Sometimes nothing is everything

Yesterday was a day of nothing and it was a day of everything. It was a day I’ll remember for awhile.
A day in which the girls painted their nails and ate sandwiches for lunch.
A day that had me pulled up in a line of cars to celebrate my senior who most certainly did not want to be celebrated.
A day of porch swings and deck fishing.
A day of thick, heavy humidity that clung to our necks like a panicked monkey.
And it was a day that led me to I-75 at 4:30 in the afternoon, with my permitted driver behind the wheel.
At 4:30, on I-75, all of the mundane and fantastic elements of that same day unleashed by way of a furious thunderstorm.
When I say furious, I mean super DUPER angry. Irate. Violent.

It had started an hour before with a text exchange.
“Hey, boy,” I started. “Drive me to Costco. I need a ride to Costco.”
“Did your car break?” Brady texted back.
“No. Car is fine. I need a practicing driver. It will be good experience for you.”
“Costco is a bit far. And will take awhile.”

I convinced him, from his stretched out spot on the porch swing, that it was an in-and-out errand. 45 minutes round trip, instead of our usual $200-2hr adventure. Brady reluctantly rose from the swing and off we went to pick up Andrew’s graduation announcements.

The trip there was uneventful, just as I had advertised.
The trip home had all the events.
We were only halfway home when we could tell we were in for a thrashing.

“We’re going to drive right into this, boy, so be steady and keep some space between you and the car in front of you.” He gripped the wheel and we drove into a sheet of water as disorienting as a drive-thru carwash.

“I do not like this,” he said. But he stayed steady and we were safely in our garage 15 minutes later.

For the next 2 hours, we watched from every window as nature pistol whipped the neighborhood. Our Adirondack chairs flew into the river early on. They were gone forever. Our zucchini plants bowed into the earth, as if to beg for mercy. Our dog was inconsolable. Water rushed in the roads where the pavement had been only a few minutes before. The pool floats were flying around the back yard in a magical swirl.

“Mama, the LLAMA! It’s going to fly into the river!” Both of my daughters were unnaturally concerned about the inflatables.

“Then let it,” I replied. “I am not risking a lightning strike over an inflatable llama.” I felt like surely my life was worth more than that, but I chose not to pitch that to the family.

Our power went out 3 times while dinner was cooking. Three times we restarted the oven and crossed our fingers. The third time lured the last kid into the family room and we all sat together, in one room, watching the weather rage.

The last three months have been like that for me. I regret the situation that has landed us here. And I look forward to a time when we can gather in groups and put our hands on people without wondering if they just infected us. Or if we infected them. I look forward to watching 2 of my kids march a halftime show at a football game that I enjoy like it’s the last game on earth. And I wonder if they’ll get to. And I worry that they won’t.

But it doesn’t matter what I worry about or what I want. None of that will change how things unfold. I won’t be able to predict the storm. Or control it. All I can do is watch and weather.

Last Thursday we watched and weathered. And the next morning, we ventured out to clean up branches, round up llamas, and pep talk the zucchini plants. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it all. About the last 3 months. A little of everything and a whole lot of nothing.

I didn’t know then how much I would relish a simple dinner with my family as my power flickered off and on. I thought it would get old. I thought I would be bored. I thought I would hate the home-cooked pot pies and pine for the restaurant chips and salsa.

I thought I would resent the “nothing.”

As it turns out, a lot of nothing isn’t actually nothing.
It has turned out to be everything.

In this Together

Everything I needed to know about living through a global pandemic, I learned in 1983. I just didn’t know it then.

We’re all in this together.
I keep seeing that.

Americans were a little late to the party, but we sure came in loud and proud. We showed up.
We felt a little mad at China. Sanitize, why don’t ya. And we felt a little sorry for Italy. We watched them play music from their balconies as they were stuck at home.
Then we watched as it slammed into a nursing home in Washington state.
Not long after, New York City caught the literal fever.
Then New Yorkers fled and took the fever with them to other places.

