Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Unlikely Treasure

After a wearisome day of travel this past weekend, I was eager to get home as quickly as possible.  During our final rest stop, I corralled the girls into the restroom, pulled the changing table down, undressed Kerrington, and then scrounged through the diaper bag.

No diapers.  This is never good.

I reattached her dirty diaper, fastened a dozen snaps to redress her, and lugged everyone back to the car to rummage for a spare diaper.

On my second trip, three elderly women entered the restroom.  Their gates were slow; their postures hunched.  One paused when she saw Kerrington.

"My, she's a beautiful baby," she began.  She called over her two companions.  They circled around Kerrington, who was now dry and dressed but still lying on the changing table.

"Could I please pat her foot?" one asked.  Of course, I told her.  She extended her hand tentatively at first, then tickled Kerrington's foot while smiling and softly talking to her.  Kerrington returned the gesture with heartbreakingly beautiful smiles.  The deal was sealed; they were in love.

The woman -- three sisters ages 84, 81, and 79 (my girls in a mere 79 years) -- were gracious and thoughtful, and they clearly were delighted to be in the presence of a baby.  "Just five-and-a-half-months old?  Can you believe that?" one spoke to the others.

Other women, rushed and tired from their travels, entered the restroom and immediately were drawn into the scene.  As they washed and dried their hands, they slowed down to watch the sisters fawn over Kerrington and listen to Kerrington's laughs in response.

I wanted to bottle the moment up and treasure it in my heart.

Despite their gray hair and aged postures, none of the sisters seemed old as they interacted with Kerrington.  As if age disappeared entirely, I watched the four of them: my daughter who has just entered the world, and these women whose long lives had allowed them to experience so much of it.

When we parted ways, the oldest woman leaned down and kissed Kerrington on the top of her head.  The gesture seemed almost holy, as if she were passing the torch to a much younger generation.  Placing her hand on my arm, she said, "God bless this mother, and God bless her babies."

Had I been better prepared, I would have missed this moment entirely.  I've never been so thankful for an empty diaper bag.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Upon Closer Inspection

On beautiful days, it's not uncommon for the teachers at a local daycare to take their children on a walk around campus.  To keep everyone grouped safely together, each child holds onto a tag on a long rope.  You can't help but smile when you see them.  It stops traffic.  While teaching, I once glanced out the window and saw the kids-on-a-rope passing by, pointing out squirrels and toddling along at a glacial pace, and I nearly had to stop my lecture just to soak in the scene.

It made me miss my own children acutely.

And yet, when you're with your children all the time, it's easy to lose that warm and fuzzy sensation.  As precious as they are, kids can get under your skin and tap into reserves of frustration or anger that you didn't know (and wish you weren't) capable of feeling.  Kids bring out the best in you, and they also can reveal the worst.

A few weeks ago while driving along a windy country road, I saw a pair of kid's shoes sitting on a long retaining wall, perfectly positioned as if they were waiting for their owner to come back and claim them. 

Now, I see kid's shoes all the time.  I trip on piles of them when I enter and exit my front door every day.  But seeing the shoes in an unexpected place was refreshing, just like seeing the kids-on-a-rope in a setting where children are generally absent.

It's the fresh look that makes all the difference.  Those teachers walking along with the children-on-the-rope just might have been counting down the hours until they clocked-out because the kids were acting up.  Those intriguing shoes might have belonged to a child who disobeyed his parent's instructions to put them on his feet.  But to me, they were fresh.

When my children were first born, I couldn't look at them enough.  I'd study them.  Everything about them -- their satiny, wrinkly skin, their never-been-walked-upon feet, their inability to hold up their heads, their yawns, their noises -- captivated me.  Kerrington is still in this stage, and I practically want to swallow her whole, drink her in, and preserve her beautiful babyness.

Even during the most frustrating days, what if I inspected my children like I did when I first met them?  I'd examine those small dimples that appear on Reese's cheeks when she smiles her widest grins.  I'd notice the sunkissed highlights in Brooke's wild mop of hair.  I'd stand at the crib long after Kerrington had fallen asleep, marveling over her perfect profile, the pout of her lips, and how she sleeps with her knees tucked underneath her ever-so-slightly so that her bottom points toward the sky.

