Perspective

It goes like this: make a career choice on the cusp of choosing something else, embrace and love career whilst parenting . . . get a little grief . . . get a little tired . . . then quit your fucking job on a wing and a prayer.

There’s a little more to unpack there, but later. Here’s my new About page. 

While planning my transition out of secondary education and into healthcare I realized that I needed some skills, vocabulary, and experience. I’m used to being good at my job and, on the days where I’m not, at least having the knowledge TO do it well. I couldn’t enter school without a base, so I decided to take a Nursing Assistant course at our local technical school. I’m not going to lie – taking this as a compressed course is both easier and more difficult than I thought it would be. I’m learning how to study again, how to maneuver a foreign language, and how to be human.

These last couple of years have left me a little pruny, and wondering if my warm, nice self was ever going to return and send this really cynical and kind of bitter lady packing. But leaving my clinical this week, I felt a little tweak in my chest as I realized: I don’t hate this, I smiled at work, I am literally IN the shit but am leaving tired, satisfied, and maybe even a little happy?

Classes were running three days a week for about 7 hours a day. We split between lecture and reading and lab. I’ve been terrified all along that I am only good at thinking about things and not at the actual doing of things – so I’m happy to report that I can take your blood pressure and get a reasonably accurate reading. Let’s be clear that I’m still better with my brain than my hands but goddamnit I’m learning. Now that we’re in clinicals were in class some days, clinicals others. Our clinical experiences are all in a local nursing home and after we’ve met requirements for certain skills we just get in there.

I cried on the way home from my first clinical day because I couldn’t find my way around the building (it’s not that big or that complicated) and I couldn’t figure out how the nurses and aids kept so much information in their heads at one time. I diagnosed my self with a processing disorder and decided that I was one of those people who just couldn’t do anything and was going to die squatting in houses like an old crazy cat food eating poet.

I was fine by the end of the second day. Not proficient in any way. Like, I am sometimes working under a teenaged CNA with way more experience and working knowledge than I have.

There’s really something to going back to the beginning. There is no option but for me to be humble because while I may have a whole set of professional experiences and knowledge, it is of little consequence here. I’m learning to be grateful for my healthy working body, for the ability to shower and toilet and eat and dress with freedom, and for my readily available friends and family. I’m also learning to shut up, listen, and ask for help.

I leave at the end of the shift tired (but let’s be REALLY honest – I’m doing about 1/8 of the work of the CNAs on shift) but I leave having had ZERO time to navel gaze and contemplate the state of my existence or any of the other stupid shit I’m consumed with on any given day. I love this so much. And this is on top of the fact that I’m helping people with immediate issues, making them more comfortable, and being in the company of elders whose life experience makes me feel like an infant.

On that – I feel 20 years younger as a student, but as my classmates reminded me when I cut up vegetables and cheese for them at lunch – “you’re such a mom!”. Feel younger, am not actually younger. Oh well.

While this is all good, I’m feeling the looming economic crisis within my household. I know the CNAs all scramble for overtime and extra shifts and I cannot imagine how their bodies can take it. I realize that I have done very little actual HARD WORK in my life. And I certainly question my ability to teach part time, pick up CNA shifts, and attend school full time. I felt a little Barbara Ehrenrich-y  when clinicals began, but then I realized that this isn’t an experiment and I don’t have any back up money or a book deal. Mine is the best case scenario of on-your-actual-own because I at least already have housing and transportation and have had recent health care.

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Recipe for Numbered Days

Wake early. Make coffee. Notice the sunlight warming your shoulders through the kitchen window.

Choose one album whose story you can follow as you putter: cook, start laundry, find a million dirty cups. Press play. Feel your shoulders, hips, stockinged feet begin to move.

Pull your snarled hair up and secure. Smile at your reflection – a slash of white, earned, you have no intention of coloring.

Turn on the oven. Peel strips of bacon and layer them on a cookie sheet. Place them in the oven and forget about them. Heat two cast iron skillets on the stove. Ease the pages of your red, Betty Crocker cookbook binder open; they are stuck together with drops buttermilk, smears of eggy fingers, years-old flour dust.

Triple the recipe:

1 = 3 eggs + one for good measure

1 c. flour = 3

1 c. buttermilk = 3

1 c. blueberries = entire bag

and so on.

wash – crack – sing – stir – sizzle – flip 

Eat pancakes over the stove. Ignore the hot blueberries burn your tongue. To feed the masses, you must first feed yourself.