And here we all are.
All of us.
Missing church.
Rationing toilet paper.
Mourning with the graduating seniors.
Posting our own senior pictures and pretending the class of 2020 is comforted by that.
Figuring out a totally different path to education.
Not touching other people.
Rallying around the ones who need more than we do.
Confusing our days from our nights and sleeping in.
Wondering how long our world will look like this and function like this. Questioning how long we are capable of keeping this up.

We’re all in this together.

What a strange phrase that is. Like a spanish conversation that walks past me before I can pluck the message from the few words I know. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around it.

Because it’s never been true for me before.

I think back over the scores of tragedies that have pierced our world over the years. Floods. Bombings. Tornados. Sandy Hook. San Bernardino. Orlando. Hurricanes Katrina, Michael, Irma, and Maria. So many news stories that became hashtags and benefit concerts and prayer vigils. But those things were not in my house or my back yard. Those people were not my people. I felt the sadness. I rallied around from afar. But I wasn’t in it with them. Not like this.

I am now.

We truly are all in this together.

All at risk. No one immune.
From the disease or the grief of knowing someone who is suffering or has succumbed.
All of us need the rules that are in place to protect us.
We need our leaders.
We need each other.
And we need God.

I was out for a bike ride on Tuesday evening, pedaling up central Florida’s excuse for a hill and trying to outrun my grumps. I was grumpy at one kid for–well, never mind–and I was grumpy at another kid for running my AirPods dead. Instead of the queued up playlist I had planned for my ride, I was forced to stuff my technology back into my pockets.
I had nothing to listen to other than the hum of my bike tires and the crickets warming up for a night’s symphony.

It was almost dark. Dusk was filtering through the trees in shades of lavender. No one was out. I was alone on the road. And in my mind, I was suddenly back in a wooded side yard of Lee Avenue in Tallahassee, Florida in 1983. I was in the 6th grade.

My friend, Rondelle, lived in an old section of Tallahassee. Her street was lined with old brick homes flanked by old oak trees and owned by old people. There was nothing on that street that wasn’t old. Except for us.

On Friday nights, we slept over at her house, because there was something so exciting about roaming a neighborhood that went to sleep at 8 p.m. There were always at least 4 of us. Sometimes 6. And we always went out after dark to play a game invented by her older brothers called Ten Speed.

Ten Speed was hide and seek after dark in teams. We always set a boundary of some sort, because we weren’t the FBI. We couldn’t look exhaustively. There were really only two rules in the game:
(1) Respect the boundaries.
(2) Stay with your team.

On the hiding team you could hide anywhere, from under someone’s patio furniture to up in the ancient, spindly arms of a live oak. On the seeking team, you could do anything within your imagination to draw out the competition. You could spit in the bushes or use a stick to whack at shapes in the darkness. You could tell jokes or whisper threats. Anything to solicit a snort or a shifting in the leaves.

It’s hard to say which side of the game I liked better. It was 100% exhilarating. I always felt like I was 5 minutes from an arrest or a grisly accident. I almost always wet my pants.

I had never been a fan of regular hide and seek. I didn’t like games that were every man for himself. But Ten Speed was different. In Ten Speed, we were all in it together.

Thinking back on those days I wonder how I would have adapted to a pandemic quarantine. If I wanted to see my friends, I had to go find their physical bodies. If I wanted to talk to them, I used one of the two corded, rotary-dial, avacado green phones in my house and I talked to them within earshot of every other member of my family. I don’t know how I would have lasted for weeks on end without access to these games and these people.

When I finished my ride on Tuesday night, I was no longer thinking about the kid that did the thing or the one that used up the juice to my ear buds. I was thinking about people. And how people persevere and overcome. And about the fact that maybe things aren’t so different in 2020 from my childhood days running along Lee Avenue under the hazy glow of a street light.

The 2020 forecast is nebulous and uncertain. I won’t be the one to predict it or figure it out. So I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, with everyone else in the world, and wait for this cloud to lift. And it will lift. I’m going to try not to look too far past my handlebars and listen to the voice of a child reciting the rules of a long-forgotten game:

Respect the boundaries.
Stay with your team.

We are in this together.

The Darkness and the Light

There’s a lot of bad things going on the world right now. A lot of people sick and dying from a disease they’d never heard of when they were opening their Christmas gifts on December 25. A lot of people losing jobs. A lot of people in fear of losing jobs. Weddings and graduations that are either cancelled or so altered they are unrecognizable.

