I could have titled this post any number of things. The restless mind. Guardrails. Back to the real world. All of these came to mind. This is because I have no idea what to write. I have no story formulated, which makes me believe I can’t write on Medium.
But, I miss writing on Medium, and the longer I wait, the worse it gets. So, this is bound to be a rambling, wandering, no-there-there post about… life. What post isn’t about life? It’s all about life. Right now, I feel grateful for guardrails.
By that I mean I am thanking God and my lucky stars for the job I got in the nick of time. I am wondering and mystified at the colleagues I’m meeting in my new workplace that seem to have financial freedom of a sort. I listen to them speak of visits to Bordeaux, dinners out, elite private schools for their kids, and I feel a pang of fear and jealousy.
Then, I remind myself that I am a one-income family. Worse, I am a one-income family who was freelancing for more than a decade. And while maybe I could have if I’d set my mind to it turned my little operation into a real, swinging company, I… didn’t. For whatever reason. For lack of talent, fear, disdain, a weird attachment to poverty, or to the artist’s way, or confusion about whether I’m rich or poor (because I honestly don’t know), I never really launched the company to a place where, for example, I’d get the attention of competition and be offered a tidy sum of money to sell and be gone, out of their hair. That’s how business-minded people think, after all.
Of course, I should have and should still learn to think this way. But, well, I didn’t. I chose instead to have a somewhat weird, rigid perhaps, focus on something very small: a small goal which I achieved. And that was to simply be home for my kids for the entirety of their childhoods, holding down the fort, as I like to say, and making two or three hot meals a day (minimum two). It was the least I could do. It was what I wanted. It was all I wanted. I had a perverse and possibly superstitious belief that being able to do this would mean the world. And while I’m not sure I was right, I’m also not sure I was wrong.
Case in point (and this is kind of funny, actually, I realize, and amazing in a way to prove my point on a blog topic I didn’t even know I’d write), I right this minute have a chicken poaching on the stove a few feet from where I type in a broth of water, black peppercorns, bay leaf, fat carrot, robust celery, parsley from the garden, thyme from the garden, a yellow onion, and a handful of garlic cloves.
While this is not particularly special or unusual, the fact that it’s 10:03 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and I just got home from work a little after 9 p.m., and I stopped at Safeway (God-forsaken Safeway) for pet food, eggs, cheese, milk, wine, tangerines, and bread, and am NOW poaching a chicken (and in the process starting a broth), when I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow to get out of the house by 6 a.m. to beat (hopefully) the grid-locked traffic down to Silicon Valley (a staple these days) to attend a meeting at 8 a.m. because I told my new boss I’d be there — that is a little more unusual.
I’m not trying to pat myself on the back so much. But, the truth is, I am proud of the fact that I hold this value. In a way, it’s not much. I should know that better than anyone. I’m a daughter of a mother who was absent in absolutely every possible way EXCEPT cooking. Somehow, even when she was sick from self-abuse, she almost always managed to put food on the table. And not just any food. Exceptional food. Sauces, souffles, curries, stews, roasted fowl, creamy soups, sauces: bearnaisse, hollandaise, bechamel. Even when no one any longer showed up to her table because she was so scary, she continued to cook. And to serve dinner. To an empty table. But, that’s another story.
I nearly called this post “Guardrails” because, well, right now, I feel like I have them. It may not last (but I hope it does) — this feeling of intense gratitude and peace that comes from having a job in a company again, after ten years of working on a client-basis. For the first time in a long time, I am being paid to research. To read. To steep myself in the culture of a company. For the first time in a long time, I’m being paid to read the company intranet. To peruse white papers galore. To educate myself. Even to take tutorials. Of all kinds. And, I’m availing myself of this largesse and latitude copiously.
Not only that. My new colleague told me that almost every day lunch magically appears in one or more of the kitchens in the building. All I have to do is rise up from my desk around 12:45 or 1 p.m. and go for a little walk. Scout out floor one, two, three, and four. Last week, I had lamb kebab, beautiful (i.e., balanced, not too tart) hummus, salad with black olives, feta, and mint, and perfect, flaky baklava that vies with the best I’ve had in this lifetime (and I’ve been to Greece twice).
I had Chinese stir fry that was decent. Indian food that was great: Samosas, curries, a rich, funky tomato stew of some kind, fragrant basmati rice.
Since I’m coming from a good distance north, I work flex hours, rolling in around 11 a.m. and leaving at 8 p.m. This means that when there are only three cars in the parking lot and trays of food remaining on the kitchen counters, I not only don’t feel guilty, but I feel I’m doing the universe a service by collecting the leftovers for my kids. Therefore, last week, I was able to feed my kids three nights when I came in at 9 p.m. with great food that I didn’t have to cook up.
Guardrails. I disdained employee work for eons because it felt slavish. But now, after years of trying to drum up work, searching LinkedIn, and gently arguing for my prices, I can relax and be paid to learn. I also have to produce of course, and I’m excited about that as well. I want to do a good job.