Drink your coffee while you listen to the last song of the album. Realize that this moment is the first song in yours.

Wake the one, two, three, four teenaged boys inhabiting your house – one yours, three borrowed. Listen to the thud of elephant steps on the stairs, laughter, guitars.

Revel in your status as ‘that house’ and realize ‘that mom’ always has to do a fuck ton of dishes.

Let the boys – paradoxes all of them – scruffy and smelly and intelligent and articulate and infinitely scatalogical – commandeer the music. Cock your head and really listen to the clarinet solo. Be impressed.

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Watch the food disappear.

Send them outside. “Pitter patter, boys. Go make music.”

Pour another cup of coffee. Sit on the front steps.

Look. Listen. Feel. Remember.

 

xoxo

Heather

 

Not Quite What I Expected

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Here’s a throwback piece from last summer. Because I am thinking of summer and baseball season and the sheer improbability that I am the mother of a fifteen-year-old.

June 3, 2015

I woke up this morning and peeled off the sticker to show the start day. I covered up Sunday with Wednesday, the seven days of each week feeling exactly like the number of parenting days I have left.

The afternoon became sunny, with the haze of blackflies that signifies early June in Maine. The boys lost, again, but it was less painful for all of us this time around. They piled into my car, one seatbelt short, and joked as the two skinniest ones strapped in together. We decide to stop at Dairy Queen, me and the four uniform-clad middle school boys. They smelled of spring: sweat and bug spray and hair gel and dirt, and I realized that I can count the days I will have like this.

 

I think back to the interminable years of early-middle childhood. The ones where I skipped over sentences to finish the bedtime book sooner, or when I was on the couch reading instead of playing Lego. The parenting hourglass seemed full, heavy and oppressive; now it is no longer top-heavy, and the sand is moving faster, faster, faster and I hold my breath willing it to stop.

It is June, the school year is winding down, and the enormity of life hits me like the proverbial wall in the last four miles of a marathon. Except – I’m not ready for this to be over. My legs are fresh and I JUST hit my stride. But I can see the trajectory now: instead of arguing over too much screen time and the dangers of drinking soda, we will be talking about grades, drinking, drugs; learning to drive, safe and respectful sex, SATs; choosing a college, a career, and finding time to visit. Like love in a John Green novel, my parenting days have unfurled slowly, then all at once.

I placed the small, yellow pill on my tongue and swallowed dry; knowing this was the right choice, but mourning what might have been. My imaginary minivan, Disney vacations, and family meetings; the loudest cheering section for every soccer game, comically lost and forgotten siblings; and the sweet, slow burn of controlled chaos. Moving seamlessly from parenting to grandparenting with too many animals, my husband and I having just enough time for a quick grope as we pass in the kitchen.

My parenting time has been quiet, if not lonely. In solo parenting, you are The One: the designated worrier, disciplinarian, parent-teacher conference goer, and tucker-inner. If you go down – no one is there to lift you up. And that is okay. It is okay for our kids to see us as humans. We learn to apologize and explain. We become kinder to ourselves and to others. We know that everyone has a story.

I never planned on being mom to an only, and maybe there will be more. Eventually.  My decision to be done, for now, is a cross section of pragmatism, biology, and acceptance; acknowledging that another, also rich, life is possible even if it is not the one I had imagined.

Storm Envy

I am jealous of the disaster-level snowstorm that is now descending upon the mid-Atlantic.

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I, of course, know that big storms bring big problems, and that people and structures are put in danger because of these storms. I don’t wish that upon anyone.

What I am jealous of is the stop-everything-gather-food-and-family-and-do-not-leave-home imperative.

You see, I am a teacher and mother to one teenager, two rivalrous dogs, and far too many chickens. And even when everyone is at odds, I enjoy the moments when we are all home (when weather removes any chance of escape!) more than any others. Power goes out. Eventually we get bored. The dogs fall asleep, as does my husband. Or he and Colby both finally run out of any other option for entertainment and play board games with me. We sit by the fire, scrounge for food, huddle under blankets. We are present. There is nothing to do next, no place to go.

It is the end of January and we have had 0 of those moments this year. It has been endless and brutal. Lovely at many moments, but utterly exhausting.

Our lives are busy in the best ways: great friends, various interests, hockey and hockey and hockey. But when the busy is paused – man, those are the moments.

Friends, I hope you are all safe and warm.

And also that I will get at least one big snowstorm, preferably BEFORE April, this season. I mean – I don’t live in Maine for the mosquitos.

xoxo

Heather