The Moments That Stay

Recently, I was asked to name ten books that have stuck with me for whatever reason. I was told not to think about it too much—just fire them off. It made me think. Books are interesting, but what about the moments in life that stick with us? Here are just a few that will never leave me. 

1)      My wedding day: My bridesmaids looked gorgeous in their beautiful dresses and carefully done hair. They gave me my last hug as a single woman and then waited for their cue to walk into the sanctuary. Suddenly, they were gone. It was like my childhood vaporized right in front of me. I started to shake. My dad came and took my arm, ready to walk me down the aisle. My shaking became increasingly violent—embarrassingly so. Dad stood just as straight and tall as you would expect an Army veteran to stand. It was time to go. He put his free hand over my trembling one. “Settle down,” he said. He held my hand the whole way to the altar. He was telling me I could do this. That I was ready. He was right.

2)      The day my son came home from the hospital: My first child was born early, weighing only three pounds, 14 ounces. He spent 19 days in the NICU. The morning I was told my son would be discharged later that day, I went into the hospital cafeteria for my last meal there. A petite elderly lady approached me. I remember the sparkle in her eyes, her red lipstick, her wool coat and scarf. “Girl,” she said. “What are you so happy about?” I laughed. “My son is coming home today!” She threw her arms in the air and yelled, “Hallelujah! Praise God Almighty!” She beamed at me and walked away and I let loose my tears of joy.

3)      The night I scared my mom: I was in college (but still living at home) and had gone to a dance with a friend. Afterward we went back to a room she was renting to hang out. We went up on the roof and laid down on blankets and watched the stars and talked and talked. We both fell asleep. I woke up in the middle of the night. It was probably about four in the morning. I knew my mom would be sitting at home, awake, and scared to death for my safety. She was. My mom had already lost a daughter, and I knew better than to put her through that kind of worry. Twenty-five years later, and with kids of my own, I still feel guilty for doing that to her.

4)      My daughter’s first dance recital: She was three years old, and despite her Minnie Mouse dress and tap shoes, despite her “Mouse Ears” hat and curled hair, she looked scared to death. She didn’t want me to leave her backstage with the other dancers and the volunteer stage mom. She was sobbing when I finally tore myself away and took my seat. “I don’t think she’s going to do it,” I whispered to my husband, looking around at the sold-out audience and the huge stage. He squeezed my hand as I tried not to cry. All I could think was—she’s so little. This was a mistake. I’ve asked too much of her. The lights went down, and in the dark I could hear the click-clack of tap shoes on the stage as the wee ones were guided to their spots. The music started, the lights went on, and there was my little girl, dancing for all she was worth, smiling big, and remembering all the steps! I was so amazed at this little creature, who found it within herself to face her fears and smile at them.

Those are some of the first things that came to mind when I thought of the moments that stay. What are yours?

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Nanowrimo Blues

I have the Nanowrimo Blues. What is that, you ask? Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Basically, it’s one big dig-in-and-write-fest that happens every November in the United States and around the globe. It’s a simple concept. You begin writing on November 1st, and you do not stop until midnight on November 30th. When you are done—if you’ve kept the faith, pushed through your writer’s blocks and boulders, and avoided all distractions—you should have a bright and shiny first draft of a 50,000 word novel. The winners of Nanowrimo get a cool icon to stick on their Facebook page or website and the satisfaction of being someone who has ‘written a book.’

Do I sound bitter?

I just want to know why Nanowrimo must happen in November. I suppose it could be scheduled for December—that would be worse. But excepting December, almost any other month would be better than November. I nominate October as our new Nanowrimo Month. Here are my top five reasons why:

1) The kids are back in school. This applies even if you don’t have children. No one is playing outside your door, splashing in the pool, or hitting baseballs through your window. After a long summer of struggling to write, October is blessedly quiet.
2) The weather is still just good enough to let you go for a walk and stretch your legs, but not so wonderful that you find yourself staring out the window at the beckoning sunshine.
3) At the very end of the month, you can celebrate with Halloween candy!
4) You are not smacked during the final desperate push for words with Thanksgiving meal planning, out of town guests, grocery shopping, house cleaning, three days of cooking, and Black Friday shopping.
5) You’ll have an extra thirty days to lose all the lard you put on writing instead of going to the gym before you have to show up for holiday parties and pictures.

