Category Archives: Life

The Nature of Hair

I’ve been getting a lot of comments about my hair lately. Mostly because I’ve been letting it grow — it hasn’t been this long since I was in college — and when it gets long, there is rather a lot of it. And it is not hair that lies down and looks glossy and demure.

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I was at church on Sunday and someone else said something about my hair and then asked, “So is it hard to work with, curly hair?”

“Kind of,” I said. “I used to have a lot of trouble with it because I wanted it to do things that went entirely against its nature. As I got older I learned to work with it instead of against it, and we’ve made our peace.”

I’ve said that or something like it a number of times over the years, and it wasn’t until I was driving home that it hit me. Do you know what else besides my hair is no good at acting demure?

Me.

I think it would be fantastic to be like Grace Kelly and be perfectly put together at all times and glossily, smoothly serene, but that’s never going to happen. I’ve tried, you guys. I have tried so hard to be quieter and stop with the irreverent jokes and care more about my flowerbeds. (Don’t drive by to look. Just … don’t.) You know what happens when I try to be Grace Kelly? I am miserable, and so is everyone who has to deal with me. Like my hair, I’m hard to work with if I’m trying to do things entirely against my nature. But it is so much harder to make my peace with this than it has been to make peace with my hair.

I know this goes the other way, too. Paul has a cousin that has probably never said anything tactless to anyone in his life, because before he opens his mouth, he thinks things over for a nice long time. Like maybe a day or two. It’s a nice trait that no one in our nuclear family possesses. Some years ago, Paul was astounded when his cousin told him he’d always been a little envious — because Paul can just talk to anybody, anytime. Straight or curly, we all seem to want some of what we haven’t got.

I don’t mean this to say that I can’t change at all, or try to get better at things. How depressing would that be? But I do think things go better when I work with what I’ve got.

I will never tame my hair. There will always, always be strands that sneak out around my temples when I pull it back, and those weird Jane-Austen-era ringlets that form at the back of my neck. My hair will not behave on humid days no matter what I try.

But most days it’s fine. Probably most days, so am I, and so are you.

It’s Not Just You

I just sent this text to a friend.

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It helps to know we’re not the only ones. This is the greatest gift we can give one another, the gift of it’s not just you. I feel like I say this all the time (feel free to roll your eyes at me), but I really only write about it when I have to be reminded myself. If it happens a lot, it is because I am a slow learner.

We had a rough day yesterday here at the Circus. This morning wasn’t great either. I watched the boys clamber onto the bus with guilt-riddled relief. Some of what’s been happening is, I am certain, because of our recent changes in routine. Soccer is over. Paul and I were gone over the weekend. I want to be careful about sharing too much about my children’s demons in an effort to exorcise my own, but a quick Google about “adoption” and “routine” will turn up article after article about the way this can affect adoptive families.

When we have days like this, I am tempted to crawl into my metaphorical cave and pick at my wounds all by myself. Obviously, if I were a better parent (a better Christian, a harder worker, more physically fit … what, you wanted logic?), we wouldn’t have these kinds of days. If only I were perfect in every way, everything would be fine. It all makes sense in my head, and it feels safest to stay there, flaying myself, because at least then no one else will know about my spectacular failures.

The best antidote that I know is talking to other people. People who aren’t in your situation, who can say, gosh, that stinks, and hey, as someone who isn’t down in the trenches right now can I tell you you’re maybe being a teensy bit hard on yourself? People who are in your situation, who can say, yeah, I don’t really know what to do either, but here are some things I’ve tried, and we have that too, and it’s not just you. People who, no matter their situation, can say, whether they use these specific words or not, I love you. I’m with you. Solidarity, sister.

It isn’t always easy to reach out. It isn’t always convenient to stop and listen. But I am convinced that we need to. Really, really need to. One of the best things we have is each other.

At Seven

At seven, you’re getting better at a lot of things. Tying your shoes, writing … the list goes on. Other techniques, though, still need a little work.

E, reading from a popsicle stick: Hey mom? What kind of … what does B-O-A-T-S spell?
Me: Boats.
E: Hey mom? What kind of boats do … what does V-A-M-P-I-R-E-S spell?
Me: Vampires.
E: Hey mom? What kind of boats do vampires like?
Me: I don’t know.
E: Bl … what does B-L-O-O-D spell?
Me: Blood.
E: Blood v … what does V-E-S –
Me: VESSELS. It spells VESSELS.
E: What kind of boats do vampires like?
Me, gritting my teeth against the answer: I don’t know.
E: Blood vessels!
Me: <fake laughter>
E: … I don’t get it.
Me: <explains>
E: That’s not funny.
Me: Nope. Not anymore.

