A World Without Pants

The last time I had dreams like this one, I was days from meeting Andrew’s birth family for the first time since he was born. I’m not days away from anything of the sort, but the dreams I’ve had this week tell a different story.

I’m never wearing pants.

We live in a world that revolves around pants and pant-wearers. Liar, Liar, pants on fire. Who wears the pants in that family? Don’t get your pantaloons in a wad.

It’s always about the pants.

I woke up Wednesday morning disturbed that in an act of confusion or rebellion, I had lived out that night’s dream without any pants. It began in the Ozarks, in a federal prison yard, where I waited for my husband to get released from prison. My husband wasn’t Todd and I never saw his face in the dream. Apparently, I chose a real winner because he’d been locked up for many years. Of course, he didn’t have a winner in me either, which will be evident as the dream evolves.

The fake felon husband was being released that morning with one other prisoner who had committed a similar crime. At a parole hearing, they were each asked one Bible Trivia question. Whoever answered the fastest and the most accurately was released without restrictions. The other guy would receive 5 more years of strict house arrest.

I don’t know if I was privvy to the question in the dream. I wasn’t allowed in the parole hearing. I kicked up small clouds of dust in the parking lot as I leaned against my van, waiting to hear. When I heard the gates clinking open, I looked up to see my fake felon shaking his head forlornly.

“What happened?” I yelled.

“I got it wrong,” he announced, still handcuffed. “5 more years.”

“You got it wrong?! How could you get it wrong? You grew up with the Bible. All you did was Bible trivia. And you let this guy beat you?” I glanced at the other convict and said, less passionately, “Sorry, man. No offense.”

“None taken,” he smiled. What did he have to be offended about? His bible knowledge was his ticket to the free world.

Sheesh. What a mess. How’d I end up in this situation? And how could I get out of it?

It was Sunday morning, ironically, and we drove back to my fake house in my fake home state of Arkansas, without speaking a word to each other. When we pulled into the gravel driveway through an open chain link gate, FakeHusband hoisted his fabric suitcase through the opening in the van seats and plodded heaviliy up the paint-peeled porch steps. I plopped into a chair in the front sitting room to contemplate every false move I’d ever made in my life.

The bedroom door closed briefly. When it squeaked back open, FakeHusband was wearing plaid pants, a white tanktop undershirt, and suspenders.

“Where on earth do you think you’re going?’ I asked, my words laced with the disdain I was feeling.

“Where else? To church!” He smiled and hooked his thumbs behind his suspenders.

Well, hang on, man. This is a dream. I need to remove my pants.

And I did.

As I recall, my upper body wasn’t dressed in anything terribly fetching either. And just like that, we headed off to church. Him in suspenders. Me in my under-stitchings.

“You know you got house arrest, right?” I asked as we walked up the dirt road to the little clapboard house with a church sign in the yard. “And they said you were to go NOWHERE. Not even outside in the back yard. So your first act of your first day of house arrest is to completely break the terms and go to church?”

“Yep,” he said without apology or emotion. “I need to be in church. Who’s gonna know?”

Oh, indeed. There’s certainly no information sharing in today’s world. I sure hope they aren’t taking directory pictures today.

When we arrived at the house, FakeHusband walked into the auditorium to join the assembly. I became very aware of just how pantsless I was and asked a woman to point me to the nursery. The nursery was a small bedroom with a queen sized iron bed. There were too many mothers and babies for the size of the room. I scanned the area with the aplomb of a self-proclaimed fortuneteller and spotted a thin cotton blanket hanging over the end of the bed. I draped it across my shoulders and slumped into it as much as I was able. But no matter how I arranged myself or the blanket, I couldn’t conceal my bare legs.

“Hey, can I borrow your baby please? I don’t have pants,” I whispered, tapping a woman on the shoulder and extending my arms to her 1-yr-old. She looked me up and down one time and then handed me her baby, who I pulled under the covers with me until church was over.

