Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Few Days

When we got home I found a place for some of the old things of hers that I saved, just like I had the other times.

The marble bookends are functional – I won’t have to buy a set now – and went right on the shelf to hold back the heaviest rows of books. The chipped ceramic fruit sculpture is too tall to fit on top of my kitchen cupboards, but it can sit on the counter for a while. The painting – just a print, but it’s framed – that space on the wall is just the right size.

I put the photo album containing pictures of her on the floor next to the bins of old photos that I haven’t yet found a place to store. So many hands had turned the pages of that photo album over two days, so many memories and stories and questions prompted by those old pictures.

I need a few days before tackling the project of putting those eighty-some photos back in their original albums. I’m not ready yet.

It’s already been a few days.

A few days since my mom called and said “Grandma died last night.” A few days since I kissed my thirteen year old on the cheek and said it’s okay, you don’t have to go to the funeral, Grandma would have wanted you to have fun with your friends. A few days since watching my fifteen year old act as pallbearer for the first time. A few days since being thrust into the world of my childhood again, of seeing old friends and relatives and introducing my family to people who knew me when I was little and who don’t know my kids who aren’t little anymore.

A few days since trying to tell a roomful of people through a shaking voice everything that a Grandmother’s life means.

The book of photos sits on the floor in my office next to the piles of rifled-through picture albums, little post-its sticking out where the photos of her belong. I’ve been here before. This is the third time I’ve done this and the third time I’ve written this post in just under three years.

I’m not ready to put the pictures back yet.

Loss is hard to bounce back from, even if it’s expected, even if it’s a blessing like we all say, only half trying to convince ourselves. Being left is always harder than leaving. I think if we had the choice we’d keep the ones we love the most close forever.

My last Grandma was buried last week, joining the others of that generation on my side of the family who lived this life and have gone on to the next. Bittersweet, sad, and real – the death of a loved one and the ensuing events of funeral, burial, and memorial serve to heal and cleanse as tears are shed, acquaintances regenerated, memories recalled, and life goes on. The time comes quickly, and blessedly ends just as fast, leaving us each with different tasks of wrapping up, cleaning out, and putting into place. It takes time.

Way more than a few days.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Oh Well

She got out of the car and walked toward the empty school.

“Where are all the other kids?” I asked through the open window. “It seems strange that no one is here.”

“I know,” she replied. “I’m sure the practice is tonight.”

I told her to go inside and find out whether or not the band rehearsal was being held. Maybe not the best parenting decision I’ve made – sending a kid into an empty building to investigate, but it’s her school. She’s there every day. I’m not holding her hand anymore.

Three minutes later she walked out, another wandering band student in tow. “Nobody else is there,” she said. “It must have been rescheduled.”

The presence of the other kid, and the two cars that pulled up around us as we left the parking lot to return home gave me a small sense of gratification that I wasn’t the only person in town who got lost in the activity calendar. A few texts and a phone call with the teacher confirmed that the rehearsal had been changed about a month ago. I must have missed the email.

During the last month of school, I receive about 15 communications a week from my kids’ schools, easily. Maybe 50. Maybe a hundred, a thousand. I’m not a secretary by trade – the correspondence by email alone is overwhelming. Throw in two types of text updates, automated messages on every phone, Facebook group discussions, and the rare paper sent home, and the fact that I missed only one email over the course of a school year should be celebrated.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little peeved by the whole situation. My daughter felt dumb for not knowing when the practice was, and I was put out since I had another kid at home who was waiting to be schlepped around, and now he’d be running late. But we don’t live that far from school, and this was a pretty small inconvenience big picture-wise, so I got over it.

I took my very apologetic daughter home, picked up my son, drove him to his destination and dropped him off, came home, poured myself a glass of wine, put my feet up, raised my glass to my just-home husband and declared “I’m in for the night. You’re up, Hoss.”

I’ve given up any former claims I might have made on being Supermom a long time ago. My children have learned that managing their lives isn’t my end game. They are expected to know what they are expected to know, and if they don’t, any dropping of the ball I do when it comes to their lives is shared by them.  The older they get, the more I rely on them to know what’s going on. We’re all in this together, kids, and the process of them learning this lesson ends in as many accidents as our earliest days of potty-training.

Resiliency is a fancy way of saying that we are able to let things roll off our backs. We showed up at school for a practice that wasn’t being held. Oh well, no harm done. We should have known, but we didn’t. We’re human. We make mistakes once in a while.

