With the dreary, wet, anything-but-summer weather outside, cheerfulness comes to me only as a plodding choice.
After a messy, fitful night with a child unable to keep food or fever down, I found myself fixating on the worst case. I fought with worry, arguing about everything as serious (and perhaps far fetched) as febrile seizures and IV fluids to matters as selfish and inconsequential as missing the 10K road race this weekend.
This morning, I woke up to another day of summer rain, with a toddler that required a caravan of blankets, towels and a barf bucket just to travel to the family room. I had mentally prepared for the illness to hit every member of the family and stretch for a week or more.
So, when Sheridan slurped down a Pedia-Pop and asked for more, hope crept in. When she begged for a bagel and ate happily, hope stood up. And when, after four hours, both her breakfast and fevered had disappeared for good, I joined hope in the happy dance.
The idea of spending a whole summer's day indoors, coloring and cuddling, doesn't ordinarily fill me with wild joy. But today, it was cause for celebration. A picture perfect gift.
To read about more gifts discovered in the messy ordinary day, visit Chatting at the Sky for Tuesdays Unwrapped.
With the dreary, wet, anything-but-summer weather outside, cheerfulness comes to me only as a plodding choice.
We did fare better than the lobster, so really (seriously!!), who can complain? Not these two, I'll tell you!
Caed decided he loves lobster after all:
And playing in the rain didn't dampen their spirits one drop:
Thankfully, the week bestowed one semi-sunny day upon us. And of course, you know where we went. That's right, straight to "da beeeech!" (Note that Dani knows no other way to say the word "beach" than to take 10 full seconds and span an entire octave).
To which he inquired, "Are the sun and the fog having a battle?"
"Yes, something like that," I humored his need to relate everything back to an archetypal struggle between good and evil, or just to Star Wars. (He gets the award here for knowing the most one possibly can about a movie one's never even seen).
"Oh boy, I t'ink the sun's gonna win! Cuz I know how the sun gets rid of the fog. Do you know, Mommy? Well, it uses its sunny pokers and blasts the fog like pow, pow pow!" (Commence sun-gun hand motions).
All it took was Caed's vote of confidence, because within the hour, the sun gun had wiped out the fog.
To catch up from the beginning: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
It is never said we are grief-nudged, or grief-touched. Grief does not whisper or tap our shoulders. It strikes as a baseball bat to the gut, and suddenly we are on the ground, so disoriented we gasp for sight and blink for air.
Grief deals only doubling-over blows.
"Becky." It was not a question, but recognition, when he answered the ringing on an early Saturday evening.
He listened, then doubled over, stricken, hand clutching forehead. He straightened, eyes speaking horror as they met mine, and again, he doubled over.
"We're coming." And he hung up the phone.
It sounded like shouting, but he might have whispered it.
I heard but didn't believe.
"Rick's dead," he said again, in rising pitch and wavering voice, as if by speaking it, he had made it real.
We grabbed shoes and keys and possibly a coat, and we wept our way to the hospital.
It was there we saw him--the best friend, the husband, the new father--already gone.
And it was there we saw her--no longer defined by the son she'd just birthed but by the husband she'd just lost--without him.
And it was there that we began the sobbing up and down, a roller coaster of rib cages, exhausted from the labor it took just to breathe. We held onto her until they came to roll him away.
I don't remember sleeping that night, but I do remember waking up to a blurry, suffocating sorrow. I don't remember dressing or driving, but I do remember sitting in the balcony when D.C. Washington sang "Give me Jesus". When he began the last verse, I could no longer hold the weight of my head, and again, the doubling over, shoulders shaking my head into my hands. "When I come to die, when I come to die, when I come to die, give me Jesus. You can have all this world, but give me Jesus."
On the way to Becky's, we stopped for a baker's dozen, predicting even the Boston Creams would go untouched. We knew no one was hungry, but we had to show up with something besides our shocked and swollen selves.
I told Becky about the song I'd heard, about how I 'd cried the whole way through. She wrote it down because Maybe they could sing that song at the service. And could Larry be a pallbearer, and we think the service will be Friday...
"Whatever you need," we kept saying. "Just tell us and we'll do it. Whatever you need..." But there was so little we could actually offer. So Larry chopped some more wood from the tree that was apparently far too big to tackle in a day, and remarked how grateful he was for that one last day with Rick. And I picked up the backyard dog poop, and joked about how I got all the crappy jobs. And we gathered around Becky, and we held Max, and we told stories about Rick that made us smile and cry at the same time. And we knew this was going to hurt for a very long while.
