It’s Not Early. It’s Quiet.

It’s early on a weekend morning. Nobody is asking me to be at work, drive them to a soccer game, or make them a meal. Shhhhh. Hear that? Me neither. There was a time (was that last week?) when I would have complained about waking early while my children were still asleep, because of the precious wasted sleep. When you are a parent, sleep is a commodity. But so is silence. And if you sleep when they do, it’s wasted silence.

In the silence, I think of what may have happened in Libya overnight. I’m pretty sure Husband was … busy. Not surprisingly, there’s still no Skype calls in or out. I could turn on the news. But it’s all just too close to Husband for comfort. I like the news boycott idea, so it continues.

Instead, there is glorious silence. I will count my blessings. Early weekend mornings, how I love thee. Let me count the ways … (remember, I’m not a photographer and all I have is a camera phone -)

One: A pretty little princess sleeping in my bed on her own satin pink pillowcase.

Snoring, with drool coming out of her mouth.

 Two: Another child sleeping on my floor who didn’t even wake when I stepped on him.

Three: A beautifully clean and uncluttered great room. For at least a few more moments.

Four: Morning sky.

Five: Pristine, uncrumpled morning paper. But not the “world” section.

Or anything newsy. Nothing remotely newsworthy.

Six: Coffee. Yes, fine, I know it’s decaf. Stupid Lent.

I’m suffering. But I’m suffering with creamer.

cup of coffee

 

OKAY.

So I have all this stuff and it’s quiet. The paper’s done. Now what?

*  *  *

Seven: Precious one-on-one snuggle time with the one that wakes up first.

(Ignore the horrific toes. I do. Hey, I play soccer.)

happy

NOW, ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND MORNINGS, AMERICA!

And count your blessings instead of your Libyas and Egypts and Bahrains.

Advertisements

My Mini-Vacation

The last post was a tear-jerker, and I ap0logize. I recieved messages from friends chastizing me for the failure to adequately warn. You know, I cry when I write these sometimes but it’s hard for me to tell what will make you cry. One person described a very public and very tearful bus ride, another explained the embarrassment of being caught crying at their desk, and another blamed me for ruining their morning makeup. So, it’s time for a laugh.

This is the story of my Winter mini-vacation.

grocery store

Groceries at Blurring Speed - by the Consumerist at Flikr

It all started when I gave in to my recurring delusion that I could complete my weekly grocery shopping duties over my lunch hour. If you don’t know what I’m talking about try ending your long work day by picking up two hungry/cranky children after wearing control top panty-hose and two-inch heels for nine hours. Then head to the store and try to get everything on your grocery list (if you were lucky enough to remember it) before the control top gives way or the children “permanently” maim one another.

One thing I love about lunch shopping are the people. During work hours there are different people in the grocery store than I typically see in my evening rush. There are slow-moving sweet-faced widows accompanied by dear friends or daughters. They shake their heads at the price of berries and have a cart with one tomato, one carrot, and one potato.  There are bleary-eyed but happy moms with sleeping infants who secretly wish they were using this time to sleep, but realize they must procure sustenance in the form of pureed sweet potato and overstewed green bean. There are others, many others, and they are all sauntering. They are swaying and weaving aimlessly down aisles. They are perusing. Comparing. Pondering.

But not me. I am on fire. I have my list. I have my reusable bags. I have my alphabetized baggie full of coupons which I retrieved from my briefcase. I have my heels on, and I am flying. I pause only momentarily. I calculate my round trip transit, checkout, unload time, and cart return requirements. I determine that I have 38 minutes remaining to complete the list.

I am moving constantly and seamlessly, from produce to dairy to bakery to butcher shop. I pass through the bulk bins and organic section before hitting the winery. I am triumphantly nearing the end of the list when it hits me: I haven’t eaten. I need to grab lunch food that can be consumed at work over my memo. I am exasperated because this is not on the schedule. This is not part of the plan. My heels hurt. My toes hurt. My wool coat is hot. I already have ten thousand dollars worth of groceries in my cart.

I consider whether Dante’s Inferno should have contained a ring for mothers who have to shop over their lunch hour, and a subsequent ring of advancement for those lucky enough to learn to complete the task within the appointed time, with coupons.

I head through the produce area on my way to the deli counter, and I stop almost involuntarily at the citrus display. The oranges this time of year are so bright, so pungent, so salivary. A few varieties are splayed open, revealing their saran-encased juiciness for display and enticement. The Texas grapefruit perfume is almost overwhelming.
farmers market pike place

The Pristine Produce - Royce Bair @ Flikr

So I decide to stop and take a moment. It’s just a moment. Through my nose I take in a deep breath of the aroma as I lean way, way, waaaaaay out over the oranges. I fill my lungs until it’s almost uncomfortable, and I let out a sigh as I exhale. A kid across the way looks up at me, and he is suddenly horrified. Not because I’m a middle-aged woman who appears to be having an affair with the citrus section, but for another reason. I look back at him and he doesn’t blink. What? I look down, and there it is.

