The Thing About Love

I had a post all figured out in my head. I even started writing down a first draft of it on paper. I like to go “old school” like that, sometimes. There is something oddly liberating about it, even though I secretly miss the click-clacking of my keyboard even as I revel in the scratching of a pen bumbling across a pristine sheet of paper. I had planned that post as a kind of happy-go-lucky, hopeful feeling, uplifting thing. You know … a “post of loveliness”, as it were.

Sadly, I am in an extremely bad mood today. My day started off on the wrong foot with a late, mad dash to school and hasn’t improved much along the way. Neither has my mood. I am feeling dark and down and gray and hopeless. Good thing it’s pouring rain outside, too, as that seems to fit my mood perfectly. All in all, it’s a grumble-bum, bah-humbug of a day. If this day was on fire, I don’t think I would walk across the street to spit on it.

And so, naturally, my thoughts today turned toward “Love”. Because, really, where else would they turn when I’m in such a dark mood?

brown flowers, shenandoah national park

My dear husband suffered a bit of a work set-back today. It’s been a few days in coming, and he was expecting it. But that doesn’t make it any easier or less painful. It hurts when you put a ton of work into something and, then, it doesn’t pan out. It especially hurts when this thing doesn’t pan out because of the scheming of people around you. It hurts when people on whom you relied for support toss you under the bus that’s suddenly careening around the corner toward you at high speed.

As I was talking to my husband about everything that’s happened, and as I was listening to his feelings and trying my best to figure out how to be the best support I could be for him, I felt … ANGRY. “Angry” doesn’t even come close to expressing what I felt, although it is the word that springs to mind. This was an emotion so dark and cruel and hateful and mean-spirited that it frightened me. It’s an emotion I could never, ever feel on my own behalf. But something about the idea of my husband getting screwed over really brings out the Mama Bear in me. The same thing happens when someone is mean to my kid. There is no escalation or build-up. We go right from zero to gloves-off-screaming-in-anger-scratching-out-eyeballs PISSED OFF. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Flapping Goose. Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

I used to think love was something soft and pretty. Or, maybe, it was nice and fluffy, surrounded by hearts and singing bluebirds carrying ribbons in their beaks. I thought it was the white dress and the perfect wedding and a nice house and a beautiful kid and two dogs. You know … some kind of fairy-tale version of the American Dream, whatever that is. I guess I was sheltered in my youth. Or, perhaps, I was naive and a little bit stupid.

But here’s the thing about love: It’s not that. I think we all want it to be that. The beauty and romance of it all paints a gloriously gorgeous picture.

Today, I realized “love” is the Mama Bear inside of me. Love is the thing that lives somewhere, deep down in my soul, that gives me the ability to go to the mat when one of my own is wronged. It’s the urge to rage all-out war on anyone who dares to step over the line with those I hold nearest to my heart. It’s scrabbling in the mud, cursing and screaming, gouging out eyes and pulling out hair nastiness. It’s being willing to stick it through to the bitter end of any situation, even if you sense everyone involved will go down in flames. If given the chance tomorrow, I would tear down each and every person who wronged my husband. I would do everything in my power to see they were utterly and completely destroyed. I don’t say this lightly, and I’m not proud of it. Nevertheless, it is real. I feel it, deep down in my soul, and it scares me to think I could become a personification of anger and revenge.

crazy, fuzzy green plant. meadowlark botanical gardens

Love isn’t soft or fluffy or romantic. It’s brutal and primitive. It’s instinct at the most pure. It’s a force that can make us more than who we are because it pushes us to step outside our own little concerns and limitations. And it has a stark, pure beauty that, really, is terrifying. How do I know I love my husband? How do I know I love my child? Because I would fight for them with everything in me. I would take on anyone and anything on their behalf, no matter the cost. And that, my friends, is scary, indeed.

A Walk in the Rain

Last week, I walked in the rain. I didn’t set out intending to do this. When I first got up and realized the weather was less than ideal, I thought to myself, “Blech. I can’t do this. It’s raining.” And I know you can’t hear it over the clacking of my keyboard, but the word “raining” was accented with just a slight bit of whine around the edges. It wasn’t my proudest moment. Or even second proudest.

And so, I grumped away from the front door, intending to wallow on the sofa for the rest of the day so that I could stew in my irritation and the overall unfairness of my existence. I wanted to walk! I needed to walk! How could it be raining?!? On the scale of massive universal unfairness, this surely had to rank right up there with salt in the sugar bowl. I felt annoyed at missing my walk. Even more than that, I felt angry.