There’s also a lot of good things going on the world right now. Families reconnecting. Mothers seeing their teenage sons during daylight hours for the first time since last July. Kids sitting down at their dining room tables to work 1000-piece puzzles. Neighbors introducing themselves to each other. People eating oreos. People walking off the oreos. People cooking fresh food and then taking their time to eat it. People learning how to navigate hard situations. Together.

I filled my gas tank up a week ago using a paper towel to touch the pump handle. My tank is still full a week later. Because there is nowhere for me to go and no one to take there.

And I keep saying that as long as nobody gets sick, we will not complain.

Does the bad outweigh the good? Does the good make the bad worth it? If you end up experiencing both, how does it balance out?

I don’t know.

I was walking the dog this morning, for the second time. Because my dog is a little demanding sometimes. And along the way, I met a neighbor who wanted to talk about our garden (that’s another post for another day). So because she had nowhere to be and no one to be there with, she walked my dog with me. My own family doesn’t do that. And we talked the entire time.

It was weird.
And wonderful.
And one of the glories shining out of the darkness right now.

As I finished the last tenth of a mile on my own, I pictured this pandemic as a labyrinth, both bright and beautiful and also dark and painful. And I pictured myself walking into it.

If I knew that inside the labryinth there would be stations along the way that were pleasant and beautiful, full of light and conversation and joy and a love that can only rise up out of trial, maybe little tables along the way to stop and have coffee, or Mountain Dew Zero, and that I might discover someone I truly apreciate, but didn’t know how much until I was inside the maze,
but between stations it would be alarming and dark and impossible to navigate without pressing up against the walls and somewhere along the way, I would get sick. Or one of my people would. And although the maze was packed with unexpected beauty and sweeping positive life changes, it would also be riddled with pain and darkness and fear. If I knew all of that, and knew I would be forced absolutely to experience both, would I still be willing to enter the labyrinth? Would the beauty be worth the pain?

I don’t know.

I guess we’ll see.

But as of today, I have not seen first hand the darkness. I am standing in the light.

That being said, I did have a moment–90 minutes worth–on Thursday that probably is worth a couple of paragraphs.

Before March 13, I was a public school mom with a tight carpool schedule and a few hours of quiet every day. Now I am Supervisor of Operations of Onine Crisis Schoolng for grades 6, 8, 10, and 12, all occurring within my ordinarily quiet home. I am a masterful grocery shopper and am learning to cook. The 12th grader has always been a square peg in a round hole where school is concerned. He is smart. He is level headed. And he is ADHD. In a real emergency, I’d run to him before I’d run to anyone else. But in an online math test emergency, he isn’t my man.

So, online crisis schooling isn’t going as smoothly for him as it is for the others. And my supervisory role has me more involved than either of us would prefer. On Thursday, it all kind of rose up from the depths and landed in a lump in my throat. I think it was the TEST DUE BY MIDNIGHT notification that did me in, and the review sheet that we couldn’t access to study for the test due by midnight, and the expression of blank resignation and apathy in the eyes of my senior, that I couldn’t mold into any form of productivity that day.

I walked out of my son’s room and into the kitchen to pop some Mexican food into the microwave. As I did, I felt the familiar hot sting of frustrated tears forming a posse behind my eyes. Oh no, I thought. This feels like it’s happening. It feels like there’s no stopping it. As I was trying to explain what Andrew and I had to do that day for his schooling, one of my daughters said, “Well, I guess we aren’t going to see you today at all.”

That was all it took. She went back to her lunch and I grabbed mine and headed out the garage door with it. I was looking for an escape. A place to cry about Forensic Science. I looked toward the river. That would be a nice place to rest, but they would find me. I was standing by my van, caught in indecision, when I decided to get into my van. I opened the sliding door to the middle row and got in, closing the door behind me.

I sat in that van for 90 minutes, crying into and still eating the frozen cheese enchiladas in my lap. I texted Todd to let him know I was there, because he had walked past me and hadn’t seen me. He got in several times to confer with me and then got back out to re-enter the fray and manage the things I couldn’t handle at the moment.

