Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Parting Is So Sweet. (Sorry)

When my kids were little, I couldn't imagine life without them. Sure, I could (and often did) imagine going to the bathroom without them, but those were more temporary breaks that all mothers of young ones need from time to time.

But now that they are getting older, I actually can (and often do) imagine life without them. At least, daily life. And I admit I kind of like it. But now I'm starting to wonder if I should keep that to myself.

This week, a few friends' kids went away on trips and their parents mentioned how much they missed them. And here I sat, not musing about where my son is and what he's doing, but excited to be spring cleaning and making piles of things to donate. I admit I felt a bit down when I passed his empty room around bedtime, but it passed when I went downstairs and gazed longingly at the piles of stuff I want to get rid of but can't until the kids are gone.

Is this just a gosh-this-endless-winter-is-almost-over-I-feel-like-simplifying fantasy? I admit for weeks I've had a need for open windows and springtime air, light, warmth and a clutter-free home. After being trapped in the house with kids for days on end, week after week throughout the last few months, sunshine and quiet and time with my honey are at the top of my must-have list now. So when my oldest left for an educational tour abroad and my youngest headed for a day-long outing with friends, was it just cabin fever that made me do a happy dance? For six whole hours, I pretended we were empty nesters and IT FELT GREAT.

Don't get me wrong. I love my kids and I love spending time with them. But being an individual myself, with passions and drive and goals, I really, really like not having to think about their needs sometimes. Remember when you could eat a bowl of cereal for dinner if you wanted because you were working on a chapter or some edits and you just didn't want to stop and cook? I miss that. Remember when you could stay up until two or three a.m. to finish a great book because you didn't have to get up in the morning and drive someone somewhere or pack their lunch or make sure they ate breakfast and brushed their teeth? I miss that too.

I miss being an individual. Not that I miss it more than I love my kids. But when I get a glimpse of a life that is my own, it's a great reminder to keep encouraging my kids to build lives that are their own, to pursue their passions and figure out what they want. When they go off on adventures and are comfortable exploring the world, they are trying out their wings while at the same time looking forward to coming home and telling us all about it. It means we're doing our job as parents, and that they see themselves as individuals too, separate from us. It also shows me they're confident in making decisions without me standing there "in case they need me" as I did when they were younger.

I owe this budding independence to my husband, one of a family of three boys. I was drawn to his self-sufficient nature. But for years I also fought him as he insisted I back off and stop doing everything for the kids. I knew they needed to learn how to do things themselves, but it had also been my job for so long, I didn't know how to stop doing it. But I did. I let go, consciously, little by little, and they stepped up. Not only did it teach them how to do for themselves, it reminded me how great it is to watch them learn to do things without me.

Of course it proved my husband was right. Not that I'd ever tell him so. Well, maybe I will when the kids are grown and gone. Then, I won't just tell him, I'll thank him.

Monday, March 23, 2015

How Writing Saved Me

I go into every new venture with a sunny outlook. Change is good, learning opportunities even better. Of course, there will always be challenges; that's how we grow. But I don't fear change.

I sort of backed into writing as a career choice. Over the years, I'd worked jobs ranging from administrative to retail, customer service to tech support, and gained something from each experience. But I didn't love any of them.

So I welcomed motherhood as yet another positive change. While I was on maternity leave, a dear friend suggested I start a blog on his computer server. This was over fifteen years ago, when "blog" was a relatively new and unknown term.

"But what will I write about?" I asked. After all, I was home with a newborn, rocking and singing and feeding him all day, doing laundry and catching cat naps while he slept. There wasn't much of interest going on.

"Write about motherhood," he said. This from a single, techie guy who knew about as much about mothering as I did at that point.

"Well," I reasoned, "my parents are the only ones who'll read it anyway. I guess I'll write about my baby and how he's growing."

And so it began. I wrote every day, and it quickly came to feel like a personal success amid the constant drudgery and sleep-deprivation. Like a shower but more satisfying. My far-flung parents, as first-time grandparents, thrilled at the daily news, and I admit it made me a more attentive mother. I had to really think about what to write each day. Then something strange happened: I began to write not just what Jacob was learning about his world, but what I was learning about myself.

