In the Layers

hockney.pool-2-figuresI didn’t see it coming – the fall apart yesterday, that is. I felt it coming on as we did our morning kitchen dance; could tell there were tears ready to spring. I called a friend to see if she could grab a coffee after dropping Pearl off, and we sat at Mirabelle’s for twenty minutes. She listened while I shared a bit of what’s been happening for me this week. “You’re overloaded,” she observed as I nodded, grateful for the witness. All circuits are busy now, please try again later.

I didn’t cry, not yet. But I could see it coming, like the rain clouds that gather over the Adirondacks and make their way east across the lake before falling on the Vermont side.

From there, I drove to Maitri for an annual exam. I flipped through Yoga Journal in the waiting area. I heard my name and stood up, dutifully following the nurse into a room where she took my blood pressure and asked me all of the usual questions. She was very friendly, new to the practice. I forced myself to be friendly back. Then she left me in the turquoise gown opened to the front to wait for my ob-gyn, the woman who delivered Pearl when she herself was 38 weeks pregnant. We’ve known each other since she was a resident. There is something to be said for shared history: after counting my breaths for about twenty minutes while I waited for her, I burst into tears practically the minute she walked in the room.

It all came pouring out, the constant effort of pouring so much energy into feeding the steadfast, resilient, vigilant, committed, resourceful, solid grounding that parenting and entrepreneurial pursuits require on a daily basis. At least this is the story I tell – that I am “good at” this, accustomed to living to a large degree on faith. What other way is there, really? That’s a good line.

But yesterday, well, the story kind of fell apart, and on some level it felt good to just let it. She asked about whether stress was effecting my ability to parent. She asked about my marriage. I told her I wasn’t really panicked, just overwhelmed, exhausted. I cried. She listened, kindness and empathy in her face.

Then I went downtown to bring the car to Greg. He took one look at my face and asked if I wanted to take Bobo for a little walk. We went to City Hall park and sat on a bench where I cried some more. He listened. I told him I didn’t want to burden him, and he reminded me that my sharing makes him feel useful, needed. That this is what we do for each other. That this is what keeps us married.

Then I came home and did what any self-respecting person whose kids are accounted for would do: I slept.

Greg got home with Pearl at 5:20. He went to mow the lawn. I sliced watermelon for Pearlie, knowing that there was no way I would make it on time for my 5:30 yoga class, part of a six-week series I’m taking with Emily Garrett. He came inside at 5:30 to see if I was ready to leave, and I realized he thought class was at 5:45. I couldn’t face the rush, the abruptness of leaving Pearl after not seeing her all day. I decided to let it go and told him I wasn’t going. I could feel how easy it would be to be pissed at him. Pissed in general.

But like Annette Bening’s character in “American Beauty,” in that scene towards the end where she’s sitting the car and it’s pouring rain and she’s holding the gun and listening to her motivational tapes, I refused to be a victim. I got on my bathing suit and tried to feel okay about my body and helped Pearl get on her suit and yelled up the street to V that we were heading to the neighbor’s pool. “This is your yoga,” I told myself as I dove into the deep end.

It took a while, but I was able to let myself take in how good it was to swim, to watch Pearl’s absolute delight at swimming by herself with just a noodle, and Aviva’s pride at swimming all the way to the ladder in the deep end without one, enjoying hanging in the cool water with some other mamas from our ‘hood.

Dinner on the deck followed swimming – beets and broccoli and corn on the cob and fake chicken patties. After dinner, Greg and V disappeared into the backyard to walk the slackline and throw the frisbee for Bobo. Pearlie got busy being mommy to her baby while I swept the porch, swept the kitchen, swept the sand by the front door into a neat little pile, composted the leftovers, washed the dishes. Not a victim. Still cool from my swim. Glad for the simplicity of cleaning up.

