In My Room

A few months ago, I mentioned to a friend that I was thinking about turning the boys’ old nursery into a room for me. I had made zero plans toward this goal; I think it had crossed my mind a few times as a nice idea. I’m still not entirely sure what happened in this conversation – I may have blacked out – but twenty or so minutes later, I had a to-do list, a shopping list, and a deadline. Jen was coming over the weekend before July 4 to paint.

I didn’t get all the things on my list done, but Jen was gracious. She helped me move the behemoth of an old buffet that we’d used as a changing table and dresser to the middle of the room, and started patching the drywall. I wondered aloud if someone would come get the thing if it were free. Try it, she said. An hour later, the buffet was gone. A couple had claimed it more or less as soon as I posted it.

“It’s a nice buffet,” the husband said. “Why don’t you want it?”

“It has outlived its usefulness in my life,” I said, “and I want the space more.” I’m not sure he understood, but they cheerfully carted the mahogany beast out through the garage, as happy with their bargain as I was with mine.

Jen did the edging and I followed with the roller. It only took a few hours, given dedicated focus and the absence of all the male members of the household for the day. We ate Nutter Butters and Doritos and talked through some of our stickier problems as we worked. When Jen left to go home, the room was in much better shape, and so was I.

In the weeks since, I’ve obtained and assembled a bookcase, and moved the desk where I wanted it. It’s not quite done – I still want a reading chair with an ottoman – but it’s usable.

If the desk looks weird to you, the thing on top is my low-cost standing desk conversion kit. It’s just a shelf, but it means I can stand most of the time and move my laptop lower when I do need to sit. 

Other than the bookcase, nothing in the room is new. When I finished putting it together and vacuumed up the bits of debris left behind by the home-assembly kit, I stood in the middle of the room and looked around.

“Well,” I thought, “with a cross on the wall, this could be a monk’s cell.”

I was delighted. The thing that matters to me most about this room right now is not what is in it, but what it NOT in it.

There are not stacks of books in the bookcase. There are two, and they are there because at one point, there at that desk, I needed them. I am determined that that is how I will fill that space; with things I need. Not with things that migrated there because they had no other immediate home.

There is nothing on the walls, not because I dislike art, but because so far no art has grabbed me by the throat and told me that it needed to be there. I have not hung the walls with things that are pretty just so that the walls are not bare. For now, the bare walls are what I need to see.

There is no laundry in this room. No stains on the carpet. There are no unwashed dishes, no unmade dinners, and no uncompleted chores. It is clean and uncluttered and sunny, and I can shut. the. door.

You may not need a monk’s cell in your life right now, but when I walk into this room and shut the door, I can feel the tension drain out of my shoulders.

I have some things I have been wanting to do, and they have been hard to do sitting at the kitchen table with the laundry room and the oven in my peripheral vision. They will still be hard, I think, and I might not be able to do them. But I’d like to try.

At the very least, maybe I can write to you all more than once a month.

 

9 1/52

I’m feeling guilty about this, my Levi, and you don’t even know anything about it. I wrote your brother a blog post on his birthday. I meant to do one on yours, and the day got away from me. Then the week turned into one of those weeks, and here I am, a week late.

That’s one of the things about you, though. You forgive quickly. If I brought this up to you, you’d say, “That’s okay, Mom,” and give me a hug. I love that, though I try not to take advantage of it.

You told me the other day that you can’t wait to be ten. I’m not sure what’s magical about that number. Maybe the double digits. But I’m asking you, sweet boy, to enjoy nine while you’re here. You are learning to do all sorts of things, and you think you have way too many chores. I have bad news: the chores do not become easier at ten. Or at forty. The gross things are still gross, and there are more of them. (If you’ve never caught vomit in your hand to keep it off the carpet, are you really a mom?) Lots of things are really good when you’re a grownup, but the hard things just get harder.

Nine is fun. Your front teeth are still too big for your face, and it’s still adorable. You can do things on your own, but you are not too cool to shriek with glee when you see one of your best buddies at the store unexpectedly.

You will leave me someday, and probably all too soon. I won’t know where you are all the time, and how you’re doing, and whether anyone has been mean to you that day. I’ve joked that my favorite time of the day is bedtime, and I do treasure the quiet of the house when everyone else has gone to sleep. But I also love the knowing. I know you are safe, and I know you are warm, and I know you are okay, because I saw you there under your comforter with my own two eyes.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry for eighteen, or for ten. Please, enjoy nine. I plan to.

Cake for breakfast, on the actual morning. Because I am not always heartless.

