wrote.  At night, I wrote after everyone else was in bed.  When the kids were busy with their Tinker Toys or at the beach, I wrote.  And, as I watched my Mom and Dad withdraw each day to their office and invite their lifeworks into their vacations, it struck me that, for the first time in my life, I had done the same thing.  

Finding the Writer’s Project was serendipity, and it would have been worth selling blood and organs to join had it been necessary.  But watching two people living their passions as I rediscover mine has enriched the experience in ways I couldn’t anticipate.  The workshop encourages us all to follow our passions.  My parents are showing me how to thrive on them for the rest of my life.

Expecting Inspiration

Expecting Inspiration

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For the past few weeks my waking hours have been spent mostly shut off from the world.

I rise before dawn to write and read – forcing myself to shut out the world that beckons from the internet.  At 7 AM, I’ll wake my boys and spend the next 45 minutes getting them dressed, fed, and chauffeured to school.  Then I’ll come home and take care of the few chores I do on a daily basis before sitting down to work until dark again.  I’ll re-emerge from my work area in time to make dinner and start the cycle all over again.  The short winter days ensure that I rarely see daylight, but the thing I have noticed the most as my job demands more from my family life with the waxing tax season, is that spending less time with my family often means that I spend less time with my blog.

I first noticed this one recent weekend when basketball practice inspired another post and a story for an e-book I’m working.  I sat down in the the gym at 8:15 AM on a Saturday, watched Thing1 and  Thing2 finish an argument over something important (like which is the better color – red or green) and, as Thing2 began his basketball dance, I felt the urge to pull out my notebook and pen.  I didn’t stop writing for the entire morning.  Doodles and ideas flowed.

Sunday was equally productive.  The ideas and stories overflowed into Monday, but by Tuesday, I spent most of the previous two days away from my family.  When I put the kids to bed, I realized I had seen them for 2 waking hours.  Simultaneously, the story well seemed to go dry and stay that way for a day or two.

Part of me has been resentful of this new routine.  As great as it is to work at home, it can be really difficult to explain to younger children that, even though you’re home, you’re not available.  And, through the door, I can hear the evening antics and arguments as homework and its tribulations unfold around the kitchen table.  The fairy tale is unfolding without me.

But even as I’m already feeling left out and dreading the seemingly lifeless hours in the day ahead, I’m finding an unexpected story this morning.  This story is about the very light causing the shadows.  It’s about the good fortune to be shut up in a warm room and to have enough food to feed a family at the end of the day.  It’s about not fearing about necessities.  But most of all, this tale is about realizing how fortunate it is to have a reason to feel the absence of the stories happening just on the other side of the study door.