Thursday, July 9, 2015

I am hopeful, should I be hopeful?

A month or so ago, I took the girls out to Ashland, Nebraska to visit an elderly friend. It was a dry, sunny Sunday afternoon. When we got back in the car to return home, Grace promptly fell asleep. Emilia requested that I roll down her window. I obliged.

As we drove down the two-lane highway that led back to the interstate, I was immersed in the gorgeous Nebraska-ness of this particular part of the state, fields stretching out for miles to our right and left. Hot wind blew through the car, Emilia held her hand out the window and River City Folk played on the radio, tinkling and humming around our red ears. I was so keenly aware that we were in the midst of a perfect frame. I needed someone else to understand how great it was. I called Paul and described it to him. He got that kind of stuff. He understood the beauty of a moment.

Humans, I feel, have a tendency to dampen their own joy. Especially the humans I hang around, myself included. We gravitate toward the sardonic, the self-deprecating, the defensive response. To be unabashedly joyful is to be vulnerable, a sacrifice most of us aren’t willing to make. But Paul was different. He was quietly eager. Innately positive. Unafraid to be excited.

And he was excited about all of us. About small details of our lives that no one else could or should care about. His anticipation of my little family’s trips to St. Louis made me feel special, loved, valued. He would call me weeks before driving to Omaha so we could talk about the details of his visit. When he was here, he wholly embraced my adopted city, exploring Benson, running through Memorial Park, walking to the French Bulldog to eat lunch and chat with the bartender. He felt comfortable doing things alone. He embraced uncertainty. He loved his family. He carried his nieces on his shoulders from hundreds of miles away. He received their eternal admiration in return.

Paul had this magnetic smile that he could subtly adjust to fit any situation. It was a knowing smile, a teasing smile, an understanding smile, a laughing smile, a satisfied smile, confident, reassuring, comforting. It was always handsome, and it was always genuine. 

I cannot get that smile out of my mind. I don’t want to, but it hurts all the same.

Everything since two weeks ago has been waiting. Waiting. Waiting to find our brother. Waiting to get home. Waiting to believe it. Waiting to cry. Waiting to stop. Waiting to be comforted. Waiting to be alone. Waiting for sleep. Waiting for it all to be over. Waiting to accept that it will never end. Waiting to feel hungry. Waiting to catch our breath with each new realization of what we’ve lost. Waiting for meaning. Waiting for signs. Waiting for normalcy. Waiting for clarity.

The only thing I’ve come to accept is that my stomach will hold on to this knot for a long time; I’m hoping that it will begin to unravel eventually. But if not, I will keep it and care for it. 

On one of my recent trips to St. Louis, Mary Clare, Joe, Paul and I went to the Decemberists concert at the Peabody. Paul and I had agreed to each get two tickets, texting from our desk chairs, signing in at the same time the moment they went on sale. It rained that night. We walked to our car with hoods up, heads down, content in each other’s company. Afterward, we went to Three Kings and talked about the Mad Men finale. It was a good night with three people who each hold a massively important piece of my heart. I’m so grateful for that memory.

So now, I am waiting to understand. Wanting meaning. Hoping to find that joy that came so easily to you, Paulie. I love you. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Fitbit. A marriage.

A few weeks ago, after the mad morning rush to shower/dress/Curious George/nurse/boots/coats/don’t forget the bottles/get Matt and the girls out the door and on their way, I breathed my ritual sigh of halfhearted relief and ran upstairs to dab some concealer over… this. Whatever this is now.

And, on the back of the toilet, in the little dish where we keep small, transient objects -- eyeglasses worn between 6:10 and 6:15 a.m., earrings, etc., there lay Matt’s wedding band, twinkling beneath harsh bathroom lights. He takes his ring and his Fitbit off to shower. And, apparently, in the race to get out the door, he had time to put one back on. A Sophie’s Choice within his morning routine. He chose poorly.

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Matt loves his Fitbit more than air and water and now, as evidenced by this recent decision, he could possibly love it more than me. 

My husband’s passionate affair with his step-counting man bracelet began about 6 months ago, when the dust churned up by Grace’s arrival had finally begun to settle. I was returning to work, and we were both returning to reality, sort of. It was at this time that we made a series of realizations -- having two kids is hard. Sleep is… what? And both of us had gained some baby weight. 

And while I decided to put any major self-improvement projects on hold (see: resolutions), Matt dove in, in True Matt Fashion™, head first. He ordered his Fitbit, slapped it on his wrist, and began to walk. And walk. And walk. And walk. He walked over his lunch hour, he got out his brightest headlamp and walked at night. When the weather began to turn cold, he ordered a not-at-all-creepy face mask and walked straight into the biting wind. 

