So how’s your divorce going?

Slowly. My divorce is going slowly, thanks for asking.

Everything is fine. We’re still being friendly and still sharing time with the kids. I’m not a big fan of shared parenting, but it’s much better than having one parent erased from the kids’ lives, and it’s infinitely better than what we were forcing to make work long after it didn’t work.

We’re nice enough that we both go to all the soccer games. We’re annoyed enough by each other that conversations go best via text. It’s not a “between a rock and a hard place” kind of situation. It’s a “rock and everything that’s not the rock seems pretty soft” kind of situation.

rock sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, from my first of two visits

rock sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, from my first of two visits

The legal stuff has barely begun, but we’re hoping it will be easy. We haven’t disagreed on any details yet, and we’ve covered a lot of territory. It never occurred to me, when we decided to end years of misery with a responsible divorce, where both of us strive toward being respectful and kind, that we’d have to put in writing who gets to decide when the kids learn to drive (both have to agree) or who has to agree to moving to a different pediatrician, dentist, or school (again, we want both of us to agree). This isn’t hard. It’s a lot of thinking ahead, though. Thinking about being linked for decades. Gah.

I’m not enjoying the added burden of finding and paying professionals to help us make sure our kids are fairly treated until they’re adults, since we both agree they should be fairly treated.

But I’m trying to be smart about this. Some day he might remarry. Some day I might remarry (hahahahaha that’s a good one). And we have to make sure that what makes sense now is written and witnessed and legal and binding. Because it would really suck to go forward on goodwill, and have someone derail that spirit of cooperation with legal shenanigans.

I don’t enjoy the limitations of single parenting, but my happiness at being done with a very challenging time in my life trumps inconvenience.

gutter, rainwater, pollen, leaves. un-still life.

gutter, rainwater, pollen, leaves. un-still life.

I read exactly one article on divorce before deciding I’m not reading any more. In a highly recommended listicle, divorced women said retail therapy is exactly the wrong choice during a separation.

And so, for a while, every purchase I made seemed like a statement on my mental health, on my divorce, and on my potential for happiness. New shampoo was a cry for help. A new coffee mug was clearly demonstration of intense loneliness. And a new mattress was a therapy cornucopia: in attempting to erase the marital bed I was hiding from reality.

What ridiculous nonsense like that ignores, is that people moving through a change in marital status are just carrying on with life the way a regular person would. If you’re engaged and buying a new bed, that’s symbolic. But my buying a new mattress wasn’t a statement on my mental health. That purchase coincided with an uptick in work that meant I finally had enough money to fix a chronic back issue that had me waking, in pain, on a 15-year-old mattress.

I’m not sure why it was so easy to jump to a place where I associated my choices with my change in marital status. Since high school, I’ve refused to use the word Mrs. because I think it’s ridiculous to categorize women into only two groups: married and unmarried. So why do it to myself?

I thought I’d be upset about my divorce. I thought I’d second-guess myself, feel uncomfortable, or feel ashamed of my choices. But I don’t feel differently. I’m not embarrassed to kiss my kids goodbye after the soccer game because they’re spending the rest of the weekend with their dad. I’m not shamed that the teacher asks gingerly if she can have a conference with me and the boys’ dad together. I think it’s a good question. I tell her we’re happy to have just one conference. And I would feel just as comfortable telling her that we needed to be apart if that were true.

To my Catholic grandmothers, divorce was a big deal. As the adult child of an 1970s divorce (none of which seemed to exist on the same nasty-to-amicable spectrum we’ve set up for ourselves this generation…they were all relatively uncivil and acrimonious, right?), I thought divorce was a big deal.

But it hasn’t turned out that way.

Maybe because I’m not done yet. Maybe because I’m at the center of it, and I enjoy being the center of an issue. Maybe because divorce doesn’t seem intense when it’s such a relief. Or maybe because trying our best to be kind, to talk nicely about each other, to support the kids with whatever they need in the transition to a two-household family, we’ve actually taken some of the biggest hurts out of divorce.

I don’t know. But I do know that, other than the logistics, my divorce is going quite well. Thanks for asking.