And so I decided I was not going to let Mother Nature win. I was going to walk, anyhow. I grabbed my rain gear, stuffed my feet into my waterproof hiking boots, waved good-bye to my dogs (who both thought I was insane, by the way), and headed out into a wet and dripping world. As I drove to my walking destination, I debated with myself. Was this a good idea? Was it even going to be fun? And so what if it wasn’t fun? Who ever said life was all fun and games, anyhow? I mean, really … there are lots of things in life that aren’t fun. Cleaning the cat box immediately springs to mind, for starters. By the time I arrived at my destination, I had almost talked myself out of the whole thing.

But, I had already put on rain gear. And driven all the way over here. And there were hiking boots involved. It seemed I had no choice. Pulling my resolve around me like the most waterproof rain slicker in the multi-verse, I took a deep breath and exited my vehicle.

 

A walk in the rain!! What a wonderful way to spend an hour or so! Why, oh why, hadn’t I thought of this sooner? It was quiet, with only the sound of my boots shuffling through wet leaves and the drip-drip-drop of raindrops falling from the trees overhead. There were no other people around, and the whole world seemed to be coated in this wonderful, muzzy sort of grayness that wasn’t really gray at all, but only seemed to make all the colors brighter and more alive. It was as if I were seeing the world around me — really SEEING it — for the first time ever.

And I was invincible! No longer one of those sad couch-potato people, I was now someone who walked in the rain. Someone who didn’t let paltry things like bad weather stand in the way of their goals. With every footfall and every striding step, I conquered my doubts and my surroundings. I was going to own every inch of that sidewalk, let me tell you. I was strong and sturdy. I am certain my pioneer sisters felt just this same way as they walked forth into the great unknown, following their wagons across the tall grasses of the prairies. My heart sang and, for a few precious moments, I felt I could do anything at all, if I only just wanted it badly enough. It was exhilarating and a little bit frightening.

Just as I was about to give a resounding YAWP, screaming my smug superiority out to the world around me, the hood of my rain jacket dipped down — just enough to spill water over the edge and into my face. My glasses were covered in little droplets, and I couldn’t see where I was going. And I realized I had forgotten my cleaning cloth.

I sighed and shook them out as best as I could. Conquering the universe is pretty much impossible when one’s glasses are full of spotty raindrops. How can you be sturdy and pioneer-like when you keep tripping over the cracks in the sidewalk? I looked up and found myself back at the car, which meant it was time to go about the rest of my day. And so I drove away, happy that I had braved the rain and content to let the universe continue to run free — for now.

 

Unexpected

My husband was out of town on business a couple of days ago, and he called for a quick chat in between meetings. Our “quick chat” ended up lasting almost an hour. Which is really funny (in an odd way, not in a ha-ha sort of way) because I don’t think we ever manage to sit down and talk to each other for an hour at a time when he’s home. We are too busy running in different directions to snatch more than twenty minutes or so together on most weeknights. He often works late, and my evening schedule is booked full with kiddo’s homework, dinner preparation, clean-up, bath time, and other various household chores. I quite miss talking to my husband. Before we moved to our current city and state and before our daughter was born, it seemed like we talked a lot. We talked so much about so many things that you would think we would have run out of words. But I guess that’s the way it is with the person you love most in the world: there is always more to say.

Anyhow, in our recent conversation, my husband mentioned that people had asked about my writing, and I told him how much I hate it when people ask me this. I’ve been struggling with depression for about three years or so at this point. And now, I’m struggling with PCOS, too. I feel overwhelmed and sad and stuck and hopeless a lot of the time. And any writing is sporadic, at best. Sometimes, I can only just manage to eke out a blog entry, provided I can find something positive and non-ranty about which to write. Lately, even blog entries have been few and far between. So, when people ask me about my writing, I feel like a failure. Worse than that, I feel like a fraud and a liar. Because it’s impossible to explain the “why” of all of it to them. And, even if I could explain it, should I? No one wants to hear it — not really.

red truck with rain

My husband said he has been talking to different people since my depression diagnosis. And he has been reading different articles about depression and, now, about PCOS. And he told me he realizes these things are not easy things to overcome. He reminded me that therapy has helped a lot, and he told me he’s here for me … that we can talk about what I might need in the future or, maybe, about different ways to help. I had no idea he had done any of these things.

