That moment when you realize
You are a passenger in the car of life
Experiencing a Chinese fire drill
Where nobody returns to the car.
That moment when you realize
You are a passenger in the car of life
Experiencing a Chinese fire drill
Where nobody returns to the car.
Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and summer for this teacher means time to tackle those nagging projects. Last week was a productive week, leaving my house in disarray. A not-so-simple picture rearrangement in the dining room became a much needed wall paint touch up. That led the way to finally painting naked, primed trim a rich melted vanilla ice cream shade of white. You can’t paint trim and leave the doors grimy and grungy, so off came the door handles and on went the paint. (Mouse and your cookie, you have nothing on me!)
I have a list, and things are getting checked off. When the heat wave drove me out of my non-air-conditioned house yesterday, I sat in the shade in my front yard and painstakingly sanded down a couple of chairs from a 1930s dining set that once belonged to my grandparents. The set was an antiqued-white addition to my mom’s red 70s kitchen when I was growing up. It then adorned our little 1940-era starter home when my own kids were young. It has mostly been stored for years now, with the exception of a single chair that moves from the computer desk to the piano and back again, over and over.
Being the oblivious person that I am, I have for years overlooked the yellowing polyurethane and the ripped tomato-soup colored vinyl seat. The chair is handy, lightweight, easy to move around in its ossified, porous, dry-wood way. It’s a ninja to the knights of my current cumbersome dining set, its portability helping me to reach those top shelves of my kitchen cabinets or to hang a curtain rod, which is what I was doing recently when my foot got caught in the rip and I went down on my rear end, jarring my neck and rattling some unused portion of my brain that tends to overlook things like ripped seats on vintage chairs.
I added it to my list.
The chairs and I were about to get on intimate terms. I had already painted the one that was in my house, trying a chalk paint formula from memory, circuits of which must have been jarred as well in the fall because the 1:1 ratio I thought I remembered was actually 2:1. So off came the thick, gloppy paint job. Then, so as not to leave its siblings out, because one must always be fair, even to chairs, I pulled the others out of storage and sanded them, too.
This is not a simple, straightforward set. It has a routed scroll pattern on the backs and turned legs with depressions that are either full of antiquing stain or nearly 50 years of the dirt and dust of life. As the sandpaper did its job on the polyurethane, the white my mother had painted over the wood became apparent. I remembered her dismay when she learned that because she had painted bare wood, the set could not be stripped back down to the mahogany. I sanded over the legs and noted the distressing that came from years of feet resting on the stabilizing bar at the bottom. Those feet were our feet as children, and later my own children’s feet. With a quiet meditation I sanded. The legs of the chairs were squeaky, begging for attention, and at the corners they had been mistreated and now had jagged edges. I started thinking how like life this whole process was.
This connecting disconnected things could be a result of the stage I’m in, a kind of grasping-at-straws reflective process. My kids are leaving home and are busy with their own lives. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own life (though my family might choose the phrase dwelling on). I was always happy with my choices, but now as I find myself alone more and more, I am not so sure I’d make the same ones if given another chance. Having my kids? Yes. But the choice to stay at home with them in their early years is exacting a heavy toll on me right now.
With each drag of the sandpaper I pondered this life that has been given to me, all of the small moments woven together to bring me to the shade of the front yard on this miserably hot day, and how my choices and the choices of the people I love that have truly impacted it. Like the chair that had sat, unnoticed in its decline, I thought how much tending my new life really needed, how much stripping away of the old might get to the somewhat ossified, but very useful core, how much sanding down the rough edges was needed to avoid breakage and the possibility of hurting someone, and how much a new paint job in the form of a renewed focus might bring some life to an otherwise old and tired existence.
I will return to sanding down my old chairs today, and with it my old life, my old thought patterns and expectations. I will clothe my chairs in a beautiful French inspired fabric and paint them with a new and accurate formulation of chalk paint. I will revisit the points of wear that really matter and distress accordingly. Then, when I finally rub the wax into the finished product and buff it to a smooth shine, I hope to come away with an poignant reminder of all that has been and a beautiful testament to all that remains.
I have to keep reminding myself that it’s the Christmas season. It could be the insanity of the past few weeks of planning, preparing, and packing, the 1,250 mile road trip, a graduation, a wedding, and/or anxiety over what I view as a disastrous election result that have stripped me of my usual Christmas cheer. Whatever the reason, I am caught off guard when someone wishes me best wishes of the season.
I’m oblivious to the lights lining the street, winding up trees and framing unfamiliar shop windows. I don’t see the happy shoppers bustling through stores on their mission to find the perfect gifts. I look back at the pictures of my son’s wedding and suddenly realize there’s a Christmas tree there.
