Thursday, August 18, 2016

Burning Down the House

“Ma’am, what you’re doing is illegal. It’s arson.”

At once it became clear that we, my husband and I, had done something wrong.

All activity in my mind stopped as I looked at the flames starting to lick at the second story of our home. This was the place we had watched being built, the one we raised our children in, whose walls contained the whispers of every memory we had ever made as a family. It was our landing place, witness of milestones yet recent frustrations as every inch needed attention, from walls patched and painted, lighting fixtures, cabinets and countertops replaced, to leaks located and cracks repaired.

We just wanted to build another house, I had explained to the police officer. We aren’t running away – we’re going to build a new one, right here. The cop looked at us like we were crazy.

Burning our house down to start fresh seemed like the best option for us, but now, police car lights flashed behind us and neighbors peered out their windows to gape at our biggest mistake to date. All justifications and reasoning for what we did dried up and blew away like smoke. My stomach sank into the deepest part of me as reality dawned.

We, my husband and I, committed an irrevocable crime. Our life together, the one that we had built and nurtured and stumbled through to this point, was gone. The future was struggle, brokenness, shame for what we did. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

It hit me that we had overlooked emptying the house of valuable possessions like photos and electronics and jewelry, as well as the everyday stuff of life: kitchen utensils and bath towels and the clothes that we wore every day. Relief slowly washed over me that we were caught, that this could be stopped; maybe if the fire department gets here in time the children will be able to salvage something to hang onto except memories…

“You both have to come with me, now. Let’s go.”

* * *

My eyes snapped open, welcomed by the hum of air conditioning and the darkness of three a.m. lit only by the moon. It was just a dream, I said to myself. A nightmare, my body confirmed, by the heaviness of my limbs and the deep pit in which my stomach still resided.

It had been a long time since I had a nightmare. Why now, why this one? When am I going to be too old for bad dreams?

There’s no doubt that I am imperfect, have burned a bridge or two in my lifetime. But a whole house? Our whole life, up in flames? Years of perusing my mom’s old dream book as a kid still held onto my psyche.

I had this dream recently, just three weeks ago. It was as clear as if it actually happened. It still gives me chills to remember. Likely it will stay with me as so many other dreams – bad and good – have.

What does it mean?

via unsplash


This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #5: Share a memorable dream.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Only Boring People Are Bored

“We’re not doing that much this summer,” my daughter said on Day One, Week Two of summer break. “Everybody I know is on vacation or going on vacation or doing something fun every day. We’re not. We’re going to have a boring summer.”

Kids, man. They think they require constant stimulation to have a good time. I struggled against the urge to explode into a million pieces of indignation.

“Instagram and Snapchat are not accurate representations of people’s real lives in summer,” I replied. People don’t post pictures of the naps they take or the hotdogs they eat for dinner or the sitting around watching cartoons, because that stuff is boring.

“Besides,” I added, “we’re doing plenty this summer. We may not have jumped off the summer with a vacation, but we are going to the shore later, and you have a mission trip and camp and there’s the pool and sleepovers and all the other stuff you do when there’s no school.”

And, before I could help myself:

“By the way, you bored at home? Make some plans of your own and stop whining about it! I can give you stuff to do if you’re bored!” Sometimes the Mom volume cranks up and you can’t even help it.

It works, though – she quickly and a little fearfully agreed that maybe we aren’t as lame as she thought.

I used to gape in confusion at parents who lamented that summer was too short, because with small children at home, I counted the precious minutes that I had to myself as the best part of the day. School was cool, and figuring out how to entertain children all day for ten weeks made every day a real drag.

Then as they grew and the school year turned into a frantic juggling act with every day double-and triple-booked no matter how you slice it, summer became a welcome respite. Now in the summer I hear more “I’m heading out – be back in two hours” than “What are we doing today, Mom?” My own time is wide open. Plus, there’s not much else to distract us from each other, which becomes important as kids get older and each summer is one more year closer to a new life for them and a new era for all of us. I find myself counting down the school days until summer and hang onto those few hot months with all of my sun-kissed might.

This part of the year, when the most difficult decision during a day might only be which new TV series to start watching on Netflix: this is the good part, even if there’s not much else to do.

Boring? Never. Bored? Nope. I’ll take it.

There's always someone with her mouth open in every picture

Monday, August 8, 2016

Take A Step Back

The closer we are to a situation, the less clear it looks. – Wally Lamb, We Are Water

I read this sentence the other day and it hit me right between the eyes.

The eyes that for the last few years have been failing, giving reason to purchase and stash several pairs of cheap magnifiers in drawers and containers all over the house, a behavior that I previously only heard about middle-aged women doing. An army of middle-aged women walking around in curlers, slippers, and housecoats, cigarettes dangling from their pinched lips as they haphazardly ironed their husband’s threadbare work shirts to within an inch of their lives, leaving behind scorch stains on collars and guileless entrapment in the air.

There I was, reading and re-reading and writing down these words so that I could remember, squinting at my handwriting because where are my glasses? I held the page at arm’s length and the words became clearer.

The closer I am, the less I see – it’s a simple truth, often said in different ways.

We hurt the ones we love the most – they are nearer to our waves of shame and embarrassment, leading to defense and blame. They see our mistakes and aren’t afraid to tell us we’re wrong. We let down our guard with them, are safe with them – their love won’t dry up just because we lash out now and then. But we have to be careful; over time, even the closest relationships crumble when we defend too much. When we trust we won’t lose their love, we forget that the wounds we inflict run deep.

via unsplash

We lose perspective when we see only one part of a situation. The one puzzle piece we examine closely loses its meaning when on its own. Fit into the larger picture, it occupies a meaningful position. Held in hand, eyed thoughtfully and thoroughly, it’s one-dimensional. It might be interesting to us, but everywhere else it’s nothing. Our own experiences are infinitely interesting to us, but when we bring them up to others out of context, we seem insensitive, foolish, self-centered, boring.

There is a back-and-forth to life, a careful assessment of personal experience coupled with an overview of where that life fits into the world. This dance, when unbalanced, looks like selfishness at one extreme and loss of self at the other.

If we don’t pay attention, we miss what’s going on around us. If we pay too much attention, we miss what’s happening within us.

Whatever we’re closest to loses its meaning in the big picture if we don’t step back once in a while and take it all in.

I wish there was a formula for achieving the perfect balance, always seeing the clear picture. I am a list-maker, like to follow a set of rules. Simplifying the execution is the name of my favorite game; if I do the work up front, the rest of the job is easy. Checking boxes is my favorite sport.

So is missing the forest for the trees.

There’s a world of people to learn from, to hold us accountable, to share life with. We can do our part by looking up and out and then down and in, transforming into the best version of ourselves. We can cultivate our unique talents and gifts and then give them away, to make life better for all.

The closer we are to something, the less clear it seems.

It’s worth it to step back and see where we are.