Blog 28: Transformation Re-Take

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought I’d finally arrived into the mom I was meant to be. I had three kids, all with wild curly hair like Dad and fearless fiery personalities to match. We lived in a home we built ourselves, ate food we grew outside our door, and ventured for whole weekends into the forest surrounding us. After years of striving and saving, I’d finally allowed myself to step away from my career to focus more on my children’s budding lives, nourishing them, inspiring them, and just enjoying them. For the first time in my life, I felt good about myself, my choices, and my path.

Ha!

“Mom,” my eight year old daughter mused recently, “when I get older, do you think I’ll have a real job, or do you think I’ll be like you and just kind of, you know, hang around?”

Did she really not remember me leaving for work at 5 AM before anyone was awake, the fourteen hour long days, all those papers I waded through over weekends?

Drew, too, is suddenly relishing our time together…well, not so much. The boy who needed my nurturing presence has disappeared. Sometimes when we sit at the table chatting (I mean, when I ask him questions which he reluctantly answers), he jiggles his legs, clearly waiting for the cage door to open so he can leap into his more natural habitat.  At eleven, Drew craves friends, adrenaline-soaked adventures, and games, games, games – board games, role play games, card games, sports games, and video games. Is he happy that I’m available to check homework, watch soccer practice, and help find snow boots in the morning? Sure. But he’d much rather have me drop him off at the game store in town than hanging around asking if he’d like a snack.

?!?%$#@@@

Mikah, my two year old, is still thrilled to see me enter the room, holds onto my legs with both arms if I stand to leave, and will gleefully skip along with me to the grocery store, the woods, the library. Yet soon enough, he also will ask: “What do you do anyway, Mom?”  He, like my two other kids, is going to challenge me to explain what value I have in this world beyond the home.

The most challenging and excruciating aspect of motherhood is that everything you learn to meet your child’s needs – you have to unlearn it, just as you get it together. Master nursing? Now you have to wean! Grow used to wearing your baby? Now get him walking on his own. Finally shed autonomy and learn to adapt to others’ desires over your own aspirations? Now get some gumption, a job and extra cash.

So I’m dealing with this last switcharoo, striving to rebuild the career I adamantly dismantled, this time with three kids in tow – but not by simply returning to what I left. Transformation is never about falling backwards. My children may think they need me only for transportation, a little homework review, and my Visa, but they are wrong. The world they are so keen on entering independently is far more detrimental to their well-being that they can imagine. They may not want me physically by their side overseeing their every encounter, but I need to be far more vigilant than I want them to know. These years at home have been the best of my life. Sadly, they have also revealed to me that our social world is increasingly and insidiously destroying the exact qualities of human experience I stayed home to enjoy.

Every generation believes its own to face the most intense adversities to raising children, but we are at an especially dangerous time. Three areas are simply out of control with their violence, their vehement vitriol, their sickening ways of warping compassion into narcissism. The first, of course, is screen-technology.

Screen media now saturates every aspect of life. Couples can’t even have sex without videotaping each other, then publically posting those tapes as revenge when the relationship sours. Nothing is sacred in the world of the screen. You can run over elderly pedestrians, behead your own pet, and ruin your best friend’s social life – all while sitting in a chair texting, typing, or vocalizing into a microchip. It’s easy, horrific and addictive.

Even Star Wars has gone to the dark side. My partner Eric has taken all our children to every Star Wars movie. We own the entire collection on DVD so the kids can rewatch them, analyze them and do whatever it is people do when they see movies multiple times. Yet, the most recent film Rogue was beyond anything Eric cared for our children to witness. No matter how skilled its plot and special effects, Eric maintained it was not appropriate for children. Drew sobbed many nights, begging his dad to change his mind. Everyone in his class had seen it. Not only was Drew missing out on his favorite movie series, but he also had to suffer feeling left out at school. Of course, I wanted to appease my son’s pain, but Eric was adamant that the film was far too violent and dark for kids. My despair for Drew ignited into rage at the media: Who the fuck makes a Star Wars movie unfit for children?

Paralleling the violence of screen technology are the escalating outbursts in my children’s classrooms. The number of children in state custody in VT has soared in the last three years. Kids are taken out of the arms of heroine addicted moms every week. More and more students require medication just to be functional in the classroom. Districts are breaking budgets trying to afford the necessary paraprofessionals and special education support for students whose behaviors challenge new and veteran teachers alike.

Drew is a rather quiet, intellectual kid, and living seven hours a day in a school rattling with the fallout of our community’s ills hurts. Far too often, he cries at home while relating yet another disturbing episode. His eczema has grown from a tiny rash here or there to red soars all over his body, especially around his neck. I looked up metaphysical causes for eczema in a book by Louise Hay, and it reads: “Violent eruptions, uncontrolled angry outbursts.”

Yep, that about sums up his daily life at school.

It also points to the third destructive force in our lives, our current politics.

On the local, state and federal levels, the name calling, lying, and verbal assaults of our own elected representatives against each other is disgusting the most jaded of our teens. The violence in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other ravaged areas can be escaped by no one. I turned the news off one day because my tears were flowing too fast for safe driving: “It is not the war, we are used to the war,” a Syrian woman said over the radio in heavily accented English. “It is the hunger in the eyes of my children and the roof that fell on our heads, that is what broke me.”

My point in writing with such negativity about our media, schools, and global politics is to explain why I need to be as vigilant in parenting my older kids as my toddler. With little kids, a parent hovers, making sure these small beings don’t slip downstairs or race from the car across the parking lot. Yet older kids can be wounded just as instantly. The screens in our homes and violence in our communities are as dangerous to them as any open wall socket or gas burner is for a toddler. Our older kids may not appreciate our presence as much as the toddlers, but the rising statistics on teen depression, anxiety and self-destruction prove a parent’s protection is still vital to their well-being and even to their survival.

I am still struggling with how to parent under these circumstances. I want to be with my kids as much as possible. I also want them to be proud of how I contribute to the world we share. In this way, my past call to be a soldier for social causes is resurrecting: my kids need me to get back out into the world championing compassion, generosity and bravery. They need to see me strive for these goals, and they need me to include them in my efforts whenever possible, so they can experience firsthand how to effect beneficial social change. Our time together doesn’t have to lessen so much as evolve.

The one truth that has never changed is my kids’ continued demand that I transform. My job – the one that is constant in this dynamic experience of motherhood – is to heed them.

 

 

 

Blog #27: Volcanic Teenagers

When I turned thirteen, I catapulted into a consciousness of horror and rage. My bubble of happy imaginary play popped, and I stared aghast at the material world surrounding me. How could adults have allowed our world to become such an atrocious mess? It was 1988, and Ronald Reagan was President; homeless families stood on sidewalks block after block holding cardboard signs asking for help. Veterans, too. How could a soldier who lost his legs defending our country be left on a curb shaking a Styrofoam cup? When Reagan bombed Libya, I burst into tears, horrified by the TV images of children injured and surrounded by rubble. Less dramatic, but disturbing in a far-reaching sense, was our country’s endeavors to drill for oil in Antarctica. As I read through various articles documenting damage to the wildlife, I felt such loss, as if this fragile continent were slipping from our world like Atlantis.

One benefit of anger is that – despite it ruining your life – it propels you into action. With my mom’s help, I did some research and set up a schedule. I began to volunteer two afternoons a week for Green Peace and one evening a week for a soup van handing out warm meals to men and women standing at designated street corners. I attended marches, wrote letters, and started up a community service organization at my high school. Rage may have stolen my ability to enjoy the world, but it could not diminish my love for it.

I’m forty-six now, and that teenage girl still waves fists and stomps along sidewalks within me. I don’t ever want to abandon her – or those she champions. Over the last decade, though, since becoming a mother, I’ve felt conflicted. I want my children joyful and carefree, not lost to the gritty emotions and anger I felt back then. I doubt I’d even let my teenaged self near my kids. I don’t teach them about current atrocities; I censor the news. I spend most of my energy taking them to the woods, playgrounds, their grandparents’ homes, birthday parties and sports games. I strive to shield them from the anger I felt and all the demise that incited it.

Helping kids have a good time is fine, but as mine grow older, I have to ask painful questions: Is it okay to cheer them on the soccer field as bombs fall on Aleppo, or another incident of police brutality towards citizens of color hits the news, or a billionaire who doesn’t support the idea of free and public education is nominated for Secretary of Education? This world doesn’t need more angry people, but as I listen to the news these first weeks of 2017, I have to ask, what is the appropriate response to what’s going on right now, other than rage? And how much of this rage do I share with my kids? Are there ways to preserve some of their innocence as they get older exactly as our world darkens?

The morning of Inauguration Day, struggling with these questions, I snuck out of the house a little before dawn to run up the road. The air was still dark, and snow swirled wet and cold against my face. Out of the pre-dawn shadows, a crowd of pretty girls in white dresses appeared before me. Boys in funeral-like attire joined them. I recognized the scene – my high school graduation, that ritual of teens crossing the divide between child and adult. Yet in this vision, the graduates exploded out of their formal attire, more volcano than human, spewing passion, rage, and despair, the very same emotions that, decades ago, flared within me.

Grow up?! Their fiery forms screamed. Venture into the world?! More explosions made their disgust impossible to deny. They didn’t create the mess; why must they inherit it?

I had no answer for these raging teens, but I could understand why I have been so protective of my children. Rage – even when justified – ruins your life. It steals your ability to savor and appreciate your own life, and then it hardens you against the lives of others. Unchecked, it kills.

