Homecoming

To the blackberries on the interurban trail,

I promise to never take you for granted again. I offer you my hands, the bare skin of my forearms. I will reach through your brambles and ignore the scrapping of your thorns, the stinging sensation spreading up my arm to taste the sun kissed juice of your fruit exploding in my mouth.

To the apple tress in the October moonlight,

I had to go. I had to try. I hope you will understand. I did not fail. I am not returning to you as a last resort. I am not returning because I couldn’t make it there. I made it. I wasn’t any happier than I had been, I wasn’t any more important, and I wasn’t any more financially secure. I was just in a different location. I learned a lot about myself on the way. And I learned a little more about self-acceptance.

To the purple starfish clinging to the side of the rocks at Teddy Bear Cove,

I return to you in reverence and with wisdom. You need me. I need you. We belong together. I will give away all my worldly possessions and sacrifice my well thought plans to be in your presence again, to be wrapped in your glowing oceanic gaze.

To the blinding angle of the sun in winter,

I am no longer afraid to stand in the light, and for those days when I am not feeling quite so brave, I have sunglasses.

I want a good life. I want sunshine and berries and apples and starfish and laughter. I want dancing, lots of dancing. I want a quiet place to read a book and drink tea. I want to watch my son discover the world around and within him.

I don’t want to be rich; I want to be happy.

I am happy here.

The great return

Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic ~Frida Khalo

I sat naked on the edge of the bed, my legs tucked beneath me, lost in my own thoughts, as he got dressed. I felt him looking at me, turned my head to meet his gaze, and he said: “He never should’ve let you go.” I looked at him, blinking. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to refuse him, to explain how I am such a complicated bundle, how there were plenty of reasons my exes should have all run screaming, but I didn’t. I couldn’t because the way he was looking at me stopped me from making any disagreement. I took him back to his car, said goodbye and went on about my day, but I kept hearing his words play back in my head. I tried to make sense of them, and I realized no one had ever said anything like that to me. Then it occurred to me that maybe this was just the first time I had been able to hear it. To hear someone say I see you, quite literally I can see all of you, you have hidden nothing and you have nothing to hide, and you are worth whatever work is required felt like it might be the best birthday present I have ever received. But the truth is my ex-husband (whom my friend was referring to) didn’t let me go. I did. I let me go. Because I didn’t know that I was worth the work. And it is only recently, many years after losing sight of my shore that I have found my way back to myself.

I still feel like my life is a mess. I feel haphazardly. Like I have permanent bed head. Like I forgot my glasses somewhere… again. Like all my bills are overdue. Like I feel dizzy at the end of the day and try to remember the last time I had water… this week. And there is always some deadline for something that just passed. I have no idea how many friends’ birthdays I have been too busy to notice. Like Christmas… did that happen? Is it May?! When do I get to breathe? When do I get to sit quietly and drink tea? Why does everything feel so relentless? And when did I stop being good at being busy?!

This year more than any other has given me stretch marks on my soul, which is how I have come to believe that maybe the hippies are right. In three days, I am turning 28. This is my Saturn returning. I am crossing over a major threshold and entering a new stage in my life.

In recognition of this shift, I have decided to stop picking myself apart with all the ways I am failing, to push myself just a little bit less hard and try to find a way to look at myself a little more gently. When I catch a glimpse of my reflection looking like a hot mess, instead of cringing, I smile, a real smile. When I end up lost on a completely different highway going the wrong direction when all I wanted to do was exit so I could turn around, instead of feeling inadequate, I just laugh. When I show up one minute late to work instead of a few minutes early with child in hand, bags falling off my shoulders and a frazzled look on my face, I let it go. And when I leave work at a reasonable hour to spend time with my son, I don’t allow myself to feel guilty for prioritizing my family. I have realized that if I am able to assume the best in others, then why not assume I am doing my best and let that be enough. Because maybe all this time they were right, maybe I am magic. Maybe we all are.

Divorce-iversary

Being your ex-wife is pretty wonderful. It’s better than being a wife ever was… except for the part where I realize the amazing adventurous, kind, patient and infinitely generous version of you that I see now -the one someone else has brought out in you- is the one that I wanted to be married to. It’s not that I am giving her the credit for your metamorphosis, not entirely anyway, but I do truly believe that in a healthy and successful couple-ship, partners bring out the best in each other, you inspire one another to be more of who you really are, underneath all the neurosis and insecurities and the whateveries. And most importantly you encourage each other to keep growing.