Grief didn't strike me directly. Instead it made me watch as it tortured the people I loved, and that was enough to double me over. I thought this was the most we all could take, and I thought the grief-Giver would pull us upright now that He had our attention. But I was wrong.
Because we were not yet standing straight when suffering assaulted again.
Click here to continue to Part 8.
There is more story I must tell before I can talk about hope, and I cannot let myself jump ahead (although I'm quite tempted). But I did find reason to hope again in God's goodness, and I wrote more on that here. So feel free to jump ahead to the hope part.
Photo by Alizadeh100
Do you see these boats?
Or how about these? Have you forgotten your beloved fleet? You took the wind from their sails when you left.
You just got up and rained out on all of them, on all of us. We loved you, June. We named drinks after you. We defended you to the tourists and newcomers. We said, "It'll clear soon--this is just so unusual for June--it's never like this...." And you made us look like fools.
If you wanted to leave us, you should have just told us. We would have given you space to find yourself, if only we had some warning. We would have planned sunny vacations far away instead of spending every day at the window, gazing through the raindrops, waiting for your return.
But know this. If you come home, even now, to resume your post in the final hours, we won't be angry. In fact, we'll throw you a party in celebration of your return. (We'll have to do it tastefully though, as there no sense ruffling July's feathers so close to her annual debut. She has been true to us all these years, after all.)
So please, return to your rightful place in summer, and behave again like the June we know and love. All will be forgiven if you just come home.
I'm linking this post up with the "You Capture: Summer" series at I Should Be Folding Laundry.
Since summer has been AWOL thus far in Maine, it's feeling like we'll have to literally hunt down, capture, and bring summer back here kicking and screaming. But alas, perhaps June finally heard my plea. I think I just discovered her trying to sneak in through my window!
I definitely need to get me a pair of those rose colored glasses.
I slowed and squinted in search of the trail head. Reticent to invite the wrath of the snowbirds on account of an accidental trespass, I nearly missed the weathered blue paint pointing to the Cliff Walk.
My plan was just a quick run out and back.
But this was no running trail. Even if my ankles could have handled the jagged terrain, my eyes would never have allowed it. I gawked seaward, looking down only when the ground couldn't be trusted. The low tide tattled on an abandoned lobster trap wedged cliff side in mid-topple. And zealous waves took it upon themselves to punish the rusty cage for its tampering presence.
I curved round a dozen bends of flowering shrubs and happened upon a stony beach where sand hid beneath pebbles, and sofa-sized rocks offered a perch for a different realm of rest.
And I found myself in a place I hadn't been in many, many years--caught up in wonder.
What would appear beyond the next wall of rocks? Would the trail go on beyond this bend, and where was the street from here? And who lived in those grand houses off in the distance? And how far into the sea could I stretch, if I tackled those boulders in low tide?
As a child, I spent countless days exploring the creek bordering my backyard. I followed every trail and charted every crossing, wondering where each turn might lead. (It took years before I realized I'd spent the bulk of my wide-eyed childhood under the spell of a tree-lined drainage easement. But one person's drainage easement is another's Terabithia, right?)
Before long, I grew out of my muddy creek shoes. I stopped wondering and started worrying about keeping life clean and familiar.
I traded exploration for routine, spontaneity for structure. I shied a hundred steps away from unbeaten paths. I treasured safety above discovery.
This predictable, protected plodding is arguably a respectable pace for a parent. But I have embraced it too exclusively, leaving little room for an adventurous race or an exploratory detour.
I have today--this day--only once, and the next is not promised. So be it a muddy creek trail or a pebbled path by the sea, I owe it to myself and to my children to explore.
To step out of the ordinary.
To forsake the familiar.
To wonder what might be beyond the bend, and to uncover the answer.
To return again and again to the age of exploration.
"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain
Even though I'm linking to Jo Lynne's What I Learned This Week series, I can't lay claim to have truly learned to "sail away from the safe harbor" and approach life with a sense of adventure and exploration. I've got the concept top of mind though, so hopefully that counts for something!
...at the things I will not take for granted.
I'm linking this to Tuesdays Unwrapped, as this series continues to encourage me to be mindful of the treasure that walks in front of me.
For the backstory: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
He'd been home five weeks when I stole away in the tight-lipped fog. Even the oarsmen slept as I passed the spires of Georgetown high above the river, escaping the city's bustle before it began, en route to meet my three day old niece. There were butterflies in my stomach, and three weeks of life in my womb.
Unaccustomed to an empty beltway, I drove as fast as my heart was beating. Apparently, that was too fast.
