So It Goes

tree

 

I drive past this tree on my way to work every day. Some days, I feel like I should salute it as a respected foe, and on others I get weird memory flashes of what it looked like when it was a complete tree. On bad days, I give it a heart-felt middle finger as I go past.

No matter what my reaction on that particular day, the fact remains that I notice the tree every single day. I see it. I am aware of it. If the day should ever come when the road commission removes what’s left of it, I’ll still be aware of it as “the spot where The Tree used to be.”

On stormy days, I drive out of my way to avoid it, which is awkward because the avoidance route takes me past my ex-husband’s house, the home I shared with him for eighteen years. Basically, that means I get to choose between the route that may trigger a panic attack or the route that may make me look like an obsessed ex-wife with a serious stalking problem.

Such is life.

It’s been five years today since the top of this tree landed on my kids and me as I drove under it.

This picture was taken four years ago today, when my family and friends gathered on the side of the road for a group prayer. My daughter stuck daylillies into the bark of that poor, dead tree stump and we all marveled at the fact that there were still pieces of glass mixed in with the dirt on the side of the road.

I love this picture. It combines ugliness with beauty, old with new, loss with hope. To me, it represents a new beginning. A fresh start. A second chance.

Such is life, right?

I have a little favor to ask of everyone who reads my blog today. Imagine that tonight, at 6:18 p.m., the top of this tree is going to land on you and change your life forever. Imagine that today —this day— is the last day you will ever have to be the person that you are right now.

What will you do? How will you spend those hours?

 

Which One Are You?

I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that my Aunt Marian actually knew what she was talking about once in a while.

She dished out advice all the time, in any situation, and she usually had no idea what she was talking about. She loved to toss around words of wisdom that really weren’t even close to being wise. She spoke in cliches, rhymes, and quotations that quite often had no bearing whatsoever on the problem she was trying to solve.

My sisters and I became experts at the hidden eye-roll. There was an art to rolling one’s eyes behind Aunt Marian’s back because she was only one of our four aunts who lived together and did everything else together. If one aunt took up cross-country skiing, all four took up cross-country skiing. If one took up Bridge, all four took up Bridge. If one took a swimming class — well, only two passed the swimming class.  Aunt Noni sank like a stone and Aunt Verna stood on the sideline taking bets as to whether Noni would drown or not.

In other words, if one aunt got an eye-roll and look of disgust from a niece, all four aunts took it personally. If we wanted to show our opinion of some ridiculous piece of advice that Marian spouted, we had to do so in such a way that none of the other three caught us.

At any rate, most of Marian’s advice was pretty worthless.  But as I get older, one of her frequently-used bits of wisdom is really starting to make sense to me.

It  became a standard on a particularly memorable Fourth of July when I was about six years old. It poured that day. I’m not talking about a simple thunderstorm. I’m talking about one of those all-day gullywashers that bring thoughts of Noah to mind. A steady, heavy downpour that showed no signs of stopping as the time for the parade drew near. There was another family staying with us that week, and we argued back and forth over whether to walk to town for the parade or just stay home and stay dry.

Finally, Marian let fly with her particular brand of wisdom. “There are doers in this world, and there are watchers,” she announced. “I’m a doer. Which one are you?”

Of course, we girls were all young enough to draw inspiration from her words. “I’m a watcher!” we all piped up, and off we went.

It was a mile to town, and we were all soaked to the skin by the time we got there. Back in those days, there was a hill leading up to the main street where the parade went through. Now that hill is covered with shops and condominiums and restaurants, but back then, it was delightfully muddy and slippery. We climbed and skidded and rolled and slid up and down that hill for what seemed like forever, and to this day I have no clue if we ever actually saw a parade or not.

We were doers that day, not watchers, and that became one of Marian’s favorite speeches. In her mind, she was some kind of great, fearless adventurer. She later amended her doers vs. watchers speech to include the phrase, “If you want to hang with us, Kid, you’ve gotta learn to sleep on the bench, under the bench, or hanging from the bench!”

