First Day of School

These last few weeks of summer, my own personal atmosphere is experiencing an unsettled weather pattern.

I still don’t feel like I’ve reclaimed my house after my dear friend’s family vacated it. The hole they left is yet unplugged. As are some of the items misplaced by little hands (from both families) and those shoved into disused corners by my and my husband’s as we prepped for their arrival.

The grains of beach sand are quickly slipping through my fingers as time marches on toward the first day of school.

Anxious as a student, who then stupidly served as a teacher for several years, this time of year always winds me up. There are the residual effects of that: feeling as if I need to fit.every.last.experience.in. before the all-consuming task of education took over. (I used to punish myself on one-week school vacations as well; attacking a back-log of to-do lists from the previous semester/s/years) This year, however, there is the added ennui of two big first days of school in the life of my children and in mine as a parent.

My youngest starts kindergarten; my oldest starts middle school.

In perhaps my subconscious’ grandest scheme of self-preservation (um, denial), I hadn’t thought it was a big deal until my mother pointed out that my babies are growing up. Seriously, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I should be freaked out until she mentioned that. Now, as I think about the combination lock I haven’t bought my oldest, the seemingly huge backpack on the little frame of my youngest, my insides are positively vibrating. When I think of the two new student orientations I need to attend next week, I want to vomit.

If I was anxious as a student, now I’ll be hit three-fold. Three little pieces of my heart will be tromping onto the school bus this time two weeks from now.

And what was once met with jubilation – the thought of a six-hour unencumbered stretch – now is also part of this quivering mass of anxiety.

What now?

There will be no one on whom to blame countless hours of Caillou-watching. There will be no warm body that needs snuggling on the couch. There will no one keeping me from doing the things I’ve always dreamed of doing.

Into this void, will rush all my hopes and dreams. All the plans paused in various states of being. Mixed with the lonely ache of missing my now three school-aged children, will be the uncomfortable mania of not knowing where to start, what to do, how to function.

I told my husband I wanted to take some time when they started school to get back to center; that it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the land of the living. He said, you never really left, Jen.

It feels like it’s been a long, twisted, disconnected dream – that I can’t even say started with my first days of motherhood. The more I traverse what seem to be ‘normal’ days, the more I realize that the upside down, inside out period I keep waiting to come out of – is actually life.

So the fact that I’ll now be the boss of six unassigned, unencumbered hours of each of my days is a little frightening. Overwhelming, at least.

It’s time to choose what really matters; accountable to no one and for every one of my actions; to work for what I want even when it scares the hell out of me.

It’s an auspicious day for momma, too.

from An Overdue Adventure

from An Overdue Adventure

A Study in Contrast

Two sides of a coin.  Yin and Yang.  Juxtaposition.  Oxymoron.  Paradox.  Jumbo Shrimp.

Just call me an illustrative thesaurus of harsh contrast.

I went to the beach today.  Amidst the flying flakes.  The frigid temperatures.  The howling wind.

Photo Jennifer Butler Basile

Photo Jennifer Butler Basile

As I looked at the caked snow curved across the sand, looking like the negative of the waves that rushed up and left the graceful arc of its crust, I thought how perfect it was that I was there on this stormy morning when my children were elsewhere.  When I already felt suspended in some surreal alternative reality.  It is truly bizarre when the nonstop duties of mothering fall away.  Like going to that place of sun and refreshing surf when it’s overcast and chilling to the bone.  There is a void not unlike the cupped depressions in the sand where the winter waves eat away at the coast.  It’s gorgeous, but it feels so foreign it’s unnerving.  I’m reminded of the needed buffer that comes with vacations – the time it takes to unwind before you can truly enjoy the relaxation of vacation.  But there is no time here.  I must embrace this as swiftly as the sand that sweeps across the snow drifts leaving a fine layer of brown sugar.  That is what I must remember.  That there is always a bit of sweet and beauty atop even the harshest landscapes.  You just have to train your eyes and heart and mind to work in concert – and do so allegro.

