It’s almost to the point where I can’t turn on the news any longer because it might terrify my kids. Or. It might terrify me.
I put $10 in my tank at a time. Not like that’s the smartest strategy. Because there are reports that it will climb to $4.00 at anytime. So gas is actually “cheap” now. But $10 is what I can do sometimes.
My front yard grass won’t grow. It’s a lot of dirt. It gets tracked into the house all the time. I’m trying to fix it. But there are bugs trying to eat it and the stupid chemicals I don’t want to use aren’t really working so far.
Speaking of bugs, I think we have termites.
We left out the huge barrel of meat sauce that I made and my kids love. That was supposed to be our leftovers for awhile. Into the trash.
My best friends live far faaaar away. And I really need miss them.
I think my hot water heater is about to die. Along with my garage door opener that already died in a puff of smoke a couple months ago. And I am whistling past the graveyard that is my refrigerator. Let’s not even talk about it.
And you should see the peeling paint on the front bumper of my car. Long story, came that way, not our fault, hassle to deal and I just haven’t been mean enough to get someone to pay for it. So there it peels.
I’m not patient enough with my children. Just because they track dirt in or toss the chicken I cooked for them or tackle me from behind while I’m tying some one’s shoe or fight fight FIGHT over who gets to play Club Penguin. Just because they do those things does NOT in ANY way mean I should be so pissy with them.
Little things tweak me and poke me and nudge me into a scowling, grumbling, totally self-involved, bad mood.
But what a waste. They are only LITTLE things.
We are actually so good, really.
Why, WHY waste energy on the things that don’t really define my life at all?
Last weekend I was with my brother. I woke up in a state because a small freelancing job I am highly underpaid for was driving me batty. And, while screaming little boys with very little sleep tore madly around the house, we still had a Chuck E. Cheese party for my nephew to get ready for. Dark clouds had gathered over my head.
But leave it to my brother, who knows me and knows how to make it better. He rescued me from the kids and had me come get the birthday cake with him. He said we have to go find our sense of humor. Along the way, we picked up a box of Girl Scout Cookies. And he played old school R&B like Keith Sweat and KC and JoJo and we crooned and ate cookies and LAUGHED and took our time.
This morning, I was very lucky to happen upon a fantastic Ani Difranco concert posted on her Facebook page. If you need a little Ani, go here. It’s great. Really. But I also heard the song “Smiling Underneath” for the first time in awhile. Once again, her lyrics get me where I’m at.
And I thought of my brother and I, without the kids, eating Girl Scout Cookies in his car, singing badly, just being, noticing that the sun was shining and that life was fine.
It seems, even when it is practically against my will, I can shake it off and recognize the small stuff for what it is. Just… small.
I don’t mind waiting in line
I don’t mind if the bills pile up and the work is slow
I don’t mind the gas or the groceries or the drive
As long as I’m with you I’m having a good time…
…I don’t mind spilling my hot sauce on my white shirt
I don’t mind that twinge when I walk in that knee that I hurt
I don’t mind my gums peeling back or my hair getting thin
long as I’m with you, I win
long as I’m with you
We could be stuck in traffic for over a week
with a car full of Quintuplets who are all cutting teeth
and around my neck could be a flaming Christmas wreath
and I’d be smiling under
Screw the termites. Seek out your most loved ones. Then find cookies.
I felt pretty discouraged when I hit “publish” on my post yesterday. To sum it up, I said something to the effect of: We live in a free world full of self-serving politicians and ratings hungry journalists and crazies and egocentric maniacs that want to tear us down and its up to us to be nice to each other and make it right if we want it right. But when I hit publish I wasn’t exactly sure that anyone really wanted to make anything right.
Last night, I was curled up ready to listen to the President’s speech when I got a phone call and missed the whole thing. So a few minutes ago I went back and reread it.
It’s like he read some of my post and spoke directly to my concerns. I suppose that’s his job, to address what people are worried about. But (and check out this new feeling that I haven’t felt recently) I felt encouraged. He said some really, really good things.
Granted, people actually have to take them to heart, of course.
So anyway, with what few remaining bits of hope I have left hanging in the wind here, I thought I would quote the parts that encouraged me most. Because at least someone gets it. And I’m just glad that person is my President.
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.
After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?
So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.
….. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.
I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
I didn’t expect to find Christmas goodness in Walmart.
