Much Ado About Nothing

I’ve had one full-fledged panic attack.  With all the anxiety over all these years, one full-fledged horrible panic attack.  That’s pretty amazing and pretty lucky.  The lid-about-to-boil-over effect is one of my body’s favorite go-tos.  Lately, it’s switched over to heart palpitations when my mind starts racing.  The other night as I lay in bed thinking of all I wanted to accomplish, my heart ticked up.

See, I was faced with two whole days by myself.

Well, sort of.  The kids, on school vacation, were leaving partway through Wednesday and returning partway through Friday for a sleepover at their grandparents’.  My husband was working, but we’d have the evenings together.

But as I lay in bed the night before this whole evolution started, I felt incredibly disjointed.  I’d be waking with the kids the next day and making sure they had all the underwear and rain jackets and stuffed animals they’d need for Grammie’s.  Starting the day as mom, and then transitioning to . . . what?  A quasi-homemaker washing the laundry of my own that I haven’t had a chance to wash, but would like to wear since I’ll be my own person for a day or so?  Run the errands I didn’t get to yesterday because I can do them in half the time kid-free.  Or switch straight to sloth because I can sit on the couch and watch a movie uninterrupted in the middle of the day?  The pull of doing all the things – and needing to do some of the things – versus the things I wanted to do for my soul’s survival were ramping me up.  Or, more accurately, the fact that I was going to run out of time before I ran out of things to do – and my people came home.

When my baby – at the time – started kindergarten, I found myself floundering as I tried to fit indulgent baths and writing time and house projects in the six hours of each school day.  I actually restarted therapy because I was so lost.  After years of never being alone, I thought I couldn’t wait until I finally was.  And I was right.  But, as any mom of a certain number of years will tell you, whether you mean to or not, so much of yourself becomes the mom-self that when there suddenly is a void – be it from kindergarten or college – you unexpectedly find yourself flailing.  So the switch of me-time flipped from famine to feast – and it still wasn’t enough.  I found myself dreading the return-time of the bus – because I hadn’t done enough, been alone long enough.  And I hadn’t even decided what I was going to do for work now that all my kiddos were in school.  My therapist told me I wasn’t ready to go to work; that I needed to unwind a bit more before I contemplated what was next.

And then I got pregnant.  [Insert bitter ironic laugh here]

Next month that baby will be three.  We’re contemplating sending her to preschool next year so I find myself facing the same quandries of what to do with my ‘free’ time as I did three and a half years ago.  But I’m starting a little early this time.  My eldest is old enough and owns a phone now so for a few hours a week I put her in charge of her sisters and sneak away to write, think.  I can already feel that I have much work to do on myself to prep for the actual work.  Plus, even on those days it’s me and the baby while the others are at school, I still dread the return of the bus.

These two days are a microcosm of that feeling; what elicited that heart-pounding panic in the dim of my room the other night.  I’m not back to square one.  I’m working on such a backlog, such a deficit of self-care in the simplest sense of the word – like silence to think – that the return of my people, the resumption of the needs, demands, to-dos, freaks me the %*$# out.  Not because I don’t love them.  Not because I hate my life.  Not because I could/should keep them away so I can do all my things.  It’s unrealistic for me to think I could possibly catch up on all I’ve been wanting to do in one day to myself.  But I think my ‘fight or flight’ is afraid I’ll never get any time to myself again.

So I lie in bed and run through every possible permutation of what I could do with my time, petrified that I won’t get it right and regret squandering my precious time to myself.

Obsessive, anxiety-inducing behavior.  Not totally rational, though rationalizing every move, of course.

But this day and a half have produced some wins.

I got a haircut.  I hand-washed those long-since buried bits of clothing.  I scheduled two posts.  I drank a latte and ate a muffin bigger than my head.  I drank wine with my husband, enjoyed a new recipe with him without the kids turning their noses up, and watched a movie without turning the volume down.  I reveled in lyrical literature.  And stared into space a bit while my mind wandered.

There’s always the panic – or possibility of.  There’s always something that could be done.  There’s always doubt.  But there are the good things, too.  Here’s to looking in the middle distance enough – neither too closely nor unseeingly – to recognize them.

On the Treadmill

No, this is not an account of my latest exercise endeavors.  The only personal story I have about treadmills is my daughter’s run-in with one that ended in road-rash (see what I did there?).  That still makes me giggle.  Don’t judge.  It was her own fault.  I’m pretty much in love with OK Go’s endeavors on treadmills, too.