At the end of a day that was laced with failures and roadblocks, I found myself sitting by the river 6 feet apart with a couple of friends that knew I needed to be yanked up by my socially distant bootstraps and set on a different path. And it was nice.

If I get sick–if my people get sick–I’ll have to wonder if the light can outshine the present darkness. And though I am currently well, I am acutely aware of the ones that are not. And of the ones who worry that they won’t be. And of the ones that are nursing so many back to health and placing themselves at risk as they do so. I am acutely aware that it is not about the online tests or the lack of convenience or supplies.

There is darkness. There’s no denying that. And for many it is as thick and black and sticky as turpentine.

But along the way, the light is shooting up from little taped Xs along the ground.
In 6 foot increments.
I don’t know if it’ll be worth it all.
But it’s pretty bright in spots.

Stay safe.

Q and A about this and that

I started a 30 day hugging experiment a good week before the bottom fell out of normal life. I was 23 hugs and 12 days into a whole new lifestyle, which I planned to follow with a pretty kicking blog. I had begun to write it already. It started like this:

If I go down with the dreaded Coronavirus, I’m going down hugging.

If that was appropriate when I wrote it (and it probably wasn’t), it certainly isn’t anymore. My timing has always been a little off.

On Day 12 of the 30 Day Hugging Challenge, I stopped wearing my “I need a hug” t-shirt and went inside to figure out how to be a homeschool mom.

In the meantime, I’ve watched the news a few times, gone to the grocery store a bunch, and thought about what I should be enforcing, doing, or saying in the midst of this brittle and unfamiliar new life.

What do you say during the coronavirus?

I can’t give advice. I’m not qualified to do that. There’s already a metric ton of advice out there, from finding peace in pandemic to successfully socially distancing. Besides, who’s going to want advice from someone who started a hugging challenge during a pandemic? Sheesh.

I could try to build and post a playlist, but I could never top Rita Wilson’s Quarantunes on Spotify. But there is Dancing Queen by Abba. Everyone should listen to that once a day for the rest of their lives regardless.

I could say I feel fantastic and that I don’t fear the Coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean a gazillion other people aren’t sick and scared and have every reason to be. Usually my lack of fear is anchored in ignorance anyway. My sense of brash rebellion is a little like my timing. It’s usually off.

If there are answers to be had, they aren’t had by me. And since I don’t have any answers, I’ve decided instead to write out the questions that are running through my mind daily and flying at me through the mouths of my kids. And I’ll try to answer my questions my way. I would never presume that my questions and answers are anyone else’s. These are mine.

What if the kids are out of school for the rest of this school year? What will we do then?

We will manage. And we will readjust until we are adjusted. If we don’t post it on social media, no one will know how bad we are screwing it up anyway. On the bright side, there are no more “did I wash her uniform heart palpitations” on Monday morning at 6 a.m.

What if my high school senior doesn’t get to walk across the graduation stage? What if graduations are cancelled?

I will use Colgate to brush the bitter taste of disappointment from my mouth and get over it. He’ll still graduate. And they’ll do something to make it special. It was never about me and won’t become about me in the cancellation, either. But shoot, if I won’t stamp around in the backyard a little tantrumatically if this is the case. I have aged tremendously over the years in getting the boy to do his homework.

What if I don’t get to go on my Disney cruise over the summer?

People survive without Disney cruises. I don’t know how, but they do. And I will, too, if I must.

What if we are ordered to shelter in place for a month or more?

Then we will. We will follow the rules. Without complaining. And we’ll eat dinner around our dining room table together because there’s nowhere else to be. And we’ll play Chase the Ace and Life and Phase 10. And we’ll watch the list of movies we made that we never had time for. And we’ll sit out by the river and watch boaters go by wearing masks, whether for coronavirus or pollen I can’t say. And we’ll appreciate the time when we could go anywhere. And we’ll appreciate the time we can go nowhere. The key is to appreciate.

What do I do when I’m missing my friends but can’t be with them?

Facetime them. Go stand on a socially distant x in their front yard. Write them a note. Connect. You don’t have to wallow in their sneeze droplets to connect.

