Summer of Symmetry

This was a summer of symmetry.

Let me explain.

I have been in a long-term fight with a certain persistent virus that refuses to take a hint (or a shove) and move along. My old nemesis, Epstein Barr made itself comfortable, particularly in my gut this time around, and made me tired and grumpy and not very summery-feeling at all. Yet there were periods of joy, sunshine and laughter, in between the in-bed-or-wanting-to-be, that felt just as summer should. There were family vacations; days at the pool soaking up the vitamin D (Seriously. Vitamin D is my hero. And Epstein Barr’s worst enemy.); horseback riding; late dinners with friends on the back porch; fireflies; Gin and tonics; and most recently, hours of Olympics-watching. We could win a medal if that in itself were an event. But there was also Moluscum Contagiosum (I’ll tell you about that another time, but just know it was nearly as bad as it’s grotesque name implies. And it threw me down a dark psychological hole for a bit). Between the high highs and the low lows it was like a sped-up time lapse of life in general: a roller coaster of ups and downs smushed into the span of two and a half months. I felt like a wrung out rag a lot of the time.

But I listened to a conversation one day that helped me see things more clearly. And feel a little less upset by this microcosm of general reality. Krista Tippet of the podcast On Being interviewed nobel physicist Frank Wilczek about his belief in “beauty as a compass for truth, discovery and meaning.” In the podcast he explained the idea of symmetry from a mathematical or scientific perspective. He says that symmetry, the way we commonly use it, means balance, harmony, fairness. But those terms are vague. In science they need a more precise concept, so the definition of symmetry within science and mathematics is change without change. For example, Einstein’s theory of relativity says that if were to move past the world at a constant velocity, although things may look different, the same physical laws will apply to the new configuration of the world. So you can make a change in the way everything looks, but you can’t change the laws that make up the object’s reality.

Hello. Symmetry. This summer was both an experience of the common usage of the word and the scientific. It was a balance of good and bad, had a sense of fairness if you will. And though my circumstances changed – the way things looked from the point of view of an outsider passing by would have altered from week to week (sometimes day to day) – the laws of physics stayed the same. The very fact of my existence did not move. My illness and wellness rotated around the axis of me as a human being alive in the world. My circumstances did not alter who I am at the core. Did not alter the realities that keep me living and breathing: spiritual as well as physical.

Somehow this gave me peace. It didn’t make me feel better in my mitochondria, which I’ve now learned Epstein Barr attacks (the jerk), but it did help in my mind and heart. Frank Wilczek’s and Krista Tippet’s soothing voices didn’t hurt either. I could listen to them all day. I’m sure I will again, to remember the vivid and down-to-earth ways he described all manner of scientific principles, and how they demonstrate beauty in the way the world is structured. As if it is the work of a great artist.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always loved symmetry it’s it’s general sense – balance in everything is a good way to live. But now it means something greater. I’m trying to make peace with symmetry and let it calm my reaction to the ups and downs.

Seeing life through the lens of Frank Wilczek’s nobel prize-winning mind helps .

 

And Then

Well.

All three of my children are now in full-time school. Under someone else’s watch. Outside of my home and my care for a good portion of the day. I was excited for this moment to come. It’s been 11 and a half years since I started having kids, quit my job and stayed home full-time to be with them. Today, when I dropped off my sweet girl and walked out the school doors, I didn’t feel much. “That was anticlimactic,” I told my husband.  Which felt completely  wrong. In the span of three minutes I changed from being a stay-at-home, full-time mother to not.  With no fanfare or recognition of the tremendous change. The platform of the last whole chunk of my life was removed and I was walking on nothing. I almost put my arms out to get my balance. I got to the car and sat for a moment, and then the tears came.

Those tears were unexpected. I love her enormously – this is not a case of wishing to be rid of a troublesome child – but she was ready, and I was ready. I thought I was ready, at least.

I had my list. Of all I would accomplish today in light of my new, open schedule. How organized and in-control I would feel after such an opportunity. But I was a blubbering mess and knew the list-tackling wasn’t to be. I had to work out these big feelings. And I do that through writing. I had to take stock of the last decade-plus to know how to turn my mind in a new direction and move forward.

So here’s a summary of those years, to help myself grasp the immensity of the occasion:

  • Hours and hours of wiping bottoms or the messes made by them.
  • Hours and hours of being peppered with machine gun style questions. Rapid fire, not waiting for an answer before the next is delivered.
  • Hours and hours of making food for small people, nearly none of which was appreciated (“Mom! I said I wanted peanut butter and raisins!”, “I don’t even like bananas!”, “Ewwww, this looks sooo gross!”), and then cleaning up the mess of the unappreciators.
  • Picking up toys and sorting toys and organizing toys and getting rid of outdated toys and buying new toys and repeating.
  • Having babies (like actually being pregnant, giving birth to them, nursing them and waking up all night with them – years of this).
  • Playing cars and pirates and vikings and lego, then princesses and babies and “family” and doing one thousand puzzles and playing one million board games (I recommend “I Never Forget a Face,” “Animal Upon Animal” and “Secret Squares”).
  • Mommy-and-me music and gymnastics and swimming and art classes.
  • Grocery shopping with someone (or more than one small person) asking for every third item they see. Including: big carrots instead of little ones, Mango Tango, cookies, ice cream, popsicles, donuts, yogurt, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, M&Ms, gum, sugar cereal, cheese sticks (SO expensive! Come on. It’s still just cheese.), all the toys in Target, DVDs, bikes, iphones, junk from the $1 section, sparkly puppy dog purses, Minecraft t-shirts, and once, randomly but wonderfully, artichokes.

 

Those are all negatives. Here are some positives, and reasons the transition is a tough one and not just a celebration of freedom:

  • Hours and hours of snuggling with babies and toddlers and preschoolers, and elementary school kids when they let me (this counteracts a bunch of those negatives at once).
  • Getting to watch my children reach new milestones, say their first words, take their first steps, discover the squishy delights of play-doh, build their first lego creations, say their first inadvertent cuss words, complete their first puzzles, eat their first fistfuls of sand, and all the other firsts I was able to experience spending all day with them.
  • Play dates that included other moms so as to maintain sanity and enjoy the company of other grown-ups, which fostered some of my most treasured friendships.
  • Years of not having a boss.
  • Waking up to little voices (even crying or mad ones) instead of alarm clocks.
  • Deciding on a whim to go to the zoo. When will I do that alone?
  • Going to the park. Often.
  • Witnessing the whole deal. How they change and change and change. Watching and seeing and taking in their growth. That’s a big one.

 

So, it seems it was a good run. It wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t all dreamy. It was just like life: a mix. One part of the entire story of my whole life span. I did my job – well at times, very poorly at others (see: the time I hid in the basement from my toddler son who was making me, literally, crazy). It wasn’t my life’s work, it was a decade’s work. I am not just a stay at home mom. I am a writer and a reader and a bit of a painter. I am a good cook and a bad mathematician and a passionate-if-not-fabulous Zumba dancer. I am an extrovert and an introvert, depending on the moment. I am a mother and I am just another human being. I simply needed to remind myself what the heck just happened. A necessary moment to recalibrate and take a gigantic, deep breath. And cry. I clearly needed to cry.

Done.

Now I’m ready for the next phase of the story.

It begins with “And then…”