But me, no.

Which is ironic because I’m on one every damn minute of every damn day – the metaphoric treadmill of motherhood.

Maybe it’s unfair to blame all of my mania on motherhood.  There probably is some part of my personality that would still schedule me to my utmost limit – but it’s hard to imagine what life would be like if I ‘only’ had to work without the constraints and constancy of mothering.  And even pre-kid working me would binge watch Trading Spaces in a blob on the couch after a particularly hectic day of work.

Now, when I get the chance to step off the treadmill, I’m like that blob – but without the decision-making capabilities of any grey matter.  Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the grey matter used for ‘personal’ decision-making is so underused it has atrophied.

When we get off the treadmill so infrequently, our bodies and minds know not what to do without the cycle and incessant motion.  Being at rest is so foreign, that part of ourselves we’ve shoved down for so long is like a salamander with a light shone on it.

That part that cultivates hobbies, interests, passions; rest, rejuvenation, relaxation.  That little corner inside ourselves closest to our souls.  The part that should be getting more play, not the least amount possible.  Not so little that when it can come out to play, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

By some stroke of luck and generosity, I find myself alone and stuffing my face with donuts.  I’m also sipping on a caramel-sea salt-molasses-coffee concoction.  The caffeine and sugar combination is already thumping in my veins and lining my blood sugar up on the cliff.  BUT what else does one do when you can stuff your face with forbidden foods without little people’s pleading eyes killing your buzz?  Yoga without a little person sitting on your head or smashing into your pelvis while you try to relax into savasana?  A warm bath with the aromatic soaks your friend handcrafted!?  Scrap some of the eight-thousand photos that would bring you into the last decade?  Write that folktale you’ve been ruminating on?  Or the several posts you’ve been marinating?  Or actually get down ideas for the next big jump in your life?

Or you could stand in the middle of your living room floor, holding onto your phone with your atrophied little T-Rex arms and scroll Facebook on your browser – not the app because you took it off your phone for Lent so you wouldn’t go on FB so much – and not sitting down because that would mean it’s not just a temporary distraction to which you’re not totally committed.  You could stand there and fill the void with more vacuous activity instead of plucking one valuable thing out of the myriad you haven’t had a chance for in so long.  You can give in to the confounding paralysis that comes from wishing desperately for more time and then desperately wanting to do all that you’ve missed out on once you get a bit – that you do nothing.  You could also invite your anxiety in so that even watching Trading Spaces or whatever binge-worthy show has replaced it is ruined because you can’t let go of the things you’re not doing.

The answer, I suppose, is to get more free time; take more free time.  Part of that is impossible because – treadmill.  Part of that is more difficult because of my ‘prepping for a sub is more work than a day of teaching’ theory.  And a huge – perhaps the most insurmountable – part of it is breaking ourselves of the mental and emotional habits that have led to this.  Yes, we can be angry at the treadmill, curse the unseen figures that keep turning it on and programming it to higher, faster levels, but we need to learn how to unplug it, unplug ourselves.  So that even when we get some time, we don’t spend the whole time trying to unwind.

Now I face the insurmountable task of unwinding with a gob of caffeine floating throughout my system.  I’ll let you know how savasana goes.  Or maybe I’ll have an energized bout of writing.  I don’t know, I haven’t decided yet.

Incremental Illness

It’s easy to ignore when it creeps up on you,
increasing slowly, by small degrees

Or not even ignore –
just not even notice

the paranoia that maybe you’re not cool enough to hang
the resentment for the life you do not have
the loneliness
the inability to relax
the overwhelm over everyday things:
shopping, showering, getting out the door

Just not feeling
talking, going, doing –
                              it

Until one day it’s suddenly all you can see,
all you can feel

And you have to deal with it all at once

Marie Kondo Mind%#@&

It is a hell of a lot easier to make fun of Marie Kondo’s clients when you haven’t tried the KonMari method yourself.

On our New Year’s Netflix binge, my husband and I, along with millions of others across the country, watched Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up.  Yes, there seemed to be a disconnect between the first couple at which the disorganization only hinted.  Yes, I cringed at the way the toddler’s face was seemingly smashed against the mother’s ‘boobies.’  [Not in an anti-public-breastfeeding sort of way, but in an anti-awkward-hold sort of way?]  But those are all criticisms in the category of House Hunters nit-picking.  What got me was the way the second woman still kept what seemed to be an insane amount of clothing she’d bought to ‘hit [her husband] where it hurt.’  The way the mom hoping to have a third child said she was ready to ‘tidy’ but refused to get rid of anything – and then miraculously turned the tide with no clue as to how.  There was and is obviously more of the psychological to tidying than the physical.