Christmas. The season of cheer. Of generosity.
On my Facebook feed amid the sweet personal stories of grandchildren and funny memes reminding us of the bigger things in life, there was a comment related to Governor Kate Brown calling for a French revolution and bringing back the guillotine. This was yesterday. Happy Holidays. Twitter is full of vicious reminders that their guy won, that I should just get over it. Merry Christmas. Exit polls tell us that 80% of Evangelicals voted for a man thrice married, a man who has demeaned women, who has defrauded people of their hard-earned money, who lies constantly, a man who is stirring the pot of world instability before he even takes office. Have a blessed holiday season.
Don’t get me wrong. I am happy. Thrilled. Proud. My eldest graduated with honors… in science! He now holds a degree in physics and astronomy. I also have a new lovely and intelligent daughter-in-law who loves that son. At this moment my close little family surrounds me, and I am grateful for their warmth.
But outside my little bubble the world has ominous clouds building on the horizon.
And I have to keep reminding myself that it is Christmas.
This empty nest thing is for the birds. (Pun intended.) I feel like I should enjoy this silence after years of rambunctious kids and their singing and shouting, TV blaring cartoons through the house, dancing, laughter and fighting. Now the house is just so quiet.
On a good note, I’m getting more proficient at self-talk. I can almost carry on a whole conversation with myself while walking through the grocery store. I’m not the only one afflicted. I saw a friend in the chip aisle the other day. We were both stocking up for graduation parties. I saw her before she saw me, and didn’t recognize anyone around us she might have been talking to. I approached her and laughingly asked if she was talking to herself. She nodded semi-sheepishly. I think we’ve both come to terms with a certain amount of crazy.
They say you should live long enough to embarrass your kids. I have, but they’re not around enough to be embarrassed.
I get it. Kids need their space. My head knows this. I’ve been an independent young person aching to stretch my wings. I lived through the days of no cell phones and probably didn’t call my mom as much as I should have. (Mom, I’m sorry I put you through this.) My head is on board. My heart, however, feels like it’s being ripped out of my chest and trampled on the ground in front of me. (Okay, only slightly dramatic.)
The thing is, I saw my mom starting to teeter with empty nest syndrome, but I was the eldest and didn’t take much time to look back over my shoulder. She coped by adopting a whole new family’s worth of kids, thereby extending her motherhood years by another eighteen. I was not willing to go that route. I looked forward to the day Mr. A and I could spend some quality time together sans kids. The appeal of a $30 dinner bill loomed in the near future. We could go out to eat 3 or 4 times for what it cost to take the family, all of whom are lovers of strawberry lemonade (at $4.00 a pop). We could go to the beach on a whim and not hear anyone complain about the cold or try to figure out an activity that everyone wanted to do. We could watch documentaries without eye rolls. Yet here I am, longing for those days, for the structure of the family web and the love and support we provide each other.
Determined not to be that parent frantically trying to hold onto my kids as they perched precariously at the edge of adulthood, I went back to school and finished up my teaching degree. I wanted a life, something to fall back on after motherhood, an airbag to fill the space left by my fledglings. The thing is, motherhood doesn’t end. Those babies whose first steps you worry about become preschoolers who learn to ride bikes and teenagers who start to drive and develop relationships and head off to college, and you never stop worrying about them. It’s a mentally exhausting job. My life is inextricably intertwined with those of my kids, bonds I’m sure they’re only too eager to hack at with the machete of youth.
I know they’re busy. I was too, at their age. The days go by and my phone doesn’t ring. Texts go unanswered, and then all of a sudden they are there, cheery and wanting to talk, and for a moment, life goes back to the way it used to be. Too soon the conversation ends, and I’m surrounded by silence once more. I’ll be glad to one day reach a state of equilibrium.
In the meantime, won’t you join me in crying over this clip from Toy Story? I’m certain the song was written by an empty-nester.
When I saw the prompt for the day, the song Both Sides Now immediately started running through my head. I wondered anew at the meaning of seeing clouds from both sides, so I looked up the lyrics. The song progresses through the idealized version of clouds and love and life to a more realistic, maybe even pessimistic vision of them and an acceptance of not really being able to grasp the complexity of existence.
Life has been a strange mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar lately, with kids leaving home and starting down their own paths. I often feel like I’m standing alone, scratching my head and wondering what is happening to my world. My young, idealized version of myself as a mom in a world of family dinners and camping trips and shared experiences was so all-encompassing for so long, and suddenly it is slipping from my grasp, leaving me looking at the other side of those clouds for myself. I don’t know what I see. I don’t recognize the clouds from the other side, but I’m learning. It’s hard not to be pessimistic, to see the clouds as raining and snowing on everyone, but I’m trying.