Mourning

I was at two funerals yesterday.

It was a long day. The two services were different, and they were the same. Both men will be missed terribly.

I think sometimes it can be confusing to be on the periphery of grief. Mostly if you’re in the center, you know your role. Your role is to grieve, whatever that looks like to you. It is to eat some of the food that people put in front of you, if you can manage to. It is to show up at the funeral home and the church, and to decide which songs will be in the service. After all of that is over, it is learn to go on with a gaping hole in your heart. None of that is easy. But it’s pretty clear.

But what if you are just a friend of the bereaved? What if you are just a coworker? A cousin? There’s the food bit. There’s showing up to the calling hours. After that, it can get a little hazy. What can you do?

Because we are do-ers, most of us. We want to show up with a gift in our hands; we want evidence that we have done something. It is hard to decide what to do.

This is even harder, I think. Because I think what we need to do for our friends and our neighbors and our cousins that are grieving is to show up.

We want to avoid suffering, all of us. We take medicine to avoid physical pain. For emotional pain, we choose avoidance. It is hard to watch people suffer. It makes us suffer a little ourselves. It’s easier to stay away. To bring a meal and get out of the kitchen and away from the suffocating sadness as quickly as we can.

We need to pause instead. To ask, “How are you right now?” and then — this is the hardest part — to shut up and listen. Maybe for a minute. Maybe for a long time. Whatever they need.

More than anything, we need to stop running away from pain. We need to show up. To mourn with those who mourn.

First and Third

Here we go!

I know lots of moms are sad today, and I support their right to the sadness. But I’m good. Besides getting a nice regular routine back, this will be the first time in quite a while that we aren’t paying for regular childcare. I would make the standard jokes about it being like getting a raise, but we just started making payments on an orthodontic plan, so it’s more like just a relief.

First try at a picture.

Elias is a little nervous. I don’t know what Levi’s face is about.

Better.

Balancing their stuffed-to-the-gills backpacks on the way down the lane. I told them they’ll never be this heavy again. Until they start bringing rocks home again, I guess.

Thumbs out so the bus driver will see us.

She did.

And they’re off.

I think I recorded first-day conversations last year, and I decided to continue the tradition.

L: Mom, why do we have arms?
Me: So we can keep our hands with us all the time.
L: Oh.

E: Why do we have to wear nice clothes and stay clean on the first day?
Me: I just like your teachers to know it’s possible.

Seven

Seven years ago, in the evening, I was leaving a board meeting for a chorus I was singing with, and my cell phone rang. It was our caseworker. “Baby was born,” she said.

She’d called the house a couple of times, finally rousing Paul from sleep for a confused conversation. He’d managed to wake up enough to convey the information that I was at a meeting just a few miles from the hospital. She’d caught me in time, and I could go and see the baby, if I wanted to.

I did.

So off I went, entering through the ER department because it was after hours. A busy nurse pointed me vaguely in the direction of the OB wing, and I explained who I was to the nurse guarding the door there. There was a side room in the hall stuffed with unused-at-the-moment equipment and some chairs. I settled into one, the plastic creaking as I shifted during the wait.

And then there you were. The scrawniest little brown boy you’ve ever seen, all huge dark eyes and wild black hair and chicken legs. I could not have imagined at that moment that at five, you’d nearly be able to knock me over with an enthusiastic hug around the legs.

Scrawny or sturdy, I fussed over you from that moment. Were you eating? Were the nurses holding you enough? Most of all, would you truly be mine forever? Would all the right papers be signed, the Is dotted, the Ts crossed?

I fuss over you still, over your health and your heart and your sweet little soul. You are almost never sick, and I wonder whether we brush you aside too often because we’re worrying over your brother. You are stubborn as sin, and I wonder how to help you learn to channel it into persistence instead of petulance. You are the most curious combination of temper and tenderness.

You are seven. You love your family and your duckling and you hate not being able to do everything Levi does. I cannot freeze you here in this moment, when you are reaching and stretching and learning to do without me, but still need sleepy cuddles in the morning. And I wouldn’t if I could. Not really.

But I will write you down, and I will take your picture. And I will answer the question you ask me the same every time. Every day, every year, every decade, whenever you ask me, and whenever you don’t. Yes. You will always be my baby.

Happy birthday, Elias. Thank you for being part of Us.

 Virtual Riders

(Quick links for Paul and Carol, if you’re returning and want to access donation sites without reading.)