Is all this sour grapes because I didn’t finish? Yes, it is. Will I participate next November? Of course I will! In the meantime, I’m singing the Nanowrimo Blues.

I Never Thought I Had to Be Grateful for EVERYTHING

Our national day of thanks is nearly upon us. My meal is planned, and my grocery shopping is done (I hope). The whirlwind of cooking has already begun. I’ve watched my friends post their thanks and gratitude almost all month long. Many of them have posted daily. I think this is terrific and have enjoyed reading them. For years I have said a small but heartfelt thank you prayer nearly every night before falling asleep. This is my way to keep an ‘attitude of gratitude,’ and if I forget to do this, I feel guilty.

But in all the thanks-giving I see going on around me and in all the thank you prayers I’ve personally said, there is something we may be leaving out—something we take so for granted that we don’t even know we need to be grateful for it. I’m talking about our self, our personality, our character—who we are.

“Thank you God, for making me who I am.” Oh, that sounds weird, doesn’t it? We were all raised to be improvers. If you are like me, you can’t just leave it at simple gratitude. It almost seems obnoxious or arrogant. I’m more likely to say something like, “Please God, could you just send me a little more self-discipline? How about more empathy? I should have been kinder today. Also, I made a really dumb decision—could you help me to be smarter next time? Better? Less lazy? Friendlier? Funnier? More frugal? And my temper! Could you just get of rid of that, please?”

It’s so hard to stop berating ourselves, asking more of ourselves, trying to change, to be better. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just know this: along with family, health, home, financial blessings, and friends—things we are all afraid to lose—your unique personality, identity, and ability to reason are also things that can be taken from you at any time. So, maybe we should be grateful for ourselves while we have us. I’ve watched this happen to my dad this year. Alzheimer’s Disease has taken the very essence of who he is away from him. And from us. And that is something I never realized I should be grateful for.

And while I still strive to improve myself, I think this year has taught me an important lesson: I need to count my true self along with all those other blessings. Cracked as my character may be, it’s unique, and it isn’t truly mine. It turns out that nothing really is.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my unique, irreplaceable friends and family.

Missing My Babies…

Don’t worry. Nothing tragic has happened to my children. Thank you, God—they are safe and sound and usually within hugging distance. But earlier this week my daughter brought me an old recording of my then elementary school aged son saying something silly about a mermaid and a dead guy. I have no idea what he was talking about, but oh, that little voice! He’s almost 15 now, and while I love his new grown-up voice, I miss the cheerful, high-pitched, endlessly sweet voice he used to have. It was the kind of voice that conveyed happiness just with sound. It didn’t matter what the words were. I admit there were times when half-way through some speech of his, I’d realize I had no idea what he was saying. I was caught mesmerized by the sounds I was hearing. I can easily choke myself up thinking about it.

It’s different with my daughter. Her voice hasn’t changed very much over the years. She never had the cartoonish squeak shared by so many of her friends. The changes in her show up when she dances. She started in ballet as a silly three-year-old who could barely reach up and touch the barre. Today, she is 12, and I have trouble reconciling her graceful dancer lines with the stumbling little cutie she used to be. There is a special mix of awkwardness and grace that belongs to child dancers. You watch your five-year-old during class, and for the most part they look like little puppies or kittens, rolling around, falling over their toes, leaping in the air, careening off walls and each other. But then, just for a moment, you see a sweet glimmer of grace in their movement. And it’s breathtaking. As they get older those moments of grace become more common, and that is a Good Thing. But… I miss those rambunctious, pink-tu-tu’d babies.

A memory pops into my head: My son was only a couple of months old. My mother was getting ready to leave after a wonderful visit. She plucked my baby from my arms and began to cry.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. “You’ll see us again at Christmas.”

Mom sniffed, and said, “Yes, but he’ll be a totally different little person by then. I’ll never see THIS baby again.”

I admit I laughed. Neck deep in diapers and my own inexperience, I had a hard time empathizing. But now I get it. And there is nothing to be done. I don’t want them to stay babies forever. I am anxious to see the amazing young man and woman they are growing up to be. I just wish time moved a little slower. That’s all.

It Has Finally Happened

I woke up this morning with a blank slate. I think Nanowrimo, which stands for “National Novel Writing Month” and which requires participants like me to write like hell and bang out a novel in thirty days, has sucked all the creative boom from my brain. Either that or the sleep deprivation I am suffering due to a certain midget dog’s crate antics has left me stupid. I’ve got nothing. No snarky commentary, no inspirational musings. It’s like when my kids were seven and used to hit me with “Mom! Tell us a story right now!” I’d go all deer-in-headlights on them and freeze.

