Escapism

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Yesterday morning, I was scurrying through the bathroom on the way to do something with some kid to get them ready for school when I heard the radio announcer talking about a show that night, and having tickets to give away. When I realized what the show was, I dove for the phone, because except for Christian, we were uncommitted and this was one of the shows I had intended to try to get tickets for in the first place before, well, the last few weeks happened.

So I got the tickets and I told the kids we were going to an acrobatics show, but I didn’t really know what it was, and truthfully I was kind of nervous, because I was tired and emotionally drained and the last thing I wanted was to have to buck up four whiny attitudes, and I was terrified that I’d remembered wrong and what we were getting ourselves into wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

Well, it wasn’t exactly what I’d been picturing, but it was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen. I wince on behalf of my community, which didn’t attend it well, because I can’t imagine the audience that wouldn’t like it:

In a week when sorrow feels numb and outrage feels impotent and discouragement is threatening to feel like despair at the end of a series of weeks that feel like being on the receiving end of a whack-a-mole, I am so, so grateful for an hour of pure delight and wonder and escapism…with no need for violence or villains.

And the fact that all my kids adored it…even the tween who hates EVERYTHING.

And the wonder of watching what the human body is capable of.

And a haircut.

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Look, my laptop takes such poor quality pictures, it almost looks artsy!

And secondhand scarves, because I love scarves.

And a good conversation with a friend.

And the tone of my husband’s voice on the phone in the background.

And the return of anxiety, because it’s teaching me about the relationship among anxiety, scrupulousness, and hampered spiritual growth, and challenging me to move forward.

For a good air-clearing within my marriage about where we stand on a particular point of stress in our world, which may be a baby step, but it’s still the first step forward.

For a weekend of baby love, and the promise of another one coming up.

And for a woman willing to spend a weekend with my crazy kids so we can have aforementioned baby love weekend.

For a massage. Because maybe my back won’t hurt in the middle of the night tonight.

For college students who want to work with the Down syndrome community…because we have so many ideas and zero time and energy to bring them to fruition!

For dipping below 130 on the scales again, however fleetingly.

For being too busy to cook desserts, which makes it slightly more likely that I could pull it off two days running.

For homemade yogurt and kombucha, and the way I feel different…even if it’s totally psychological.

And for homemade sourdough bread.

And a really good walk this morning.

And rain. Because oh, how we need rain, with our crunchy grass in September.

That’s my gratitude list. Are you thinking of yours?

 

Reset

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Photo by Wendy House, via Flickr

We’ve been all drama, all the time lately (read: escalating for months) in our house, and for a couple of weeks, I’ve been telling people I’m ready for 2017 to cease to exist. Like, it should be wiped off the annals altogether. I know it’s not a sound way of looking at things–the hardest times are the ones that teach us most and gift us with the most life lessons, and anyway it’s not like my troubles compare to those faced by many others–but sometimes you’re just done and that’s all there is to it. That’s where I am right now. Just done. I’m at my breaking point. My tolerance is gone.

But, as is often the case, when the universe (AKA God) has a lesson for me to learn, he’s not subtle about it. I was reading a memoir called Hourglass, and the author shared a conversation with an older woman who said, “Yeah, I had a bad time of it for a little while. About twenty-four years.”

Two nights later I grabbed my “January book,” where every New Year’s Day I write down a summary of the past year and my goals for the one to come. I knew the content of the most recent entry, yet one thing, I found, I had forgotten. I wrote, “2016 was a terrible year. I just want to wipe it out of existence.”

Sitting there, staring at those words, I realized if I don’t want to have a twenty-four-year-long “bad time,” I have to do whatever I can to change my own narrative. There are a lot of practical applications for that, but probably the first is that I need to start looking for things to be grateful for again. Years ago I participated in the 1000 Gifts blog hop, and from that experience I know nobody else really cares about my lists, but that isn’t really the point. So I will begin my gratitude list again, and I give everyone carte blanche to stop reading before you get there–as long as you go looking for your own things to be grateful for. Maybe if a whole lot of us make some attitude-change ripples, we can reset not only ourselves, but large things. Things beyond our sphere of influence.