What can I do to help my kids and other kids hold onto their passions without exploding?  To keep caring and engaging with our world without getting eaten up by anger and giving up?

My run gave me no answers, but the next day – The Woman’s March of January 21 – did. According to reputable news sites, this march was possibly the largest worldwide protest demonstration in history. United was the march’s watchword, and people of all backgrounds, political persuasions and ages joined it, rallying together to fight back against hatred and oppression and to chant about reaching out and helping one another. What struck me the most was how many elderly men and women joined the protest. I’m used to seeing lots of babies in Bjorns at marches, people my age and lots of teenagers, but I didn’t expect so many octogenarians and even nonagenarians, many of them dependent on canes, walkers or other younger marchers to navigate the snow and ice along the sidewalks. The could have stayed at home, warm and dry. They could have watched the march on the news. Instead, they were here, with us, fighting for a world they would soon be leaving. Their presence told me that I – and all my generation, along with our children – were not alone, that our ancestors were by our side, striving like us and with us to create a fair and just society on the wildly splendid globe we shared.

What can I say to volcanic teens and to my own children about the egregious injustices of our world?

You are not alone! We will approach this mess together, we will heal what’s broken together, we will enjoy what’s sweet and golden together, we will celebrate together! I am angry, too, and you are not alone!

All my life, I’ve believed that everyone’s lifetime matters, that every thought, word and action affects the people around you and the way the social world evolves minutes by minute.  As a teen, I held an elderly man’s hand as he coughed blood into a bowl. He had TB, was homeless, and he smelled terrible, and I stood by him and patted his back. Of course, I didn’t change his life, but I feel in a very small but real way my being there mattered. Some days back then I’d feel reluctant to get myself to the homeless shelter where I volunteered, but I always knew I needed to do it. Nowadays, I get the same feeling about volunteering in my kids’ elementary school. It’s a difficult duty in many ways – I need to find someone to watch over my two year old, I lose hours of billable time, my list of undone-items looms!

But really, what’s more important than connecting with a kid? What’s more important than helping where help is needed? Feeling helpless leads to feeling hopeless, and this downward slide is a terrible experience. Adrenalin courses through the body with no release, and the drama of fight or flight ends in collapse. Too quickly, a passionate heart becomes a diseased one, then a dead one.

I choose to live. And I choose to help my children live – to rage, cry, sing, dance, love and fight. I cannot save their innocence, but I can work with them to save the world we share.

Women's March in Montpelier, VT January 21, 2017

Women’s March in Montpelier, VT
January 21, 2017

 

 

Blog 23: Kindness to Strangers

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And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly…?   Micah 6:8

 

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…  Hebrews 13:2

 

As a young girl, I was enchanted with religious fables, whether from the Bible, Qu’ran, or Buddhist texts. The stories I favored always featured an encounter with a stranger who transformed the main character’s life. I loved the idea that an unknown person from far away lands could be the catalyst of my destiny.

 

In their pure form, spiritual practices teach us to open our hearts to those unlike us. They encourage us to reach out to strangers along the roads we travel, sharing food, shelter, and other basic assistance. Before age ten, I must have read a thousand tales of youths offering the last of their lunch to an elderly man, or maidens doing chores for lonely widows. I believed in these principles of giving, and in my early twenties I traveled to Mother Theresa’s homes in Calcutta hoping to live generosity rather than just read about it.

 

Mother Theresa claimed that she could not rest or feel joy until all beings on earth could also rest and feel joy. Most of us share her compassion, even if we do not fully abide by it. Passing by a homeless man with bleeding sores on his feet, for example, can make our own body feel queasy and achy, whereas greeting that man politely, bathing his feet and wrapping them in bandages can fill us with a sense of wellness. We are hardwired to care for each other – even when we do not know each other.

 

Decades have passed since I spent my days caring for homeless women and leprosy patients. Yet motherhood has reinvigorated my sensitivity towards this subject of giving to others – even strangers – all over again. Trying to steward three children in our chaotic, dangerous society, I feel in need of assistance all the time, and I see more and more parents around me feeling the same way. Lending help to each other is fundamental to our survival and growth – yet we live in an era that cautions against open heartedness. We learn early that strangers can steal from us, molest us, and throw us in a van and kill us. We also learn that some strangers will be offended if we try to help them. We are more scared of offering help to people than abandoning them.

 

I’ll never forget one bitter snowy day last November when my three-month old son blasted a supersonic poop right through his diaper down both his legs just as I was fitting him into his car seat. He was already screaming, and once the poop hit, his outraged cries grew even louder. I considered leaving him in the car seat and dealing with the whole mess at home, but my conscience insisted otherwise. So I lay Mikah down amid a bunch of grocery bags in the back of the car and started to strip him down. By this time, he was flailing arms and legs as well as screaming.

 

“Looks like you could use a little help.”

 

A woman leaned in, close enough that I could hear her over Mikah. Beside her, hip-high, was her daughter standing on tip toes.

 

“What’s the matter, baby? You’re okay, right? Do you like tigers?” The woman held her daughter’s stuffy out to Mikah, who noticed the purple tiger despite his fit. As I mopped at the poop on his goose-pimpled legs, I started to gush about how maybe I shouldn’t have tried to change him, but I didn’t want him sitting in all this poop, but I knew it was cold, on and on. All while I talked, the woman made soft sounds of commiseration. Her daughter started to make clucking sounds at Mikah, who calmed enough for me to finish up.

 

“Thank you,” I sighed at last, lifting Mikah from the car and holding him against my chest. I was sweating and felt teary. We talked a few moments more, despite the sleet and wind. The woman told me she was hoping for another baby soon, and I promised that if I saw her in the parking lot wiping up poop, I would definitely come over with a stuffy and whatever else I could find.

 

How many of us walk by parents dealing with kids’ poop or temper tantrums? How many of us look away when we see a kid in the playground with pee-wet pants or with snot dripping over half his face? When was the last time any of us took a meal to a family dealing with illness or some other hardship?

 

Mother Theresa wrote and spoke a lot about the human need to stop to help when confronted with another’s suffering. She counseled humans against succumbing to the illusion of busy-ness and promised there is always time for love and compassion and generosity and godliness. I give myself a D- for following her advice, but I feel surrounded by people who deserve A’s. The lady in the parking lot was one. I could go on for another thousand examples at least.

 

For the week of my birthday, I served up a giving challenge for my family – myself included. We joined Cammi Walker’s 29 Days of Giving Program. Web-based, this program encourages people to give a gift a day for twenty-nine days. The gift needs to be meaningful but can be as small as a tissue for someone who sneezed or a hug for someone who seems lonely. We invited several friends to join us and recorded our giving through group texts at the end of each day. What surprised me the most was how much we each gave regularly throughout the day; everyone had half a dozen daily gifts to report at least. We seemed not to need an official challenge to do so. What I also noticed, though, was that most of our giving fell within the circles of friends and family. I’m chewing on ways I might lead my family over borders of the familiar.

 

Two months ago, my family saw a documentary, “On the Way to School,” which followed four sets of kids in four different countries getting to school. Two kids in Africa, for example, who looked about six and eight, walked 26 kilometers through a desert one way every single day. Before they left, the grandfather blessed them and prayed that they would not be attacked by elephants. Once they arrived at the school, the teacher blessed them and had the whole school congratulate them on their safe arrival. In India, two brothers of similar ages pushed their older sibling in a wheelchair more than eight kilometers to school, through rivers, sand, and muddy bogs. They did this trek every day.

 

What all of us at the table talked about after the movie was not so much the obvious – Look how hard some kids work to get to school! – but the helpfulness of strangers. For example, the wheelchair the kids in India used was actually a regular chair cobbled to old bicycle wheels. These wheels were so rusted that one bent out of shape and the tread fell off. The kids had to stop in a town to beg for mechanical help. I can still see the old man they asked. He was squatting in the dirt in front of his “shop,” which was a six-by-six foot area in an overcrowded bazar. Not only did he take time to fix this chair that no one in our country would consider using for anything other than scrap; he asked others in the marketplace for tools and materials. The elder sibling, who was crippled from cerebral palsy, would never have gotten to school if his siblings weren’t willing to push him there and if a set of villagers weren’t willing to work on a rusted out wheelchair that was probably going to break down again in a day or two. It took family and strangers to get those kids through their journey safely.

 

During our country’s political debates, I hear so many words championing self-reliance and bad-mouthing handouts. “Don’t give to anyone, especially strangers!” seems to be the current advice. Everyone likes to quote the line about not giving a fish and teaching the skills of fishing instead. Yet a fundamental truth of our humanity is that sometimes we all need a fish–and it would be best grilled, and served on a plate. Ideally, the giver of the fish would have time to sit down, share the meal, and enjoy some human connection.

 

I left Calcutta at age twenty-one. I felt I could help others more effectively if I lived where I could speak the native language and where I had family and friends. I also missed a sense of home. Now, a quarter of a century later, on land I own with family I adore, I am trying to live beyond the warnings of stranger danger and the noises of I-have-so-much-to-do inside my head. I am trying to remember Mother Teresa and the stories I grew up reading: it is okay, it is even good, to give, to help, and to reach into the unknown.

Blog #22: Birthday Reflections

Sarah plays with fire!I turned 46 a few days ago. No party. No fireworks. Just some quiet reflection. The moment was humbling. Eric, the kids and I were spending the day in our woods, up on the northeast corner of our land. We’d lit a fire to cook lunch and were resting from hiking around cliffs and hemlocks. The baby fell asleep, and with a thermos of hot chai, I sat on a moss covered rock in a slant of sun.