In truth, she was a homebody. She talked a big talk about being a doer, not a watcher, but there came a point when she stopped doing. She developed Rheumatoid Arthritis, COPD, and a non-union fracture of her left leg, among other conditions. She was sick; she was sedentary. She rarely left the house except for doctor appointments. But still, she saw herself as a doer, not a watcher, and my sisters and I never quite had the heart to tell her otherwise.

I think of her quite often now, especially as I develop more and more issues with my body since my accident four years ago. I hurt. I hurt all the time. Last week, I turned down a chance to go to the flea market with a friend because I didn’t think I could handle it. This past weekend, I chose to skip our local Octoberfest; I was hurting from the extra hours I’ve been working, and I didn’t think I could walk around the festival all day. Then, yesterday, I almost stayed in the car in the elementary school parking lot at pickup time and trusted my older son to bring his little brother safely out to the car.

For just a moment, it felt like Marian was sitting right there with me in the car. I swear to God I heard her voice speaking right out loud. “There are doers in this world, and there are watchers. Which one are you?”

I am not a watcher, Marian. I am still a doer.

It’s been so easy to give up on things, one at a time. Bit by bit, without even realizing that I had stopped doing.  I didn’t make it to the beach this year because I didn’t know if I could walk in the sand. I never took the boys to Full Blast for a day at the water park. I didn’t even make the trip to the flea market in Shipshewana.

Yesterday was kind of a turning point for me. I’m trying to keep my spirits up and stay positive, but life isn’t always cooperating. The changing weather and extra hours on my feet at work are catching up with me, and I have days when even a simple task like showering is almost more than I can physically handle. I want to give up. I want to sit at home and put my feet up and pop some pain pills and tell everyone to go ahead without me; I’ll be fine with a good book while they’re gone.

Some days, I just don’t want to prove to anyone that I can still do my work even though I’m so much slower now. I don’t want to work twice as hard to do half as much, apologizing all the while to those who might resent having to pick up the slack.

But Aunt Marian was right. There are doers in this world and there are watchers, and I refuse to be a watcher.

I’m a doer. Which one are you?

This post has been part of Finish the Sentence Friday, with the sentence starter “I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that. . . ” hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee and co-hosted by Ivy at Uncharted and Roshni from Indian American Mom.

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Grasping at Straws

No one was around when it happened, but I got a hug yesterday that turned my world around. I was feeling pretty alone in a crowd of people, and I don’t think anyone else realized what that hug did for me.

It’s been another rocky week around here. I’m doing my best to stay positive and keep a good attitude, but as one of my favorite bloggers said in her post for today, “Life is full of overwhelm.” I’m dealing with money problems, small-town-gossip issues, a broken lawnmower, a job opportunity that fell through, and now there’s a dead mouse in my basement. Life is sucking big-time right now, and not even bothering to use a pretty curly straw.

To be honest, life isn’t really all that bad.  We’re all healthy, and there’s been a lot of good stuff going on, too.  I’ve got my book signing tomorrow, and a possible girls’ night out with a couple of old friends; there’s a visit from my sister and a new used laptop from a friend, and the little store in town just started carrying Toblerone. If I could get Netflix to work on my TV so I could watch something with Randolph Mantooth or Eric Allan Kramer, I’d be content.

sister

It’s just that I argued with some friends this week, and that hurts. They weren’t my best friends, not by a long shot. But they were friends, and life is too short to let any friends go easily. We might not have shared our deepest secrets with each other, but we enjoyed each other’s company. To put it differently, they were the kind of friends who might not have gone into the basement for the mouse for me, but they would have stood at the top of the stairs and squealed in sympathy while I did it myself.

