Gratitude that grows on branches

The library held a parenting workshop last week about gratitude.

“What does that mean?” both kids asked me when I said I thought we’d go.

“It means being thankful,” I said, “being happy for something, appreciating the things and the people you love the best.”

They nodded and moved on, back to whatever they’d been doing before I spoke.

As it turned out, we didn’t make it to the workshop. But if we’d gone, the kids would have made gratitude trees.

I’ve been wondering what they would have placed on their branches.

Mom. Kyle. Dad. Grammy and Papa. Grandma. Grandpa. Dana and Gary. The dog. The cats. Their toys. Disney Channel. Pizza. Brownies. Juice. School. Friends.

Those are my guesses, and maybe (yes, definitely) I should have them do the exercise anyway. It is Thanksgiving after all, and it is important to remind ourselves of all the good in our little worlds.

It will just be Kyle and me tomorrow, and the insides of me spent a little time being sad about that. But it is what it is – distance and time and the cost of gas and the kids being unavailable for our side of the family anyway – and I’m happy to have the grown-up time with my love.

I’ve requested soup.

And, in honor of the holiday, here’s what grows on the branches of my gratitude tree: 

1. A husband like no other. One who makes me soup on Thanksgiving, even though he thinks it’s weird.

2. Healthy, happy, smart, beautiful children. I couldn’t ask for any better.

3. My mom. I love you.

4. The other parents in my life. Thank you. I love you, too.

5. A job that (usually almost always) pays the bills and keeps me challenged and fulfilled. And gives me an office with a window.

6. Books. You are my favorite.

7. Music. You are my favorite favorite.

8. My friends. You save me.

9. Wine bars and cheese trays. Cowboy boots and acoustic guitars. Coffee. Yoga. Fall. Yellow. Orange. Felines. Writing that takes my breath away.

10. The ability to make our own choices, pave our own paths, decide our own tomorrows.

I cheated on number 9, but those all deserved a spot on my list.

Oh, and this:

What’s on your gratitude tree?

 

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The beginning of it anyway

We had breakfast parfaits at work this morning. Yogurt, granola, berries. I forgot to bring the box of granola I’d set on the counter because I was too worried about the little girl missing me and the boy who seemed so tired he could barely stand. I was worried about their second day of school, whether the dog had been out, where the cat (cats?) would pee in the house today … if I’d be late for work.

So I forgot the granola.

Which was alright because I’d decided I’d stop for Starbucks today anyway, for the cup as much as the coffee, which, really, I can make at home.

The little things, though, can change your day. A cup of coffee can matter. The treat of it all … well, so what? What’s $2.50 once a week and a Treat Receipt I’ll never use?

Today is a co-worker’s birthday. She sits in the office next to mine, and today over yogurt parfaits she passed around a framed photo of her dog on a tricycle.

Yes.

That happened.

She is 29.

“One of my favorite years,” I told her after peeking my head next door before yogurt parfaits. “I hope you have a great day.”

What makes a great day? A great year? Why is 29 one of my favorites? What will make her 29th birthday more special than any other day in this long cycle of life’s days?

I have no idea.

On the radio this morning, after I passed my friend eating what may have been yogurt on her way to work, the Yale or Harvard or Stanford or someplace smart like that expert said 99 percent of our DNA is bacteria. That gut bacteria has more impact on who we are – our behaviors, our personalities, our choices – than anything else.

I’m not sure what to do with that sort of information.

I was 28 when my body began to grow my second baby. I was 29 when I got to meet her, hold her, begin this marathon of helping her be.

I was 29 when I decided to call it quits from that first chapter of grown-up-dom, when I decided to leap with my arms spread wide, hoping just maybe I’d catch a breeze just right to cushion the fall.

I was 29 when I told my first husband I did not love him. I was 29 when I began to somehow survive that.

I was 29 when I decided I deserved to be me, on my own, of my own volition.