And that’s when it hit me — unexpectedly, out of the blue — this feeling of LOVE. It was like a flash-bomb went off in my brain that said: This man loves me. He took the time to read articles, even with his busy work and travel schedule. He took the time to talk to people and to find out what depression means. He took the time to think about what I might be going through, to try and understand the emotional struggles that I, largely, try very hard to keep buried deep down inside of me.

This man LOVES me.

He has shown me this in hundreds of different ways over the years. He is a generous giver of gifts. He showers me with affection and, sometimes, flowers. He makes me laugh. He shows me the good in the worst situations. He gives me hope. He tells me I am beautiful, especially when I feel that I am not. He is a wonderful father. But, somehow, it was this unexpected, quiet, unspoken thing that really hit home for me. That made me feel the depth and hugeness and solidness of his love to the very core of my being. For a few moments, I couldn’t answer him; I was too busy choking back my tears.

cherry blossoms

I have depression. I have PCOS. These things are true, and I can’t change them.

I am loved. I am blessed. These things are also true. And I wouldn’t want to change them.

 

The Nightmare

I had a nightmare last night. I dreamed I was trying to hold some nameless, faceless woman back. I don’t know who it was, and I don’t know why I had to hold her back. But there was a sense of urgency about it — this feeling gnawing at the pit of my stomach that something really terrible would happen if I wasn’t strong enough to keep her there with me. So I pushed her onto the ground and felt the soft earth shift and slide beneath me as she and I struggled with each other. Her long hair flowed around her, whipping and snapping in some unseen wind. I felt the ends of it strike the skin on my face and arms with stinging blows, and she fought me with a strength that was surprising and terrifying. Her nails grew long and needle-sharp, and she clawed at me, leaving gouges on my hands and arms. She growled in anger and frustration as I fought to hold her there, and I glanced up, seeking her face, trying to meet her eyes. Maybe I wanted to make some sort of connection with her, human to human. Maybe I wanted to find a way to tell her that everything would be all right, that I wouldn’t hurt her. But, as her face came into view, I realized she wasn’t human. It was just a skull, with little, pin-point eyes glaring at me with a mad-eyed expression that chilled me to the bone, and a set of fangs that clicked and clacked together as she bucked and pitched against my weight, seeking to sink her teeth into me and finish me, once and for all.

That’s when I woke up, covered in sweat and shaking with fear. It’s not a rational feeling, this kind of fear. It’s an innate, animalistic instinct that triggers the inner caveman we all have lurking deep down inside of us. It’s a slipping and sliding kind of terror that tells us, with a dreadful certainty, that some huge predator lurks just outside the ring of firelight. And so, we draw ourselves closer to the fire, shivering and praying for the dawn to come. Except, somewhere deep down, past the limits of conscious thought, we suspect the dawn will never happen.

This was at around 3 AM this morning. I got up, got a drink of water, and chided myself for being so silly. It was just a dream, I whispered. It wasn’t real. Go back to sleep. And yet, somehow, sleep never returned. I ended up tossing and turning the rest of the night, hearing the echo of those unearthly growls ringing through my ears and seeing the light glint off of the fangs. I felt alone and cold in the small, still hours of the night.

rose with snow

I have PCOS. For anyone who doesn’t know (because I’ve gotten a lot of “what’s that?” reactions since receiving my diagnosis), PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I have, undoubtedly, had this my whole life, but it wasn’t diagnosed until about a month ago. I have been struggling with worsening health problems for quite some time — really, since the birth of my daughter. I come from “tough-it-out” people, and, so, I did my best to do just that. I managed to tough it out for many years. (My daughter just turned 11 this week.) But, eventually, I couldn’t handle things any more. It was too hard, and there was too much pain. And so, I began the rounds, going from doctor to doctor until I was able to put a name to what ails me. Suddenly, things that I never understood about my life fell into place and made sense. Now I know why it took me four years to get pregnant. Now I know why, in the 10+ years after my daughter’s birth, I never got pregnant again. Now I know why I had such a struggle with my pregnancy … why my blood pressure shot up toward the end … why I couldn’t go into labor … why I had to have a c-section. Now I know why my hair keeps falling out. And why I struggle so much (and always have) with keeping weight off. And many other things.