"Where are you headed in such a hurry?" the officer asked, rhetorically perhaps, but I gave him my literal reply.
"My sister just had a baby and I'm going to see her. I didn't realize I was speeding."
I got off with a warning.
How ridiculous, I thought, this urge to tell him that I'm going to have a baby too.
I hugged my sister, held my niece, and heard them cry at different times and for different reasons. I didn't know how to help or what to do to make the crying stop, so I did a load of laundry and changed an inaugural diaper. And I told Robin she was amazing and it was going to be fine. And I wondered if I would be fine too, when my turn came.
I snuck upstairs when the La Leche lady arrived with her ample opinions, enough to ensure my little sis had a lifetime supply of motherguilt. I pulled from the shelf a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting and devoured the first three chapters while the Lactation Nazi offered "encouragement".
I called my husband and half-whispered into the phone. We'd only had hours of knowing together before I left for Ohio, and I was desperate to talk to the one person on earth who knew my growing secret.
Click here to continue reading Part 7.
It's official. My baby has graduated.
He completed the arduous curriculum:
1) Sitting still for circle time
2) Filling up a 20 gallon tub with "art" projects
3) Learning enough about insects, butterflies and animals to thoroughly stump his mama with very specific follow up questions.
He was involved in several extracurricular activities:
1) Frequent line leader
2) Drama (both on stage and off)
3) Captain of the Freeze Tag Team
4) President of the Lightning McQueen Fan Club.
His classmates voted him Most Likely to Never Stop Obsessing Over Thomas and his teachers awarded him Most Improved in Using His Words.
We love you, Buddy. May you never lose your enthusiasm for learning, your sensitivity to the people around you, and your delight in the simple pleasures of everyday. (And just this one time, great job not listening to your mommy, and going on ahead with the growing up.)
We're so proud of you!
"You leave her alone! I know you try to help, but you will only confuse her! I give her the two things she should think about during her swing. More than that, it is just too much. Just too much!" Through her thick French accent, Mary Claire admonished my husband in the sternest golf pro tone her 100 pounds could muster.
She started to walk away, then pirouetted round her pitching wedge and pointed to my well-meaning spouse, "So no talking to her, except to say good job or somezing like zat."
Okay, I thought, smirking at my handsome golfing partner, I'm going to be quoting dear Mary Claire all the live long day. "Remember! No talking! Unless it's to say good jaaah-ahhb!!"
She came over to me once more. "When you are chipping, you must remember these two things..."
I nodded and aligned my stance. Silent hands, weight forward, half swing and...I chipped that bad boy right into the hole! Seriously. ONE SHOT! I believe it's called a hole-in-one, although the fact I was standing only twelve yards away might detract from the sheer awesomeness of my accomplishment. Just a wee bit. Anyway, it was still enough to impress Mary Claire.
"See, see! " she applauded. "You just take one or two things at a time and it comes together. Perfect. Perfect. Just like that!"
While I attribute my golfing triumph more to luck (and ironically, to my husband's contraband advice to adjust my stance) than to Mary Claire's "two things", there is still a good deal of wisdom in her words.
Whether I'm on the green or off the course entirely, I often fall prey to the paralysis of thinking too much. I become easily overwhelmed by my innumerable shortcomings and harmful habits, and I flounder in discouragement, only further impairing my ability to improve.
But, if I focus on one or two areas rather than letting the whole of my inadequacy overwhelm me, I can make progress. While it rarely takes the form of a hole-in-one, the chipping away at the problem areas, stroke by stroke, is effective in moving me toward the person I desire to be.
To use a silly but very real example, I know it annoys my husband to no end when I ask "where ya going?" the moment he shifts his weight on the couch. As pathetic as it is, I've had to employ the vast majority of my brain cells to stop demanding he reveal his intended location at all times.
But here's the heartening part. The more I intentionally focus on one area and succeed (such as keeping my mouth shut when he moseys into the kitchen for a snack), the more that "right way" of doing something sticks and becomes habitual, even second nature. Then I can move on to concentrate on one of the other
hundreds thousands of things in my life that need improvement.
So, to paraphrase the great Mary Claire, golf pro extraordinaire, focus on just one or two things at a time and it will come together, stroke by stroke. And that's what works for me!
(At least that's what works for me metaphorically, you know, in life. On the golf course, there might not be anything that works for me.... )
Imagination is a beautiful thing. With it, the kids create thoroughly entertaining scenarios in which I simply have to wave my hands and yell "Arrghhh, Matey!" from the comfort of my patio chair.
And off they will go, screaming wildly, running like mad for the swing set that doubles as a battle ship in their Sea of Wonder.
