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.
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 and 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.
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.