Maybe I'll make one of those ropes and occasionally ask my children to parade around the house.  It will be a reminder to observe them from a distance so I can better see them for who they are when they're up close.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Short and Sweet: The Kitchen Island

The best part of my day in 100 or fewer words:

While I fixed dinner today, Kerrington watched me from her high chair with focused concentration.  (I'm pretty sure with adoration, too.  She's really quite fond of me.)

I sang to her.  She smiled.  I danced for her, waving my arms in the air and twirling.  She laughed.  (This seems to be a common reaction to my dancing.)  And then I ducked behind the kitchen island and jumped up again and again until my legs began to burn from the repetition.

And here's where it gets good:

This little baby was surprised every single time.  I love this about her.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Coach Dad Rolls to Victory

My husband, Joel, has a knack for getting free tee shirts.  They accumulate in our closet and get worn when he exercises and does yard work.  They're relegated for these pastimes because there seems to be a common denominator unifying them. 

They're ugly. 

Case in point, this past summer he ran our town's Firecracker 4K race, and this is the complimentary shirt he received (one that prompted our oldest daughter, Reese, to ask, "How did you see where you were running if you had to wear those hats?")


So when Joel signed up to be a coach for Reese's U6 soccer team and attended the first meeting to pick up the team's jerseys, he took one look at the table and guessed which color would be ours.  Based on past experience he knew it wouldn't be anything classic like red, royal blue, or black, and nothing bright like yellow or kelly green. 

That's when he saw the stack of jerseys that were not quite brown, not quite orange -- a hybrid hue that would make it impossible for other coaches to quickly call out to their players, "Heads up, red's coming down the field," because what do you call that color?  Burnt sienna?  Ochre?

The team's business sponsor, Tire Town, has its logo on the back of the jersey, giving Joel a perfect opportunity to spin creative slogans.  (My favorite: Team Tire Town... Rolling to victory.)

Joel came home from the first practice excited.  He had learned all the kid's names, had staged dribbling drills, and played some form of soccer sharks and minnows.  Coach Steve, the other coach, was equally excited and had players practice throw-ins by tossing the ball at his head.  In between drills the players tackled the coaches, and during drills, they ran. 

Burning off some energy, Joel told me.

After a few weeks of practice, games officially began.  We got beat by the red team, crushed by the royal blues, and bowled over by the yellows.  Joel and Steve took turns on the field while the other remained on the sidelines with the players who sat out.  The last game I attended, I watched the kids on the sidelines playing tag, being led by Coach Steve in a rousing chorus of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and climbing onto Joel's back so that Joel always seemed to have a little boy attached to him, even if he was kneeling down and lacing up someone's cleats.

The kids were having a blast.  The soccer was secondary.  One boy took the coaching advice to take that ball down the field literally, picking up the ball in his hands and running full speed toward the opposing goal.  One goalie watched balls go between her legs.  One game our highest scorer stunned the goalkeeper with a perfect shot to the upper left corner of the goal.  (The only problem was that it happened to be our own goal.)

And that was our team.  Not quite orange, not quite brown, and based on their record, not quite rolling to victory.

But records are deceptive.  After each game when the teams shook hands, offering "good game, good game, good game" to each opponent in passing, Joel stopped to greet the other coaches.  Over the past several weeks, each opposing coach has reported that either one or a few of their players had quit over the course of the season. 

We may never have won a game yet, Joel told me last week, but we've never lost a player.

This afternoon was the final game of the season, and for once, everything gelled.  Team Tire Town beat the navy team 3-1, proving it's never too late to roll to victory.  In fact, I think they accomplished that even before they won.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Snapshot of a Rough Week

It's been a rough couple of days for my five-year-old.  As she and I went door-to-door selling cookie dough for a school fundraiser, she was licked on the hand by a neighbor's dog when she innocently pet him.  Moments later as we reached the next house and she rang the doorbell, I noticed that her hand had swollen and broken out in red blotches.  She's allergic to dog saliva.