Usually on my birthday, I like to review what I’ve accomplished in the previous year and write a list of goals for the following year. This year I couldn’t do that. The tea was sweet and the sun warm enough that I could unzip my jacket. I had time enough to let my mind wander backwards over the last year, but I couldn’t name a single nugget of worldly accomplishment. Even though every day had felt busy (and most nights, too), I saw a year of undoing rather than doing:

  • My full professorship was officially nullified, and I was now an adjunct with no benefits and no guarantee of future work;
  • Everything I’d written had been rejected from every agent and publisher I’d courted;
  • My friendships had thinned and some had dissolved entirely because socializing, for me, included my three kids and whoever would hang out with us;
  • My body was lumpy and soft where it had been athletic and lean;
  • My face had aged from lack of sleep, with wrinkles under my eyes and even on my neck;
  • Adventures and romance with Eric had whittled down to half-hour movie installments before the baby woke up to nurse.

I could go on, but why? This list is disturbing enough. What is equally harsh is how tired I felt. With so little achieved, you’d think I’d be at least rested! Yet I could have laid back in that sunshine on that bed of moss, closed my eyes, and slept through the whole afternoon. Usually, if a person quits a job and has no worries about helping the community, staying fit, or even sleeping, then you’d think he or she is at least having a ton of fun indulging in a thousand pleasures day and night! Hopefully illicit ones! In my case, though, I’d never been more disciplined, rising at 4 AM and often not going to sleep until 10 PM or even midnight (and waking up throughout the night, as well). I hadn’t eaten in a restaurant more than twice or bought a single personal item in a store. I hadn’t even gone out on a date.

What was I doing with all my time?

Mothering, of course.

Since that moment in the sun, I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe the invisible work of what seems like my year of undoing. I don’t want to give a list of what moms (or all caring parents) do on a daily and nightly basis. Boring! Yet I feel it is critical to document on behalf of all full time caretakers the content of our lives, whether caring for a child, elderly parent, or ailing friend. What sound-bite of an answer can you give to the “What do you do?” question at a cocktail party or on the soccer field? Our society is so resume oriented! When I try to answer honestly, I come up with a few vague descriptions:

  • I love people in ways they can feel;
  • I appreciate the trees as I walk by them;
  • I clean, clean, clean;
  • I listen;
  • I reflect on the day and wonder what I could have done better and try to improve the next day;
  • I support my kids in their dreams, their education, their friendships;
  • I strive to cook healthy meals (and don’t always fail);
  • I take every chance I can to rub Eric’s shoulders and enjoy TLC with him, helping to relieve some of the aches that come with full time labor.

None of these activities feel boring to me. Each feels like directly loving the most important people in my life. For example, though I sometimes groan about packing school lunches every day, I actually enjoy it. I get up early enough to do it alone in the pre-dawn, thinking of each child in a dreamy kind of way while listening to soft music. I enjoy the colors and textures of the food as I peel an orange or slice a green apple. Some days, if I know one child is having a test or has been feeling tired, I stick a piece of chocolate in an envelope with an encouraging note.

No one in a job interview wants to hear about these thirty minutes of my morning. These efforts add nothing to my bank account. Yet to me they feel important. So do the hours I spend with my kids outside every day after school, playing soccer or hiking in the woods, helping them release the “inside-ness” of the school day and breathing in a larger, more wild world. Even sewing up the rip in my daughter’s favorite pair of pants a few nights ago gave me a sense of meaning.

Lots of moms and dads do dozens of helpful caring gestures every day around the intense efforts of full time work. For ten years, I tried to. This last year’s slower pace, though, has offered a different kind of sweetness, and I see a change in my kids because of it. They are more relaxed and confident, which allows them to focus on their own ambitions in a more genuine way. Just two nights ago, for example, I was putting the kids to bed when I noticed my daughter running her left index finger over the pile of Harry Potter books she’s read. She’s almost done with the fifth, which astounds me, given that she’s seven and started reading the series only three weeks ago. I watched her mouth the words to each title, look at each illustrated cover, and then take in a deep breath. I felt her pride, and I also “saw” her mind fathoming this world-renowned story that ran over so many thousands of pages, following a band of kids growing from innocence into adulthood.

My point in sharing this moment is that it almost didn’t happen. I had been about to bark, “Come on, let’s get into bed, it’s eight o’clock already!” Yet thankfully, I was sensitive enough to notice Grace and to stop. Overfull schedules and the fatigue they create don’t always allow for such a pause – in the parent or in the child.

Not only do parents lose out with modern life’s pressure to earn income at the full time level. Grandparents do, too. I was at the college pool with my kids mid-morning a few seasons ago when two elderly women began treading water near us. I listened to them talk about their jobs as cashiers and the difficulties they felt in finding time for family around those jobs. Both confessed they hadn’t started gardens in the last few years. They talked about sore feet and an ailing friend they wished to visit. These women had to be near eighty! Hadn’t they earned time to be with family, friends and their own gardens?

More than quality of life for individuals is lost when all able people are working full time. My grandfather, thanks to a government pension, was able to retire at age seventy. He immediately dedicated himself to raising my sister and me, which allowed my mom some breathing room and the chance to practice her painting. He visited us at least two or three times a week, sometimes for the whole day. He also single-handedly collected clothes from his retirement home and every week drove them downtown to two different homeless shelters, where he handed out high quality coats, sweaters, socks, and anything else he’d been able to collect. Free hours he spent at his community wood shop where he chatted with other hobbyists. He also fed Canadian geese every morning on his daily walk. Clearly, a small portion of the world gained by his “not working.”

I grew up thinking that everybody had to work. “You have to pay your own way.” “You have to earn a living.” “Do you think money grows on trees?” Enough phrases were thrown around and over my head throughout my childhood that the option to do what I’m doing now did not exist, not in my head and not in my life. This axiom, though, perhaps needs more examination. Does everybody really have to work full time? Why? I wonder: if more parents were able to focus on their children, and if more grandparents were around to support those parents, would certain resources be saved and maybe others generated at higher levels? Would delinquency perhaps go down? Prison time? Depression? Maybe the number of youth medicated for ADHD or EBD might lessen? At the very least, more adults would be around to help those children in ways beyond pharmaceuticals, including taking them outside, giving them one-on-one tutoring, trying art or music therapy and more. We’d need fewer government programs to take care of our youth and our elderly. Maybe the harshest consequence would be to the video game industry once the numbers of lonely people went down.

The problem is that given the current economic landscape of our modern life, most people have to earn income, and usually it has to be a full time income. I don’t know how to sustain the life I have now. Parenting nowadays is a lot like playing a musical instrument or gardening or praying in a Zendo. These activities provide health and growth for whoever does them and for whoever is around those who do them, but they cannot sustain a life. They need to exist on the sidelines of a career.

I’m striving to open my mind to possibilities beyond what I lived when my first child was born. Ten years ago, I had neither the courage nor the imagination to conceive of parenting Drew full time, even when he was a seven pound infant. He and I lost out because of that. Now I have a savings and a partner willing to bust his butt so I can be with my current baby Mikah – and Drew and Grace when they are not in school. But our lives are not sustainable. We are living off of savings, which I would not have if I hadn’t worked the last ten years. Figure out that conundrum!

Next year, I hope to visit the exact spot in the woods I enjoyed this last birthday. I bet I can find the same bed of moss. If I time it right, I can even sit in the sun there – if the weather obliges. I have no idea what my mind will see in hindsight, though. Will I have anything to write down that sounds like an accomplishment? Will I be listing as one of my future year goals, “Get a job pronto?” Whatever unfolds, my challenge is not to let financial or social pressures spoil what I have now, which is delicious and un-compromised time with my family.

 

Blog #21: Vibrancy Defeats Time

Liz Angeles and Deja

Meet Superfly Mom, Liz Angeles

I’m 50 years old this year… and a single mom to a five-year-old scrumptious nugget of love and life. Sure, my daughter’s crazy and full of energy.  I guess that’s how it works, because so am I.  Now that she’s five, I’ve recovered from the exhausting toddler years. I’ve suddenly returned to the weight and energy level I had in college. Now I’m at the zenith of my creative career.

I am so grateful I met Liz. She defies the stereotype of the old and tired mom. Her light reaches beyond labels and limits, beyond any sense of age at all.

Liz Angeles was 44 when she became pregnant with her daughter, Deja. She experienced a smooth, albeit exhausting pregnancy, and by age 45 she delivered at home.  In an inflatable tub of warm water—and with the help of her doula and midwives—she delivered Deja in her favorite sanctuary, her own bedroom. She chose not to engage in any interfering medical tests, committing to a sense of her own health rather than to the common fears of “what-ifs.”

Liz lives as she mothers, fearlessly and flamboyantly. She is going to be 51 this summer and is still bursting with creativity and new life. Living as a single mom doesn’t hinder her; it liberates her. Now she is able to focus on her relationship with Deja and her own development. She has always worked as a highly sought-after massage therapist and just now is creating her own business label “BLIZFUL.life.”  

Branding myself as a ‘Wellness Director,’ now I can help clients design their own self-healing regimen with natural health, longevity and beauty solutions—including in-home spa parties or lunchtime office spa escapes—using a variety of modalities that complement my massage practice.

Liz is a prolific artist as well as a writer and healer:  I love to keep my creative juices flowing. When I was a single woman approaching 40, I feared I would have no legacy. I began to paint constantly so I would have something to leave behind when I died.

Liz’s paintings can be seen here:

Deja

(Two-week-old Deja with her painting First Wave depicts the concept of labor pains coming in waves.)