I thought I would feel better once I could put a name onto all of it. I thought getting a diagnosis would let me face down my enemy, that I could say, “All right, PCOS. I know who you are, and I know where you live. And it’s time for you to get the hell outta Dodge.” I thought I would feel relieved.

rose in snow

But you know what? I don’t feel any of those things. I feel sad and angry for the chances I lost, for the things I wanted in my life that, now, I know were never meant to be. I feel cheated. I want to find a mountain, stand on the top of it, and scream at the universe, “Fuck you! Why can’t my body work? Why can’t I be normal?” And, the more I learn about PCOS … the more I feel like there’s a veritable roulette wheel of things lining up to kill me down the line: increased risk of diabetes, increased risk of uterine cancer, increased risk of breast cancer, increased risk of ovarian cancer … And those are just the top contenders. At first, I thought, “Well, that’s all right. It could be worse. At least it’ll go away when I hit menopause, right? Maybe being in my second twenties can work in my favor, for a change.” But no. It never goes away. Ever. And so, on top of all of this, I feel afraid. Afraid, afraid, afraid. And small. And very mortal.

I am struggling with this diagnosis. I think it’s a bit of an understatement to say this, but it’s the only way I know how to put it. I am struggling with what this means for my life. I am struggling with how to put all of this information into place so that I can make the changes I need to make for myself and my family. I am struggling to figure out what this means for my daughter, too. I feel like I’ve failed her, in some way, because the chances she will also have this are very high. I guess, right now, I am grieving and fighting with fate all at the same time. There are so many emotions and feelings whirling around in my brain right now that even sorting out a few is difficult. I feel all of these things and nothing, all at the same time. How can that be possible? I don’t know. But I know it is true. Lately, I’ve just wanted to dig a big hole in the ground, crawl into it, and pull the grass up over my head.

beach and waves

This brings me back to my dream from last night. With the clarity that comes as the shadows fade into daylight, I realized the growling, fanged woman was PCOS. This sounded much less silly in my mind, but bear with me. She was the sum of all my fears and all my frantic feelings and all my uncertainty with this diagnosis. Because I can’t help feeling that PCOS is sucking the life out of me and out of my hopes for the future. Fitting she would be a vampire, then, isn’t it? But here’s the thing: she didn’t win. In my dream, the raging, spitting, clawing woman on the ground didn’t win. I might have felt I was losing strength in the face of her rage, but I still held her there. I still held my own.

This morning, the sun came up. The birds started singing. And my heart felt happy and full. I have a beautiful daughter. I have a husband who loves me and supports me. I have many blessings in my life. I may struggle, but I can find the strength to continue moving forward, no matter where that might take me. I am not alone. And so, I turn my face toward the sun and smile. It’s going to be a beautiful day.

Dogs and Face Time

I always wanted a genius dog. You know, a dog like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. Or maybe even Petey, from the Little Rascals. A dog that was easy to train, eager to please, and smarter than most people. After all, Lassie was the only one who ever knew where Little Timmy was and what he was doing.

As I grew up and wised up and stopped believing in fairy tales, I came to realize that dogs like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin only exist in the movies and television shows. And even then, it takes more than one dog to play them, as if just one critter could never possibly encompass all the amazingness expected of these larger-than-life characters.

And so, I was more than happy to content myself with the real-life canine companions of my youth and adulthood. They might not be geniuses, but they were warm and snuggly. They welcomed me home at the end of the day with an open, easy grin and a wagging tail. And that counts for quite nearly everything in life.

my two fur muffins

My current fuzz balls are sweet and lovely. They are snuggly, funny, and goofy. They make me laugh each and every day. They meet me at the door, always thrilled to see me — even if I’ve only been gone for a few minutes.

This summer, my daughter and I went to Texas to visit my parents. My husband stayed  home with the dogs. Every day, he called me and then, at the end of the call, he let me Face Time with the pups. I don’t think it will come as any great surprise when I tell you this: Dogs don’t “get” Face Time. Oh, they loved hearing my voice. And they both looked at the phone and then licked it. And, immediately after, ran to the door, waiting with their tails wagging gently to see if I was going to come in from wherever-it-is that I happened to be. That’s what doors are for, after all. They are for coming in. I can’t assail this logic. Normally, it would be fool proof.

Geniuses? No, probably not. Just bright, happy, waggly pups. If I need a pick-me-up cuddle on the sofa, they are there for me, no problem. If I fall into a well … I’m probably on my own. They might peer over the edge at me in concern. They might even toss a ball or a favorite toy down on my head. I think they would even go so far as to hang around a bit, waiting on me to figure out how to climb my way out of the problem into which I had fallen. But, eventually, there would be a squirrel. Or a bird. Or a cat. It doesn’t mean they don’t love me. It just means that only so many things can fit into a dog’s head at one time.