When she came home from school the next day her new jacket -- the jacket with the puff ball at the tip of the hood -- got snagged.  The puff ball, once round and fluffy as all good puff balls should be, disintegrated into a loose pile of string that littered the school bus floor as if it had been a dandelion blown to pieces.

But at least she was home, safe and sound.  Once she mourned the puff ball, she pulled out the contents of her backpack.

That's when I saw her kindergarten school pictures, and that's when I -- her own mother, the woman who brought her into the world and loves her dearly -- stifled laughter. 

Now, school pictures are a notoriously unflattering rite of passage.  I remember some of my own unfortunate wallet-sized mug shots and the downright unlucky timing when, in seventh grade, I got my braces off the day after school pictures were taken.

Somehow I expected that her first experience with them would be a smooth one.  I was mistaken.

In the photo she's barely smiling.  Her eyes peer forlornly up from underneath her bangs.  The clincher is that she has a random green hair clip attached to the side of her head, creating a 1980's side ponytail look (which, for those of you who recall this hairstyle, was a trend that never ought to have been started.)

We didn't send her to school with a hair clip that day.  She said that she found it in her bag, and since her pink dress didn't have a pocket, she opted to put it in her own hair -- directly on the side of her head.

My husband and I both questioned why the photographer didn't notice, but we figured that he had to snap hundreds of pictures of squirmy children and had no time to waste in ensuring that each child actually smiled, had his eyes open, or was not the victim of a rogue hair clip dangling from the side of her head, protruding sideways as if a strong gust of wind was blowing.

Just to check if I was overreacting, I showed the picture to a friend who stopped by one evening, a woman who is so sweet that she makes sugar seem bitter.  She took one look, momentarily paused, and finally said, "Oh.  Well, her dress is very pretty!"

Enough said.

We'll be opting for retakes.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gravity and Cereal


Title: Gravity and Cereal

Subtitle:  Always working together to usher in a good morning.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When I Grow Up

So, what do you want to be when you grow up?

My children have heard me ask this before.  My five-year-old's projected occupation changes frequently, and I always like to hear what she's thinking.  This particular day she wanted to be a person who controls rides at Disney World.  Neither she nor I ever have been to Disney World, but apparently some kid in her kindergarten class has, and based on his description she now imagines it to be the happiest place on earth.  Go figure.

In the past, she's expressed interest in becoming a chef (which is impressive given my culinary practices), a teacher, a mother, a gardener, a rock star, a soccer player, a gymnast, and royalty.

My two-year-old wants to be a puppy.  That's what she told me anyway.  She had been looking at a book about dogs when I posed the question, so this may have skewed the results.  Then again, this evening when we were at the store she did get down on her hands and knees, crawl partially down the aisle, and bark at other customers.

The truth is, I'm still not entirely sure what I want to be when I grow up, and I've been working for over a decade.  I enjoy teaching, and I'm thankful to have a good position where I can engage with interesting students each semester.  I love writing, and I alternate between dreaming of publishing the manuscript I'm working on and doubting that it'll ever come to pass.  I love organizing, and occasionally -- even if flippantly -- I consider altering my entire career route and starting a business where people will pay me to declutter their closets.

All this got me thinking about careers and purpose and occupation and success.  And it boiled down to one little verb: be.

What do you want to be when you grow up?  That's how we phrase the question, but I wonder about the verb choice.  I think "What do you want to do when you grow up?" is more accurate.

Being and doing are not synonymous.  We can do the work of a cashier, a cook, a teacher, an accountant, a CEO, or a professional organizer, but what we are -- the being -- is much more complex than these labels.

When I grow up, I want to be a lot of things.  I want to be loving.  I want to be more patient.  I want to be a good friend.  I want to be generous, funny, personable, quick to forgive, and content even during trying circumstances.  The work of these attributes is ongoing, and they can be practiced whether we are teaching, writing, mothering, organizing, cooking, calculating, waiting tables, running businesses, doctoring, or unemployed.

