UM: Atonement

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the Summer of Repairs, literally referring to the many things that have broken down and needed fixing this summer. At the time, I didn’t realize how figuratively that title/entry applied to my summer.

I see my life in chapters… time periods of themes, such as the playgroup period when I was all about making mommy connections simultaneous to facilitating connections for my children, or the volunteer period when I spent countless hours devoted to being room parent or P.T.A. co-chair or spear-heading a scholarship program for my children’s youth hockey association. In particular, summers lend themselves to chapters; for a teacher, they are the chunks of time in between the rhythms of the realities and routines of life. There was the summer of block parties and neighbors, the summer of completing my first novel, the summer of panic attacks, the summer of attempting to publish my second novel, the summer of college visits, the first summer of letting go.

This summer has been about atonement.

Like untangling a mass of soft, beautifully colored, balled up yarn, I’ve been weaving in & out of the last four years trying to “find” myself.

The truth is, I thought I’d found myself when I decided to marry the love of my life and again after my second child was born which marked the moment (and it was literally a moment, in the wee hours in the morning, that I held my second newborn– his head resting warmly on my shoulder, in the crook of my neck, and I could feel his breath on my skin and his heart beating against mine) when I recognized a newfound confidence in myself as a mother (something I was only able see in comparison to how unprepared, and scared, and inept I felt with my firstborn). I’d found myself again when I earned my master’s degree (while being a wife and a mother of 3, working thirty hours a week, and completing a graduate teaching assistantship) in only three years, and once again when I’d found the full-time English teaching job in my hometown– the dream job, the Shangri-La of teaching. I’d thought I’d fully evolved, that I had arrived at my destination and could coast.

But things began to stir inside me. Not the way you suddenly feel your stomach turn; it was more of a slow process creeping up on me over a period of years, and, then, suddenly attack. At first I didn’t recognize it as a mid-life crisis, for the term had always seemed to me just a label for bad behavior. Withdrawal was my primary symptom. I felt myself slipping away, sinking deeper and deeper into an abyss I couldn’t identify other than simply being in the middle. In the middle of my life. In the middle of mothering. In the middle of my marriage. In the middle of my career.

I even felt the wide open spaces closing in around me. Suddenly, what had always been a comfortable size home began shrinking and shrinking. My kids took over space. My husband took over space. For the first time, I embodied Virginia Woolf’s sentiment that every woman needs “a room of her own.” And I felt I didn’t have one. I was losing myself and, instead of fighting, giving into to the feeling.

I’d become tired of being a mother, unsatisfied in my marriage, disillusioned at work– feeling like I was treading through my life, sometimes as if I were keeping my head just above the surface. Other times, disconnected, I was a mere observer, on the outside looking in.

The catapult that eventually enabled me to become a conscious participant in this stasis, that I hadn’t– until this point– recognized, was when my firstborn son left for college. It took some time to grasp how difficult that transition had been for me.

For the first time, in too long, I looked into the mirror and saw a stranger staring back at me. I didn’t know who she was. She was changing and questioning in ways she never had before. She was allowing all the things that mattered most to her to fringe and fray.

And it would take the next two years to work through.

This summer, I began on- the- mend, aware of the path, in search of an end to this mangled ball of yarn. While I had been patiently awaiting a moment, not sure that I would even recognize it as such when it arrived, IF it arrived, I approached my summer, not as a project which has sometimes been the case, but more fluidly, taking one day at a time. My girlfriend shared her current mantra with me, “I will be fully present in this moment,” something I heard my conscious self whispering in my ear time and time again.

In addition to being the Summer of Repairs, I have referred to this as the Summer I Lost My Daughter. When Alexa was eleven, I’d attended a summer girl party where the host had hired a psychic who told me to cherish my daughter that summer, for that would be the last summer she would seek me out to spend time with before being all encompassed by her friends. Well, it’s taken her four years, but this is the summer she’s out all day, every day hanging with friends, announcing that suddenly she doesn’t enjoy going out on the boat with her father and I, reneging agreements to join us out for dinner, brooding over visiting relatives, preferring to catch up on The Kardashians instead of swimming and sunning with me in the pool (all things she previously loved)… I knew it was inevitable. I thought the sting, since she is my daughter and friend– my sweet protégée, would be a little sharper than it had been with the boys. But it wasn’t, which came as a surprise to me, for I was dreading it since that afternoon when the psychic heeded me with a warning. Likewise, with Tyler, my second child who I’ll be sending off to college, I’ve been savoring the moments with him instead of dreading his absence and the gap that will be left in the wake of it.

In working through that period of adjustment, letting Ryan go, I have learned to finally enjoy the quality of time we do have together instead of focusing on the quantity. This brings a sense of calm– a sense that it will all be okay.

I’m finding ways to reconnect with my husband, every day, to insure that we remember how and why we fell in love, in addition to  continue nurturing that bond. In recognizing that, although ours lives can change, our relationship can and will grow stronger to adapt to and deal with those changes together.

At work, I’ve decided to focus my attentions on what really matters– educating my students to become lifelong learners (of not only the knowledge they attain from outside themselves, but also the kind of knowledge they attain from within), cultivating professional relationships that matter, and standing up for what I believe in.

Writing this blog has been cathartic for me, in that it’s given me a vehicle to make sense of the reflections I see in the mirror: wife, mom, teacher, friend… This summer has provided me the opportunity to take a good hard look at, not only the past four years when I was stuck in the middle, but what lead up to the feelings, and more so fears, that stirred within. It was in analyzing the unraveling, confronting my demons and making amends where I needed to that I have gained a newfound perspective only possible in hindsight.

I realize, now, that a certain age is not a benchmark, in the sense that one has arrived and can stop to rest, and that I will never really be able to coast except within the moments I allow myself to become lost in. “I will be fully present in this moment.” I hold out my arms to welcome many such moments.

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