So this morning, I am frozen. And I really think that if you can’t be creative, you must at least be sincere. My brain may be empty but my heart is full. So I will honor your Wednesday with a wish for each of you. I wish you all the very best. I wish for you to be surrounded by family who loves you, and friends who appreciate you. I wish for you to find your God-given purpose in life, your talent, your special gift, and for you to know the exact right time to use it. I wish for you to know what it is to be competent, to be useful, to be needed. I wish for you to revel in your boldness and take the jumps, knowing you can clear them. I wish for you to know laughter, lots of it, and, though it may be a cliché, I suppose I wish some tears for you, too. It seems to me that laughter releases us and tears expand us. Both are necessary. I wish for all the years of your life to be the best of times and for you to realize your blessings and be grateful.

Happy Wednesday, my friends. The world needs more people like you.

The Reason for the (Halloween) Season

On November 1st, my friend, Roula, inspired me with these words on her Facebook page:

What people have failed to do in real life, they were able to achieve on Halloween. Acceptance of differences in appearance and cheering for the originality of each costume! More than candies that people are choosing to give to people they don’t know, people are interacting with disguised strangers and sharing [an] instant glance of our diversity and complimenting each other on a positive note. Hope this trade will extend to more occasions where people would go out and meet to share blessings, thanks and wishes and touch a bigger circle than their family and friends. Hope you all had a safe and fun Halloween!

For me, Halloween always feels like a guilty pleasure. What other holiday offers nothing more than low-pressure fun? There’s no turkey to roast and no gifts to buy. A boy or girlfriend is not necessary to participate. You don’t even have to wear a costume if you aren’t in the mood. Adorable children knock on your door, remember to say please and thank you, and then leave you to your peace. Every October 31st, I eat too much sugar (and don’t care), buck the disapproval of some members of my faith (and don’t care), and let my kids stay out late on a school night (and really don’t care). It’s all good, slightly naughty fun with no underlying morals to get in the way of pure enjoyment.

But Roula is right. It can be so much more than that, and I plan to look at Halloween a little differently next year. I will embrace and appreciate the opportunity it provides for friendship and generosity and acceptance. Who knows? Maybe I can take those ideals and weave them throughout the rest of the year.

Pier One Madness

It’s the shameful truth. I have become addicted to Pier One Imports.

Come on, man. Don’t pretend like it couldn’t happen to you. You move from a small house to a bigger one. You get rid of a bunch of crappy furniture because it just doesn’t look right in your new digs. And suddenly you find your voice echoing in the empty rooms. At first it’s fine. You like it that way! Those empty rooms signal something you’ve never had before—space. You revel in the simplicity of clutter-free living, the ease of vacuuming when there is nothing to maneuver around, and the clean look of blank walls.

But then you evaluate your office and realize it’s just not functional without a desk. You NEED a desk. So you look everywhere. You scour the inter-webs. You quiz your Facebook friends. “Where do you guys buy desks, anyway?” you ask. “I don’t wanna spend a thousand bucks on a desk!”

“Ikea,” they respond.

“But where do you buy CUTE desks?” you clarify.

“Pier One,” they intone.

“But wait—doesn’t Pier One just have lousy, African-inspired, rough-wood, giraffe-painted furniture?”

They roll their eyes. “You’re thinking of World Market, like, ten years ago.”

So you stop by Pier One, just to take a quick peek, and they have the perfect desk for under $200.00. You buy the desk, lug it home, and put it together. You realize it looks a bit lonely in your unadorned office far away from the colorful chaos of the Pier One showroom. You go back to Pier One, and you don’t come home until you’ve got three stretched-canvas paintings of birds to hang on your office walls. They look fantastic, but now all you can see is the black futon lurking, like the dark mouth of a cave, on the opposite wall. It could seriously benefit from decorator pillows. And Pier One trip number three is scheduled.

Because you post pretty much everything on Facebook, your friends start to get involved. One of them buys you a cute bird candle and coordinating picture holder (from Pier One because that’s obviously your latest craze). You set them on your desk. And they look so good. It’s all coming together now.

