Take the Time to Waste a Moment

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If you have not had this tea, you are wrong.

I apologize for the hiatus, whoever you are that is offended by it. There has been a big, heaping helping of life dumped in my lap, and it has all seemed to culminate as of late. Not my favorite thing, that’s for sure. I have probably sat my rear in this chair to do exactly what I’m doing now, only to get four texts, two emails, and a cacophony of whining and complaints that required my immediate attention.

It’s not that I don’t love you. I just love you less than other things.

Because that helps.

Anyway. Here I am now, at long last, with my tea, my fall lighting through the windows, and one of my favorite tea cups. Fun fact- all my favorite mugs and tea cups have chips in them except this one, given to me by my sister during the onset of my major life changes. I am certainly an avid coffee drinker, out of necessity and pleasure, but it says something when I’m getting to tea. If I’ve got hot tea out, I’m officially in the, Oh, shit. Oooohhh, shit. Stay calm. Hold on to it. You’re alright- everything is gonna be okay, thought process. If you see something about cinnamon tea (which is the only fall tea, frankly) and yoga together, I’m definitely coping and trying to quiet my soul. See something about those things, a rosary, and bourbon, and it’s pretty much DEFCON 1: We’re busting out saints, meditation, and deliciousness because it’s going down for real.

I have been considering why it is that I do these things. Why do I cope this way, and when did I start doing it? There’s certainly something to say for just surviving, and I think everyone goes through those periods where, for no particular reason at all, we just start making habits. I also think that we all have triggers that take us back, unexpectedly, to periods of time or people of a time that influence our mental pathways. I could, quite possibly, be one of the most emotionally reactive and tirelessly introspective humans alive, but these things lay on my heart underneath and on top of my current circumstances and have me inwardly laying on the floor with limbs sprawled, feeling the world spin out.

Now, I love fall. Not basic chick love fall, but in my bones and in my soul love fall. I always feel restless, borderline reckless, and prone to flights of fancy. Part of this I blame on the landscape that makes up the areas I frequent.

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Shut up and feel my October Smoky Mountains. Now nod in indication of your understanding as to why I escape here when I can.

Part of this is because I’m really hot natured, and living through a Southern Summer when you have thick blood makes you glad to see your breath and feel your nose and cheeks get red. Regardless, it never fails that I am emotionally susceptible and guilty of the excess that Anais Nin would say is necessary to good writing and empathy. And something always seems to come up when the leaves are down. And I always respond with making a really nice presentation of my heart on an artful piece of good china and watching it unceremoniously drop to the floor at the feet of someone or something.

I can admit my own culpability here, but still. 

It might feel a little played out, the theme of risking fulfillment and destruction at the hands of something you love or while in a state of necessary vulnerability. Doesn’t change the fact that that shit happens, and it blooooows.

 

Without getting too far into my struggles, but also refraining from being annoyingly cryptic, I have spent the late summer and early part of the fall preparing for a court case initiated by the father of my children. As well as managing (with much needed help from my family) three trees coming down, a vehicle dying, a house refinancing and repairs (which still aren’t done), assisting with an audit, a job that requires me to field thirty or more phone calls from entitled America, and the usual financial woes of single parenthood. There really aren’t enough hours in the day.

Along the way, I’ve quietly sacrificed odds and ends to sustain these efforts. Sleep. Cooking real food. Trail running and rucking. My general standards of fitness. Journaling. And when I looked at my boss yesterday morning, I could feel in her gaze what I’m pretty sure all my loved ones have been hinting at over the last several months. Woman. You, yourself, as a person and property of your own, are a mess. Those little whispers came screaming forward, and all the red flags that I had quieted with, I just have to keep it together until the other side of ________. This is temporary. Just a little further, flogged me as I sat in a conference room and started to cry. These things that I have sacrificed were the little bits and pieces of myself that I need to plug the holes where I have given parts of me away. Not just now or recently, but over the last months- last years, really- of my life.

I never regret giving. I want so badly to be the rock and shoulder of anyone who comes to me. I will give you anything I have (save my children and their safety) with no resentment or expectation of return. All I want is that human moment. I want to be able to manage without putting anyone out or asking them to take time out to help deal with my problems. Just be a useful human, out of everyone’s way, bringin’ a little sunshine.

But.

But, but, but.