But we also apologize. We own that we didn’t know what we should have known. We keep a closer eye on that schedule and try to figure out why we forgot. That’s what learning is: we study our mistakes and adjust behavior to avoid repeating them. It doesn’t mean we throw our hands up and say “Oh well, whatever”. Rather – “Oh well, I learned my lesson! I’ll be sure not to make that mistake again!” And then don't do it again.

It’s difficult to allow ourselves to look vulnerable – to admit our own frailty. But it’s part of what makes good relationships. It’s also good to work hard to figure out why we make mistakes and not repeat them. We can’t be callous and leave a mess behind for someone else to clean up, just as we can’t wallow in our grievances – eventually we need to stand up and get moving, but we also have the responsibility to do better.

In this case, that means that we - my daughter and I - need to keep better track of the million messages we get from school.

It can be done, I’m sure of it.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Purge

Last week I’d had enough.

After a long, dark winter that extended into spring, time spent outside sitting on cold metal bleachers watching 20 high school baseball games in 50-degree wind, cold, and damp, I needed some lightness. My house is the one place where I have any smidge of influence, so I stared it down, cracked my knuckles, pointed at it menacingly, and said “You’re mine.”

In the fifties they called it “spring cleaning.” Housewives would strip rooms of the winter dirt and grime, scrub down walls and baseboards, clean windows to a sparkling shine, and beat dust from rugs, clearing the cobwebs from the winter of their minds.

I hate cleaning, and have done my share of the spring sort of cleaning that my predecessors did. It is soul-sucking work, so even though my house could probably benefit from a deep clean and my heartiest elbow grease, I knew that cleaning wasn’t what I needed to do. Plus, my house isn’t that dirty, if HVAC and appliance install guys can be believed. They say “Your house is clean” when nosing in the dirtiest parts of my home, and I believe them because I’m not paying them to compliment me, but they should offer it as an add-on service.

After a winter that seemed to go on forever, I needed another sort of cleansing.

We’ve been talking about doing some upgrades to our home for some time now, a habit that my husband excels at doing. He can talk for years about doing something, the actual event secondary to the talking about it. Sometimes, the talking part exceeds the time limit we have to accomplish certain things. It makes me crazy. In this case we needed a jumping off point.

What better way to ignite the process of change than doing little things here and there? It’s difficult to envision a change without actually changing something, and I knew where I would begin.

I would eliminate some of our stuff.

Not much that we have is safe from becoming tomorrow’s thrift store find or garage sale item. Few things we own are worth much apart from sentimental value, and as I cleared dressers and tables and walls of pictures and knickknacks and other assorted dust-snatchers, I regarded each object objectively, considering that if it had any value other than “but we’ve had this for fifteen years”, into the giveaway pile it went.

Away went the fifty picture frames filled with never-updated pictures of extended family members and friends. Likewise the metal wall hangings that I clearly recall buying at a department store for 50% off because I needed Something Brown That Fits Into This Space.

Away went the huge and heavy clay African mask that my son made in elementary school so long ago he didn’t even remember making it, and the glazed flower bowl that my daughter made and pronounced ugly when she saw it in the pile of potential discards. “But you made that,” I said. “Yeah,” she replied. "It was an epic fail.”

Away went stacks of picture books that I bought for the kids for Easter, Christmas and birthdays so they’d have “something else to unwrap”, books that never became treasured and were brand new, read maybe one time each.

I threw a lot of stuff into the trash and loaded the back of my van with the rest of the items. Boxes of candle holders and decorative plates, frames and doodads all went to the thrift store workers who greeted me with smiles and thanked me for my donations.

Our old stuff has been gone for a week now. I miss nothing, nor do I feel as if I should have hung onto that one thing or that I shouldn’t have gotten rid of that other thing. I feel lighter, like I can move forward and take care of business that we’ve talked about for so long now. Somehow, all that stuff was holding me back. All those things.

I was raised to not put much stock in things. “You can’t take it with you” is something that my mother taught me when I would fret over the things I had or didn’t have. Ironically, she gave me a hard time about getting rid of a particular thing that she remembered she had given me years ago. I told her to get over it. Someone else is enjoying it now.

For now I’m enjoying the bare walls, seeing the end tables free of stuff. The tasks ahead don’t seem quite as daunting as they had before. Now instead of emptying a shelf of things so I can paint the wall behind it, all I have is the shelf to move. It seems like a small difference, but you didn’t see how full the back of my van was before I unloaded it at the thrift store.

Moving forward - it’s going to happen anyway, and I’d rather not be dragging a bunch of stuff behind me when I go.