I already knew this.  The milkcrates of ephemera in my basement already told that tale.  Knowing and embodying this psychological and emotional truth are two entirely different things, however.

Let it be known that I embarked on our once-nightly KonMari marathon in the midst of helping my mother clean out my grandmother’s house.  My grandmother, thank God, is still with us, but recently required a move to a nursing home.  Knowing that she sat in a facility across town while we rifled through her belongings didn’t necessarily help, though.  There was a weird element of mourning someone you had not yet lost – or at least the existence that you had together, the way of life she’d known.  It also made me mourn my grandfather’s death, which happened when I was five.  I mourned it then, as a five-year-old can in her limited understanding, carrying that childhood sorrow and sense of loss into adulthood, but unearthing his buried belongings brought a fresh wave of poignancy I hadn’t expected.  Then I would come home, with a bag of someone else’s belongings I thought I needed to remember her (and him) by, and watch a show about purging the things of which I already had too many.

Two whole days went by with me fully intending to make that massive pile of clothing on my bed and start with Kondo’s first step.  I’d look at the clock and wonder whether I’d have enough time to tackle it before bedtime.  I’d gauge whether I had enough energy.  I discussed with my husband the difference between a piece ‘sparking joy’ and practicality.  But in a practical sense, those pieces that spark joy are really the items you actually wear and the others are just taking up space or waiting for the day you run out of clean laundry.

I finally decided this last Saturday to do it.  I went into the basement and grabbed an arm full of plastic dry-cleaning bags encasing one prom and a few bridesmaid’s dresses.  I hauled up my bin of summer clothes, all neatly rolled and stored for the season.  I emptied my drawers and closet.  I patted myself on the back for taking this drastic step, then looking at the huge pile, realized how many more steps I now had to take.

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So much excess in a world of want (Jennifer Butler Basile)

I probably should’ve started by holding one piece I was absolutely positive gave me joy to get that sense of what I was seeking.  Instead, I pulled out the several pieces I’d already had in my head as goners and chucked them into a pile on the floor.  This felt good initially, then left me with no idea of where to go next.  I picked up a sweater I remembered buying on our honeymoon at an Esprit store in San Fran.  Those of you children of the eighties who grew up in New England know what a big deal it was to buy something from an actual Esprit store.  I stared at it, waiting for some sort of answer, then put it down.  The memory of it sparked joy for sure, but did the sweater?  I tried on a bunch of clothes to check for fit and style, but I suppose the fact that I didn’t quite remember the fit meant I didn’t wear those pieces frequently enough to keep them.  One pair of pants in particular kicked my practicality into high gear.  I only wore them when none of my favorite jeans were in the closet, but they fit, were in good condition, and served as a good back-up.  Now, when I wear these, I curse the fact that they aren’t my better jeans, I am annoyed by the waistband and back pockets and poor stitching on some of the seams, but they are a nice neutral color and the length and boot cut of them work.  They are perfectly good pants – why would I throw them out?

Because, apparently, I have an unnatural attachment to things.  My anxiety makes me second guess my decisions.  My desperate grasp for control makes me think if I let something go, I will need it someday and won’t have it.  My tight budget won’t necessarily allow for replacement of missing items.

As I stood staring at the embarrassingly large pile of clothes, so big that I was ashamed to post it on social media that day despite the trending Marie Kondo hashtags, I was paralyzed by so much angst.  Saying thank-you couldn’t absolve me from the guilt and remorse I had in letting these things go.   Not because I was madly in love with pieces, not because I felt compelled to do a penitential cleanse.  Because it was forcing me to make decisions I’d avoided due to lack of brain bandwidth.  Because it meant facing the fact that I no longer needed the beautiful professional wardrobe I’d picked out with such pride when I’d started teaching.  Because it meant accepting that I can no longer wear skirts cut on the bias due to the way childbirth has forever altered my hips and backside.  Because it meant finally owning that any day is special enough to wear my favorite items and look good.  Because it meant not letting laundry reach an untenable level so that I actually have key pieces to wear.