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Blog vs. Surf

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I didn’t start using photos in this blog until 2012, according to my photo gallery. I checked because I was going to steal an old photo instead of uploading a new one.

Walking back through them, the dirty worms photo made me smile. They’re about as awesome as this blog’s photos get.

He sure was proud of those worms.

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And of the things his truck could do.

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And of the sand he brought home in his shoes but remembered to dump before he came inside.

I don’t have a point, really, except that this blog has some nice memories tucked inside. Some moments that I remember more clearly, cherish more deeply, because I shared them.

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When you cross SAD and PTSD

I had a rough couple of Octobers as a young adult. Big earthquake one year. Huge fire two years later. Terrifying car crash a few months after that, which wasn’t October, but which also didn’t make fire recovery much fun. In Boston, also October a year later, I struggled with a major injury; another big injury the following October.

And as I was acclimating to those psychic bruises, I walked through Harvard Square to rehearsal one October night. The sky was absolutely black, street lights painfully bright, and life flowing all around me. I didn’t notice that I was having to try much harder to get through my days since the time change. But I did notice that it was starting to rain. Barely.

I stopped at a red light and looked down a side street. And the tiny rain drops looked, in the street light and against the black sky, like snow.

And I lost my everloving mind.

I paced like a wild animal, knowing I had to get out. I had to leave, escape, claw, leap, fly. Fly! Yes, that’s it. I ran back up the street to a pay phone (yes, it was when there were pay phones but not cell phones). I pulled out my credit card, and checked the back for an airline phone number. I called and asked for the first flight back home.

I laughed at the price. I had to find a way to make it, and not lose my mind. Because I couldn’t afford a panic trip home.

Instead, I talked myself down, went to rehearsal, and the next day looked in the yellow pages for a therapist. (This was in the time of pay phones and email. I’m pretty sure there was a search engine of some sort. I just don’t remember if this was still yellow pages time, or if we were able to ascertain the location of a therapist by just typing in “Boston therapist seasonal affective disorder.”) Now that I think about it, I called my insurance company. From a land line. They gave me three names.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is pretty easy to remedy, he said. Generally, it takes lots of outdoor exercise in the daylight, and 15 minutes a day in front of a light box. For me, he said, based on my reported symptoms, it had to be 2 hours a day of full spectrum light. Read a book in front of the light box, he said. Every morning. Eat your breakfast, write letters, do whatever you need to do, but get within six inches of a medical device every day for two hours. If it feels like you’re euphoric, back off by 10 minutes. And if you feel unable to work, get out of bed, or eat, come back.

It was a long winter. So was the next one.

When I came home to a place with more sunshine, milder winters, and longer days in winter, I had fewer problems. But winterns are still tough.

And without fail, some time in October I start to a panic a bit. Is there any chance to get closer to the sun, quickly, for at least four months? Will this winter be bad? Will I be able to make logical decisions or am I beyond all hope until March? Or beyond? Am I just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, anyway? Is there any point to the light box or exercise? Or healthy food? Or getting out of bed?

It's a long walk off a rotten pier.

It’s a long walk off a rotten pier.

November, to me, is both intensely tough and intensely joyful. Thanksgiving is coming, and I love seeing family. Fall is lovely, and soup plus corduroy plus cocoa make anything wonderful. But the dark and the cold leave cracks into which sadness creeps. Even in cords, drinking soup and stirring cocoa. I ser the sad coming. I know it’s here. I know I have to fight.

I have my lightbox out, and will use it tomorrow. I’m trying to get more sleep. I have all my bright scarves out, so I remember to wear one on particularly emotional mornings. I have healthy foods planned so I don’t sink into a self-medicating pattern of whole loaves of bread for dinner this winter. I will move around, outside in daylight, every morning.

I hope that everyone who notes that the change of the season, and particularly the end of daylight savings time, makes days a bit harder, a bit slower, a bit more claustrophobic will make time for outside activity, bright colors, good food, and a lightbox if necessary.

They make a big difference.

So does making it through October. Thank you, Universe, for making it through October.

The Blessing of Expired Coupons

The first week of this month is my favorite. Hope, possibility, and the permission to recycle a fistful of expired coupons.

