I am away with my love this weekend. We are relaxing at Lake Anna in the midst of a season of difficult challenges. Maybe it should be seasons. The seasons have rolled into years.
The years have been hard.
It is difficult for me to be in the early morning quiet. I recognize this, as anxiety begins to mount at the prospect of an unstructured day ahead. I do not have words to give the man sitting at the opposite end of the sofa as I stare out the window at the sun rising over the water.
Pulling a creamy-soft throw from the back of the sofa and tucking it around me, I curl into a fetal position, resting my head on a square pillow. A tear falls. I feel it slip out of the corner of my eye, roll down my cheek and drip off of my face. More threaten to fall, betraying that all is not well.
I am not fine, and I have thirty-six hours to figure it out, before I have to go back. That is how it has always felt.
This is your chance. You had better not waste it or squander it or use it unwisely, because another one won’t be coming around any time soon! Redeem that time, Sister. You have been given much, and of you much is required.
Mustering every ounce of courage to make any sound come out of my mouth, I use my voice to share what is inside. It feels terrifying. There is a battle raging in my head. I want to stay behind the wall.
I don’t know how to be me by myself, and I sure don’t know how to be me and you by ourselves, and I am going to just ruin all of this!
Tears explode and fall in full-force sobs. I am sobbing on our first of two mornings together without parental and adult responsibilities before we have to go back. I feel self-contempt mounting and fight it fiercely.
Why can’t I just be carefree and fun?
Love pulls my feet into his lap and offers me comfort. He lets me ugly-cry and sob and leans over to rub my scalp and hug me. I feel so much resistance and try to stay present. I try to receive care without gauging what it will cost me.
Care comes at a cost, you know. Will this be worth it?
I fight against resistance to share with and be real with this life-partner who sits with me on the other side of the wall. Coming out from behind it is so scary and so hard and so risky for me.
I am met with safety and kindness. There is no judgment or expectation.
Love shares his feelings about sitting on the same side of the wall with me. I try not to twist them into something they are not.
They are only love and gratitude. I can choose to receive, which I do.
Grateful for the kindness offered to me to just be and process, I pull out a journal and begin to write. Thoughts come. Curiosities. More tears. I reach for tissues that begin to pile up. I consider taking a picture of them. That just seems wrong. I resist the urge.
Love gives me the space that I need. Little do I know I am being watched from above.
Yesterday was a special day. It had been written on a calendar block, cleared of all else. We spent all day with the Boston little boy cousins and their amazing parents.
My anxiety about having little people around for the day was alleviated quickly when this little one walked in, grabbed a recorder, and began playing while his brother accompanied him on the piano.
Uncle B patiently listened to Little Mae tell all about King’s Dominion adventures using her map of the park.
My baby and my sister’s baby smiled at each other a lot, which was a huge milestone for anyone who knows my baby and her thoughts about babies.
Baby B won her over.
Meanwhile, lots of creating happened. The cry of Guys, Guys! Look over here! caught my attention. I looked to see this little one with his airplane.
My much younger sister was caught wearing my perpetual mothering face in this picture. I so know the feeling.
With everything happening at once, there were problems to solve, like the one of figuring out how to find all of the pieces and get this track to stick to the green board. Daddy to the rescue on that one! Problem solved.
It was sweet for my littles to get an opportunity to experience the life of their big siblings. Here Coco gets to feel like her big sisters when the littles were being born, holding a babe in arms.
And these eyes and little chewing mouth. I could not get enough of them.
And this snuggly sleeper. I might have cried a little.
Of course, a day with littles (or bigs for that matter) is not complete without some down time with a screen and a cuddly blanket.
This day was so full, pictures don’t do it justice. I finally had to put down the phone and just be in it, because everything was so much to take in.
I want to remember the moments of sweetness like a two-and-a-half-year-old cousin wandering into the TV room with his bowl of shredded cheese and climbing up next to Kirk and asking questions about Minecraft. My thirteen-year-old’s patient response and offer of letting him play reminded me of how Caleb treated his little brother, and my heart swelled.
I want to remember the conversations with my brother and sister that felt natural and relaxed and made us forget that we live hundreds of miles apart and that this doesn’t happen every day. Moments of falling asleep on the couch or walking out into the yard or playing UNO Attack (thanks, B!!!!) felt like they happen every day.
And dinner time. Oh, the dinner table.
I want to remember shopping with my sister and planning our meal like it’s the most normal thing in the world, all while talking about everything. I want to remember cooking and being together and living life.
I want to remember what it was like to have a full dinner table and the littles getting to be the bigs and experiencing the noise and cries and trauma of food touching other food or too much ketchup coming out of the bottle or corn on the cob rolling onto the wrong place on the plate. Our table was full and loud and fun.
Our day was full and loud and fun.
My body, mind, and soul felt full and tired and happy and sad and grateful, so very grateful.
At the end of the day when, Sister Selfie! was called, here is what we got. Sister selfie, plus one. I am old enough to be this girl’s mom, so I could technically be a grandma. Technically. Not yet.
