family vacation

We took a family vacation the last week of February, leaving the cold and gray of New England for the south. This trip was special, since it was the first time we’d ever vacationed together as an entire family. Sounds weird, but because our oldest was 14 when our youngest was born, he was already out of the house and on his own by the time we began traveling again. So it meant a lot to me to be able to do this, to have my entire family together for a week of adventure and relaxation.

It was an interesting trip, fun but maybe a little too ambitious. I tried to put everyone’s needs into the mix while planning, including my own, and with six different individuals that means that no one gets exactly what they want. My husband and I are considering a move to a warmer climate, and at this point in our life the southeast finally makes sense. So the trip was intended to be both vacation and scouting trip- a little southern road trip mixed in with some Florida beach time. A week really isn’t long enough to do all that very well, especially with six people who don’t all share the same priorities.

But that’s part of being a family, you compromise. And as a mom, you learn from your mistakes. As wonderful as it was to have all that time together, I would probably plan it differently next time. That’s life though, and we still got a lot out of it so… no regrets.

Five of us flew to Atlanta, where we met up with our oldest son. Our first day (Saturday) was also Jesse’s 16th birthday, so it was cool that he got to eat at the restaurant where his big brother is the head chef. My oldest son has been cooking for over ten years, but this is the first time I’ve ever eaten in one of his restaurants while he’s been working. I was a little nervous, but I shouldn’t have worried. Alex is a pro and dinner was amazing. It’s quite a feeling, seeing your kids all grown up. I’m a proud mom.

Sunday we drove to Nashville, with a quick stop in Chattanooga for lunch. We stayed in Nashville for two nights, mostly to eat hot chicken and check out the city. We also had our first experience with Airbnb, which was awesome. Tennessee has been on my list of “places to see” for a while, for a few reasons. It’s not too cold, affordable, no state income tax. The hot chicken was worth the trip, even if I was less than enthused about Tennessee overall. And I know that two days is not enough time to form any kind of real opinion about a state. I would gladly go back to Tennessee and see more, but right now it’s off my list of potential relocation spots. I’m so glad to have seen a new place though. We stayed in East Nashville, which is apparently the hip neighborhood. Had some amazing pizza. Saw the Parthenon. Walked around downtown. My older kids went out one night in East Nashville, but we just weren’t there long enough to see much.

Tuesday was a long day of driving, through Alabama and Georgia again and into Florida. None of us had ever been to Alabama, so that was cool to see it. We stopped for lunch in Birmingham, and drove some smaller highways en route to Florida that gave us a glimpse of rural Alabama. It was interesting. If we move to the south, I can see lots of road trips in the future. I grew up in Florida, but that’s not the same as the rest of the south. It is isolated both culturally and geographically, and although I’ve driven up and down the eastern seaboard more times than I can count, the purpose has always been to go from Maine to Florida and back again. We’ve been to Atlanta now three times to visit Alex, but the rest of the south is just waiting to be explored.

We arrived in St. Augustine at midnight on Tuesday, and then spent the remainder of the week by the beach. It was all perfection- the weather, our hotel, the food, the city itself, the time together. It’s a beautiful historic city, a place I would consider living if I were to choose Florida. Especially if we could be snowbirds, which may be a possibility before too long. But for now, we’re still looking for a place that feels right for a more year-round, put-down-roots kind of home; a place to finally settle for a while and make some new friends and become part of a community. I don’t think Florida will ultimately be that place, but this trip was helpful to clarify that for me.

Friday morning was crisp and sunny, probably in the low 70’s with no humidity; and we had breakfast and wandered around downtown as long as we could before accepting the inevitable and piling in the van for the return trip to Atlanta. As we headed inland toward the highway the scenery became more gritty, then more rural. That’s the Florida I dislike- I know it may hold beauty for some, but I just can’t stand it. I think it is so ugly once you get away from the ocean and the carefully manicured look. The subdivisions plopped out in the countryside, with all the scrub and swamps and alligators, ugh. Not for me, and yet it becomes like that so quickly.

We arrived in Atlanta late that night, starving and grumpy. The end always comes, no matter how good something is. We had a tapas-style dinner at some new hipster spot in midtown that was really more of a bar, but it was fine and at least we were fed. Then one last evening all together in the hotel. It made me both happy and sad to see my two older sons sleeping together on the pull-out couch, these two so much alike that I regularly call the younger by the name of the older, yet so different in some ways and separated by a decade and years of living in different parts of the country. Life is bittersweet, that’s for sure.