Liz’s first book chronicles her only pregnancy and the birth of her daughter in her personal memoir, 45 and Pregnant: How I Conceived and Delivered Naturally. Published by On the Inside Press in 2014, the book takes readers on Liz’s journey from terror to triumph in three acts.

“Act I: Prelude to a Kid” tells the tale of a ‘would-be’ spinster—divinely led to her ideal breeding partner—swiftly cohabitating and suddenly procreating.  “Act II: Making Womb for a New Mom” delves into details about all of the holistic choices made during pregnancy.  “Act III: New Kid in Town” documents the birth, the nursing, the placenta encapsulation and homemade baby food—all amidst the drama of an inadvertent relationship (and its accompanying teenage girls—who are now madly in love with their new baby sister).  

Since hitting the market, 45 and Pregnant has received loving reviews on Amazon, numerous appreciative responses from her fans on Facebook, and earned Liz her first podcast on iTunes with The Birth Hour. This May, 45 and Pregnant will also be featured on the website for birth professionals, Birth-Institute.com.

Nowadays Liz is editing romance novels and considering her own new future storylines. A performer at heart, Liz had relocated from Las Vegas to the bright lights of Hollywood to pursue acting in 1989.  With her wealth of ‘life experience’ material, Liz is also committed to performing stand up comedy before her 51st birthday this summer—and is even drafting a movie script! As a popular and networked artist in Los Angeles, she will no doubt manifest her goals and be hitting billboards soon.  As her father always told her, “If you throw enough shit against the wall, some of it’s going to stick!”

If you want to get to know Liz better, you can buy her book on Amazon here. Or you can buy it on Barnes and Noble here. You can also visit her Facebook Page or email her directly liz@blizful.life.  She is warm and welcoming—and a gifted healer. During our first phone conversation, she slipped in a few health and beauty tips to help me survive Mikah’s exuberant insomniatic ways. (Thank you, Liz!) Please take some time to connect to this inspiring, fun & funky mama!

(Excerpt from Fun & Fabulous: New Moms 40+ by Sarah Silbert)

Blog #20: Embrace Your Gorilla, Older Moms & Exuberant Babies

gorilla 3                   

Older moms? I hate that phrase. Those two words linked together clobber my optimism.  “It’s got to be hard caring for a baby…you know, being an older mom.” At least a dozen friends and family members have made this statement to me, some more than once. At forty five, am I so old, doomed to cane and crone-isms rather than funk and fun?

A year and a half ago, when pregnant with Mikah, I read an inspiring quote on the website, “A Child After 40,” by a forty-eight year old mom of three: “I do cartwheels on the sidelines of my kids’ soccer games. I stay up late with them watching music videos. I can dance most women half my age off the floor.”

“HURRAH!” I cheered as I read her post, determined to be like this anonymous woman from Minnesota, spry, witty, and untamed by any amount of years.

Then I birthed Mikah.

I’ve never before encountered a baby like Mikah. I’ve run into some children who seem similar, and they’re either training for the Olympics or headed for juvie. Mikah is an ever-blazing fireball of motion and endeavor. Day and night. Danger delights him: knives, matches, electric outlets, and batteries are his toys of choice. Now that he’s walking and climbing, heights and slick angled surfaces entice him, too. Since he’s been born, I’ve averaged three to five hours of sleep a night, sometimes less.

The first year of Mikah’s life I was able to keep up; adrenaline kicked in and burned high through all four seasons. But as the months roll on into a new year with little change, I’m undeniably running out of energy. Fatigue is the saboteur of fun and funk, and as they fade within me, I do feel old, used-up and scared: What, dear gods, have I done? Are the naysayers right, that I’m too old to care for a baby? OH NO!

Of course, I can’t let this kind of mind-babble get to me. I’ve got to dump the label of “older mom,” which cruelly erodes my confidence. Mikah has more energy and is more daring than any of the other kids in this household combined, and that’s the issue I need to address, not my age. Age, actually, is an asset here. I know better how to let go of plans and ideals rather than to fight the steady eroding of all I thought I needed: sleep, style, and solitude.

I have zero interest in complaining about my son or whining about the challenges of parenthood. What I seek is ways to deal with my life successfully. Mikah is my Jedi Master, pushing me along paths of intense discipline and endurance. I am determined to pass the test.

This last week, as Mikah relentlessly exploded into one vigorous activity after the other, rather than screaming in my head, “Oh my god, oh my god!” I tried to be more of a quiet witness to what was happening with him and our family. Three truths slowly sifted to the surface of our domestic life, and I’d like to share them, in part to keep me aware of them and also, hopefully, to help other moms with exuberant babies.

SurrenderKids come to us to break us. Their job is to shatter whatever self-images we have fashioned of ourselves and force us to live bare of ego. From there, we re-begin the process of self-creation, this time as a “we” rather than an “I.” The process isn’t easy. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist monk, describes it well:

It’s as if you just looked at yourself in the mirror, and you saw a gorilla. The mirror’s there; it’s showing you, and who you see looks bad. You try to angle the mirror so you will look a little better, but no matter what you do, you still look like a gorilla. That’s being nailed by life, the place where you have no choice except to embrace what’s happening or push it away.

Reading Chodron’s books, I recognize the importance of letting life form us. Western civilization is built on the human intent to shape and control ourselves and our surroundings, but parenthood demands another way. Exuberant children undo just about every castle we build. Look at how energetically they push a toy tractor through an elaborately decorated birthday cake or pull an ornament on the Christmas tree so the whole thing comes falling down. Just as easily they can transform a blissful mom sipping tea into a four-legged animal braying, “Don’t drop that cup!”

Exuberant children slam through serenity. They derail scheduled events. They strip of us of our “shoulds,” showing us just how much we can live without. They demand that parents stay on the balls of our feet, ready to spring in one direction, then another. Over and over and over again. The process is physically and mentally exhausting, and exuberant children leave very (VERY!) little time for rest and replenishment.

The idea of surrender is important to remember because it allows us to tell ourselves that it’s okay if we’re tired, disheveled and even unproductive in a GNP kind of way. Parenting is hard, and if we’re really doing it (rather than outsourcing it) then we are going to be undone. And being undone, according to Pema Chodron, is the path to becoming an awakened being. She explains:

The most precious opportunity presents itself when we come to the place where we think we can’t handle whatever is happening. It’s too much. It’s gone too far…[But] when we reach our limit, if we aspire to know that place fully – which is to say that we aspire to neither indulge nor repress – a hardness in us will dissolve. We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises…A wider, more generous, more enlightened person arises.

I’ve experienced this exact opening of self that Chodron describes. Just a few days ago at 2 AM, I staggered downstairs as usual with exuberant Mikah on my hip. As I pulled out the Legos and train tracks, I worried about being tired when teaching class at 9 AM that day. I also vexed about feeling grumpy by the time I picked up my two older kids from school for a scheduled playdate of sledding. Grief, too, stomped into my brain: what if I fell asleep when putting the kids to bed that evening. Eric and I desperately needed to connect; too many days were passing by with us living as roommates rather than romantic lovers, and what if I blew it again?

All these negative thoughts were battering around in my mind, making me tired and grumpy — so why was I even worrying about feeling so later? I was already there. I’d become a perfect example of the hard-edged ego trying to control my world and fight unplanned upset.

Then Mikah gave me a hug. He put his head on my shoulder and his arms around my neck. The smooth warmth of his skin always amazes me. He even gave me a few pats on both shoulders. I enjoyed his embrace for every second it lasted, my worries and complaints melting. How passionately I loved this boy: adoration radiated from every one of my cells. When Mikah pulled away to chase after an electric train, I laughed at how silly I’d been: I’d wake up every hour of the night to enjoy more hugs like that!

Once I surrendered, I felt a lot lighter, even less tired. I played with Mikah another hour, made us a snack, then got us back to bed for at least ninety minutes before dawn. When I stepped into the classroom a few hours later, my students looked as tired as I felt, so rather than lecture, I led them through a series of writing prompts. Some of the words that followed were inspiring, some were angry and full of complaint, all were charged and thought-provoking. I didn’t even have time to feel tired.

The sledding playdate with my kids was also surprisingly refreshing. My daughter Grace chose to help with Mikah and to sled with him on the small hill rather than play on the more dangerous hill with her peers. Mikah was thrilled with her attention and laughed every sled ride down. “He’s not just your baby,” she said to me. “He’s our baby, and I can help.” Such treasure!

More unexpected beauty occurred later that night. Eric was as tired as me, so as soon as the kids went down, we put ourselves to bed, and the magic that followed was sweeter than ever. Of course, Mikah was up and calling for attention an hour later. The freedoms Eric and I enjoyed before he arrived into our lives are gone for now, but surrendering to this loss is what makes us parents. After a last lingering kiss with Eric, I went to my baby, and this time, instead of tromping downstairs to the same old toys with him, I pulled a blanket around us and stepped outside.

The night air was still and the moon full and bright, like an orb. Mikah pointed to it, then clapped his hands. Our awe at the sensual beauty of the night entwined, and we stayed outside for a while, longer than I’d have enjoyed if alone. I realized that when I allow myself to honor the parenting process, I open me more to the delights and miracles of my life as it is. I’m more able to enjoy what matters – love, family, community, and the natural world.

Standards:  This next truth might seem a bit in contrast to the first, but the pendulum always has to swing, and surrendering to your child does not mean spoiling your child. Our job as parents is to listen to our children and also to raise them into healthy, kind and helpful human beings. It’s tricky to live a sane balance between these two directives, but we need to try.

