Musing Upon How I am Doing

“How’s your day going?” The question seems so simple and it ought to merit a simple answer. The same is true of “How are you?” Which calls for a simple “fine” or “awful.” These questions are hard for me because whatever I am in the middle of, I have to pause and figure out which piece of emotion is relevant to my current context and to the person who asked. With friends at church I talk about the start of school and Kiki going to college. Writer friends want to hear about how my writing life is going. Howard wants either a quick business meeting or to make sure that his wife is doing okay. My kids are using the question as a precursor to a request and probably don’t really want an answer at all. Summarizing is difficult, just ask any writer who has had to create a synopsis for a novel. There is so much going on, so much nuance, and somehow all that has to be shed to catch only the core of the story.

Today’s story could be about setting up a Point of Sale system and the consequences of avoidance. It could be about adapting to being a three kid household, but I’m still in process on that one and the thoughts will be more coherent a little further down the road. I could tell about anxiety and the way that it lies, makes me avoid things that are not complicated, and then screams that something is a disaster when it is not. I could tell how I feel both triumphant and strong, but also like a complete failure. I could talk about my to do list or my awareness that the kids got very little attention from me today. So when the guy who brought by Howard’s tuxedo for a fitting asked how my day was going I laughed a little before attempting to answer.

How am I doing? I really don’t know. Kiki went to college and I miss her. Sometimes I miss her in the way that most people think of missing another person in that I think about her or something I’d like to say to her or a hug I’d like to give her. That sort of missing is experienced as a sadness, but it is only periodic and fairly comprehensible. Harder to quantify is the part of my brain that tells me I haven’t seen her for awhile and I should go upstairs to check to see if she’s where I expect and that she is okay. It is this ingrained mommy radar which constantly tracks my children at a subliminal level. When they were little it paid attention to noises and silences to prevent damage and danger. When they were little I immediately checked when they fell off the radar. Now I argue, they’re fine. Of course they’re fine. I need to not hover. I need to give them space. Yet there are times where I have to see that they are okay or I get anxious. That part of my brain is really struggling with being told we can’t really check on Kiki anymore. Texts and tweets help, but I know how easy it is to put on a brave face for two sentences of text. Is she okay, really? I can’t tell and that has been ratcheting up the ambient anxiety. This will pass. I’m sure it will, because I learned not to be anxious when they went to friends’ houses solo and when she started driving off in my car. So anxiety and missing Kiki are wafting through my head and combining in not so fun ways. But I don’t feel like a piece of my heart is walking around outside me. That feeling came and went on the first night. It may visit again, but thank heaven I don’t have to live with that constantly.

I had a moment of raw grief on the night I came home after leaving Kiki at college. It hit the way grief does when I was doing something unrelated, scooping food for the cat. I was struck with the fact that I would never again be in charge of all four of my kids. It is possible that Kiki will come home to live at some point in the future, but she will be an adult come to stay not a child in my house. That part is done. For two minutes sadness rolled over me because that part was really good the last few years. Once the first pressing weight abated, I realized that the balancing joy is contained in the exact same fact. I will never again be responsible for four children. The weight of that responsibility is forever lighter. Kiki’s life is her own, I don’t have to carry it anymore. There are other joys which lay beyond this transition. I’m seeing the beginning of them already. Kiki, Howard, and I are beginning to develop our methods for keeping in touch. The kids at home are going to shift patterns. We’ve barely started, we’re only on the third full day here.

When Howard goes to conventions there is a portion of me that goes into a holding pattern. I continue doing the necessary tasks and getting things done, but somehow I’m far more likely to engage in time killing activities. I’m passing the time until he comes back. I can feel that same waiting tendency wanting to kick in now, waiting for Kiki to come home. I think it is a function of the mommy radar, that I can tell it don’t worry about this one until…fill in the blank. I wonder how long it will be before that goes away. I suspect a couple of weeks.

And sometimes everything is just fine. No anxiety, no grief, no feeling of waiting, just me and my day. Tomorrow is church. I’m going to be asked the how are you question a lot, because my friends there know that Kiki left and that we have big conventions. They want to check on me and know if I’m okay in much the same way that my mommy radar wants me to check on Kiki. Because if I’m not okay, they want to be ready to help. My life is full of people who would be happy to help and make things easier. I just first have to figure out what help I might need, which means I have to figure out how I am doing. All of which is why if the “how are you doing” question were part of setting up Facebook, I would check the box next to “It’s complicated.”