Coming home was rough. It’s so hard to leave one of your kids behind, it’s like there are pieces of your heart floating around out there in other places, tugging at you. And we’re all just done with the long winters of northern New England. But better days are coming. We’ve been making plans for the next phase of our life for a while now, and it’s finally all starting to come together. This trip brought us some clarity, and we hope to be ready to move ahead in a new direction by the end of June. I have an idea of where we’re headed, but first the job situation has to be resolved and then I can focus on the fun details. Stay tuned…

 

 

a new decade

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Life is so much easier these days, and that’s a good thing, but it also means that I have the time and space to address stuff that was buried under the weight of responsibility that I took on all those years ago. Seeing clearly isn’t always comfortable! Marriage and family was my salvation, my journey to the light, an answer to the existential questions. It was both joy and sacrifice, a denying of myself in the pursuit of a greater good, a sometimes desperate search for meaning and a sense of belonging. I was blessed, over and over again; and right alongside all that goodness ran the dark current of despair. Those were not easy days, they were full and rich and busy and meaningful, but they were hard.

And then suddenly it’s gone. All that stress, those consuming needs that leave you feeling outnumbered and overwhelmed, blown away like a dandelion into the wind. The kids are grown, or grown enough to not make you crazy. Gone too is the terrible sweetness of a baby’s skin, the trusting eyes of a nursing toddler, the feel of a child snuggled up next to you as close as they can get, as if being near the warmth of your body was the only thing that mattered in the world.

That’s some heady stuff, that kind of love. It’s magic, but it doesn’t last forever. Those sturdy bodies keep growing, the needs expand and encompass the whole world. It’s bittersweet, I guess, but mostly I’m glad that it happens. I wasn’t always strong enough to handle the early years, I see that now. I loved them so much, all of them, uniquely and perfectly… and still. It wasn’t always enough.

But God is good (I use that term liberally, about the only thing I’m truly not is an atheist) and everyone seems to have survived intact and maybe, hopefully, even doing well. That’s the most amazing thing- that such beauty could have come from so much pain. My middle-aged self looks back on it all and I’m filled with awe, I’m humbled by the power of something that is bigger than me, some force that kept propelling us forward even when the road seemed impassable. It shouldn’t have worked, and yet it did. I don’t always understand it, and I still question it every single time I look at my husband and think “Why did I marry you and how the heck has it lasted so long?!”.

That’s the great thing about getting older though, if you can hang in there with your partner long enough. You finally learn how to step back, take a breath, apologize. Work on your own attitude, see it from their perspective, understand that we all have similar frustrations. You see the big picture, which is impossible when you’re right up close and so immersed in the details that you can’t gain any perspective.  I think about death a lot lately, because it’s hard not to when your sister dies. She wasn’t my first experience with death, but it’s been my hardest one so far, for sure. My sister died, I turned fifty… the wheels of time keep turning and I do lots of reflecting upon mortality and purpose and making the most of the time we’re given.

I always think like this anyway, but lately it’s been more on my mind. Just looking at all the changes, trying hard to figure out this next stage of our life and going a little nuts because it’s not falling into place as easily as I’d hoped. I had set a goal for myself that Id have it all sorted out by my 50th birthday. That came and went last month, and we’re still not sure what we’re doing long term- not necessarily the rest of our life, but the next 5-10 years. I’ve had to work hard to accept that as something other than failure, but I’m starting to see that that’s the whole point: that you just don’t know and sometimes you have to roll with it and keep the faith.

There are good things and I’m grateful for them. The coolest thing is how easily school has gone for Jesse, my fifteen year old who went to school for the very first time ever this year. He has matured beyond anything I could have imagined, fitting into a brand new world like it was nothing. He’s on the honor roll, did very well in cross country and even got an (unexpected) award for sportsmanship, which makes me more proud than any achievement award ever would. He gets up early and sticks to a schedule like he’s always done it, always happy and positive about the overall experience.

This is my spirited child, the one who nearly broke me. He was my third child, the one I waited eight years for, begged my husband to agree to, telling him how awesome it would be. Jesse was the child that shaped me in ways an easier child couldn’t do, gave me a depth and compassion and understanding that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I did things I’m not proud of- this isn’t a retelling of how amazingly I handled parenting my spirited child. I failed plenty of times, but I loved him and I hung in there and I protected him from a system that would have labeled and damaged him. I let him be who he was, within reason- we had limits and enforced them as best we could, but we also rearranged our life to meet his needs rather than expecting him to fit into our life. We accepted that he wasn’t an easygoing kid, and chose our battles carefully.