Though it may be life’s illusions I recall, and maybe I didn’t ever really know life at all, I’ll hold to the last line of the song, “something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.”
Here’s to changes.
Like so many days on the Oregon Coast, the day was cold and foggy. We had just gone out to eat, and were doing the requisite walk on the beach. Goose was 5 and Maverick was 4, and they were not just brothers, but best friends. I had just squatted down to take a picture when a sneaker wave came in and bowled Maverick over, rolling him over and over in the surf. I moved fast, but the water resisted my rescue attempts. Finally, I caught the back of his shirt and scooped him out of the wave. He was soaked, and sand was everywhere! In his nose. In his ears. Down his pants. He was scared and miserable.
“This is the best day at the beach, ever!”
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Retrospectively Funny.” Tell us about a situation that was not funny at all while it was happening, but that you now laugh about whenever you remember it.
Yesterday my Facebook feed was awash in pictures of dogs. My friend’s Scottie peering up at the camera with puppy dog eyes. My daughter hugging our old Pyrenees-Blue Heeler mix. A friend of a friend’s lab lounging in the shade of a tree, tongue hanging happily.
It was National Dog Day.
Now, I don’t pay much attention to national anything days, except to find the humor in the obscure, but I love my dogs, so I took notice.
Dog day was started in 2004 by Colleen Paige in the hopes of bringing to the forefront the plight of unwanted dogs serving time in shelters. (People, spay and neuter your pets!) We are the happy owners of a shelter dog and two other mixed breed dogs. Please let me introduce you.
Grandpa Dog – Ranger
Ranger was adopted over 15 years ago. We were on our way to some friends’ house and had stopped at Wal-Mart for some items. My husband and son ran in and I waited in the car with the rest of the kids. We noticed a crowd gathered around a box in front of the store, which was a common sight back then. People often took their kittens and puppies to Wal-Mart to give away. We wanted to see the baby animals, so we walked over there while we were waiting.
What we saw were the cutest little bundles of fur. I held one, and couldn’t put him down. He was adorable. He was a mixed breed, of course, with a little Blue Heeler, Great Pyrenees, and some Lab. I was still holding him when my husband came out of the store. I just turned toward him with my own puppy dog eyes and asked if this little furball could be my Christmas gift. And my husband, being the kind soul that he is, agreed to take on a puppy.
Ranger is now a doddering, partly senile, mostly deaf old guy. He has had a long, good life. He lives outside on a fenced acre and absolutely owns this place. He sleeps in the piles of cut grass, the heat probably helping his old bones. He’s a seasoned professional at his guard dog duty, probably due to his Pyreneen heritage. When he was younger, he would nip at the kids elbows as they ran around the yard. We chalked that up to the Heeler. They are prone to act on their instincts, after all. He’s been such a good dog, and a faithful companion. He has the most uncanny ability to know when someone is sad and will come stand next to them, gently put his head on their lap or arm, and look knowingly into their eyes. He’s getting old, and some days has a hard time getting around. We know his time is coming, and we are going to miss this old guy.
Buddy is our shelter dog that we renamed when we brought him home. He is a big lug, an energetic puppy in an 80 pound body. He doesn’t have any concept of personal space, and would prefer to be in our laps if at all possible, and he tries to make it possible. Right after we got him, we thought about returning him to the shelter. He was just so overwhelming and annoying! But my youngest son said, “You don’t get rid of someone because they are annoying.”
So he stayed.
And I’m glad we kept him. We figured out that he has issues, and in true Cesar Milan fashion, when we put him in with Ranger, who is very stable, he calmed down a bit. The shelter tried to give us his crate when we took him in, so I know he was crated part of the time, maybe too much of the time. We figure the previous owners just found that he was too much dog for a small place. Here he has the run of the yard, and although I know he would love to be an inside dog, our inside space is tiny compared to the outside space. With his boundless energy and whip of a tail, he would be knocking things over left and right.
We can thank the previous owners for putting him through obedience classes. He can behave himself when he needs to. He has been a great running partner. He heels like he was born to, and no cat or dog can sway him from his path when he is heeling, but once the heeling is over, he’s back to his Buddy self. I made the mistake one time of stopping to take a picture with him, and he bowled me over right next to the road.
