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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Gratuitous Pictures of Dogs and Miscellaneous Early Mid-Life Musings

I can’t stop watching my dogs play. You heard me correctly – dogs – plural. A soccer mom friend asked me “What were you thinking?!” as I was tangled up in two on the sidelines. “I wasn’t,” I replied, “Everything’s easier that way.” All joking aside, the universe lined up. Our new boy is an untrained, skidding everywhere, pees-when-he’s-excited heart salve and every single person in this household loves him. He makes the little dog better, and I think he makes all of us better. There is no magic medicine for melancholy, but puppy love is pretty damn close.

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I am still gutted. I am loading the dishwasher or teaching a lesson or on the phone and a wave a grief pulls me under and I just. can’t. breathe. I am underwater. I make actual lists of the great good fortune in my life, but then I button pants and I did not expect to be wearing real pants right now. I am walking and talking and meditating and medicating and doing everything in my power to just feel better. And I am, sometimes, better. But I do wonder if I’m holding on to this what if, this almost, because I’m afraid this is as close as I’m going to get. I am sad and I just can’t imagine what my life is going to look like when I am no longer actively parenting. I’ll complain all damn day about how hard my kid is but that does not negate my desire to parent until the day I die.

Cooper and Sweet Pea are smoothing out the edges.

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These boys are doing their adolescent jobs and preparing me to be ready to let them leave. This is code for they-are-driving-me-fucking-crazy and I-thought-I’d-be-better-at-this. The highs are high and I wonder what I will ever do without them; the lows have me searching for boarding schools with financial aid that start tomorrow. Like I will pack this car and drive you there right now heart of my heart and fruit of my loins. While I’m busy worrying about their social skills and general academic competency they are out there doing exactly what they need to do (and probably some shit that they shouldn’t but anyway).

We spent an evening at the sweatiest college fair of all time. I felt a flutter of hope as I heard the boys asking questions that I NEVER expected to hear from them, “What is the expected SAT score?” and “Tell me about life at _______.” My heart is expanding and contracting at such a furious rate I have zero faith I will survive until graduation. All those 20-something college reps? The best entertainment of the night was watching them pack up to get them SUM DRINKS. You should have seen the eyes being made across that field house. I almost pissed myself. Oh, to be 20-something. I just wanted a shower and yoga pants.

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Hockey season! The crown jewel of my year. I love peace and friendship and all that shit but GIVE ME SOME HOCKEY so I can regress like a proper human.

We had nearly full-family participation in spirit week. If you are not a high school student or a teacher you have blocked this memory out. It is when zero learning takes place over the course of one week because football.

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Mama/Ms. W as Madonna for Decade’s Day – The English Department is full of characters and friends and we NAILED it with 80’s icons ALLLLLL day. Also my getup scared the dogs so much I couldn’t get them inside. No sparkls mma plz wi scurd.

Kid did not go with either of these outfits but solidly represented Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Class color day and Bangor day were fully observed throughout.

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This picture does not do justice to the perfection that is Mark Bittman’s popover recipe with Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel seasoning. I would eat these every day.

What else? OH! I fixed MY OWN DAMN CAR!

This is a much longer story, but here’s the Spark Notes version: BF borrowed my car, car came home broken, I lost my shit, but then I googled shit, and texted my ex-husband, then I got my code scanned, bought parts and fixed this damn thing. Thank you, YouTube.

It turns out this old dog still has some capacity for new tricks.

I hope the rest of this month finds you well.

Heather

September, again.

Here we are, again. September seems to be exactly the same as all teaching Septembers are: Crazy busy, dazzling weather, lively students, the edge of a nervous breakdown.

 

So, remember when my dear pup, Sam, was ill? And I wasted her last few months mourning her in advance? Because I am the way I am, the thought of her just DYING on me was unbearable. I needed to know that she was okay or not okay, in pain or in rest. If I was going to spend $200 on a necklace made of ashes (I didn’t – yet). Did I forget that things happen and I have no control over this all? Yes, absolutely. Am I doing this again, always? Yes, absolutely.

Who was it that said that they feel like they are in control, they have the steering wheel in their hands, but it turns out they are in the back seat and just pretending? Was it Anne Lamott? Glennon Melton? That’s the situation we have here. Except I am alternately grabbing onto that wheel for dear life, and throwing it right out the fucking window.

I’m looking in the backseat of my empty minivan. Colby is a Junior, so is *BK. I am crying when I miss a minute of Colby’s soccer game and also swearing to send him to prep school because he won’t GET THE FUCK OUT OF BED.

I’m sitting with loss and straddling a river the size of the Mississippi – Will there be more? Or will I be content with what I have? I want to close my eyes and pick one – and that’s that. But I can’t. Each choice could be right and wrong in direct proportion. The problem isn’t the choice, really, it’s me.

I’m dancing with my boyfriend in the endless ‘do we’ or ‘don’t we’ and ‘how’ and ‘when’ on the floor of misnomered blended families.

I want to sell my house and buy a condo. But I also want to stay there and make room – make a home. I want for the pieces of my family to come together, to revel in the chaos of a new adventure. I want to sleep with my own person in my own bed every single night.

