This past Tuesday was the first day of school I had been planning for two years, the very first day all three of the girls would be dropped off at the same school.
I had come to plan it with precision, over the course of months, imagining myself returning to the fading velvet chair in my garage office to write. This peaceful vision, which I’ve carried with me like a favorite stone for a couple of months, obvious now, but it was not generated out of a gentle journey.
It had its beginnings in a dark, awful feeling I experienced the day I dropped Gwendolyn off at Fourth Grade and Chloe off at Second two years ago. After leaving the girls in each of their classrooms, each with a teacher I knew would light up their days, I turned my back to the school gate and sobbed giant, swampy, complicated sobs. I felt like I had been excavated, dug out to a dark hollowness, like inside me was a vast cave I had not encountered before. It was denser and more frightening than the sweetness of missing girls. I did not like it.
Without allowing myself to delve too deeply into the feeling, which I don’t think I had the capacity to do at the time, I attached a simple explanation to it. I imagined that women who worked, say at places like Google or Facebook, did not feel this gaping hole. I fantasized that because they were valued by a company or a team, because they had an experience of who they were without their children, that they had a fullness I did not.
I vowed to myself that over the next two years I would figure out how I could also understand myself in this way. I set out to discover a more about who I might be in the world, beyond the walls of my house, beyond my relationships with my children and partner. It was time.
So that fall I enrolled in a program called Professional Reboot, organized by a Coach named Sherri Lassila. Every Friday morning for two months a circle of about eight women gathered together to take stock of their values and to start take new action in the world around us. One of the women wanted to create a program for sound healing. Years ago she had had a mystical experience of sound in a french cathedral that had led her to take courses about the healing properties of sound. The curiosity and desire to do more with music had been continuing to hang around her.
One day she arrived at the circle and with a question in her voice said, “I had this idea the other day. I thought maybe I could go over to the local nursing home and offer to do my sound healing for the residents over there. I could do it for free, just to try doing it with people?” The idea was clear and precise, and even though it came out of her mouth riding on an inquiry, it traveled to rest of us like the sound of a bell ringing on a sunny day. The whole circle experienced the sensation of yes, our bodies humming, almost sizzling with excitement and support. We responded to her, telling her, “Yes, you can do that, you totally should do that!” That week she made the proposal to the nursing home, to which they also said yes.
After that, yes became contagious in the circle. It was as if the physical feeling of “yes” had turned on for all of us, making it easier to recognize our own yeses. The next week one woman was off investigating the possibility of creating multicultural placemats for kids, another was exploring her photography, I started to get more practical and realistic about becoming a writer. I signed up for a class and submitted my work to a magazine. And the magazine said yes. Every time someone made progress, the circle took on a feeling of celebration and possibility. Together we were breaking through the stagnation that had prompted us to sign up in the first place. It was wonderful and juicy and so good that I decided I also wanted to train to help other women do the same.
It felt good to feel different than feeling excavated. I was making progress, and a high pitched energy zipped me forward week after week. With each leap I learned more about what I could do. It was fun, but moving faster than expected. By last April, the vision of myself in my faded velvet chair on the First Day of School had solidified.
It’s been a whole summer since I’ve been blogging, and I’m not sure if you’re with me here, but can you feel how low I was two years ago, and then how speedy and high my growth forward was? It was very herky jerky, just like one of those developmental spirals of disequilibrium that we see our children go through. By April I could see it for what it was, and could feel that equillibrium was likely to return by September.
So this past Tuesday, the first day back to school that I had planned for two years, arrived.
Three backpacks paired with back to school shoes were laid out in the front hall. School supplies were purchased. Calendars set. I was as organized as I’ve ever been. It was their first day of school, and my first day leaving them off to go back to work, the beginning of a new chapter for all of us. I wore a new dress to celebrate.
But after Eloise’s teacher sounded the rainstick and said, “OK Kindergarteners. It is time to give your parents a big hug. And moms and dad be sure to let your Kindergarteners know what a wonderful day they will have. It is time to say goodbye,” and Eloise and I had a very big hug and she ran to the rug, and I took one last look before I snuck out the door to begin the walk to my office that I had imagined for so long, there it was, that empty excavation feeling.
The sky was gray, and the red wagon I had walked Eloise to school in, bumped behind me feeling so light and so empty. All at once I felt how over it was. These last eleven years of babies at home, of mornings in the park, of naps, of food cut into bite sized pieces, of the homey feeling of preschools and the saintly women who work in those places, of girls just the right size for my lap. And even though there were a thousand times that I yearned for the freedom of this day, and even though I have grown into a role that I love and will love for a long time, it did not protect me from feeling the emptiness in the end. The reality of having the girls with me so closely, as they are in the summer, and then having them gone. Of feeling so taken up, and then, in a way, left behind. Perhaps it is a pattern of parenting, maybe mothering in particular, that you feel the weight of the child so very close, in your belly, in your arms, in your home, and then the absence of that weight and its aftermath.
These two years, I had been mistaken that there were other women who did not feel this. There is no possible other role that could protect a person from the reality of the loss. What I had been up against two years ago, and what I was up against on Tuesday was the truth about endings--that they come. And when they do we are often depleted, empty completely.
Our lives require, well, all of our life. We parent our hearts out so that our children can grow to become independent of us. We live as fully into our days as we can, until we have no more days. We are candles that will burn to the bottom of a wick and the only thing left after the the glowing light will be ash.
Oh shit. This again.
And that’s why I was laughing. I had just passed through a stage in which I had temporarily forgotten that this is what we’re up against. The dark feeling of two years ago wasn’t just a dark feeling, it was the dark feeling.
If I had understood this more clearly at the time, and I’m almost certain I was not able to, I don’t know if it would have mattered. Understanding is not the same as experiencing. It is possible to anticipate in advance that loss will hurt, but how it will actually feel in the midst of the thing cannot be known until the moment itself arrives. Preparation can only prepare us so much.
At the same time, my herky jerky ride, and the zippy energy that has propelled me these last couple of years, have conspired to bring on some important strengths that are helping me today. I have grown into work that gives me a way to take care of life in a daily. My writing practice and my coaching practice both build muscles that me keep me close to the pulse and the infinite texture of things. The vision of myself in my faded velvet chair, the one I have been holding like a favorite stone these last few months, has arrived. It showed up accompanied by the same dark cloud I was working so hard to avoid, but yet, here I am. Steady in my chair, lifted by the opportunity to write for a morning. I am looking at the difficult thing more clearly today than I did two years ago, and I still don't like it. But I have some new strengths that help me be with it a tiny bit more. And there is some peace in that.
So for as many days as I have to sit in this seat, I am grateful.
Blog friends, I have missed you. More than you know.