Row Teresa

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I don’t feel like I have anything profound to say this month. The last time I wrote, I was in our rented apartment in Athens, half-way through my big summer trip we had waited several years to take. At that point in the vacation we were still looking forward to pizza in Naples, unlimited ice cream access on the cruise, and roaming the streets of Barcelona.

But in the blink of an eye we have now been home as long as we were gone, and I’ve spent this month steeped in a case of the post-trip blahs.

The after vacation let down.

The what now?

You know, real life.

Not exactly the feeling of impending doom, not exactly depressed, but a general feeling of blah.

All of this, coupled with the typical anxiety teachers feel right about now as we stare down the barrel of a new school year. It’s not easy bracing for new rosters of students and the unknowns. Same battlefield, different players. The variables are predictably wild, stressful, and there is a learning curve we have to scale no matter how experienced we are (this is year #19 for me!). Also, it would be a lie to say education is not an increasingly difficult occupation to be in these days. A noble cause, sure. Important work, yes. But stressful and challenging, to say the least. It doesn’t help that there are states like Arizona and Florida letting people without credentials and degrees teach, as if this profession were as easy as training for a job at Walmart. It undermines and discredits the work that we do. We’re tough, but the demoralizing climate for teachers has been taxing for too long. I’m already practicing my boundaries, visualizing what I can and can not do. I’m not interested in survival, I want to thrive, and I have to make sure that happens. Teaching is an occupation where there is a bottomless pit of desperate needs. It always threatens to swallow you up whole if you don’t keep saying no.

As a mom, I’m dreading child drop-offs and pickups. They’re probably the worst parts of my day, herding three children and myself to and from while simultaneously worrying about making it to my own class on time, and did I remember this or that, and do I have plans for dinner, and who has what activity I need to drive them to after school, and on and on. The mental work is tiresome as an only parent.

Yet I know the feelings—the anxiety—are all temporary. I bet in a few weeks I will be happy to see my friends and colleagues. And then in a few months, I’ll be sick of them all. (Just kidding!! Kind of!!)

Like anything, the transitions are overwhelming and the feelings are fleeting.

So anyway. That’s the sunny kind of stuff I’ve been ruminating over lately.

I’ve thought about some other things too.

The other day, I was playing tennis and thought: the first half of my life I spent as a nerd, student, professional, new mom. Basically just a nerd.

The second half of my life, I want to be an athlete. Turns out, I’m not the only person with this thought. I read this article “The Quiet Glory of Aging into Athleticism” and realized I wasn’t the only person doing things backwards. I was always on the athletic side, but I didn’t do high school sports because I thought it would interfere with my homework. I ran 6 minute miles in junior high but I chose to stick my nose into my books instead. I don’t regret that choice, I have just lived long enough and have had the good fortune of realizing I still want more. Something different. You know, to keep it interesting. Stretch myself. Literally in this case.

It’s not completely true to say I *wasn’t* an athlete. I’ve been running on my own since high school. I’ve stayed active. I just thought I missed the boat considering myself an athlete– a real one.

But now I’ve come across this idea that we get to decide what’s real and what’s not. How liberating! Too bad 15-year-old me couldn’t read about that and save herself a lot of grief.

In the past week, I’ve lifted weights, gone to pilates, done barre, played pickleball, tennis, walked, ran, and now I want to add in more hiking and stretching. This is all part of my plan to prioritize athleticism, because here’s the actual truth about what’s real and what’s not:

You are what you do!

I dropped my two oldest children off at camp last Sunday, and they’ve been gone all week. The house is quiet. My youngest likes being an only child, but he said, “My brain keeps imagining Ethan and Ellie at the table with us.” The table is certainly better with all of us eating dinner together, I agree. As much as I work really hard to live a dynamic life that is not solely wrapped around motherhood, my children are my core, and I am grateful to have them in my life.

But motherhood is changing for me. It keeps morphing and shape shifting into new formations, my role constantly being redefined. My oldest starts junior high in a few weeks. I go to the playground these days and have nothing in common with the toddler moms. It’s a new chapter.