Sorting clothes Marie Kondo style messed with my head because it forced me to face truths about my life, my body, and me: the ways each of them have changed, the ways they need to change.  Perhaps these realizations hit me even harder since I wasn’t expecting pieces of clothing to elicit them.

While I’ve collected these realizations, I’ve yet to process them; they’re my metaphorical basket of clean laundry in the corner yet to be folded and put away.  It took me two days to bag my discards for donation.  I still held certain things up to the light, like my Esprit sweater in the beginning, wondering whether I should part with an item so nice but so infrequently worn.

I’ve obviously learned that physical items carry psychic weight and hope that once the bags are no longer in my peripheral vision, I’ll no longer doubt my culling decisions.  I can already appreciate the way my hangers run freely on their rail; the way I can easily see and access my scarves.  I’m putting much more thought into what I wear, finding new ways to combine pieces I decided to keep.  The prospect of thoughtfully adding new pieces tailored specifically to my style as budget, necessity, and time allow is kind of exciting.  I can’t say the process has brought a whole lot of joy upon my house, as one of the children on the show proclaimed, but then I never was good at dealing with change or letting go.  And clothing is only step one, after all . . .

Granting Ourselves Permission

In college, a friend and I went out for a night of shopping.  When she was ambivalent about buying a certain item, or deciding between two, I encouraged her to buy it, or both.  Why not?  It looks great, it’s so fun, you like it, go for it.  It was so easy to pull out these positive affirmations.  There was no doubt she deserved a gift to herself.  The approval rolled off my tongue like water.  Plus, it wasn’t my money to spend 😉

This isn’t a case for fiscal irresponsibility, but a small example of how easily we give others permission, yet don’t permit ourselves the same freedom.

I grew up on the back cusp of Generation X, not quite part of it, but as of then, Millenials didn’t exist and there was no Generation Z yet leading to a brief mention of the Ys squeezed in the middle.  In any event, my hands were in technology, my heart firmly rooted in the old school.  I gauged success as being chosen for a job by a superior, validated by an organization, an agency.  By membership, the man, bureaucracy.  Not because I particularly liked it, but because it felt more official, came with a certain amount of cache.  I was used to looking at existing structures and following the chain of command.  I still hold the deep desire to be granted authenticity by a major publishing house.

Then there came under me whole generations of people, who some may say eschew all tradition and decorum to a fault, but who aren’t afraid of creating their own structures.  People who crowd source and crowd fund.  Who wake up one morning with an idea, a dream, and chase it.

In that weird shiftless space between Christmas and New Year’s, my husband and I got our adult time (as surrounded by children) by taking to the couch and Netflix documentaries.  If you watch enough food, travel, and minimalist episodes, their algorithms eventually bring you around to Expedition Happiness, a sparse, reflective film documenting the trek of two young Germans across North America.  Mogli’s music sets an ethereal tone for the film and their attitude does the rest.  They bought an out-of-commission American school bus online, secured a work Visa to retrofit it as a camper, then headed through Canada to Alaska, south along the west coast to Mexico.  Other than an outline of a route, they had no plans.  I still don’t know what they did for money.  I’m having a panic attack just thinking of it all.

And yet, I want that ability, even in small ways in my life, to allow myself such adventures.

Following up on the couple after the documentary, I saw a video wherein Mogli appealed to her fans who wanted her to perform stateside.  She explained that, in typical music industry fashion, she and her band would have to finance a trip to the States first to host a showcase to garner agent interest.  Then, if an agent were interested, he or she would arrange a tour.  A lot of capital up front for something that might never pan out.  But in the next breath, she vehemently exclaimed she wasn’t going to let such a process stop her from connecting with her fans.  She launched a plan to presell a set amount of tickets, which would guarantee her presence in that city.  She circumvented a system that didn’t serve her, cutting the head off an unyielding monster and went straight to the source – her fans.

Personality, not only generational hutzpah, also plays a huge part in such an outlook.  I am much too rooted in my sense of place, home to make a cross-continental trek indefinitely.  I am much too anxious to not plan obsessively.  However, I am also horrible at giving myself permission to follow my inner movings.

It is much too easy to say, oh I can’t do that.

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Kathy McAfee

Who is telling me I can’t?  Is it fear?  Is it adhering too closely to existing, yet increasingly changing, constructs?  Just as there is no one telling me I can’t, there is no one telling me, I can.  But no one ever will when I’m following my own movings – except me.

