We’re in the swing of things. I get the kids where they need to go. It all works if we are each prepared to give up something, sometimes, at a moment’s notice. I just can’t get everyone everywhere at once. Sometimes I can’t add one more thing to my day. Son misses a fencing lesson, daughter a hack (that’s an informal ride), me a yoga class. The kids mostly handle it with equanimity. Should they grouse, I’m mostly strong enough to withstand it. But for the most part, they’re engaged and succeeding and developing.
Last night, after taking a break from grading papers to fix dinner, then prep for class, I popped down to the kitchen to load the dishwasher, called the kids to bring their lunchboxes in if they wanted their containers washed, scrubbed the pots, filled the dogs’ water and food bowls, cleared off the counters. As I left the kitchen, I passed the teenager, who muttered, “You’re always here.” That was not a compliment on my diligence. That was sheer effrontery, that I am always hanging around, in teenager’s way. The nerve of me, for cleaning, for being. I went upstairs and saw the light on in the storage closet in the hallway. I opened the door to turn off the light and found the younger child sitting in the closet, on top of the blankets, beneath the dresses and coats, reading a book. I quietly shut the door. Sometimes I think we’re really weird, but this may all be perfectly normal.
Some days I can go 16 hours. Others, I crawl into bed in the early afternoon to make sure I can get through the rest of the day.
Sometimes–usually when I’m driving–I want to cry. That usually means I’m tired.
Sometimes I feel tired. That can just mean that I’m dehydrated.
Sometimes I pick up my child from school and wonder how I can get in on one of those carpools. People just seem to connect and pick up their kid one day if they’ll pick up the other kid another day. How convenient! I never get called. I’ve stopped asking people, because I feel like a charity case. I need a carpool so much that I can’t reach out and ask for it. I sit in the car and watch the kids we know walk to cars, together.
I am feeling, once again, like I live on the outskirts of this town. I try to fit in. If a colleague asks me to lunch, I say, yes! Even when I’m busy, I show up for the lunch or coffee dates. I keep things light.
A mom asked me how I am and somehow I found myself sharing my ennui. “All I do is work and take care of these kids.” Oh! she felt like that when her kids were little. And it’s good to fill our days with activity! My heart sank. She compared her years as a stay-at-home mom with little kids, with a husband to provide for the family–with a husband, God damn it!–to my situation. What could I say to her? How can people understand? Does it matter if they do? There is no respite. I don’t mean the respite of time. I seize a few minutes here and there, to grab drinks with friends, to binge-watch Netflix. It’s the respite of peace that I lack, the respite of….settling in, the moments to kick back and enjoy all this, to ask someone to reach up and get that jar, please, to lie next to someone at night, to celebrate the accomplishments. There is none of that. These obligations are relentless, they are never fully met, there is never a moment to laugh about it, to enjoy this as a shared journey. There is nothing shared. There is only the relentless slog to get these kids into a good college and on their way in this world. Then there is just emptiness ahead for me.
I try, but most days, I hate it here. I want to escape from here and start over. I’ve discussed this. I’m not going to leave. And it might not be here that is the problem, obviously.
So I find little avenues of escape.
My modest little runs open up so much space. Even though each run is an obligation to stay fit and healthy, it feels like an escape, an outlet from the rest of this.
I spent my most recent Saturday night, solo, as usual, literally cleaning out my dresser drawers. As I cleared out summer clothes to make room for fall, I culled and made a pile. But instead of making it a “donate” pile, I just threw the clothes away. Some of them were old and a little ratty, loved and well-worn by me but not special to anyone else. As I tossed those in a “throw-away” bag, I just kept adding to it–shirts I had when I lived in New York City? In the trash! Clothes that had followed me around the country, so well made, back in the day, that they’ve stood up well? Trash! The memories are over. Trash, trash, trashed. And I made space in the drawers, with just the few things I need, folded and organized.
I made space in the basement for daughter’s horse accessories. The most likely place were the shelves where I’d shoved husband’s old cd’s, dvd’s, raw video footage, and cassette tapes. I always thought it would be neat to show the kids his PInk Floyd mixed tapes from his teenaged years. No longer. Trash! I can pull up Pink Floyd on Spotify if we want to walk down memory lane. Years of video editing material? Donate, or trash! I kept a few, but the “keep” pile is considerably smaller. And now there’s plenty of space for daughter’s saddle conditioner and show sheen and other equine necessaries, proudly stored and displayed on her very own shelf.
I leap into the space when I can find it, to extend this world just a little, to get a glimpse of what it feels like not to be here, like this. In the absence of liberation, this is some sort of exercise of freedom.