We saw longtime friends last week for the first time since covid. Eleven years ago we were at the lagoon with our little boys (both only children at the time), lugging snacks and monster trucks and bumbling our way as new moms. I watched my curly haired toddler splashing at the water’s edge, and then I went home to my husband and never in a million years thought that life as I knew it would have an expiration date.

This life I live today feels like it’s happening on a different planet.

Each chapter bleeds into the next.

This little taste of quiet in my house is frightening because I know in eleven years, the baby of the family will be off to college and the nest could be empty, unless the world has slid into a total dystopian tale of adult children that never have the ability to move out. I’m slightly delusional and I choose to believe in the storyline where they go to college and have gainful employment and their own homes but still call me daily and hang out with me regularly.

Bottom line: my mom-of-young-children clock is ticking away. I’ve been enjoying every minute of having the 7-year-old all to myself this week, but also looking forward to picking up my other two this weekend and squeezing them tight.

My poor Petey. He should have had more of my attention, more than this week. Our lives became so stressful the day his dad died when he was 13-months-old. He should have been doted on by his father. Petey keeps our last family picture next to his bed, wherever he goes. He took it to Israel. Greece. On the cruise ship. He takes it everywhere. I can’t help but wonder if seeing himself in the picture as a baby, in his father’s arms, reminds him of what he once had, and that makes the void feel more manageable.

I use that mental gymnastic trick too when I’m fatigued by the lack of quality male options in the world. “Well, at least I had it once in my life!” I don’t keep the picture by my bed, though.

These days, it seems like a waste of time pining for anything. There is too much other stuff to sort out. Thankfully, if you look for it, there are a million ways to occupy your mind and time.

When I do a roundup of what’s going right in my life (in my opinion), and what’s lacking, there are so many going rights on the list that I feel a little ridiculous whining about anything else.

That’s not to say I don’t want to keep reaching for all of what I want, but perspective helps me develop patience. Each year, I get a little better. I still have a long way to go.

I think it’s a bit like juggling. We can only have so many balls in the air at one time. I feel like maybe I should enjoy the ones I have right now instead of worrying about finding more.

Which brings me to another goal I have for the second half of my life: protecting my peace.

This is the most important one, I think. Now more than ever I feel in my bones that this is the greatest challenge I need to take on. Inner peace.

Living the way I want. Being mindful and kind and helpful to others, but also not allowing them to overstep my boundaries.

Dealing with the anger of other people without losing my composure or absorbing their negative energy. I was thinking about how it’s like driving. We’re driving in our lane, and the car next to us swerves toward us. Do we stay in our lane to prove a point, or do we get out of the way to protect our own safety?

Being open-minded and giving people chances in the dating world, but also being able to call the deal breakers with my future self always in mind. I realized relationships can be a lot like writing. Several chapters in you want to keep the draft, but sometimes no amount of revising can turn it into the story you want. The writer must discard the draft and write something new. They are always better writers because of it.

Parenting through challenging moments, keeping my cool, modeling calm communication, helping these independent individuals live authentic and courageous lives in this challenging world. Teaching them to make good choices, be kind people, and to always move toward their full potential.

Navigating stressful situations without absorbing them. Staying objective and maintaining perspective. This past month, my dad was in the hospital for a week, people died, and my subconscious kept thinking about death, like the dream I had about only having two weeks left to live, or the sore leg I was convinced must be a sign of death (or maybe just what happens after working out). Mortality follows me around like a shadow waiting to pounce on me when I least expect it. Maybe it’s because we got pounced on when we least expected it with my husband’s death. I think I’ve done pretty good considering I watched him die, but I suspect there must be some PTSD tucked inside of me, and dying before my kids become fully independent adults is my worst nightmare. I’m particularly sensitive to this since I’m the only parent left for them. How does one come to peace with this? I suppose by doing the only things I can do: quality time with loved ones, taking care of myself, making all of the provisions within my control to secure their futures, and then letting go of the rest. I have to remind myself to stop trying to control the uncontrollable.

