Saturday, October 27, 2012

Wilder's Wisdom

In 1996, for all practical purposes, it’d been 10 years since I’d been on stage. I’d done one opera workshop performance in college, performing as a voice minor in a production of The Magic Flute, but I had abandoned my love of theater to focus on being an English major. In the 10 years since I had graduated from high school, I’d studied in my four years of college (getting married half-way through), applied and went to graduate school, started a career as a high school English teacher, built a house, and had two of my three children. But as busy as I was, at the age of 28, I made a decision to audition for a community theater production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.

The story focuses upon an average town and its people, the mothers, the fathers, the children, and other citizens in the community. It carries quiet but poignant messages that are whispered as the play unfolds. Act I shows an ordinary day in Grover’s Corner. Milk is delivered, neighbors take seats next to one another to discuss their gardening and their children. The audience meets the town’s people and all witness the serenity of the lives in the safe little community. Act II occurs three years later as two of the families’ children fall in love and marry.  Act III is philosophical as we’re shown a funeral and as ghosts in the town’s cemetery begin to help one of Grover’s Corner’s recently departed citizens to understand what living is, and how life, every last minute, every precious breath we take, is not to be wasted or scoffed at, even those which come to us on the most seemingly unimportant, most ordinary days. This morning my thoughts returned to Grover’s Corners.

The past few weeks have presented me with a lot to think about. Tough stuff. Questioning stuff. Good, bad, ugly, beautiful stuff. As a friend of mine who is going through similar things said to me yesterday, “This is a really hard time of life”. She’s right. It is really hard. It’s hard to have so many changes hit all at once. My husband and I are losing our Moms, and our Dads are also in need of extra support. They are losing the loves of their lives. And as Wilder said, “People are meant to go through life two by two. ’Tain’t natural to be lonesome.”

We face stress at work and battle as convincingly as possible to keep working at a career with the integrity that made teaching our chosen profession and passion to begin with. And we work to continue raising our children, strengthening our own loving friendship and marriage, and keeping tabs on our own individual needs concerning health and happiness.

So to that end, I took a day for myself on Wednesday. I slept in, woke up and went outside in the glorious October sunshine, and played with my energetic dog. I took pictures to capture the color of the trees and the sky and the joy in my pup’s face as she chased after a soccer ball. I came inside and took out my Mom’s recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and I had them waiting on the kitchen table when my son came in the door after school. I sat down and corrected papers with my big black cat sitting on one of the piles, and I prepared a chicken dinner with my daughter’s favorite mashed potatoes, peas and carrots. I chatted with people from various strands of my life online, catching up with both old and newer friends, and I cuddled up on the sofa in the evening and watched tv with my husband and our kids. It was a spectacular, most “ordinary” of days. The day off helped me pull myself together, to bring me to a place of peace again.

Life is beautiful. Even when it’s really really hard. I say this in no disrespect or denial that cancer sucks and that dementia can be a cruel way of taking away a loved one. I say this without any intention to suggest that it doesn’t get bad and ugly to such a degree that we question life itself. We, at times, get so challenged in our lives that we don’t, can’t, won’t step back to see the big picture.  “Wherever you come near the human race there’s layers and layers of nonsense”, said Wilder. This is all part of it. And the nonsense can be truly heartbreaking and painful, this I know. But it’s also amazing. Life is beautiful and I vow I am going to do whatever I can to step back more often to see the bigger picture, or to at least say a prayer asking for help to hold onto the faith that there is one I am not seeing at the moment.

“EMILY: "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?"

STAGE MANAGER: "No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.”


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Smirking with a Secret

At school I continue to juggle my five different classes, making lessons plans, getting grades updated, checking in with parents, meeting with students who need extra guidance. At home I play taxi, make dinner, sign permission slips, dole out lunch money, and keep the kitchen clean. As my Mom always said, “There just are not enough hours in a day”.

