Movember

I have a sticky note (or several) over my desk where I scribble ideas for blog posts. Some are there only to note important moment for myself and never go farther and that’s okay. Others bloom into larger ideas and grace these pages. And a few stare at me for awhile until I feel I can do them justice and then, when I can’t, make it to a garbage can (it happens). This month, the word Movember has been staring at me since November 1. Not only has the word been staring at me every time I sit down at my desk, but my husband’s beard has also been staring. Getting darker, more present, more permanent looking.

I feared this sticky would make it to the trash. I haven’t yet felt the ability to do it justice. But today, I realized, it wasn’t about doing it justice. It was about doing it. Kind of like my hubby’s beard.

Every November, the hubby participates in Movember. Every October, I forget and then wonder why he looks like a mess of stubble and scraggle on November 2. Every year the kids tease him to “SHAVE!” and “No hairy kisses” at bedtime. Every year, November comes quickly on the heels of the anniversary marking my uncle’s passing due to prostate cancer four years ago.

Four years ago. Wow.

My mother-in-law often says that my hubby was never great at expressing his feelings or emotions. His family often considers him stoic and aloof, I think. That’s not the man I know, but maybe because I grew up with a father who was probably perceived as stoic and aloof by his own family, I know better how to read those emotional signals. I know when a look means the hubby is upset, when a silence means he’s deeply saddened, when a choke that nearly sounds like a laugh is really a swallowed sob of anguish. I know what questions to ask. I know that he doesn’t share things with just anyone and often makes decisions about whether his sharing would help or hurt a situation, choosing to keep his own feelings to himself in order to better serve another person or situation.

So I know that every November, when the hair starts growing in, this is his way of dealing with the loss of my uncle.

In my family, the in-laws are the out-laws. A rag-tag bunch of cut-ups who married into a large Catholic family and bonded over the crazy that was our clan. There were horrible gag gifts to my grandparents through the years that took on epic proportions. There were jokes and side conversations and safety for the newer members who were navigating this noisy, established group and may have felt fish out of water. My uncle, the self-appointed out-law ringleader, welcomed my husband to the family, and more importantly to this sub-family. My often quiet hubby, found a place, friends, men and women he respected.

Every November, my hubby puts himself out there in a public way. The guy who wants to help others shine (I know, because he does it for me every day), grows hair on his face to draw attention to himself for a change. And with every person who asks, “Hey, what’s with the new look?” he can talk about my uncle. He can raise awareness (and maybe a little money) for prostate cancer.

And every November 29th, he asks the kids how his mustache should look. They goof around and make silly suggestions and he cuts away the beard into myriad shapes suggested by the boys eventually sporting some ridiculous mustachioed concoction for the final day of the month. I roll my eyes and move on and smile inside.

After all, these Movember moments — the teasing the boys give the hubby, the silly things they tell him to do with his beard, the giggling that ensues when the hubby threatens to punish them for taking too long to brush their teeth with beard kisses — are all moments he will have forever with his boys. Maybe more importantly, they will be memories the boys have of their father. Father-son moments. Moments my cousins have in their memory with their father.

Every November, the hubby grows out his facial hair. And hopefully helps make it so some other future guy can simply share a beer with that uncle/father/brother/son/neighbor/best man/friend/coworker, instead of growing a mustache to remember him.

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One Fish, Two Fish

Most of life’s lessons, I’ve found, come right after uttering, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

B’s fifth birthday was a couple of weeks ago. For awhile, he’s been pretty insistent that if he ever had a pet, he wanted a pet fish. Seemed easy enough. No doggie poo to pick up in little bags, no litter, no food bowls, no expensive vet bills. Definitely doable. We did our due diligence and decided his birthday would be a perfect time for a betta fish.

The hubby and I picked out a small tank, some hiding features, rocks to decorate the tank and a pretty little blue-green fish. B loved him! He named it Fillmore (big Cars movie fans here) and he watched Fillmore’s every move, narrating in his best hippie Fillmore imitation “I’m an awesome fish, dude. Swimmin’ in my tank, dude.”

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Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Until a short 48 hours later when poor Fillmore wasn’t doing much moving.

