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Tag: Family

Premeditated Kindness

About 15 years ago, the Big Guy had an infection at the base of his very long windpipe that nearly cost him his life. For a week, the ICU doctors and nurses worked to find a drug that was strong enough to help him without killing him at the dosages he needed. Anyone who has come close to losing a loved knows that those moments of worry are when you take stock of how important a person is. What I didn’t understand at the time, is how those moments can implant the fear of loss like a scar on your psyche.

Before the Big Guy, I was very closed off. I had had miserable experiences with men, driven by bipolar-shaped misperceptions and memories of sexual assault with which I had not yet come to terms. But, as anyone who knows my husband, a six-foot-six premeditated act of kindness (my 6 PAK — go ahead, groan), it is impossible to stay closed off for very long after you get to know him.

The problem with opening up, of course, is that you make yourself vulnerable. With most people, being vulnerable means being open to the possibility that they will hurt you. With the Big Guy, however, the most likely danger is that a foot gets stepped on or that you are in firing range of a post-diner breakfast burp. I don’t mean that we never have serious differences or that he’s perfect, but in the 25 years that I have known him, I have never known him to say something intentionally hurtful to anyone. I wish I could say that about myself.

When he got that sick, however, I realized there was one way he could really hurt me, and that was to leave. And, unintentionally, I started doing what I had always done best. I started closing parts of myself off.

In the name of making sure I could support Thing1 (then the only little Thing in our lives) on my own, I ditched an attempt at a creative career (I was doing wedding photography for a while) and went back to more conventional, technical work that offered stable benefits. I began looking at all the things in our life at home that I needed to learn how to do for myself. I began making sure I didn’t need to lean on the Big Guy.

The problem with working so hard not to lean on someone logistically is that you also begin to stop leaning on them emotionally, and, in a marriage, you’re supposed to lean on each other. When you stop letting yourself be vulnerable, it becomes harder to accept and easier be annoyed by the other person’s vulnerabilities. I have been keenly aware of those moments over the years, and, even though I have felt guilty, fear of losing him has often kept me completely opening up again.

Yesterday on that most romantic of holidays, I had to lean on the Big Guy in a big way.

I had foot surgery yesterday morning. The Big Guy did what he always does. I woke up to bedside-table sized flowers and candy to come home to. He had prepped the car so I could drive one last time for the next week. He made sure crutches were in the car for the walk back into the house later. He was one gigantic Premeditated Act of Kindness.

I try to make sure that I am giving the Big Guy what he needs logistically and emotionally. I try to make sure he has a safety net with me. As I watched him yesterday, however, trying to keep my focus on the details of the pre-surgery to do list, I felt my heart really beginning to lean again. As the sedatives kicked in, I became very conscious that I need to fully open up again in a premeditated way because there’s nothing random about real love.

The first sparks may be serendipity, but the long, slow burn of true love is fueled by a lifetime of premeditated kindness and caretaking. And he deserves that.

Quality Time

When my sister and I were kids my mom spent a lot of time studying for her masters and then her doctorate in History. I remember wishing she would play with us more, but I don’t remember resenting her time in her office.

Now, as I work on my master’s, I follow her footsteps into my office many nights, reading until late in the evening after my lessons are planned for the next day at school. Thing2 is pretty busy forging his identity these days, so I don’t feel as much guilt about time in the office or studio as I probably should.

As I work, I know that, even though she’s been retired from teaching for over a decade now, on any given night, she’s probably in her office reading and writing articles or preparing for a guest lecture. So tonight, as I organize the evening’s notes into my binder and nitpick over reference lists, it will feel like we are actually spending some quality time together.

Nothing At All

The nature of a residential school means that students are constantly being admitted and discharged. Some weeks, like this one, discharging students are leaving with diplomas and optimism. It’s much more sweet than bitter, but saying goodbye to three much loved kids made for a different kind of drama this week.

It’s Saturday, and I’m a vegetable. Thing1 is home from college with his significant other. They’re in the kitchen making dinner for all of us while the Big Guy and I baste in the heat from the wood stove as we binge-watch Portlandia. Thing2 pokes his head out of his room every few minutes to relay Princess Jane’s latest antics.

There are so many things I should be doing besides sitting on the couch right now, but some how, this little bit of nothing, this evening of being conscious of not working, of just being, feels like everything.

What Next?

This time last year, I was holding Thing1’s hand as he recovered from major surgery and navigating an unwanted gap year. I was still working at home, and Thing2 was still getting his feet wet in middle school. They were the center of my world and the center of my life, and I thought I knew who I was – a mom, writer and artist. The last twelve months, however, have changed all of that.

When I first started this blog seven years ago, I was a work-at-home-mom. The boys were 12 and 6 and, in addition to being the center of my world, were the centers of my days. At the time, the messes and chaotic rituals that go with raising creative kids in the country were endless sources of entertaining and, sometimes, heartbreaking, inspiration for post after post. Trying to preserve the moments, I got back to drawing/illustrating and then found my way to painting.

While Thing1 and Thing2 starred in many posts, I resisted making this a “mommy blog“ for reasons I couldn’t explain then but, after this year of change, I am starting to understand now.

I changed work venues and careers at the beginning of summer. Then Thing1 left for college after a summer of work. Thing2, a case study in extroversion, waded enthusiastically into the middle of middle school, and, while they are still the centers of my life and my heart, they are not always at the center of my day. Thing1 is carving out his own life. Thing2 is working his heart out to be better than his brother at everything. I’m getting to know them both as young adults, and it is an exhilarating experience. It’s also a confusing one.

The kids seem to be forging their identities almost effortlessly. I’ll always be a mom, but with each snip of the apron strings, my ‘mommy’ days seem to be slipping away. I’m still new enough at teaching to think of it as something I do and not yet as something I am, and that distinction has, over the last few months, repeatedly prompted a question about the other important part of my life of “What do I create?” Am I a writer who paints or an artist who writes?

With our family stories evolving away from the kitchen table near the wood stove, for the first time in seven years, I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to paint. I even started taking internet personality tests (always a reliable source of wisdom), hoping the results would spur an obvious answer and direction.

Then a friend reminded me that an artist is an artist, regardless of the medium. That meant the answer was simply in getting back to creating again. The task, now, is to start with writing something – anything – every day.

I know he’s right.

I know that the act of creating will be the discovery of the next stage of life. So bear with me as I get my new bearings. All topics are on the table, and the journey has just begun.

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.

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