• Selfless self-care

    One of the things I’m loving about teaching is that it takes every fiber of your being to do it well. It takes your creativity, your intellect, and your physical input. There’s no way to half-ass it and have any worthwhile outcome. One of the things I love about the place where I teach came as a bit of a surprise to me. During our orientation, the different presenters emphasized the importance of self-care for teachers and caregivers at our school.

    All of the students at our residential come to us because of an emotional disturbance due to some sort of complex trauma.. Being affective with the students means being present, and, often, it means hearing stories that, when you get home, bring you to tears. it means having kids yell at you as they vent their frustrations with life and remembering not to take it personally. It means thinking about the people who have done these kids harm and trying not to become hard because becoming hard means you can’t be there for those kids.

    I haven’t gone to an hour of the school organized group self-care sessions, but, about a month ago, not knowing why exactly except to save money on health insurance, I decided to start going to a gym. I hit the big 5O back in April and knew that keeping bone density up means doing some resistance training, but the desire to work out was something else. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized what it was.

    I’d behave myself all week, hitting the gym for each of my routines every single day before going home. Sometimes that means getting home a bit late, especially on the days when we have professional development after classes. It also means feeling a little guilty that, in focusing on self care each day, I’m not doing right by one of the two kids who is the most important in my life. I get home feeling more relaxed, but I’m spending less time with him to do so.

    This weekend my husband, Thing2 and I have been stacking wood. we have a pretty good system of me carrying logs from the wood pile to a wheelbarrow where Thing2 hands them off to the Big Guy for stacking the way he likes. Ferrying logs, two and four at a time, is it pretty good workout. normally I’d be pretty tired and ready to quit after 15 or 20 minutes. Yesterday and today, however, I was able to keep it going until the boys are ready to quit, and I was happy not just for being able to keep up but because it was another hour each day that the three of us had to talk and joke and sing along to the Beatles albums that were playing as we stacked.

    When we finished up for the day a little while ago, we looked at the work we’ve done and then at each other and said to each other, “We done good.“

    and I realized that self-care isn’t just about being able to help the kids at school every day, it’s about making sure that when I’m home with my kid, I am really present.

  • Full Circles

    I’m taking a step back from oil painting in October to participate in Inktober. It’s a good time to do some drawing, and, anyway, my studio is about to be torn apart as I claim a larger space.

    Today’s prompt is “ring.”

    I’m sitting in one part of a ring — on the couch with the Big Guy as I draw. I’m trying to get Thing2 to do Inktober with me, but he’s over at the piano teaching himself the Beatles song book and making our eyes sweat.

    It’s almost Thing2’s 13th birthday, and I’ve been thinking about the first few minutes after his birth. I’ve been remembering that perfect round baby head and those early days when nothing seems as pure as the love that we felt for them.

    Now all these years later, we know his triumphs and follies, and the love is anything but pure. It’s stronger and better because we know that each day will reveal some facet that makes it stronger still.

    We are shy one kid. He’s away at college, and it’s been an adjustment. As broken bars of “Imagine” drift over from the piano, however, I keep thinking about how full our little family circle, with its faultlines and reinforcements, still is.

    I sat with a student today who is trying to navigate from adolescence to adulthood with only support from the state. She has little help from the adults who brought her into the world, but her courage and determination to help people she still loves is nothing short of heroic. I know she should have enjoyed — that they all should enjoy — that same kind of parental love we take for granted, and I know the only thing I can do is support her and show her that I expect great things from her during our last few months together.

    But, now, sitting on the couch as the first bars of “Let It Be” begin to echo, I think about the other things I can do, and I make a point to never take our small circle for granted.

  • Watching a Saturday Go By

    Working weekends torpedoes your social life, and, when you work at home with most of your work friends in different cities or states your social opportunities are limited to begin with. I compound those factors with a relatively introverted personality — I had almost perfected the shut-in lifestyle before I decided to go back to school to keep my brain from atrophying. So when plans go awry, as they did this weekend, you really feel it. Feelings get spackled over and patched up, but I find what really puts a new coat of paint on the weekend is getting a glimpse of the people and things that make life – shut-in or out-and-aloud — worthwhile.