I don’t use coupons. The circulars that come in the mail go straight into recycling. Envelopes of alleged deals do, too. Most of the things I buy don’t offer coupons. But every once in a while, I wind up with a few coupons or micro gift certificates for things I actually use, and will likely buy before they expire.

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So I start a pile. Near where the mail goes and papers to be signed go. And I see the stack every day, winking at me with the possibility of a few dollars off.

But I can’t seem to remember them when I shop. And though that local restaurant is good when we go once or twice a year, our infrequent outings don’t ever seem to coincide with a month where I have the appropriate coupon.

I functionally ignored the coupon pile, even as life’s odometer rolled over to November.

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Today I realized that ten coupons are now an impossibility. Their “you should use this” glare died October 31. “Hurry and use that coupon. Or that one. Or one of them. Take your pick, but go to a place and buy a thing and save several monies.  Come on. You should do this. Or do something with your life for heaven’s sake!”

Sorry. Can’t. Coupon expired. Phew. One fewer thing to forget. I am no longer burdened with the “remember coupons” line item on my to-do list. Clearly I wasn’t paying enough attention to them. So why pay any attention at all?

I threw them away. And for good measure, I threw away the rest of the coupons, too. Expiring December 31? That’s cool. But you’re already wood pulp for something new. I don’t care. And I shall say that loud and proud.

Eff off, coupons.

As I tossed the now dead scraps of paper, I saw the four screws on the kitchen counter that have been waiting for weeks. Or months. I don’t remember. I’ve been trying to recall what they’re for, and I just don’t know. But I thought if I kept them out and visible, I’d remember eventually. Or need them for something.

And I should have just put them in the toolbox. But I wanted so much to find their role and allow them to fulfill their screwy destiny that I left them out in a vIsabel heap of junk-drawer-gone-obligatory

Today I tossed the screws. In the trash. Not in the toolbox, not out on the curb where the whole city seems to dispose of its unwanted but useful things.

I pitched them gleefully.

Good riddance, obligation. Goodbye reminder that my memory is crap. Goodbye unreasonable expectations.

Coins, burned out light bulb, watch that needs a new battery, but no coupons.

Coins, burned out light bulb, watch that needs a new battery, but no coupons.

And now I’m wandering through the house with a bag, drunk with power. Sock without a mate? Whether it’s been waiting a week or a year, it’s gone. I’m tired of waiting. Tired of telling myself I’m not doing enough. Tired of hoping all the messy ends of life will get neatly tied together.

Goodbye, book I know I won’t read. You’re going to the library.

Goodbye tea I don’t like. I’m not saving you for guests. Friends deserve better.

Goodbye, game I don’t like playing with the kids. I play other games, and I don’t care about you at all. You’re a pain and now you’re headed to Goodwill.

Goodbye wedding china. You’re “supposed” to go to eBay, but you’re going to the other half of my failed marriage. He can sell you or use you or give you away. I don’t need the should of your box shaming me from the closet.

Goodbye, tax receipts. I don’t…just kidding. I’m want to, but I’m not stupid. Freedom is symbolic, and currently only at the coupon, gift certificate, and third-rate novel level for now.

But that’s a pretty good place to be. Shedding what I don’t need. Streamlining. And knocking dumb things off my list.

Finally Fall

The story is the same every year: Hot in September. Hot in October. Eighty degrees on Halloween. 

Then mid-sixties the first week of November. A battle between me and my mother as to who turns on the heat first. She claims to make it until November 11 some years. 

I rarel make it past Election Day. 

Happy boot weather, Bay Area! Bring out your cords! Bring out your cords!

dude! they took my blanket! please let me cuddle in right here.

Harbinger of Terminal Disease

I don’t want to worry anyone, but I spontaneously started singing a Phil Collins song today.

And that probably means I’m dying.

Look, I don’t think there’s anything inherently toxic about Phil Collins. Anyone raised in the 80s has a few lyrics shelved in their prefrontal cortex that are bound to dislodge at odd times.

And I don’t have any problem with spontaneous singing. I sing when I’m happy, bored, angry…I don’t need a plan to sing. I just do it.