The baby didn’t like me. The baby was wearing pants.

When the service was over and people began spilling into the hallway and onto the porch, I tried again to employ the cotton blanket in my favor. It didn’t work. The only way to look like you are wearing pants is to be wearing them.

And then I woke up.

When I recounted the dream to my daughters, my older one suggested I get some help.

“You need to get a dream analyst for that one, Mom,” she said with authority.

Besides sounding expensive, I don’t think a dream analyst is what I need at this point. I can do my own analyzing on this one. Clearly all I really need is a strange baby, my Bible, and a single pair of pants. The rest can work itself out.

Everything as it Should Be

20 years ago, I stayed in a 2nd story room of a house in Seaside called Tuttapposto. The house was named from the Italian phrase “tutta a posto,” which means everything in its place. Settled. All good. Everything as it should be. With polished honey colored boards under my bare feet and my friend and her baby daughter across the hall, I had to agree.
In that moment,
in that place,
with those people,
everything was as it should be.

I’ve come to feel differently about it over it the years. I find myself looking for the “tutta a posto” in everything. Reaching for it as a destination. I feel almost homesick for it. I have translated “everything as it should be” and “all good” to “everything is perfect.”
I’m chasing perfect.
I will never catch it.
Because it doesn’t exist.

I spend my days lately navigating unfamiliar situations and preparing for what I’m guessing will be new normals. I fret over cap and gown order forms and college applications. I say things out of fear that I shouldn’t say. And then I hope that I’ve taught my kids enough about humility and forgiveness for them to offer it to me.

Last week I Instagram stalked a person whose name I’ve been hearing around my house a good bit. I don’t regret the stalking. The account was public, after all. What I regret was announcing I had done it. Good grief, Missy. Have you learned nothing in 18 years of parenting?. My stalking and my follow-up remarks caused 42 shades of angst in my house and caused one particular teen to not speak to me for a couple of hours. This was a long 2 hours, because we had errands to run together the night before Valentine’s Day. I apologized in person, because I had blurred and crossed the lines between concern and respect and had landed on the wrong side. And then I apologized through text, as we stood in two different check out lines of two different stores.

In the end, all was forgiven. But I haven’t forgotten the lessons I took home from Dollar Tree last Thursday night. Everything that happened had unraveled from my skewed perception of “tutta a posto.” Everything needs to be my version of perfect. Everything as it should be, according to me.

The very friend I was with in the Tuttapposto house 20 years ago is right now enduring some hard stuff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. That isn’t where she lives. She has flown there to hopefully get some help. I have in my mind how this all should go. I had in my mind a “best case scenario” which has already fallen between the car seats with the 3 quarters I dropped yesterday. And I have in my mind 12 other case scenarios, most of which I am quarantining to my mind with my Instagram stalking and the stupid things I say when I’m tired and weak. Because nobody needs my case scenarios, good or bad.

What I don’t know is what will be.

And that’s my problem with everything. It’s my problem with my girls trying to make their way through middle school in a world of pseudo-stars with silly YouTube accounts. It’s my problem with girls I’ve never met expressing a little too much interest in my boys. It’s my problem with the tests they take that I can’t take  with them or for them or even get them to follow the control-freaked study guide I’ve laid out. It’s my problem with teens driving late nights and dark roads because it was their night to close the store. It’s my problem with the frightening unknowns of health scans and test results.

What’s going to happen? How does it end?

I don’t know.
I don’t know what will be.
I can’t script the ending.

My husband has an annoyingly optimistic phrase that is not as poetic as
“tutta a posto” but that I find to be far more useful. He is known
for encouraging us to “make it good.” As I sit at the kitchen island agonizing over pro/con lists and what ifs, he casually strolls past and says, “Maybe there isn’t a right or wrong decision. Just decide. And then make
it good.”

Whatever happens, make it good. Even if it is isn’t.