But your living room still echoes. You realize you need more seating in there because one couch and one coffee table just will not cut it. So you go back to Pier One, where they now greet you by name, and you find a chair. A perfect, cheerful, patterned chair. It’s exactly what you want, but when you get it home, you realize you need two chairs to complete the set. Back to Pier One. But that’s not all—it never is. The chairs need pillows for that Pop-of-Color, and you know right where to look. In the meantime, you find some artwork for the dining room, and fall in love with tiled nesting tables to go next to your new, fab chairs. As you artfully arrange pillar candleholders on your coffee table, you fantasize about a camera crew arriving to shoot a Pier One commercial in your house.

By now, your friends are posting pictures of their decorator problem areas, and you realize you can tell them not only what sort of Pier One item to buy, but where in the store to look for it and which salesperson will carry it out to the car for them. Pillows are compared (solids next to prints is my advice), candle holders are contemplated, lighting is discussed. You’ve now seen everything your small, local store has to offer, so you branch out and head to the largest store in the district two cities over. You gasp as you walk through the doors. Not only is it huge–Halloween décor is fifty percent off!

You post pictures of your finished rooms online, only to discover through the well-meaning suggestions of friends, that you are not finished! There are still area rugs, topiary, curtains…. Okay, I know what this sounds like. Pier One is my personal brand of heroin (to quote a sparkly vampire). All I ask is that you wait just a little longer for the intervention. I still have my entryway to decorate. And my powder room.

The Cost of Doubt

I was in the shower the other day when a random question prodded me. What would life look like if I could get rid of insecurity? How different would it be if I believed I could accomplish anything I set out to do? Removing self-doubt does paint a rosy picture. I’m sure I’d have books published. Parenting would be a heck of a lot easier. I’d have a bigger circle of friends. As I thought about it, I realized that self-doubt is perhaps the most toxic emotion we possess. At least anger can spur us to action, but our insecurities paralyze us.

It’s easy to see how limiting our wimpy inner voice can be, but how do we get rid of it? You can’t exactly go to the doctor and schedule an insecure-ectomy. Just get rid of it, doctor, before it spreads. Wouldn’t that be nice? A quick whiff of anesthesia, and I wake to my doctor’s smile. We got it all, Mrs. Schreiber, with clean borders. You are now doubt-free.

And what would happen if everyone did this? How much of our world’s grief can be laid at the feet of our collective self-doubt? Isn’t it basic insecurity that causes us to always want more? Insecurity drains generosity; causes us to hold on tightly to what we have. After all, we might not really deserve it. So many times I have pondered helping a stranger with something, but then walked away, due not so much to fear of ‘stranger-danger,’ but fear of rejection. It’s happened often enough that when I do manage to beat down my self-doubt and stick my neck out for a stranger, it’s a big deal. I never forget it.

Years ago, when my kids were preschoolers, we were at McDonalds (I know—awful), and my kids were playing in the plastic castle. I noticed a young mom, sitting with her two toddlers. A baby fussed in the stroller next to her. The mom, eyes weary, hair uncombed, held the baby’s bottle with one hand while rocking the stroller with the other. She made the occasional, valiant effort to eat her salad, but each time she took a hand away from the stroller or the bottle, her baby let loose a blood-curdling scream. I wanted to help this woman so badly. But I kept thinking, she doesn’t know me. She won’t want me near her baby. She’ll think I’m weird. She’ll think I’m judging her. But there came a moment when I could stand this woman’s dilemma no longer, I went to her and introduced myself.

“I noticed you can’t eat. My kids are playing over there. Why don’t you let me feed your baby and you can eat your salad.” I shook a little. I’d feel so stupid if she took one look at me and said no thanks. But that didn’t happen.

“Would you really do that for me? She’s been going on like this all day—I’m at the end of my rope.”

So I rocked and fed her baby, and she ate her salad, and my heart soared. She didn’t reject me. I helped her. And I think I got more out of it than she did. Maybe that’s the key—to remember the times when we reach out successfully. To hold those times close to our heart and use them to propel us forward. Because even if we don’t always succeed, we always deserve the opportunity to try.