I’m in Love – Again

You fall in love and you can’t get enough of your heart’s desire.  Every waking moment is spent thinking of, studying, obsessing over, and drinking in all that he or she is.  He or she loves every bit of you in return and all is right with the world where birds chirp and the sun shines everyday.

And then the shine wears off.

Suddenly, endearing quirks become irritating.  Spending so much time together becomes smothering.  Familiarity may eventually breed contempt, but at the very least it keeps you from recognizing what it was that made him or her special in the first place.  You can’t really even see the person at all.

Now before you think I’ve lost sight of our relationship, this is not about my husband and me.

This is about the cast of characters, particularly a young man named Dmitri, in my young adult novel.

I had sensed the growing frustration between us.  I tried doing things differently to liven up the doldrums into which we’d wandered.  I gave him space.  None of this worked.  In fact, the extra space felt surprisingly refreshing.  Too freeing.  I didn’t know if I’d ever want to return to the constraints of our relationship.  Though I didn’t know how to fix it, I always felt guilty when he came to mind because of our unresolved issues.

Then one day, I opened a book.  The voice on the page, the way the girl told her story reminded me of my Dmitri.  I thought, if only Dmitri could be freed like that to tell his story.  I opened my laptop and Dmitri spoke to me in ways he never had.

I’ve spent the last four days cavorting with him.  In a blissful sort of oblivion, we’ve reunited, he reaffirming all I ever loved about him.  I can’t catch my breath.  I’m positively vibrating with excitement.  When I’m forced to perform one of my daily obligations, I can’t wait until I can return to him.

So sorry I haven’t posted lately – I’ve been falling head over heels in love – again.

Desperate Measures

My feet sweat in my sneakers.

image from Marie Claire

image from Marie Claire

My t-shirt pulled under my arms.

My hair rubbed at my neck.

I tucked, pulled, squished, shrugged.

I could not get comfortable.

I wanted to rent my garments from my body and my hair from its roots.

I burned out the last of the caffeine scrubbing in the shower and fidgeted into bed with a foggy plan forming.

I dropped my last daughter off at preschool after a harried rush to the others’ bus stop.

And waited in line with the other little old ladies in front of the walk-in salon.

I chopped my hair.

I spent the remainder of the morning scouring sale racks for totally new togs.

I squandered the entire morning, returning to the preschool just in time for their singing debut in front of the senior luncheon.

The teachers, the secretary, my neighbors – all did double takes.

How brave you are, they said.

How different you look, they said.

How great it looks, they exclaimed.

I felt like it was an act of desperation.  The only grip on unpredictability I can grasp right now.  To leave as one thing and come back as another.  To blow off all responsibilities and should-dos for one morning in exchange for a few no-need-fors.

My daughter didn’t flinch.

It looks beautiful, Mommy, she said.

I don’t know if that spells success or failure for my desperate mission.

The Moment

I’ve been trying.

I’ve set aside novels (temporarily) for the beautifully poetic spiritual tome I was too young to read the first time around.

I’ve felt the wideness of my collarbones and my elbows hanging directly below my shoulders.  I felt my head float above my neck and my thoughts detach.

I’ve felt the taut string of the universe pulling me forward, rushing past the green leaves of trees, toward the white billowy clouds against the brilliant blue sky.

I’ve heard the hypnotic rhythm of the acoustic guitar goading me on.

I’ve tried to speak new words rather than the tired routine trod into my brain.

I'm trying to embrace my monkey mind

I’m trying to embrace my monkey mind

I feel the vacillation.

Between the old and new, the positive and the negative, the healthy and the easy monotony.

It always seems to be one or the other.  Never both.  Never a balance.

Or maybe it is both at the same time.

Maybe it is everything all at once and I can’t be one thing at one time and something different at another.

The older you get, the more you carry with you.

It’s a special moment when you can set it all down and float freely through the universe – if only for a moment.

Secrets

Secrets are only dangerous if you keep them.