So I am happy for you that you’ve found that, that you have that kind of relationship in your life because you deserve to be happy, to be loved like that.

But I guess despite the passage of time, I still don’t really understand why we couldn’t do that for each other. I only know that we didn’t.

I only know that the variable that changed in the you + me = not-very-happily-ever-after is replacing me, and now the equation is much more successful. I feel sad and confused and –as is such a common sensation for me- like I fucked it all up.

Also I never really realized how much you liked me, like as a human being not just as a romantic partner, or how much you paid attention to me and the things that I value and care about. I didn’t know. You never told me before, but I also didn’t ask.

When we divorced I seriously questioned whether or not I ever loved you, whether or not I had ever loved anyone, but what I have come to realize is that I was asking myself the wrong question. It is so obvious to me that I loved you, I have loved many many people. In fact, loving is something that comes very easily to me. It’s my super human power. The question I really needed to be asking myself was whether I’ve let those people love me back, whether I was able to accept their love. I didn’t trust you to love me. I kept waiting for you to break my heart, and ultimately I ended up breaking my own.

So now we hang out together as a family and tell stories about “Remember when…” and it’s cute and easy, and I wonder why it ever seemed so damn hard. The conclusion that I keep circling back to is it’s got to be me, not that I am unlovable, but rather I don’t know how to be loved. I know I am loved. That is not the same thing as letting someone love you.

I know you are never going to go salsa dancing with me, we likely wont ever carry a full conversation in Spanish, my taste in movies will forever provoke protest, etc. Ultimately, I see what has always been true: that we make such great friends, that is what we were always meant to be, and I am so grateful that we get to keep being friends. And seeing you be amazing in your new relationship gives me hope, that I didn’t ruin you, that I am not ruined, and that someday when I fall in love with someone new, someone who will dance with me, I will learn to let them love me back. That maybe I will learn to love myself as much as they do, as much as you did.

Mis cejas

He told me I have nice eyebrows. Eyebrows. Not you have beautiful eyes or I like your smile or I love your laugh or even damn girl your ass looks good in those jeans. Nope. Eyebrows. He likes my eyebrows. It is the most random complement I have ever received, but I don’t really care because I’m not interested anyway. I told him thank you, and let him know that I was with someone else… which in that moment, was no longer actually true, but I didn’t feel the need to explain that to him. Later while we were dancing, he asked me if my boyfriend would be jealous. I raised my eyebrows. Boyfriend? No te dije novio. Dije novi-a. I turned under his arm. ¿Eres bisexual? He asked. I nodded. We continued dancing. ¿Ella es bella? He wanted to know. Sí. I replied. He leaned in for a spot turn and with a flirtatious grin, asked ¿Más qué tú? I nodded emphatically. He raised his eyebrows in disbelief. ¿De verdad? I stopped dancing and looked him in the eyes: Yes, she really is.

But what I really wanted to tell him was that she made me nervous from the very first moment I saw her. Nervous in that way that fills your stomach with a strange fluttery feeling, and I knew even from across the room that I was in trouble. Then she smiled and I melted. It took me two weeks to even get up the courage to talk to her, and then magically one day, I got her phone number in an uncharacteristically sly and unassuming way, and she got mine, and we haven’t stopped talking since.

I wanted to tell him that loving her has made me a better person. I have been small and powerful, gigantic and fragile and everything in between. My heart has become a kinder, more inviting place. I have grown more patient. I have learned to give better hugs, to sit with terrible and watch it transform, and to not take so much so personally, especially when angry. I have learned to be vulnerable and let others bear witness to my own sadness. And to not always be so strong and solitary.