To raise children with high standards requires that you know what yours are. Of course, we are all evolving and eternally revising our life values, but with Mikah I had to get clear and specific right away. My daughter Grace explained this need for definite standards:

We need to make a chart for Mikah so we know what he gets stars for and when he should go into timeout. We’re not doing anything the same, so how’s he going to know what is really good or really bad? He’s going to think he can get away with anything!

Right on, girlfriend! Grace and I made a chart that evening. The left side lists all that earns Mikah applause from the family: saying new words, picking up toys and putting them away, kissing family members, and touching others gently. On the right side are timeout offenses: not picking up toys when asked, not doing something after being asked two times, and biting. Timeout for Mikah consists of putting him in a playpen for one minute.

chart

It’s astounding how well this chart works. When the whole family is abiding by the same standards, with both rewards and consequences, Mikah learns and minds what he’s learning. I plan on Xeroxing the chart for Mikah’s two babysitters. Consistency is as important as kindness when dealing with kids, and I am determined to maintain the first as well as the second with Mikah.

It’s not always easy. It’s especially hard when I’m exhausted or distracted. If Mikah does something on the right side of the chart, no matter how tired or busy I feel, I need to pick him up and put him in his pen. Then I need to make sure he learns his lesson and doesn’t repeat the offensive activity after getting out. What keeps me on track more than anything is the commitment of my older kids. They are rigid disciplinarians! They’re big enough to pick up Mikah and put him in the pen themselves, and they would, if I didn’t follow their orders to “stick to the chart, Mom!” When my other kids aren’t around and it’s up to me alone to uphold standards, I tell myself that I’m working now to avoid working harder later. I’d rather teach manners to a one year old I can pick up than to a teen who can run out the door.

“Can I put Mikah in timeout for being annoying?” I asked Eric after a particularly tough morning. Because Mikah wakes up so early, sometimes 3 or 4 AM, I am sometimes alone with him for several hours pre-dawn. If I’m organized and clear-minded, I can usually come up with useful activities to take up time — mop the kitchen floor, organize Tupperware containers, or bake another batch of granola. Some mornings, though, I’m so freakin’ tired and just want to sip tea, stretch by the fire, and have him play with baby toys. (Imagine!)

These mornings are always disastrous. Mikah will pull my hair to get me to follow him in a certain direction, screech like a tortured monkey, and go after all the no’s in the room – the candle on the table, the knives in the silverware drawer, the matches “hidden” on a particularly high shelf.  This last Sunday, I woke Eric at 6:30 AM, feeling like I’d been alone with a mini manic monster all day.

“Put him in timeout,” Eric said.

“Just because he’s driving me nuts?” It didn’t feel fair, more like an abuse of my large size.

“If you’re about to punch him in the face, it’s for his own safety.”

Eric’s not a morning person, and his words were a bit harsh, but I have come to understand that timeout can be used for exuberant babies when they are being a pain in the butt. I did it just this morning. Mikah was exerting himself in one dangerous direction after another, and after twenty minutes of feeling myself getting more and more irritated, I picked him up, and said, “You need to stop testing me. I love you, and you need to help me get through our chores. We have work to do.” Then I put him in timeout for a minute. He screamed as usual, but he was calmer after I took him out and helped with the chores cheerfully, as if the previous half hour had never happened.

I try not to abuse the timeout pen. I never leave Mikah in it longer than a minute, no matter how much I might yearn to let that minute stretch out. I need to maintain standards for myself as well as for my boy.

S.O.S.  No one, no matter what age, can care for an exuberant baby without lots of help. It may take a village to raise some children, but Mikah needs the entire United Nations plus Michael Franti’s Dreamteam.

Exuberant babies are superhuman, full to bursting with more fuel than any of us ever will get in this lifetime. Eric and I are astounded by Mikah’s relentless energy. We simply cannot explain where it comes from: he is so intensely rigorous, and he rests so little. Even with two fit parents and three older siblings to entertain him, he’s still bounding around like Tigger in the moonlight. How does he do it? It’s not like he’s sneaking naps or shoving cocaine up his nose! He’s just simply…exuberant. And we need to keep up.

But not all the time. More so than ever before, I am asking people for help, and by “help” I often mean, “Will you please take my baby?” I never thought I’d be happy to pass my baby off to others. I spent my whole last decade getting myself in a position to care for my children full time! Yet over the last year I’ve hired two babysitters for Mikah, so that three or four times a week for three hours in the morning he is with other moms and their other kids. I use most of the time to work as an editor, teacher and writer; some of it I use to run and shower. Every second is delicious.

My heart breaks when I think of how many parents have no help. It’s just no fun that way. Leaving your baby at day care is traumatic, but being with your baby on your own week after week can be lonely and exhausting. Over the last two weeks, I’ve outreached to my kids’ midwife, a naturopath, all godparents, a dear friend who’s also a healer, the parents at a local playgroup, and Kimball Library’s children’s librarian. I even strike up conversations with parents at the local playground and grocery store. Every kind word and shared story helps, and I’m reaching everywhere for both.

Perhaps this list makes me sound desperate. I am! Mikah is more than I can parent alone. Add my two other kids plus the household and a new career, and I am often overwhelmed.

But parents don’t get to give up. We need to embrace our gorilla, inside and out, and hope for help from all other animals in the forest. The final stanza of a poem by Meredith Heller called “Chaos” gives exquisite advice:

If Chaos reaches for your hand, take it. She is an excellent tracker and guide. She will lead you safely through your darkest terrain. She will teach you to navigate by feel. She will ask you to face your demons and to let go of everything you identify with until all of your masks fall away and burn, and all that remains is life itself, dancing you like a river.

Chaos is not to be shunned: it’s a gift that strips you of all delusion, revealing what most matters. So dance in it, surrender to it, honor some high standards, and let’s help each other enjoy the party!

 

Blog #19: Writer Dreams Retake

Blog 19

 

July 4, 2015, I was nursing my baby in a summer dormer while my seven year old daughter and nine year old son read downstairs with their dad and my parents, the two kids with their legs stretched out on the couch and the adults in separate chairs. Above, I sat cross-legged on the floor in a thin line of shadow afforded by the window pane. Outside, no breeze stirred the pines, and the afternoon sun was strong and heavy, like golden rod honey. The baby drifted to sleep on my lap slowly, still nursing but loosely, intermittently. I was supposed to be composing an email to my department chair, but instead, half-consciously, I reached for a book on the bottom shelf of the bookcase beside me: Island by Alistair MacLeod. I’d heard of him; literary writers liked him. Scanning the table of contents, I noticed a story about summer ending and flipped it open:

 

…we know the weather cannot last much longer and in another week the tourists will be gone and the schools will reopen and the pace of life will change. We will have to gather ourselves together then in some way and make the decisions that we have been postponing in the back of our minds. We are perhaps the best crew of shaft and development miners in the world and we were due in South Africa on the seventh of July. But as yet we have not gone…

 

My breath changed, no longer nervy and shallow but deeper, matching the author’s bold strokes. I could taste salt and feel summer’s warm air blowing over the miners’ bare skin. My personal concerns faded into a watery background while I read about men whose bodies had been ravaged by their jobs and whose families had been equally and irrevocably torn. All of the miners lying on the beach had lost a brother, cousin, uncle or father in a mine, and all had been to funerals for boys too young to be called men. Yet MacLeod’s words emanated a spirit that thrived anyway, some essence of human resilience that lived beyond loss of limbs and lives.

Here was why I read, I remembered, why I taught literature, and why I wrote — to encounter how we humans are more than our circumstances, more than our bodies, even more than our stories. What is true? What matters most in your short and mortal life? Here are the questions that matter, and good writing always leads readers to face them.

I first wanted to be a writer when I was seven and heard the story of Buddha, a prince who defied his father’s instructions for a royal life and stood in protest outside his father’s bedroom window for three days and nights. Neither rain, hunger, nor the growing trembling in his muscles stopped Buddha from standing up for his desire to explore life beyond the palace’s walls. Eventually, Buddha’s father relented, opened the palace gates, and Buddha stepped into the forest.

I was utterly enamored of Buddha, who felt no temptation to stay in a safe, comfortable home but who dared, instead, to venture into unfamiliar and even dangerous territory. I wanted to follow his example and believed, as Buddha did, that the meaning of life had to be more than attaining a comfortable lifestyle and various possessions. What is true? What matters most in this short and mortal life? Like Buddha, I yearned to discover my own answers to these questions.

In the summer dormer reading MacLeod, I remembered myself at seven, thinking of Buddha’s first steps as I packed cheerios, peaches, and a journal, then ventured into the trees behind my parents’ house. The trees and journal felt like a new home, and I spent as much time as I could with both. When winter came, I wore layers of clothes, including several coats at a time, as I sat and wrote beneath the branches of a favorite oak; when summer returned, I used towels to protect my arms from mosquitoes as I read Black Stallion novels in the same spot.

I missed that girl, I realized – her ardor, her journal, her light load. Almost four decades had since passed, and now, as a parent, householder and professor, I appear more like Buddha’s father than his son. I have cherished all three of my adult roles, but I see that an essential part of me had been standing in protest outside my life’s limits for years. This part stirred to life as I read MacLeod’s words and called me back to the truth that good writing always awakens within me — in our finite human reality, integrity means more than comfort and safety. Not fear nor even confusion are reasons enough to avoid the forest.