I am grateful for the bike ride I haven’t had time to detail.

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For friends willing to donate time to play with me on a recital this weekend.

For manuscript requests.

For the fact that having 10 tons of drama dumping on my/our head/s every moment prevents me from assigning drama to the novel query process. (That’s a really big deal.)

For what appears (and had darned well better be) the end of a plague in our house.

For the beginning of experimenting with fermented foods.

For expanding horizons inside my heart.

For the grace to interact with people on controversial topics without becoming too anxious to sleep.

For the most unwelcome resurfacing of anxiety, which has sparked all these reflections.

For cheesecake.

And the fact that cheesecake doesn’t last very long in the house.

For chenin blanc.

And although I never thought I’d utter these words, for Pit Bull.

That’s probably enough to start.

 

Home Alone on Thanksgiving

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thankful

thankful (Photo credit: madison faith)

When my husband was growing up, he lived a thousand miles from his cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents. A family of eight does not travel well over that kind of distance, so generally they spent their holidays as a nuclear family, in their own home, by themselves, and they developed strong traditions around that structure.

When I was growing up, both my parents’ families tried to get together for one or the other of the big winter holidays, usually no more than two hours from our house. A family of six can’t travel well over large distances, either, but two hours is entirely doable. Thus, I grew up looking forward with all my might to extended family gatherings around the holidays. (Cousins rock, people. Right there’s a reason to have large(r) families.)

I always found the idea of a holiday spent at home, with nothing but your own family, incredibly depressing. To me, that’s sort of the point of the holiday: a break from the same people and surroundings you inhabit every day. I have always viewed a holiday spent with just us as the height of all that is depressing in the universe.

But this year, family circumstances are such that we spent Thanksgiving at home, by ourselves. My sister and her family joined us for Friday afternoon and evening, but outside of that, we were home alone from Wednesday through this morning.

And I am converted.

It was so relaxing. Our family is on the go All.The.Time. Having a super-long, unstructured weekend was a rare gift. It felt like a deep breath and a long, slow, relaxing exhale. I got to go to Mass and do Jazzercise on Thanksgiving morning, prepare a moderate Thanksgiving dinner (one vegetable, one starch, well, okay, two, but stuffing doesn’t count), eat it on my family’s schedule. We Skyped with a couple of family members, the kids played downstairs, and Christian and I pulled together some of what we needed to organize about our lives in the coming weeks. We’ve done most of our Christmas shopping already, so we waved off shopping entirely–Christian had to get an extension cord, and I needed to grocery shop, but both of us timed the outings to avoid the feeding frenzy. We took the kids to Chuck E Cheese on Saturday afternoon. We didn’t even have to play at church on Sunday, so we went to our old stomping grounds for late Mass in the gap between Michael’s naps.

At the end of this interval, the kids are sick of each other’s company, and everyone’s chomping at the bit to return to the routine. Especially me. 🙂 But I loved this Thanksgiving, and I hope we have more like it in the years to come.

There’s a lesson in this, if I can only figure out how to apply it more widely. More is not better, or richer, or more fulfilling. Less is not barren; a smattering of activity, strung jewel-like along a weekend, is beautiful; crowding ten times as many “jewels” into the same stretch of “rope” just looks gaudy and overwhelming.

Nothing surprising in that paragraph. But it’s nice to know it applies to holidays, too.

Making Peace With My Birthday

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Photo by Packfill, via Flickr

For most of my life, my birthday and I have had a pretty dysfunctional relationship. It’s not about age–I’m seeing the first hints of the aging process taking its toll, and I don’t like that, but psychologically speaking, I think this whole obsession with youth is ridiculous. No, it’s about the day itself: the purpose of celebrating, the proper way to celebrate, the attitude I should be cultivating.

It’s a day all about you! Your day, your way! You should get to do whatever you want to do, and no one and nothing should stand in your way! In other words: me, me, me. For one day, I am the center of the universe.