The way I interact and empathize with others has changed because of my interactions with her, and if I were to tell her all of this, she would brush it off, not acknowledge that she has been any sort of positive influence, and she would tell me I am prettier than her. But gifts don’t always know they are gifts. We can’t always see the light and warmth we emanate.

~~~

And as I was typing this I received a call, notifying me that my grandfather had passed away. I told my son what had happened, and he was thoughtful for a moment before he said earnestly: It is a good thing he died after Christmas. My maternal grandfather had passed away on Christmas day when I was a child, so I had to agree, but I was curious to hear his reasoning, so I asked him why, and he told me: Because that way he didn’t miss out on getting presents!

Presents. Presents are pretty important when you are five, so in his own five-year-old logic, my son was showing a great deal of empathy for his great-grandpa, but what it immediately made me think of is the way people talk about the present as a gift. I started thinking about presents and the present and this one brief and delicate life we are given. And I realized that the best way to celebrate the life of my grandfather is to live like every single day is Christmas. Like unless we live our life as if we are driving a stolen car we are not living it. Like being loved and loving others as often and as honestly as possible might be the best present we could ever hope to unwrap. Like no matter how it turns out, loving another person with your whole heart is never a mistake. Like being heartbroken is really just an opportunity for your heart to grow bigger.

Sit with me

I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately. Seeing him show up in surprising ways like the face my son made at dinner last night in exactly the same way my father would have if he had been there. Or like when I was searching for a recent email in my inbox that I needed to respond to and my search pulled up a chain of correspondences with my dad about Christmas, the one that ended up being his last. Five years later I miss him. I don’t think that missing ever really stops. It just changes.

I remember when he was dying and we would go and sit with him and watch TV. I hated it. It felt like such a waste of time. I mean he’s dying and we are sitting and watching some bullshit TV show. I didn’t get it. I was uncomfortable. I was young. Nothing really made sense, and I was frustrated. I wanted to do something, but there was nothing for me to do, but sit there. Why did I need to be here to watch him watching TV?! I didn’t feel like I was needed. I felt like I was just in the way and that the best thing I could do was to be independent and on my own so at least I would be one less thing he needed to worry about. And there was plenty to worry about. So I left.

It was only after he died that I started to understand the value of sitting with people, on the phone or in person. Sitting with you means I value you, it means I don’t need you to be or do anything other than you are, it means even though I could be doing a lot of other things I am sitting here with you because you matter to me. This is a lesson I am learning again with my son. He is always wanting me to play Legos with him, but what playing Legos means is he plays Legos and I sit and watch. It. Is. So. Boring. And I often think: Why does he even want me here? He’s not actually playing with me. Sometimes I build my own creations, and sometimes I try to help him, but usually we play beside each other not with each other. I can last for about 20 minutes before the anxiety of everything else I could be doing while he is playing independently takes over and I creep away to do the laundry, write an email, etc. Then he usually ends up following me, asking me to come back and play with him.

What I’ve realized though is that he doesn’t really need me to play Legos (clearly he is quite skilled at this) he just wants me near, wants to be noticed, wants to know that I am there, that I will be there. So now when I’ve hit my max of sitting idle, I’ve started bringing the laundry into his room to fold, writing my emails or lesson plans or whatever while I sit next to him. He keeps playing, occasionally pausing to ask for assistance in locating a particular Lego piece or to show me his new invention.

It’s the same reason we ask friends to go shopping with us, why we want them at our sports events, why dancing is always more fun when my friends come along even if they don’t actually dance. Because I don’t need 100% of your attention 100% of the time. I just need you to be here, to remind me that I am real, that I matter enough for you to sit here with me whether I am happy, sad or too confused to even know what I feel.

I can’t sit with my dad anymore. I wish I had sat with him more, and that’s not something I can fix, but I am grateful that this experience helped me learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, with feeling inadequate and unproductive and to. keep. sitting. anyway.  Quality time looks like a lot of different things, sometimes it even looks like sitting in silence next to someone you love because there really is nothing to be said, your presence is all that is required.

Two minutes

The truth is I am moody. I need a lot of time to process events before I decide how I feel about them, and the busier I am the more unrealistic this “think time” becomes and so I wander around with all my emotions jumbled up in my tummy.

I storm, moody, brooding, and usually, I’m not even sure why… at least not immediately.

I have enough self-awareness to know that my response is a disproportionate reaction to whatever just happened, the thing that set me off, but I am too far-gone to find the real cause. Everything is overwhelming and nothing will make it better, and I want everyone and everything to GO AWAY! I don’t want you to touch or try to cheer me up. And I don’t want to explain myself because nothing makes sense anyway.

