The rain is falling while the sun gets cloaked by nimbostratus clouds that promise to stick around for the morning hours. It’s 8:44am, Hal just left for work. Max and Bella are still slumbering – Max in his own bed, BellaGrace in mine. I have the next four days off and a small To Do List. Grocery shopping, clean the bathroom, vacuüm, laundry – the usual domestic stuff that has a modest but meaningful role in my life.
With the kids… when the weather clears up (it’s been raining a lot here in Florida) I want to take them out to TreeUmph before the Summer is over. Some Geocaching is in order for the week, we get excited to hunt and find hidden treasures. Swimming at Grandpa and Lola’s house with the cousins. Lounging around the house, watching movies together, wrestling, laughing, hugging each other, kissing those little faces. These are the activities that fill the days I’m not at work. These are the activities that give meaning to my life.
But they are not the only activities that give meaning to my life.
Priorities in life look like this (as long as there are no emergencies that require me to put friends and extended family before work – because if either of those people told me that they needed me, I’d call off work or forego a solo walk to be there for them).
#1 Family – #2 Solitude – #3 Work – #4 Friends – #5 Extended Family
Solitude is vital (as I’ve shared many times before). And now, work gives meaning to my life. I work part-time because work, no matter what, gets categorized as a matter of importance behind family and solitude. I am able to work part-time because my life partner has taken on full-time hours and values the work of parenting. We also have managed to keep our debt within a manageable range. I love that Hal has a strong sense of responsibility towards his family. We have set our family up so that one of us is the primary caretaker. Like most people, Hal would work part-time hours in a heartbeat if he could still get all the benefits that come with working full-time. Hal grew up with traditional family values and decided to hold on to the ones that benefit him and his family. He doesn’t have to, but he does. His dad worked full-time and his mom part-time so she could manage the home and kids. Fortunately, Hal contributes to domestic work and child rearing – the modern man that he is. I do most of the domestic stuff, but he helps when asked and sometimes when I don’t ask. We have a traditional family arrangement but with a few upgrades to that design.
I have to make time for family and solitude for the sake of my mental health. Friendship gets prioritized behind family, solitude, and work – but that is only because work requires me to give it scheduled time that I may otherwise give to friends. I wouldn’t call off work if I was already scheduled in order to hang out with a friend but I would schedule my work around spending time with a friend. In other words, because work contributes to the well-being of my family – which is priority #1 – I put work before socializing. But socializing is still a priority in life.
I place experiencing solitude before spending time with Hal because we live together and he knows that without solitude I’d be miserable. He doesn’t see it as I am putting solitude before him – we understand it as I’m able to give and love because I experience solitude.
“The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
I’m not sharing this to impress or disgust, I’m writing it for myself – writing organizes me. We all have our ways. Knowing my priorities in life has made a huge difference in how I choose to spend my time. Knowing my priorities prevents me from feeling like a leaf in the wind.
Love is an action word – telling my kids I love them but not doing anything to show them feels empty. Primarily, I give love by spending quality time with someone and accepting them as they are, as I accept myself as I am. Areas where I’m hard on myself, I am hard on others (self-acceptance helps me to love unconditionally but I am far from ideal in that practice – and that is okay, too.). I will also use touch to express kindness, affection, and love. I take this love everywhere with me, even into my working hours with patients and colleagues. Other ways to show love is by giving gifts, words of affirmation, and acts of service. (There are prolly more ways to show and receive love but I haven’t thought about it beyond the truths that I gleamed from the book in the link.)
How we give love mirrors what we need from others to know how loved we are. I am learning how to meet the needs of others who experience and give love differently than what I naturally give. I’m learning to listen to what the needs of my kids are instead of assuming I know what is best. I’m learning. Still. Forever.
I struggle the most with my husband because he is the human who I am closest too and we experience love differently – don’t we all? Being so close to him but still feeling an ocean between us is weird. We are two separate people – marriage did not make us one (that is a bullshit idea, IMO, by the way). Just because we have enough in common to be compatible for the long haul doesn’t mean I always know what is going on in his inner world and vice/versa. We are friends, we are not each other. Witnessing this distance is a strangeness that I also respect. Distance exists in the same space as closeness. Like giving birth. Those closest to me are with me but not in actuality able to reach being there. They are an ocean away while I’m by the shore feeling the waves crashing against my body or while I’m floating on my back relaxing, or while I’m struggling to not drown. Distance is also in closeness with another.
I can see the appeal of science fiction bringing two minds together as if you’re operating with one. I can see the poetic romanticism of two becoming one. But love is a sort of togetherness with separateness…