My marriage almost didn’t survive those years, the challenge for my husband to have a child who wouldn’t obey, who cared nothing for threats or punishment or pleasing anyone. It’s harder for men, I think, having kids who need more and give less. And yet through it all, through my tears and failures and screaming fights, knowing that I would please neither side- not the gentle discipline parents nor the more traditional ones- I stayed true to one belief, in the innate goodness of a person and the fact that a happy childhood is the key to a happy society. I knew that you couldn’t love or accept a child too much, and that every one of us has something unique to offer to the world, if we’re allowed and encouraged to express it.

And it worked. Here we are, years later, sailing through the teenage years. I don’t want to  be too complacent, I know that anything could happen tomorrow and when it does I’ll probably be blogging about it. That’s one thing I can do, I’ve realized- I can be honest, I can write about my life, warts and all. I’ve second-guessed myself so many times that I don’t care much any more. I’m still a sensitive person, but I now understand that you don’t die from sensitivity. Some people may raise an eyebrow, but others will nod in agreement, happy that you let down your guard and allowed someone else in. It’s what keeps us from feeling so alone, the idea that others struggle too, that tears flow at night but joy comes in the morning.

 

 

 

life in the lakes region

We moved to central New Hampshire in June, an area known as the “Lakes Region”. There are lakes pretty much everywhere you go. The house we’re renting is part of an association with a shared beach on a lake, and the whole area is just water, water, water. And woods. And tourists, although they seem to be going away now that Labor Day is over. It’s the sort of place that draws vacationers, retirees, and second-home owners from southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I’m glad that we rented first rather than buying a home in an unknown town- already life here is different from what I expected.

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Starting with our neighborhood… as it turns out nearly everyone here lives in Massachusetts and these are their vacation homes. Which is funny, since I moved here to escape what I perceived as the Boston sprawl of southern Maine/seacoast New Hampshire. The house we’re renting is the biggest, most expensive home we’ve ever had, and yet we’re surrounded by people who can afford to keep these homes as a getaway. Yeah, not exactly us. The weirdest part to me is that they have these lake homes and boats and all the expensive trappings of success, but they hardly even use them. It’s one thing to hear about the one percent, another thing to be surrounded by them. We don’t fit in, but it’s peaceful and we’re comfortable so it will be fine while we figure out whether or not we can make a more permanent move.

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Our house is way too big, and we only use a fraction of the space. It was neat at first, marveling at all the space after living in small places for most of our life, but as time goes by it bothers me to see rooms sit empty. We needed a place to live and were getting kind of desperate, this came along and met our needs and we were glad to find it, but I can’t imagine choosing to buy a house this big, let alone choosing it as a second home. And now we’re going to have to heat it, in a climate that definitely gets cold and snowy. But like everything else, it’s an experience and that’s how you learn and grow. It has helped me clarify what I would be able to work with when it comes time to buy our own house. All the other times we bought houses I wasn’t really paying attention, deferring to my husband, not making the effort to think clearly about what I wanted. And now I can finally think about it, and it feels good to know what is important to me and what isn’t. My ideal home at this point would be about 1600-1800 square feet, three bedrooms and an office, open area for kitchen/dining/living room, and a garage for my husband. Later on when all of our kids are grown, we would happily downsize to much less (condo?) and a nice RV. Unless I’ve really gotten into homesteading type adventures by that point, which may or may not happen.

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I know that our next place will be more in line with our values. It may be local, or not… we’re not ready to make that decision yet. I’m putting money away for a down payment, biding my time. We’ve moved 25 times in 30 years. I counted recently when my daughter was complaining about her first big move as an adult. That sounds crazy, even to me, although the number is skewed by a lot of moves we did when we were very young. We did stay in our own houses for several years each time we bought, so I’m still not sure how it has added up to almost a move each year. It may be time to settle, to have a home base for a while. There are things I love about living here- the proximity to water and woods, the natural beauty, the quick access to the White Mountains and the north country. This is a very safe place to live- both in terms of crime and natural disasters. No hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires. Crime exists everywhere, but Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont regularly top the lists for safest places to live.

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I’m not wild about the community, perhaps because of the influx of tourists and retirees it seems to be lacking something organic, people of all ages who are committed to building a life here. But I may not have explored that aspect enough- there’s no way to know that in a couple of months. I may find my tribe yet, or I may be correct in my assessment and it might prove to be elusive. There may be another town that has more of what I care about, and I just don’t want to buy a house until I feel that unique draw of the community. It’s not the rural aspect- rural can mean all kinds of things, good and bad. It’s more a feeling about the culture, and it’s something you know when you find it.

