As winter damp season settles in, Three of Earth School is settling in too. After several iterations, Elliot’s Seattle school teacher has settled on a daily schedule—each day the same, except Wednesday; and that helps. I’m trying to turn short Wednesdays into the easiest day of the week, rather than the hardest day; and that helps. The flip chart of school tasks I dreamed up finally has some buy-in; and that helps. My patience is a little thicker a little more often.
All of that sounds so successful! Don’t be fooled. This was a much better week than last week, when—you may have noticed—I didn’t write a blog post. But every week has its challenges. Just like pretty much everything in life does. Especially in 2020.
I’m reading through my memoir manuscript about life with my mother one more time before it goes to the copy editor. I can see I got smarter and better at understanding how to make our life together tenable, but I messed up again and again right up to the end. And then time was up to get it better.
This pandemic community living and schooling that my family and I took on has been an experiment born of necessity. It’s hard for all of us. Adrian, at four, needs peers. Elliot, at six, along with peers, needs the schooling authority only a teacher has; certainly his grandmother does not. They both need the resource specialists they would have at school for their unique challenges. Wynne and Emma need interruption-free space to work. I crave time for my writing projects. None of us are getting all we need, Adrian least of all. But we all get some of what we need.
I’m still trying to figure out my role, beyond keeping these small people safe in their mothers’ absence. I walk the thin line of feeling responsible for Adrian’s early learning and Elliot doing his school work and disciplining them when behavior falls short of expectation and preserving the task of grandmother as safe haven in all things. It’s impossible.
As I begin a very welcome ten-day break from being school guide, I’m thinking about gratitude. Because that’s what one does this month. At the top of my list is this time with my family. Yes, it is hard. Yes, I miss my solitude and my freedom to choose what I do with my time. And I have become aware that these months—which, when it’s in the rear view mirror, will be but a flash in time—will be the most important thing I ever do in my life.
Well, that’s sobering incentive to do it well. But how does one define “well”? Not perfectly. There is no such thing as perfection, especially when living in community. We are dependent on each member doing the best they can; and everyone’s idea of best is different; we fall short at different times. In fact, we aren’t always striving for the same goal. What we hope for is that somehow, by turning, turning, we come round right, as the words of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” says.
When this time is over, I want to be satisfied that I did my best, as I wanted when I was my mother’s caregiver. The best I can do in any given moment will sometimes be terrible. My challenge, now as then, is to recognize the times I fell short of what was needed of me and figure out how to do better next time. And forgive myself when I don’t measure up to my hopes.
My friend Christina, in a Zoom call yesterday, said, “we are traveling our story. We stand in different spots at different times. Some parts crumble and others come into being and strengthen.”
This pandemic is the part of the story we are all traveling right now. With it comes whatever challenges that brings for each of us, both loss and gain. This coming week, the loss for many will be a holiday that might look different than usual; and grief may accompany the transfiguration. But Thanksgiving isn’t canceled. There is still the gratitude part.
I challenge you to write a gratitude list this week. Start it simple to get your heart flowing, then dig deep. Challenge yourself to share it with someone, perhaps in a FaceTime call on Thanksgiving, or take a picture and send it to someone. Double challenge: keep it up, write three things every day. (Some days they might all be wine. And that’s okay.)
Happy Day of Gratitude!