I was 29 when I met the people who saved me, the girlfriends who listened like no one else I remembered, the ones who brought me frou-frou drinks from Scooter’s the morning of a garage sale designed to help clear out the past, the ones who smashed a backyard shed and painted a backyard deck so I could sell the house I no longer wanted – for so many reasons – despite the fact I left Little Kitty behind.

The friends who took me out, held my hands, picked me up from the airport, gifted me with my first (and only) facial, moved into the house I no longer wanted so I could pay the mortgage and not feel so alone …

That all happened, the beginning if it anyway, the year I was 29.

It is strange to think back to that time now, on the other side of the bend, with a husband who loves me and my babies like I could have never imagined, with a career that – finally – feels as fulfilling as the one I lost, with a home and a family and friends and laughter and music and love, with a life that really, truly in so many ways is so very lovely.

But today, on my co-worker’s 29th birthday, I am nostalgic. Even the nearly empty Starbucks cup on my desk reminds me of so much. So much that’s so big I can’t write it. And if I let the so big simmer too long it starts to feel heavy, that weight that earlier this year spilled out on the kitchen table and that I’ve somehow managed to neatly pack away thank-you-very-much since then.

Memory might just be the force that makes us who we are, the force not to be reckoned with, the energy that makes our tiny little worlds go round.

On the night before the first day of school, my kids got to see the moon in a telescope. A telescope so big, so powerful that the crater’s mountains were visible.

“It’s a crescent moon,” Paige said.

“Wow,” Rye said. “My class should take a field trip here.”

And I’m reminded right now, right this second on this shifty, spinning planet we live on, that letting your kids see the moon up close might be the most important thing you do all week.

All the time, just the same

Sometimes, the hardest part is just beginning.

Just deciding to start and deal with the hurdles as you go. Because you may not even know what they are if you never start.

But being brave all the time is exhausting and sometimes I just can’t do it. Or I think I can’t so I don’t and then I hold all that anxiety inside for too long where it simmers and boils around and then spills out on my husband’s poor unexpecting soul and then.

Then we just have a mess to wipe up off the linoleum.

And then we’re just back where we were anyway, if I would have just kept on being brave all the time, every day, even when it felt like too much work.

Laziness never got anyone anywhere.

I had influenza a week and a half ago and it kicked my psyche into some corner of some room of this new house that I didn’t know existed. I was the only one there (thank God), but, man, was it intoxicating. In that dangerous, crack-heroin sort of way.

For a few hours on a few days, I thought to myself, “I’m never going to get better.”

And I was so feverish sick and my head was so full of crap and the bubble I was existing in so thick, I believed it.

And that didn’t help my mood or my temperament or the way my family felt about me at all.

Or so the crazy thoughts told me in my head.

It was a few days after the bubble burst and I climbed out of that dank corner that the mess spilled out onto the kitchen floor and across the K-Mart table where we dine and the husband reminded me he loves me all the time, just the same, whether I’m living in a corner of self pity and doubt and anxiety or not.

But he has more fun when I’m just me.

So, shit, man, what now?

Well, right now, today, yesterday, too, and even the day before that, I’m trying to chill the fuck out. What’s wrong with my life anyway?

Not one thing.

What’s so great about Omaha anyway?

I don’t know. For the first at least half of my time there, I wanted to leave. To come back here.

Oh, goddess of irony, I will name you Daffodil and Scotch-tape a picture of you in your vintage crew-cut cardigan onto the wall above my dresser. So there you can mock me.

And I can be reminded.

That maybe I don’t need that as-of-yet unopened bottle of Celexa in my medicine cabinet. That there’s no reason I should feel sad about a website for moms that, yes, played a huge role in my life. Back then. Not now.

That my friends who are my friends will always be my friends. That my friends who aren’t my friends won’t.

And I can miss them, or maybe more specifically, I can miss the way my life with them as part of it was back then. But now?

Big deal.

I’m the secular version of blessed in every sense of the word. I have an amazing man who loves not only me but also my kids who are varying degrees of nice to him, depending on the minute. I have a home that we own in a just-as-nice-as-anyplace-else town. We are not poor or sick or hungry or ugly or mean.

