49 degrees

It’s Thursday morning and I’m moving slowly.  If I’m lucky I won’t have to leave the house today.   It’s -3 degrees outside and our 1970s-built house is struggling to hold the heat.  Yesterday when I got home from work I discovered that I’d shut the woodstove down just a little too tightly and the fire had gone out.  The house was cold—a mere 49 degrees—and I had to devote my evening to warming the place up.  Today I have the luxury of staying home.  I’ll tend to the fire; cook something slow and savory.   I’ll have time to work on my story and go for a walk and read.

Funny how staying home feels luxurious these days.  When my children were small and I didn’t work away from home I was always looking for reasons to leave the house.  I needed to get out.  I rarely had time to read or write so I had to go searching for ways to stimulate my brain.  I needed to converse with other adults, go to performances and seek out activities that gave us a break from the routine of being home all the time.  I had to go away to find the space I needed in my life.

The other night I met with a group of writers at the library to discuss our projects and ambitions for the year.  My friend Bill, an elementary school teacher and poet, talked about how last year he had more time for creativity in his life with his middle child on foreign exchange and his older child at college.  He described it as having more “bandwidth.” I could relate.  I’m starting to feel the effects of more bandwidth in my own life.  Less than two weeks ago my son left for college and my sixteen-year-old daughter has taken a huge leap in self-sufficiency now that she has her driver’s license.

It’s a slow, gradual process, this gaining extra bandwidth.  It’s an hour of not driving to town and back.  It’s a night at home with my husband while Adella is gone on a DDF (drama, debate and forensics) tournament.  It’s more frequent evenings with no Netflix or television.  It’s a little less cooking, a little less cleaning.  It’s a lot less time spent waiting.

The extra bits of time are small, but they’re adding up.  There’s a part of me that feels I should be using this extra time to write more prolifically or get to work on our never-ending list of home projects that have been put on hold for the last several years, but so far that’s not what I’m doing.  So far with my extra time I’m doing a lot of wandering around, staring out the window, reading, thinking.

I have a suspicion that most people my age, especially parents, have a hard time allowing themselves much unqualified time.  I think about my friends around town.  Some of them homeschool their own children (which is a full time job with very few breaks and no pay) and yet they still manage to keep their families well fed and their houses in order.  One of them directs a nonprofit agency and spends her weekends shuffling her daughter around the state for hockey tournaments.  One wrote a book and earned an advanced degree while teaching school.  A co-worker of mine volunteers in her children’s classrooms on her days off and then at night, when the rest of her family is in bed she studies for a couple of hours.   It’s probably best if I don’t compare myself to these friends of mine who seem to use their time so efficiently. At least not right now.

In a society that measures productivity by the number of dollars earned or tasks completed, I’m falling terribly short.  I could be looking for ways to earn more money.  I could go back to yoga class or involve myself with one of the many nonprofit organizations that are doing great things for our community.  But for now, I just want to stay home.  I want the company of my dogs.  I want to walk around my property and notice all the things that go unnoticed in a hectic life.  I want to take naps and drink tea and sometimes play the same fiddle tune a hundred times until I get a certain part just right.

For now, the little bit of extra time and space in my life feels good—nourishing even, after many intense years of raising children.  Of course there are still bills to pay and debt and chores and work, but there is more space around each of those things as my children move on with their own lives.  So today my tasks are to play my fiddle, make dinner, keep a hot fire in the woodstove and finish this blog post.  Tonight I’ll spend the evening with my daughter before she heads off to Anchorage for another tournament this weekend.  I probably won’t set any productivity records or add anything of great value to this world, but for today it’s enough.  Sometimes in the middle of winter, in a poorly insulated house, it’s enough just to keep the temperature above 49 degrees.


12 thoughts on “49 degrees”

  1. Ah, good–I was just looking in to see if you had a post up about the Resolve to Write event. I’m preparing the 49 W round-up and was going to link blog posts discussing it.

    I’m so glad that you’re finding some bandwidth in compensation for any possible empty nest feelings. And keeping a warm space for yourself and your family does add something of value to the world: please acknowledge that. What you’ve written here is valuable too, for that matter.

    1. Thank you Ela for your always affirming voice and for your work to promote and support the writing community.
      Sending love your way as I know these past few days have been difficult.

  2. Morning Teresa! I’ve awarded you the Versatile Blogger Award! As with all awards, tiaras, and the like, there’s some responsibilities (which is really just a fun way to meet great bloggers). More info at http://www.cindymbell.com/2012/01/27/blog-love/

    Also, as a former Alaska dweller, I can relate to what a task it can be just to keep the place warm. Back when I had my cabin in Homer, I’d debate going out vs how cold the cabin would be when I returned.

    1. Thanks Cindy for the award! It’s supposed to warm up a little today and I’m counting on a little solar heat to help the wood stove along.

  3. I’m thinking about how when you take a kid out of school, you’re often advised to let them take about 10 months to “decompress’ before anything new. Sort of a recuperating/rejuvination space. Maybe we deserve the same….

    1. Good point. I’m giving myself that space, and trying not to feel guilty about it. That’s the real challenge.

  4. Since I have a son off to college in the fall and a daughter hitting adolescence now, this really hits home. I admire your willingness to adapt slowly and not overfill the new time with “to-do”s. Contemplation is just as important. Also loved that expanding bandwidth metaphor — that will stay with me. Glad to have discovered this!

    1. Thanks Andromeda! Here’s hoping your upcoming transitions will be smooth. And congratulations on your new book. I’ve followed your journey of writing it and researching it on 49 Writers and I can’t wait to get myself a copy!

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