And that’s OK by me. They make my life better in a hundred dozen little ways each and every day.  After all, it’s not all that likely I’ll ever fall down a well. Now, if I could teach them to vacuum … that really would be something.

Of Shelves and Books

“Container Store is having their shelving sale again,” my husband said, tossing the Container Store catalog onto the table in front of me.

He kept his voice and facial expression carefully neutral, but I could feel the tension in the room as I, ever so slowly, reached out to touch the glossy, colorful pages. It was as if the room around us held its breath, waiting to see which way this would go. Would there be rejoicing at all the varied and glorious shelving choices available to me? Or would there be wailing, gnashing of teeth, and tearing of clothing as the utter despair that comes with knowing one will never, ever, ever have enough shelf space washed over me? It could go either way, really. Shelving is not a topic to be bandied about lightly. At least, not in our house.

Because my name is Pish. And I am both a shelving addict and a shelving failure.

Felt Horse 4

My tale of storage woe has to start with the books, I suppose. This is only sensible, as most everything in my house and my world (both real and imaginary) starts with books, somehow. You see, my house is short on storage space and long on books. They congregate on my nightstand. They hang out on the kitchen table, the coffee tables on my first and second floors, and the space under the bed. They cram into the empty spots on my shoe rack. They lie in wait under the television, in that spot where the DVD cases are supposed to go. They spill happily over onto the floor, where they form orderly stacks. When we moved into our house, it quickly became apparent that there wasn’t nearly enough closet space to go around, as my husband is something of a clotheshorse. So he bought me a lovely, large armoire. We put it on the second floor, and he told me I could store all my clothes in there. I made the mistake, shortly after it arrived, of stashing some books in there. “It’s just a couple,” I reasoned to myself, “What possible harm could it do?” Well, let me tell you this: Apparently, books breed if left to their own devices in a cozy, dark space. I now have to stack my clothes on top of the shoe rack in my room because my armoire is full of books. And this is after I’ve gone through and done my yearly “culling” — a painful process full of reflection, self-doubt, and many tears of regret.

Truthfully, it’s a sad state of affairs. I feel, somewhere deep inside myself, that I should be ashamed. No one needs this many books. Plus, I can never find that one volume that I need when I need or want it. It’s like looking for a pin in a stack of pins. The thing is, I’m not ashamed. Not really. I love my books. Even if I can never know exactly what I have or where it might be stored, I can honestly say I love each and every volume with a devotion that I like to think is “cute and quirky”, but which, really, borders on full-out insanity.

letters on a bookshelf

I was a lonely child. Oh, I didn’t realize this at the time. While traversing my childhood and teenage years, I never gave it much thought, but, if I had, I wouldn’t have said I was lonely. Looking back on it now, though, with the adult-sized knowledge that comes from piling on the years, I can honestly say I was a lonely and fairly misunderstood kid. I didn’t have friends — not really. I went to a small school and I wasn’t a particularly obnoxious or intrusive person, so people were friendly enough to me. No one bullied me or gave me a hard time. And there were lots of schoolmates who were my “friends” as long as they needed something: help with schoolwork, to borrow something from my locker, etc. But friendship ended there. I wasn’t the kid who got invited to sleep overs or parties. I never had a “best friend”. Ever. There wasn’t anyone with whom I could whisper secrets and share private jokes. I wasn’t included in weekend plans. I dated a little, but not very much. I might have enjoyed hanging out with the other kids my age, especially as a teenager, but no one thought to invite me. Really, no one much cared. I don’t say that to garner sympathy or to indicate that life was miserable and awful for me. I say it because it’s the truth. Kids are self-centered jerks, in general. I think it’s kind of part of growing up, and the best the universe can hope for is that most of those self-centered, jerky kids grow out of it and turn into fairly responsible, kind adults.

Books were my friends. If I wandered into the pages of a book, I could lose myself. I could forget I had opinions and thoughts and feelings no one cared about. I could forget that no one really liked me. I could forget I was lonely. I could forget I didn’t have any friends. I could forget that I didn’t matter. Even more than that, I could follow along on the hero’s adventures and, for that small span of time, really BE somebody. I could be more than I was. I could be exciting and creative and fun. In short, for a little while, I could be “not me”. It was a grand thing.

cat statue on book shelf

As an adult, I think I’m more comfortable with myself. I’m not there yet, but I’ve worked really hard over the last three years to feel like I belong in my own skin. To feel like I am a real person and that I matter and have worth in the world. I have a couple of friends, even. It’s not a lot, but I’m okay with that, too. I’ve come to realize that not everyone is cut out to have hundreds of friends — and that’s okay. The best part is that I have a wonderful husband who loves me, and an even more wonderful, amazing daughter. I am blessed in so many ways. I can finally see that, when I take a deep breath and look around at my life. Maybe I don’t even need the books any more. Maybe I don’t need to disappear inside them or pretend to be someone I’m not.

