I wrote the piece below en route to Portland, Oregon last week for my Black Belt training as a Nia teacher. Believe you me, there will be a follow-up piece about that profound experience, so stay tuned if you’re interested.
I’ve been blue since dropping Mia off at college in California. There’s a melancholy feeling to the early September light, a late-summer sense of things winding down that has suited my mood. Dog walks out in the drought-thirsty woods have been validating; leaves crackle drily overhead, the air is heavy, insects buzz hazily, their last song of summer. I come home from our evening walk and the house is silent. It’s a new kind of stillness, lacking the promise of a child rattling chattily home from school, hungry or grumpy or anxious or cheerful, the crunch of tires on the gravel driveway, backpack thumping on the mudroom floor, fridge door cracking open. Even though last year Mia was rarely home before 8 p.m., the anticipation of her return from school gave shape to the evening: walk the dogs, cook, do a little work, have a glass of wine or a cup of tea, connect with John over dinner, then Mia comes home. Those four words skip, childlike: Then, Mia comes home! Excising them from my daily vocabulary radically alters the rhythm of my days.
Often lately, my mind has ranged back through years-old memories of me and the kids reading stories, collecting leaves, visiting the animals at the community farm in Lincoln. Nate had so much energy, I used to tell him to run the circuit from the dishwasher through the dining room to the front door and back while I’d time him. “Am I faster yet?” he’d ask breathlessly, before tearing off for another lap. Lucy loved her arts and crafts; when we renovated our kitchen last year, they pulled up the ceramic tiles and found little piles of glitter from her projects all over the subfloor. Mia was obsessed with a book series about fairies and read voraciously. We’d sing and we’d go on walks and we’d take “car adventures”. I’d pretend the car had a mind of its own and had decided to take us on a mystery tour: to the library at bedtime, or the ice cream stand up the road. “Car! What are you doing, car!!” they’d squeal. Sometimes, we’d just drive around playing I SPY. They’d press me to make up another story about “Diggy Doo and Cutty-Kut,” a dog and cat duo with magical powers. We’d tell riddles or play badminton. We’d sit on the porch after dinner and guess the color of the next car to drive by, and the evenings would slowly melt into twilight, and bath time, and John coming home. The quiet of three young children tucked into bed and asleep was precious. I feel disoriented by the stillness of my house without children.
Yesterday, I found myself wondering: “How can I top this?” I’m certain I won’t ever like my co-workers as much. People ask me how I’m doing, but they’re often uncomfortable if I’m honest with them: I’m fine, but I’m also grief stricken. I took a Nia class on Monday, and the last song in the routine was Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game”. Are you kidding me? I used to sing it as a duet in college with my friend Harrison Miller. I know the lyrics by heart: We can’t return, we can only look/behind from where we came/And go round and round and round in the circle game. I cried like a baby, tears running down my cheeks onto the studio floor. I needed that. Every so often, with the very best of intentions, people want to talk me out of it. They tell me how freeing it is, not to worry over kids all the time. They say John and I can rediscover ourselves and each other, playing out a whole new, wonderful third act in our marriage. They say it’ll pass, I’ll be fine, it gets better, your children will always be your children, even if they are far from you. Well, of course. I know these things are true. But I resent it when people want to cheer me up: this sadness is my trophy, it’s my proof of a life lived with love and joy. (Okay, also some ill-temper. Goes with the territory.) I want to feel it, because it honors the choice I made to be a stay-at-home mom, and it celebrates the beauty of the family I helped to shape. I know people mean well, so of course, I smile, and I’m gracious, and thank them for their kind words. I am appreciative. But I must insist: I’m still sad.
I have friends who’ve breezed right into the empty nest with nary a backwards glance, but I knew that wouldn’t be me. I anticipated this funk would come. So this summer I put a couple of projects in motion to give me a sense of purpose that might power my little boat through the doldrums. One was to apply for a yearlong writing class that will result (fingers crossed) in a full draft of a novel. If you helped me out in July by reading my chapters and letting me know your thoughts on which piece you liked better, thank you so much. Sorry that I ignored the majority of your opinions. I promise I’ll write both at some point. The class starts in late September, and although it scares the crap out of me for any number of reasons too neurotic to share but having to do with self-doubt, and fear, and perfectionism, I’m also excited. My characters are kids, and as we’ve established, I really like spending time with children.
The other commitment I made was to pursue my “Black Belt” Nia training in Portland, Oregon. The training is only offered once a year in the US, and I’m posting today from 37,000 feet as my flight crosses the Utah salt flats, bound for Portlandia. With me are three friends from Boston, Amy, Lisa and Kira. We’ve rented a snazzy corporate apartment (surprisingly affordable) and our plan is to try not to take ourselves too seriously, to dance, explore and learn all day, to come home to the apartment and laugh until we cry (or snort, or pee, whichever comes first). I hope our fellow students don’t find us terrifically obnoxious and that they sense our love for each other is inclusive of them as well. I wasn’t feeling much about the trip except mild anxiety: I have a pinched nerve in my back, I put on about five pounds this summer from emotional eating (always my Achilles heel) so my fitness isn’t optimal, I didn’t make studying a priority, so the material from prior trainings is hazy, at least mentally. But this morning when the alarm went off, I felt truly excited for the first time. Who cares if I’m the worst person at remembering all the Nia lingo and concepts? What does it matter if I’m a little lumpier or less energetic than usual? So what if I don’t have a freakin’ clue how to write an entire novel, and my plot is currently kaleidescoping crazily between scenes, outcomes, and voices?
Here I am, at fifty-six, stepping into a new chapter and I have no fuckin’ idea, really, of where it will lead. I am grateful beyond words for the joy I’ve been privileged to know as a mom; for three amazing children whom I love and admire so much; for a husband who loves and encourages me; for students who support me; for a generous body that has given me everything–children, health, intelligence, pleasure, voice, dance; for friends who are willing to share a queen bed with me this week, because at night, I’m twitchier than a squirrel in acorn season. I am thankful to have always had within me a North Star sense of God, Love, Spirit–whatever you choose to call it. I will eternally feel an invisible, umbilical tether to my kids, however independent they grow. I will continue to miss them, every day.
And I’ll build something new. And so it goes.