I recently contacted the previous owners. I was deep cleaning and came across Buddy’s paperwork. As I read through it, I was taken by how they seemed to care about this dog, but when I got to the end, I saw that there was a place the owners could check off if they wouldn’t mind being contacted. Beside that was written, please do! I quickly sent off an email with a couple of pictures and telling how happy their dog was along with the kinds of things he was enjoying around the property. I immediately got a happy email back, and she followed that with some pictures of him as a pup.
Buddy has a great bark, and I’ve had people get back into their cars when he stands at the fence and barks at them. Living in the country, it’s nice to have a dog that will be a deterrent to the crazies.
The baby of the pack is Roxie.
We weren’t quite ready for another dog, but had talked about looking for a replacement for Ranger, who wasn’t doing very well at the time. Then a friend told me about how someone she knows had a purebred lab that had gotten pregnant and had a litter of thirteen puppies! We talked it over, and decided that it would be a good time to take on a puppy. I would be off work, the boys out of school, and our daughter would be home from college, so the pup would get plenty of attention. Buddy could get used to having her around and losing Ranger wouldn’t be such a loss.
Well, Ranger really seemed to love this puppy, and gained a whole new lease on life.
My daughter took this on as her personal project, so this puppy has claimed her as her human. The problem with that is that when she leaves for college, the dog is mopey, and Skype conversations can put her into a state of depression. Sometimes when my daughter is gone, I look outside to find Roxie sitting on the bench where my daughter sits to play her guitar.
Neediness aside, she’s a fun dog. She lives for the Frisbee, and has recently discovered that she likes to swim. (We just have to watch for those pesky campground hosts who want to enforce the leash laws.) She loves dogs and kids and smells and treats… The list goes on and on. She is the only dog in the past 18 years that has been allowed by my husband, albeit grudgingly, to come in the house. (I won’t tell him about her climbing onto the window sill!)
In light of these three amazing creatures, I will have to think about celebrating National Dog Day. I’ll celebrate with treats, with Frisbee sessions, walks, and rides in the car. I’ll take endless photos and scratch behind their ears. I’ll take this day to remember how incredibly loyal they are to us, and how much they love just being around us.
If you’re still with me, you must love dogs as much as I do. Who is your four-pawed, tail-wagging best friend?
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Perfect Game.”
We lined up the life size chess pieces in the brutal sun, and I thought to myself how much of life was strategy. This was just the latest of a series of many failed attempts to connect with my teenage son during our latest family camping vacation. I had picked a campsite with as many amenities as possible for the teen set – boat rentals, wi-fi (though limited), swimming, and games, like the one we were attempting now. Yet he had thwarted my attempts at conversation and had spent much of his time camped out in front of the little campground store, sucking energy and wi-fi off the campground grid. He refused to sit around the campfire and talk, preferring online chatting with his friends back home. He grudgingly hiked with us, quickly leaving us in his younger, more agile dust. Even when I suggested a game, he simply stated that his brother wouldn’t want to play. When I emphasized that I meant with me, he paused, then reluctantly accepted.
Once the pieces were laid out on the lawn. He indicated for me to begin with a somber nod of the head. I looked at my son, once a smiling, curly-headed boy who used to cuddle up on the couch with me to watch a movie, who used to lay out on a blanket under the tree as I read to him. Here he stood, tall and strong, confident in the knowledge that he would surely beat me. I half rolled, half picked up the heavy pawn and moved it two spaces forward. He quickly made his move. I scanned the board. I made another move, followed quickly by his. This pattern continued, and I managed to hold him off for a while, but soon he began to take out my key pieces. First my knight was lugged off the board, followed by a bishop. I managed to keep my king and queen safe for quite some time. At some point in the game, a preschool girl approached with her mom and started putting pieces back on the board. He was unfazed, and continued his assault as I removed them. Her mom lovingly distracted her into a new investigation, and our game continued.
I thought how odd it was to play chess with such a large board, and with such large pieces. The perspective was different, skewing the strategy. Playing on a table-top board gives you a good vantage point to see what’s coming, allowing you to plan for the next move. This life-size game was throwing me. Parenting this stranger was throwing me. Like chess, everything was much easier on a smaller scale.
My son started closing in. He lined up his bishop, but I thwarted his move. He grabbed his heavy rook and lined it up as well. I maneuvered my remaining bishop into a defensive position. I could tell my options were quickly becoming limited. I had my remaining pawns arranged to take out his key pieces should they make an attempt, but he was one step ahead of me, lining up his flanking moves. I made a misstep, he moved his rook, and with a subtle smile said, “Checkmate.”
I just smiled. For me it wasn’t about winning. It was just about playing the game.
“Ping-pong?” he asked.
I smiled again. Sometimes you have to lose to win.
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The New Workplace Institute Blog, hosted by David Yamada