If I keep going like this, though, I risk wasting everything that is right HERE and right NOW. I have Colby home now. BK is home now. We may not be in the same home but we are certainly not far apart. I have had moments in my life where I made a decision just to have the process over. Very few moments of my now are going to be easy, but I’ve looked elsewhere enough to know that what comes after is more than worthwhile. There is no way out but through, and I am wasting my through.

My challenge, this year, is no longer that of making lunches and checking homework. It is to be right here, right now, even when I would rather be anywhere else. And that is far more challenging.

 

*Bonus Kid

Found and Lost

There is a $5 Maclaren stroller sitting in my barn.

Early in yard sale season my partner and I were out. We drove through a subdivision not far from home and saw signs of life. “There,” I pointed toward a split level ranch with a minivan parked diagonally across the entrance. He turned, we parked the car, grabbed our still-hot coffee and ventured over.

I saw the stroller before I saw anything else. I walked over while glancing around – my condition was certainly not public knowledge and followed directly after an early loss. I was holding my joy gingerly and privately.

I didn’t see anyone I knew, and so made my move. “Max,” I said, “I want that.” He looked at the $5 sticker, ducked his bald head toward his shoulder in approval, and took out his wallet. We looked the stroller over before sealing the deal. He fiddled with the back latch and deemed it an easy fix. I unfolded a rain fly that looked as if it had never been used. A pack of tow-headed boys swirled around us, not minding the detritus of their childhoods on sale. A woman matching the boys came over taking her hands out of her money apron. “Ah,” she smiled. “We loved this.” I loved it, too. The boys looked – happy. As they talked and walked through the common stroller set up conundrum, I looked from the stroller to the contents of the driveway. I could see the trajectory of these boys’ lives unfolding. I imagined the red top was faded from games and vacations. The back latch bent from a quick stop maybe, the handles worn from trips to and from the neighbors – chasing siblings and company.

We paid and I grinned as I drove the stroller toward the car. Our first purchase – and a steal!

I parked the stroller in the barn, a patch of red reminding me that we would soon be 7. An auspicious number. I slept grew and kvetched about my restless legs and vomited. Until I didn’t.

Now, whenever I go into my barn I see two worn handles peeking out behind the couch and I’m not sure what to do. I planned to send that grand old Maclaren into retirement, but now? I washed and folded my much loved maternity shorts and packed them away in my hope chest with a book and the ultrasound pictures. I can justify not passing these on – no one needs bad luck maternity shorts –  was an easy call. I can’t even fold up the stroller, much less pack it away. And I don’t really want anyone else to have it.

I know we are done now. We are surrounded with more love and fortune than most, and the only thing I am trying for is contentment. But for now, I think, the Maclaren stays.

Re-reads: Good in Bed

My first Jennifer Weiner book was In Her Shoes. The last time I saw it, many years ago, it was held together with a thick rubber band I had stolen from a stalk of kale in my refrigerator. The book was tattered; coffee stained and dog eared, its appearance confessed exactly how many times it had been read. In Her Shoes never returned home, but I still have many of Weiner’s on my shelf. I return back to them periodically, as needed.

I jumped off the deck of the Facebook ship late spring and have been reading ferociously ever since. If reading was my escape as a child it is 176% more so now at 36. But, I’m still operating on the same budget. The obvious benefit is the ability to drive my own car to Goodwill. I found a copy of Good in Bed and Little Earthquakes on discount book day, and stacked them on my living room bookshelf. I just finished (again) Little Earthquakes and then Good in Bed.

This was a smart move for many reasons. I had been disenchanted with Hungry Heart mostly, I think, because of Weiner’s Twitter response to the success of Glennon Melton’s Love Warrior. It seemed like the wizard had been revealed, and she wasn’t so tough after all. Actually, a little bitter. But, I thought as I approached Earthquakes and Bed again, isn’t that exactly why Weiner’s characters work for us? For me? We are ALL of these things: bitter, sweet, jealous, proud, insecure, fierce. Human.

Anyway. I’m in mama mode and Little Earthquakes did the same things to me it always did. Hug my friends, kiss my kid, remember that every person has a story I don’t know, look at my dirty Vera Bradley bag with more tenderness than disgust. A bit into Good In Bed I was talking to a friend and said something to the effect of “meh, I’m not sure if I’ll finish it this time around.” I kept reading. And then . . . the unintended pregnancy! The asshole impregnator! Bad dad! The career crisis and crazy family and legacy of painful childhood! I had forgotten about ALL OF THAT.

“Ahhh” I thought, “here we go.”

As improbable as Cannie’s financial and professional luck rang, I wanted it for her (and for me). Brief Phish culture commentary? I’m a Northeast 90’s product, I got it. Making peace out of white hot fury? I needed to watch someone else do it before I tried to do it myself.

We know what fiction does for us, and for our world. Re-reading Good in Bed in a very different decade of my life was much less beach read than role playing, shuffling the cards in my hand, and realizing there are more combinations than I am aware of. If that isn’t hope, I don’t know what is.

