Sunday, August 31, 2014


Friday's sick day went as planned, and the soup (and the down time) made enough of a dent in my illness that I was able to push it to the back of my mind and proceed with life as planned, even though that plan had two happy girls who chatted until 1am, and kept waking me up by doing so.  (At that point, I grabbed my daughter and demanded that she sleep in my bed.  Perhaps she was as tired as I was by that point, because she rolled over and immediately fell asleep.)

We all need to pause sometimes, and I'm finding that the transition between summer and fall is the perfect time to do so. 

I find slowing down difficult.  I want to do things to make my life the way I wish; I want to mold the clay of my days in order to form it into something beautiful, and not just into raw lumps.  But sometimes, I just have to sit back and stare at the clay, remembering what it looked like when it was all lumpy and unformed, and seeing how I've already shaped it, before I can get up the energy - and the courage - to keep reshaping it.

This fall is a big transition for Katherine, because she's entering middle school.  Media, friends, family, and total strangers tell us that these will be rocky years, that every middle schooler is a mean girl or a victim, that Katherine and I are destined to bang heads and feel resentful and angry at one another for the next five years.  I refuse to believe it.  Every single stage - the crying baby years, the tantruming toddler years, the cognitive shifts around age nine - I've been told "oh just you wait!" by those in the know, but for us, the truth has been different.  There was crying, there were tantrums, there was outright defiance....but we've worked through it.  I think we've done pretty well, actually.  Katherine is not immune to these things and I'm not always prepared to handle her when she's going through an awkward stage, and we haven't done it perfectly, but I think we've done pretty darned well and I intend to stay on the "pretty darned well" path.

So, this weekend, on the cusp of another big transition, out of summer and into middle school, I'm pressing pause, reflecting on where we've been an where we're going.

Back to school shopping - an entire day spent at a mall - is not my favorite thing to do, or Katherine's.  We'd rather be hiking, or on the beach, or on bikes.  She kept saying, "I'm a gymnast, not a shopper!"  Still, she's got a strong sense of fashion (in her own little way) and so having me choose things for her is not an option, and she's got such a slim build that she has to try everything on to make sure it will work with that build.  For us, shopping is fraught with tension: neither of us wants to be there, and there's the danger of disagreeing on choices, and I have a calculator in the back of my mind performing on overtime, freaking out about the costs.

Yesterday we went back to school shopping for eight hours.

But this time, we did well.  We ate French fries and drank lemonade, we got brownies from a booth, we went out to dinner (all treats, much appreciated by both of us).  We actually agreed on things to purchase (though I held up many, many, many items to hear a refrain of "no thank you" over and over).  Katherine didn't make me say no to items because of the budget, because she's learning a bit about how much things cost and she would look at the price and go "okay?" or sometimes even, "Look at how ridiculous that price is!  No way do I want that!"; at eleven, she doesn't want to be "sexy" so I didn't have to say "that's inappropriate" either.  I bought her a little whiteboard and some cute magnets for her locker, and she gave me a big hug.  We agreed that we wouldn't shop at Abercrombie (we don't support the views of the CEO, and that cologne that they blow through the store makes both of us gag) or Forever21 (because we don't agree with their labor practices).  We were pleasantly surprised to find that Katherine fits the smallest adult sizes at H&M, and that there was a shirt there that we BOTH wanted (I let her have it, with a smiling promise not to buy one for myself because being twinsies would be "soooooo embarrassing").

This morning, in my bathrobe, I'm pausing to reflect on the last day.  Like many days, the best was last.

We got home at 8pm, and carried our bags inside.  Katherine spread her new things - five shirts, three pairs of pants, boots, and a few accessories - across her bed to admire them, and I made us a pot of tea.  I lit the candles in the living room, and when the tea was ready I brought a tray in and we curled up on the sofa in our PJ's, each wrapped in an afghan, listening to the rain fall outside and sipping peppermint tea.  We talked about the fun things we'd do this fall, we talked about maybe pulling out the chess set again (neither of us is any good at chess, but it's fun).  We talked about the pumpkin patch, and we talked about a mountain town that we love visiting in fall because the fall leaves there are so gorgeous.  We talked about a place that Katherine wants to volunteer (an animal shelter) and tried to sort out where to fit that into the schedule.  We talked about our annual Halloween parties - the one we throw, and the one we attend.  We talked about doing another 5k together.  We talked about her upcoming gymnastics meet, and the auction I'm putting on for my nonprofit.  We both got sleepy, so we blew out the candles, said goodnight, and each curled up in our respective beds reading our respective books.