I’m redefining what I thought I knew about what it means to be all good.
I’m reteaching myself to pray. Because though I don’t know what will happen, I pray to the One who does. Who is. And Who can.
And I’m trying, between my gulping breaths into the brown paper bag of
Did-I-do-enough and Will-it-be-okay, to say the words that give me strength to take the next leap of faith—one pulled hamstring at a time:

Make it good.

Table Magic

I am in a strange season of life. A season of snatches. It is one I don’t dare complain about, because I know the one that is around the next corner, hiding within my next breath. The season I am in now is one my hairdresser warned me about when I announced there was a 4th child on the way.

Oh, get ready, he told me. You’ll be at the band concert. Your husband will be at the ball field. You’ll never see each other again.

I stopped letting him cut my hair shortly after that conversation. Not because he was bad at cutting hair, but because he talked too much.

For us, it wasn’t band and baseball. It was band and orchestra. And Smoothie King. And 3 schools for 4 kids. It was conference nights and open houses. It is, on occasion, a numbers nightmare. But on other occasions, there is magic.

Ordinary, mundane magic.

And as much as I’ve tried to skip steps and find loopholes around cooking traditional meals, the magic always seems to happen over a hot meal and around the 9′ table in the dining room. Not around the kitchen island that seats us all. Not in the family room with the TV on.

Around the table.

Sometimes the magic only lasts for 15 minutes, as one kid has a chemistry test the next day or a project to finish. Sometimes the magic is missing one, because my oldest had to go straight to work after school and won’t be home until 10:30.

Last Monday night, the magic was interrupted by a tech support call from Dell. Our 2nd born son had a laptop with a bad hard drive, still under warranty. So Todd took the call reluctantly, knowing if he didn’t, he might never hear from them again. He left the table. Andrew saw his dad leaving the table and looked at me with pleading eyes. He’s the introvert in the family. And though he is definitely part of the magic, he participates with some reticence.

“You can go,” I said. He was gone before my eyes could focus on the dust trail he left behind.

That left me at the table with Brady and Lucy and Jenna. For some reason, none of the rest of us moved. A conversation began about why there is evil and why things continue in the world as they do. Why does God love us? Why would He want us? There was back and forth between the older ones. The youngest wanted to shut the whole thing down and go play golf.

The table talk took a dark tone in the beginning, with a hint of hopelessness. What is the point of it all? But it ended with all kinds of light and hope. My daughter saw through all of that and piped up that she wanted to be baptized. Right then. That night. She was ready.

That night ended in the baptism of my sweet daughter, surrounded by family and friends. The moments leading up to her baptism found me in the air handler closet, because apparently I’ve never been backstage in the building where I’ve worshipped for 15 years. I had to be led to the staircase by a person deemed more “together” than myself. The moments following her baptism had me carrying around a bra wrapped in 19 paper towels and trying not to make eye contact with anyone.

Whose bra it was and how it came to be swaddled in cloths is another story for another day. Around a table, for sure. Because that’s where the magic happens.

Tomorrow is a Day Killer

I’ve been on a diet for 12 years.
For 12 years I have steadily gained. There were a few exceptions here and there. In 2014, I did 30 days of the Whole 30. I lost 16 pounds in 30 days.
I also lost my will to live.

A grainless, legumeless life is no life at all.

I am not a body-shaming, fit-into-my-wedding-dress kind of person. I don’t really care about that. What I want is to have energy again. To like wearing jeans again. And to have a single pair of shorts that says, “49 looks good on you, girl.” Simple stuff.

So here I am.
In the middle of another attempt, without knowing exactly why it is so difficult.
I was thinking about this yesterday when I walked into our pantry and lingered there. The pantry is never a good place for me to linger, mostly because there is nothing natural in the pantry. Nothing that grows from the ground. Nothing with less than 50 ingredients. The fruits and veggies are in the fridge. Sometimes the good stuff is already sitting out on the kitchen island. But things that are good for me long term are never, ever in the pantry.

