Saturday, September 06, 2014

my summer non-vacation, part II

Note from Saturday...

Did I tell you I was once a college residence director? I lived with college students for six years after I graduated from college, for a grand total of 10 years in college dormitories. I think I loved my work more than any other residence director I’ve ever met. I came to college just starving to be with people who were vibrant, growing, questioning and questing, and I found my joy living with hundreds of those people at a time. For six years I listened, trusted, gave my heart, gave solace.

What was I trying to do, there in those dorms? I was, on one hand, compensated with free room and board, no small thing for a woman without a car, without money when I started. I was also hoping to pass along the gift of friendship—my own college friends helped to quench my deep thirst to be heard, to be accepted, and I thrived under their care. By the end of those six years, I knew I would never live in a college dorm again—knew that I was done at that job, spent, burnt-out, a little triumphant and a little defeated, because I didn’t know what I would do next. But while my dorm-life lasted, my heart was yearning to step alongside the next young person who needed me.

Later, Scott and I would temporarily take 9-to-5 jobs in an office—I remember how we would laugh on the evening commute, laugh at the miraculous lightness of being DONE with work, of leaving the office behind.

When we discovered I was pregnant, we moved from the historic home where we were tour guides, into a sweet little condo with a view of Gloucester Harbor. We called it The Baby Pod. I was working a sales job and finishing a full semester of classes when my hands and arms went numb, and the doctor said “rest.” By the time Madeleine was born, I moved into my next all-encompassing job in hospitality, right there in the tiny condo. My work—as a parent and creative home-maker—was exactly right for my skill-set, except for the exhaustion and the lack of income. But some part of me wants to delete that last phrase: it was perfect. I could sing a song here, to the imperfect/perfect mess of parenting infants and toddlers, to the love of home and neighborhood, to being a college residence director for my several beloveds, then and there.

A friend I admire reminds me from time to time that we parents need to grow out of that kind of intensity, to give our children room, to listen without hovering. To remember that we no longer need child-proofing devices as much as our families need learners’ permits and wifi passwords. Thank God, thank God.

In the midst of this growing-out, my teenage Madeleine woke up with a severe headache and sore throat, sick for the third time during the same school year. The sore throat subsided with the second round of antibiotics, but the headache stayed. She contracted another illness, a mono-like virus, and my days returned to that earlier kind of parenting, around-the-clock, filtering the outside world, deciding from the day-to-day symptoms whether to push the child out to the schoolbus or to cocoon the child in swaddling blankets.

At the same time as this bout of headaches, I got word that my summer work had been cancelled. I applied to teach in another summer program, that was also cancelled. And Madeleine met with a neurologist who called this on-going headache a migraine. She started a prescription migraine preventative with a terrifying list of side-effects, hand-tremors, dizziness, nausea, violent mood swings, all possible. Without too much thought, I quit looking for summer income to stand alongside a young person who needed me. Vibrant, growing, questioning and questing—an irresistible calling, really, and a joy.

But unlike my time working in the dorm, I worried for the whole summer, as her headache stretched on and on. And I am worried now, too. So yes they left for school. Yes they completed an entire school week and her headaches are considerably lessened. And yes I stumbled into the first day that feels like a day off from urgency, the first day since I can’t remember when.

I remember that first day of Brendan’s nursery school, ten years ago. I told my friends that I would walk, I would weep, and I would write until I figured out what to do next. Can I really be at that same point again? So much catch-up to do, but I want to rest, to be alone, to come down. The first day of a new school year, in which things might work out for good, like a normal school year. If things don’t go smoothly, I know what to do, how to stand alongside, how to love my children as needed. But if things go right, I can do the deeper work of writing that I’ve been longing to get to, for more than a year.

So we come to today, to a new beginning. Today. It’s 90 degrees again, and sunny, and I have a beach pass. Not sure if I will cry, as ten years ago when I so hungered to hear my own thoughts again, but I might. Walking the beach and writing, while my family is doing something else without me—for these tasks, I’m all in.

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