But there’s still a little bit of that lonely kid, deep down inside of me. And she loves her books. Who am I to tell her she’s wrong? She’s heard that, often enough, from the world outside. I would rather leave her in peace, even if that means living surrounded by piles and stacks of books. There are worse things in the universe. Fire ants, for instance. Fire ants are much worse than living among stacks of books.

And so, that brings me back full-circle, to my kitchen on that sunny morning a few days ago when my husband tossed the Container Store catalog in front of me. I’ve long entertained the dream of living in a house where every room holds walls and walls of shelved books. It’s a wonderful dream, even though I know it can never come true. There will never be enough space for the books. There probably aren’t enough shelves in the universe to hold them all, because, once I have new shelf space, I will just fill it up to overflowing with more books.

“Just walk away,” I whispered to myself, staring down at the catalog. “Don’t get sucked in again. It’ll never work.”

And I know this is true. I can feel it, in the very marrow of my bones. I feel it even as I reach out and, tentatively, flip the first page. I know it even as I look at the shelving pictures and feel my heart soar in hope and anticipation. Oh yeah … here we go again.

The Sweetest Thing

Although it seems like eons ago, I remember being pregnant with my daughter. I remember those months of waiting, anticipating, worrying, and wondering. What would she look like? What would she be like? Would she have my laugh and her father’s head for math and directions? No, seriously … It seems like a silly thing, but a good sense of direction is important in life. I have been known to get completely turned around in the city in which I lived for a number of years. My father always told me I could get lost in a wet paper bag.

We all want the best of everything for our children. We probably wouldn’t ever admit this out loud, but we want them to be more beautiful than we ever were. We want then to be smarter. We want them to feel they can dangle the world at the end of their own, personal bit of string, like a giant yo-yo. I wanted these things, too. I dreamed and planned and worried and wondered my way through every moment of every day of every month of my pregnancy. Life is so much scarier when you let go of the illusion that you have any form of control over anything that happens to you. I think this goes double — or maybe quadruple — when it comes to your child. Or even the thought of having children. Let’s face it: just the thought of having a child, of bringing an innocent life into this crap-fest of a world that seems to surround us these days, is downright panic-inducing.

In the end, I was lucky and blessed. My child is smart. And beautiful. And funny. And seems to make friends easily — a feat I never managed to accomplish. Whenever I get lost, she can usually tell me how to get back home, so I feel we scored one from the universe on that count, too. What more could a parent want?

my parents and daughter, as a toddlerToday, my kiddo and I went for a walk after school. This is a fun activity, which usually involves lots of sweating and huffing-puffing on my part and lots of excited chatter on hers as she tells me about her day at school. I love it. But today, my daughter was quieter than usual. Several times, she fell behind as I continued to forge ahead, intent on getting in my exercise time.

“Wait for me, Mama!” I heard her call after the second or third time.

Impatiently, I rolled my eyes and turned around to see her kneeling in the middle of the sun-baked sidewalk, her attention focused on something in front of her. I whispered under my breath for her to hurry the heck up as I paced back and forth in an attempt to stave off the hordes of gnats that had swarmed me as soon as I stopped moving. Didn’t she realize I was exercising here? Didn’t she know I couldn’t stop? That my time was valuable?

As I watched, she picked up a teeny twig and prodded at something on the sidewalk. I guess she sensed me looking at her, because she glanced up with an apologetic little smile on her face. “I’m sorry it’s taking so long,” she said. “I just feel sorry for them when they get stuck out in the hot or get stepped on.”

And that’s when I realized: She had been stopping for the earthworms. They had been forced out of the grass by a recent rain and then gotten stuck in the middle of the sidewalk when the sun came back out. Much like the grinch, I felt my heart grow about three sizes bigger in that instant. Did it really matter if I got my entire walk in today? Did it really matter if I finished quickly or took a bit more time? Did I really need to be so impatient?

“It’s all right, sweetie,” I told her. “Use this piece of bark. It’ll be easier for him to crawl onto it.”

