A million terrifying questions

I spent yesterday afternoon visiting a house for sale with my husband and then lamenting the fact the yard was too small, the neighborhood was too cookie-cutter, the HOA was likely too ridiculous and, most of all, the price was too high.

I was obsessed with this, all of this. After the showing, I engaged the husband in a long conversation about homes and what I didn’t like about ours and what I did like about the interior of the one we’d seen, why we needed a house like that, why it would make us happier. He countered with all the reasons it would not make him happier. Very reasonable reasons. The yard is awful, tiny, small, an open book to not only neighbors but also anyone and everyone driving past on the busy street it borders. No chickens, no vintage travel trailer turned office. No coffee outside in the backyard because, well, it blows.

But the house, babe. The house is amazing. The inside of the house is perfect. It has four bedrooms! And a kitchen with an island! And the kitchen opens up into a family room! And it has an upstairs! And a master bedroom with a walk-in closet and a bathroom! And the kids would have their own bathroom! Upstairs! Away from us!

Etc.

While this was happening, this exhausting, laborious, neurotic examination of needs vs. wants, gimmes, shiny objects, etc., my two older babies were in a car accident.

They are spending the week with their dad and his fiance, who live in Denver, and they were on their way to Estes Park to celebrate Christmas with grandparents.

I got a text from my ex-husband while walking into yoga class late yesterday afternoon.

“Hey,” it said. “Just wanted you to know I got in a car accident with the kids in the back. Everyone is perfectly fine. It was just scary.”

Apparently, a lady ran a stop sign and my ex-husband swerved to miss her, skidding into a telephone pole. The airbags deployed.

The airbags deployed.

The airbags deployed.

The car is in rough shape.

They were back on the road in their second car by the time he texted to let me know.

They were back on the road.

Back on the road.

I had a million questions. Did anyone hit their head? (no) Is everyone OK? (yes) Did the airbags in the backseat deploy? (no) Did Paige cry? Did Rye? What were they doing when the accident happened? Talking? Using their iPads? Sleeping? What side of the car got banged up? Could the kids open their doors to get out? Where did they wait while they waited for the police and paperwork and all that? How did they get back home to get the other car? Did either of them have nightmares last night?

I did not ask all those questions, though they keep running through my mind. Let them be OK is the mantra of every parent, and it seems somehow even more important when someone else is in charge, when you have absolutely zero control. Please. Let them be OK.

They are in high spirits, the text said, and so, well, I’m playing the role of part-time parent this week, hoping they truly are OK, waiting six more days to ask them about it myself, to hug them, touch them, see their faces.

Today, part of me is still thinking about our home and other prospects. My intent is noble (or a less dramatic version of that word): I want us all to be comfortable in our home. I want a space that feels positive and warm and can be the brick and mortar behind the memories for the next 18 years. If I had a magic wand, that would be in a neighborhood with kids everywhere, close to the elementary school, with a huge yard, some character indoors and a price tag we could afford.

But I am also thinking about my babies, scared, cold, in a cracked-up car. Accidents happen every single day, and when it happens to you, the frailty of life sinks in even more.

It’s terrifying and perspective-buying. All I can do is be thankful no one was hurt, be grateful the husband and I weren’t packing a bag to race to a hospital in Denver last night, be oh-so-satisfied with the wonders we already own.

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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?

 

I wonder if it’s a wanting all the time

The world of wanting is cruel, that feeling of never quite having everything you’ve ever wanted, that even if you do, you don’t.

How did we get that way?

Is the grass only greener in America? What about Europe? Asia? I hear Chinese couples may get to start having multiple babies one of these days. I imagine that’s happy news to so many ears, and, to me, that feels right. That feels like it’s about time. That feels like such a stupid horrible rule to begin with. I’d be lying, though, if I said I didn’t think about all those girls sold off into an underworld I don’t want details on, those girls who could have stayed, those new moms who could have cried a little less, if China had never had something so ridiculous as population control.

