There was frost on the fields, and my windshield, today. I wasn’t expecting it. I knew it was supposed to get very chilly, and the house was cool (we haven’t yet turned on the furnace), but I didn’t see the frost warning. It doesn’t really matter, other than the extra few minutes clearing the car off so I could drive the girls to high school. I don’t have much in the garden, and most of the herbs are perennials. Fall is wholly here, now, and Winter’s long thin fingers are creeping over the grasses and touching lightly. The tight grasp of the freeze won’t come until later, and as funny as most people think it sounds when I say it, Ohio is south. The winters here are nothing like what I’ve lived with in the past, the scary ones where you burned wood and oil you couldn’t afford, or you died. And by you I mean my family, my babies who were little and depended on me.
I was watching the Little Man walk across the street to the bus, today, and contemplating the passage of time. At eleven, it seems like so long until he’s a man grown. He looked very young today all wrapped up in a hoodie and coat and his pants just a skosh too short, hitting the tops of his sneakers. I think I need to check his size again. But it was not that long ago when he arrived in this world, a small, soft little bundle of warmth and fusses. I can’t go back, to that, the treadmill doesn’t let you do anything except going on. And it’s a treadmill with no handy railings to grab when someone’s messing with the speed button, too.
Lately I’ve felt like someone is messing with that button. I feel like one of those cartoons where the bunny is running so fast his legs are a blur, but there’s no leaping off this treadmill. And there’s no falling allowed, either. My family depends on me. I am blessed with a partner in life, but he needs me, too. He can’t be picking me up all the time. So I keep running, and when I stumble, I just shift my weight forward so I keep momentum. And yet at the same time I feel frantic and I’m grabbing all the threads that need to be woven into the fabric of our lives (yes, I know, it’s a mixed metaphor. But honestly, I can imagine running on a treadmill and working a loom at the same time. It does feel like that) I also feel like it’s all going so slowly. I tell the kids ‘we’ll do that when I graduate’ or we talk about budgets, and the First Reader and I look at one another and say ‘that can’t happen for at least a month, it doesn’t fit in this month’s money.’
Make haste, and yet be content with where I’m at. It’s an odd dichotomy. We talk about our dreams, and look forward into the years, plotting our course to take us in the directions we can envision lie ahead. We know that there will be course changes, whether planned or in one of those moments when life takes a sudden turn. And we have to live, and rest, and relax right where we are, or we cannot be joyful and content with one another here, today, in this moment. Both are vital. I found myself, yesterday, feeling ragged and fraught because I had spent the first half of the day fighting for the short-term goals (dealing with house stuff, and an exam, and…). I still had a long time to get through the day, so I took literally five minutes, and stood in the campus garden near butterfly bushes, photographing butterflies with my cell phone camera (I didn’t carry the good camera because of the exam). Between that, and creating a very detailed piece of art (for me), I was able to get through the rest of the day.
We may not be able to get off the treadmill to stop physically. But we can refocus, even if for only a few moments. Taking some time to look at what gives us joy, to do something that calms our mind, that can be as restful as a full stop. I find that if I don’t do this regularly I will get sick, and I can’t afford sick days right now. A little mental slow time will hopefully keep me healthy until I can take a real break. But for now, I need to pick up my threads for today, and keep on. Sometimes I wonder what the tapestry looks like, in the big picture. Other times, I’m just trying to keep it all unsnarled and my fingers flying over the tasks as my feet are pointed in the direction they need to be. Once in a while, I get a glimpse of the past’s results. When my daughter wore my wedding dress to Homecoming. When my son is mowing the lawn, intensely concentrating on doing the job right. When the Jr Mad Scientist is telling me offhandedly that her science teacher thinks she’s the smartest kid in class.
The treadmill will slow down. The Trickster flipping the control buttons and throwing obstacles in my path will get bored and wander off (but never for very long). The children will move on into their own adult lives and their own treadmills. I hope I can be there to offer them a supporting hand under the elbow from time to time. The First Reader and I will have some time to wander down frosty paths with leaves crunching underfoot and a frolicking dog ahead of us. There are books waiting for me to write them. It’s just that right now, I can’t do more than dream about all this, I’m running too fast.