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So… lots of things to wait and see about. The first thing is my husband’s job. It’s a great job and he’s paid well with a lot of freedom, but there’s some weird stuff going on and it got a little crazy this summer. To the point where the stress made him physically ill, and that’s not okay. He’s better now, but it stole the joy from his summer and has made us wary and guarded about the future. Fortunately I’ve been feeling very well physically, so I was able to be the strong one for a while. That’s a nice thing about a partnership- one of you can be there to pick up the slack when needed. But we don’t yet know what the future will hold. We thought we did, and we were wrong. We’re going to give it until the first of the year to decide. End of October for some immediate stuff, and then January for a final decision. By final, I mean we assume that he will keep working remotely for this company and we pick a place and buy a house. Or… something else.

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Then there is Jesse in school- what he thinks, if he wants to stay put. Out of the four of us he was the only one who wasn’t thrilled to move to the woods, away from the ocean and a busier pace of life. I should know by now that teenagers need lots of excitement. So far he has said that he would be willing to change schools to move to a different place (bigger, less rural, and/or the ocean- Hawaii, California, or the southeast coast in that order, but really anywhere more happening than here). But he’s just started school, and it’s a great, nurturing environment, so he may change his mind. It’s a healthy lifestyle here, no question about it. And that’s good for kids, even if it seems a bit boring at times.

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Meanwhile, we live our daily life and enjoy the things that are special about this place. One thing I’ve become quite good at is living in the moment and appreciating what is right in front of me. I’ve now lost my father and my sister, and all of my relatives that I knew when I was growing up. That kind of loss affects the way you view the world- you understand that nothing is permanent. My forties are drawing to a close, my role as a mother continues to change, my older kids are well into their twenties. Most days, I’m just happy to be alive and healthy. I went through a lot of reflection this summer, dealing with the emotional fallout over my sister’s death. And after some time had passed I felt compelled to write again, to try to capture the changes and tease out the things that matter, letting go of the things that don’t.

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homeschooler goes to school…

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Somehow summer is gone, it’s like I blinked and it was over. So many changes around here, the big one being that my 15 year old has gone to school for the first time. He’s been talking about it for quite a while now, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. Philosophically I prefer the freedom that home education provides, the chance for learning to be seamless and organic and self-motivated. But I also know that the important thing is a happy child, and there are many paths to take. Homeschooling in the teen years is tough- some families can manage it successfully, but so far my kids always end up wanting more and public school is what they choose. It’s not the same as when they are little, and their needs are easily met. In most places, school is the community, and replacing that in a way that makes sense for the changing needs of adolescents has so far been a challenge that our family hasn’t been able to overcome.

Mostly I’m just proud of him, and us, for getting to this point. The kid who would have been completely bouncing off the walls in kindergarten is now a calm, mature sophomore in high school, well-read and articulate, good at math (where did that come from?), quiet and perfectly able to focus when he cares about something. I don’t believe that my son ever had any kind of a learning or behavioral problem, he just had a ton of energy and a will of steel and needed to grow up in his own wild way without fitting into any boxes too soon. Reading came when he was ready, along with all the other developmental stages and abilities. I feel a little wistful that I wasn’t able to keep him happy without school until college, but I’m glad that I was able to protect him in the early years when he needed it, that he wasn’t forced into formal learning before he was able to appreciate it. So much learning was taking place in those early years, but none of it looked anything like school.

Now he can spread his wings, and I’m happy for him. One thing I’ve noticed is that he is very secure in his own opinions, and doesn’t care so much about pleasing everyone the way that I did. We are taking the same approach with him that we did when our older two went to high school: they are there by choice, and they can handle it however they choose as long as they don’t break any rules. They can take the classes that interest them, and handle homework and studying as autonomously as possible. Similar to the way college works- you’re there because you want to be there, and it’s up to you to do well (or not). No shame, no rewards and punishment, just learning for its own sake.

My dear husband, who is my rock when it comes to this stuff- he handled all of the enrollment process for Jesse, just like he did for Alex and Emily- reminds me that this is our philosophy when I start to forget and freak out because it’s so hard for me to step away from the person that *I* was in school. A person who was super sensitive and conscientious and always did what I was told, always went above and beyond and tried harder and worked more and played less. Until I finally stopped caring my senior year, deep in the throes of teenage angst, worn out by the game and the relentless grind of being the good girl, the good student.

I wanted something different for my own kids, a lighter, happier childhood, and I guess I’ve given them that. But eventually community becomes important too, and if you can’t find that elsewhere then you have to turn to school to find it. It broke my heart last year, seeing my kids not fit in with the neighborhood kids because they weren’t in school and we weren’t there long enough to really try to make friends. I vowed that I wouldn’t let that happen to them again, that if homeschooling means being lonely then something needs to change. And so we compromise, finding the middle ground and knowing that there is no perfect way, only good enough.