Broken carts, grumpy people, concrete floors, lines, yellow rollback smiles posted above askew stacks of unoriginal, over-produced, 100% rayon stuff, yes. But not true goodness.
A couple weeks back I was stuck in one of those Walmart lines with some little girl ramming a cart into the backs of my heels while I waited. My four year old was waiting with me too. Bored, he snatched up a toy from the racks of junk lined along the checkout aisle. I didn’t pay much attention to it. It was my turn to pile my stuff up on the belt and pay.
(And yes. For the record, I knowingly pay for all of these budget-changing savings in small soul seeping increments. My dollars are supporting another superstore yet again.)
So anyway. I pulled out my bankcard to sell my soul to the devil pay, when I heard my son whine very predictably, “I want this!”
He was holding a small toy camera. It was blue. It had “Toy Story” characters all over it. And naturally, I responded with a very decided, “No.”
He was not happy. I stood my ground, I paid, he whined some more and kicked at the bagged groceries in the cart with him, and I wheeled out to the car. Same story, different day.
This weekend, I sat the boys down to to write their letters to Santa. (Because my children REFUSE to sit on some strange fat man’s lap. And for $20 a picture, I can absolutely live with that.) Instead I use this letter writing time as an opportunity to gauge what they want – and perhaps carefully lead them towards or away from anything more or less realistic. Thankfully, it worked out well again as I implied that Santa doesn’t bring PlayStation 3s to seven year olds who already have Wiis. But he might bring a game? That’s when I turned to ask my four year old what he wanted from Santa.
And what topped his list? What did he ask for without any hesitation but with a sweet, hopeful twinkle in his eye?
“I want a blue ‘Toy Story 3′ camera like that one I saw at the store.”
Ok. I figured there had to be one in every Walmart checkout aisle – plus it couldn’t cost more that a couple bucks. So sure. Fine, let’s write that down. Fantastic idea. He was thrilled.
Today I went across town to that very Walmart to do my soul-selling shopping. I assumed I would find it without any trouble. I was wrong. After wheeling all over the place and trying every toy aisle and craning my neck to see down most of the checkout aisles, I finally asked someone. The man I spoke to was very nice and took a moment to look in a couple aisles himself. But it was the young employee standing behind him who jumped to attention and scampered down the checkout aisles searching, one after the other.
I had given up at this time. Maybe I would find it somewhere else. But she chased me down.
“Ma’am? I know exactly the one you’re talking about. I see it all the time – but I can’t seem to find it here. Can you wait a minute so I can check the toy aisle?”
Sure and I wheeled after her. She really didn’t have to go out of her way. This thing couldn’t have cost more than $2.00, maybe $3.00. Her time had to be much more valuable than this little toy.
But again, no luck. And she felt so badly.
“I can’t believe this camera is at the top of his list! Ugh. We have to find one, we have to…”
But I had to go. I was trying to make her feel better about it. No biggee, really. And thank you. But she wasn’t done. She asked me if I felt comfortable leaving my number. She was off at 7pm and she would keep an eye out for it for the rest of the day. Oh sure! Yeah, here you go. And I left.
At 6:55pm tonight, my cell rang. It was her.
“Well, I’ve looked through this entire store for the camera. My manager was even on the case. But no luck. So I called three Walmarts in the area. And guess what! One of them has one! Go there, you should have no problem. I’m so glad we found one for him.”
I was amazed. I was touched. I was a little speechless. I thanked her profusely and told her I had already filled out an online comment card about her (I had) and, really, I was so so appreciative of her taking the time and thanked her a gabillion times again. She wished me “Merry Christmas” and was gone.
So I drove right over to that other Walmart. (We have many here in Florida.) And I walked right up to Customer Service. I told them my story. They were fairly impressed – but not nearly as moved as she was. They said they didn’t hold anything for customers so I would need to look myself. Understood, I was anticipating another search. I had begun to turn away when another girl working in Customer Service blurted out a very sudden “OH SNAP!” And took off. Two minutes later she emerged WITH AN ENTIRE TRAY OF BLUE TOY STORY CAMERAS.
“I just put them back there about an hour ago. Can you believe that?”
I selected one and thanked and thanked them. I even kind of teared up as I handed over my $3.29 for the total POS, rattly, plasticky, checkout-aisle-parent-trap toy a Walmart employee had searched high and low for her ENTIRE day. But she had understood that THAT particular POS just happened to be at the top of my son’s Santa list.