I watched as she angled the piece of bark “just right”. She held it steady, holding her breath, as she waited for the worm to find his way onto it. And then, once she had her precious cargo in place, she gently moved him over to a shady spot on the nearest patch of grass.

It was such a little thing. It was just a worm. But, sometimes, the smallest acts of compassion seem to be beautiful and larger than life. Physical beauty will fade in time. Maybe intelligence will, too. Friends will come and go along the way. But compassion … If that stays with my girl, I think she will be all right. And, perhaps, the world will be a better place, too. I know my corner of it is. That’s the sweetest gift of all.

 

Walking on the Sun

Dear Universe,

It’s hot today in my corner of the world. I’m not talking about the sort of annoying “mildly unpleasant so wave your fan faster and sip extra lemonade on the porch” type of heat we should be having at this time of the year. Oh, no. This is that “hide the children and go crying to your mama ‘cuz life is unfair and all your grass has just burst into flames on the front lawn” kind of hot you usually save for the last weeks of August. And, oddly enough, the first few weeks of school. Because, of course, wrestling kids back into their school schedules isn’t challenging enough on its own.

I try to take a very easy-going approach to your activities, Universe. Pretty much, you’re going to do whatever you want with or without my say-so. I get it. This is just who you are and how you express yourself. Trying to control you would be akin to spitting in the ocean, and the world is going to whirl away on its axis with or without me, right? Generally, I’m okay with all of this. Going with the flow works for me. It helps me maintain at least the appearance of “zen” in my life.

beach and waves: rehoboth, delawareI have to say, though … With regard to the heat, I’m not a fan, Universe. I don’t do well in hot weather. It’s not that I dislike sweating. It’s not that I fear sunburn or skin cancer or spider bites. (Actually, I’m terrified of all those things, but that’s not my point.) The point is this: I can not function when temperatures climb above 85 degrees. Every stray thought in my head tunnels down into one loud wail of “HOLY CRAP, WHY IS IT SO HOOOOOOOT?!?” and my brain curls up in a corner of my psyche, wisely assuming the fetal position until cooler weather arrives.

I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned this to you before, Universe, but HOT is not fun. I do not like getting into my car and being unable to touch the steering wheel because it’s sizzling. I do not like getting into my car and feeling all the breath suck out of my lungs because it’s so freaking hot in there. I do not like when my dogs romp outside and come back in smelling like sun and hot. This has to be the only smell that’s worse than “wet dog”. I do not like when my husband suddenly thinks it’ll be fun to do outdoor activities like go to the zoo. Where was he with this plan when it was a balmy 20 degrees outside? Because, believe me, that’s the time when the zoo is most fun. No … really.

red flowers in the sun, rehoboth delawareWasn’t I just complaining about several feet of snow on the ground about a minute and a half ago? Where the heck did all this hot come from, anyhow? Yeah, I know, global warming … blah, blah, blah. Spring basically hung around long enough to drop a crap-load of pollen before skittering away to somewhere cooler. And now, it feels like we’re into Summer already. I want answers, Universe. And you, too, Spring. Yeah, that’s right. I’m looking at you.

Today, the temperature gauge in my car told me it was 95 degrees. This is ridiculous, Universe. If I wanted to walk on the sun, I would have moved there. Or stayed in S. Texas.

No love,

Me

Oh, the Humanity!

It’s cherry blossom time here in my neck of the woods. Last weekend was the peak weekend for our annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Having lived in this area for a number of years, I think my family and I have become a little bit jaded toward the whole blossom explosion. Truly, it is gorgeous, but there are flowering trees everywhere around here. When you see them constantly on your daily drives — and even have one in your front yard — it all starts to be a bit “ho-hum”. Cherry Blossom Festival time stops being something exciting and new and becomes nothing more than a pain in the hoo-hah because of all the tourists flooding the area.

cherry blossoms in the early morning light

This year, for the first time in about eight or nine years, my family and I decided to go into town to see the trees in full bloom. We planned our outing carefully, deciding to get up early so that we could avoid the crowds and get some nice photos with the just-past-sunrise light.

This was a fantastic plan, and I went to bed the night before eagerly anticipating all the amazing photos I would manage to capture. I had visions of deserted sidewalks and softly pinkish-orange light on calm water, which would, of course, give all my photographs a fairy-tale quality that would shock and amaze anyone looking at them. What can I say? I have a vivid imagination. Too bad I can’t manage to use my powers for good.