I looked down yesterday afternoon, in the pantry, and found the case of Girl Scout cookies that I had voluntarily allowed through my door on Sunday afternoon. I paid $60 for them. And there they were. Saying hi. This is like kissing a person with the flu. Why would you do that?

After wondering for a few long seconds if I should make this particular choice, I walked away with a sleeve of Trefoils in my hand, saying to myself, “I’ll start again tomorrow.” I ate the whole sleeve in one sitting.

That’s when I figured out my problem.
My problem is tomorrow.
I mess up today, declaring a Mulligan of sorts. And I decide that I’ll fix it tomorrow. If there were still Girl Scout cookies I liked, I’d be doing the same thing today. But I ate them all, so I’m safe for the moment from Trefoils.

Tomorrow is my Today Ruiner. Because it gives me an excuse to never do anything today. I never truly get started.

I was turning these thoughts over in my mind this morning, trying to determine why I seem to be stuck in a decade-long rut, and thinking about today’s To Do list. I had two things that absolutely had to be done before school pick-ups: Exercise and writing. They are equal in importance, somewhat equal in effort, and not equal at all in likability. I hated the thought of going for a power walk without a friend, so that’s what I chose to do first. I knew if I did the writing first, the exercise was unlikely to happen. But if I walked first, I would sit down after to write.

In my quest to do the next right thing, if two are pressing and equal, I do the hateable first.

While I walked, I listened to several episodes of Emily P. Freeman’s podcast, “The Next Right Thing.” One of today’s listens was the episode called “8 Books for Soulful Decisions.” That felt like a kick in the knickerbockers, because (1) I’m trying to figure out what my next right thing is, and (2) I’m not allowed to buy any books right now. I opened up Amazon, thought about the gift card money that I was drowning in since Christmas and my birthday fall within the same week, and weighed my options. Two books seemed to be calling my name:
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The Listening Life by Adam McHugh.

I think I need these books. All I have to do to get these books in my hands is to admit that I have a problem. I have to admit defeat. Is this my next right thing?

And is it even really defeat if James Clear can solve all my problems? Maybe he’s the solution to my clandestine Treefoil gormandizing. Maybe after reading Atomic Habits, I won’t be tempted to hoard books I never intend to read. Or buy 12 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, 2 of which only I like.

This is my next right thing.

I’m going to surrender.

But I’m going to do it tomorrow.

And if anyone out there reads this who happens to know Emily P. Freeman, give her my address. She owes me $10.

Ceramic Reflections

I am sitting under an overzealous ceiling fan, listening to the ambient noise of hushed voices and artistry. We are celebrating my youngest daughter’s 12th birthday at a pottery painting place. We’ve been here more times than I can count. I have finally reached the birthday that allows me to take a backseat in the creative process, which is good because I can’t paint. And I don’t like to. Past birthdays here ended in tears and black smudges in all the wrong places. I would inevitably spend $148 to go home with a ceramic hamster that looked a little too much like Michael Jackson. I have a drawer full of them.

But tonight is different. Tonight I am letting my two girls, my niece, and a friend do their thing, while I do mine. And my thing is to write.

It has been a strange week. On Sunday morning, a helicopter went down in Calabasas, CA and immediately took the lives of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, and Ara Zobayan. On Sunday afternoon, my 15-year-old son came into the family room looking devastated and told me the news.

On Tuesday, I woke up thinking about the 9 victims, seven of whom were unknown to the world until they became a tragic headline. I had been thinking about them for days. I woke up with words in my head in that velvety pre-dawn darkness before my alarm had sounded and sunk back into another half hour of sleep. Sometime after 10 a.m., with laundry steadily thumping in my attic, I sat down to write. I didn’t think I’d still have the words in my head from earlier that morning, because falling back asleep usually kills it. But oddly enough, the words flowed quickly and I typed out The Seven Others. Thirty minutes later, I thanked God for it and ran down my stairs to grab lunch before I headed out the door.