That afternoon, I faced a decision that carried the heavy weight of consequence. I’d promised to email my answer that day, and it was already 3:30. For ten years, I’d tried to balance my three roles of parent, householder and teacher, and for ten years I had failed. Now I needed to accept the failure and do something about it. Teaching four writing courses a semester while raising three children had proven impossible for me: I missed my kids, I wished to give students more time than my schedule ever allowed, and I often felt like a stranger in my own home. Yet the choice to leave a full time job was terrifying: Could I really give up my full professorship (I’d worked so hard for it! For fifteen years!), or would I keep on keeping on as I had, feeling time pass with a growing sadness?

To leave academia and tenure (in my mid-forties! with a large family!) looked like foolishness to some and flagrant irresponsibility to others. The college gave me as much job security as one could enjoy nowadays, plus summers off, health care, and a retirement plan. What lunatic would walk away from such treasure? What example was I setting for my children, and how did I plan to take care of them?

To live for a dream never makes sense to one’s family and peers: the community sees the community-reality while the dreamer reaches for what has not yet materialized. Even I couldn’t envision the life I’d encounter after resigning. But I was precisely clear about what I did not want, which was what I had had for more than a decade — the experience of handing my kids off to other people so I could teach others to write while I felt increasingly estranged from my own family and my own writing. Who was I to teach writing if I wasn’t doing it successfully? Who was I to teach anyone about “truth seeking” when I couldn’t follow my own heart? I felt like a fraud as a mother, writer, teacher, and person, and living so short of my own truths deeply depressed me. I didn’t respect or even like who I seemed to have become.

I sat on the floor in that dormer letting myself fall deeper into Alistair MCloud’s story. Good writing forces the mind to sit down and quiet down. Rationalizations, declarations, proclamations – all that noise disappears in the presence of good writing. What is true? What matters most in this short and mortal life? Three pages, five, then fifteen pages into Alistair MCloud’s writing named my answers. It happened that quickly, in less than thirty minutes. A writer’s job is to name and abide by undeniable truths, and though human life demands dozens of compromises, I suddenly knew — while reading MacLeod — that I’d conceded to too many. Minutes before 4 PM, I emailed my resignation, then prepared to step into the forest.

It’s green and wild in here. Trees tangle into one another, and the underbrush is thick and thorny. The berries are sweet, though, and apples grow everywhere. Deer pick their way delicately along almost-invisible paths. Every moment is new, and I find that I can’t count on much. A bit of a life rhythm is emerging, though. The days are noisier and more chaotic than I’d ever anticipated, but homework, sports games, dinners and baths are all managing to happen, as are my two new part-time jobs that pay some bills. Vehicles break down, glasses shatter all over the kitchen floor, knees and elbows get banged up, and nasty colds and moods sometimes sweep through the whole family – but we are at our core happier and more together than ever before. When I step outside in the pre-dawn dark and see stars, a slip of moon, and the shadowy shapes of distant trees, I fill up with such a raw and pure pleasure. The feeling is new and bright and always growing; I know need to continue to live true to it. I know I’m on the right path.

My newfound  happiness is fragile, though. Little outside support exists for people who choose a path into the forest. “Fat, haggard, overwhelmed…” I wrote in my journal just three nights ago. Words like “brave” and “inspired” felt far away. Questions regarding my material future would not quit assaulting me: Would I ever again contribute more than fractionally to my family’s income? Would I ever write successfully? Was I a good mom, even when so tired? And would I always look like a gray-skinned ghoul living under a three hundred pound rock?!

Change always brings in the unexpected, and within this forest’s tangled growth of an old life gone and a new one forming, I have to remind myself daily – sometimes hourly – that I am living for truths that won’t show up in the mirror, on a resume, or in a bank account. I need to reaffirm that I am choosing to abide by what is happening within me and within my family, less about what the larger social world sees. This time in my life is more about the spiritual than the material. I can’t look for evidence that I’ve made a “good” decision; I need, instead, to believe that I have.

I also need to remind myself that dreams have their own timing. Like babies, they do not manifest just because a human decides to want one. A kaleidoscope of designs need to happen to allow a new life or dream into the world, from shifts within our biology to changes in the family system, to new openings in the whole universe’s cosmology. My writer dreams will emerge into the larger world – I can feel this truth vibrantly – and my work, for now, is to keep following my path in the forest with sure and steady steps. When I’m cleaning the house, doing loads of laundry, preparing meals, helping kids with homework, volunteering in elementary school classrooms, and spending hours late at night with my one year old building towers and knocking them down, I need to remember that I am on my path. I am taking important steps. My dream is more real now than ever before, even if it is invisible to everyone but me.

The single truth the Buddha discovered about human life is that it changes: no part of our mortal existence can last. Dreams arrive, and dreams dissolve. My children will grow older, and time to type in my computer will lengthen. For now, my job is to remember my writer dreams and to cherish them. I journal every day I can and don’t get frustrated on the days I can’t. I support writer friends whose time to write and shine is now, and I read whenever possible, marveling at others’ creations. These steps, too, are important. Still in the forest, I cannot know where they will bring me exactly, but I can live here grateful for the trees and family, colleagues and role models around me, come what may.

What example am I setting for my children? Hopefully, that the forest of one’s heart does not need to be excluded from one’s adult reality. The Buddha and his father were family. My wish is for my children and me to learn together that dreams come true, if one dares to walk after them, just as I am walking now.

 

Blog #18: Not So Fun Or So Fabulous

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Part I.             My recent posts have showcased a mom relishing in her blessings: two healthy children, a robust baby, and a romantic as well as supportive partner. I am gloriously happy and grateful for my life. This life, though – it does have its shadows. Light alone has no definition nor substance. I am writing my book Fun & Fabulous: Moms 40+ to vanquish the noise directed at mature women, cowing them from going after their dreams, especially when those dreams include babies. At the same time, I don’t want to deny that life insists on some harsh rules regarding dreams. You do not get to have them all, and choices mean loss as much as they mean gain.

I want to write now about loss. Part of my story includes loss of a certain kind of creativity and also of love. This year, I’ve been abandoning writing projects one after the other and suppressing ambition to embrace instead the wayward ways of domestic life. “I cannot heed you,” I say to one inspired idea after another as I open more to the physical and emotional lives around me. This part of my story is as important to share as all my fun and fabulous hurrahs.

I wanted my third child since I turned forty, but I was too afraid. For four years, I tried to find other ways of placating my yearning, and in hindsight I see how much I needed that time to know, unquestionably, that Mikah, my son, was what I wanted more than any other dream of mine – a published novel, travel, expansion of my academic career, or time alone. I’d already raised a step-daughter and two babies of my own, so I was acutely aware of how another baby would place mammoth demands on me and my family, and I feared these demands as much as I longed for a child.

“I thought about a third,” my cousin mused when she met Mikah. “The people who talked me out of it were my male colleagues, saying it would totally stop my career.” She pointed a finger at me. “I did notice, the third baby seems to be women’s excuse to stop working.”

Though I didn’t like my cousin’s word choice “excuse,” I had to agree with her. The third baby (and all babies really) ask from a mom…well, just about everything. Sleep, self-care, and career development diminish and sometimes disappear. This year, I’ve earned less than a quarter of what I earned before Mikah was born. I write less than a quarter of my usual output, too. Most days, I’m frazzled and unkempt – a far cry from the fun and fabulous mom I like to portray.

A few mornings ago, I remembered a novel I’d written a first draft for in my early twenties, a story of Harry Blink, a rich man who wrote letters to people he met randomly or remembered randomly – a homeless man shaking a cup outside a grocery store, his old fifth grade crush, the woman who filled his propane tank every other month. The magic of the novel was in the letters, how they reached into people’s hearts in ways that inspired them to live more openly and to change their lives for the better.

“Oh well,” I thought as the memory ended, “that book is gone.”

I don’t believe one can rescue novels from the past. We change so much with every season that years later, we are not the same person; the author of a past writing project is not the same author either. The book that would have been written years ago just cannot be written anymore. Harry Blink is an unrealized writing project, and though I still love the seed that began the project, I have to face that now, at age forty-five, Harry Blink may never be borne unto this world.

But I have Mikah, and I wanted Mikah with an unparalleled passion. I was willing to give up everything to have him, and dreams, it seems, need this kind of eternally unqualified devotion. If I’d wanted Harry Blink as much as I’d wanted Mikah, would that dream have manifested? I believe so, but the fact is, I didn’t. I put that book down again and again, for one reason after another, and for the last decade, I’ve been putting down another novel, this one about a girl graffiti artist. I wanted babies and the family that we have become more than anything else.

I still believe I’m a writer. I still harbor hope of publishing novels and other valuable pieces of writing. If I don’t, though, I can accept the failure – because I know what I do have, and I chose what I have with a wide open heart.
Part II.            Another note about loss calls to be written, and that is the loss of private love time with my partner. I thought that with careful strategizing I could preserve romance with Eric. I planned to wean Mikah earlier than my other babies. I planned to ask for more help from relatives and friends and also to hire babysitters more often. Ha ha! At age one, Mikah is still a ferocious nurser and is allergic to all dairy products and other proteins that could substitute for mother’s milk. He doesn’t like being away from his parents, and he needs less sleep than any human I’ve ever met. He takes one or two cat naps during the day and calls out for nursing every ninety minutes throughout the night. As he’s gotten older, he’s developed even more energy and endurance. The last few months have been outrageously consuming, and I see Eric about as often as I see my own face in the mirror. We feel like strangers to each other and even our own selves.