    Thing2, a study in social-butterflying, had his Saturday calendar filled before I knew that someone’s kid had been dropped off. He and his bestie headed out to re-enact their favorite Star Wars battles in the muddy, snow speckled yard. It’s a warmer day – in the fifties, and the boys disappeared into the woods for awhile, reappearing to prove that they were still breathing but dirty, only when I rang the school bell that hangs outside our front door. Katy-the-Wonder-Dog waited for them to tire out and, when they took a break, sitting down on the stoop on the deck, she went over to them to add a few kisses to her social calendar.

    I stopped working long enough to appreciate how sometimes just watching that part of the world go by is as satisfying as any day out.

  • My Team 50.0

    The big five-OMG is just around the corner. Friends and family began asking how I wanted to mark the beginning of the next half century almost a year before it was due, so I felt some obligation to not try to ignore this one birthday.

    Just before Thanksgiving, I remembered Thing1’s birthday climb a year earlier to the top of Mount Equinox in Manchester, VT and decided that would be a fun activity (I swear I was completely sober). We thought about doing it as a fund-raiser for a charity that helps children with Ulcerative Colitis. As I investigated, though, I realized a mountain climb in April in Vermont could still involve snowshoes in some parts and would certainly exclude family members who can’t climb on a completely dry day. Finally, wanting to make health and family part of ‘my day’, I settled on running a fundraising 5K with Thing1 and Thing2 and extended family.

    There was only one problem with the plan.

    It means running a 5K.

    Now, I know what you’re thinking, but, even though I’m roughly the shape of a cream-filled donut (and, at the time of this writing may contain almost as much chocolate), I will not be rolling across the finish line in a wheelbarrow.

    Which means running that 5K.

    Enter Thing1 with his concerned but not reproachful fitness training approach.

    Thing1, you may recall, had his entire colon removed at the end of October and then had everything reconfigured in December. You could say it involved a couple of big operations — so big they kept us in the hospital until our bill for 2018 finished its own 500k. He should, by all rights, be still recovering.

    Somehow, however, Thing1 is in better shape than the rest of his family, a fact that made him the de-facto personal trainer for Team Barlow. He takes his duties seriously, mapping out a hiking route each day (lots of hills and huffing and puffing), telling us that by the end of March it will be a running route (lots of dubious looks from his team).

    The first day, I had to stop in the middle of the first hill. I had to stop in the middle of the second hill. When I stopped in the middle of the third hill, Thing2 stopped with me.

    Thing1 was always just a bit ahead, often at the top swell of the hill, waiting for us. He would make a lousy drill sergeant (he’s too nice), but, as he called, “You can do it,” to me/us for the umpteenth time, I thought for umpteenth time what a great superhero he is (his super power is inspiration).

    The next day I didn’t have to stop until the third hill. Thing1 was running ahead and then running back to ‘keep it challenging” (yeah,he said it going up a hill). Thing2 was running ahead and then walking slowly to give me time to catch up.

    By the third day, I had started running bits and pieces of the route (I still have to stop for a second on the last hill). Today, we’ll walk/run for the fourth time.

    I know the race route will be on one of the flatter roads in Vermont, flat being a relative term here, but we are keeping this route until ‘my day’ at the end of April. We may not be running the entire route by then, but my team will be finishing it together.

    It’s a good way to kick off the next half-century.

  • Decluttering

    I had already decided to make 2019 the year of finished projects, but I was a little unsure of where to start and how best to prioritize them.

    Last night I stumbled onto a new Netflix show, Tidying Up, and, having seen reviews of the host’s books on Amazon, decided to give it a whirl. I knew that the host, Marie Kondo, made her fortune helping people de-clutter. Some of the reviews had panned her strategies as being doctrinaire and extreme, So I hit play with healthy amount of skepticism.

    Ten minutes into the show I was hooked. I recognized the people she was helping—parents of children a little younger than ours. they too had started the show as skeptics, but as they begin to think their relationship with their possessions, they begin to see the beauty and the advertised joy of illuminating what doesn’t make your life better.

    I listen to the show last night as I struggled to settle on an illustration style for a book I’ve been working on for too long. I played with colored pencils. I played on the iPad drawing tool. And finally I got out what worked for me at the very beginning: a number two pencil and a $10 pan of water colors. It took me an hour to redo the first drawing, and it was the first time I’d been happy with the results for this book. I’m onto the next pages, issuing methods that I “should“ be using in favor of the one that works when I’m illustrating.

    Focusing on the method that brings joy worked so well, I may actually have to try it on the house. My days of being able to write about being the world‘s worst housekeeper may be coming to an end.

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