Shining in the Darkness

A few bloggers I follow (Maria Niles, Rita Arens, and Blondie) have each posted lists of five things they meant to do in 2009. They inspired me to do the same, but instead of focusing on what I didn't do (because really, let's be honest: it could fill a year's worth of posts), I'm going to concentrate on five things I did in 2009. It was a rough year, but because so much of it was spent in darkness, the shining moments were all the brighter.

1. I demolished one home and built another.

Ok. Demolishing sounds harsh, but divorce is essentially just that. It's knocking down a termite-ridden structure and from the wreckage building something stronger and more sustainable. I've done that. Together with my good friend who has also been going through a divorce, we've swept away the splinters and the mess and joined households to create a new, different kind of home for our three girls. A home where at any given moment it is okay to feel whatever we are feeling.  A home where there are people to cry with if we need to cry or dance with if we need to dance (or drink with if we need to drink). A home where the children - and their mothers - are loved for who they are and what they offer the world, and where they are told they are loved...over and over and over again until they believe it. It's a refuge against the cold. An anchor in choppy waters. It's a home.

2. I made my physical and emotional health a priority.

I recently wrote about yoga and how it saved me from the brink of insanity. Making my health a priority was as much for me as it was for my daughter. This past year especially, I needed to have enough energy to be present for her - to raise her the way I want to raise her. I also needed to feel that something about me wasn't a failure. If I looked and felt sexy, centered and energetic, I had a natural armor against some of the unhappiness that pervaded my life. Now that I'm on more stable ground, I am even more committed to continuing my practice of yoga and eating more healthfully. I'm hoping this next year I can deepen the commitment even more.

3. I created options for the future.

Some days I know I was born to work with teenagers, and I sit in my office in my current school after talking with them and can't imagine doing anything else. Other days, I strain against the confines of the structure of our educational system, and I want to anywhere but schools in a country that rewards wealth and power, test scores and "data" rather than honoring community, culture, and learning. I sheepishly admit my school is a haven from much of this, but only for 200 girls. There are hundreds of thousands of others who aren't so lucky, and there are days when attempting to change the system for them -for all of us - is mired in quicksand. 

I've used this year to think about what I want from my career. From my life. And honestly, I still don't know - especially when I weigh in reality vs. idealism. Images run through my mind, though - beautiful images of freedom and flexibility, of awaking in the morning energized by the projects awaiting me. Pictures of leisurely morning walks with my daughter to her school, of reading and writing in coffee shops and sun-filled libraries. Images of creating.

We'll see what happens, but this spring I'll know what the next school year brings. I've created options for myself - options I can't discuss in detail here - and whichever I end up embracing could make this time next year look very different. And I'm excited. It's been a long time since the open road was winding for me.

4. I fell in love again with my daughter.

She sleeps, and my eyes travel over her. Her eyelashes are long and dark against the paleness of her upper cheeks; the roundness of her face curves into her naturally ruby lips. When I brush the hair back that has fallen across her forehead, she stirs and snuggles deeper into her blankets, her fingers clutching her green stuffed monkey close.  My chest is so full it hurts. I have to physically hold back from squeezing her too tightly. I recognize her yet I don't. This little one - suspended still between my baby and a girl - is no longer mine. She belongs to the world and to herself, and her desires and needs and future will be filled with people, places, and experiences that are of her life, not mine. She came from me only to leave me - as all children do.

In the chaos that is now life as a single parent, one can get lost in the rush - in the sprint of a typical day. The hours cycle from morning drop-off to evening pick-up to dinner to bath to books to bedtime, and then it starts all over again. It's too easy - much too easy - to lose sight of my daughter's transformation from dependent to self-reliant. Sometimes the fatigue - so great some nights I fall asleep lying next to her before she does - shades the good stuff. When I was so miserably unhappy all I wished for was a way out, I forgot to look at her. I didn't hold her as closely as I should have. I didn't enjoy her as I could have. But being on our own has made me a better parent. In the midst of the whirlwind of raising a five year old, I've learned I must stop, breathe, and look at her. Be with her. And I've fallen in love all over again with this smart, funny, sassy, and kind (above all else, she is kind) little girl of whom I am so proud.

5. I learned I don't want a partnership without intimacy and authenticity.

My marriage eventually held neither - for me, anyway. It was companionable, comfortable. But I felt no desire to expose myself. To challenge myself. And a life without exposure and challenge is not one I want to live. So this past year, first through a divorce and then through confusing and complicated feelings with someone fleeting yet important,  I've learned essentially I want it all. I want a partner with whom I can talk and feel heard. I want a partner with whom I can cry and who can cry with me. I need  a partner intelligent enough to challenge me with piercing questions - and one who will appreciate my responses. A partner who sees me. I need to connect in the head and heart as strongly as I connect to the the butterflies his presence creates. And lastly (and this is a big one), I need a partner who wants me -and my child- enough to stand up regardless of his own fears and vulnerabilities. To trust us. To show up for us. Over and over again. I don't know when it will happen or with whom, but I think I can say I'll finally be able to recognize it when it does.

And those, my friends, are just a few things I did in 2009. How about you?



Cross-posted at Notions of Identity

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