What do I do with all my extra time?

Something. We have to do something. Find the names of people we know in the hospitals, whose families can’t visit, and write them. Call them. Pray for them.
Put down the CNN app or Instagram and pick up my Bible.
Set up a Zoom with the high school girls from church.
Bake. Fail at baking. Eventually succeed at baking.
Find ways to connect with my kids.
Play a board game. Win the board game. If you don’t win, continue playing
until you have won. Make sure others congratulate you on your win.
Go outside.

What if by stripping away every activity and every thing we thought we needed to be happy we become actually, sincerely happy?

Yes, what if that.

This was the view I had when I looked up last night. I find it comforting that the sun still rises and sets in brilliant displays.


In the winter of 2000, on the brink of my 30th birthday, the fact that I had no children was a tremendous source of grief and stress to me. I thought about it by the hour. I didn’t want that birthday. I didn’t feel like there was much to celebrate. By my 40th, I had 4 kids, ages 3, 4, 6, and 9. The number 40 didn’t bother me one bit, because for the first time in my life, I was right where I had always wanted to be.

But between then and now, the years sat down on me. Twinkies and Poptarts sat down on me. And under the pressure, I sat down too.

I’ve been sitting ever since.

It came on gradually, with the birth of my youngest daughter 12 years ago, and intensified in 2017 upon the death of my mother. I didn’t see it coming. And I didn’t land there with intention. But nevertheless, I let myself slide into a tunnel of grief and frustration and dormancy.
Waiting for something to happen.
Waiting for the clouds to lift or the hallelujah chorus to sing.

Sitting and waiting.

On February 6, I stepped out of that tunnel, almost as if by magic. Strangely enough, it was a casual lunch date with friends and an online article about the science of hugging that shoved me back into the sunshine.

I almost can’t believe how great it feels to be back in the sunshine.

The article I read on hugging simply stated that the average person needs 4 hugs a day to emotionally survive, 8 to maintain, and 12 to thrive. I couldn’t remember the last person I had hugged that wasn’t my 12 year old or my dog. And suddenly I felt very empty and very much committed to changing that.

So I texted one friend and asked her how much she’d pay me if I greeted another of our friends –a confirmed non-hugger–with a bear hug at lunch that day.

The answer was $10. It’s always $10.

When I arrived at lunch, I started to mentally backpedal. How could an awkward non-hugger bear hug an even more awkward one?

I gave it a shot. I gave it a good shot. The non-hugger stiff armed me like a runningback for the Philadelphia Eagles. I never had a chance. My attempt was so clumsy that the friend I had bet refused to pay me. She wasn’t getting bilked out of $10 for something as ugly as what she witnessed.

It wasn’t a hug, they said.
I should have been paid, man.

Somewhere between February 6 and March 1, it occurred to me that I had another big birthday coming. I realized that in December of this year, I’ll be 50. And unless I were to commit to some big changes, I was going to be greeting 50 in a housecoat made of sackcloth with a backpack full of broken dreams.

That’s when it hit me.

50 was only bothering me because I spent so long passed out in that tunnel. I am not where I hoped I’d be at 50 as a person.

So I sat down with my favorite pen and a notebook I love and wrote out a list.

50 things to do before my 50th Birthday

Some of them are very short and simple, like introducing myself to the homeless man that sells water on the corner of Hillsborough and 40th. Some of them are more challenging and lengthy, like losing 50 pounds. All of them are exciting.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

So on Tuesday morning, March 3, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and got up to walk and pray. On Thursday morning, I went to my first weight watchers meeting (Oh, pardon me, it’s not weight watchers, it’s MY WW…) in 2 years. And on Friday morning, I walked up behind the man on Hillsborough and 40th and sat down on the wall beside him. When we parted, I asked him if I could give him a hug. He hugged me twice.

Every day this week I’ve walked and prayed and set my mind for the day before the sun pried itself through the oak trees. And every day this week, I’ve been smiling like I won the lottery. Because I kind of have.

50 sounds old.
But I don’t have time to worry about how it sounds, because I have 50 things to do before it gets here.
And I’m pretty excited about it.


Stay tuned for more on the #30hugsin30days challenge.

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.