But washing dishes in the dark (kids in bed, too lazy to turn on a light, because ew, why would I want to see all that yuck if my only job is to scrape and shove in the dishwasher?) means an almost meditative zen state of flow.

And having Phil Collins arise at just that moment probably means I have a cold coming on. Or spinal meningitis. Or the flu. Or a brain tumor.

Just saying. Brain tumors aren’t funny. And neither is having Phil Collins stuck in my head.

And then falling out of my mouth.

(“Against All Odds”; thanks for asking. And I mean that sarcastically. Because I had eight bars of verse looping for a long time, until I considered blogging this catastrophe. I realized I had to push further into the song to ascertain the title. And now the chorus is looping. Incessantly. Against my will. Probably a tumor.)

How I Ruin Everything

I go back and forth thinking I’m doing an okay job balancing work and family, and then sure that I’m not. And this week’s proof of my failure to thrive was in the mail, proclaiming to everyone in the school community that I’m not within 50 yards of making it work.

Do I mean “rush down the stairs last week while brushing my teeth to help with a dispute gone wild, abandon my toothbrush in the kitchen, and brush my teeth with the kids’ brushes at midnight, for a week, because I’m too tired to fetch my own” failure to thrive? Sure, but also “ask my kids to find my keys or phone every morning because I seriously can’t keep track of anything” failure to thrive? Yep. And “let my kid curse like a sailor because I can’t seem to find consistency, in anything”? Uh-huh. That, too.

A bit of background: my dear little boys are finally in the same school. We are two months into a two-year phase, the only one of their lives, where they’ll be at the same school. And it’s heavenly. One drop off. One set of events. One community thoroughly disappointed in my level of commitment.*

*I’m assuming that disappointment. I might be projecting, just a wee bit, since I’m completely disgusted with my level of commitment. But I’m pretty sure the other parents, teachers, and staff have noticed, too. I see the way they look at me…smiling and waving. Making small talk. They clearly hate me.

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When my oldest started kindergarten five years ago, I cried the first day. I was in the classroom twice a week. I knew all the kids’ names by the end of the week, and they wrote me thank you notes when the year ended. The second child, who started kindergarten this year, got none of that. I drop him, greet the teacher, and all but run out of the schoolyard within 2 seconds of the bell ringing.

It helps that the second guy is very independent. (Probably because he hates me, too, though that’s another post.) It also helps that I’m rushing off to a job I enjoy, where I feel I’m doing valued work, and where I am cobbling together a flex schedule that lets me be with the boys every non-school hour. Or, at least, every non-school hour of my days. On their dad’s days, I work longer hours.

And that’s where some of the ruining comes in. I don’t mean the part about me ruining the kids because I have shared custody. That’s just to easy a target. I mean the part about me ruining everything else while I try to work full-time, be with my kids full-time, make shared custody as painless as possible, keep the house from appearing on an episode of Hoarders, and sleep at least 5 hours a night.

So what’s the big deal? What did I screw up this time? The news from the school comes home Thursdays. Thursdays are a dad day, and after school the sitter whom I gladly accepted as a hand-me-down from my brother and sister-in-law picks them up, feeds them, and takes them to soccer. Their dad brings them to my house at bedtime. So I see them for just a few minutes before bed. And the morning, though long, is pure chaos. I try to remember the Thursday folder of news from school, which the kids empty and put on my place at the dining table to read and sign. And I thought I was doing a good job of reading everything and keeping up with the announcements.

But I missed the school directory form. The completed directory arrived this week, replete with phone numbers and email addresses, physical addresses, and nicknames. My kids are each listed as only a name. No contact information for new friends to text for a playdate. No multiple ways to email us if one of the kids rescues an old lady from an oncoming bus, no information on how to call us if one of the kids punches another kid in the nose.

Yes, all of those are likely.

It was the last in a string of “I didn’t know that” or “did they tell us about that in advance?” instances last month, and I completely deflated. I felt invisible, in the way that most working parents tell me they do, excluded from events that happen at noon, at the mercy of cobbled together carpools and caretakers and school holidays and early-release days.