This week I didn’t get to the gym and I fell seriously behind in my correcting. And to top that off, we had a bit of a family crisis. I say “a bit” because we’re okay. But something serious (to us at least) came up that needed our attention and for two and a half days we had to react, step back, think, brainstorm, select, and talk out a solution. It’s nothing I will talk about here and now. Contrary to belief, I don’t share everything on my blog. I’m pretty transparent when it comes to my own troubles, my own feelings, but when others are at the center, I won’t advertise those. So let me simply say that I was understandably distracted this week and my personal and professional goals were not met. That has caused me stress but I’ve understood why so I’ve tried not to beat myself up over any of it.

And now it’s Sunday. I’ll head off to church soon and then we’ll go grocery shopping. That’s our usual Sunday routine. Eric will come home and watch football, Emma will work on homework and catch up on her recorded television shows perhaps. Paul might watch a movie or take time to play with Ziva. And I’ll head to the dining room table with my correcting folders. I wish I could say I am feeling excited for the day, or for the week ahead. But I’m not. It’s dreary out. There’s a lot to do. The family and I have our own agendas for today and I’m not looking forward to my day or to what will be a busy workweek.

But since an unexpected phone call came in for me yesterday, I have a secret. And it has me smiling. There’s a little skip in my step now. There’s a small blossom of pride, of hope, of satisfaction. It’s something else I can’t write about in my blog, at least just yet, but it’s given me something to work for, to be motivated by, to keep me smiling. I’m a little frightened of it too, but mostly I’m feeling pretty determined...and confident. I’ve never liked secrets but every once in awhile I am asked to keep the lid on something and I have understood the reason. So in that respect, I have one and it’s making me giddy.

And no, no one is pregnant. Stop thinking that. But maybe, if things work out, if this is meant to work out, in six to nine months’ time, you’ll see me writing about this again. The secret won’t be a secret for too long. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep grinning...or at least smirking...and you won’t know why. Well...unless you’re the one that called me yesterday.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Gorgeously Human

I know I’m in trouble when I wake up at 6:00am on a Saturday morning and I am so stressed out that I’m crying by the time it’s 7:00am. And the kicker is? I haven’t even gotten out of bed yet.

There is so much going on right now in this life of mine. Oh I know. Whine whine whine. We all have troubles. We all have stress. And I should be grateful and not be hurting like this because compared to many others, I’ve got it easy. I know others fight harder battles. Well, that’s another stressor of mine right there, that guilt of feeling I should be handling all of this better than I am. But the truth is, I can’t be anyone other than who I am. I can do my best to keep everything in perspective, to remind myself of my blessings, and to praise God, but I’m still living with these hauntings. I’m still trying to find my way.

I’ll make a list of stressors for myself later and take a close look at each one. This is how I work to heal my troubles. This is what I do. I hit that wall, I get stressed, I usually cry, I talk it out with one or more loved ones, I write, and then I regroup. I make a list, I make a timeline, I make a plan. And I repeat as necessary.

A friend who noticed my stress the other day wrote me a brief note that said, “Pay attention to you”. The reminder touched me, made me stop and think,  but I also quickly dismissed it. “Maybe later”, I thought to myself. It’s more than procrastination. It’s fear.

But by the grace of God I was reminded this morning that there is no expectation set for me or anyone else that I was put on this earth to be perfect. I am here to learn, to “live through the grace of stumbling". To “demonstrate..through the beauty of...messing up. Often”. I am “gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous”. 

Well, that takes the pressure off a bit. As I work to raise my flawed and fabulous children, who, like their mother, are stumbling along in their lives, who are messing up (perhaps one of them is messing up more consistently than the other two at this current time), I’ll do my best. Forever an “all-too-honest” parent, wife, daughter, sister, teacher, cousin, aunt, individual, I’ll continue to put my cards on the table with my loved ones and I’ll say and do what I think is best. That's all I know to do. I’ll play the best hand I can each and every time and we’ll go from there.

Oh sure, I’ll continue to be hurt. I’ll be disappointed and expect too much from us all.  I’ll continue to get bruises or more serious injuries each time I hit that wall, and maybe someday I’ll run out of tears, or maybe I’ll lose the words to talk or to write, but make no mistake, I’ll regroup, each gorgeously human time.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Stuff of Dreams

She visited my home last night. We stood in the kitchen, preparing food together and laughing. We wore our matching aprons, those I had bought us at a church fair many years back. At one point, I caught her eyes. She looked at me and smiled, and I searched to see if she was really there. And then... I woke up. I’d broken the spell by looking too intently, by trying too hard, by wanting too much.