When Someone Gives You a Pie

Some years ago, soon after one of their children was born, we took a meal over to our neighbors. Paul calls it the Baby Mess. (Because it’s such a mess of stuff, not because it’s disgusting. We hope.) The traditional Baby Mess includes a big roast, potatoes, a hot vegetable, a salad, some rolls, and a pie. We’re aiming for there to be leftovers. Usually, we drop it off, act ridiculous about the new baby, and take off. This time, they asked us to stay. Goodness no, I said, but they said please. Please, we haven’t seen you in a while. The kids can play. They seemed to mean it, so we stayed. As it turned out, Paul had overdone it with the hot peppers in the roast, so I didn’t make much of a dent in that anyway. (I’m a wuss.) There was still a lot of food when we were done eating, and most of a pecan pie.

We were getting up to leave when Heather tried to pack up the leftovers for us. We brought the meal for you, I said. It’s already a little ridiculous that we ate some of it. But she tried again. Mike came over.

“Honey,” he said, “you’re not doing this right. When someone gives you a pie, you don’t give it back. You say thank you.”

I don’t even know if the neighbors remember this, but it’s become one of Paul’s favorite stories. If I am inclined to turn down a gift, or an offer, he stops and says, “Honey? What do you do when someone gives you a pie?”

I don’t know if it’s Anabaptist culture or Swiss heritage or modern American individualism or just my own super-special personality, but I am inclined to meet most offers of help with the reflexive response that I AM FINE. Why would you think I need help? Do you think I’m a mess? Do I look like a mess? Am I not handling everything? Can you not see that I AM FINE?

All of which is maybe an indication that I’m maybe not as FINE as I think I am, but that’s probably a navel-gazing session for another day.

I like doing things for other people when I can. And when I want to do something for someone, it’s not because I think they’re a hot mess or too dumb to handle their own stuff. It’s because I want to make life a little easier, in a small way. Here’s a little nice thing. Maybe it will fortify you to go face whatever big nasty thing is on your agenda this week.

Reflexive pride is a dumb way to respond to generosity.

So when someone messaged me recently and said that she would really like to send me a canvas of one my tree pictures for my room, I said, “Thank you!”

No, not really. I said something like, “You don’t have to do that,” at which response I imagine she rolled her eyes because obviously. She kindly omitted the eye-roll emoji from her response and instead said that she’d really like to, if I would like such a thing.

I would adore such a thing. I’ve been wanting a black and white print of the tree, and I’ve been wanting to hang it in this room. And yet, it took me awhile to respond. Paul was at work, so I finally had to ask the question myself.

What do you do when someone gives you a pie?

I went to the keyboard and sat down and did it.

Thank you. This is so generous, and I would love it, and I cannot wait until it is hanging on the wall.

 

There it is. I do love it. Like crazy. 

Julie, thank you

It was my first nail in the fresh paint, and I love that it was this. 

Sicky, Sicky Boy

Elias was home sick from school today. (He’s fine. Also he’s not contagious.)

I took him to express care and let the chatter in the waiting room wash over us without taking much of it in. He sat next to me on a Naugahyde loveseat and burrowed into my armpit. I reached around to rub his back, and said, “Aw. Sicky, sicky boy.”



I haven’t said that in years. My dad always said that, even to us girls, because his older sister said it to him when he was little in the 1930s. Sicky, sicky boy conferred both sympathy and status. If there was any chance you might be faking to get out of going to school, you didn’t hear sicky, sicky boy. It made me a little melancholy thinking about it. So I thought about something else.

Upon release from the doctor’s office, we went to the pharmacy. (Can I get an AMEN for modern pharmaceuticals? Bare hours later, he’s a different kid.) Then the grocery store, which is right next door. Elias was allowed to pick popsicles and cookies, and I added crackers and Sprite. I didn’t think too much about it until I was in the car driving home. His stomach wasn’t upset, so the crackers and Sprite were probably unnecessary. But whenever we were sick, Mom gave us crackers and Sprite. So for no apparent reason, driving down Benner Road toward home, I burst into tears.