I miss Eric keenly. He is my best friend, my comfort, and my inspiration. Our first year together, twelve years ago, we used to have dates every Monday night when his daughter spent the night at her mom’s. Eric had a beat-up black Ford back then, and we’d climb into it and drive far into the hills behind our house to a favorite clearing. Pines and poplar ring this area, and I loved sitting there with Eric in the darkening twilight. We always brought a bottle of red wine and a blanket, and we’d lie on that blanket while pouring the wine and telling stories about our day, and then we’d move into the more eternal longings of our hearts. I can still taste those nights, the intimacy of them, the sensuality, the ground and sky and the freedom of true love manifesting.

Now, my God, we wash so many dishes! And bills, bills, bills – we are forever talking about them, sometimes with harsh voices. Not fun! Nor fabulous! I often feel like a failing mother and an even worse lover. “Can you just hold the baby while I…” I release this request much more often than I ever thought I would, sometimes before Eric’s even had a chance to shower after work. Mikah is so impressively industrious: he leaves no second unlived, and life for Mikah involves scaling stairs and ladders, seeking out electrical cords and magnets, and reaching into every drawer and cabinet that hasn’t been nailed shut. Eric or I have to be with him supervising him, which leaves the other parent doing everything that needs doing, and when Mikah does finally go to sleep (usually in the stroller, which one of us is hiking around the back field), we are so goddamned tired, and the other kids are waiting for us to recognize their existence, and … YUCK!

“It’s going to get better,” I’ve been promising Eric, but promises are only words, and meanwhile I see his eyes. They are tired. I long to put a hand to his face, to rub his shoulders and back. He works hard all day long building and tearing down houses and barns, and then he comes home to a household that offers too little rest and so much need. Can our union withstand this kind of relentless testing? We are a month away from celebrating twelve years together, and this amount of time is a triumph! I want to celebrate our love every day and every night…yet this wish, for now, is a future fantasy. Reality demands days apart, and many nights, too, are lost to childcare and exhaustion.

I don’t write these words to talk people out of babies or to beg for help: I just want the whole story out there. Fun & Fabulous can’t create unrealistic expectations. I desperate longed for the exact family I love and am totally devoted to it. I also know that change is the nature of our mortal universe, and this season of intense hands-on childcare will pass. Eric knows it, too. As an author of a book for moms, though, I feel that I need to emphasize that people contemplating babies first need to ask themselves if they can give up years of self-direction to the care of another being. What dreams are eternal for you, and which ones can you let go?

For the four years I tried to suppress my wish for another baby, I was relentlessly sad. My bones ached with a sense of crookedness, and I knew I was walking in one wrong direction after another. At night, I’d step outside to look at the stars and to talk to the spirit that called to me throughout every day and every evening. “The time doesn’t seem right for you yet,” I’d explain, “but I am doing everything I can to create a safe landing place for you.” Words by Thich Nhat Hanh illustrate the commitment I made to this spirit, over and over again, for so long:

Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out. Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek. So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source, always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.

I am repeating these words to my writing dreams now, and to my deep yearning for full carefree days and nights with Eric: Take my hand…Let’s smile…We will meet again on the myriad paths of life. There is no good-bye. I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died. Over there is the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies.

Let’s walk into the stars together, dear Eric, dear dreams, come what may.

Blog #17: Reprieve

One isn’t born with courage. One develops it by doing small courageous things—in the way that if one sets out to pick up a 100-pound bag of rice, one would be advised to start with a five-pound bag, then ten pounds, then twenty pounds, and so forth, until one builds up enough muscle to lift the 100-pound bag. It’s the same way with courage. You do small courageous things that require some mental and spiritual exertion. 

-Maya Angelou

A Monday night in May, I received an email from a colleague: it criticized my choice to utilize a Leave of Absence in order to be at home full time as a parent. I had a nine year old, a seven year old, and a newborn. I relished this time – to parent fully, without distraction – and I had begun to describe my experience in a blog. My days at home felt important. I wanted to illustrate them with details and to explore ways I might continue to feel connected to my family beyond my years off.

I was forty – five when I gave birth to my third baby. Staying at home to care for my children at this age was one of the riskiest ventures I’d ever undertaken. Would the college welcome me back after two years? Would I be able to return with sharp enough skills and a keen enough mind? Fortunately, my fears of losing professional value were not bigger than my desire to be at home, and miraculously, both my department chair and college president approved my request for an extended leave.

At first, my colleagues seemed in favor of the agreement. Who wants a mom with tiny kids on board? The breast pump, the “sick kid” absences, the tired eyes – many professionals would rather skip the whole package. The college was facing a budget deficit, and extending my leave helped our department defray impending layoffs. Yet nine months later, one colleague – who claimed to speak for many others – voiced a different point of view: I was playing with babies at home (“and blogging about it”) while others were fighting for their survival. My leave was allowing me to take up a job position while others could be vying for it. I needed to make a choice: was I a full time worker or a full time mom? I could not be both.

I could not be both.

This email felt worse than a punch to the gut, which one can recover from, because it revealed an ugly conflict that my leave had obscured, but which will clearly haunt me all my life: to be an attentive, present parent eclipses one’s ability to be a valued and respected worker. To provide for one’s children compromises one’s ability to nurture one’s children.

Women, it seems, still must choose: do you want to be a parent, or do you want to be a professional?

I work in education. One can never give enough to one’s students. I used to work in a runaway home for teens, and even after two eight-hour shifts back to back, I still never felt that I’d “finished” my work. A yawning need reigned over me no matter what I did. At the college where I work now, students are often less desperate, but the need for attention and assistance is always present and always intense.

The situation with one’s own children at home is no different. Building character is hard, ongoing work. It begins with those subtle kicks within one’s womb and continues long past infanthood, the toddler era and even grammar school: our children always need us parents. Sometimes they need us to challenge them to strive to their highest potential; other times they need a hug and forgiveness. Discipline, education, comfort, communication – there’s no end to what our children need from us.

My point is that the demands of work and home are both intense and can be all-consuming. In the past, trying to do both has left me feeling like a failure in both camps. I thought taking a leave of absence was a solution, allowing me time to focus on my children during a critical period of their lives. My colleague’s email barked otherwise. She reminded me all over again that no matter when I returned, I’d be re-entering an impossible situation, reaping scorn from colleagues and laments from family.

“Come back, or give your job to someone who actually wants to do it,” asserts my colleague.

The thought of giving up my job is terrifying. I adore my job as a professor. Teaching and writing have always defined my identity. My first job occurred when I was fifteen and began tutoring a seventh grade girl. She had peroxide-white hair, a dozen piercings, and wore a lot of black leather. I don’t remember the short story we revised together, but I do remember feeling a pull to connect with her and to listen closely to her words. Writing is healing, and I felt its medicine working for both of us, in a sweet and synchronistic way. When our session ended and she asked if she could come back, I knew I’d discovered what I wanted to do with my life. Scientists in labs as well as sociologists in classrooms have proven that loving attention is as vital to any growing child as vitamins and oxygen. My life purpose, I knew from that moment, was to give this attention to as many children and young adults as I could, through teaching and writing.

Twenty years later, I became a mom.

Federal law dictates that government employees receive six weeks of paid maternity leave and another six weeks unpaid. After that, employees need to return to work full time, and their three-month old babies go to a childcare facility for eight hours a day (or nine, given travel time). As a mom who dropped off her first infant for six to eight hours of daycare five days a week, I can testify, this system is barbaric. Drew was a few weeks older than the typical three months when I returned to work, and both he and I suffered horribly. The ache inside me was larger than any pain I’d ever endured – it dwarfed labor! My son, too, was not thriving. He was underweight, didn’t talk much, had a gazillion food allergies – and he just wasn’t happy.

For working parents and their children, time apart is excruciating, but time together is also often compromised. Consider what happens at 5 or 6 PM, once the parent has retrieved her child. Dinner, bills, the telephone, dishes in the sink from breakfast, the need to discuss tomorrow’s schedule with one’s partner – so much STUFF needs doing, and again, who is looking at the child? Where is that time for creating and enjoying the loving bonds that so many scientists have proven is vital for health and well-being? Do no politicians care enough to pay attention to these studies? Moms on welfare are vilified in politics and in the media, and moms taking leave from work – well, we seem vilified, as well.

So one fails as a mom, or one fails as a worker. One either abandons her colleagues and clients, or she abandons her own children.

I’ll never forget a colleague from my past named Robin, who worked with me in the teenage runaway home. We were on lunch break with the kids, sitting on a cool cement sidewalk behind the school. It was summer, and the air was hot and humid. Everyone felt lazy and felt no need to hurry back to the classroom. “Why don’t you have kids?” one of the students asked Robin. She was a beautiful forty year old, long and lean with hip-length red hair and blue eyes. I turned to listen to her because I had also wondered.

“I didn’t want to have kids just to drop them off at daycare, and I knew I’d always have to work. I never felt I had a choice.”

I can still feel how my stomach lurched at her words. I was twenty-three and knew I wanted kids, and her words made me want to scream, That is so totally unfair! Robin was adored by our students (and they didn’t adore much!). She seemed like she would have been a fun and loving mom. And she never would be.

“Are you coming back?” My colleague has challenged me. She wants me “out” of the college so someone more worthy can be “in.” She argues that I have “ambivalence about returning to higher education full-time,” and yes, I am guilty of that. I worry about how I will manage it, teaching four courses a semester while also serving on committees, responding to emergencies, and being a good team player – all while mothering my three children. Daylight hours of time with my children will go from 100% to less than 50% (and in my area of work, that means an F!). How will I adjust to once again being absent from so much of their lives? Currently, I volunteer in their classrooms weekly and am helping to pilot a project for gifted students in their school. Much more importantly, I’m spending gobs of time with them. Our time together has been utterly wondrous: watching my children grow and engaging with them in this growth feels as magical as sensing their bodies form within me during pregnancy. I am witnessing life’s creation, right here, right now.

