I am not a night owl. The closest I get to one is in the summer when I’m not exhausted enough to want to sleep just yet. I love the dark sky on the way to work and the promise of the eventual sunrise. There are some hectic mornings where I’m just lucky I didn’t forget to put on a bra and that I got all the lunches made in time, but there are other smooth mornings where I may even stop to get something warm to drink, those mornings when I walk to the school building not looking forward to the doors but looking up past them, noticing the trees changing and the sky lightening up.
I set four alarm times on my phone before I go to sleep at night. After I get up, my mornings are often filled with checks, my eyes darting from my task to my phone, a consistent check of the minutes, counting backwards to see how much time is left before Layla’s shoes need to be tied. The inevitable rush to be somewhere that yanks us from side to side can make us blind sometimes. I’m consistently aware that I’m taking something for granted. I want to gently scold myself with lines from that beautiful Lauryn Hill song, “It could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard…you let go, and I’ll let go, too.”
It reminds me of the seasons and how unconsciously nature handles its responsibilities— so similar to how I feel I handle mine, doing what needs to be done for the next phase, but I struggle at times to see the full beauty in it all. I’ve found myself exhausted at the never-ending clutter of life. It’s like the more I do, the less I do.
The fall checked me this year. It’s been quietly waiting for me to see that it’s arrived. Patient like a great grandmother who has seen it all, autumn calmly sensed I wasn’t appreciating its brilliance. It tapped me quietly on the shoulder on a rushed trip to a pumpkin patch. A Halloween custom nodded in its direction as well.
I took the day off on Friday to be a volunteer at Layla’s school. I helped over 140 kindergartners make black cats out of paper plates. Afterwards, we ate lunch in the cafeteria amongst electric personalities, and I read to the kids before the end of the school day. We surprised Zade and picked him up early from his school. We got home in time to rest a bit and get costumed up again to attend a big Halloween party at her school. The day turned out just how I envisioned it when I first decided to devote my time. But by the end of the night, I needed complete silence.
I felt like I did all the right things: I showed Layla I care about her environment at school and connected with her in her new world. When I got home, though, I felt depleted. I didn’t feel fulfilled. It’s so hard for me to write this because it feels dismissive of how deeply I love my children. It’s not fair to say that I didn’t feel lucky to see Layla so happy or so grateful at her excitement to share her space with me. I tried so hard to tap into the moment, to not feel tired or even regretful that I didn’t share some of that daytime with just myself. How can we live in the present, I ask myself, when it takes so much to get to the present? Truly though, the most frustrating aspect of that day is that all of it—all that effort—wasn’t enough for me to just be full.
On my last day in New York this summer, I gasped for the moment to be with my kids again. I know that my happiness relies on their happiness. But that’s the biggest part, not the only part, right?
Thank God for the trees. I saw fall recently, trees going from green to red to orange to yellow. Nature is the vast and infinite landscape that can either mirror or correct my blurry vision. It’s when I look up that I feel I’m talking back at myself and remembering me, the wistful girl who stared out so many windows, romantic in how she saw each person, and felt engaged in her daydreams even when she was alone, or the woman who still embraces these qualities and has some life experiences to deepen them.
At the end of the day, my way home from work is the small pause from mother, wife, and teacher. The moment I’m by myself for long enough has no role. It takes some time to quiet my mind from the first draft reactions to the day. And after 20 minutes, I take a few deep breaths and breathe out a loud exhale and slowly start building my way back up to me.
I saw the fall because it made me see it. It caught me like those slender mornings. Leaves fall off trees and the earth gets cooler, but it all looks so beautiful standing outside of it. I have to trust that my own realities look just as poetic when I take big steps back to see the panorama. I have to forgive myself for not feeling full when I don’t.
I have to see the human nature of it all.