Thursday, October 11, 2007

Daily Grind

I had one of those vivid, but mundane of dreams last night. You know the ones - a whole production of a dream merely to work through some simple task like washing your hands. Kind of a let down. But this was a little different - I was going through the paces of a day, the daily grind if you will, except for one slight twist - it was not my grind. It was someone else's. In my dream, I was fully aware of that, I knew that this pace, this to and fro, this collection of details, responsibilities, lists, obligations were someone else's burden. The day advanced, I got up and planned each next move based on the schedule this someone else - I'll call her Octavia - had to keep, the starring roles she had, the supporting roles she had, the errands to run, the job to do, etc.

In my dream I ventured I was yanked into Octavia's place so I could tell her about it, tell her how I felt going through her day, where everything was new to me, some things a breeze, some things more challenging. I was a day assessor, though I'm not certain it was Octavia herself that commissioned me. So I did her day and collected my data. But as soon as I was to debrief Octavia, I was jerked back to my own grind by the sound of my alarm.

I do not wake to music, that is too gentle, no matter the type of music. I need that electronic ee ee ee ee - something you want to scream back at. It's been a year and a half since I let go of the 'working mother' role, but I still need that moment just after the alarm rings to think "Is this a work day or a home day?" The answer to that question is no longer as simple as saying "work day."

While I do not leave for work, there is no such thing as a home day anymore. The schedule of readying and carting and assessing and deciding and collaborating and teaching and playing and pleading and thanking...on behalf my 2 daughters sometimes feels more rigorous than what I used to call a work day. We've got 3 different schools, therapies, doctors, swim classes, Girl Scouts, play rehearsals, IEP meetings, play dates, homework - pretty standard stuff, but a lot of it. I know, we're all up for patronizing the "stay at home mom" with pat phrases like "the hardest job ever" ala Oprah. I'm not sure the 'degree of difficulty meter' ratchets up or down depending on whether you work or not, but then I would not use the word "job" to characterize parenting, either. An aside for another time...

My older daughter Cate is hyper-verbal. I think I just made that word up. She is like me, in that if she thinks it, she must package it into words and give it away. I type mine, she says hers. But my younger daughter Addie, is non-verbal. Which is a big misnomer - she is as loud as the other one, but rather it is the shortcoming of the rest of us "talkers" that we do not always understand her language (or the language of many kids labeled with communication disorders). This combination of the hyper- and the so-called non-verbal in one household makes mornings, afternoons, evenings a constant pivot from one to the other, from pushing words back in to trying to pull them out: Cate, ssh! Just STOP talking for 2 minutes and try to listen! Addie, tell me what you want! Just pick - cheerios or a waffle. Here, I'll do this dance for a minute while balancing on one foot with a waffle in one hand and cheerios in the other, then will you tell me??

Today as we were in the car after the wake up/get ready morning rush, taking one kid in one direction to school and then doubling back to retrace my tracks and make more, to take the other to school, I had a lucid moment where I was able to ignore Cate's monologue about what happened on Hannah Montana last night, as well as tune out Addie's whines - whines that make it clear that I am falling short in my service to her in some specific way, but which leaves the urgent specific way pretty wide open to my own hunches. In this delusional 'silence', my dream came back to me and I tried to continue it consciously. What would I have told Octavia about her day?

I found the freedom in her life, even amidst a schedule, exhilarating. I didn't like what she had for lunch, but I did like that she got to eat it at her desk at work, in solitude, surfing the net and then chatting with co-workers. The meetings she attended may have been boring, but there were ideas there! New ideas and grown up talk. And when she got home at night, she had whatever she wanted for dinner, and peacefully read nearly half a novel before lights out. Lucky duck, I thought. Assessment summary: you don't know what you have, Octavia. Relish it.

How would Octavia write up the grind assessment for me? She might not have made it through the whole day, perhaps she'd have run screaming from my messy barbie- and therapy toy- laden noisy home back to her orderly silent apartment.

Or maybe not. Maybe she'd have told me that she liked the 'music' in my house. The sound of Cate singing her homemade operas about butterflies and flowers and the mad love she has for her little sister, the sound of Addie hollering "dah dah dah dah!" Octavia would probably notice that Addie's dah dah dah's came just as Cate's song ended. She might have interpreted it as "Thank you, Cate. I love you, too."

It's possible her report would include a reminder that I get to run on the playground with my 3rd grader and her friends after dropping Addie off at one of her 2 schools - both of which she loves. Playing shadow tag or pretending I'm an AWOL cow that the cowgirls must wrangle is something that not every so-close-to-40-it's-time-to-listen-for-surprise-party-clues-year old woman has the chance to fit in the morning, just before meeting someone for coffee to discuss becoming a parent resource for district special education families, Octavia may have chided.

She would have sat in my place at the dinner table and not even have attempted to direct orderly conversation about what happened in each person's day. She definitely would not have used the time to unload the day's disappointments on her exceedingly patient, just- arrived-home-from-a-long-commute-then-made-dinner husband. She would have just listened to see what came out of each mouth while marveling at Addie's signs and innovative invitations to play the "copy me" game.

Octavia would likely have included a few questions on my report: Do I realize how closely my kids watch me? Do I realize that as different as they seem, they are not only very much alike, but they are also like me? She would tell me that there are parts of my day when I seem to realize that I have more than my fair share of love and contentment and that the darker parts of that day are when I am not focused on the present, but worried about what comes next. Since Octavia is pretty smart, she would grant me that there are times when it is absolutely necessary to prepare for what comes next. But that would be closely followed by advice that I budget a price for it - it never comes without cost. Sometimes I pay too much for a little preparedness - I miss what Cate is telling me because I am trying to paddle against the stream of words instead of with them. I miss what Addie is telling me because I am wringing her for words or signs while she is nudging me to the door. Addie is telling me it's time to go to school, Mom.

You took the words right out of my mouth, darlin'.

Ray LaMontagne has a sort of whisper of a song, ethereal, but clean - called "Be Here Now." It quietly directs the listener's subconscious to push some realization into its consciousness that "it's only time, it will go by." Next and now are the same, just in different places on an imaginary continuum.

Octavia's assessment summary for my grind: The best way for Ms. H-E to prepare for what's next is by diverting some attention from it in favor of now.


Tena said...

I know that whining. I have heard that from my backseat many a time.

You know what I really think Octavia would tell you? You're an amazing, insightful momma. Thank you for sharing that with the rest of us.

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