And in the land of the living, letting go of people, places, and things that don’t deserve space in my head. There are friends and family members who have fit squarely on this chopping block. I realize that these feelings were always a symptom of trying to control the uncontrollable. Hoping and expecting people would morph into the vision we created in our minds, only to be disappointed time and again, that for whatever reason they couldn’t. I’m starting to get ruthless about this. People show you who they are. It’s our job to believe them. I’m in the business of believing people these days.

Nothing is worth more to me in the second half of my life as time and energy. I am becoming a savvy investor, but like everything else, I still have a lot to learn and I need to keep practicing. Especially when curveballs are thrown my way.

All of this to say, I’ve been doing mental housekeeping through the post-vacation blahs. Cleaning the mental house. Making space. Decluttering. Prioritizing. Being strategic and intentional with every bit of my life. This, I think, is where true joy arises. Knowing with certainty that you put in the effort, you did the work, you tried your best, and you took full advantage of this one precious opportunity to be alive, doing exactly what you wanted. Who could regret that, even if it didn’t all work out?

My theme song this month has been Grateful Dead’s “Row Jimmy.” I’ll listen to it over and over again when the mood strikes.

An excerpt:

And I say row, Jimmy, row
Gonna get there?
I don’t know
Seems a common way to go
Get down, row, row, row
Row, row

Broken heart don’t feel so bad
Ain’t got half a what you thought you had
Rock your baby to and fro
Not too fast and not too slow

And I say row, Jimmy, row
Gonna get there?
I don’t know
Seems a common way to go
Get down, row, row, row
Row, row

When the case of the blahs get particularly bad, I remind myself to row.

Row, row, row.

That’s it. Next time I write, I’ll be on the other side of a new school year. Fingers crossed. We’re living in troubled times, but I suspect they said that in every century since the beginning of human history.

I plan to do what I can to make the world a better place, protect my peace, and enjoy this ride when, where, and however I can. That simple, and that difficult. Such is the nature of being alive.

5 Comments

  1. Another great post. Thank you! There are so many things I relate to here, as I have done with pretty much all of your essays. I appreciate your honesty. I don’t know anyone who isn’t feeling somewhat “blah” these days. Good luck with the new school year. Your students are lucky to have you.

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  2. You are courageous and brave! You are doing an amazing job as an only parent. I understand your thoughts about the parenting shift. It’s ever changing. Some days are great and others are challenging to say the least. Inner peace is important. I’m trying to find that as well. Stay well and strong Teresa. Your writings are so important to me. I look forward to each one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

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  3. Teresa,

    First I want to say Thank You. Thank you for being brave enough, disciplined enough, and strong enough to write and share as you do about your life and feelings. I would also like to say that I’m so very sorry your best friend, soulmate, and such a beautiful person died. I wish no one had to bear such awfulness.

    Your experience as you tell it is so very similar to mine, and it is always a comfort to read your thoughts and musings knowing they are so close to my own. I have had few experiences of understanding through my journey as a widow, and reading your articles is like going to a group therapy fit perfectly to my circumstances. Thank you for that blessing.

    My husband was my best friend and such a lovely person. He died slower than yours, of cancer over the course of 9 months, but was 37 and left our three kids fatherless at the ages of 11, 8, and 5 (older than yours but still young). It was heartbreaking, and we have survived.

    My oldest son is heading off to college in the fall and I feel like my family just keeps shrinking, disappearing before my eyes. I understand so well many of the aspects of raising children alone that you talk about. I love hearing my own experience reflected through your words.

    I have been dating most of the time since then, beginning with an old high school friend that I eventually got engaged to, but that didn’t work out in the end. I have found breakups post widowhood to be excruciating. I often feel so lonely in a house surrounded by kids! Trying to balance gratefulness for my children and many other blessings, with permission to feel miserably sad and lonely has been challenging. The dating pool indeed does often feel shallow and of poor quality, and yet I hesitate to see it as such because how will I manifest a wonderful partner if that’s how I see my options. Oh the irony. And how much more we are all set in our own ways at this age making blending lives so much more difficult and less appealing.

    I thank you so much for sharing your experiences with this journey. I often wonder how I could make a similar difference to someone else in pain. I see your work as an inspiration to try to do more.

    Your devoted friend and sister in spirit, Carmen Crisantes

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