It was dark and I fought the urge to look at the alarm clock beside my bed. I rolled over, adjusting my pillow, willing myself to return to sleep, to return to the dream, to return to my kitchen, to return to her. I fell back into a dream but it wasn’t the same. This place was unfamiliar. I looked for her and although I found her again, she didn’t seem to see me. I looked around and I felt a chill. I didn’t like this new dream. I willed myself to wake.

I miss her terribly today. Each day I wake and move about my day, tending to my responsibilities, teaching my teens, caring for my children. But oh, I miss her so much. And so, fully awake, I go to my kitchen and pull out the pots and pans. I turn to her recipes. I look for her handwriting on those little 3x5 cards, and I am grateful it’s there. I make her soups, her cookies. But I wish she could be there with me.

It’s a powerful emotion. Here I am, 44 years old with a warm cookie-scented house and a beautiful family of my own...and I am homesick. I miss my Mom.

I call home and talk with my Dad. It’s always good to talk with him. He’s getting ready to watch his football game. Mom is upstairs, he says. I could ask him to put her on the line, but I know the phone is tough. We do better face to face. These dreams tell me that it’s time to go home, to go see them both. It’s only been two months since I saw them last, but it feels more like two years.

I’ll bring along some cookies perhaps, or maybe I’ll make some when I get there. If I’m lucky, she’ll join me in the kitchen, even if just to keep me company. I'll bring my apron and maybe she'll have hers. She’s always there with me when I fall into slumber, but being able to be there to hear her voice, to be able to look at her and to see her smile back at me...THAT’S the stuff of dreams.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Unclipped Green Beans

Did you forget me? 

I was clipping fresh green beans when the text came. My daughter was waiting for me to pick her up after volleyball practice. It was ten minutes after my expected arrival.

No, I hadn’t forgotten her. I was trying to get the beans finished so, upon my return home, I could pop them into a pot of water along with the chicken casserole I’d just finished making. It’s true that I had secretly hoped she’d arrive home in those ten minutes, having caught a ride with a friend perhaps, but I knew that wasn’t likely. Most of the girls on her team were younger and without licenses. No, I hadn’t forgotten her. I had realized I was late. But the text from Emma jarred me back to the reality that I had to stop, turn off the stove, and head out the door.

It was no big deal. I don’t often miss a pick up time. But even though I’d thought of stopping my dinner preparation in time to get to her by 5:00pm, I’d pushed on. I’d spent the previous six hours balancing work with idle television viewing. I had worked for nearly four hours doing research and making lesson plans. And when 4:00pm had rolled around, I’d ventured out to the kitchen. I had peeled my body off the sofa and had said “Enough” out loud to myself. I’ve had to do that more and more lately, scold myself for pushing too hard, for trying to power through correcting, for giving up lunches and prep periods to squeeze in extra help for students. Oh my efforts are noble enough but I have begun experiencing those whirlwinds of stress, those hours when the weight of all that is on my plate does overwhelm me. I talk myself down and say, “Pace yourself”. Rome was not built in a day. Breathe.

I zipped over to the high school and smirked as my daughter gave me that look of hers as she walked to the car...that look of careful admonishment. I took my lumps as she sat down next to me. But within a couple of minutes, we’d both moved on. She told me about her plans for the next day. Our black lab talked to us in her yawning vocals as she often does to get attention, and we laughed together as the too large-to-be-a-lap-dog-pup made its way onto Emma’s lap in the front seat.

It’s okay to leave half a bag of unclipped green beans on the counter, to turn off the stove and the oven, to leave the dishwasher half emptied. It’s not a race to have it all completed by a certain time. What matters is not the clock, is not the pace, the attempted perfection of it all. All that matters, truly, is being there for the people you meet in the hours of your day...especially the ones who are waiting for you to come get them after volleyball practice.