Friday, February 26, 2016

Wonder of Life

This week was a mini-break from allthethings.

Sports seasons are in practice mode, a new school quarter has settled in, and the screaming in of the New Year has vanished.  Everything seems calmer and in the groove.

Last night I whipped out my phone and snapped some pictures of my son as he emptied the trash.  “For the internet,” I warned him.  I was having yet another moment of Mama-ness that reminded me he will be leaving this home in nanoseconds, and I was enjoying the agreeable-kid-doing-chores vibe he had going on.  He mock-posed for me, and my daughter got into the scene.  What I captured in the terrible yellowed lighting was the essence of my kids doing what they do best – be kids.

Guys. Be cool.

I write about them too much.  My life is so small right now, just as theirs is about to explode.  I am grabbing moments that I should have when they were babies, when women in the grocery store would tell me to enjoy them at this age, and I nodded numbly, because at the end of most days all I wanted was a glass of wine, the TV, and for nobody to touch me or talk to me or breathe.

Despite the OMG I just love my kids fixation currently holding me captive, I still wonder what my life would look like without them, if I had cultivated a set of different goals in my formative years and used my intellect and ambition to veer away from this life into another one.  What would it look like?  What kind of career would I have?  Would I be married to someone else, or would I have still met my husband?  Would I have different children or none at all?  Would I even live here? Alternative storylines are endless, and the irony that I still take the time to daydream about my deeply rooted life as a blank slate is not lost on me. Do other people take time to wonder?

Conscience kicks me back into the present and scolds: This is what you’re doing.  This is life; this is now.  Those other things are just that – other.  Your life is charmed.  Other people don’t have what you have.  


This life is good, and the people that surround me within it are, too.  I love what we have built together.  If I didn’t take time to think about the other I might not appreciate this so much.  If-then scenarios are fun to think about, but they serve no purpose, except maybe to give perspective and to stretch the imagination.

I hate when people complain about something and then qualify it.  As if a person doesn’t have the right to complain, as if we are allowing the universe to take something we hold dear away if we don’t quickly put it out there how much we care.  So nobody can say, when it ends forever, “she never appreciated what she had, which was everything.”

I don’t have everything.  Never have.  Never will.  I guess being okay with that is a sign of wisdom.  Maybe just age.  Perhaps complacency.  Would I have been this complacent in another life?  And there I go again.

I do have two goobers who break my heart and make me laugh, and a husband whom I love so much that I find him utterly annoying at least once a day.

Those three things stop the wondering in its tracks.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Balancing Act

I felt pretty bad.

My stomach wasn’t quite right, likely from the gross but oh-so-good greasy meal I had consumed the day before.  I fasted for a day and drank a gallon of water to flush out my system.  After a while I felt better.

I went to a course selection meeting at our son’s school and he stayed home.  During the meeting I realized I should have insisted that he come along.  That made me feel pretty silly, to let my student miss an informational meeting about selecting classes.  I talked to the school counselor who assured me that the kids would hear the same information at school.  At home I unloaded all the information I had gleaned from the meeting onto my son, who advised me that he already knew it all, and I was relieved.

I neglected to tell my husband that it was our week to bring home the girls – our daughter and a friend – from a basketball game the one day that I was unable to do it at the last minute.  He brought our daughter home and left the friend at school alone.  I felt awful and panicked about it, but her mom picked her up and was gracious and forgiving of me when I apologized. 

The past few weeks I have struggled to get ahead of the curve – days blend into one another and I forget how much of the week is left.  I live and breathe by my calendar but it doesn’t always help.  I feel like I’m missing something, like I’m always playing catch up.  I'm inefficient.

I’m off balance.

* * *

It’s partly the weather – I’ve written enough about it.  Staying in day after day away from the elements is good for keeping me warm and cozy, but bad for mental and physical health.  Busy days don’t stop, and they often change because of the weather, and because of regular old inconveniences like illness or double-booking or slow-moving traffic or lines at the grocery store.  These things all require constant alertness.

Most days I don’t feel up to the task of navigating it all.  There’s a book that I need to finish, a TV show that I want to catch up on.  We’ll just have frozen pizza for dinner again.

Busyness and doldrums don’t go together.  They must be balanced.

Maybe from the outside I look like things are going fine, like I’ve got it all under control.  But I don’t, not any more than anyone else does, anyway.

Maybe that’s the point.

The house is relatively clean, all the people in it are relatively happy, and we have relatively fresh bread and milk and eggs in the fridge.  I’m doing my job relatively well.  Maybe the balance lies in relativity.