When this passes over – and it will – it’s going to be hard for me to smile and go on with these people as though nothing has happened. I’ll do it because that’s what grown-ups do; I’ll encourage our kids to play together and we’ll all sit together in the bleachers during the different sports seasons. We’ll fall back into the same routines, the same patterns, and I’ll have to remind myself not to hold a grudge. It’ll be a struggle, but everything will be just fine.

For right now, my feelings are hurt. I feel like my soul has been bruised.

There are so many people out there with real problems. It’s foolish to waste even one minute stressing myself out over some petty he-said-she-said rumors and silliness. I just needed something or someone to give me a little kick in the butt or slap upside the head to remind me to prioritize this mess in the appropriate manner.

And that’s where the hug came in.

When I go to the elementary school to pick up my son at the end of the day, there’s a little girl who refuses to smile at me. Absolutely refuses. She’s an utterly adorable and very opinionated little girl with a strong and unique personality. I always ask her if today is the day I’m going to get a “Molly-smile,” and she takes a long, serious moment to study me and consider my question before shaking her head and walking away. Our little routine has become a high point of some of my days.

Yesterday was my rough day.  I was wallowing in self-pity and seriously considering plans for the evening that involved devouring the equivalent of my body weight in food that’s really, really bad for me; I had a hard time holding my head up and ignoring the whispers when I walked by the cluster of friends who are so upset with me. For a few minutes, I felt like a self-conscious sixth-grader trying to find a safe place to sit in the cafeteria on the first day of middle school. I wished my little boy was big enough to walk himself home from school so I didn’t have to face any of those people.

And then, out of the blue, I didn’t get a Molly-smile.

I got a Molly-hug.

God alone knows why that child chose yesterday, of all days, to run up and hug me. She never said a word. Just trotted up, threw her tiny arms around me for a split second, and ran back to her mother.

That was all it took to put things back into perspective for me.

Life is short. Sometimes, it’s “full of overwhelm.” But the world is always going to keep turning; tomorrow’s going to come, the sun is going to rise, and life is going to go on with or without our permission.  We can hang onto hurt and anger and self-pity, or we can allow ourselves to thaw in the warmth that comes from a child’s hug.

We can focus on the bad or we can embrace the good.

We can complain about the mouse in the basement or we can put on our big girl panties and march down there, get the damn thing, and move on with life.

And I guess, if life is going to suck sometimes, we might as well give it some pretty curly straws and enjoy the show.

straws

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “No one was around when it happened…” This week’s FTSF is hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Lisa at Flingo and Jessica from Ramblings of an add mommy

Baggage Claim

My father’s best advice wasn’t anything he ever put into words.  It was something he taught us by example, through the way he lived.

That’s not to say he wasn’t fond of dishing out advice.  He was full of helpful hints and suggestions, most of which were somehow related to trusting our instincts and paying attention to the “vibes” of any situation.  He had many fantastic stories about times he had narrowly missed death or some other catastrophic event because he listened to his gut and walked away from situations.

No father would ever want his children to live the way my father lived.  To say he had a rough life would be an insult, because his life was so much worse than just rough.  He grew up in abject poverty, lost his father at the age of twelve, lost his brothers in a freak boating accident when he was twenty-one.  After that, he basically lost the rest of his family as well because his mother and four sisters never fully recovered from that tragedy.

He was married three times and divorced twice.  He moved to California when my sisters and I were very young, so he lost his children as well; even after he came back, we all three nursed a grudge toward him that even the strongest man would be hard-pressed to overcome.

He drank.  He drank a lot.  He narrowly avoided arrests for DUI on several occasions, but only because he was a silver-tongued devil who could talk his way out of almost any situation.

Through it all, he never stopped trying to form a relationship with his daughters.  He never stopped reaching out to his grandchildren.  He never stopped working; even on his worst drinking days, he was an exemplary employee who showed up at work to offer help on the days he wasn’t scheduled.  He was a meat cutter, a manager who managed his department even on his days off.

I guess you could say that life really kicked my Dad’s ass.