More people around me, my peers, my contemporaries, are branching out into nontraditional roles in the workforce by following their own desires for what they want in their lives and what they want to see in the world.  Just this week, a friend started her own business.  She got the credentials and experience she needed and went out on her own.  She didn’t look for someone to say her services were needed; she presented her skills to the world and people are seeking her out.

The ease with which I encouraged my friend to buy something special for herself, without guilt, without second-guessing; the passion with which I believe in my friends who have put themselves at the heads of their own destinies – I need to now turn these energies inward.  I must show myself the grace, compassion, and strength I offer to others.  For when I wake up in the morning burning with those dreams, it is only I who put my feet on the floor and follow them.

 

How do you grant yourself permission?

Being Zoe

Last night as I sat on the glider with my pajama-clad toddler nestled in beside me waiting for her story, I paused a moment. Her anticipation was palpable, her cozy little body so cute. And yet, I spoke to my husband, resting on our bed in a brief respite before the next round of bedtime exhortations for our older three.

“You know, I don’t get anything done around the house when I’m home with her, but it’s not like I spend any quality time with her either. I have all these half-finished things I’m working on and getting frustrated about – instead of just giving up and giving her my full attention.”

He knew it was just my latest in a line of vents/complaints/realizations as I try to come to terms with my reality. It has been an ongoing conversation, one that couldn’t be solved at that moment anyway. There were stories to read, older cats to herd. There’s also a slice of something that just can’t be changed the way life is right now.

This morning, in the small window between two kids leaving and another rousing, I decided to spend a few minutes doing some spiritual reading. Time for me, time to center – before plunging headfirst into the day – or trolling Facebook, which very rarely yields spiritual dividends. I fumbled around, trying to find the page I’d left off on since the toddler, who now positioned her head directly in my line of sight, had been so kind to reposition the bookmark for me on a previous occasion.

I’m pretty sure I reread pages already hard fought on another day, but in them, the author talked about zoe and bios. Eternal life vs earthly life. Do we strive for something bigger than ourselves? Or are we bogged down by the day-to-day so that we can’t see beyond the ends of our own noses?

My first year of teaching, I taught a short story called “Be-ers and Do-ers” by Budge Wilson to my eighth graders. They were more enthralled by the close resemblance of the first word of the title to an adult beverage than the overarching theme, but even then, I think I knew that the play between the two ends of this spectrum was important. Before life got crazy hectic and happiness was hard-won.

Am I mistaking productivity for a successful day? Week? Motherhood? Life?

Am I looking to to-do lists as structure for the free-form days of stay-at-home motherhood?

Am I allowing quantitative data to measure my worth and override the qualitative moments of life? Because it’s easier to complete measurable tasks than surrender oneself to something or someone outside of themselves?

Hours later, after I’d given up reading and hustled number three out the door, I wrestled the toddler onto the changing table. She went full-alligator until I burst into tears. “Why, God, why?” I called out, not unaware of how pitiful my approximation of Jesus’ agony on the cross was. As fiercely as she’d fought, she suddenly was peaceful.

That was why.

Bios – doing – is that much harder when I pay no mind to zoe – being. Being at peace, in God’s light, resting in the assurance that He knows more and can handle more than I can.

“The boredom or tedium of life flows from [a] lack of depth. We tend to focus merely on the horizontal, the immediate reality of life, without ever hearing or obeying the words of our Lord: ‘Duc in altum! Set out into the deep!’ (Lk 5:4)”

Stepping on the Serpent: The Journey of Trust with Mary by Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC

 

Profound Simplicity

Coming home to porch lights beaming like a beacon,
a sign that someone inside loves me,
anticipates my return.

Blossoming across the porch,
filling that space,
highlighting the grain of empty adirondack chairs,
the shadow in the space between the slats.
Spilling over and through the tic tac toes of the windows,
imbuing the living room with a soft warm glow akin to Christmas candles.

The lines of the room the only thing standing out:
straight across the back of the sofa,
the vertical rungs of the rocking chair,
the vaulted grid over the glass of the wood stove

In this dim light,
this stark relief,
is the bones,
the foundation of what matters.

The lines of life in this place,
this home I fell in love with.

In the light of day, distraction drowns them out
But here, in the quiet of night, profound simplicity reigns.

Junk in the Trunk

There is a whole lot more junk in my trunk lately.

And, no, this isn’t that type of post.