Shameful until they are aired.

A counterintuitive twist of fate,

relinquishing them releases you from their grip.

But what of those that belong to the collective –

Not just yours to share.

Do you bind yourself to others in your freedom?

A guilty conscience from your gushing?

How does one get free when he is beholden to others?

A Change in Me

I was totally on my game last night.  I mention it because it is so not me.  I was laughing, telling jokes, comfortable, making comments without much worrying about what people would think of me.  In other words, I was my authentic self.  Not insecure, not worried, not painfully self-aware.  And there were times throughout the night when I realized this and took note; not quite like an out-of-body experience watching it from afar, but my insecure or irrational or timid mouse inner self noticed and was pleasantly surprised.  And then I tried to tell her to go away, to enjoy it for what it was worth, to follow this relaxed, uninhibited self however far she would go.  Not to jinx it, second-guess it, scare her away with too many self-checks and ruminations.  And now I think of the Halloween party we went to last Saturday.  My kindergartener was invited to a classmate’s family party.  Their neighbors were there, family members, other classmates and their families.  Walking in to a crowd of ‘strangers’ was a bit daunting, but surprisingly only a little.  A playmate’s mom soon walked up and introduced herself.  I found the host’s mom and introduced myself.  I sought out other classmates’ parents.  I told jokes.  I talked to strangers.  I initiated conversations.  I was so not me.  But then, I said to my husband, I was on my game.  Because that is me – part of me, anyway.  The part that is uninhibited, comfortable in her own skin, totally inhabiting the spacious self that is she.  My authentic self.

Is it this place?  Is it the excuse, the opportunity of a change in place to make things happen, to reinvent myself?   Because I could’ve done all these things in my former home.  But I didn’t.  Was it the memory and residual trauma of postpartum?  Was it the repression of people who knew me from way back when, when I was a certain way?  Was it the familiar that I began to blend into?  I was scared.  I was stuck.  Now I’m free.  I don’t know if it’s the physical space that now surrounds us that is freeing us; the mental space that in turn affords (if you believe if in the elements of Feng Shui); the need to ground ourselves and make connections since we don’t have any.  But life seems to be shaping up.  And me right along with it.


A Rock to Remember

Last week, I was forced to go to the beach.

I was cranky.  I was tired.  It was a holiday and all three kids were home, but my husband was working.  I still had tons of tedious tasks to do to get settled in the new house.

My parents said, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go for a walk.

I walked from the breach way to the border of this same beach with my parents when I was a girl.  It was like coming full-circle treading it this day with my own children a short distance from the place I now call home.

The girls dove straight into rock hunting with my mother.  I didn’t even have to chase my three year-old out of the waves, as she plopped down in one spot and proceeded to sift and stack.  I sat down, too, and gave myself over to the sound of the rocks chattering against each other in the surf.

My other home was a short walk from a small inlet on Narragansett Bay.  It was a lovely spot and we were fortunate to live so close to it (though we didn’t make the trek nearly enough).  But it had nothing of the raw power and expansiveness of this beach, the open ocean.  I am not used to the mass amounts of rocks, perfectly pounded and rounded by the constant tumbling of the sea.  The smooth spheres of granite, mica, and other minerals I should remember from science class and Rhode Island history.  Their shapes were so alluring to me, beckoning me to pick them up, roll them in my hands.

And so I did.  I sat just apart from my daughter’s sifting and sorting and felt the weight in my hands.  The cool heaviness, the sun-soaked pressure.  I searched for the one that fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.  Then I spun it round and round, the smooth surface soothing me in a way that didn’t seem needed, but became suddenly essential.

I felt my hackles lowering, my blood slowing in my veins, my body decompressing, my soul expanding.  I was running, running, running so quickly, so constantly, that I didn’t even know how wound up I was.  I didn’t know how much I needed the salve of the sea.