Great. I killed the fish. I don’t know how. It looked like a fungus, based on my amateur research. Either way, before bed, B finally asked where Fillmore was (hubby had taken him back to the pet store to see what had happened, poor little fishy was covered in a white haze). Oh, the tears. Oh, the agony. Thanks to some quick thinking and a fantastic recent Sunday School lesson on St. Francis, patron saint of the animals, we said a quick prayer asking that St. Francis watch over our little Fillmore in heaven and make sure he had good places to hide because he really loves hide and seek. Then, we promised to get a new fish.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Only, I realized I was gun shy. What if I managed to kill another one? It took no time for my little guy to open his heart to a silly little fish and have it broken by the loss of that tiny aquatic soul. Could the kid (and maybe more realistically, could I?) handle losing two animals in 10 days? Coupled with the fact that the pet store took a look at our non-swimmer and chalked it up to bad luck.

So we ditched all the original tank fillers, cleaned the tank a millions times. Ran several filter cycles. Did more and more research. Then finally, took the kid to the pet store to pick out his own new fish.

And now, we have Fillmore the Second.

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He’s a very active little fishy and has passed the magical 48 hour mark. His tank sits on my office desk now. A constant reminder of how little I control and how fragile my little ecosystem is. It amazed me how Fillmore the First’s sudden demise threw me into a tailspin. I was in tears that afternoon as I tried to track down the problem and save our little fishy. I felt to blame. Not only for this little innocent creature, but for my boys and knowing I’d introduced them to loss. Sure, that was the point of the lesson in general – to care for another being and watch life play out, but I thought it would take a year, months, maybe weeks at the earliest. Not hours. I didn’t expect the tailspin and tears to be mine.

Diving back in (sorry) with another fish was a leap of faith for me. I like to be in control. I like to know what’s next. I like my little routines. Kids have smoothed the edges of my type-A personality and I am much better at rolling with the punches. But, fish fungus? That most certainly wasn’t in any possible plan. Could I introduce another unknown and have that be okay?

Yes. Because yes. Because why not? Because that’s the life lesson. We keep on keepin’ on. Life keeps going and with it, enjoyment and love and loss. It’s a risk. All of it. Life, love, fish. You just never know.

I think another famous fishy said it best: “When life’s gotcha down you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”

Shadows

While playing soccer with the kids in the park one afternoon, our shadows stretched long ahead of us in the grass. I marveled like I once did as a child as it followed me wherever I went, a constant companion, a 2-D mirror of my body’s actions. Then I felt a bit sad for my shadow and its inability to strike out in its own direction, its colorlessness, the image of Wendy stitching Peter’s shadow back into servitude weighing heavy on my mind. IMG_4806

The fall is always a busy time. I find myself making bargains with myself – I just need to get through fall break which turns into I just need to get through Halloween then B’s birthday then the neighborhood yard sale then fall sports season then B’s birthday party then the soup swap then Thanksgiving… There is always something right around the corner. Another task. Another commitment. Another time suck. All things I normally love. All things I have chosen. All things that make our family the active, giving, fun entity it is.

So why is it that I suddenly felt like a shadow to my own family? A colorless entity just dragged around from ball field to soccer pitch to grocery store to school conference to playdate…I no longer felt like a participant but merely a means to an end. The one to purchase the birthday presents for the upcoming friend’s party, the securer of class snacks, the chauffeur to games, the maker of appointments. I have been checking things off boxes without truly participating in any of them. Or so it felt that afternoon as I watched my five year old jump over my shadow, completely oblivious to the mom inside.

At a neighborhood board meeting last night, I was explaining to a neighbor friend why I missed a mutual friend’s party this weekend and alluded to all these commitments that seem to have run roughshod over my calendar and he, wisely, told me there was an important word I needed to learn: No. While I think there is truth to this, looking back on these busy, busy weeks, I see there is not much I would really like to have declined. They are mostly activities I typically derive joy from. But somewhere in the middle of the busyness, I let the inconveniences override the fun, the what’s next overshadow the what’s now.