That desire has to be responsibly monitored and managed- without guilt. And I think that’s where I get into trouble. It’s right, as far as I’m concerned, to show compassion, sympathy, empathy, hopefulness, and the benefit of the doubt. It’s also, apparently, really freakin’ important to gauge yourself and your realistic abilities to help. There shouldn’t be a fear of being indicted on counts of selfishness for looking after yourself and your own so long as it doesn’t supercede the natural rights and respect all humans should have. But I always feel a little guilty when I say no. I always feel a little weak, a little cruel, a little…hateful and hypocritical.

Yes, I know. I knooooow. I can hear all your collective face-palming. It’s justified, to an extent. This sounds like common sense. But if I had to have a fault, can I at least get a high five for this being one of them? I mean, not an enabling high five, but more like a at least you aren’t an asshole high five.

No? Bueller? Okay, then.

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Here’s a Smoky Mountain sunset to make us all feel better.

You can’t pour from an empty cup, and I know I’ve passed that along multiple times to other people. While helping them. When my cup is almost empty. But, nonetheless, it is the truth, and I stumble upon it every so often when I’ve gone too far. With my usual flair, it’s typically in a rather impressive fashion, actually. The last time I “remembered” this was when I had an episode of syncope brought on by “immense stress” (which surrounded my agonizing consent to divorce after living through the slow death of my marriage for a couple years), fell in my bathroom, hit my head, and had a small seizure. I still remember my sister and I sardonically laughing when the ER doc asked if I was dealing with anything that could cause stress or anxiety.

Well, shit, Doc. I’m about to take three small children and try to make a life after this last foray crashed and burned. I haven’t worked in six years. I have no idea how to navigate this emotionally, on my own or with my family, whom I haven’t brought up to date on all the things that brought us here. I feel a little like a failure, and I’m terrified. Otherwise, just sitting here, coloring in this adult color-by-number my sister found. Want a chicken biscuit?

I keep telling myself that I can handle it, I can manage it, I can do this on my own without bothering anybody. A lot of times, I really can. Life happens, and I am, truthfully, very adaptable. Despite how often I cry, it’s just that initial reaction by my heart that has to work itself out most of the time before I can make some very rational decisions preceded by thorough discernment and prayer. I’m not always falling apart, and I think there might be some hubris at the root of this capability that allows me to bring myself to this point, wherein I am, actually, falling apart a little. It’s an interesting duality- my head and my heart. I am efficient, hard-working, and courageous. I am also a bleeding heart.

So while I’m still doing what needs to be done- for general life and also for my own defense in this month’s hearing- I’ve also been frantically stifling my insides, which want to rock back and forth in a ball because all of this ugliness is really overwhelming. I never, ever, wanted life to get to this point. But here it is, and it must be dealt with, much to the dismay of my innermost character.And as I’m trying to tread water, I have recently begun slipping a little further and a littler further beneath the surface, drawing the attention of my boss and various other higher-ups who know what I’m capable of and also how badly I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I have been taking on water, and it’s hard to mask that and muster my usual sunshine when the depths feel like they’re looming.

My performance at work is fine. Bills are paid. With a little help (organized by my family while I wasn’t at home, which is an incredible testimony to the people in my life, as they have stepped up without my asking – because we’ve established that I rarely ask-to make my life a little easier time and again), the house is kept. Homework gets done. On the surface, and as far as the basic tenants of life are concerned, it’s not dire at all.

But because of the hurt this causes me, my consistent worry about the mental health of my children, my over-extension of availability, and general stress, I, on the inside, need rescuing.

Which only I can do, in my own time.

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Making our escape.

So after weeks of nudges, I consented in the conference room, at the behest of a brilliant supervisory team and human resources department, to taking some leave for a while to look after myself. The time will be useful as far as preparing the for the hearing, but, more importantly, it will be useful in resurrecting myself. Here in the fall, when my heart has outweighed some of my head. As usual. And perhaps when I am most in need of that time.

And so we circle back around after all that lengthy jaunting about to my commentary on fall and coping.

My children have been displaying levels of tension, which I’m sure have had a lot to do with  how busy I’ve been and my inability to hide my feelings. They know I’ve been stressed, and while they can’t understand why (nor would I ever tell them about things they cannot process), they have been concerned and missing their mom. Normal Mom, who is singing and cooking and taking them outside to wander around mountains and creeks. Normal Mom, who is a firm disciplinarian, but also quick to snuggle the mutual hurt away. Normal Mom, who will talk about anything and everything with patience and frankness when something is changing or concerning. They are board and a little confused; we’ve all been surviving, of late.