I bet those Chinese mothers want just as much as I do, as we do. I wonder if it’s a wanting all the time.

I am thinking about things and needs and wants and excess and greed and happiness and fulfillment and why it – life – all feels so hard some of the time. Because Christmas is coming, that holiday we celebrate secularly like so many others across the world, Christians included.

I saw a plastic Santa at a thrift store today. It was one of those retro-looking light-up ones that stands in your yard. Plastic Santa was probably about 4 feet tall. I wanted him.

He was $25, though, and $25 on a Christmas decoration sounds like a purchase I shouldn’t make. And I didn’t.

But the kids, those sweet babies of ours, will expect presents on Christmas. Of course they will. They are kids and we live in America and Christmas, at least as far as I’m concerned, should be as magical and innocent and beautiful as it can for as long as we can make it last. Gifts in paper in excess in living rooms under a sparkly lit-up tree are part of that magic.

I do not want to go to Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving. (I want to go there never, but even less so on Thanksgiving.)

I also do not want to participate in Black Friday. The thought of all those people and all those cars and all those clothes that no one will wear two years from now and all that plastic that will break or be swept up by Mom’s broom or forgotten in the closet and all that chaos and energy and need … no. I’m good. I’ll pass. No thank you.

But.

We need presents for our kids, and money doesn’t grow on that tree out back yet and I’m still figuring out how to inherit a rich relative who falls instantly in love with me and leaves us her life’s savings or how to write my own version of “eleanor & park” that I can dedicate to my own loves.

So I’m contemplating going to Wal-Mart.

On Thanksgiving.

And I hate this. About me, about life, about society, about the fact that we’re never satisfied. Why isn’t great good enough? When will it be? And how?

I’m in love with my life. That is not hyperbole.

I am so full in love with my husband that that right there should be enough forever and always and to the moon and back.

And those babies? Those babies who are now 8 and 4 and who sometimes I ask for advice because they just seem that grown up? Oh my world spins because of them.

And everything else – just about – that makes a life: friends, family, a house to call our own, a very good job, music, laughter, streets to run on, cats to cuddle and coffee to warm our souls.

Yeah, I have that. All of that. My color is yellow.

Yet, I still yearn for things we do not have. An upstairs. Sunday dinners with family. More money. More time. More fill in the blank.

So it goes, I guess. Courage and cowboy boots and bottomless red wine maybe can’t change that sort of human nature.

But we can try and cheers to that.

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.

Guest post: It’s my fault what’s happening to my daughter

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from a woman I know, who needed to write and needed to do so without attaching her name to it. She asked me if I’d publish it. While the journalist in me says “no anonymous sources,” this is different. This is her story. And it’s scary and brave and all sorts of other things, and it might resonate with some of you. I know she isn’t alone. So I decided yes, her story should live somewhere and why not here with all of you? I decided maybe it might help someone else. Maybe someone else might help her. So here it is.

The house is quiet, as everyone sleeps soundly.

Everyone but me.

Sleep eludes me, as it does every night. My mind just won’t stop thinking.

About everything.

I feel the anxiety in my chest, tightening its grip with every minute that passes.

Part of my story is this: I was diagnosed years ago with mood disorder NOS (not otherwise specified). Before treatment, I experienced periods of depression and periods of great enthusiasm and energy.

But always sleep eluded me.

Thankfully, now, I feel almost “normal” with antidepressants, a mood stabilizer, anti-anxiety pills and sleep medication. It’s a cocktail I take every day.

Because it works. Because it allows me to live my life.

But as I lay awake this night, every night, the feelings of intense guilt invade my thoughts.

It’s my fault, you see, what’s happening to my daughter.

I believe I have passed on my mood disorder to her, to my 10-year-old baby girl.

My love for her is indescribable. That’s a given, right? A guarantee.

But recently her extreme moods have escalated to the point that I am 99 percent sure she has early onset bipolar disorder.