I mean, literally.  A ton of junk in my trunk.

It all started one Friday almost two weeks ago.  In a scheduling feat only I would engineer, I had three days to prep for an outdoor overnight with one daughter’s Girl Scout troop and clean the house and menu-plan and shop for a dinner party for fourteen upon my sleep-deprived return.  So, of course, a health question that needed office-visit answering arose and the one opening my doctor had was smack dab in the middle of my harried day of reckoning.

Re-engineering the day to fit everything in, I hit the discount store first.  The two-year old squawked when I put her in the shopping cart, but soon entertained herself by holding the various items I plucked off the shelves.  I, of course, chose judiciously which ones she could hold without causing herself bodily harm or a ‘clean-up on aisle five’ effect.  The dish detergent did give me pause, but as long as she didn’t undo the cap on the plastic bottle . . . I’d watch her closely.  A few minutes later, she lost interest and hucked it over her shoulder into the larger part of the carriage anyway.  That was the end of that.

Until the citrusy aroma of Ajax niggled at the back of my nose as we drove a few towns over to my appointment.  I made a mental note to check the cap, thinking maybe it hadn’t survived the huck.  But when we pulled into the doctor’s parking lot, early, and having already checked one task off my list, I was too busy patting myself on the back and herding the two-year old inside to check for a citrus spill.  I was owning this harried day.

 

Turns out we were super early, since the doctor was running late.  We managed to make a bathroom visit, grind bright orange cracker crumbs into the carpet, crinkle every sticker in the good behavior basket, do a diaper change, and make some friends while we waited.  Luckily, the health issue seemed to be a non-issue so we headed back to the car.

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Good thing the extra 20% was free . . . 

Closed up for some time, the citrus smell was super concentrated in the car now.  Popping open the trunk, I found a soupy mess under the sea of plastic shopping bags.  Apparently my decision to buy the bottle with 20% more free was a moot point now.  Using an old towel left in the trunk, I sopped up the slimy mess, which would turn sudsy every time I thought I’d swiped the last of it. As I stood in the cavernous open mouth of my trunk, scrunching up slippery plastic bags and reorganizing their contents, cars zoomed by behind me, pulling the minutes of my early lead on the day with them.   And I still had to hit the grocery store for perishable items for the dinner.

 

Somehow, I made it to camp on time, but as we closed out dinner on the fire, our wood supply dwindled as well.  Camp wasn’t too far from home so my husband met me at the main entrance to the park and loaded firewood into the trunk, mixing the earthy smell of logs with artificial citrus.  The dirt and splinters didn’t bother me as much as they would have since the whole trunk needed a thorough cleaning already.

I felt like a real-life advertisement for removable trunk liners with raised lips to contain spills.  Soap suds, even on a low-pile rug, would have been a nightmare.  And neither my husband nor I would have loaded wood onto anything but the ruggedized surface.  Yet, neither of us pulled it out to wash it off after its workout that Friday.  The soap had dried, the splinters would still be waiting, and maybe we sensed there was more to come.

When another daughter’s Girl Scout troop painted pumpkins for Halloween, of course they hadn’t dried when it was time to load them into the trunk.  The other leader gave me a large plastic bag to lay out on the bottom; I lay the ripped off half of a legal-size file folder over it, the pumpkin resting on top.  I crawled out of the parking lot at a snail’s pace – and the pumpkin rolled over on the first turn.  Flipping on the four-way flashers and righting the pumpkin, I edged up the hill, over the main road and turned onto the side street across the way.  I made it but one more turn before it rolled again.  This time, I hedged my bets, hoping it would stay put in its corner until we arrived home.  My little Scout, meanwhile, was peering over the backseat the entire time, giving me a running commentary of its travels and the patches of pumpkin now showing through the paint.  When we finally extracted the pumpkin from the trunk in our driveway, sure enough, the trunk was more purple than the pumpkin.  She, of course, was more distraught about the pumpkin.  A blob of purple paint on the corner of the file folder, her makeshift palette, remained so I instructed her to go inside, get a paintbrush, and set to fixing her pumpkin on the porch.  I donned a headlamp, a handful of wet paper towel, and package of baby wipes and set to scrubbing down the inside of the trunk.