* * *

I’ve spent a lot of time in my life quashing comparisons.  The comparison trap is one in which I learned very early on to circumvent.  The day I internalized that there will always be someone more talented, successful, and savvy was my first day of freedom.  The angst of personal comparison is real, and will never bear fruit.  I am better off improving myself for the good of others, not to compete with them.

We each make decisions about what we focus on.  The major role we assume requires the most of our time and thought and sacrifice.  Pursuing a demanding career, caring for an elderly parent, managing disease, a difficult relationship, the needs of children – we all have a priority on which everything else must be balanced.  Minor things like weather, traffic, the other cards we’re dealt must also be given attention.

But sometimes, we are not feeling up to it, and things start to crumble a little, and we feel bad about it.

It’s okay, most of the time.  The bad-for-me meal was a rarity.  My student chose the correct classes.  The friend made it safely home.  There are milk, bread, and eggs in the house.  We can have French toast for dinner.

There is room for improvement.  I can always do better at this balancing act.  But overall we are well, and we are content.

And that’s enough.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dirty Little Thing

You know we’re cat-sitting, right?

Well, we are.  My parents’ cat has been here since December 20.  That’s 53 days we've had him, but who’s counting?  He’ll be here for at least 60 more, or eternity, whichever is longer.  He’s been here before. You can read all about his previous visits here and here.

I don't really believe in keeping pets, but as far as cats go, he’s okay.  He’s pretty, but sort of a jerk, like most cats.  He creeps behind the TV and lies on the kitchen table and eats the tender leaves of my indoor palm but he doesn’t pee in my houseplants – yet.  He hasn’t pushed anything breakable off a shelf – yet.  He doesn’t try to escape to the outside, either, which is so annoying – yet.

I say yet because cats are sociopaths and they always have some new trick up their furry little sleeves.

But like I said, he’s okay.  He sleeps all day and stays out of my way and enjoys a good rubdown except when he’s done with you and you better pull your hand back quick because he’ll bite the crap out of it.  He enjoys meeting us at the door and treats us to a show of rolling around on the floor like a small hairy crocodile.  He knows his name and comes when you call him and keeps us entertained by doing that funny cat thing where he looks like he’s trying to be so cool and aloof and then he falls off the table and we point at him and laugh.

He doesn’t scratch at the door or claw at the furniture or spray on the walls or drag in partially eaten mice or birds.

And most importantly, he doesn’t mind getting a bath. 

This is important because cats are dirty, filthy animals.

“But cats are constantly cleaning themselves,” you say.  “They are clean.  They keep themselves clean.  They are always grooming their bodies.”

I hear what you're saying.  So let me break it down for you.

Cats lick themselves using their own tongues, tongues that rest in a mouth that is never cleaned.  Mouths that hold teeth that have never been brushed.  And if my son is to be believed, the breath is shocking.

Cats lick themselves all over with this tongue.   Each cat has the ability and the predilection to lick his own anus.  It sounds unbelievably disgusting, but it’s true.  All you can do when it happens is look on in horror.

And then a cat will oh, I don’t know, lick his paw and drag it over his face.

A cat will lick his paws that he uses to dig little holes in the dirt in his toilet box to poop and pee into, and will use those very same paws to cover the excrement he just made.  Then he will come out, meow loudly to announce his accomplishment, and walk through your house, leaving little bits of litter and I can only imagine what else and try to take up residence on your kitchen table to lick his anus and paws.

More than once this sentence has been uttered in our house: “Ugh, his paws smell like urine.”  I don’t why a person would put himself in a position to obtain this information.

There is no hand-washing education for cats.  He doesn’t stand at the sink and sing the happy birthday song while he lathers up with warm water and plenty of antibacterial soap.

It’s gag-inducing, the filthiness of cats.  And this filthiness is all over our home. 

That’s why I appreciate that he doesn’t mind a bath once in a while, that when I open the door to the bathroom and the kids are screeching and FaceTiming with friends and the cat is standing calmly and only a little pathetically shoulder-deep in warm water while they rinse him off with a red solo cup and then break out the hair dryer to fluff him up and afterwards he smells like Dove Men’s Aqua shampoo because he’s a male cat and males need their own products because who knows what voodoo results from men using the same shampoo as women?

I relax, because for a moment, the cat is clean.  Only for a moment, but I’ll take it. 

Sixty more days.  Or eternity, whichever is longer.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

I Will Not Apologize

She apologized for asking me if she should have taken gym clothes to school.  When I said she didn’t need them, she apologized again for asking.  She doesn’t like how I did her hair – I’m sorry.  She forgets to change the cat litter – I’m sorry.  She doesn’t want a sip of the smoothie I made – I’m sorry.

My daughter, Miss I’m Sorry.