So when the directory showed that I’d missed the boat yet again, I chastised myself for letting things fall through the cracks. I chided myself for not committing the way I used to.

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But I’m just as committed. It’s just that I used to commit to a different balance of children and work and writing and art and health and house. Now that the balance has shifted, I feel off my game, insecure, unstable. I’ve completely ditched health and writing, and am close to criminal in the neglect of the house.

The “I don’t know how to do this” feeling of newborn, of tantrums, of preschool questions, of eight-year-old attitude problems should be gone by now. But instead of living my life around being an intensely good parent, I’m shifting my priorities as they need a little bit less.

The learning curve is a different kind of steep. It’s the learning curve of going from undergraduate work to grad school. You know how to do all the things, but the level of intensity is higher.

The other night we had 30 minutes in which to get some tasks done. I asked one kid to practice piano and the other to get Monopoly ready while I quickly loaded the dishwasher. And then their dad came over to take one of them on a date (we trade each week taking one kid on a date so they get solo time and so it’s not always one parent with two kids) and the little guy cried that he didn’t get a chance to play with me because I “take too long doing cleaning things and don’t play with us or do anything fun.”

That is probably true for most parents. We have a lot of tactical, practical, boring, time-consuming work to do. But committing to multiple clients as the only adult in the household means I really don’t get much time with either child. I’m home before school and after school every day specifically to be with them. But it feels as though there aren’t enough hours in the day.

I don’t have a good chance of getting more hours out of the week, so maybe I should cut back on work or on expectations. Or maybe I’m still learning, and that I’ll figure out how to do everything I want, everything I need to do, and all the superfluous extras, including being accurately represented in the school directory. Some day.

Maybe.

Or maybe this is just the way it is. Hanging on by a thread, doing my best, disappointed by the results but still ahead of the game, when I’m really honest.

Is that just about how you feel about your life? Or am I the only one?

 

The not-at-all sarcastic, question-not-upspeak gratitude edition 

Good thing the ants who refuse to leave the kitchen or my son’s room are not rats? So much less invasive. 

  
How refreshing that harvest festivals make me feel as though I should  add the homesteading thing to my totally short list of things to do? It’s nice to celebrate Fall by comparing oneself to others. 

Thankfully, all the candy my kids wanted to trade me for the better stuff in my private stash is inedible and not tempting? So refreshing to have no options when cravings hit. 

  
At least the rain means I won’t be emailing while walking home from drop-off tomorrow? Much safer. 

And that’s super exciting, since early release all week means I turn right back around and not email all the way back, a few seconds later? Productivity can wait for safety. 

Good thing my boss has kids at the same school so it’s not a big deal to get nothing done for a week but play Yahtzee with kids who should be in school? Smart to be forced to cultivate life-work balance. 

At least my boss doesn’t read this blog? I think. 

Thank goodness NaBloPoWriMo has such a simple name that it does take me, like, eleventy times before I type it correctly? Good way to develop my phone typing skills.  

At least I’ve blogged a whole three times since last year’s NaBloPoWriMo? Doesn’t feel awkward at all to be back. 

So grateful NaBloPoWriMo comes in such a laid back, quiet month? Like July and January were too much because of that pesky extra day? And in the peak of winter-darkness-panic onset. 

Glad I solved the major litter box insurrection by putting the cat food dishes under the dining room table (as deterrent to dining room inappropriateness) a week before jacking up my knee? Makes me grateful for health. 

Happy that the telltale signs of an impending cold mean I’m drinking more water? So healthy. 

Good to see you. I’ve missed you. Hope I have 30 things to say this month. 

The end of almost daily blogging

I missed three posts. I made twenty-seven. I like two of those twenty-seven. Not bad.
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I’m descending into hibernation mode. As much as I love lights and celebrations and family and cocoa, this is the time of year I want to curl in a ball and cry for a month. The Counting Crows’ song Long December makes me stand immobile and bawl my eyes out every time. Every time. I once played it on a loop in December and drove from Quincy MA to the ocean near Cape Cod at 3am because Oh My God, December could you be any harder?