Our plan wasn’t easy to implement. I think I have mentioned this before, but I am not a morning person. Let me emphasize: Not A Morning Person. At all. So rolling out of bed before 6:30 in the AM took what can only be described as a Herculean effort on my part. But, I told myself, it would be oh-so-worth it when I was at home later in the afternoon, smugly gloating over my incredibly beautiful photographs.

cherry trees and people -- lots of people

So, you can imagine my dismay when we got into town only to discover that EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE ENTIRE FREAKING UNIVERSE (!!!), apparently, had the exact same early morning cherry blossom attack plan. There were people everywhere — at 7:00 in the blessed AM, even! I couldn’t believe it, and I felt my dreams of gorgeous pictures fizzle right before my eyes. I think I heard them make a sad, little popping sound as they imploded with my first view of the crowds thronging toward our destination.

I mean, really! Didn’t they all know I’m not a morning person? Didn’t they all realize I had gotten up super early and made a special trip into town just to see the cherry trees and get beautiful pictures of deserted sidewalks and pink-orange light on the calm waters? Yeah … apparently, none of them got the memo. Thanks a lot, Universe.

cherry blossoms reflected in the water

It ended up being a nice walk and a lovely morning. And I got to see much more than I had bargained for when we originally planned this excursion. Sure, deserted sidewalks strewn with fallen cherry petals and the soft light of sunrise on a calm river are beautiful. But they can’t hold a candle to the actual sights and sounds we encountered on our cherry blossom outing.

A funny thing happens when you toss bunches of people together into a small space: Humanity, in all its whacked-out, weirdly beautiful glory. We saw a slice of all of it during our stroll along the river and under the beautifully blooming trees. From the Honor Guard at the memorials … to a little dog wearing a coat and sauntering down the sidewalk like a Boss … to happy couples so in love and taking their engagement photos … to people in traditional Japanese dress, who looked right at home amongst the petals as they drifted to the ground on the gentle breeze … to brides in their veils and white dresses … and, yes, even the pregnant lady sitting on the side of the river taking “pregnant belly” photos, which, I have to admit, made me feel awkward and uncomfortable — mainly because the lighting was all wrong, and I just know those photos are going to be terrible … there was a little bit of everything on display. People were letting it all hang out, as people are wont to do, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and, probably, celebrating the demise of a winter that seemed to drag on for way too long this year.

I felt my spirits lift, just being among them. The carnival atmosphere was contagious and made me happy to be alive and outside enjoying the sunrise and beautiful morning. And I thought to myself: “Yep … It was worth it.”

No deserted sidewalks. No artfully strewn cherry blossom petals. No hushed quiet of the breeze through the trees. No sunrise on calm waters. Just a cacophony of sounds, sights, colors, and crazy, crazy people at every twist and turn. And I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.

dog on a motorcycle ... with goggles

Today

Today is my birthday. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’ve spent most of the last couple of days thinking on it, processing, trying to figure out what it means for me and to me. I’ve spent today with family and friends, but, still, it was in the back of my mind.

I’ve never been one to make a big fuss about my own birthday. I’ve always thought it was just another day and found it a little strange (nice but strange) that people go out of their way to do nice things for me on this one day of the year. I try to do nice things for the people around me all year long, and I guess I always just expected the same. Plus, I’m shy, so I feel a little — okay, a LOT — uncomfortable when people make a fuss over me. For a lot of reasons, I guess I’ve never given my birthday much thought.

stuff from my office shelves

This year, though …

I dunno. This year feels different to me. This year, I am 45. 45 … 45 … 45 … The number keeps echoing around in my head until I think I will go crazy from having it on a continuous loop in my brain. It sounds so strange. And final.

“Age is just a number.” That’s what people say, right? I know it can sound simpering and insincere, but I’ve always believed this to be the truth. I guess that’s why I never felt overly fussed about the passing of my own timeline. Until now.

Realizing I am closer to 50 than I am to 30 — and that I am light years away from my 20s — has hit me particularly hard. There are things I had expected to have done by this point in my life. There are dreams I had. There are things I still want to do. But life, being the fickle mistress she is, doesn’t always work out the way we expect or hope or dream.

dog statues in my office

Age is just a number. I do think this is true. I really do. But I don’t know how to let go of those dreams I have held closely for so long that, now, I know will not come true. I don’t know how to figure out who I am, even now. There are things I still want to do, but I don’t know how to look at 45 as a beginning for new adventures, instead of an ending to lost dreams.

Perhaps, by the time I am 46, I will have all the answers I need.

Or not.