One side of my beautiful daughter is sweet, extremely intelligent, caring, funny, talented. Loving.

But on the other side of my amazing little girl, her moods are explosive. They change without warning.

One day last week, she became agitated because a tiny speck of carbon from the water filter made its way into her drinking glass.

She came unglued.

A horrible, unspeakable rage erupted from this little girl like you wouldn’t believe. The screaming was piercing and never-ending.

It was MY fault, she said, that the speck of carbon ruined her drinking water.

The water glass, of course, was thrown across the kitchen.

I tried my very best to calm her down – I just want so badly for her to find peace.

But it continued.

She tried to tear the blinds from the window. She raked her fingernails across the leather couch. Books and toys went flying.

I sent her to her room, where the destruction continued. Everything was knocked from her desktop and dresser; her brand new iHome smashed against the wall. Her desk chair thrown across the room.

And always this shrieking, this piercing scream that seems to never end.

Sometimes, these “fits” or rages continue for two hours or more until she can’t scream any longer and her voice is all but gone.

I am always incredulous when, a few moments later, she emerges from her room, seemingly unaffected by what just occurred.

She is even cheerful as she goes about her chores or completes her homework. After this, she may run laps through the house with boundless energy.

Other days, she may come home from school and retreat to her bedroom. I will find her in her bed, in complete darkness.

For hours.

I turn on her light (how can she not want light?). But she always goes back to the darkness. She prefers it somehow.

She has even told me she feels this world would be better off without her.

And so sleep eludes me this night, as it does every night.

I am aching for my daughter, for this little girl who has lost her way and doesn’t know how to find the light.

I am ready to face this long road of intense psychotherapy and medications with her. But it is scary, oh-so terrifying to know she may have to cope with this illness for life.

I just keep assuring her there is nothing she could do to cause me to love her any less. Ever.

Yet sleep eludes me.

The guest author would appreciate comments – of support, encouragement. Of hope.

At least that’s how I remember it

I read a book when I was a kid called “Homecoming.” The main character’s name was Dicey and she was just a kid, but a grown-up kid and the book was long and paperback and had reeds and water on the front cover.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.

I’m pretty sure fourth-grade me probably didn’t get the entire message that book’s author intended. Grown-up me can’t even really remember what that book I read so long ago was about. But it was called “Homecoming” for a reason and it was about that character Dicey’s struggle to find that direction, amidst all the other stuff in her little-girl life.

I feel that way, some days. That the stuff I never asked for just swirls around in my head, creating a haze I can’t quite scrape away. That the path is right there, in front of me, but some days, someone forgot to clear the weeds away and the thistle and the thorns and it’s just rained a whole bunch so the ground is soggy and the water seeps in through the holes in the rubber of my canvas K-Mart shoes.

And my toes are cold.

But my hair is getting long, so long, though it doesn’t look particularly good, sort of like that third-grade school picture after I’d grown out my bangs.

These days, today’s sort of day, my feet are still dry but my eyes are, too. My sister just shared a link on Facebook to a blog post about betrayal. The worst kind, the author says, is the one where the person you love decides to stop loving you back. Or doesn’t decide actually but just stops caring enough to invest in the relationship and stops loving you by default. Insightful, I said. And terrifying. Yes, to both, my little sister said.

My family drove home for the holiday last week. It was a beautiful homecoming in so many ways, an easy one, a slip-right-back-into-what-life-was-like-there-without-missing-a-beat sort of one. I reveled in the friendships I’d left behind that still existed in the same, pure way they had back then, back then in March when I left them without knowing who’d tend to them while I was gone. Turns out some friendships, if planted correctly the first time, just grow on their own. I am lucky for that.

So back home, I saw those old friends. I drove those old streets. I even peeked at the yellow house in Dundee. I looked through the front window at night and was comforted that the walls, inside, were still yellow.