This happened to me once before, sort of. I’d stopped at the neighbor’s house to drop something off. The bus had just gone by and my hair was still wet, and she looked at me and said, “I bet you got everybody else out the door and you’re going to work and you haven’t eaten breakfast.” Well, no. I hadn’t. Connie has kids my age and she reads people pretty well, I guess. She handed me two chocolate chip cookies that she was pulling out of the oven and told me to eat on the road. I got in the car and went to work and bawled as the chocolate melted on my tongue.

All of this feels ridiculous. Who cries about fresh chocolate chip cookies? And Sprite?

It has little to do with the food, of course, and everything to do with another kind of nourishment. I told Paul earlier this week that I’m feeling orphaned again. We tried to figure out if there’s some sort of anniversary I wasn’t acknowledging, but we couldn’t think of one.

I don’t know why I’m missing my parents so badly right now. I think, a little, that I’m just missing HAVING parents. When your parents are gone, there is no one left whose job it once was to keep you alive. There is no one left who is always, always supposed to have your back. That you’d automatically get in the divorce. The person you can call about that thing that happened when you were seven, or why your turkey burst into flames in the oven an hour before Thanksgiving dinner? That person is not there anymore.

Apparently, sometimes I want someone to tuck me into a fluffy blanket on the couch and give me a popsicle and tell me they’ll take care of everything. And I want to believe it.

Because ohmygosh this life thing is hard work. And this week, I am tired, and I miss my parents.

Boots

We had soccer today, and then we came home and did our Saturday chores. There was much less grumbling this week than usual, possibly because I reached the end of my grumbling tolerance last Saturday and I was so loud the neighbors were hiding. Whatever the reason, Saturday chores got done in record time. Next up was helping Dad outside with the fence. “He says you need boots!” I hollered as the door slammed behind them. I hope to work on door slamming someday. Today I was just happy they shut it.

Ten minutes later, Elias came inside, worked up to a fever pitch. He couldn’t find any boots. I took a deep breath.

I’ve been trying more and more lately to stop taking on their problems. I don’t mean the big stuff. I’m not going to stop ordering, picking up, and paying for Levi’s medicine. I mean stuff like boots. You can’t find your boots? I’m not the one who uses your boots. Your toes are not going to freeze off today. This is not something I need to take on.

So I said, “Here are the things I know. I know there are black boots and green boots. I know they were both in the garage recently. If they are not in the garage now, you’re going to have to figure out where they went.” And Elias went out again, dark thoughts about cruel mothers swirling almost visibly around his head.

And then I went ahead and forgot all about it. I don’t reserve much processing power for boots. Whoosh! Gone. Until tonight, when Paul and I were coming home from our date, may Auntie be blessed unto the Nth generation for making it possible.

“I forgot to tell you,” Paul said. “When we were headed out to the barn today, Elias told me he wanted to die.”

I asked why, without much alarm. Listen, I know people say that girls bring more drama than boys, but I ain’t buyin’. If that is actually true, I don’t know how anyone survives girl children. The boy children we have deserve Oscars.

“He didn’t have any boots.”

Paul, retrieving his eyeballs from where they had rolled back in his skull, looked at Levi’s feet. Black boots. So he asked where the green boots were.

“In the pool,” Levi said.

Yep. There they were.

“Why,” asked Paul carefully, “are your boots in the pool?”

“I was trying to wash them off,” Levi said, “and they got away.”

Why is our pool murky, no matter what we do? It’s a mystery.

Paul fished the boots out with a garden hoe (Why is our pool murky? IT’S A MYSTERY I TELL YOU.) and Elias decided he could probably go on living.

 

I am going to give up asking why. There are no satisfying answers. But at the risk of surrendering entirely to a cliche, this is why we can’t have nice things. Because pool boots.

More

I am not a runner. 

I am not an athlete. 

I am just not good at that stuff. 

There’s no way I can do it. 

This has been the soundtrack of my life, inside my own head. I am a Never Runner. 

But here I am, having run a 5K distance without walking even once, for the first time in my life. 


I ran it slow. But I ran it steady, and I felt good, and I was going faster at the end than I was at the beginning, and that’s good enough for me. Also, I want to do it again. 

I am 42 1/2 years old, and I am discovering that I have been talking myself out of things for about 42 of those years. 

I can always do more than I think I can. 

Bet you can too.