It a funny about-face, to be honest. But, I’m 48 years old, and we had a little scare recently. Two dear family members are in the hospital. I am fairly alone. I’m very busy and have many friends, so I’m not alone in that way. What I mean is, we have no safety net. If something happens to me, the house of cards falls rather quickly. And fall it does. In a heap that can probably not easily be scooped up and built again. In other words, we are too fragile. I know that. I aim to fix it.
My kids though are self-sufficient, to a degree. My son is grown — 18. A man. My daughter still needs me. I know this, even if she doesn’t (but she may, if she’s honest), and I’m very much with her. My commitment to her is iron-clad. She is 15, and I am with her.
Last night, on BART to the city (San Francisco), we played. We were on our way to hear (and see) Rebecca Solnit at City Arts and Lectures at the Nourse Theatre near City Hall. We sat across from each other. She’d make a face, and I’d copy it. Just like a mother with a newborn infant. And then she’d laugh. And once more, she’d screw up her nose, or twitch it (in the most bewitching fashion) or raise her eyebrow, and I’d follow suit, maybe exaggerating a little, or playing like it was really hard for me, and I’d do it “wrong” and make a funnier face, and she’d laugh.
I thought many times (as I’ve done hundreds of times before) that maybe I should have been a clown. I really like having a plastic face. I’m not afraid of being horrifyingly ugly or wrinkled or crazy-scary with my expressions. They crack my daughter up, and that is enough.
There is no greater happiness.
We also played footsies. True! We’d try to catch each other’s feet and hold them with our own. We laughed a lot. We connected. Hard. And through each second, the thought never left my mind (and it never does) that this could never have happened with my mom. This never did happen with my mom. Nothing like it. I don’t recall a single playful moment with my mom, in fact.
I’m certain I’m not a perfect mom. I know for a fact I’ve made mistakes, some of them egregious, some of them my kids may be on the therapist’s couch for some day, maybe even for a while. But, and I stand by this, I am there for them 100 percent, and I know they know that. At least I hope they do. My daughter especially. We had a trying time a few years ago where I let a man take my attention away from her. But I’m back. And it will never happen again. I remember now Gary, the sexy tennis player, who told me with a kind of pressure and insistence borne of experience, “Protect your daughter.”
Of course, it’s also unhealthy to devote myself so totally to my daughter that I have no life at all. But… wait. I check that. I hesitate. It actually may be very healthy to give my life, my time, my energy, my money, my resources, my love over to my daughter these final years of her life, these last precious years, that she lives with me.
Why not? Isn’t that why we have children? Isn’t it clear that we’re passing the baton? That all of our striving and effort is to set them up to carry that baton further and faster than we could have done ourselves? That is a satisfying life. That is a life well-lived.
My very cool, rather sexy older gynecologist told me many years ago, when my kids were 3 and 6, when their father and I had first separated, “I waited until my kids were grown up to date.” At the time, I scoffed and completely rejected her advice. It seemed preposterous to wait that long for a man, for a relationship, for security.
But, in essence, that is what I have done. And truth be told, it would have been a lot cleaner if I’d just done that consciously rather than attempt happily-ever-after with a string of unsuitable men while their father did the same thing with a string of women suitable or unsuitable I do not know, and my kids had to try on a dozen or so potential step-parents. That’s actually not okay.
So, now, even though I’m 48 and fear my sexuality is waning and sometimes I feel I would love a lover, I’m actually okay. Not okay, I’m happy and at peace with the decision to dedicate my focus and attention to my home, my kids, my home-before-my-kids-fly-the-coop-and-make-it-a-shell. Because what is a home without kids and family? I do not want to be here alone. I will not be here alone. I’ve always said I will join the Peace Corps or a co-housing community if and when my kids leave and I’m still “alone” (i.e., un-partnered).
There we are. The chicken is poached, and I’ve turned off the flame. My children are sleeping upstairs. My son has a cold. I brought him tea. My daughter is being picked up by another mom tomorrow for school. She’s set. They will have soup tomorrow. I will leave by 6 a.m. and be home by 9 p.m., something I would have not permitted not long ago. But this time, I’m grateful. We need a steady income. We need to batten down the hatches. It’s winter, and we have two family members in hospital. I’m getting older and can’t assume I’ll always be able to get a decent job at the drop of a hat.
It’s time to get real. “Real” writers also had to be real. To work real jobs, support families, and do their creative work on the side. I can still write on Medium and should. And must. I can still write my memoir. And should. And must. It’s a matter of focusing on the positive. Turning toward instead of away from my power. Reading more inspirational blogs on Medium. I can do it. It’s a matter of will power. We all can.
Thank you for guard rails. Two strips of metal that can keep us on the road, on track, holding to the pavement, shooting for a destination, perhaps unknown, but steady, on course, directed. At the wheel, it may not be possible to see where we’re going, but on high, it’s clear that we’re cleaving a path, strong and steady, toward a singular destination.
Thank you for that to the power that be.