Seasonal Affective need for long days and sunlight, holiday obligations, end-of-the-year panic about not having done enough or been enough, serotonin-seeking bread consumption, knowledge that I have nothing to give yet knowing family and friends and colleagues and homeless neighbors all need me to…these are the colors that paint December gray on grey on silver on slate on granite on gray.

Even the word December gets me a little downcast.

So I’m going to try to wake up early every day of December and sit with my light box. Writing. Either the old novel or the new novel. No client work. No cleaning. No email or audiobooks.

Writing.

Not “every day writing challenge” writing, but”do it because it makes you feel whole and you really need something in December that keeps you feeling human” writing.

Goodbye, November. It’s been a lovely time, really. And I now take all my energy and ask myself to rise to December.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Missing Post

This is not today’s post. This is yesterday’s post.

Why the semantics/replacement/transmogrification?

I planned to post last night. Right after the kids went to bed. Butter fell asleep quickly, with me curled up next to him reading the last chapter of The Prisoner Of Azkaban by the laser-beam of our impossibly bright book light. Peanut listened from his upper bunk and when I put the book away, wiping away tears borne of Harry’s joy, Peanut asked if he could sleep in my bed.

“Of course.”

He rarely does, unless he’s really scared. He prefers solitude, and I don’t blame him. But finishing a book is monumental to him, and he wanted company.

“Are you working tonight, or going to bed soon?”

I thought of NaBloPoWriMo’s mandate to post daily. I thought of dirty dishes. I thought of a mess in the living room and a desire to meander through various retailers’ online deals.

“I’m not working. Just let me brush my teeth.”

So I went to bed at 8:30 to be present for a child who wanted me with him.

And I will post later. For today.

But for now I’m well rested and happy and have taken one of those rare opportunities to replace “I can’t; I have work to do” with “Anything you need, my love. Anything you need.”

Please don’t ever

Please don’t ever stop mispronouncing the words that you have made your own in that sweet little preschool voice. I really hope that you keep “no known shield protects from my light saver!” and “ready, sgabetti!” and “n-o no; y-o yes!” forever.

Please don’t ever get in a car without a seatbelt or if the driver has been drinking.

Please don’t ever feel embarrassed about the need to sneak into my bed at night to rest your head on my pillow and mumble groggily that you were lonely.

Please don’t ever drink so much that you lose control, or put any substance in your body that will fundamentally alter the part of you that makes you so amazing: your brain.

Please don’t ever stop trying to bribe me by saying I’m the best mommy EVER when you want something sugary.

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Please don’t ever ignore someone hurting another person or an animal. Stand up. Be you.

Please don’t ever feel it’s okay to add croutons to a panzanella salad. That’s double bread, son. I won’t stand for it.

Please don’t ever doubt that I love you, regardless of what you do. Please know that I love you even more if you realize you have been a jerk, and come back to apologize. Heaven knows I do that often enough.

Please don’t ever stop telling me long stories about your day. I love that you still talk to me and trust me. I will endeavor to continue earning your trust.

Please don’t ever take the last piece of chocolate, unless you live alone. Not even if it is to cure you after a run-in with the dementors. Someone else always needs the last piece of chocolate more.

Please don’t ever do anything that makes you feel that you are being untrue to yourself. Trust your gut. If it feels wrong, do not do it.

Please don’t ever take life too seriously. Except that part about the croutons. I’m serious about that, boys.

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Roller coaster Saturday

Most mornings begin abruptly: my eldest wakes and sneaks downstairs, pausing to hug me good morning only if I catch him at the top of the stairs and get his attention. The little one wakes soon after and goes off in search of his brother.

The bickering starts ten seconds later. I suggest kindness, they fight. I suggest they find solution, they fight. I get up and stagger into whatever room they’re electrifying with their nastiness, and they keep bickering.

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It’s a rough way to wake up. This morning was no different. But instead of helping them navigate their fight about whose pillows were past the halfway point on the couch, I just sat between them. With my book.

And they moved on. And got their own books and joined me, each nestled in a pillow fort on either side of me.

It was glorious. After five minutes one said he was hungry. Best five minutes of my life, I smiled to myself. And I didn’t hold my breath that the peace would linger.