I recalled a stretch of preteen fall days when a friend and I rode our bikes to the sand flats with our notebooks and sketchpads.  I was so disappointed that I was caught without a notebook when the muse was so apparently calling to me, when an epiphany was beating me over the head with a smoothly-shaped rock.  I hoped beyond hope that I could bottle this feeling and bring it home with me.  It’s been diluted over the last week, but I did bring some rocks home with me as reminders.  I picked out some beautifully speckled, striated, spotted ones that I stacked into cairns in my garden.  I selected two larger ones to use as worry rocks, prayer stones, literal talismans to ground me; I planned to give one to my husband so he could benefit from my lesson, too.

As I kneaded these rocks in my hands, I thought of the many manifestations of humanity’s need for physical reminders of the spiritual side of life, of our souls.  Kachina dolls, worry dolls, worry stones, chime balls, stress balls, rocks perched on gravestones, relics . . . there are so many examples.  But they all begin at their basest level with a bit of the natural world.  There is a reason humans turn to nature to reset their moods, their demeanors, their selves.  While I cannot put my finger on it, there is something about it that resonates in our souls.  I’ll just have to wrap my hand around those rocks each time I forget.

Incommunicado

Being unavailable, unreachable, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Tomorrow afternoon marks a week we’ll have been in our new home.  Only three people know our new phone number.  Only two bill collectors have found us.  I’ve been on Facebook once and haven’t logged onto WordPress at all – let alone post!

Today as I walked home from retrieving the girls at their new bus stop, I felt that my necessary reentry to the world was coming.  Inevitable.  I can only use the boxes around me as an excuse for so long.  Though I still do not have anything hanging in my closet because I don’t feel I’ve sufficiently de-furballed it (their special cat friend left me many presents).  I still do not have things packed into the bathroom cabinets because I haven’t disinfected them yet.  I still don’t have routines and patterns and familiar places to put things.

But the world does not care.  The world will not let me milk this life-change for all it is worth like the sleepy, hazy period that is life with a newborn.  Eventually I’ll have to answer the phone.  Eventually the beep of a text message will wake me from my reverie.  Eventually I will while away an entire evening checking for updates, statuses, and pictures of cute kids.

And while I’m dead-tired and sick of putting the kids to bed and starting another round of housecleaning, I haven’t missed checking multiple e-mail accounts and social media accounts and staying in constant contact.  I got a lovely snail mail correspondence from a dear friend.  Two wonderful friends of mine brought a ‘housewarming’ lunch.  And legions of family and friends trooped in to help us set up our new home.

Funny how we seemed to survive before we were attached to technology.

The Alpha and the Omega

There are moments when I catch glimpses of the mother I used to be.  The one I was when I had one baby.  The one I was when I was more frequently in a good mood or less stressed out.  The goofy one who sang silly made-up songs.  The one who danced with a baby on her hip till her legs gave out.  The one who wasn’t so beat down she just tried to get through her day.  The one who could spend time with her children rather than refereeing them.

I see her in the smiles of my children.  The looks of surprise.  The glances at each other and back at me before cracking up.  The silly giggles that roll from their bellies and out through their lips.

I see myself in the mirror and I see a girl child who somehow ended up in charge of three of her own.  A girl who still sees herself as growing and learning.  A girl who still wonders at the dynamics of her own mother/daughter relationship as she builds ones up with her three.

Will they see me for who I am?  A person, who in motherhood and life, often makes it up as she goes along.  Someone who loves them fiercely, but wonders how she loses herself from time to time.  And who opens her eyes from time to time to see the true incarnation of who she’s supposed to be – to them and herself.

Yes, the image will change.  The lines will deepen, the colors fade.  But it should only be a deepening, not a swallowing, a sinking.  The original image is in there somewhere.  A fire in the eye, a shape, a sparkle of laughter.

How do I flow gracefully into the deep while allowing the light bubbles of my past to filter through?  How do I get from the beginning to the end and honor both all the way through?  How do I reconcile the woman and mother I’ve always wanted to be with the being I’ve become?

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