Goodness, people. It happens. Everywhere and anywhere.
Even in a superstore.
Even in an employee who has been busting her ass during a brutal, consumer driven, holiday crazed season where customers hardly offer her even a smile as she itemizes, restocks and checks out. She must see the backside of humanity on a daily basis. She must swallow mean and indifference with every “Have a Nice Day” she offers. But she took her day to make MY son her priority for some rinky-dink “Toy Story” camera that will probably end up in the toy box where my kids’ stuff usually goes to die and be forgotten. She cared about my baby boy. Today.
Goodness happens. It appears out of no where and it lights on our day. In a moment, one warm heart reaches another, regardless of place or time or what anyone really deserves. It gives, it overwhelms and is suddenly gone without any expected return.
Goodness. It happens. And I believe.
So slap a bow on THAT, my friends, and color me yuletide. My faith in goodness has been renewed this holiday season.
I have been watching the Chilean miner rescue today. Each man hauled up onto the surface seems like some kind of dusty, pulled from the ashes, impossibility. And it has taken my current list of worries, shaken them right out and put them exactly into perspective.
Not as if an amazing feat of miner retrieval will make my worries go away. But it reminds me that my family is healthy, that we are here, and that we are together.
These are such good things.
Right here on this computer screen as I type, a father folds his son into his arms after months trapped deep deep down below. After he somehow found his way out of a hole only 22 inches wide but dug as far down into the earth as two Empire State Buildings.
This is what makes our spirits dig and push and understand exactly what human nature is capable of. I hope I can be all that I am capable of. Truly.
The other day I saw this butterfly in my backyard. There was actually an impressive alligator sunning himself on a distant bank too and maybe I could have snapped a grainy pic of it in the evening sun. But I was compelled to bend down to my feet and look closely. This butterfly had caught my attention.
It wouldn’t fly away. Maybe it was hurt, I’m not sure. But I lay in the grass and snapped pictures. Because it was beautiful and something special. Then I carefully let it crawl onto my fingers, a game of baseball was in play and it had no hope if it stayed there in the grass.
And I set it on some butterfly friendly flowers in my small garden.
I don’t claim to be much of a gardener. But by no means should that imply that I don’t love to garden. I’m not sure how it happened actually. I fought it for years, but it’s joy lay deep below, patient and waiting.
As a child, my mother had a garden plot a few blocks from our home. She piled my brother, myself and her garden tools into her station wagon and hauled us all over there. We didn’t particularly like going. We were bored. I would wander down the mulched paths in between stringed off gardens boasting lovely heads of lettuce, squash and snap peas lost in whichever fantasy I had currently replaying in my mind. My mother would call me back, and could I bring the wheel barrow over while I’m at it.
I remember the year she had grown so many tomatoes. Heaps and heaps of them. She was given a book about “Too Many Tomatoes” and set to canning. I remember the smell of vine ripened tomatoes and then stewing tomatoes. I didn’t even like tomatoes. There were just so many of them which she found very amusing and clucked on about daily. *Shrug* I was six. What did all of those tomatoes really matter.
When I finally moved into my first apartment with a little bit of land, I never expected to consider gardening. But as the cold months finally passed and green buds piqued the trees, something unfurled within. As if some gene which I had no control over had finally matured itself and pushed through. Maybe I should go pick up a few bulbs? Maybe a trowel. Maybe some better soil.
But I am missing the skill portion of this gardening gene. And so my first garden was a catastrophe. Bulbs had been placed too close together, enormous plants grew on too small a plot of land and then one flower took over like a weed and spread everywhere. Things were leaning, nothing matched, hopeful flowers were strangled and started dying. I forgot to water. What’s the difference between and annual and a perennial, I had no idea.
Years have passed and I have my own home now. Usually I tend to my small garden of children so I spend less time heeding my temptation to grow much outside. But I try every few months to make an effort with my garden. It is a Florida garden however with extreme heat and humidity and then occasional damaging freezes. We have horrid sandy topsoil which is regularly overturned and dug through by a local armadillo. And then there are hoards of fire ants ready to strike any flip-flopped foot that happens to misstep. I don’t know the names of what grows here so growing any of it is some version of garden Russian roulette. But I dig a hole, plant one in there and certainly try. Sure, only about 50% of what I have put in has had lived on with much success, but I try.