Our babies are beautiful as they come.

We have friends and family and cats and pasta and swimsuits and words and coffee and beer and wine and acoustic guitars and sun on our faces and hikes just waiting.

And beauty. In so many things.

We have people who love us. We have people to love.

What else, really, does anyone need?

Not Omaha. Not momaha. Not women who I still care about but who maybe never liked me that much anyway.

Not even the yellow house in Dundee.

Today and yesterday and so many days before that … and tomorrow … and next month … I need what I have.

Drink the sweet syrup of the simplicity of that.

I can only imagine

There is this couple, back home, who used to be my friends.

They used to be our friends really, but when my marriage split up, they went with him.

So it goes.

One of the (many) lessons I’ve learned in the last four years is that no friendship is guaranteed and that they are much more fleeting than I’d like them to be.

It is what it is.

A different old friend once told me to figure out what you can expect from every person in your life. And then expect no more.

That way, she said, you won’t be disappointed.

That wisdom has stuck with me (though I’m sad to say the friendship has not).

So this couple back home … we spent quite a bit of time together. Dinners, play dates … we even went on a much-needed weekend getaway once. They weren’t the best friends I’d ever had, but we got along and I cared about them.

After my divorce, I lost touch, but I heard the news anyway: The woman, my old friend, had cancer.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that, about her, about the surgery she had to try to save her life, the surgery that would forever alter her body, her self-esteem, her confidence, her who-she-is .. or that’s how it played out in my head.

I wanted to help, to do something, to make that all go away. For them. I wanted to bring them a dinner.

But I didn’t. I stayed away because they had asked to not be friends anymore. They had taken sides, and it wasn’t mine. That didn’t mean I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about them, hoping they were doing OK.

I heard later that she was better, that her cancer was in remission. I imagined how that sort of relief must feel, how that sort of thankfulness must roll around on the tongue, in the heart.

I went back to living my own life, filing that family away into where ever we put people we no longer know but one time cared about.

A few days ago, I heard her cancer had returned. Oh, no, I said. What does that mean for them? I asked. It means lots of chemo, lots of money, my ex-husband wrote in an e-mail.

Lots of worry, lots of pain, lots of upheaval and awfulness and why-me-why-again, too, I’m sure.

I can only imagine. And even now, though we’re no longer friends, I can’t stop hoping they’re OK.

A woman I’ve never met and don’t really know is also battling cancer right now. She writes a blog for a website I run for my job. She has two sons; they’re little. And this week she wrote about the way it feels to know you won’t be able to make any more babies because the chemo she’s about to undergo kills that part of her body, that part of her soul.

She’s brave. She’s not taking any moment for granted and she’s realizing she’s not guaranteed even one more breath. She’s encouraging me to do that, too. Us. Everyone.

Plans are only to make us feel better, she says. They’re really not worth much of anything. At all.

I hate that anyone has to know that.

I miss my friends back home every day. Not the couple who long ago were my friends, but my true, do-anything-for-me-including-going-to-my-divorce-hearing-so-I-don’t-have-to-do-that-alone friends. The friends who picked me up, the ones who still do.

I have two girlfriends here, in my new home, and while it’s not the same (yet) as my friends back home, I love them for their place in my life right now.

One of those friends has cancer in her life, too. Her mom.

She’s had it for six years, and nothing is the same. My friend’s world was turned upside down, and while she’s adjusted to a new normal, it’s a new normal. On a crazy tilt that sometimes must feel like it will never end. It’s a normal nobody asked for, nobody wanted, nobody deserves.

And it’s not fair and it’s not right and to those people who believe in God, it’s his will. And somehow that makes it better for them, easier to cope, and I understand needing something to put your faith in, your trust in, your hopes, your worries, your anger.

But I don’t really get it.

And I’m scared.

Health is such a precious thing.

What can we do? What can any of us do?