Fast forward six years. Our house now held a grade-schooler and a special needs toddler who confounded me at every turn. He didn't sleep. He hardly ate. He cried all the time. He just never seemed happy, no matter what I did. The only thing that kept me from crying all the time too, was writing.

I wrote to puzzle out what was happening, what I was doing and what I would try instead. I wrote about how hard it was every day, all day long. I wrote about feeling like a terrible mother who was failing my child, and about how much I loved him, even though I had yet to understand him. And when I finally realized I couldn't meet the challenge of understanding him, I switched gears. My new challenge to myself was to find the humor in each mystifying situation.

So as he grew, I laughed. I wrote about the things he did and what was funny about them because, of all the reactions I could have, I decided that was the best. No tears. Instead, laughing made life tolerable, manageable. As I got stronger, so did my writing. Ben gave me more material for my blog over the first five years of his life than I'd had in all the decades I'd lived before that. The challenges kept me writing, and the writing helped me cope.

Now that my boys are older, I use writing to set goals for myself. Articles, blog posts and, this year, a novel. With all it's helped me survive and accomplish over the years, writing is the best job I've had alongside my other, more important job of being a mom. It's evolved as I have, and helped me create a tangible record of my relationships with my sons.

But above all, writing was something I could count on during all the years when nothing was certain. Because I never knew what to expect, I relied on writing. And in the end, writing is what saved me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Winter of My Discontent

Anyone who knows me knows I hate winter. Not all of it--I'm not ready to give it up completely, yet. I love the first snow, the muffled walks with the dog, spying small animal tracks in the dusting on the ground, the smoky smell of the neighbor's wood burning stove. What wears me out is the bitter, incessant wind, single-digit temperatures and extended views of nothing but white, gray and brown. I start to miss green.

This year, December really wasn't too bad. Cold, but manageable. Some snow, but nothing back-breaking. We decided to renovate our master bathroom and the contractor gutted it in early January. Around that time, I seem to recall commenting about how it looked like it would be a much better winter than I'd expected. Out loud. What was I thinking?

What followed were several long weekends at home with my family and a seemingly six-week-long February filled with single-digit temps, double-digit-below-zero wind chills and lots of cabin fever. You'd think the long weekends with the family would have saved my sanity, but you'd be wrong. They were brought on by snow storms that rolled in every three to four days, causing more school closures than I can remember since they started kindergarten. Their first Monday in school this year didn't happen until mid-February because they'd had snow day closings every Friday and Monday since 2015 began. They've burned through their allotment for the year along with three vacation days in April and May. We've shoveled so much snow that there's no place left to put any more. And there are still three weeks left of winter.

The storms also caused problems on the roadways and made travel tricky. Because my contractor comes up county from about 45 minutes away, we didn't see much of him those weeks either. We're now on week eight since we started, and the bathroom still isn't finished.

Rather than curse the friends who escaped to warmer climates for the mid-winter break, I instead let myself linger over their photos of clear pools, white sandy beaches and suntanned shoulders. I bought fresh flowers from the supermarket and put a cream colored tablecloth on the table. When a skunk sprayed somewhere beneath our deck, I burned lilac- and lily-scented candles in every room of the house because it was still five degrees out and I couldn't open the windows. I hoped in vain that they would hide the stench and also give the illusion of spring.

Every eave of our house is sporting icicles, some as big as my twelve-year-old. When they began to sprout inside the kitchen door and drip onto the tile floor, I laid down a beach towel to catch the water. "Think summer!" I told myself as I replaced the soaking wet one with a dry one the next day.

When the furnace started to sputter and sleet ticked on the window panes, I started to worry. If I keep the green, flowered drapes closed and turn up the heat, I can usually forget it's still, unendingly, relentlessly winter outside. But if the heat goes out, I can't take a hot shower and the indoor temp drops into the low fifties, I know winter has forced its way into my house, my life and my consciousness in a way that I can no longer escape.

There are only a few more weeks until spring. We are in the home stretch. Beginning this weekend, the days will be lighter longer and the sun will start to feel warm again. I think I'm going to make it through, and I have no intention of stating all the good things about this winter that I've actually been thankful for, because you don't have to hit me over the head with a brick more than once.

But I have a few choice words for the groundhog when I see him, and am still open to invitations from any of my friends in warmer climates. I'll even bake something before I come. At least it will make the house warmer before I go.