When my mom was a child she was____.

When my oldest son was in 2nd grade he brought home a fill in the blank worksheet he had done in class. One of the questions said “When my mom was a child she was _________.”

He had filled in the blank with “lonely.”

I had probably told him stories about wishing for him to grow up with a whole pile of siblings, maybe as those siblings were joining the family to explain why I was usurping his prime spot as only child or something! But I had also probably told him stories about growing up, yes, a little lonely.

Which is funny, because I did grow up with a whole pile of kids around me at my mom’s daycare center. Kids all day long everywhere, yes, but not at home. Not falling asleep. Not in the early mornings. Not at Christmas. My brothers are a generation older, around yes, but more like uncles than brothers.

So yeah, a little lonely.

I am in the middle of three weeks of what could be lonely. We had a big rush driving up the west coast to deliver my son to his school, the northernmost university in the contiguous US and we live a lazy morning’s drive from the Mexican border. But as soon as my husband and I got home from the drop, he was packing for three weeks in the UK.

Zip the suitcase, climb in the supershuttle and here I am, home alone for weeks.

I’ve been working toward empty-nester status for a few years with fits and starts of schools and jobs for the young men in my life. Last school year was a good 9 month run of all the young people secured in jobs and universities across the country. I can’t say it was awful. Nachos for dinner? Why not! No dinner because we’re too lazy and had a big lunch? Why not? No piles of shoes by the front door or mystery pots and pans in the sink causing a forensic study of “just what on earth did they cook last night” or juice put away with a half a swig left–OK.

So, here I am. Responsible only for my own nutrition and care.

Yes, my husband is a grown-ass adult, and can take care of himself, but I work 30 hours a week, generally, and he works more than those people you read about in Eastern Asia who are at risk of DYING from overwork. No, not kidding. He really does. So OK, I do more dishes, laundry, cooking and general head-space family stuff on a regular basis.

But now, ha! Just me! And yes, it’s the busiest time of year for my work, but it’s my second year, so I know what needs to happen and when. And yes, I was so sick I probably should have gone to the doctor last week, but, you know. All better now.

I can read biographies until late with the lights on or listen to podcasts out loud when I can’t sleep. I eat prepared food way more than I would if someone else was counting on me; did you know that you can totally survive on Trader Joe’s deli and frozen bags of pretty damn healthy food? Totally can!IMG_20170929_184933.jpg

But the funniest thing is that I am enjoying the time with just me. I’m alone. I talk to the dog and the dishes and the damn news. But it’s OK. I don’t feel lonely. It’s a little bit of a surprise. I miss my spouse, he’s my favorite person in the world. But I’m OK. I am thinking my thoughts and writing them down. I am busier than I would have thought and I am finding that there’s nothing wrong with lighting candles just for dinner on my own.

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Calm spirit, heart full. And not lonely at all. Hm! Who knew?

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Learning to Listen

I am learning the lesson that I believe my ancestors never had to be taught. Knowing and KNOWING are different things.

Two years ago I moved to Orange County, California where the sun almost always shines and if I open my front door I can usually smell the ocean. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it.

Yesterday I noticed big, orange clouds gathering in the distance. Odd in the land of sun, but I guess not unheard of. Then I smelled it. Smoke. Fires.

Now that we have instant answers at our fingertips I could learn quickly that a brush fire had started two hours earlier. It was in the canyons in the eastern part of the county, far away, but the winds were sending the smoke and ash my way.

I knew that I was fine, but I packed a little GO bag anyway because being prepared can help relax the belt that tightens around my heart when I’m afraid.

Then my phone alarmed with a notice to evacuate. No, not for me but close enough that my phone alarm blared and bright red flashed across the screen.

It was a long afternoon.

More ash fell and gradually the sky cleared a bit. By the time I walked my dog before bed the air was misty, leaving us a little damp as we walked. Blurry halos formed around the street lights, with a grounding smell of dirt as the dog scratched the grass and when the breeze stirred, a finger of jasmine, too.

I turned on the 11 o’clock news. What a mistake. The fire was so big and so fast. People had lost homes, whole hillsides had burned and sent their embers to the next hillside which then burned.

It was a long night.

I chided myself. This wasn’t a tornado or an earthquake that once enroute was sure to come my way. This was a fire that was many miles away. I live where dry grasses don’t exist! We have landscaping, people, landscaping! But I was still afraid. The smell, the smoke, the ash; some switch inside me had turned on and was flashing DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!

It wasn’t until this morning that I let up on myself a little. No, I wasn’t afraid for no reason.

When I was six weeks old we had a house fire that nearly destroyed our home. I grew up finding broken glass in the front garden from the windows the firefighters broke to get fire hoses in the house, our encyclopedia set had the outline of a bookshelf imprinted on one cover from smoke damage, and there was a clear “before the fire” and “after the fire” in the family stories.

Then when I was five the neighbor’s house burned.  I was with them every morning before Kindergarten while my mom went to work. The babysitter sent me back into the smoke-filled house to pull the baby out of his crib while she called the fire department. I remember having a hard time getting him out. When the fire was out they could see the outline of his body on the sheets. I couldn’t let my mother out of my sight for months.

My body knows, or better said it KNOWS. My body remembers. My body knows when to be afraid, when to prepare, when to run. May I remember to settle in and listen a little more closely when my body calls to me. May I hold the wisdom in my bones as counsel for the future.

Today, may all in the path of this fire be well and whole. And may we all breathe a little easier tomorrow.

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