We went to the bar I thought I loved. The rock star played and he was brilliantly beautiful as always; the love for him in that room was wide and warm. The people were fun and different and the same, all too the same, and… well, the feelings I have about that place, about that night, are part of the tornadic dust still gunking up whatever part of the mind is in charge of figuring shit like that out.

We stayed for a week. I felt warm and cocooned and loved and even more confident in my own skin, back home. I refused to think about leaving until the day before we couldn’t avoid leaving. We left and I didn’t cry. The rock star who I love so much that when I read novels about husbands dying or cheating or both, I start to (irrationally) worry about losing him, looked at me in the car and said, “No tears?”

I agreed it was odd.

But I was trying, see, really trying to convince myself to not feel so much, to not feel everything so passionately, so intensely. Not everything matters, I tell myself, not everything you attach emotion to even exists, I say. In my head.

So leaving home to head home wasn’t hard, at least not right then. Not even now, that we’re home, in our new home, in our home that’s just ours, this little house that if I let my mind run wild needs so much work but if I let content seep in is just fine already, it’s not hard.

But.

Something, I don’t know what yet, in my mind, inside somewhere, is still simmering. Things are shifting down through tiny holes like the sand in the metal sifter I used in the sandbox long ago as a kid in Oklahoma, those June bugs banging against the back patio light as I played past bedtime.

I’m thinking and reading and trying to be the girl I want to be, all the time. I’m trying to remember every single second how beautiful life is, even when it’s not.

Even when it is. Which it is, for us, just about all the time. We are lucky. In love. In life. In blessings and otherwise. Lucky.

Apple trees, an old barn and a home of our own

Outside the office window, I can see our entire backyard.

The old ambulance barn stands tall and strong, on guard, ready to house chickens in the small space on the south side and an art space/recording studio/guesthouse/whatever else we dream up in the main area whose white-washed doors make me feel hope.

The antlers near the barn’s top will stay because apparently if you’re a man, they make you feel like a man.

I’ve stopped looking at pictures of barns on pinterest.com because all the ones I love involve painting the barn red and hanging twinkly lights and having patio furniture and oak dining tables and dinner parties and fancy things that I’ve been told don’t belong in this sort of rustic structure, this barn that literally used to house our town’s ambulance back when the hospital was across the street (the old hospital was long ago turned into an apartment building that right now has Halloween decorations – and an American flag – flanking its entrance), this barn that high school kids each year visit for a backdrop to their senior pictures.

So OK, the barn is the rock star’s. And I’m OK with that.

Across from the barn a ways are the apple trees. I can see these from my office window, too, and they fill me with such a strong spirit of fall, of home, of everything good that I love them already. On our first visit to the house, to see if we might like it enough to make it our home, the kids – as if drawn like magic – found the apple trees on their own. They picked the yellow-green fruit and they came in to show us their find, sweet nectar dripping down the little girl’s chin, her pockets full of more juicy orbs.

I’ve already promised the kids baked apples. The only thing better would be if Grandma were here to make them, like she did for me as a little girl. Eating that sweet dessert in our Wisconsin living room is one of my favorite memories.

Outside my window, I can see the spot where my husband will build a fire pit and a pathway leading up to it. I can see where he wants to build us a garden, where he wants to grow food for our sustenance, where we might add on to the house in the next year or two, where we plan to put a swing set, maybe even a trampoline (shh…). I can see kids walk past the alley behind our house in the center of this small town. I can see the someday fence the rock star wants to build for privacy. I can see our kids playing. I can see a someday dog (well, maybe).

I see my family, in a home of our own.

Inside, we have lots of plans. Ripping up carpet and refinishing hardwood floors. Laying slate in the kitchen. New countertops, a new sink, more functional cabinets, new hardware in the bathroom. Paint. Lots of paint.

But we are here. We are happy.

Is this a forever home? the kids have asked. Maybe, my husband and I say. We hope so, we answer. We’ll at least be here a long time, we figure.

And that’s something, isn’t it? To find a home – a house and a community – where you can really, truly envision living for a long time.

I’m thankful.