The school was so welcoming, and my feelings of dread were quickly replaced by excitement for Jesse. It was also an eye-opener when he said to me one day, “I wish you would be more supportive”. I took that to heart, and changed my attitude. It’s a small school, a little over 300 kids. Similar to the school that Alex and Emily went to, but this school has a different feel. Maybe it is the location- quiet, rural towns with a large proportion of retirees and vacation homeowners who live and work and go to school elsewhere (Massachusetts). Maybe they’re just thrilled to have kids for their school. Maybe the younger generation is changing the system, bringing progressive ideas and actually implementing them. Maybe technology plays a role, virtual schooling is free and easy in New Hampshire and parents have a lot more choices when it comes to education so public schools are becoming more competitive and open-minded.

Maybe it’s a little of all of this, but whatever the reason, I’m happy that it was a fairly smooth entry in the system. It’s a big deal to go to school for the very first time at 15 1/2! I’m proud of him for doing it, and handling it with a minimum of fuss.

A few things to note, for those who are interested in more specifics of an always homeschooled kid going to school…

The school implemented a later start this year (8:15), in response to the studies about teens and sleeping patterns. I appreciate the gesture, but it still feels awfully early to me. He still has to get up around 6:30, and although school gets out at 3 his day isn’t done until 5 because of cross country, even later when there are meets. Eight hours of sleep will be a challenge, and he will probably not get enough sleep during the week.

He refuses to even try the cafeteria food, says it looks gross. At first I thought it was just the lunch was stressful (the hardest thing about assimilating into a new school, who do you sit with?), but now I’m thinking it really is the food because he doesn’t seem to mind the social stress that much. There is one other new kid in the sophomore class so they sit together even though they don’t seem to have much in common. Since I like to feed my kids, and I have more time on my hands now, I’ve embraced the challenge of school lunch and it gives me another little homemaking project. I found this little bento lunch box online, after a long search because he doesn’t want anything too big. Or too girly, little kid-ish, or adult. It’s definitely small, but cool and I still put it inside another bag so I can fit a few extras and an ice pack. I get up and make him breakfast and lunch and then sometimes go back to sleep- I’m willing to shift my schedule but so far not having much luck getting to sleep early enough to get enough rest myself. I was sleep deprived most of my life, and at this point it’s a big deal for me, for my health and my sanity. It’s nice now that my husband works from home, except for when he’s traveling, so really both of us are available to help care for our kids. We may not have ever had the village thing, but we have each other and I’m grateful for a man who cares about being a good father, the father he never had. And I have to say, I totally see a need for a stay at home mom whether or not kids go to school. Different strokes for different folks, but there is still plenty to do.

His school does longer classes and fewer of them, so he’s taking Geometry, Spanish 1, Architectural Design, and Photography. Not a bad schedule for a first time student. I strongly suggested he take regular classes rather than honors, because I know him and I didn’t think he would appreciate the extra work that honors classes require. I craved that stuff, but I was a very different kid. I realized a long time ago that my kids weren’t all clones of me, and that’s not a bad thing. It was a tough call, because of all the associated and underlying stuff that goes along with what kind of classes a student is in. Teachers and the system in general reward the honors kids, the “smart” ones. It’s the whole point. Maybe not everyone, but there’s definitely a preference for working hard and being smart. Being average isn’t exactly desirable. But already he’s talking about the kids in his classes, how they don’t really pay attention or do their homework, so I’m trying to walk a fine line here and explain the pros and cons of both types of classes, how his experience with his peers might be very different if he were in honors classes. I figure if he’s bored he can always move up, but I’d rather he not be discouraged right away because he’s surrounded by kids who have been spent their whole lives being inculcated with different values- getting good grades, being the best, all that competitive stuff that drives our society.

He is also running on the cross country team, and he loves it. The days are long, and we’ll see what the future holds. It’s only his second week, and he knows that he has options- he can go back to being a homeschooler and take certain classes and participate in sports if he wants to. For now, I have no idea about the future. He seems happy, and it’s made my life a whole lot easier so I have no complaints. Moms and teenage sons are a weird combination- adolescent boys need lots of time with other adults and their peers, they need to be busy to work off all that restless energy. I recognize that things have changed and we have a more peaceful relationship with him gone a good portion of the day. He actually talks to me more now that we don’t spend as much time together, and I am grateful for each word, each confidence and bit of his day that he shares with me. I’ve learned a few things along the way, and one is to cherish the teenage years, because they’re awesome and special, a gift for all the sleepless nights and dirty diapers, the endless care that little ones demand.