I didn’t get it.
I studied his dedication with befuddled awe. I read David Sedaris’s New Yorker piece about his Fitbit obsession. In both cases, I was entertained but not necessarily enlightened. 

But I wanted to get it.
What is this “self-discipline” you speak of? I’m a creature motivated by snacks and impulse. In many ways, I am my three-year-old daughter… when she was two years old. 

So I got one.
The chaotic tapestry of kids and everyday life can become so thickly woven and crumb-caked that it’s easy to lose site of the threads that held you together in the first place. Lately, Matt and I have struggled to find commonalities outside of the living-life ones. The kid ones. The you-do-the-dishes-and-I’ll-run-the-bathwater ones. It’s hard to talk about the books you’re reading when one of you… ahem… never reads anymore. So when I expressed interest in getting my own Fitbit, it was game on. I mentioned it in passing, and two days later, it was on my wrist. 

Just kidding. It was in a box on the kitchen counter. 

And then two days after that, it was on my wrist. The ensuing weeks involved a lot of trial and error and Fitbit education. Apparently, it doesn’t count my steps if I’m holding the baby in my right arm. Or if I’m pushing a stroller or grocery cart. Or if I’m not walking. What a load of garbage. 

Despite my best efforts to take the stairs at work, to swing my arm like an angry chimp while I push the stroller with the other, to take the long way whenever possible, the truth is, most days end with only a few blinking dots -- little white harbingers of guilt. I’ve only reached 10,000 steps once, which is apparently the bare minimum you’re supposed to reach each day in order to qualify as a Living, Breathing Human Being. 

I obviously have a ways to go. But I will say, I’m motivated. And finally, I get it. I get the appeal of having a carrot dangled in front of you each morning, encouraging you to walk a little further, to move a little faster, to try harder than you did the day before. I’m genuinely grateful for the chance to understand Matt in a new way. Because we should never be done trying to figure out what makes the people we love tick. Or walk, as the case may be. 

Finally, I’m looking forward to tomorrow and all of the steps that it holds. 

But it’s late. So for tonight, my Fitbit will retire to its vacation home among the bobbypins -- the little dish on the back of the toilet.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Owning your reality. Losing the swim diaper.

We keep a basket of diapers in our dining room because it’s convenient, and because we’ve reached the point where we’re done pretending like we change the baby on a changing table. We’re not that fancy. We’ll change her on your plate of half-eaten pasta if you close your eyes to sneeze.

In that basket are a bunch of size 3 Huggies and one rogue swim diaper. It just worked its way in there, all tiny and useless. A remnant of a summer peppered with good intentions but not one trip to the pool. And at least twice a week, I will rush over to the basket as Grace squirms bare-bottomed on the rug and blindly grab a diaper. I’ll run back over to my spot just in time to… no. No. Not the swim diaper again. I’ll sigh loudly and exasperatedly, wave it in the air like a little waterproof surrender flag and vow that this time, the swim diaper is going in the trash. Because I’m so tired of accidentally grabbing it. Because it’s ruining my life.

And then I’ll put it back in the basket.

And the whole thing will happen again next Tuesday.

If we’re on the same wavelength, by now you understand that the basket symbolizes a brand new year. A vessel for unsoiled opportunity. And that nefarious swim diaper is a figurative representation of the bad habits, self-doubt and unnecessary obstacles keeping me from accomplishing my goals. The trash in my path I trip over every day.

I don’t usually make resolutions beyond a quiet promise to eat less sugar, a declaration weakened by peanut butter and negated by late nights spent alone in the kitchen, washing pump parts and romancing a giant of bag of potty training M&Ms.

But maybe. Hopefully. This year will be the year I stop getting bogged down by imaginary hurdles and start doing what I say I’m going to do. All of the things I know I’ll be glad I did, but I just can’t get the courage or the motivation or the presence of mind to get the ball rolling. I need to blog. I want to write something more substantial. I should be more present for my children. I must start living healthfully, like my body is a temple and not some abandoned porta potty full of raccoons. I want… a lot of things that are important to me but boring to you, so enough of that.

While possibility is comforting, reality – a reality that you actively mold and shape and own – is empowering. It’s thrilling. It’s been a while since I’ve felt that, and I miss it. So, tomorrow, the blog. Or my health. But today, the swim diaper. For real this time.