For now I relish being auntie to this precious little one and his brothers and will hold so many special memories close to my heart.
He fastens his helmet, hops on his bike, and takes off with our nine-year-old girl who has just discovered her love of bike riding. This, after spending an afternoon at the pool with the eleven and nine-year-old girls at a school’s out pool party hosted by a local radio station.
Of course, it’s not all bike rides and pool parties. Earlier in the day, accusations of being a tyrant and exercising a reign of terror were hurled by a different child as the apps on an iPod were deactivated for a few hours to give space for other activities.
He is a good dad.
He takes time to connect with and guide adult children while being in the moment with the younger ones. He works hard every day to care for those in this house, risking imperfect fathering with just doing.
His turn-around time is slow. He admits that.
Household projects, while in progress, often lie dormant so that a heart can be cared for, a cuddle read, a bike ride taken, a phone-call made. He puts his people before projects, which means that there are always works in progress. Always projects calling.
The upstairs room, the porch, the bathroom, the basement, the boxes, all of these and more clamor for his attention.
He hears the children first.
Yes, imperfectly. No, not always well.
With a heart that is humble and open, he seeks to better his fathering skills and grieves where they have been lacking. I have sat with him in that grief. We have grieved together.
I am thankful for my children’s father and for how he has taken on the task of fathering eight plus one. I am grateful that he chooses to show up fully, even when fully means messily and wrong. Because then he apologizes and models humility and helps us to learn forgiveness.
Once upon a time, there was a young man who wanted a big family. I think he thought he would be getting a fan club. It didn’t quite work out that way.
The way it did work is that eight children have taught him a thing or two about himself and have helped him to grow into the amazing man that he is. The one that I am blessed to call the father of my children.
Sometimes being a good friend to your spouse means holding down the fort so they get some time and space away. Holding Down the Fort is really hard for me. In my world of longings, one of the deep ones is longing for time to just be off.
I would love for space to not be in charge all most of the time. I have been in charge for all most of my life, and responsibility is wearing and wearisome.
I long for the day when my husband’s time away means my own time alone here in the quiet, not shouldering the weight of solo parenting. I long for the day when we can go away together without requiring what feels like an act of congressto make it happen.
I realize that many readers long for a spouse or for a child or to not be solo parenting all of the time due to death or divorce. We ALL have our longings, our hard stuff, the things we wish would pass, the do-over desires.
Since this is my blog, I am writing about my struggle to be a good friend to my husband. He needs time away with friends to be refreshed. And, really, this time away isn’t totally his, because it sweetly lined up with the weekend that our son is playing in the Virginia All-state band concert at George Mason University. He will be able to catch the concert tomorrow and spend quality time with his son on the ride home.
So while he hangs out, I hang on. That’s how we roll. He has done it for me more.
But it doesn’t make it easy. It’s always more fun being the one heading off in the car up or down the interstate, leaving on a jet plane. It’s always the most fun taking off together.
Left behind looks like agonizing over how much screen time is too much while trying to maintain sanity. It is having to stand hard ground alone. It’s breathing in the vapors and fumes in the air that seem to only be released when spending quality time around Mom. It’s negotiating the strife solo and dealing with the dog.
It also looks like making memories and learning to relax and being thankful for middle school lock-ins, reducing responsibility by one. It looks like being content with the space that I do have and resting in the fact that while tweens have needs, at least they sleep at night!
A few weekends ago, Steve and I took some much-needed time away together, with the holiday season in full swing. The timing was not ideal, but is it ever? As I type this line, I am transported in my mind to twenty-four years ago when we were saying, I do, at a time that was less-than ideal.
Today is our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary and the twenty-ninth anniversary of the season when we met.
There is a backstory to our time away, and while I could post pictures of festive decorations and divine cheese platters and gush about the reflexology treatment and hot-stone massage that my darling booked for me in advance, there would be much missing. There would be a glaring omission of the reality that we had to fight hard for this time and were almost taken down for the count.
That, dear reader, is the part that I want to share with you. Reality.
The story began last fall, summer, even, when my dearest asked our firstborn and her husband if they could spend Labor Day weekend with the kids so that we could go away together. Three nights alone seemed an incredible luxury. I was looking forward to it desperately.
When back-to-school life got full and pressures started bearing down, a voice inside reminded me that it would be worth it all when we were away. I could work really hard to get the school year going and then relax into the long weekend, emerging refreshed and re-connected with my partner in the midst of all of the madness.
We were both so caught up in our duties and responsibilities that a glaring omission happened. We failed to book a destination. This reality struck the week before we were to go away, when a painful conversation took place, leaving me feeling let-down, hurt, and angry.
Festering heart wounds that I thought had been dealt with, broke open and began to ooze painfully. I spent time trying to figure out a kind, yet honest, way to express my deep disappointment.
Too often I have offered a quick, That’s okay! or It’s no big deal! to things that were NOT okay and WERE big deals. It was a new path for me to sit in the hard place of feeling my feelings without minimizing them and of hurting without accusing my partner in anger. It was a struggle not to lash out at the one I love while in pain.