We’re in a new stage as a family. I’m now a homeschooling mom of one, which is weird but in a good way. I’ve got Nick signed up for all kinds of stuff to keep him busy. Life is all about the ebb and flow, finding the balance between too fast and too slow. Nick has been wanting to play soccer for a while, so I signed him up for a recreation league and that’s been a new and interesting experience. 26 years of parenting, and our first time as soccer parents. There’s been some catching up to do, but he’s having fun and that’s what counts. I don’t regret the ways we lived outside the mainstream, all the alternative things we did, the gift of a slow childhood that I tried to offer my kids. But change is good, being open to new experiences and able to use a new lens to view the world.

it’s that time again…

Moving time again. This one shouldn’t be too bad, since we’re in a furnished rental and most of our belongings are in storage. Having a teenage son to help, and a younger one eager to earn a little cash too, means that I won’t actually have to do much of the heavy lifting. There will still be plenty for me to do though once we’re reunited with all of our belongings. Another thing that is making this move easier for me is that we’re paying a $500 cleaning fee when we move out (from our security deposit), so I won’t have to spend a day scrubbing this time. Life is good.

We’re excited about this move. The ocean is lovely, but we’ve lived right near it and enjoyed it almost every day for two years now. I feel blessed to have had such proximity, and now feel equally blessed to be able to move closer to lakes and mountains. It’s a dream come true, for my husband to have a great job and be able to live in a beautiful area. I don’t take any of this for granted, and it’s weird the way life works. If we hadn’t moved to Colorado and then moved back from Colorado this particular opportunity wouldn’t have materialized. My husband was able to get a better job with the same company by leaving, yet not burning any bridges. He’s worked hard to make all this happen, and I couldn’t be more thankful for everything he does for us. I didn’t write a Father’s Day post because after years of social media and blogging they’ve begun to feel a little trite to me; but my husband is my rock and I am grateful for him.

So, time to quit procrastinating and get to work. I plan to start packing the house today, then tomorrow we get the moving truck and load it up. Thursday we head up to the Lakes Region and our new home. The house itself will not be permanent, but we may decide to put down roots in the area. It will be a good place for the snowbird/traveling lifestyle I envision for the future. I had this need to have my life figured out by my fiftieth birthday, which will come in October, and I was discouraged when it seemed like we were still going to be unsettled. But I think I get it now, that the goal is to make my peace with who I am and why I’m walking this earth. Maybe my life won’t always look like everyone else’s, maybe I’ve made mistakes and learned some hard lessons, maybe I will always be a wanderer at heart. As the saying goes, not all those who wander are lost.

Here is the whole quote from Tolkien, because it is worth reading in it’s entirety:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

 

the things that matter; blessings and grief

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Life got a bit confusing for a while, and I needed to stop blogging while we sorted it out. I still wrote, but in a private journal. We’ve spent the winter planning our next move, now that my husband is working from home and we can live anywhere we want, as long as it’s in the northeast. It’s funny how something can sound so freeing yet still be so complicated. There were many factors to consider: homeschooling law and opportunities, tax implications, cost of living, access to nature, distance from NYC, Boston, and an airport. Then we realized the one thing that was non-negotiable and surprisingly challenging once we started looking to head into the more rural parts of New Hampshire: high speed internet. It’s not available everywhere, and we had to have it.

We considered moving to either New Jersey or Connecticut (the only two northeastern states besides Maine and New Hampshire that have a good homeschooling law), but ultimately I got cold feet. If we had to be there, I would have done it, but it seems a little silly to live in congested and expensive areas if you don’t really have to. We love Vermont and Maine of course will always be “home” to me (although Scott disagrees), but both states have high income tax rates and New Hampshire has none. Property taxes are higher in New Hampshire, something to consider if we want to buy a home, but they vary a great deal by town and are not too bad in some places. And Vermont also has an oppressive homeschooling law, sadly.

Then I decided I wanted to buy a house, that after five years of renting I was just done. Of course it was too late to make that decision, since we have to be out of our current rental this week and I only decided I wanted to buy in May. We’d been looking at homes for sale on and off all winter, but not seriously. Turns out the real estate market is a little crazy in New Hampshire right now, at least for moderately priced homes. And after a few hectic weeks of looking, I realized the time wasn’t right yet and that we needed to focus on finding a rental.