But it did.

And I made them pancakes and they laughed and played and thanked me.

And then started bickering again.

It was very, very nice to read between them. And it was exceedingly nice to have peace until almost 9am.

I won’t hold my breath on it happening again. But I wouldn’t say no to it, either, in case the boys call you and ask if if like this morning repeated, say…tomorrow.

Changing My Name

When Spouse and I were planning our wedding and marriage, I spent copious time on what to do with my last name.

A rose by any other name might be a sunflower.

A rose by any other name might be a sunflower.

Not on the actual “to change or not the change” debate that most women engage in. I did that relatively briefly. I didn’t mind ditching my last name as long as my partner would, too. I refused to be chattel, I would not change my name to his. Period.

And asking a man to change his last name to a new family name was exactly the litmus test I wanted, anyway. I needed a high stakes kind of guy. And I found him on the first try.

I highly prioritized having the same last name as my children. I had this irrational image in my head as I thought of marriage and of retaining my birth name, of my child’s school rifling through emergency contacts, doubting that I was the mother because I had a different last name. That’s crazy, of course, especially given that I live in the “Fly Your Freak Flag High” capital of the world, in which I’d guess at least a third of mothers (and most of my friends) have a different last name than their children (many families here hyphenate, or create a blended name for their child(ren), so that when Ms. Brown and Mr. Jones marry, their children are Brones. Poor things.) But I wholeheartedly rejected the tradition of semantically abandoning my family to join a husband’s family. We were starting something new, and as a family we would honor the tribes from which we came but not in conventional ways.

So most of my name machinations before the wedding centered on creating the new last name both Spouse and I would take. I engaged the process like any naming project for a client: we had a strategy session to determine our core values. We detailed a voice for our family and carefully drew a target for our new name’s sustainability, euphony, credibility, readability, and, instead of URL availability, overall lack of serial killers with the same name.

It wasn’t as cold and corporate as it sounds. The strategic phase took less time than it does with clients because we had no competitive audit to complete. And because we’re not branding a conglomerate. It’s a little family, for heaven’s sake.

We coined and triple checked Harkin based on its resonance with the ideas we wanted encapsulated in our name: haven, hearth, heart, family, warmth. As a bonus, Harkin is a homophone for hearken, which means to listen.

Also, there were no serial killers named Harkin.

So there we had it: a new family, a new name, a defiant cry against patriarchy. (And murder? That’s both strategically and temperamentally consistent. Bonus.)

Fast forward eleven years, and I have a very simple answer to those who ask if I’m changing my name back to my birth name once Spouse and I process paperwork to become Not-Spouses.

No way.

We created this name to represent a haven from the world: our family insulated and cozy against all onslaughts. And that’s what I still want our family to be, regardless of how many houses we live in. I changed my name so my children and I would share the clearest linguistic tie available to families: surname. Regardless of our marital status, Spouse and I both lay claim to being founders of the Harkin clan. We both deserve this name. Neither of us gave it to the other. We earned it. We made a family. We will now put some solid distance between two members of the family. But that doesn’t change our core values as a family. We’re still hearkening to heart and hearth and kinship.

And we’re all going to keep our name.

three years into the name someone else earned it, too.

three years into the name someone else earned it, too.

Why I’ll Probably Quit National Blog Post Writing Month

I have perhaps 20 demands on my time at any moment, and blogging is often near the bottom. So the challenge to put blog posts at the forefront excited and energized me. But I might quit.

Because I’ve realized, just as with National Novel Writing Month, when I have false deadlines and self imposed “write a certain number of words each day” or “post every day” rigors, I produce schlock. I don’t write the stories that are burning to be told, in language of which I’m proud and with time to mull the best structure. I generate crud, and submit it because I’ve said that I “have to.”

gutter, rainwater, pollen, leaves. Unstill life.

gutter, rainwater, pollen, leaves. Unstill life.

For me, right now, challenges become a homework assignment rather than an inspiration. Blogging has become a chore instead of the thing I genuinely enjoy doing.My writing sounds slapdash, crammed into the crevices I have left, rather than something moved to the forefront and finessed because it’s important.