I'll eventually retire.  Whether it stays on the same trajectory or veers into something new, my career path will eventually come to a halt.  But the being, now that's something I'll always want to keep updated and growing on my resume.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Out the Window

This past weekend we attended an out-of-town wedding.  Since Joel was involved in the ceremony, he left home on Friday.  I followed on Saturday with Kerrington while a sitter watched the two older girls for the day.  Kerrington proved to be a remarkably easy travel companion.  For the duration of the ride, she alternated between sleeping and pleasantly batting the stuffed toy that dangled from her car seat.

The quietness was indulgent.  The sunshine highlighted the golden trees, the miles passed with ease, and at several points I caught myself daydreaming.  Although I must have paid attention to the road, more than once I was surprised at the passing mile markers, pleasantly unaware of how I had just traveled the last 20 miles.

It was roadtripping splendor.

Somewhere deep within I have a need to travel, a desire to see new things, a yearning to imagine life lived elsewhere.  Along one stretch of road, I saw several properties for sale.  I envisioned my life if that were my home, if these were my roads, if this was the the backdrop of my daily existence.  And on a day so radiant with fall's beauty while driving in a car so quiet, I could let these thoughts percolate and breathe in the deep aroma of exploration and imagination.

While traveling as a child with my family, I would press my forehead against the window of our family's Chevy Monte Carlo and observe the nuances of daily life in different communities: the small cluster of teens on a playground, the two empty rocking chairs on a front porch, the inviting shop fronts along a small town's main road, the meandering paths, the architectural touches of uncommon buildings.  Lives different than the one I was living unfolded in these locations, and from my backseat window I savored the glimpses into them.

This wanderlust still resonates within, perhaps even more now that I'm an adult.  As a child, the future was wide-open and the dream of living in an elusive elsewhere still seemed plausible.  As an adult, even a young one, my roots have grown deeper.  Three children are now in tow.  Uprooting seems less practical and more complicated than it once did.  Even though I'm a person who generally doesn't seek change, every so often that desire is triggered like it was while I drove on Saturday.

Later that evening once the wedding was finished, I packed Kerrington into the car for our two-and-a-half hour trip home.  The silence was still pleasing, but with each passing mile I grew more eager for one specific place: home. 

My eyes were heavy and my thoughts less buoyant, but that desire to see my own home, my own streets, and the backdrop of my own daily existence remained steady and stable.

Home is rarely flashy to the people living there.  A few weeks ago I needed to stop by my own town's visitor center.  I've lived in this town for fourteen years, and I've never entered the visitor center before.  I've had no need.  I'm a resident, not a tourist.  I'm a local, not someone who passes through looking for a unique way to spend the day.  Because of this, it's possible that I'm blinded to its distinctive flavor because of its familiarity.

If I can have the mindset of a traveler in my own town, I'll be able to gaze at it in a new way -- just as if I were pressing my forehead against the backseat of the window and laying eyes upon it for the first time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dress Code

My husband got the girls dressed the other morning, and Brooke, our two-and-a-half-year-old, looked especially cute when she emerged from her room.  Now, this kid's default is cute, but there was something special this day, some extra adorableness, but I couldn't put my finger on it until I noticed that she was wearing jeans.

This little girl has been alive for nearly 900 days, and to my knowledge, this was the first time she's ever worn jeans.

She has lived the duration of her life in stretchy pants, stretchy shorts, and an occasional dress with tights during special occasions.  While she was a baby, a complete outfit was a onesie (we rarely bothered to add pants) unless it was cold and we snapped her into sleeper pajamas for the day, changing her into another sleeper when she spit on herself or a day had passed.

Talk about the luxury of comfort.

Since her inaugural day in jeans she's been dressed in her customary stretchy pants.  I'm sure that we'll pull out the jeans again and I'll be impressed with just how adorable it is to see a still-diapered bottom in such a tiny expanse of denim, but for the day-to-day dress code, comfort reigns.