Rental homes aren’t so easy to find either, not with all the things we need. After a winter in an 1100 square foot beach home. homeschooling two boys and my husband’s office in our bedroom, our belongings in storage because there was nowhere to keep them here, I was ready for enough space. For once, I wanted a big enough house that we could all spread out and perhaps even entertain or have house guests. I love the idea of welcoming others into my home, and want my boys to feel free to have friends over, but as an introvert I get a little weird about my space. At this point in my life, I think it’s okay to acknowledge that and be grateful if I can have a big enough home to keep everyone happy. I’ve paid my dues in tiny homes.

It was getting a little tense for a while, trying to find the right spot. We could go to another state if we had to, but we didn’t want to. We were even starting to consider temporary options if the right place didn’t come through in time- I was also very afraid of making a mistake and spending a year waiting for something to change. I’ve lived like that too many times and I’m more careful now, about the choices we make. Life is short, and I want to feel good about where I am.

June was upon us, we had three weeks to find a place, and things were tense. Then I went in for a skin check at the dermatologist, knowing I should but hating to go. I started going to the dermatologist three years ago, and it’s not much fun. I am very fair (something I didn’t fully realize until I was older), grew up in Florida at a time when no one wore sunscreen, and have spent most of my adult life as a stay at home mom, able to be outside with my kids a lot. And I chose not to protect myself much as an adult, figuring it would be okay. I’m paying for that choice now. I regularly have to have precancerous spots (actinic keratoses) frozen on my face, and this visit I also had a biopsy for a spot that she thought might be a basal cell carcinoma.

I came home with my face a mess, feeling scared. Of course I googled basal cell carcinoma on face, and was horrified by the stories I read. It may not be life- threatening, but it’s not a pleasant thing to have done, and the healing process is lengthy. Summer was coming, we were going to be moving to a new community, and this was something that would be hard to deal with. And then I had to simply wait.

A week later, on the 9th of June, my mom tried to call me in the morning. I didn’t answer- I’m not much of a phone talker and my mom is too old to text, so I usually call her back when it is a convenient time for me. My husband called me around 11 am. He was in NYC, on his way home. He delivered some terrible news- my sister Esther was dead. This news wasn’t completely unexpected, as she had been ill for many years, and I knew that she probably wouldn’t live to a ripe old age. But I didn’t expect it to come so soon, and if I had known I would have tried to see her, or talk to her, to bridge the gap I put between us many years ago. I don’t know what I thought, that I had time? That somehow it would sort itself out? You just don’t know, until someone is gone.

I don’t have it in me to tell all the history, the long and complicated story of her life and why I chose not to be a part of it any more. I love her children like they are my own, and I am very sad about what was a tragic and premature end to a complicated and chaotic life (these are words I wrote to another sister in a text, and they sum up my feelings). I will share here what I wrote on Facebook when my niece sent me her obituary, because I am emotionally drained and it’s hard to write (or talk) about it.

My sister passed away last week (the date is a misprint). I hadn’t seen her for nine years, and that is something that I am going to have to live with. But she was my big sister and I loved her very much. My heart is broken and my grief, guilt, and sense of loss are profound. I am especially sad for my beloved niece and nephew, their children, and my mother. Death is so hard to comprehend.

She was good to me when I was young- as a child I was blessed to be mothered by my older sisters as well as my mom. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the love that she showed me, the music and books and ideas she introduced me to. She loved without reserve, and was unique in her kindness and generosity of spirit. I pray that her soul is at rest, in a place where there is no suffering.

And then life moved on, very quickly. We got some good (great) news, all in a row. A wonderful rental home, Scott landed some big jobs at work, and my biopsy was not cancer. I was still mired in grief, but our annual homeschool camping trip was happening and Nick had been looking forward to it for weeks. I had to go, put on a happy enough face and make the best of things. Here is what I wrote on Facebook when I came home from camping~

So I’ve been pretty cynical about social media lately, trying to minimize the role it plays in my life… But I just want to say that the condolences and expressions of sympathy over the recent loss of my sister have helped me a great deal as I’ve been grieving. I wouldn’t have had that support otherwise, and I appreciate it.
I was able to spend some time in the woods, taking Nick to our annual homeschool camping trip. Being in nature and catching up with some old friends has helped too. I’m very familiar with bringing life into the world and nurturing it, but coping with death is so much harder. Grief is a pain that takes your breath away, but also a reminder to live each moment fully and love each other while we have the chance.