So we’ll see how it goes. Today is Day 18, and I’ve posted 17 times. And about 5 of those posts are just rotten. I don’t like those odds. I’d rather post 10 times and feel satisfied with the writing than post 18 times and feel my blog’s quality is suffering for the exercise.

But wait! I think…what about all those ideas in that file called “post ideas”? Well, if those are compelling enough stories to tell, then I would have done so by now. And I still can. Rejecting the challenge doesn’t mean I can’t post daily. It means I don’t have to.

But wait! I think again, What about committing to something important and writing as part of a huge group of dedicated writers?! Frankly, I don’t care. Writing is a solitary exercise, and while I cherish the tightly knit group of writers with whom I rarely share my fiction, I don’t care whether the whole world is writing right nor or not. What other people do is none of my business. I’m a grown-ass woman, and I don’t need any more chores. I’ve had a tiny blog for eight years, and my audience changes little whether I write daily or monthly. I wrote every day for years. And life changed in many ways such that I don’t have as much to say publicly, both because I’m inwardly focused on my family right now and don’t have time, and because I don’t want to share as much as I once did. Blogging every day for a month as part of a group challenge is not going to make me a better blogger. It’s not going to reinvigorate my writing. It’s going to exhaust me and stifle my willingness to share. Because the creeping profanity in this post is suggesting to me I’m resentful, and if I keep going with this bad attitude, I have nobody but myself to blame. I began a blog to find a community, and I found one. Bigger than I’d hoped. As an introverted curmudgeon at heart, I often want to pull up my welcome mat and say, “I already have enough friends, thank you and good bye.”

I don’t, of course, because for each dear reader I lose there’s a new face in the comments or subscription list, whose own blog is wonderful to read and whose comments make me feel less alone in those dark moments most writers have at 1:23 each morning. So the community stays small and I adore every reader. Gah. Does that mean I have to sit up straight and wear mascara ‘cuz you are here again?

Sigh. Whatever. I want to blog more, so I will. I want to honor the NaBloPoWriMo community, so I might. I want a place to whine about blogging, so here I am. Maybe I’ll be here tomorrow. And maybe I’ll wait a day or two. There is no reward for trudging through a thing just because you should. There are rewards for recognizing when a self-imposed should seems ill-fitting.

Now it is my time to rend and tear the garment, else allow it to lie as falls without alteration, and feel in this exercise the discomfort of something not quite right. What I learn from the binding and gaping is a test of patience.

I’ll let you know what I find, though. And not just because it’ll count as another post.

Flawless is a strong word

I don’t want to dissect this statement too carefully, because life is never as hyperbolic as I make it sound, but this might have been the best weekend ever.

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Friday I met a dear friend for coffee. We unburdened and relaxed a bit. Then I packed my bags and went to another treasured friend’s house. She had planned a ladies’ weekend for us in honor of our birthdays. When I came back my extended family threw me a grand party.

Those bare details would be enough for me. From coffee with a friend through dinner with beloved family, I would have gloated that this weekend was wonderful. But the details were stunning.

The weekend included:
sleeping late two days in a row (something I haven’t done in 9 years)
a scenic run in good company
several walks along the beach
being caught off guard by a wave
sunshine
copious food that I didn’t have to prepare
my first massage in almost six years
genuine and complete quiet
75 pages a book I’ve been dying to start for several years
several trips into a sauna, which resonates physically for me with nostalgia and safety
a hilarious moment when I came out of my hotel bathroom to find a small bird eating my dessert
a pink-fluffy-cloud sunrise in a pale blue sky over the ocean
two hours of quiet driving with a great audiobook
a happy house that my children and their dad had cleaned
the smells of a dinner my sons made for our party
fourteen people I love celebrating our mutual adoration with good food and wine
a gorgeous birthday cake
thoughtful homemade gifts
and a night where my children played kindly with cousins without incident.

There wasn’t any of it that could have been better. None.

I can’t remember saying that about a full two day stretch before.

Blessed, charmed, lucky, and grateful don’t even begin to articulate my current existence.

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