I continued to think about the victims, but I didn’t think any more about the post. Until much later.

It got shared a few times on Facebook. And then a few more times. And by Thursday night, a lot of people had read it. Like more than a million. Usually when I say a million, it’s hyperbole. It has never been literal. And to prove I’m telling the truth, my stats on this blog for the week of January 20-27 were 35. Thirty five people popped over for whatever reason entered their mind. And my previous post, The Shots you Don’t Take, got 77 reads the day I wrote it.

That just lets you know how big a star Kobe Bryant was. His wing span stretched all the way to Temple Terrace, FL, where some very average people were wishing Sunday’s accident had never happened. And as if by Laker magic, that blog post took off.

Like. TOOK. OFF.

On an average day, I get about 4 emails. Probably 3 of them are from Aeropostale. Absolutely all of them want me to purchase something. My phone stays pretty quiet. Not this week. This week I received hundreds of messages. Some of them made me laugh. Some of them accused me of cashing in on others’ suffering. (I assure you there is no cash in a readership of 35 and no forethought that the readership would be anything but that.) Some of them were laced with the raw grief of the writer’s own pain from a story only they have lived. Some of them wondered why I hate old people, more specifically Betty White.

So because I am low on sleep and high on observations, I will finish this out in bullet point style.

I don’t hate elderly people. At all. And I don’t wish them dead. Not one bit. I’m sure Kirk Douglas is still having great conversations with family and friends and he will be missed when he does pass on. He’s also seen some pretty major changes in the world, from cars, to planes, to smart phones. Betty White is funny and full of life. She dances better at 98 than I could at 20. I haven’t watched her much since Golden Girls, because I’m a little too prudish for the bawdy nature of certain shows. My own grandparents lived well into their 90s and my mother died at 74. If I could have given her 20 more years, you can be quite sure I would have. I love old people. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to be one someday.

America doesn’t think other types of accidents and deaths are less important or less sad than the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter. But this one was deeply shocking because it killed one of the more brilliant NBA stars to ever play and along with him, it killed moms and dads and young girls on their way to an innocuous, family-friendly weekend tournament.
Each one of the 9 people had such an extensive network of fans, family, teammates, staff, players, and friends, that the arm of grief seemed a little longer and the grip a little tighter than some of the stories we hear.

The world is full of good people. To this point in my life, I haven’t suffered like the Bryants or the Mausers or the Chesters or the Altobellis. But I certainly confirmed this week that many, many people have. People wrote me, identifying with this tragedy. One had lost their father in a fire when they were 7. Some had lost husbands or wives to cancer and then quietly leaned into the business of raising their small children without a spouse. Some had lost children to cancer or to sudden, horrific accidents. Most of these had a story to tell about the people that rallied around them in their darkest hour. Many of them have gone forward, dedicated to rallying around others.

These were the disjointed thoughts I was peacefully typing inside You Do the Dishes, away from all of the water and paint, when my older daughter, the same age as the girls who died on Sunday, walked up and held out the top of a ceramic box that she was making for her best friend at school.

I was so close…

“It’s ruined,” she said, trying to control the trembling in her voice. I looked at it, hoping to disagree with her and convince her that she was overreacting. But no, it was truly ruined. She had attempted to paint “bff” in black cursive letters. It looked like she had used the tube of 1988 Clinique mascara that we had found in my mother’s train case when she died. They were more lava rock than letters.

I spent the next hour, until the moment the place closed for the night, helping her redo those letters so she would have a gift for a friend she thinks so highly of. When we finished the grueling task, I’m not sure we were exactly proud of our work. But we weren’t embarrassed either, and the almost-tears of the hour before had turned to laughter and solution-based thinking, however shaky it was.

At the end of a week full of both sorrow and joy, I still hate ceramic. And I hate painting. But I love my daughters and, if I’ve learned nothing else this week, I’ve learned to live for the things that last and the people that matter.
This was a little of both.