The trouble is, for thirty-seven years I tried that route, and I’ve had way more bad birthdays than good ones. You know why? Because the world isn’t all about me, even on my birthday. It’s no one else’s responsibility to make me happy. In fact, they couldn’t possibly succeed in making me happy, because what I really wanted was for someone to read my mind and figure out what I needed in order to be happy and give it to me, because I didn’t know.

(Sick, I know.)

All I had was a vague sense that I shouldn’t have to work. Every year I trotted out the tradition from my parents’ household, that the birthday girl didn’t have to do dishes. And from that I drew up a wholly unsustainable vision of a birthday as a do-nothing, responsibility-free day. And then I was never happy, because it never turned out that way.

This year, my thirty-eighth birthday, I accepted a truth I’ve known for a long time: a birthday for a mother (or a father) is different from a birthday for a child. You don’t necessarily get the first piece of cake (I mean, you could, but your ice cream would be half melted by the time you finished getting the little ones’ cake and ice cream cut up for them, so what’s the point?). You don’t go wild with excitement over presents (what do adults go wild with excitement over?).

You don’t stop being an adult just because it’s your birthday, and trying to act otherwise is a recipe for unhappiness. Like it or not, there are still kids to feed and dress, clothes to fold, and dishes to wash.

And if you can make peace with that, you will find that the efforts your family puts forth on your behalf will be enough to evoke that little glow of satisfaction you were looking for all along.

For a rain chain, three pairs of pajamas, an umbrella, and a rain gauge….
and more importantly, 4/10 of an inch of rain to go with them
(even if that’s barely enough to scratch the surface of the worst drought in 50 years)…

For a twenty-mile bicycle ride with my husband
and a relaxing picnic beneath a tree beside a soybean field

For hundreds of online well-wishes (Facebook rocks, I don’t care what anyone says)
especially the thoughtful and personalized ones  from people I respect

For a student coming to help me clean house in exchange for lessons
and the end of the overwhelming set of deadlines coming into view

For Nicholas officially becoming the first of my children to be completely toilet trained, even at night (woohoo!)

Sharing with Multitude Mondays and Just Write

The Beauty of Light and Dark

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Photo by exquisitur, via Flickr

There’s a quote I think of often, from a movie that never hit the big time, but which has really stuck with me over the years: Grand Canyon. “Everything seems so close together,” the character Claire tells her husband. “All the good and bad things in the world. I feel it in myself, even. And in us. Our marriage.”

There seems to be a deep truth in that quote, but I’ve never quite managed to wrap my head around it, until this week in my nursing-time reading, I started reading what Henri Nouwen had to say on the subject of gratitude and celebration.

His argument is that every occasion of celebration also involves loss: when you get married, it’s union, but also departure from the family ties that formed us; when you graduate and get a job, you lose the environment of constant seeking and stimulation of being in school. And so on. To celebrate life means to celebrate the whole works–the ups and downs are part and parcel of the same thing; we aren’t supposed to celebrate one part and merely tolerate the other. “Those who are able to celebrate life can prevent the temptation to search for clean joy or clean sorrow,” he said. “Life is not wrapped in cellophane and protected against all infections.”

“Gratitude is a difficult discipline, to constantly reclaim my whole past as the concrete way in which God has led me to this moment and is sending me into the future….I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say ‘everything is grace.'”

 (Quotes from The Essential Henri Nouwen, edited by Robert A. Jonas. You should buy this book. Today.)

I know the truth of this; if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times, that there’s a reason for all we’re asked to suffer, that it’s in life’s difficult moments that we learn the most important lessons. But it’s easy to wax philosophical when life is good. Not so easy to touch that truth when the tough times come calling. Or move in.

But where I really see these words intersecting my world is in the everyday. It’s not the big stuff that gets me, it’s the constant low hum of self-sacrifice, noise and chaos when my soul’s natural state is quiet and solitude. And yet the blessing is the curse. Look how rich my life is. You can’t have four little ones running around, eight pairs of chubby, soft arms around your neck, four separate adorable giggles, all the heart-catching moments beyond count, without the noise and chaos.