I can hardly believe my good fortune that this is my daughter.  Never mind that she finds it impossible to put her clothes in the hamper, or that I have to repeat myself three times only to hear "what?", or that she absolutely refuses to wear skirts or dresses except under duress, or that sometimes she takes five times longer than necessary to do her homework, or that in the morning when I wake her up with a "good morning, sweetheart" she is downright surly for the first half hour, or that at night she lollygags until it's way past bedtime every single night.  She's not perfect....and yet, she is perfection.  She's kindhearted, loyal, thoughtful.  She is a good student.  She's gentle with animals, children, and the elderly.  She's got a ridiculously funny sense of humor and more and more often she makes me belly laugh with her jokes and wordplay.  She's got a great sense of adventure.  She's responsible.  She makes good choices - about friends, food, school, activities.  She stands up for what she believes in, and does not waver in those beliefs, and lives according to her beliefs.  She's my partner for whale watching or hiking or housework, but she's also fiercely independent.

This is what pauses are good for.  I can sit here and reflect upon the good fortunes in my life - my daughter is my biggest blessing, no doubt there - and catch my breath.  I can see things as they are - filled with blessings. 

Thank goodness for a pause.


I did not do back to school shopping when I was a girl.  My mother came home with things that she told me were perfect, and I was expected to wear them.  My mother - whose personal style involves wearing swishy nylon sweat suits with silk blouses combined with Velcro sandals, and who loves bold colors and patterns (I tend for more neutrals), and who only shops the discount racks at discount stores, buying quantity over quality - would literally cry and say "Nothing I do is good enough for you!" if I gently said, "umm, Mom, that was really nice of you but this isn't my style...."  It gives me particular pleasure to take my daughter shopping in such a different way.

Loads of things to think about in that last paragraph.  More family of origin stuff to consider.  I believed that in order to be perfect - and it was important to be perfect! - not only did I have to wear the horrible clothes that my mother purchased, but I had to LIKE them and to be grateful to her for her choices and taste, and I felt like a failure for my inability to find pleasure in them, and for my resentment at having to wear them.  I felt responsible for my mother's happiness, because she had tantrums when I disagreed with her, literally crying merely because I said I disagreed.  I felt that my own feelings, tastes, ideas didn't really matter and that what mattered most to my parents was that I acted as if their ideas were perfect and that I agreed with every word that came out of their mouths, even though I adamantly disagreed with a great deal of the way they acted in addition to what they said.

Taking a pause from dating, men, and relationships - really choosing not to think about them or pursue their possibilities - has been important to me.  I'm focusing on different things, and I feel myself relaxing into those things.  Work, my daughter, my home, my friends are all priorities right now, and I realize that I'd been putting some serious pressure on myself to "figure it out" in the relationships department, believing that life is less-than if I didn't figure it out.  This pause has reminded me about how much of my life is wonderful, in no way diminished due to my single status.

As I write this, my daughter is singing in the background sort of absent mindedly, fussing around with the purchases from yesterday, pleased with them.  We're going to a movie with friends this afternoon at the local discount theater (we're finally seeing Maleficent).  We have to do a few chores - vacuuming, folding, groceries - first, and we're hoping to squeeze in a bike ride, too.  I hope to curl up with another book tonight, starting earlier so that I can read longer before I fall asleep.  Tomorrow there's a BBQ with friends where the kids will run wild in a pack while the adults drink wine and chat; when it's time to leave the kids will beg for "just one more hour!" because it will be the last hour of summer because school is starting.

Grateful today for the pause, this transition between seasons.

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