After these honest conversations, Labor Day weekend found us dog-sitting so that our daughter and son-in-law could go camping. We stayed at the house laboring, as usual. It was not the weekend I had envisioned, and I felt hurt and disappointed.
Steve quickly arranged for the next available time that the married adult couple could come and stay for a weekend. It was months away in December, but just having a date on the calendar was encouraging.
Things were rolling along smoothly. A non-refundable, non-transferable location was booked in Williamsburg, and Christmas Town tickets were purchased. Planning was enjoyable, and we were communicating. I had requested an entire Friday off to have a leisurely morning to myself before stealing away together.
I was picturing it in my head, and it was BEAUTIFUL!
Then things started to happen. Plans began to shift and change for honest reasons. Human error in communication caused the wrong weekend to be booked. We could still go away, but the child-care factor became much more labor-intensive and complicated.
I did not like the revised plan I was hearing. It felt forced and overwhelming and exhausting. Much complicated planning needed to happen just to arrive at our destination. It was not as I had envisioned. To top it off, the night before our planned departure, Steve became ill. He took to bed in a manner unusual for him unless it is serious. It was serious.
I was left in the nebulous unknown of wondering if I should continue to pack children to take to their siblings instead of having siblings come to them. I wondered if we would be able to go away at all.
Frankly, I was finished. Tired. Done.
My day off dawned, not as I had planned. It found me driving kids to school instead of rolling over for a little more sleep. After the drop off, I checked in with Steve who was not sure how he felt and did not look great.
Our revised plan had been to drive two cars to drop the kids with their adult siblings in Richmond on our way to Williamsburg. That would leave a vehicle for them to drive back to Harrisonburg that would fit everyone. Steve didn’t look up to the driving challenge. I was already less-than-thrilled with that idea BEFORE sickness crept in.
Let’s just not go. This is getting ridiculous. When are we going to read the sign that says this is not a good idea? What else has to happen?
We had until 11:00 to cancel the massage appointment he had booked. He wanted a little more rest, leaving me to make a teary call to my sister to help me process. She helped me sort out my heart, and when we hung up I realized that I needed to try.
Trying looked like seeing if there was any way to have the kids cared for here in town overnight instead of having to drive them to Richmond. The Richmond connection could drive themselves here the next day and hang out until we got home.
I reached out to friends and family who were able to say yes. While Steve slept, I arranged and drove around and packed up and picked up and dropped off. When he woke, I presented the new plan, which I think was plan d by this point. The kids were accounted for, he could sleep in the car while I drove, and we would at least be away, alone together.
If he felt better, great. If not, he could sleep while I read, addressed Christmas cards, wrote, did yoga, got a massage. We could watch movies or listen to podcasts together. It actually wasn’t looking too bad!
The bottom line is that we were able to go away, but it wasn’t easy.
We listened to podcasts together in the car. After a night of rest, Steve felt well enough to walk in the woods while I experienced a restorative massage. We ate at The Cheese Shop in downtown Williamsburg and walked around Merchant’s Square. We napped and relaxed. I didn’t write any Christmas cards. We didn’t make it to Christmas Town.
Our time together was too short. It always is. But it happened.
Have you ever wondered about my screen name? Have you even noticed it? Sometimes I get asked about it by those who wonder how it came to be. What’s the story? It has to do with a ten or eleven year old girl and her baby brother.
I was ten when the baby boy of our family was born. That was thirty-four years ago. Thirty-four years?!
I remember that baby boy. He had a rattly sound when he breathed due to a floppy epiglottis. I had one when I was born, also. We had that in common, separated by ten years. I loved holding him, playing with him, and watching him grow.
When he was a toddler I remember thinking he was the cutest thing. Maybe it was because I was growing up and becoming more maternal. Maybe there was now enough distance between me and a younger sibling that he wasn’t viewed as a threat for attention. Maybe I understood that he was a baby. The baby.
I gave him a nickname. Gregorypancis. Pronounced Greg-o-ree-pahn-sis.
I don’t know how or why it came about. It just did. I give the ones I love nicknames, just ask Beatrice, Kippy, Mabeccabo, Kierbear, McTirkle, Coco, Roo, and Maemo (Little Mae).
Fast-forward to the internet age and the advent of AOL and email addresses. When I set up my first email account and was looking for a screen name that didn’t need a number in the thousands after it, I thought, mommypancis. Mom-me-pahn-sis.
NOT mommyPANICS, though she often does.
I was in the thick of being mommy. It was available. Whenever I need it, it is there. It’s me. Mommypancis.
This is the face of Mommypancis, designed by my firstborn girl. With Maemo, of course. Can’t you tell?
And what about that little Gregorypancis?
He is a Daddy who will meet his little one face-to-face in a few short months. Babypancis will make an appearance in late November. I am thankful.
Happy Birthday, Little Brother! I love you much.
And, yes. I DID sew that orange and blue patch pillow in fourth grade. That is another story in itself, but the fact that it graces my baby brother’s toddler bed attests to the love and affection I had for him. Still do.