This is not to say that I didn’t have a blast cheering on my boys in their respective games or join in the five-year-old’s victory dance at a particularly surprising strike at a friend’s bowling party or revel in the chaos that was Halloween night with my boys and visiting niece. But I did tend to end each day feeling simply relieved to have survived and bracing myself for whatever was on the calendar for the next day.

Instead of saying no, I need to say yes. I need to remind myself why I choose the things I choose. I need to prioritize those yeses and embrace them, own them, live them. I need to approach a yes as a gift, not a burden. And yes, if I can’t find the joy in that yes than it’s a yes that needs to be a no.

I wrote most recently about perspective. I think that’s some of it. But I think as women/caretakers, we need to remember that we aren’t just the shadows to everyone else’s needs, we are the leaders of our own.

Sometimes being the shadow is okay. As long as we remember to sit down and keep it company for awhile. Even shadows can get lonely. IMG_4808

Looking Up

I’ve been doing a lot of looking up today. In the literal sense. And by literal I mean it in the truest, most basic definition without metaphor. Not the new Merriam-Webster “definition” that now allows people too lazy to understand grammar to continue to misuse it (no, you are not literally going to explode, though I might literally never forgive M-W for this). But I digress.

I’ve been looking up. It started on my morning walk. The sky was overcast. That medium charcoal color that fills the air with heavy humidity and promises straight down, unfettered, simple rain. The fall colors in our neighborhood were beautiful against this somber sky. I kept finding myself walking under trees, watching the branches, following leaves drift from the topmost branches to the damp sidewalk below, music in my earbuds, my feet in a rhythm, my breath in my body. It was a unique sort of meditative moment. A study in the seasons. The colors seem to be particularly beautiful this fall and the leaves slow to fall creating gorgeous colors in the sky and gutters.

Later, at afternoon carpool pick up at the little guy’s preschool, the clouds were just breaking after a midmorning of rain. Bursts of blue swirled with wisps of white still holding on somewhere high above, as the breeze rustled the leaves sprinkling the car with leaves and raindrops from the trees. Just now, we waited for the school bus to return my eldest to me. The sky now that sparkling, clear, deep, heartbreaking blue that only a fall day can provide. I looked up and the crystal clearness of it brought every pine needle of the giant trees around our house in focus against that dazzling blue. The trees seemed to be reaching one final last stretch to the sun, their branches grasping for the last bit of warmth and growth before curling up in their leaf beds for the winter.

And I started thinking about why I’d spent so much of my day looking up. Certainly I look to the sky each day, but not nearly with this much frequency. I keep my head down at the computer, at the sink, at the stove, at the washing machine, on the road, on the cluttered floor, on the television, on the phone. I’m checking off tasks, getting things done, moving through my day hoping for the briefest moments of sparkle in a day otherwise filled with drudgery. I often think I might literally scream if I have to empty and refill the dishwasher one more time (a task I planned to do while the boys enjoyed a bit of post-school screen time and instead am ignoring to write this post). But the moments of sparkle make up for it all, don’t they? A surprise hug from the newly minted five year old after making silly fishy faces. Telling a joke that actually made the eight year old laugh instead of roll his eyes. A quiet moment with the hubby. A good day at the work in progress. A walk. A game. An unexpected phone call with a friend.

But the drudgery? The frustration? The doubt? The roadblocks? The lengthening to do list? The dead-end job? The new worry? The health problem? Whatever that thing is you can’t change? The thing that pulls your focus? The thing that seems to suck your soul’s energy and joy? We control the perspective on that. We are in charge of where we look. I can continue to look at the pile of dishes or I can look at the boys, heads together, playing a game quietly. I can look at the post-it reminder above my desk I seem to keep forgetting to complete or see the way the sun shines through the glass, creating wavy movement of light on the orange paper. I can look at the busy afternoon of errands and dinner prep ahead or see the gathering or our family we’ll have cocooned in our circle of light at the dining room table later. I can look at the word count on the work in progress and be discouraged by how little I wrote today, or I can look at the fact that I solved an issue in the text and just wrote this 700+ word post.

Perspective. I’m doing a lot of looking up today.