There's such a short window in life when you can pull off pajamas or sweats each and every day with aplomb, so I'm going to let these girls enjoy it fully.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Memory Lapse

Reese forgot to take her lunch box to school the other day.  I found it sitting in the garage when I returned from work, and it was the first thing she told me about when she came home.

"Have you ever forgotten something, Mom?"

Have I ever forgotten something?

I thought about answering, "Child, have you not realized just how frequently I call you and your sisters by the each other's names?  Have you not been strapped in your car seat as I've dashed into the house one last time to grab an item that I've left behind?  Did you not see me patting down my pockets and scouring the diaper bag for my cell phone while I was talking on that very cell phone?"

Instead, I responded, "Yes, Reese, I've forgotten things."

Later she pelted Joel with the same questions.  "But have you ever forgotten your lunch?"  He replied that he had.

"How many times?"

Reese always wants to know particulars.  I don't know's and I can't remember's don't appease her, so there's no point in trying to dodge her questions.  She'll hound you into submission, wearing you down with incessant prodding until you specify a precise response.

"Four."  His answer must have sounded plausible, because she simply responded, "Oh."

She paused. "Well, did everyone end up knowing that you forgot your lunch?"

That's when it struck me.  This was more than a forgotten lunch; this was one of her first times feeling embarrassment.  Apparently she told a classmate, that classmate told another, and before she could say "school lunch," several kids knew.

Embarrassment is a horrible feeling.  You're moving along feeling coherent and competent, and wham, you're met with the realization that you don't have things together -- and that other people realize it.

So, we talked.  I told her about the time I forgot my lunch as an adult.  I even told her about the cell phone.  Her eyes widened and the hint of a smirk appeared on her lips.  "Really?"

Yes, really.

And we both were able to laugh at ourselves and our forgetfulness.  After all, embarrassment holds no power over you when you're able to laugh at yourself.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Witness Protection Program


Title: Witness Protection Program

Subtitle: No one will ever suspect he's a gourd.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Trash Talking

Today is Tuesday, and Tuesday is trash day. 

Every Tuesday afternoon I wait for Reese at the bus stop.  She says goodbye to her driver as she bounds off the bus, waves to the third grader who gets off at her stop, and hands her backpack to me.  Once we reach the bottom of our driveway, I grab one of the empty garbage cans.  Reese grabs the other.  Together we drag them to the garage.

We've fallen into this routine.  We never comment on it.  We simply grab the garbage cans, pull them up the driveway, and discuss her day.  She tells me what she ate for lunch, what games she played at recess, and what classroom job she was assigned.

We trash talk.

And today as I listened to her tell me about chicken nuggets and being the kid who gets to put numbers on the calendar at the bulletin board, I had a small epiphany.  (Other than the epiphany that we generate way too much trash each week.) 

I realized that I've never asked Reese to grab the other garbage can.  She's done this entirely on her own.  She sees the need, and without being prodded, she acts on it.  It's such a small action, but it gives me hope.  Never has trash looked so good.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Comparison Trap

I occasionally search the web for other mom blogs to see what's out there and who's writing.  One night I read entries from a woman who successfully homeschools her children, feeds her family of six for less than $300 a month, and throws cleverly-themed, environmentally-friendly birthday parties with elaborate homemade favors for the guests to take home as keepsakes.

I've stumbled onto blogs that garner thousands of hits daily, blogs written by individuals who seem able to draw in web traffic as easily as my house draws in those little plastic toys that we trip over.  They're publishing new books.  They're getting rave reviews.  I'm pretty sure they're even having a better hair days than I am.

When I contrast this with the fact I don't even call my kids by the right names most days, it's easy to feel as if I don't measure up.

But here's the rub: you never win when you compare yourself to others.  Never.  Even if you come ahead in your estimation, you're not winning.  Comparison is an unfair measure to discern your worth, one that either deceptively elevates you or crushingly deflates you.  Neither of these are productive end results.

