Traveling the Story: Gratitude

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.

(Lasers, of course.)

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!

Did I mention sunrises?

12 thoughts on “Traveling the Story: Gratitude

  1. I keep reminding myself as I navigate this bizarre year that good enough is good enough. I’m grateful despite everything to still feel mentally as well as physically healthy, and grateful that because of the number of times I’ve lit my birthday candles I have some perspective on the meaning of one year. I think for our grands this year is a lifetime and I think we have no idea how that will effect them long term.

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    1. Sometimes I find myself thinking, this will be a flash in the pan; just an interesting story they will tell some day, if they are old enough to remember. Other times I think of all they will have to overcome to find an acceptable normal and it feels overwhelming. How will this year’s first graders know to behave in a classroom when they had just a few months of kindergarten before they were home for the duration? How will they know how to interact with classmates? How will the four year learn that it’s okay to play with strangers on the neighborhood playground? How will they separate from their mothers for an entire day? And those might be the easy things. I worry. And I know it’s not my job to worry about the future, but to be present in this moment–a year with me they would not have had and won’t have again. Thank you for reading and for commenting. What is your story?

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      1. Luckily kids are resilient. I taught school in many capacities before retirement. I see you found my blog. You can learn more about me there if you have the inclination. I’m giving you a follow 🙂

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  2. Beautiful. It seems that the hard stuff has a way of cracking the heart wide open. And as Leonard Cohen would muse “that’s how the light gets in”.  I’ve been working on a gratitude list for a week (or maybe my whole life). 2020 has definitely given me pause. 

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    1. True that. The tricky part, I find, is to let the light in before the crack moves to the rear view mirror. 2020 will go down in the books. Has there been a weirder one in all of history, challenging on multiple simultaneous fronts? Hopefully it won’t last so long as the Depression/WWII/rationing. At least then people were pulling together to lick the thing. At least it seems so from this vantage point.

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