But sometimes, I don't know what to make of Imagination. Like for instance, in this conversation:
C: "My bad thoughts must have worked!"
M: "Whaddaya mean?"
C: "I was thinking that a monster came in and buckled my seat belt before I got in the car. And then my seat belt WAS buckled, so the monster must have done it!"
M: "Really, a monster, huh? You sure it wasn't just your sister?"
C: "Shhhh, when we get out of the car, we have to sneak out quietly, so he doesn't wake up and get mad at us for disturbing the peace."
I definitely liked that part about not disturbing the peace. But I had some reservations about the "bad thoughts must have worked" statement. It sounded a bit like the contrarian counterpart of a theory outlined in The Secret. (I'm not going to link to a book I think is a load of stinky poo, so if you haven't heard of the book, just pretend I didn't refer to it).
Nevertheless, I let the seat-buckling monster live on for ten more minutes while I milked the "be quiet so he doesn't wake up" idea for the rest of the car ride.
But lest I fret about the borderline bad influence Imagination might exert over my generally happy-go-lucky children, I had to worry no more when Caed came to me yesterday with this announcement:
"Me and Dani are p'etending that Jesus is giving us lobster and goldfish and all the things we need to eat! Cuz we didn't have any food. And He can do anything."
Then he added, "But you know, Mom, it's just for p'etend. Cuz for real I don't even like lobster."
Now if only we could work the water-into-wine story into the pretend play, we'd have all the makings for a truly miraculous (albeit imaginary) dinner:
- Vintage wine
- Lobster (and goldfish to boot)
- Quiet kids (you know, because we don't want the monster to wake up and get mad).
Albert Einstein said, "Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere."
I interpret that to mean that the seat-buckling monster and lobster-multiplying miracle are indicators that my children will go far in life. Or maybe they'll just go all over the place, kind of like this post.
So where's your imagination taking you these days?
(My imagination is taking me to a warm and sunny June day at the beach. Which, come to think of it, shouldn't be a stretch of the imagination! And yet it's looking more likely that my faucets will spontaneously spray Cabernet than this rain will go away!)
To read from the beginning: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
Yellow daffodils edged through the Virginian soil that March, assuming their traditional spring post in the shadow of the cherry blossoms. They hadn't imagined, let alone prepared for the cold flakes now falling, ending beginnings.
Click here to continue reading Part 6.
Lovely, that is, until she got knocked down in the surf and I had to resort to the random change of clothes in the car. I KNOW. Classy, right? I'm afraid it might be her signature look. Something we like to call "kids being kids and moms trying not to worry about all the places sand might be discovered hours later..."
Feet separated from their shadow, he was literally walking on air. Now tell me that doesn't beat the heck out of doing laundry!
Longfellow penned poems under the shadow of the Portland Head Light, and Homer brushed oil across canvas beside the rocky shores of Prouts Neck. I need offer no further proof of the inspirational spell Maine casts upon its inhabitants.
"So, did you travel much in your previous job?" my new manager queried as engines revved and attendants glanced evil-eyed at tray tables and seat backs not yet in their locked and upright positions.
Click here to continue reading Part 5.
- That the weeds in my garden and flower beds are pervasive and hardy, and often overshadow the flowers and vegetables, even engulf them. My takeaway: I've got to battle the bad stuff and cultivate the good stuff. Literally and figuratively.
- That there are modern day miracles in my backyard. To be specific, my mint plant survived a Maine winter. I interpret this as a sign from above that it's time to start making Mojitos.
- That the day has finally come when two are indeed easier than one. Back when my toddler and newborn conspired against me with perfectly opposed sleeping patterns, I wrote this day off as myth. But two years later, I see beyond the sleep deprivation to a whole new world of independent play. While I weeded today, they rode the "roller coaster" (aka the bronco swing), squealing in feigned fright and genuine glee. They followed with a game of sending dump trucks and soccer balls down the slide. Then came time for the "hot mission" in which they dug their mittens out of the farthest reaches of the mud room, and donned them so they could touch the "pretend hot things like grass and sand." (So yes, we use our beach toys to play in the snow and our mittens to play in the sand. Forgive us. Maine just has us a bit seasonally confused, that's all. Six months of winter can do that to a person.)
- That I rambled in that last paragraph. The idea was to tell you that Caed and Dani played beautifully together today, and it made me quite happy to see. Just in case that point got lost somewhere among the mittens in the mud room...
- That I'm enjoying being home with my kids more than I ever imagined I would. This is a fun stage, and this was a great day.