It’s a behavior – a knee-jerk reaction – that we're working on.  “No reason to say you’re sorry – you didn’t do anything wrong” is my mantra.  “I hate disappointing people,” she says.  “I want you to know that I’m sorry for doing it.” 

No one is disappointed in you for being you, for asking questions, for failing and for succeeding.  We are all just living our lives, I say.  No one needs to apologize for that.

I confess that she gets it honestly.  Until recently I apologized in advance for things, even if I didn’t do anything wrong.  “I’m sorry for thinking this” “I’m sorry I don't agree” “I’m sorry you don’t understand me.”  Kids see and hear everything, and they are amazing mimics.

In comparison, my son has a healthy handle on apologies.  He apologizes only when he has clearly committed some offense.  When he realizes he has done something wrong, he’s sorry.  On the other end of the spectrum, my husband almost never apologizes except after a long drawn out discussion that I need to initiate, at the end of which I have to feed him the words:  This-is-where-you-say-you’re-sorry.

After a while I got tired of saying I’m sorry.  I didn’t really feel sorry.  I used the phrase as a catch-all for another person’s anticipated negative feelings.  My apologies were usually wasted – most of the time the other person didn’t even feel bad about any perceived transgression of mine.  I projected my feelings onto others, especially the low regard I had for myself in situations where I wasn’t on my best behavior.

It made me feel worse over time.

So I stopped saying it.  I adopted different patterns, and took on my son’s clear boundaries for apology.  Did I do something wrong?  I'll apologize for that, but nothing else.

I will not apologize after saying something that you don’t want to hear. 

I will not apologize for having a different opinion than you.

I will not apologize for insisting on table manners and please and thank you.

I won’t apologize for my ignorance on a subject I’ve never thought about before.  

I will not apologize for not laughing at a joke I don’t think is funny. 

I won’t apologize for staying home when everyone else wants to go out,
for watching a TV show that no one else likes,
for my music preferences,
for my political beliefs,
for saying no,
for saying yes,
for participating,
for abstaining,
for using a big word that you don’t know.

Look. It. Up.

There is no I’m sorry for being me.

I hope that my daughter learns this soon.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

That’s Enough, Now

Every February, I exhale.

I made it.  January’s over, and I didn’t die, I’m still here.

Most years I don’t even realize I’m doing it, that I’m holding my breath.  I make a few jokes about how much January sucks, and paste on a smile as I crawl my way through it, fingernails clawing at the ground in front of me.

It’s post-holiday blues, definitely.  The letdown after the buildup.  It’s the weather, surely.  January in Pennsylvania is utterly repugnant.

This is my 6' son standing in waist-deep snow on our patio.
His feet aren't touching the ground here.

It’s back to school, the end of holiday eating, ramping up of schedules and appointments and back-to-lifeness of life.  Feeling run-down and overspent and sliding into a new year, full of promise and fresh starts and a huge credit card bill.  Knowing I should make better choices and grab life by the horns and NEW YEAR NEW YOU but man, it’s the middle of winter and all I want to do is hibernate.

My grandmother died last January.  Death anniversaries definitely don’t help.

This year my husband and I took a short trip to Mexico specifically to alleviate my post-holiday funk.  It was fun and a relief to get away, but five days isn’t enough of a chunk out of January to make it less of a letdown.  We came back and things were busier – lifeier – than ever and I scrambled to get myself in order.  Then I suffered a severe cold that lingered for two weeks.

And January marched on as forcefully as every other month, fiercely determined to trample me into oblivion as I grasped at anything to set myself straight.

I think what happens in January is that when the sparkle of the end of the year is removed, we see the dents and dings that make up life.  The festivities at the end of the year obscure the mundane.  We trick ourselves into thinking that life is on hold for a month or so, and when it comes back, we see the tarnished areas more clearly.

The cupboard door needs to be fixed.  Someone needs to see the doctor.  Unpleasant conversations happen.  Children’s schedules have to managed again.  Work propels us forward.  I’m not ready.

Every year I try something different to make January less of a blight on my mood.  A trip.  Making the holidays less.  Clearing the schedule of all non-essential appointments and tasks.  Working ahead to get in front of the rush of the new year.  Mentally preparing for a good month. Nothing works.

My husband would tell me that I’m doing it to myself.  That I prime myself for a terrible month by focusing on it so much.  That may be true, but it’s also true that I’ve worked hard at trying not to let January bother me so much and yet each year I welcome February like a long-lost love.

It makes me feel foolish, silly, immature.  That after this life and the wisdom I have gained, I still struggle with January.  Haven't I dealt with this enough?  Why can't I be over it already?

I wish there was an answer.