Earlier this semester, for example, I was told that I was surprisingly coherent for having such little children. This was quite sweet, but the truth is that I've struggled to pull my thoughts together, keep track of my belongings, and remember what day it is when I wake up each morning.

You make motherhood look effortless, this woman continued. Clearly, she hadn't witnessed the day I had gone upstairs to change Kerrington's diaper and came downstairs to find all the lights turned off, Reese running through the house nearly naked, and Brooke dancing on top of the table.  My reaction had been less than graceful.

I didn't feel coherent.  I didn't feel pulled together.  Things didn't feel effortless.

The truth is, motherhood (and life) is a very messy process, but we often only witness our own messes.  It's easy to compare our inner weaknesses -- those ugly parts that we know so well -- with other people's external strengths.

This past weekend my husband was occupied with several last-minute work responsibilities.  Neither he nor I had anticipated his absence.  I quickly grew bitter -- I had my own pile of grading to finish, the girls were perpetually needy, and the household chores were piling up.  Everything was falling on me, I bemoaned.

Then I thought about women with young children whose husbands are deployed to war, while I'm frustrated that my husband's job demanded extra time for one measly weekend.  The comparison began, spiraling downward, and as I followed the rabbit hole I grew incrementally more upset at my own bad attitude.  Not only was I comparing myself to real women, I was comparing myself with hypothetical women who, in my estimation, were bearing much greater burdens with more more grace.

It was ugly.  Did it help me to snap out of my bad attitude?  No.  Did it spur me on to do better?  Not exactly.

What did help was getting a good night's sleep and reminding myself where my worth comes from -- which is not from my success (or lackthereof) as a mother, a wife, a homemaker, a teacher, a writer, or a person. 

My worth comes from my Creator -- one who considered me and sent Jesus to die for me.  For me!  I'm a woman who gets frustrated with my children.  I'm a wife who gets cranky.  I'm a teacher who grows impatient with her students.  I'm a person who forgets to be thankful for blessings, who feels entitled, who envies, who judges.  I'm notably imperfect.

I want to be entirely transparent about this.  I don't have it all together.

Nobody does.

What is so beautiful, so humbling, is that God knows all of this and he still sees worth in us.  He still wants to be close to us, to know our thoughts, to enjoy our company.  He knows we can't measure up to perfection, and that's why He provided a way for us to be made right through Jesus.

God doesn't want us striving to be anyone other than ourselves, and comparing ourselves to others -- real or hypothetical -- only hinders us from being the best "us" that we can be.

It's a trap, and I've been snared plenty of times.  I don't want to waste any more time getting caught.

Monday, October 4, 2010

One Informercial Later

I'm foggy on the details of why Reese was watching TV and how the TV ended up on this particular channel, but she's now seen a portion of her first infomercial, and this child is sold.

I've never met a five-year-old who wanted a steam mop, but there's a first for everything.

If you asked her about it, she'd tell you that is is no ordinary steam mop.  I didn't even ask her about it, and she still told me.  Repeatedly.

Reese:  It cleans everything, mom.  Everything!
Me:  I see that.
Reese:  Can we get one?
Me:  No, honey, we already have a steam mop.
Reese:  Not this type of mop.  Ours only cleans on hard surfaces.  This one cleans on all surfaces, even on carpets.  Even in cars.  Even in bathrooms!  A doctor recommends it!

Clearly the commercial's rhetoric has been effective.

Me: It's okay, Reese.  We have enough cleaning products.
Reese:  But it's just three payments of $33!  Mom, please!

I looked at her closely.  There was legitimate desperation in her voice.  She threw her hands up in exasperation.  And I totally get it.  For as messy as this child can be, she's still my girl.  Somewhere deep in that DNA of hers, there is a clean gene lurking.  We just needed the impressive power of the H2O Mop Ultra to draw it out.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rediscovering Order

I couldn't help myself.  During my normal cleaning this weekend, I indulged my obsessive compulsive tendencies: I gathered and sorted.  All of the farm animals that had been strewn around the house were finally corralled at the Fisher Price toy barn.  Individual blocks were reunited as a set after being cast under couches and haphazardly stowed.  My Little Ponies joined up in the third drawer in the plastic bins when they originally lived.  Crayons and markers found their places in containers.  Book were straightened, puzzles were pulled together, and loose game pieces were grouped.

