Making It

At dinner tonight, I asked my kids what I should write my article about. “Pandas,” declared the five-year old, with flat certainty. “Or, if you don’t know enough about pandas,” my nine-year old began, “You could write about how hard it is to be a mama going to work every day and taking care of two kids and a house by yourself without enough sleep.” Taken aback, I just stared at him for a moment, doing some quick math in my head to make sure he was really only nine years old. “I guess I do know more about that than pandas,” I mused. He went on, “And you could say how even though it’s hard, you do it anyway, and that it feels good to be able to say you did something that was hard.”

Touché, nine-year old. To say that things have been hard this past year, both for me and for my children, would be an extreme understatement. Separation will do that to a family. But if anyone had told me a year ago that I’d be in this place a year later, I never would have believed them.

Thinking about how far I’ve come reminded me of a certain Sunday evening last winter, when my mother drove the two hours to my house to help me with the kids. Just a few weeks earlier, my husband had moved out, and I was reeling with anxiety, depression, shame, insomnia, and PTSD.

My mother shook her head. “You’re not going to make it,” she said softly, mostly to herself.

I remember how grateful I felt that my mom was there. The house was warm. The kids were happy, and the laundry was done. For once, dinner pleased everybody, and I had help and conversation while I did the dishes. I dried the lemon juicer and when I opened the cupboard to put it away, the door promptly fell off its hinges, and collapsed dramatically onto the kitchen floor.

“Oh my goodness,” my mother blurted. “Should you call him?”

Ignoring her question, I hung up my dishtowel and surveyed the damage. “If you can do the kids’ bath time and teeth-brushing and keep them out of here, I think I can fix it,” I said, kneeling down to peer at the twisted metal hinge that had landed on the bottom the cabinet, inside a small nest of tiny screws.

I can’t quite bear to revisit the calamity that ensued, but half an hour later I was still squatting and cursing on my kitchen floor. My mother edged cautiously into the kitchen, with my freshly bathed and uncharacteristically subdued children peeking out from behind her to check on my progress. At that point, I had settled on removing the door completely, rather than trying to fix the broken hinge. My mother shook her head. “You’re not going to make it,” she said softly, mostly to herself. “You don’t want to call him?” I clenched my teeth and shut my eyes, squeezing back tears. “No, Mom. I do not.”

She efficiently shuttled the kids down the hall for bedtime stories, as I put the toolbox away, feeling defeated. My husband, wherever he was, had just repaired this cupboard door a month and a half ago…he probably would know what to do. I saw my mom’s perfect bob haircut swinging as she shook her head at my sad, broken-down life. “You’re not going to make it.”

Think about what you’ve experienced and achieved this year—then imagine the open-mouthed expression on some earlier version of yourself at seeing it all. Day by day, prove the grating voice inside you wrong—the one that says you can’t do it. You’re doing it. Keep moving.

Maggie Smith

The number of people who have held me up as I stumbled through the past year is too long to list, and my mother is undeniably among them. Another particularly influential force has been poet Maggie Smith, whose essays and poetry I’d been familiar with already. But when she started posting daily tweets as a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other way to move herself through the grief, anger, and uncertainty of her own divorce, I began to follow her religiously. The similarities between our experiences felt uncanny. She had two children (So did I). She’d been with their father for nineteen years (exactly the same). She was a writer (I’m working on it). Her very first tweet about her process, or “note to self,” as she called them in the beginning, was “Do not be stilled by anger or grief. Burn them both and use that fuel to keep moving.” I was hooked immediately, and still look forward every day to her reminders to “keep moving.”

Some days are harder than others, of course. I remember one particularly hard morning getting the kids out the door for school, and juggling texts and emails for my three different jobs. It just so happened to be my ex’s birthday, and I was attempting to drown my self-pity in several cups of coffee while I scrolled through Twitter. And that was the morning Maggie Smith tweeted “Think about what you’ve experienced and achieved this year—then imagine the open-mouthed expression on some earlier version of yourself at seeing it all. Day by day, prove the grating voice inside you wrong—the one that says you can’t do it. You’re doing it. Keep moving.”

I am going to make it. I have been making it. Each day, when I got up and made breakfasts and lunches and found mittens and homework folders and library books, I was making it. When I simultaneously played one child in tic tac toe, put on mascara, and explained to the other child why we don’t call people “retarded,” I was making it. When I strapped car seats into the back of an Uber to get the three of us to Enterprise so that we could rent a car for a couple of days, I was making it. When there was a fight and the police came to the house, and the kids sat in knuckled silence on my bed, holding hands while I talked to the officers, I was making it. When I said, “Yes, we can have popcorn in my bed and watch a movie on the iPad tonight,” I was making it. When one kid sat in my bed that night eating popcorn, scratching his head and casually mentioning that his best friend might have lice…well, at that point I did start to wonder if I would make it. We made a bedtime-hour rental-car trip to Target for lice combs and acrid hair products, followed by two grueling shampoos and an epic laundry night of four towels, two pillows, two mattress pads, four sheets, two comforters, nine stuffed animals, four hats, two winter jackets, five throw pillows, and one bottle of wine. But I made it.

And I add to what I am making, sometimes just a pinch at a time, other times by the handful, every day and every night. Making lists, making plans. Making mistakes. Making room for compassion and mercy, both for myself and for the ones who hurt me. Making a career, anew. Making time for relationships that nourish me. Making space for my kids to see me trip and fall, and making sure they see me get up each time. Making myself remember that change takes time, and growth takes longer. Making myself, above all else, keep moving.

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