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shifting family dynamics


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shifting family dynamics


we've never had so much time together (as a family) as we've had in the last 5 months.  for the two years we lived in PA, Michael spent nearly all his time in the city working, and was home with the boys and I from Friday night to the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning.  weekends were delightful, but also a bit stressful.  you can't pack in all the things you want to, ever, and there's never enough time to talk or catch up or "show dad" or figure out how to handle the latest behavioral issue with the boys, let alone work on the house, have fun, play with the neighbors, or jump in the river. 


we learned to handle it over time, as you can become used to just about anything.  i became accustomed to evenings alone, doing my thing, and Michael spent time with friends many nights, and packed in second jobs many others.  we talked a lot more frequently than we had during previous work-apart times, and that helped keep us up on what was going on with each other.  but there was no way he could parent from afar, that was 90% my job.  we made joint decisions sometimes, but i was the one doing the day-to-day everything.  and yes, at times i begrudged it.  struggled with it.  lost my temper with it.  (mom's falling apart, run for the hills!) 

what ended up shifting my overall thinking on that, though, was to thank him (almost) every week for working.  to realize that i did NOT want to trade places, and that he gave up almost all the sweet bits of living on the Delaware in order to earn the lion's share of our income.  he never saw the bears, missed the best snows, early morning mists on the river, hikes through the woods with the boys, and the time to do more than stare at that very alluring primed canvas on the wall of his studio.  he missed so many things, and i hardly ever heard a peep about it.   he straddled two worlds, never able to fully settle in either one. 

though he often thanked me for taking care of the boys and house for the week, (which made huge inroads into my begrudging), it was still a struggle for me overall.  socially our life was very limited during the week, and i was with my boys a LOT.  we grew cooped up, in the winter especially, and things honestly got pretty sour between Douglas and I.  we're so alike that I struggle to be gracious when confronted with my own annoying traits, especially in preteen male angsty forms.  we butted heads.  competed.  annoyed each other to death.  by the time Michael would get home on Friday, I really just wanted to take off for 24 hours and not talk to anyone, at least not anyone male.  shop by myself, watch a movie, go out with a girlfriend somewhere, sit alone by the river with a glass of wine and a book ... anything to flee from a small house and 3 males and responsibilities out the wazoo.  this sometimes happened, but not often enough.  bandaids only go so far :).  needless to say, our family structure was not in an ideal place.  there is no perfection, ever, but the situation was straining a lot of things, most notably my relationship with the DOV. 

when this trip started to solidify in our plans, and michael's last day in the city approached, i was wildly happy about it, but also a bit trepidatious.  could we really spend ALL that time together and not get on each others' nerves?  michael generally has a much bigger need for "alone time" than i do, and he was used to having train rides and subway rides and the occasional evening wandering the streets of nyc.  i, in turn, had gotten very used to watching my shows once the boys were in bed, cooking haphazardly, working in client jobs at night, and, to be totally honest, sleeping alone in a double bed without listening to snoring, or even alarm clocks.  

so the prospect of every night together, and nearly every day together ... how would that play out?  would michael get pent up without his studio?  would we be able to live in a 30-foot trailer without wanting to kill each other?  would i feel challenged by sharing the parenting and homeschooling with him again?  many questions, many fears ... and many of them unspoken.  just simmering beneath the surface, adding to the weight of the overall changes, and the emotional upheavals of moving and packing and giving up a fixed home. 


i need not have worried.  truly.  we went out to a forest preserve today with Keren and Bobby, and while soaking up the sunshine of a 70-degree day and the peace of the woods, it hit me.  we've changed.  our family has changed.  the way we relate, balance, talk, interact, and play ... it's all shifted.  we're much more of a unit.  being together has shifted the parenting back into dual mode, and it's helped immensely to have help and have a full-on partner.  to have someone to keep me from getting overloaded, and to honestly take the majority of the load a lot of the time.  he's tackling homeschooling in ways i never could, and is able to motivate Douglas in ways that I can't possibly pull off.  as I get a chance to step back, I can see my relationship to D more clearly ... and appreciate him a lot more, while butting heads a whole lot less.  we're balancing out.  finding our groove, and trying out new ways of working together. 

we do manage to take time alone too, which we both still need, and though it's less than ideal, it's working.  i hole up in the bedroom when i have to, or Keren drags me to Starbucks and we spend a couple of hours digging deep into life and issues and the splinter-under-the-fingernail stuff.  it's golden.  michael stays up late by himself sometimes, though not nearly as often as I'd expected.  we, miraculously, have slept in the same bed together for almost 5 months straight.  it's a new record.  i'm actually getting used to it, and loving the fact that we actually live together, work together, parent together ... and still actually LIKE each other.  yes, love too, but LIKE is huge, and generally underrated i think.

one more thing, this working together bit ... i've known for a long time that we work well together ... we had a taste or two of  it before we got married, and i really enjoyed it.  we complement each other a lot in our skill sets, and after nearly 15 years we've learned each others' strengths, weaknesses, and foibles for the most part.  we have more patience with each other, and so know better when to step away and call a Time Out, or recognize that Leave Me Alone For This Part look.  several times in the last 6 weeks we've had days where things just weren't going smoothly and he'd poke away at his stuff and I'd plod away at mine, and near the end of the day we'd tackle something together and realize that we would have had a much better day if we'd done that a lot earlier.  we just fit.

don't get me wrong however, we are NOT glued at the hip, and spend many many hours apart most days, but we're behaving a lot more like a single body when it comes to projects, rather than a pair of uncooperative elephants (or a ridiculous push-me-pull-you).  we're more in sync.  and it's making things go a lot faster, and smoother. 

we're also drawing together, which michael has talked about, and i'm really loving it as a creative outlet ... as a family.  it erases boundaries, tramples on egos, removes competition, and produces stuff that screams Us, and not just Michael or Fynn or Douglas or me.  it doesn't replace being creative alone, and shouldn't, but it does seem to do something a bit magic.  we own what's created as Ours, and that's good.  also, it's impossible to draw together while hanging on to a sour attitude.  some of us have been known to try, but it lasts for maybe 90 seconds. 

the last bit, which was the sweetest part of my afternoon in the sun, was to suddenly realize that most of this shifting and figuring out would have been a LOT harder had we hit the road running from the very get-go, and wandered through 5 states by now.  we'd still be trying to find our groove as a family, while living under much more chaotic and shifting social situations.  i've been sitting here frustrated, champing at the bit (a bit panicked even), and feeling like we've lost all our momentum, courage, mojo, and followers.  it doesn't make for that lovely in-the-moment feeling, nor does it make me feel free to wander off to the forest preserve for the afternoon.  which was the best thing we could have done today.  i found my peace, my heart, my vision, and a whole new viewing point on the 78 days since we left home. 


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