It was beautiful -- for about an hour.

Brooke dumped out the drawer and merged the My Little Ponies with the farm animals.  Reese upended the crafts and scattered the crayons across the kitchen table.  Glue sticks!  Yarn!  Stickers!  (She has an innate need to create.)  Blocks mixed with puzzle pieces.  Cheez-Its were dropped and trampled, leaving orange crumbs embedded in the berber carpet.  Sippy cups (note: sippy cups are always plural in our house; there's never just one in circulation) began springing up on end tables and discovered on the floor, overturned and empty.

There is so much doing and un-doing in parenthood.  We button buttons, snap snaps, and zipper zippers just to undo them moments later.  We sort and gather items that will be scattered and dispersed.  It's an exercise in futility, really, but there's beauty in the routine.  There's clarity in the order, even if that order lasts only for an hour. 

It's like making the bed in the morning even when you know you'll turn down the covers again at the end of the day.  You do these basic tasks because they bring structure, even that structure isn't permanent.  You do them because with all the disorder in the world, it sometimes feels good to have one area -- even just the third drawer designated for ponies -- ordered.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Calendar Flip

Before I went to bed last night, I stood at our refrigerator and took one last good look.  This morning, I returned to the same spot and proceeded with a small ritual: the calendar flip. 

Turning over a new page on a calendar is one of those simple pleasures in life.  A wide open expanse lies ahead.  Even though these next weeks promise to be full, the calendar page is orderly.  No days have been crossed off yet.  It's a clean slate.

Contrast this with the calendar page from last month.  It's messy, much like life.  Appointments and obligations that were once pressing are now past.  Moments that I would have forgotten altogether are immortalized by my handwriting in a square inch box.  Each completed day has a slash marking the bottom right corner -- a single line that signifies that an entire day has been lived.

I used to carpool to my last job.  As I drove home one afternoon, my carpool partner pulled her planner from her bag and realized that she hadn't been keeping up.  She crossed out an entire week happily, and then commented, "I don't think I should be taking this much pleasure from scratching out these days.  This is my life!  I'm crossing out my life!"

Sometimes I feel like this.  I love crossing off days.  I look forward to the next thing, and I strain toward the next goal.  I occasionally think about selling outgrown baby gear at the next garage sale.  I envision having my toddler pottytrained.  I imagine going places without a diaper bag.  I look forward to a day when my little ones can unfasten their own seat belts, take their own baths, and tie their own shoes.

It's not bad to look forward to the future.  I just want to make sure I'm not crossing out days before I even live them.

This summer we had a few students over for dinner one evening.  To be exact, they were three football players in the midst of a grueling practice schedule, and they were hungry.  At the end of the meal, I served dessert -- generously-sized, still a tad warm, perfectly chewy brownies.  Before I could blink, I looked at one boy's plate and the brownie was gone.  I glanced up.  He wasn't even still chewing.

"Want another?"  I asked.

"Yes, please."  He replied as I handed over a huge square on a napkin.  "I think I just swallowed that last one whole.  I didn't even taste it!"

Now, I love chocolate and I could relate.  I've done it myself.  I've devoured without savoring.  I've swallowed without tasting.  In the end, it's disappointing.  You're in such a rush that you miss all the pleasure.

Contrast this with one of my friends who visited our house the very next day.  I served her one of the few remaining brownies.  She took one bite and said, "This is Duncan Hines Milk Chocolate, isn't it?"  (I had  no clue, but I checked the trash can for the empty box.  She was spot on.)

How did she know this?

She savored, not devoured.  She paid attention to the flavor.  This girl knows her chocolate. 

And then, if I recall, she ate another.

I want to live life this way.  I want to taste each day as it comes, to pinpoint its unique flavor.  Even if it's a nothing-special, mix-from-a-box type of a day, I want to savor.