She watches me stomp around the room, cleaning because I’m pissed and I need to create order. The chaos of my inner terrain suddenly seeming manageable if I could just get the house straightened up, if only the toys were put away. I can feel her watching me, but I ignore her because I am pretty sure I am mad at her too even though as I fume around I cant really articulate why. I can’t think. It doesn’t matter. It’s her fault anyway… probably.

Finally, when I have put the room back together, she says from her seat on the couch “Come here” with her arms outstretched. I turn halfway in the direction of her voice and eye her suspiciously with a sidelong glance. Undeterred, she says “Just for two minutes.” Without wanting to, my feet, ignoring the stubborn hurt devouring my stomach, begin to propel me towards her. “I’ll even time it for you,” she says messing with her phone. I slide in beside her on the couch. Effortlessly my head finds its place in the curve of her neck. With my ear to her chest, I can hear her heartbeat. With my hand resting on her abdomen, I can feel her breathing. And slowly I forget everything that came before the moment I found myself. right. here. The two minutes pass, and now I don’t want to move. I don’t know why I was upset before. I don’t care. I just want to live here. Forever. Or for at least as long as possible.

It took twenty-seven years to realize that most of the time, I don’t need to fix or defend anything. I just need to be held. And it took someone as moody as me to be brave enough to offer, and when I resisted, to insist in such a way that I could no longer refuse.

Heartsore and Hungry

Everyday in kindergarten I tell my students: “There are no boy colors or girl colors. There are only colors and you are allowed to use whatever color you want.” We have a new student. Today he started to make fun of one of the other boys: “You got pink (laughs) that’s a girl color!” The whole table said in unison “They’re just colors. He can use whatever color he wants.” Schooled. A few minutes later, same child looked around, reached into the box and picked out a pink crayon, smiled and started coloring. Social progress is sometimes harder to measure than test scores, but equally as valuable.

Evidence that I have at least accomplished some small token of equity. Most days I feel like I don’t really have anything to offer them. What I mean is I have no idea what I am doing. And doing my best just doesn’t feel… well, very good.

On the worst days when I am sure that I am utterly failing them academically, when I am so tired and frustrated that I sit down and sigh, put my hands to my face and rub my eyes in front of them, when I yell so much my voice is hoarse and cracking by lunchtime, I wonder why I am here. I wonder who the hell thought I was qualified to help these children learn. anything. ever. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s not that I don’t understand the importance of early childhood education. I care more than I could ever explain, and I know exactly why ECE is critical to children’s future success in life.

The problem is that most of the time my knowledge gap feels greater than theirs, and I want to be good at this like yesterday. No, I want to be great at this. I want to be transformative, but most days I feel mediocre at best.

I spend my lunch organizing their binders and backpacks. I spend my planning time calling parents. I wake up way too early and go to sleep way too late. I barely see my own child. And I still have yet to find the light and joy that I led myself to believe would come easily to me. Teaching kindergarten is a lot like being a mother… just with 44 of my own children instead of one. Fortunately, I’ve yet to be judged by my son’s academic success (that comes later) so in some ways being a mother is actually less pressure.

The joy of mothering is sometimes big and shining, but it mostly exists in the tiny unseen moments like yesterday when I gave my son a hug and said I love you, as he left my classroom to begin his day. He told me “I know mama. I know you love me no matter what.” That. That is what gets me through the agonizingly rough times in mamaland, and trust me, there are plenty.

Love is often (always?) the only thing I can offer my students. I love them as if they were my own children. Love them from a fierce and quiet place that will not let go. That’s got to be worth something. It’s not a conscious decision. In fact, I feel as though my love for them is completely beyond my control. I have no choice in the matter. In the same way I fell in love with my son before he was born, I loved my students when they were just names on a list, bags of school supplies in my empty classroom.

In my room by the door, at adult eye-level, I have a quote from Audre Lorde which reads: “The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.” The riot, I think, lives inside of me. I put that quote up to inspire me to teach, but everyday I see it and think that truthfully it refers to my learning process rather than theirs. On the opposite wall is the clock and in between a great lucha. I am fighting for my students, fighting with them, fighting my way upstream. No, really you do want to learn this. You can learn this. You must learn this. I must learn how to teach you this.

And my love for my students is the driving force. My love is like a one-woman riot. Underweight and bone-achingly tired, I kneel at the base of an enormous and unrelenting wall, my heart in my hand like a hammer against the coarse bricks. This is all I have to offer, everything that I am, and it seems like so little in the face of such adversity.

And when I start to think it will never be enough, that I can not go on, they bring me yellow flowers to put in my hair at recess, and the “worst” kid looks up at me while we are waiting for everyone to get quiet in line, stares innocently into my eyes and says: I love you. And I know he means it.