I have been taking every opportunity in the last week or so to take them to some of the mountain parks we have in town while the foliage is pretty and the weather cool. I want them to have an old-school childhood outside, and I’ve really done a shit job with that recently because of errands, paperwork, and fatigue. They, like me, get tired of tv and surface entertainment. Subsequently, I have also discovered that they cope like their mother.

Outside.

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Get the ruck out!

Much of our relationship has been repaired since these concerted efforts, and they’re talking to me more freely again. I think we’re all a little more at ease, and I know there’s a glow that follows me for a few hours after I’ve been hiking or otherwise happily helping them engage the environment in which we live. My oldest brother and I were talking on the drive up to see our brother get married about how much we took these landscapes for granted as children, treasuring them dearly now as adults. When I watch my kids crash through leaves, squeal in cool springs, or study small finds along trails (that all end up in their rucks, which magically feel super heavy on the return mission), my soul is elevated.

Yaaaaaass, dahlings. Have this goodness.

And be a more like your mom.

I did much of the same during the fall proceeding my consent to divorce. We were often left to our own devices, anyway, and when you’re one mom with three small children, you tend to shy away from activities that require your children to have more adult supervision, socially acceptable mannerisms, or patience. They can climb and jump and yell and throw all they want on trails, and then I get a good nap out of them afterward. While I’m harboring all the pain, let them have a carefree childhood. Let them have these things to fall back on when the world gets turned upside-down and becomes somewhat scary or hard to understand.

And for myself, I needed that quiet space to dwell in my thoughts. To exert that nervous energy and remove myself from the midst of the things that weighed on my heart. Naturally, I’m just a physically expressive person anyway. Nature is an unbiased playground for those willing to seek it out and interact with it. Actually, I can remember being as young as seven or eight, playing in the unfinished parts of the neighborhood in which I grew up, imagining that it was my own little hide-away. Somewhere only I would I ever know on paths that I made myself.

Something that is mine but also isn’t my responsibility.

I may have just answered my recent question as to how long I’ve been doing the outside coping thing and why.

At any rate, when I picked up my children early yesterday after a terrible morning for us all, they were delighted that I could take part in more of the Halloween festivities.

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My oldest, when told that I would be around more for the next little while, actually became very emotional and said, Like you used to, and held my hand through most of the night’s trick-or-treating. This morning, when dropped off for school, she said, I’ll see you right after school now, right, Mommy? Because you’re home for a while? and skipped right into the school with her brother. As I drove home, allowing the car to get cool with these brisk mornings, a song or two played that reminded me of the same fall I mentioned above. The yellow light washed over the fields and things I pass on the way home, and my heart went back to the people who were my compasses and the places I found peace during that time.

It was like sunshine on my soul for a brief moment, living in the memory of the solace I did find and knowing some of that has returned to me of late after carrying it in my heart a while. Charlie was in kindergarten that year, and I had several mornings of the same light and sounds and smells and feelings (usually followed by afternoon naptimes spent slipping away for trails). I had taken for granted that things I did have during that time in the enormity of what I was maritally going through, and now I miss them.

I find myself struggling to stay present during the time on leave wherein I can have some of those precious things for a while. My children were so cooperative this morning, and we weren’t rushing around to get out the door. I have plans to make a dinner I have missed. I’ll likely leave here and go trail running (or try to…I haven’t been running lately). I can do homework with them, and I’m currently writing. But I know I can’t have this in the indefinite way I had before (or, at the time, felt like it was indefinite, which was a safety net emotionally), so a silent dread of my return to work is casting a small shadow on my reveling. The kids and I will both be so disappointed. Especially Charlie, who is the only one old enough to remember it from before.

I just want to have this peace with my children, dammit. Everything else leave us alone!

I have gone from my initial awkwardness at trying to manage life as a working mom to an awkwardness of trying to remember how to embrace life at home. I’m thinking too much for someone who should be enjoying free time.

But this is how I minister to myself, in a backwards way, and I’m definitely a proponent of addressing and processing experiences. So I’ll be here, with my cinnamon tea, remembering the peace from coping that served me well in times similar to these, going home to the person who survived then and will survive now. I’m going to recover her and maintain her, not just to plug my own holes, but also to restore Normal Mom in the home my children know, too. Fall, my old friend- we have work to do.

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