Each morning, the sun glows into the back bedroom window, a little fainter, a little softer than it did the morning before. It takes me three whole minutes for my eyes to open all the way, and I have to use those moments to assess. I never know how I'm going to wake up. Sometimes I can pinpoint a mood on a dream I just awoke from. Sometimes the feelings are beyond explanation. I've decided it's good to sit in the feeling, whatever it is, so that I can take it on with thoughtfulness and intention. And I've also decided, those three minutes are ones that I won't rush through anymore. It's important to know the status of things, and the rest of the day stretches far beyond 180 seconds of glowing quiet to start.
It has been nine months since we left New York. Some days the separation is as a paper cut--a small thing, but ever-so painful. Other times, it is one of the greatest exoduses of our lives to-date, and yet a necessary step where big pictures are concerned, and therefore easily manageable. The sensations surrounding such a major life change, one that was decided so suddenly but then took so long to play out, are all blurred together in my heart; yet the journey feels less like that--a journey--and more like a series of events. I got hung-up trying to organize my reactions and emotions accordingly, lining them up in clearly defined spaces just as I unpacked books and the girls' toys. One life here, one life there...now a life here again, but it's not the same one that we had before.
With the start of school, we have infused our life with a sort of routine. It is honestly mostly odd after having lived as free spirits for so much of this year; but it also has reset us a bit. Sure I have to remember that we can't spur-of-the-moment decide to spend an extra day in the mountains; but old joy has also returned in learning the names of my children's new friends and in seeing the same relatively friendly faces walking across the schoolyard each drop-off and pick-up. I stroll home every day after lunch, having just dropped Edith off for her afternoon class, and I pass the threshold into silence that is equally delicious and haunting. I have spent five years sorting out life, just like those books and toys, creating schedules and inventing activities and arranging social gatherings on behalf of my children, and with the shrill ring of a school bell, there is now a hole of time where I don't do that. It is a new phase of life, with its own time constraints, but also time freedoms, and that's something I have to grow into. It will take me more than three minutes to hold my eyes open.
As back-to-school approached, I tried to prepare myself, mentally and emotionally, for what those gaps of time would mean. I felt the inevitable sadness of relinquishing those early stages into new excitement, and a little nervousness too, knowing well enough now that the time had come to again redefine myself. This identity declaration is less cut-and-dry. Before, I was a certain sort of person; and then I was mother, who maybe did other things; with this phase I shall be mother and...and what? Having been blessed with the opportunity to work some while at home with children, I naturally assumed that it would continue to be mother and writer, just on a grander scale. I would pitch the article that's been swirling in my brain for months; I would no longer chip away at edits, but plow through them in bulldozer proportions; and I would dream-up new ideas to reclaim that other piece of me.
I'm sure you see where this is going: it hasn't gone like that. I've wept over little ones spending more time with others now than me, even though it feels silly to cry over something that every child does. I've wasted away full afternoons, and I have no idea doing what, just that I had a few hours, and then the hours were over. I haven't finished my stack of books; I only just pitched the article; I have 350 printed pages left basically untouched on my desk. And woven into this list of things that I haven't done, haven't done, haven't done, is the thread of "Why the heck not?" It's a pressure cooker: the more time you have, the more guilty you'll feel for not using it wisely. We've been cooking ourselves, and we've been cooking the greater culture, insisting that it must be done now because, if not now, then when? Mothers are especially baited and hooked with, "It goes by so fast," and other such nonsense that is of course true, but not in the least bit helpful. Time will slip like water, so whether you're clutching or spreading your fingers wide, it passes through your hands at the same rate.
These rather bohemian nine months aside, I am forced to admit my "A" leaning personality type, the biggest parts of me always certain that I can gain control of most any situation. Of course, time is one of those allusive things--a thing which I cannot bend or manipulate, stop or rewind, pause or slow down, or even speed up. Everyone knows this, and so the exhortation to the control freaks has instead been to "Seize the day!" You can't stop time, but you sure can be present and make the most of every opportunity. (Can't you see these notions scrawled into loopy penmanship on some driftwood plank hanging over your entryway door?)
School has been in session for four weeks now, and perhaps I don't have much to show for it. Perhaps life still doesn't look as I imagined it should by now. Perhaps I'm still exhausted and need time to rest. I need at least three minutes to open my eyes in the morning, for heaven's sake. And maybe I'm supposed to carpe diem; and maybe I'm supposed to live every day like it's my last; and maybe there's a whole contingent who worships those who peaked and vanished before the age of 27; but what I am focusing on today is this: There is time. There is so much glorious time stretching on from here. Life will change again and again and again, but each change is not the end of life as we know it.
Maybe it is just a sign of maturity, gaining years, and hopefully wisdom. Maybe youth propels us at reckless speeds far longer than we realize. Maybe it is the changes we've encountered these last few years, from one life to the next and then on to another. Whatever the cause, or even without, I find myself stepping slowly, cautiously. At first I called it timidity, though I'm not sure it's that. Certainly I can name my anxieties; and really, that's one of the few things I've come to count on as certain. But I'm not afraid. I wouldn't say I'm hesitant or reluctant. I'm just slower. I'm screaming from inside the pressure cooker that says all must be done, with excellence, and immediately. I've reconciled it in this way: If I've been put on this earth to do it, then it will be done. And rather than force it, I will instead meander through what I have at such a time as this, ready and waiting to uncover the seconds that might someday lend themselves to the next great things. I've stepped into the long play, and I'm practicing patience as best I can.
When runners run; when cyclists cycle; when speed-skaters skate (these are getting funny), they will pull themselves inward, take up as little space as possible, making themselves like an arrow to achieve their speeds. But if I am slower, then I can be open. I can unclench my fists, to feel the running water that will escape my hands anyway. And after the fists, comes the arms and the heart. Unfurled arms and open hearts lend themselves to widened eyes and heads held higher. Open is soft and maybe less productive, but so aware and feeling. The glorious part about it it all is how slowing down builds upon itself. When I open up, I'll be aware of love--and I'll be aware of pain, to be transparent--and these observations will slow me down even more. It's time to think. It's time to assess the state of things. It's time to act with an attitude of thoughtfulness and intention.
It takes three whole minutes for my eyes to open all the way.