Everything is so close together. The good and the bad, they are the same thing, shined on from east and west. I may never say, “Thank you, God, that my children are banging on everything in sight and Michael finds things on the floor to choke on even after I’m sure we’ve gotten every single thing up and I have to issue the instruction six times for every individual book I want them to put away.” But I can appreciate the gift–that amazing gift so many long so deeply for–of my children. I can acknowledge that what seems like light and dark are really one and the same, and simply be grateful for the gift of life, with all its shades, and choose not to focus on what irritates.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thess. 5:16-18)

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Shared with Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday and Multitude Mondays.

After a Good Night’s Sleep

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photo by Martin LaBar (on hiatus), via Flickr

Today, I am thankful for sleeping till 7:15, and being awakened by the slanting rays of sunlight instead of a baby’s cries or an obnoxious alarm clock.

I am thankful for a husband who knew he could offer me a welcome rest by taking two kids with him when he went to visit family. And who took the child I most needed a break from–the one who does not know how to shut off his voice box unless he’s asleep, and sometimes not even then.

I am thankful for sleeping in the middle of the bed, and children who were in bed by 8p.m., giving me some much-needed down time.

I am thankful for sleeping with the windows open.

I am thankful for two days in which I actually was able to concentrate on my novel–for the first time in months, feeling that I actually accomplished something on it, because of the quiet around the house.

But I am thankful, too, for a much-needed reminder that the child who is hardest for me to deal with right now is probably the one who needs me most .

And I am thankful that the quiet, the bed to myself, the sleeping late, was only for this one night. I am thankful that by dinnertime, we’ll have all the chaos back. It’s not the chaos I miss–I could do without that forever–but the love it represents. Because the truth is that, just as motherhood is a variegated flower containing both light and dark, so is family. You can’t have one without the other.

And that insight is perhaps the most important “gratitude” of all.

Hitting Pause to say…thank you

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Photo by honor the gift, via Flickr

I feel a need to pause today and say thank you. On two separate subjects, actually.

From the moment we first realized we might have to take Michael early, people have been extending themselves for us. At first, we kept a list so we could send thank you notes, like, y’know, people are supposed to do. Like we’ve always done before. But before long, the stream of generosity outstripped our ability to keep track of it. In prayers, in child care, in child transport, in meals, in house cleaning, in hospital visits and meals brought there, in gifts and cards and help planning the baptism party, and simply in avid interest in our family’s story (my blog hits have been crazy high lately)–in all these ways, you people have blessed us. We owe one heck of a debt of karma on the universe, and I’m so excited to start paying it forward…because I know I can never pay it back.

And speaking of the blog, that brings me to the second topic: comments.

There are bloggers who respond to every single comment people leave, often simply saying “thanks for visiting!”  I’ve never wanted to do that. As much verbiage as I spew, I like it to be meaningful. I’d rather have horizontal conversation with people. In other words, if I play arbiter to each and every response, it feels like I’m the great almighty Blogger before whom you all lay your burnt offerings of comments.

Not my style. I’ve got an ego, but I’m aiming myself at humility.

But if I don’t respond individually to a comment, that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant to me. I’ve always wished I had a way to personalize my comment box the way people on other platforms can. If I could, it would say something like this: Every comment you leave is like a piece of candy thrown to a child at a parade: a cause for delight and warm fuzzies in my chest. Affirmations lift me up; disagreements (respectfully phrased) promote understanding–and I love, love, LOVE to read your stories, when you share them. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I had a simple “like” button, because your words stand on their own and I would like to affirm them without drawing attention back to myself. Someday, when I graduate to a more sophisticated blogging platform than .com, I will make sure I have a way to do that.

In any case, as insufficient as this medium is, I would just like to say thank you to you all, from the bottom of my heart. Every day I understand better what Luke said in the infancy narrative: Mary kept all these things and treasured them in her heart. Sometimes that’s all you can do, because words are woefully insufficient.