Today I put in sod. Last year our backyard was bulldozed suffered at the hand of a wild boar and five of her babies. The weeds whooped and hollered as they crowded in and took over. But today my husband and I trucked in slab after slab of sod and threw together a patch work of grass which we hope will make its mark and regain the upper hand. As we stood there coated in dirt and sweat, watering and stomping at the ground, I felt good. The dirt felt good. The soil and water and all of it combined in a muddy green grassy mass smelled divine. I am growing something.
A few weeks ago, I tentatively planted a tomato plant in a pot on my back porch. Because, you guessed it, I like tomatoes now. I adore them. I wish I could ask my mother how she did it but I would bet the care and the organic mulch and the specific zone she lived in had everything to do with it. Nevertheless, I am trying it. And so now I go out onto my porch everyday and stare at my plant. Would you believe one of those lovely papery tomato flowers bestowed a small gift the other day? Yes, a small green tomato has shown itself. I hardly have too many tomatoes – but I have one. One and maybe another as I tentatively water it’s soil and will the next papery flower to produce a friend.
There is a magic in growing. A small, dry seed can become something real and green, stalked and hardy. Soil and all of it’s rich substance anchors the potential of food and beauty and shade. Water. Have you ever seen what a good soaking rain will do to a garden? It all stretches to the sky and reaches and reaches. It greens and buds and flowers and creates fruit and color and hope.
Clearly, there is also therapy in gardening and growing. We lose ourselves, find our thoughts and enjoy this quiet peace while tending and tending and tending until it exhausts us. We place our attention on something which doesn’t take anything away. We find creativity in growth and life while reigning in and respecting all the possibilities of the natural world.
It is certainly no coincidence. I have snuck back into my garden because it offers a careful promise of life and hope. A promise I tend to, hoping my love of gardening which was passed on to me might actually heal me.
Its a phenomenon to be sure.
And again, it’s not one I claim to have much of a handle on. Don’t expect bright swaying trellises of bougainvillea and enormous bushels of Birds of Paradise or hearty fruit trees weighed down with orange treasures or even a lawn that grows one type of grass (as much as I lust for all of this). But you might expect a small tray of sunflowers poking their way up on the sunny side of the house. Or one clump of Bird of Paradise make a respectable run for it in the front yard. And a fairly successful patch of petunias keeping my mailbox company.
Oh yes and one small green tomato, which smells exactly like my mother’s garden plot. You’ll find me next to it, staring it down and finding pride in it’s possibility. I’m here remembering my mother and hoping to find all the same amusement and joy she plucked out of her own garden. And also, like my mother from 30 years prior overwhelmed by her harvest, I am here clucking on about my one dear tomato daily. Because this first tomato does matter.
Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of Magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.
And so does just about every woman in her thirties and far far far beyond.
But humor me while I quickly consider this fact. And you probably will since I’m going to bet that many readers have been at this moment, pouting deep within the indulgence of his or her own ego, realizing that her face is simply not what it was.
In those very early, hardly adult years, I think a lot of us kind of kid ourselves. Not me. I won’t get lines. I’ll be one of those Jane Seymour types that never ages. Lines happen to everyone else. Like my mom. Or, ok, if I do get lines, it will be a long, long, very long time from now. Like when I’m as old as Rose from “Titanic”, and they will look beautiful, regal and well earned after the amazing life I’ve led. And then with a dramatic sigh, I will die peacefully in my sleep with memories of steamy love affairs with Leonardo DiCaprio comforting my way to the pearly gates. Lines show up then. Not now…
The other day I was flying about my house trying to get my kids out the door to a game. Did they have their shoes, where are their snacks, stop hitting your brother, get in the car, STOP hitting your brother, where is my cell, SIT DOWN, stop hitting your brother, here is your water, are you strapped in, ok.
And I shut the car door.
Well, there I was staring back in the window’s reflection. I’m not sure what it is about a car window’s reflection – but I saw it all. Or at least more than I usually do. Deep, annoyed grooves, pressed lips, sagging parentheses around my mouth, horizontal zigzags across my forehead and two harsh vertical divots between my eyes which I believe are called the “elevens” (thank you Dr. 90210 for naming the ugly).
