The Journey Back

My son got sick on Tuesday morning, really sick, with a nearly 104 degree temperature. Burning up, hacking, crying that his head hurt.

My daughter got sick, but not as bad, on Wednesday.

Last night I got it. I haven’t been this sick in ages and ages. I wanted to just lay in bed and sleep until the pain went away. I lost track of time.

And today was another snow day. My children, 8 and 10, made themselves soup and read books and watched tv. They did not fight once, as far as I know. I knew that some of their friends were probably out sledding, but I didn’t want to call in any favors today. I just wanted to sleep and wake up better tomorrow.

About halfway through the afternoon, my son came up and opened my blinds. Pale winter light entered my sick room, and I sat up to watch the fat, happy flakes come down. My children helped to clean up the kitchen tonight, and for a while, they sat on the sofa singing a song from school together. They both hugged me good night and said, “I hope you feel better, mom.”

Perfection is not the goal. Perfection is in the journey.

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There But for the Grace of God

“Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”

Wm. Paul Young

One afternoon this week, my seven-year-old and I drove down a city street lined with mansions. We stopped at a traffic light, and my daughter screeched, “Mom! What is that man doing?”

I looked up. A middle-aged man was pawing through a garbage can, grabbing food that was most likely thrown away by students from the nearby magnet high school.

I grew up in New York City in the seventies, so homeless people have been part of my consciousness for long as I can remember. Women covered in dirty blankets, shuffling through Grand Central Station. Shadowy men huddled over burning trashcans along the Bowery. Mothers clutching babies, elderly men begging. I remember them all.

But my daughter is growing up in a different kind of city, in a different type neighborhood, in a different type of school than mine back in 1976 when I was seven years old.

I told her that the man was looking for food.

“Why doesn’t he go to a food kitchen?” she asked, thinking about all the sandwiches she’s made at school for the homeless over the years.

I explained that you can’t live in a food kitchen all of the time. And then I said something I haven’t said in ages: “There but for the grace of God, goes you, goes I.”

I learned these words from my Irish grandmother, Mary. Mary never said a bad thing about anyone. Other people’s business was none of her business. If she didn’t have anything nice to say, she just didn’t say anything at all. And most of all, There but for the grace of God . . .

My daughter understood. “We’re very lucky, mom.”

I agreed.

“Mom, maybe we should make some more sandwiches and bring them to the pantry,” she replies.

“Yes,” I say. My life is filled with so many graces. Mary Oliver wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

Little graces rise out of the darkness, tiny pinpricks of color and light. Without the darkness I would hardly notice them.

Resolutions are Overrated

If I were going to come up with some New Year’s Resolutions this year, I would probably have to include: Blog More! Because I’m turning out to be a very lame blogger.

In my defense, I have a lot going on. The holidays, the kids, the divorce. Oh yes, the divorce. I tentatively have some good news about my contentious and brutal and interminable divorce, which has been dragging on now for more than two years: It might be over soon. The attorneys assure me that things look good this time.

Then again, they also say, “You never know for sure. Remember who you’re dealing with.”

Lawyer doublespeak.

So I’ve just decided to skip resolutions this year. They never work out for me anyhow, and they usually just end up making me stressed out and feeling like a big old failure. My divorce already makes me feel these things, so why put even more pressure on myself?

So this year I simply resolve to keep on moving  forward towards a better place. And not to lose my mind in this final stretch. To continue to take care of myself and my kids. To ask for help when I need it. To laugh. To put aside the divorce and other worries whenever I can.

Basically, I’m working on grace and dignity – and humor, for when grace and dignity fall short.

And in case my lawyers call me tomorrow and say that there has been another delay, another setback, I will keep this little Anne Lamott gem in my back pocket:

“But grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.”

No matter what, 2014 will bring an end. I just resolve to hang on. Happy New Year!

Thanksgiving: Not the Day For

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow is not the day to worry about my feisty, independent aunt with the beautiful hair and perfect posture who went into hospice yesterday, defeated and hunched over, and received her last rites today. Tomorrow is not the day to feel bitter because she is dying of lung cancer but never smoked a day in her life.

Tomorrow is the day to be thankful that I visited her two days ago, one day before she took such a terrible turn. Tomorrow is the day to be grateful that I’ve spent quality time with her during the past two years and that she has told things to me straight when no one else would.

Tomorrow is the day to be thankful that one of my children got to see his great aunt several weeks ago when she still felt well and appeared her vigorous and vivacious self. Tomorrow is the day to remember my son sharing barbecue pizza with her and telling her that he loves math, just like her. It is the day to remember her famous tins of homemade Christmas cookies and how she never met a child she didn’t love — and who didn’t love and adore her right back.

Tomorrow is not the day to dwell on my father’s other sister and how she will have open heart surgery in a week. It is not the day to worry about the health of a man in his seventies who is watching his two sisters struggle between life and death. It is the day to be thankful for this man in our lives — a man who worked his entire life selflessly to provide for his family, and who finally retired, only to spend all of his free time taking care of his daughter and providing for his grandchildren when their father falls short.

Tomorrow is not the day to worry about divorce finances and declines in standards of living, and looking for a job after staying home for years, and children leaving schools they love. Tomorrow is the day to be grateful we are in our family’s warm house, all together, with children running around and spilling milk and getting into a lot of trouble.

Tomorrow is not the day to wonder why God throws everything at us at once until the stress and utter unfairness of it all starts sitting in your chest like a physical pain and makes you start wondering if it has affected your health in insidious and permanent ways. Tomorrow is the day to search for gratitude and things to be thankful for. It’s the day to realize that no one can sail through life unscathed. And mostly, for me, tomorrow is the day to remember that this too shall pass. Nothing lasts forever, and as my aunt told me recently, “Unlike me, you are about to turn a corner. Your divorce will eventually be over. And you’ll hardly remember it in a few years.”

So tomorrow is the day to be thankful for happy and healthy children, cousins and grandparents, snowflakes, mashed potatoes and stuffing and hot gravy, crackling fireplaces and green-and-red M&Ms in jars, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and knock-knock jokes, a warm house and great books, funny uncles and creative aunts, football and fantasy football, Christmas music before we all get tired of it, big California cabernets with apple and blueberry pies, the puppy down the street, silly dancing and LEGOs and Zengo, and the hope that we might be able to scrape together enough snow to make a snowman before it’s all over.

Grace
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you, God, for everything!

by Edith Rutter Leatham

Tiny Green Glowing Crocodile Tongues

Tiny Green Glowing Crocodile Tongues

It’s been a tough two weeks here in my fuzzy neither-here-nor-there State of Separation. I’ve been dwelling on how much I’ve lost. How my children will have to leave their beloved school. We’ll have to leave our little city home. … Continue reading