Replacement Filter

I tell all of the parenting stories I shouldn’t. Stories where I swear and fail and damage my child in ways we all do but all ignore, and sure as hell don’t tell the other mothers. My verbal filter is notably porous.

During my first year teaching at a new school where I felt utterly out of my league, I told the “put your fucking boots on” story (cementing my position as the office over sharer).

It’s legend now. During that first year my son and I commuted an hour to our respective new schools. We are not morning people; it was challenging. We were running late, and I can still see my black skirt and broken old Danskos and feel the wet hair dripping down my back. For whatever reason, Colby was bouncing around the small, white kitchen like a pinball machine. “Colby!” I yelled, “Just put your FUCKING BOOTS ON!” I then had 45 minutes of driving during which I could cry and apologize.

When I told the PYFBO story, I learned immediately where and with whom I would fit in. From that day on, my colleagues have found me in my classroom or copy room or office bathroom, grabbed my arm and said “Heather! You’re gonna love this one . . .” And they proceed to tell their very own version of the Horrible Parent Story.

Ann Patchett says that every author has one story, and I’m afraid this one is mine.

I am sure it is annoying and probably the result of a personality disorder, but I can’t stand to walk around with an untold story. I feel an untold story bubble under the skin of my chest and wrench tight the muscles in my back. Also, I quite enjoy the opportunity to entertain my friends, to shock, to be a walking PSA shouting “We are all different!” and “Different is good!” Underneath all that, though, is the knowledge that these stories, the boots and the bongs and sending your kids to school sick, these are the stories that can cause us the most shame. My friend Sarah recently wrote about how we are freed from being the perfect wife but now must be the perfect mother, which is maybe more insidious than the first. Not only this, but we need to be perfect mothers with perfect kids.

Even though I know this, I still find myself wrestling with parenting decisions and sometimes making not the one that I feel is the best fit for my child and my family, but the one that best fits the governing perception of good kids and good parenting in my own community. These are unwritten rules and will change at any time.

My Horrible Parenting Stories are certainly not solely mine. The locus of impact is closer to me than my child in most instances, but these days I’m achingly aware of a new line. A boundary between the stories that are shared and do not affect my child’s peer group or reputation, and the stories where they do. I feel the same way about my nascent romantic relationship. Grateful, curious, protective. My filters have changed.

So I’m learning, as always. Which stories to tell and to whom.

xoxo

Heather

What do we even DO?

My friends.

What are you doing today? Are you, too, at work all in black and hiding your “Wild Feminist” shirt under a big scarf so you won’t get in trouble but also are telling the truth even if it’s only to your own heart?

I don’t know how to mark this occasion. The last inaugurations? We had parties and ate food and celebrated with friends. Today feels less like a party and more like a wake.

I’m not sure what to do, but I know that we ALL should cook at home tonight. If food=love then we are going to have a LOVE PARTY.

Go to your local grocery store or scrounge around in your pantry. If you’re like me you’ve been DOWN since November and have just started grocery shopping and doing laundry and actual work again.

I have spent three months watching goat videos on YouTube. Remember how Margaret Atwood described the fallow state in her Oryx and Crake trilogy? I feel like I’ve been in a goat-video-watching fallow state. And now, it’s time to get UP.

So tonight:

Open a bottle (box) of wine or some good, local beers, or a box of Capri Sun. Whatever. Put on some music. Tell the people in your house that they will be helping and/or leaving you utterly alone. Think about what FEEDS you. Remember that in airplane disasters you are required to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. This? Tonight? This is your oxygen mask. This may be your oxygen mask for the next four years.

I’m thinking about dinner and my family and my *two teenaged boys who will come of age under the most misogynistic administration I have ever known. I’m thinking of my boyfriend who wonders why I, now, am angrier and more frustrated than I have ever been, and I’m thinking of ways to be less angry and more effective.

But bitches get shit done. So I’m still working on that.

Here are a few options I’m thinking about as I plan my meal for tonight:

Meals

  • Italian Wedding Soup from Dinner A Love Story blog
  • Jenny Rosenstrach’s Chicken Soup with Orzo from Dinner: A Love Story
  • Phyllis Grant’s Hearts of Romaine Salad with bacon, eggs, and pesto dressingSoy sauce eggs
  • Every online community seems to suggest a roast chicken for mourning. If you do this, use Mark Bittman’s recipe with a large cast iron dutch oven.
  • If you still can’t get off the couch – Pizza Toast (Catherine Newman)
  • If you want to eat your feelings and slip off into a warm and comfortable food coma, I would suggest Mississippi roast with mashed potatoes or sausage and lentil stew with cheesy biscuits or bread
  • Tacos, just because.

Sweets

  • World Peace Cookies
  • Chocolate Cake for Any Occasion
  •  . . . Mexican Icebox Cookies

 

Today, I want ALL of my people under one roof and to be drinking and cooking and dancing my way through the kitchen to prove that I AM STILL HERE. WE are all still here. We are going to be kind and brave, we will take care of ourselves, our families, and each other; we will bear witness to this moment and our commitment to this big, brutiful world.

What are you making tonight, loves?

xoxo

Heather

 

*There have been some developments in my life. More on that later.