So much for Jane Seymour.
Now I know this is nothing unique and hardly deserves any sympathy. I am 37. Time goes by, your face changes, suck it up. I’m not even all that woeful and wishing I was a pretty little 23 year old thing. Because I’m just not. I’m a 37 year old mature, regular, typical mom thing. And that’s totally fine.
But seeing that reflection was certainly one more lesson in vanity and the useless time wasted on vanity, a lesson on time gone by and of course my own mortality.
I watch my children grow and run and change around me everyday. My six year old’s ankles have suddenly shown themselves under the cuffs of his pants legs. His new, adult teeth are boldly making their place in his mouth. I find him standing with his hands in his pockets, or lying on the carpet with his hands behind his head – glimpses of the relaxed adult he will be. And my three year old is going to school too and even reading. And finding the bathroom when he needs to go on his own. And finally taking turns. They are morphing before my very eyes, becoming something completely new over the course of days, months and years.
Why do I assume that time stands still for me? That I remain unchanged and unaffected? I honestly shouldn’t. Because I don’t.
This post isn’t supposed to be another wistful feel sorry for myself blather. I mean it. I don’t think I look particularly awful or anything. And I am certainly not hoping to score some free botox for a nice little review on my site. (Although I’m betting it happens on blogs elsewhere.)
I’m really ok about it (…I post here as convincingly as possible…). I’m just making a note of it. I have lines on my face. I am not who I was. I age.
Now to make sure any new arrivals become laugh lines instead of any other kind. It’s something to work on at least. That and to someday be as beautiful, as at peace and as satisfied with my life as Rose’s character was in Titanic. I’d toss everything of value in the ocean too if I could have that.
So until then, onward.
(Just promise not to tell my husband about those Leonardo DiCaprio affairs. A lady must have her secrets…)
I saw some robins in my yard. After my years in western Massachusetts, the sight of robins hopping around green grass, wearily recovering from snow melt, has always signaled the first sign of spring in my mind. So the robins have arrived here in Florida – and while there is no recent snow melt to dodge, they are here hopping and calling and puffing out their chests. I am thinking they are only making a quick stop over here before finally heading north to a well deserved western Massachusetts. You know, once this whole winter thing goes out like a lamb and all.
We also have some green buds on trees and a fine coating of pollen on the cars. Both obvious signs of spring also. Annoying and sneeze-worthy yes, but still hopeful.
But the true sign of spring’s arrival happened here this Monday. My son had his first Little League baseball game. They won 20-8. He made three runs and covered short stop position better than any pro ever could. I swear. And considering how much I know about pro baseball (ahem, cough), I should know.
Spring is coming folks. Enjoy these first few signs.
While life for me has been holding steady, 2010 hasn’t exactly started out so well for the world at large. The loss and devastation in Haiti alone is enough to derail a year that has only just got its feet under it. Horrible, traumatizing, my heart is with the people trying to rebuild their lives. I am just one of millions: watching, mourning and utterly helpless.
And our country, well. The current politics, the unyielding process, the hold ups, the party issues on both sides… yeah, to say I am feeling a little disillusioned right now would be an understatement. Bleh.
So, as I go about my day and see my neighborhood – usually hearty with large palm leaves and sprawling green lawns – now brown and dead after those weeks of frost… Well. It certainly seems to fit.
The other day I was checking over my fave hibiscus plant. No matter how much I had it wrapped, it had not done well in that freeze. And that was no surprise either. Freezes in Florida kill plants. Forever. It’s a crap shoot what struggles back. And as I checked over my plant, I saw no bright blooms, no green left anywhere, just bare branches with a few remaining withered leaves holding on until the next stiff breeze . *Sigh*
Yesterday I happened to hear two fabulous bits of news that just might help 2010 regain a little footing. At least from where I stand. The news was about babies. One had been born and one has recently been made (no, certainly not mine – but its not my news to share so I’ll leave it at that). And that made me think back about my dearest friend who just had her beautiful baby on Christmas Eve. And another friend who had a horrid life-altering 2009 – but is finding joy from weeks of life beating inside also.
Life comes back.
And yesterday I also happened to look at my hibiscus again. Something caught my eye. A tiny small bit of green. New green. Only an inch in diameter, just arrived, waving at the world.
Well look at that. Perhaps Florida’s spring has arrived? Life indeed comes back.