Through it all, he never stopped finding a reason to laugh.  He had a quick comeback for everything.  He told the raunchiest of raunchy jokes, the kind of jokes that take your breath away and make your toes curl up in your shoes.  The kind that make you gasp and go Oh, my God, did he really just say that?

He had the kind of self-deprecating sense of humor that showed the world he didn’t take himself too seriously, but he didn’t sink into self-mocking humor that was painful for the rest of us.  No, his goal was to make the people around him comfortable, even at his own expense.

I got to know him, adult to adult, in my late twenties.  He really liked my ex-husband, although Dad insisted on calling him “Ted.”

For the record, my ex-husband’s name is not Ted.

During one particularly rough patch in our adult relationship with our father, one of my sisters blasted into Dad about all of her feelings.  She talked about having “baggage” from all those years of growing up without a father, about the anger we all held toward him for his years of drinking and hard-living.

He listened to her.  He didn’t apologize because an apology at that point wouldn’t have changed anything.  He just took it.  He sat there and took it because he loved her and he knew that she needed to tell him those things.

He always tried to organize “family camp-outs” with all of his daughters and our families at a dreary little campground in Allegan, and that year’s attempt came shortly after her outburst.  It was a tense, uncomfortable affair.  I stayed away that year, but what happened next has gone on to become legend in my family.

Everyone was short-tempered and angry and really, really wishing  for an excuse to leave early, or at the very least a chance to use indoor plumbing.  As the group cleaned up after dinner, Dad turned to my other sister rather unexpectedly and asked her, “So, do you have any baggage?”

That was unfortunate, because apparently, she did.  She let him have it with both barrels.  She chewed him up one side and down the other and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she had baggage.  In fact, as the story has been relayed to me over the years, her exact words at the conclusion of her tirade were “So if you want to call that baggage, then YES, I have baggage!”

An uncomfortable silence fell across the group.  Finally, after a moment, my stepmother leaned over to pat my sister’s hand.  “Honey,” she said softly, “your father asked if you had any baggies.  You know, to put the leftovers away.”

“Oh.  In that case, no.  I don’t.”

Life went on.   Dad never responded or defended himself.  He forgave, although he never asked for forgiveness.  When he died a few short years later, our family gathered at the church to talk to his pastor about what we wanted for his funeral.  We discussed his favorite hymn and decided who would sing it, and then the pastor asked us, “Is there anything you want the world to know about your dad?”

The three of us looked at each other and smiled, and we all three spoke at the same time:  “He didn’t have any baggage.”

My father’s best advice was to let go.  Let go of anger, of grudges, of regrets.  Let go and move on.  Life, he seemed to say, is too short to dwell on pain.  I often tell people how grateful I am to have inherited his sense of humor, but I hope I also got even a small bit of his resilience, his strength.  His ability to let the bad things go, to bounce back and get on with his life.

Dad’s greatest accomplishment in life?  He died without baggage.

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “My father’s best advice was …”  

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15 Little Rules

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So I’m going to blatantly steal a fabulous idea from Awkwardly Alive and Pleasantly Peculiar’s recent post  about making up the perfect list of rules for life.  I enjoyed her list and decided to expand upon it with some rules of my own.

As a parent, I hope I do a good job of teaching these rules to my children.  Or at least of remembering them myself!

1.  At least once in your life, go to a beach in winter.

2.  Be nice to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

3.  Cry once a week, either tears of sorrow or of joy,

4.  Eat dessert first once in a while.

5.  Trust your instincts.

6.  Have fun. Life is shorter than you think.

7.  Find something to like in everyone.

8.  Go to bed angry once in a while.  It’s better than saying things you will regret.

9. Every so often, do something that scares you.

10.  Laugh at a few inappropriate moments.

11.  Find something beautiful in the mirror.

12.  Listen to “Nightswimming” by REM.  Alone.

13.  Never waste a chance to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry.”

14.  Know when to walk away, no matter how much it hurts.
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