*****

Paul and I have been participating in a ride to raise money for cystic fibrosis research for several years now, and because of the generosity of our friends and family, our team of just two riders has been on the leaderboards every year. The ride is usually at the end of September, and I start paying attention to it sometime during the summer and getting ready.

Unfortunately, I was not paying close enough attention (I’m sure you are shocked) and I recently discovered that the wonderful folks at the CF Foundation moved the date of the ride to avoid conflicts with other big rides in the area around the same time. This ride is now at the end of August.

This would not be a problem except … we can’t go that day.

I’m sad about it. I always enjoy the ride, except that one year when it rained the. whole. time. and I had an epic mud stripe up my back, and even that was kind of fun in an awful, this’ll-be-funny-later way. I found a picture. You’re welcome.

mud

Elias gets to go now (Levi stays home to avoid cross contamination with other CF patients), and he likes it too.

mamaelias

lias

Paul mostly likes the chicken wings at the end, I think.

So we’ll be missing the experience this year. We’re signed up regardless, though, and any money we raise will still be going toward research dedicated to finding a cure for cystic fibrosis.

If you’d like to contribute to our ghost ride, links are below.

You can support Paul or you can support Carol. We usually have a little friendly competition, but we don’t throw elbows.

And if you think you’d like to join us on a future ride, let me know! I’ll start a list for next year, when I will (I hope) be paying better attention to the dates. We’d love to have you along!

Make Do and Mend

I so want to be that woman; the one who can just fix those pants in a jiffy and smile beatifically while doing it. But we must all deal with how things actually are.

How I Mend Clothing:

  1. Procrastinate for at least a month, promising every day I’ll do it tomorrow.
  2. Get out sewing machine and put it on the kitchen table. Dust the case.
  3. Make a snack for fortification.
  4. Plug it in.
  5. Do a little a laundry. There’s always a little that needs to be done and even laundry is better than mending.
  6. Get the sewing bag.
  7. Dig out a color of thread that matches the material, sort of.
  8. Put the spool of thread on that thing that sticks up on the right side of the machine.
  9. Find the box of bobbins and check for a bobbin already loaded with matching thread.
  10. Decide it doesn’t matter and pick a color that’s close.
  11. Place the bobbin in the bobbin hole. (Be quiet. You’re lucky I remember what the bobbin is called.)
  12. Consider calling my mother-in-law and asking her to do it.
  13. Remember she is currently in another state.
  14. Cry a little.
  15. Get a drink of water to rehydrate.
  16. Take a deep breath and pull the thread from the spool through the machine, following the arrows put on the machine for idiots like me. I’m sure these arrows were not necessary back in the day when people knew how to do things.
  17. Pull the thread from the bobbin around the little hook thingie (again with the arrows) and replace the plate over the bobbin hole.
  18. Place the garment on the machine, lining up the seam with the guiding marks.
  19. Say a little prayer.
  20. Press the pedal gingerly.
  21. Stop, try not to curse, and carefully cut the resulting knot away from the material of the garment.
  22. Ponder whether it could wait until my mother-in-law gets back.
  23. Decide I am not dumb and I can do hard things.
  24. Take the bobbin out of the bobbin hole, and carefully reexamine the idiot arrows.
  25. Realize it was going the wrong way.
  26. Spend some time feeling like an idiot.
  27. Get up and switch the laundry to the dryer.
  28. Sit down again.
  29. Rethread the needle.
  30. Place the garment back in the machine.
  31. Say another little prayer.
  32. Press the pedal gingerly.
  33. Check the seam.
  34. Marvel that there seems to be one.
  35. Finish that side of the pants and do the other one really quickly before I forget how.
  36. Put everything away and congratulate myself for not actually incurring an injury.
  37. Blissfully decide that it won’t be nearly so bad next time since I won’t wait so long to do it and I’ll remember how.
  38. Contemplate my own naïveté.
  39. Realize I’m late getting supper started and panic.

As I write this and castigate myself for not knowing how to do stuff, I am reminded of a story about my Aunt Wilma. She was also not much of a seamstress, so maybe it’s familial, but it was the Depression and there wasn’t a lot of money and she was trying to make a dress. She worked on a sleeve. And worked on it and worked on it and worked on it and the blasted thing just would not fit into the sleevehole. It wasn’t even the right shape, and she couldn’t figure out how anyone managed it, ever. Before deciding to throw the whole thing on the burn pile, she went over to the neighbor’s house and asked her to look at it.

“Oh, Wilma,” the neighbor said. “How on earth did you get this sleeve into the neck hole?”

And my Aunt Wilma, who I possibly take after just a little, said, “WELL IT WASN’T EASY!!”