Eventually, we went up for bedtime, a routine that has been devolving as the summer goes on and lately ending with crowing kids who don’t want us to go down even though it’s 9:00pm, or later. By the time I did come downstairs last night, after rubbing backs and reminding the girls that they are very capable of comforting each other and themselves and goodnight, goodnight, goodnight, I love you, see you in the morning, no more coming down, etc. I saw Greg on the couch with his laptop and just couldn’t turn mine on, couldn’t talk to him, couldn’t read, didn’t have the energy to go for a walk or a run, couldn’t do anything really but sit down on the yoga mat, forehead to floor, for one final cry of the day. Third time’s a charm.

I just sat there and cried. Stretched a bit. Tears on the mat. Total release. Kids on the stairs. Back to bed. More tears. For a moment wishing Greg would drop everything to sit with me. For a moment, mad that he didn’t. But this time, the only one left to listen was me. A friend, a doctor, a partner – all day I had been moving towards this final storm, and it had been moving towards me. And storms pass.

“I just didn’t see this coming,” I told Greg later on the couch. And he reminded me, himself too, that life is just the same as breath, going in and out, or waves, going up and down. Whichever. “But I want a middle way!” I whined.  “I want even keel, steady as she goes!”

Maybe the even keel part is the ability to let these moments happen without panicking, without globalizing, without becoming lost or frantic, and without trying to change them or stop them or fix them. It all has to come out somewhere, sometimes. We are not machines.

We talked a bit longer, then made our giant bowl of air-popped popcorn with a little butter and salt, and watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I took three Advil, went to bed. And today is here, a brand new 42 hours. Or rather, 24. Or better yet, as my friend Miv reminded me the other day, a brand new moment.

No wonder there are so many yoga-surfing retreats.

I feel like there’s another post underlying this one, the one about the conversation Greg and I had on that park bench – about what it means to live large, and how the definition can change depending on where you’re at and what you need. How nothing is fixed. Of course, there probably is. There are always layers. That’s where we live.

Thanks, Jeanette, for posting this Stanley Kunitz poem on your blog the other day. It has been singing to me all week.

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not in the litter.”

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

12 thoughts on “In the Layers

  1. The Other Laura says:

    Beautifully put, Jena. I had a tarot reading a few days back, took one look at it and burst into tears, because it was all about letting go and change and I’m like “no, no more change! no more letting go!”

    I’m longing for continuity and peace and my life is just not cooperating.


  2. Lucille says:

    I read this post and felt it speaking it to me so deeply—and then I read the poem, and I burst into tears, the tears that were gathering all along.

    Live in the layers, not in the litter. I need to go sit and ponder this.

    Thanks for sharing….


  3. Paula says:

    This is beautiful. I had a total falling apart day yesterday, too, when I received the edits for the book project that has eaten my summer and they were ridiculously daunting. I just want to done, so I can have some fun with my family and friends and prepare for my impending 40th birthday. The whole process has been one of those big hammers the universe hits you with from time to time, saying, “See what not’s working in your life and figure out your next move already, because this is not the right fit.” Sigh. It’s just hard because I can’t stop working all the time until this beast is done.


  4. Wro says:

    Feeling fragile myself today, I cried throughout this post and it opened up my heart and voice to dare ask questions that I hadn’t dare before between myself and me, and my husband and us. Even sent this to him to springboard a conversation overdue.

    *sigh* the tears help don’t they, even if we can’t find the words…



  5. shelli - mama of letters says:

    This is such a beautiful post, Jena. And so courageous for you to write. I’ve been there. Definitely. More times than I wish. It feels good to know that I’m not the only one….

    And thanks for the comment on my blog. I wish I could share the columns on my blog, but it’s a small newspaper, and I don’t think they’ll appear in their online edition. If they do, I’ll definitely send you a link!


  6. Meg Casey says:

    Dearest Jena-Its all a cycle…we grow, blossom, wilt, breakdown and then breakthrough again to a new place, new growth, new blossoming–the storms clear out the clutter so something new and beautiful can be born… So brave you are to allow yourself to lean into the cycle…That you give permission for love and grief and fear and courage to soak you. That is the bravest thing. So honored and proud to witness it. Thank you for shining your light.



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