I am having a nose bleed. Right on the oranges.

I think, it’s okay. I’ve got this. Every woman experiences inopportune body fluid moments at some point. Recent memory goes to my marathon “moment.” And I was once unaware that my newborn’s poopy blowout was trailing out of the front-pack and down the front of my shirt, leaving a trail in that adorable childrens’ boutique. Then there was the time I realized the importance of lactation pads while shopping at Michael’s. I had a newborn and a blanket to cover me that time.

But here, now, there is this blood, and it is coming out of my nose, and I have nothing to clean it with. And I’m freaking out a little kid.

Not only do I have nothing to clean it up with, it’s still coming. I had only my wallet from my briefcase, so no purse tissues. I have my I-device, so there is no paper list that can be McGyvered into an impromptu blood-soaker-upper. I am stupidly leaning over the oranges with my hands out to the sides as if to say, “Step away from the bloody bleeding lady and her bloody oranges, people. Step away!” I am trying not to bleed all over my suit and coat, and I am sacrificing poor innocent oranges in the process. And the poor kid is still there. I think he might start crying. I smile at him. But then I stop, thinking I probably look scarier when I smile.

I grab the only plastic bag I can find, and I start piling the oranges into it, simultaneously attempting to catch the drips and splots as they periodically continue to come. I realize how completely gross this is, and I laugh. I laugh with a bloody nose. I actually laugh before I realize the potential consequence of this action. You can imagine what kind of splatter pattern this creates in my bag. Well, mostly in my bag.

Finally, finally, after what must be an eternity, a twelve-year-old grocery clerk (I swear) approaches and hands me one paper towel. One stupid paper towel. I am now holding my head upward, shoving the thing in my nose, and trying to say, “I’m so sorry. It just started. And I. OH. I didn’t realize …” but before I can form a complete sentence I’m dumbstruck. I see something more horrifying than bloody oranges. With what is likely the only other paper towel in the store, the clerk is wiping down the oranges that are still on the display.

“Stop! Stop!” I yell.

At this point, I stop myself instead, and I realize that I’m officially making a scene. I mean, not that I wasn’t already a stark contrast from the other grocery patrons, what with my low-level flight through the baking aisle wherein I swerved around the man staring at the chocolate chip selection from the middle of the row. But now, I pause and I look around, and people are watching me. Heh. They are watching the crazy lady in the suit and heels with the cart full of food and the blood and the fruit and the bags and the paper towel and the yelling. And it’s just ridiculous.

I decide I can’t attempt a sentence about how ridiculous he’s being with a paper towel shoved up my nose, so I simply hold up my non-bloody hand in the universal HALT sign and I say, “Biohazard!”

The poor kid, probably embarrassed beyond belief, and possibly contemplating whether he should have donned latex gloves before responding to “deadly cleanup on aisle five” simply shoves the remaining oranges into the bag along with the bloody paper towel, and hastily leaves the scene of the crime. I instantly wonder if this is the same clerk I told off once before (also involving blood), and I cringe. I high-tail it for the bathroom.

When I finally emerge, I look around and am pleased to discover nobody is looking. Ahem. Business as usual. Well, except that my cart is perched neatly just outside of the ladies’ room, waiting there for me. It is a silent invitation not to return to the produce department, and I take the hint. But not before I contemplate buying blood oranges just for spite …

So that’s how I ended up significantly extending my lunch and taking a “vacation hour” this week: with a bloody nose, a juvenile citrus clerk who couldn’t spare a square, a traumatized boy who will likely suffer from PTSD (produce traumatic stress disorder), a bag of bloody orange biohazard, a bruised ego, and a victoriously spotless suit. I could make some comparisons to the week I spent in Mexico last year, but I won’t.

So, I hope all of your vacations this year are a little sunnier … and slightly less traumatic. And please, wash your oranges. You just never know.

The Important Work, Part III

working momThere were signs that the week had taken its toll on my family.

There was the frothy Preschooler, who had quickly become accustomed to the unending supply of frozen yogurt and fruit roll-ups. He was now emotionally distraught, lamenting the abrupt change to such vile dietary substitutes as blueberries and oatmeal, but I had seen enough emotional distress for one week. “Eat it or wear it,” I threatened. I didn’t actually mean it. I meant “eat it or I’m going to.” But my unstable condition the week before had somehow paid me the dividend of unpredictability, so the Preschooler watched me out of the corner of his eye and reluctantly choked it down.