Turns out the spill of dish detergent at the outset of this trunk evolution was fortuitous when it came to scrubbing down purple paint.  That wet paper towel activated it like a dream.  And suds scrubbed out any dirt the wood chips had left behind.  The rubber-stamped letters of Subaru raised in purple relief against the black backdrop as the absurdity of this phase in my life came to bear.  Would I ever have imagined that I’d be standing in the pitch black of my driveway following the bobbing beam of a headlamp as I scrubbed poster paint out of the back of my car?  While my nine-year-old finished her squash masterpiece by porch light?  While my pajama-clad eleven-year-old peered out the window, drawn by the random shards of light sluiced across the dining room?  While my thirteen-year-old busied the two-year-old, who started this all, upstairs?  While my husband placed the packet of fundraising materials on the dining room table without realizing it was also covered in splatters of purple paint that got all over his hands and anything he touched within the next few minutes?

All because I thought I could fit it all in, in a short window of time; do it all at top speed and not make any mistakes.  Or because life with four children in a family of six people is always lived at breakneck speed with absurd missteps and stuff you just can’t make up.  If my eleven-year-old looked out the window in disbelief, I could just imagine what my neighbors thought if they saw the shifting beams of light through the trees.

The junk in the trunk wasn’t there long enough to become baggage, but old habits like over-scheduling and unrealistic expectations of what I can actually accomplish always travel with me.  Luckily, so do smart purchases like the ruggedized trunk liner and a sense of humor.  And the crazy few days leading up to the dinner party made me enjoy my glass of wine with friends even more.  And the bemused look on my eleven-year-old’s face as she took in her crazed cyclops mother makes my heart sing.  There are small moments of authenticity amidst the chaos – and never a dull moment.

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The offending pumpkin

Mind Over Water

Treading water only lasts so long

At some point,
the pull of the boat or dock or shore
becomes too much

The edge of exhaustion creeps up
The doubt of how much longer the legs and arms can cycle,

When will the muscles or lungs give out?

The hand must be able to reach out –

To grasp the solid surface
To heave the dead weight up and out of the abyss.

Unless you decide to float

To rest your head in line with the water,
Arch your back toward the sky
Let your hands and feet sway like seaweed

Rest and freedom come with this release
But also require relinquish of control:

The moment your ears slip below the surface,
Deadening the sound of the world above,
Open only to the gentle sloshing below

The origin of your breath so close to submersion
Your lungs expanding above and below the water
Your bottom threatening to pull it all under.

Possible panic in action and inaction
All at the thin line where the water meets the air

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iStock

Holiday Hangover

Is it Tuesday already?

It came as quite the shock this morning when I had to wake up and rouse myself and kids to face another school day.  The holiday weekend seemed much longer than three days, as if we’d all already slipped into summer mode.

The long weekend was some weird sort of stasis.  It was neither too long nor too short; not stupendous nor horrible.  It was good.  In the midst of PMS and prepping for my two-year-old’s birthday party, I managed to not lose my mind and then relax a bit and enjoy the rest of my weekend.

Yet, even though I cleared out a wood pile that had been lingering in the yard and set up my compost area; even though I cleared a garden bed and planted two long-waiting potted plants; even though I enjoyed laughing with my husband and girls as we ate our first outdoor ice cream of the season – my thoughts turned last eve to how it all may not have been real.

The fact that I survived and thrived may have been a fluke.  The fact that I managed to not only be productive, but enjoy it; that I could not only enjoy my children, but feel joy with them; the fact that I wasn’t overly irritable, low, or unmotivated – I couldn’t just be in these wonderful feelings.

As I looked to a return to routine, I wondered whether I’d fail on my own.  Without the buffer of helpers in the house, would I be overwhelmed with the task of caring for my little one?  Would I feel trapped without the option of another set of hands if I had to tend to a household task or take a moment for myself?  Would my mood plummet without the excitement of a holiday weekend and the drudgery of the everyday?

It is said that comparison is the thief of joy.  Depression is as well.  It’s also said depression is a liar.  It is.  It is telling me lies about how I may fail.  And anxiety is helping spool out its prophecies far into the future.

I may have reached a point where therapies and supplements are finally coming together for my success.  But I cannot trust that.  If I do, the bottom of what I wish for so vehemently may fall out from underneath me.  I may have just had a pretty great weekend.  But even that, I can’t enjoy.  Because I figure my balance is due and I must pay up at some point.

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iSpot.tv

I look forward to celebrating the holiday where the right treatment and my own ability to sit in and take a moment for what it is converge; where no thing is the thief of my joy.  That will be a true celebration.

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