It’s been a little over a week now, and the raw grief has become sadness, acceptance, and also something more that feels like it will mark a new chapter in my life. My sister’s death seems to have rubbed off my sharp edges, made me feel more compassionate, less judgmental. I feel softer somehow. I can be very insular when I choose to be, content with a small circle of people around me, reluctant to put myself out there or let too many people in. If I don’t feel the need to see someone, I won’t. And now I realize that isn’t always the best way to move through life, that maybe I need to be more willing to say yes to things, to see people and talk to them because you never know when it might be the last time you have the chance.

choosing a path and finding adventure

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I’m not sure what is going on. I didn’t feel much like writing for a long time, and for the first time I seriously considered shutting my blog down. Things have changed so much in the ten years I’ve been doing this, and it seemed like maybe it was the end of an era. And maybe it is, but I’m not ready to call it quits yet. There is good stuff yet to come, and I like the motivation to write that having a blog gives me. Without it, I will only scribble a few journal entries occasionally, which typically end up in the trash because they feel too unfiltered and if something happened to me I wouldn’t want anyone to see them.

There has been so much struggle to get to the place I’m at, and now that I’m here I don’t take any of it for granted. I made mistakes when I was young and had my whole life ahead of me. I couldn’t see that until I had young adult children myself, and can see how differently they are living in their twenties. It put it in perspective, the difficulties we’ve faced building this family, how precarious it was at times and how much it wrung out of us just to keep it going- and not just going but moving forward in a positive direction.  Life is hard for most people, and to be responsible for these four beautiful children and somehow offer them a better life than we had without a whole lot of help or resources was something that I now see, in hindsight, as a monumental task,

This is hindsight speaking, and I didn’t see it so clearly as it was happening. It’s only now that I’ve been able to slow down and reflect, now that we have enough margin in our life, both financially and emotionally, that I understand. I understand why life felt so hard and I’m grateful that we hung in there and eventually it got easier. The life I have now is precious and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I’m glad my own kids are making different choices. My daughter is dating an engineer who treats her like a princess. They are moving slowly in their long-distance relationship, living separate lives while they build their careers and finish their education, enjoying being young and relatively free. This one thing makes me incredibly happy, seeing the way my daughter chooses wisely and values herself.

I wrote a little while ago about our next move, that I was tired of wandering and wanted to put down roots (aka, buy a house). Well, maybe that’s not going to happen. We’ve had the winter to think this over, to see how my husband’s new job is going and figure out our next step. We still have two more months, and I haven’t been in any rush to decide. I was open to the idea of staying in New Hampshire and buying a house, and I looked actively for several months. But my heart wasn’t in it, and I didn’t find anything that seemed just right. At this point in our lives we are old enough to be downsizing even more, and a large mortgage is out of the question. And the cheap homes, the fixer-uppers, felt dreary and depressing and like they would require a ton of work and energy that we don’t have. We’ve done it before, but we were younger then.

I didn’t even find anything in our desired price range that I wanted to go see. And I knew that we weren’t committed enough financially to buying a home- instead we chose to take a family vacation, which is something we wouldn’t have done if a home were our priority. I mentioned to my husband that I wasn’t sure anymore about anything, and that I was willing to try living closer to NYC for a year if it would benefit his job. He agreed right away. He doesn’t need to be in the city every day, and hopefully it will never come to that, but being able to get there more easily (as a day trip) will be a good thing for his job. It’s expensive to live within two hours of Manhattan, so it will have to pay off financially to be worth it. We’ll give it a year and see how it goes.

Meanwhile, I’ve got my own dreams to work on. Now that my life is easier I am craving adventure, wanting to do the sort of things that people normally do in their twenties. Physically I feel good, better than I felt ten years ago in fact. Stress can make you sick, and as I’ve become more relaxed I’ve started to feel better. Menopause is coming, but I’m not scared. I want to do something special to mark this new season of my life, but since I’m not wealthy and I still have two kids at home it will have to be something that fits into the parameters of the life I have. No Pacific Coast Trail or trips to India (not that I’d want to do anything like that anyway).

I suppose that in its own way, moving to New Jersey will be an adventure… but I know the reality of day to day life there, whether we end up in the quieter northwestern part or in a shore town, won’t be that different from life here in seacoast New Hampshire or life on the Front Range of Colorado. I will explore and find cool things to do, for sure, but I’d still like to do something that feels like more than day to day life, the suburban homeschooling mom thing.

I had told my husband a while ago that I wanted one of two things to happen by my fiftieth birthday: either to be settled in my own home, or to be okay with the fact that we live a wandering life. I truly wasn’t sure which path to pursue. But I’m beginning to be more comfortable with the nomadic aspect, not feel like it’s something to be embarrassed about. Once I realized that I didn’t have to explain or apologize for the way I am, I began to embrace it. That feels freeing.