Then there was the HAIR of Sweet Pea, which was not so sweet. By Friday it resembled the Barbie I had as a kid, the one whose hair never recovered when I dunked her in the bathtub and left her there, her hair drying half way down the drain and remaining in a permanent “swirl.”  I was unimpressed when Sweet Pea attempted to tame it all with a headband. She mashed it straight down on her head, which only matted the top and held back none of her bangs. It took hours of brushing, but by Saturday morning we had finally wrangled the most offensive of the locks with an allegedly “pain-free detangler” brush. Sweet Pea would object to that marketing claim.

And then, there was the house. Don’t get me started on the house.

At this point I was planning to assuage my guilt by buying and entertaining my way back into the hearts of my children (and my cleaning lady). Good old-fashioned bribery would work. It must. It had to. There would be redemption and forgiveness, and eventually there would be forgetfulness. It would require everyone to forget.

We made our way at the speed of heat from lunch to the germ infested jungle gym, then to the movies and stopping off at a soccer game prior to orchestrating an impromptu sleepover. I had very few moments to myself, and even fewer moments to form a significant thought. But in one miniature snippet I realized something. Because, you know, there are these tiny little moments when things make sense for me. They are epiphanies that arrive when I’m on the toilet or when I sneeze or when I smell my own sweaty armpits. Epiphanies always seem to come that way for me.

What I saw in this particular snippet was a swirl of things in the back seat of my car: jackets strewn across the car floor with one sleeve hanging out the side passenger door; a previously hot chocolate dangling from a cup-holder endangering the floor mats; cold wind blasting and twirling the newly combed hair of Sweet Pea; crumbs trailing from the seat to the floor. And there were my two children, popping each others’ bubble gum, laughing hysterically.

Bubble gum.

We had been all over our little town, meeting up with all of our friends, indulging in every juvenile-centric activity imaginable. There were video games and sugary treats. There was good, hard physical play. I had spent money, spent time, and spent energy focusing on them. And yet, here they were, completely unhinged and absolutely delighted by a little cold wind and a stick of bubble gum.

So, that’s when I realize: this is where my life gets written. Not in the immaculate house with the obedient son and the perfectly coiffed daughter. It’s written here, in the dirty car. Sure, this is the kind of play that will inevitably lead to a fat lip and some accusatory shrieking. But right then and there, it was in the laughter. I think I finally realized – I’m the one that has been absent. I’ve been lurking in the preventative, the perfect, and the possible.

So, this is the Important Work. Not in making priceless moments, but in living with the ones that come along anyway.

Huh. This epiphany smelled a little better than the last three.

Okay, so I admit, I’m not going to remember this tomorrow. I’m going to fret and stew about the laundry and the motion for summary judgment and refinancing the house (which is probably good because it won’t get done otherwise). But I really am going to try to stop to enjoy it all. I’ll try to watch for the steam rising from my freshly brewed coffee. I really am going to remember making blanket forts with my brother instead of complaining about the misuse of grandma’s afghan and the mess of couch cushions. I really am going to work harder at realizing and remembering moments instead of trying so hard to make them perfect. I am. And then I’m going to teach it to my kids.

Now that is the Important Work.

End, Meet Other End

I’ve been burning and burning that candle. It’s the one I’ve got lit on both ends. I looked over at it today and it was just a charred wick laying there. It’s not even smoldering anymore. I’m not even sure which end I’ve come to, but I’ve come to the end of it nonetheless.

For her birthday this week, Mom and I made our way on down the freeway for several hours to get to the University of Washington Medical Center for some follow-up visits with docs in Seattle concerning her completed radiation treatments. Imagine. She was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer and the world expert is right in our back yard. Let me tell you, it was driving rain, horrible visibility and hideous traffic, but several hours drive is a helluva lot better than it could be. Imagine the luck. Well, you know, imagine the – I suppose “luck” isn’t the right word.

By the way, there were no results of any kind. We are going with “we killed it” because we like the sound of that.

On the way up there was a lot of chatter as we solved the world’s problems. But at the end of the day, when we were tired of being reminded so many times of cancer, there was a lot of silence in the dark car. Between kids and full-time work and volunteering and starting businesses and being both a mom and a dad, and playing (or missing) soccer I don’t get a lot of quiet in my life. If I do, it is usually the sound I hear right before I fall fast asleep.

That silence left me challenged this week, and I’m not ready to share what I found there. I’m not sure I understand it myself just yet.

But here I am at the end of my day trying to close the door on it for the night, and I just can’t. I’m missing a vital piece. I’m missing The Closer: Husband. He’s always a good respite at the end of my day. He can take my idiocy and make sense of it. He can take me by the shoulders and shake my head back into place. He can take me at my word. He can take me away.

Because there’s something about arms wrapped around you that make you smarter and more lovley and stronger and more coherent. There’s something about whispering in the bedroom that makes you able to share a secret because you know that it will be kept there. There’s something about unconditional love that allows you to be fragile and stupid and righteously indignant without risking your reputation.