Some Dreams Do Come True

Every now and then a specific dream comes to visit me in my slumber. In this dream, I am walking through my house when I notice a closed door—one I’ve never seen before. That’s strange, thinks my dreaming self. Has that door always been there? I open it, and to my delight, there is an entire room I didn’t know existed. This new room is decorated as if it were from some much more formal era. There is garish wallpaper, ornate furniture, and the surgically placed knick-knacks of the truly tacky. Lace doilies cushion cherry end-tables from the weight of ceramic cherubs, and silk tassels drip from curtains. There is usually an old-time piano and lush oriental rugs. My dream-self never questions the origin of the décor. Who cares about that? My house is bigger now! My dream always ends right in that moment, with me wandering through my new room, my eyes bright with wonder. It’s a lovely dream. I quite enjoy it.

I’ve always wondered if this dream has any actual significance. I could psychoanalyze this one to death, but I suspect all it means is that I am as shallow in my dreams as I am in real life, that I would love some extra space, and that my taste in décor ranges from Antique Chic to Just Plain Weird. But maybe it means I’m psychic because, recently, this dream came true—sort of.

Although we moved more than five months ago, it has taken me until now to get the laundry room sorted out the way I want it. I do love our laundry room. It’s so cheerful with its little four-paned window inviting in the light. And the green counters may be scuffed and old, but you won’t hear me complaining. I’ve never had counters in a laundry room before! To tell the truth, I always feel like “Seinfeld’s” Elaine driving in the extra-wide lane that was left after Kramer painted over the dividing lines. “So luxurious,” I exclaim to myself every time I walk inside. Just last weekend, I got the final piece of didn’t-know-where-to-put-it-in-the-new-house artwork taken out of the laundry room and put away. (Actually, I just put them back in the garage—don’t tell my husband.) I lovingly 409’d the counter tops, feeling eager, for perhaps the first time in my life, to actually do a load of laundry, when my hip brushed against a cabinet below those countertops. Something moved. What could that be?

Oh. Em. Gee—there were two DRAWERS there I had no idea existed! They don’t have handles, so they look like those fake drawers that were everywhere in my old house. But these drawers are REAL! Inside, I found (just like in my dream) remnants from another era. Bits and pieces of craft supplies, beads, safety pins. A sequin winked at me from the back corner. I have extra space that I never knew about. And I have no idea what to put in there. But I can’t stop grinning. Maybe I’ll line them with garish wallpaper.

How to Be a Millionaire in One Easy Step (sigh)

This morning, just for grins and giggles, I started thinking about how much money I spend at Starbucks. Don’t ask me why my first thoughts of the day would center on my custom drink budget. My brain just functions differently before seven a.m. If you don’t believe me, do a search in my Twitter feed for #MondayMorningHaiku. I’m not any kind of poet, but put me behind the wheel in the Seattle predawn, add a few raindrops to splash off my wiper blades, and a half-asleep kid on the seat next to me, and suddenly I’m counting syllables. But I digress.

This morning, as I stumbled around in the closet, trying to find clothes that still felt like jammies, I started wondering how much my Starbucks addiction was costing me. The stupid thing is that I don’t even drink coffee! My drink of choice is a trentagreenicedteaunsweetenedplease. Iced tea. Green. And for that I pay $3.23 five days a week. Which adds up to $16.15 a week. Which adds up to $64.60 per month. Which adds up to … Noooooooooo. That cannot be possible. (Silence.)

I shook my head to clear it of all math nonsense because I am known not for my mental math, but for my mathematical mental block. I whipped out my phone calculator and was shocked to find that for once in my life my sums (products?) were correct. I’m spending nearly $800.00 per year on iced tea. And that is not even counting the days I buy their oatmeal (or something less healthy) for breakfast, or the days my kids get something, too.

Last weekend I opened my front door to a very pushy sales guy surrounded by a crap-ton of frozen beef and chicken. I lied and told him that we just don’t eat much meat. I even lied again and said that we don’t have a second freezer in the garage to store sides of beef. It took me ten minutes to get rid of him. And do you know what I did? I went to Starbucks and bought my trentagreenicedteaunsweetenedplease. And felt better. But that iced tea was more expensive than the frozen meat guy’s offer for a serving of meat. I’m such an idiot. But no more. As I type this I’m enjoying my free (free because I don’t count purchases made years ago) green iced tea. Unsweetened.

The thing is, I miss the straw. A water bottle is not the same. And the drive home from school drop-off felt a little lonely since I missed my friends at Starbucks chatting with me this morning as they made my custom tea. My husband pointed out that Starbucks employees are EVERYBODY’S friends. But that’s not true—you have to buy a drink first. Ha!

Sigh. I miss you already, my friend.