What is my choice?

As much as I know that being at home is absolutely right for now, I also know that with motherhood (and just about everything else) what’s “right” changes over time. Moms grow up as much as children do. When our babies first emerge from our bodies, all we can do is hold onto them with a desperate primal love. As the years stretch out, however, the cord that holds us so closely together begins to stretch out, too. Our children learn to balance on their own two legs and take a step forward…and soon after that, they start to run…and we learn at the same time to let go of their warm soft bodies and watch them move away (and leap! and soar!) all on their own.

The key factor here is time. We can’t rush the processes of parenthood. The legally mandated six weeks for stay-at-home parenting is about one percent of what is needed – biologically, intellectually, and emotionally. I am proud to work for a college that understands and honors a more humane timeline – and utterly grateful. Any colleagues who are not aware of my appreciation for the gift that Vermont Tech has granted me have not talked with me directly, for I discuss it constantly. My wish is that what the college has allowed for my family can stand as a model for other institutions and businesses. As my journey as mom and writing professor continues to evolve, I will continue blogging about my experience, scattering notes like birdseed for other moms to find, follow, and digest (and yes, to vomit up if necessary; effluvia is always part of the conversation of motherhood). We are all so different, but we share the common qualities of loving our children unconditionally and striving to let their unique radiance shine. May we be allowed the time we need to do our jobs well.

 

 

Blog #16: Babies Make Life Sweeter for Moms 40+

Drew and bottle

Rain falls gently outside, darkening the rocks in the garden just outside the kitchen door. Acoustic guitar plays from two speakers on the kitchen table where my stepdaughter eats a bagel and sketches girls with different hairstyles. Across the room, my ten year old son and seven year old daughter play Magic the Gathering, crouching over their cards on the rug, then jumping up and down for one play or another. I’m so happy here this Saturday morning, absorbing the presence of my children with my newest baby in my arms. At twenty pounds, he fits against me as warm and squeezable as bread. I lift him up and breathe him in, tasting all the delicious scents of “baby.”

People warn that babies gobble time, abolish leisure, and even cut deep connections with one’s other children, but Mikah has helped replenish all three for me. If it weren’t for Mikah, my baby, I would not be resting in this moment right now. I’m a professor at a local college and would more likely be evaluating new academic programs or reading articles on the future of higher education. I’m also a long distance runner, so I might also be taking advantage of the older kids’ independence by running five miles up the road. Or maybe because of the rain, I’d choose instead to lean over a keyboard and try to write something that feels important. The baby keeps me here, though, soaking in the present moment. I sway left to right, left to right, listening to the rain and and Drew and Gracie laughing. My muscles and limbs relax, my mind softens. Holding the baby in one arm, I use the other to lift my tea, loving its blend of honey and lavender. Every sense feels more intense now because I can take time to savor it.

Friends and family vehemently argued against me having another baby. It wouldn’t just wear me out, they insisted; it would also limit if not end all opportunity for growth. “You could try a triatholon,” I remember a girlfriend suggesting. Others mentioned traveling to different cultures, raising goats, or writing another novel. No one seemed to value the presence of a baby in the home.

Yet this baby is growth – in addition to the miracle of a new existence lighting into form. I could write pages about the wonder of watching a tiny water-bound being grow into a human that hugs, talks, crawls, walks…yet of equal value is the growth that babies inspire in those around them. For moms, this growth is exponential.

Mikah’s presence has inspired me to relax in my home with my family in ways I have never done before. I am content to stand here, feeling warm and cozy, while mist drifts across the lawn and two crows circle over the top of a pine. When did I ever gaze out a window like this? How often does any adult allow such a moment to stretch out so luxuriously? I have phone calls to return, a bathroom to clean, laundry to hang – and yes, yes, yes – money to earn in my new editing business. Yet here I stand, happily, letting my list sit on the counter. I’ll get to it – but not right away. The baby is beginning to purr, and he’ll sleep soon. My stepdaughter has moved on from drawing hair to doodling favorite movie quotes. Drew and Grace are still playing cards, now jumping on the couch between turns. Their legs look so long! Grace tosses her head back like a dancer when she laughs. I’m so happy watching them, swaying by this fire, relishing in all that is, just as it is, for a few more beats.

Babies give more than time. They also give more love – for everyone. One of my most heart-rending fears when I was pregnant was how the presence of another baby would affect my relationships with my older children. I loved them desperately. I had worked long hours throughout their pregnancies and infancies, so a part of me was always missing them, longing for an intimacy we had yet to share. I became pregnant when Drew was eight and Gracie six, and I vexed endlessly over how I’d ever love them enough with a new baby. I became plagued by a repetitive nightmare: my daughter was sliding down a rocky bank into a rough river, and I was too far away to reach her. I’d run faster and faster, but she always ended up lost to the water anyway.

Of course, a new baby changes a mom’s relationship with her kids. Babies need to be held most of the day and often most of the night. My daughter is on my lap much less since Mikah’s arrival. I’m at fewer of my son’s soccer practices. We eat more hotdogs now. Sometimes Drew and Grace put themselves to sleep as I cajole a fussy baby in a room across the hall. These changes are hard for all of us – but no one’s drowning. Quite the opposite. Both Drew and Grace are happier than ever before: they laugh more, are kinder towards each other, and act more confident in school and with their friends. They’re big siblings! Important people! Two weeks ago, Mikah learned to clap – which he does at least a dozen times a day to celebrate them. He claps and smiles when they walk into the room; he claps and laughs when one finishes a chapter of homework and announces, “Done!” Both are able to hold him while standing, and he wraps his arms around their necks and kicks his legs in joy as they parade him about the house.

Along with getting loved up by Mikah, my kids also get more love from me. While working full time, I was often on the college campus long passed the children’s bedtimes. Even if my body were home, my mind was often still up the hill on Route 66. Academic work is never finished: committees always need a report (or two or three); stacks of papers scream for grading; unfinished essays sit in uninspired poses on the computer. I am on leave now, and I am truly here, in the home I built in my twenties and thirties, with the children who’ve emerged from my body to share it with me. My eldest son feels closer to me now than ever. He entertains the baby while I make dinner, fills the wood bin, checks texts for me on my cell. We take trips into the woods together to gather kindling, and because Mikah is on my back, Drew is the one who carries and uses the ax. My daughter is eager to compete for role of best helper and often tromps into the woods with us. She and Drew are the ones who lift the logs and carry them together back home. Grace also loves entertaining Mikah, which she does by singing peekaboo-peekaboo-peekaboo, until he laughs like he’s being tickled. She loads the diaper bag for me in the car, every day, even when it weighs almost as much as she does. In dozens of ways, the baby has transformed Drew and Grace’s sibling rivalry into a much more palatable version of exertion for attention.

The baby has also transformed me. Modern life vexes us with so many pressures to grow and accumulate and improve, and all my life I’ve been chasing after half a dozen goals at time. Now, I’m present with my children and my own being in a new, deeper way. I listen better. I exert myself to follow through on my children’s ideas rather than only my own. If Drew wants to bike, I throw Mikah in the Ergo and run after him; if Grace wants to draw, I put him in the backpack and paint alongside her. I am so determined to make sure my older children still feel cared for. My favorite week days are when I bring Mikah to Drew and Grace’s school, drop him off with the office secretary, and volunteer in their classrooms. This time is their time and feels sacred to all three of us.

I wouldn’t have been so willing to follow others in the past, even if they were my own kids. In my twenties, I was obsessed with certain ideals and living them. In my thirties I was under extreme pressure to manifest a home and career. Now, in my forties, I just want to enjoy those I love. Three of my closest friends had double-mastectomies in the last year. My partner’s two best friends are dead. These losses and others have taught me to value every moment of my life and my children’s. Younger friends of mine seem more eager to send their kids away for a week or so into the care of relatives and friends, while a single overnight is all I can allow – and only to grandparents. I am pulled to be with my kids, not to miss a bedtime, or a good morning hug. How many healthy years do I have left? Whatever answer exists, I wish to enjoy those years with my family.

Of course, I’ll return to work fulltime. Time at home is expensive. I’m making a fraction of what I used to – but my career is not over. I feel it transforming. Like an acorn sending out a pale yellow embryo from its shell, I am reaching into new light, too. When pregnant, I felt inspired to learn a new healing modality “Healing Touch,” which I’ve been able to share with the whole family. I’d always wanted to learn various massage techniques, and at last I am doing so – and practicing on those I love. I also recently enrolled in an online class combining memoir with yoga. This creative and dynamic class is giving me ideas of how I might hybridize some of my own college courses. It’s also connecting me with kindred spirits. Several of the other students and I have become friends “on the ground,” and even our children are beginning to entwine. After fifteen years of working along the tenure track, I’m grateful to have this time to explore learning, teaching, and collaborating in alternative settings.

I would never declare life is easier now that Mikah is born. Babies require love and care around the clock, and with three other kids in the house, my partner and I are often desperately tired. We don’t get enough one-on-one time, and I miss him keenly. The house is messy, and the sink is always full of dishes. Some nights, I sneak into Drew and Grace’s room, and as I watch them sleeping I feel an ache in my heart because the day disappeared too quickly, and I didn’t get enough time to connect wholeheartedly with them. These details, though, do not darken the energy of all that is growing here. We’re happy, and the love in this home feels good. And our baby helped, not hindered, this goodness to happen.