But it’s not the pain of missing his arms and wisdom and ears that feels lonely tonight. It’s the months and months and months still to go. I’m not afraid to say that today was a hard day to do without him. All day it was hard. And tonight, it was hard again.

Tomorrow is a new day. And it’s one day closer to the end of mobilization.

At The White Table

dedicated veteransThis week I went to the second grade chapel assembly due to the unwritten rule requiring attendance at the presentation sponsored by your own child’s class. This was my self-appointed date with good Christian motherhood. Don’t get me wrong, I love that my kids go to chapel once a week, and I love seeing them in brown paper pilgrim bags, picking their noses, and stumbling over memorized verses. It’s some kind of Christian school right of passage to publicly embarrass yourself while attempting to read aloud certain Biblical characters and places.

 But the Second Grade does the annual Veterans Day chapel. I knew this would be a pretty rough one for a certain little girl who was the only one in the class with a deployed daddy, let alone for me. So to make up for it (I’m a classic overachiever), I coordinated with the school to have Husband make a big screen Skype appearance. ‘Cuz I am the mom-bomb. But at noon the day before the assembly, I got an email marked “urgent” that said Husband’s unit was headed in country for a few days. There would be no Skype. Thank goodness I’ve learned over the years not to tell the kids about events that rely upon military coordination for success.

Undeterred to fulfill my duty, I showed up. The program opened with an adorable little girl with sparkly silver pants who led us in the “Pledges of Allegiance.” She put her left hand over her non-heart, and stood frozen in horror for a good three seconds before deciding to surreptitiously change hands. Next, a child describing the holiday concluded with, “And that’s why we honor our vet – vet – vet – veterinarians!”

And oh, the cheesy patriotic hymns took me off guard. There’s a long list of patriots in our family: my grandpa and great uncles were at Normandy and the South Pacific, my grandmother went with her sisters to the shipyards during WWII, my father was a Naval Aviator, Husband’s father flew the controversial B52 in Vietnam, and of course there is Husband.

But what started as a swell of pride turned quickly to a gut punch when they announced a class reading of a book called “America’s White Table.” I honestly think I didn’t breathe for ten whole seconds as the children filed out of the row to take their places up front. If you’re not familiar, most formal dining events in the military contain a small white table, chair tipped inward, perfectly set but never occupied. Even those who don’t understand the significance of each item on the table can appreciate its iconic value once they see it. A projection of the book’s cover washed us all with light, and I realized this was going to be exactly what I had feared.

 

holding hands

"I love you."

Sweet Pea was sitting next to me, and as I looked down at her over the tears that were already welling up in my eyes, I had to suck it in, really suck it in hard. I could not lose it; I just got done lecturing her that we shouldn’t be sad all the time because Daddy would want us to be happy and healthy until he returns. So I sucked that snot right up into my nose, and gave her a pained fake smile. She clearly wasn’t buying it, so I winked. But unfortunately a tear I had been holding in took that opportunity to pop out. 

She squeezed our family signal into my hand three times:

 once for “I” once for “love” and once for “you.”

And then one by one, as the book was read, children deposited various items on the table:

 
 a white linen for purity of motive;
a slice of lemon for the bitter fate of the missing;
a pinch of salt for the tears of their families;
an inverted glass for the missed meal;
a red rose for the hopes and prayers of those awaiting their loved one’s return;
a red ribbon tied to the vase for our determination in finding them;
a black napkin for the prisoners of war; and
a lit candle, to remind us that America is a light in a world of darkness.poa mia

 

By this time there was no hiding the tears that were clearly streaming down my face. All I could do was turn slightly away from Sweet Pea, who was very clearly looking to me to be the glue that held her own little moment in place. I couldn’t even hold my own together, with the “what ifs” flooding in. I failed miserably at that task, offering instead four gentle squeezes of the hand: “I love you, too.”

I couldn’t decide what had overcome me most. I was honored by my heritage, thankful for Husband’s life and safety, appreciative of those who had sacrificed theirs, guilty for feeling happy about having my husband in one piece, annoyed that I didn’t see it coming, sorry for my children, and lonely – all at the same time.

As I finally left the school, I sent some text messages to those who I know have done multiple tours. It didn’t provide nearly the satisfaction I was hoping for.

I was left pondering how else to be truly thankful.

I think the best we can do is to be thankful ourselves. Veteran’s day really is a great lead-in to Thanksgiving. Both are uniquely American holidays that give us an entire season to be grateful for our lives. I challenge you today to find the long list of blessings around you that you take for granted. And then, would you please take some time in the upcoming week to say thank you to a Vet? It’s easy: just find the older man wearing the navy blue cap with the name of his ship on the brim.

If they were brave enough to serve their country in a foreign land, you just might find the courage to approach a stranger

VOTY Reader