Never once did I imagine I would be standing naked on my back porch, showering with the hose, sheilded from public view by a couple of pallets and a shower curtain while three dogs, several ducks, two turkeys, four goats and thirty odd chickens catcalled me. We are definitely stranger birds. I feel for our neighbors, I really do.
I work in a hospital and have an immunocompromised loved one at home so I’m not allowed in the house after work until I’ve put myself through the decontamination chamber. I’m dying to crawl in bed but that comes after I pass the white glove test.
This is not to be confused with the rubber glove test which is an entirely different thing and reserved for sexy time. Obviously I’m kidding. The rubber glove test is fun any time, not just sexy time. Again, I’m kidding. I’m not about to blog about sexy time no matter how great a good rubber glove joke fits in there. My kids read this stuff.
I guess I lead a stranger life these days, along with the rest of you. Oh sure, you may not be naked in your yard, and you may not have livestock watching your progress intently, but you have your own freak show going on and we both know it. One day I’d like details.
We have become increasingly mindful over the past months of conserving our resources, repurposing materials to build what we need, and growing our own food. Ok you got me. Maybe 5% of our own food, but that’s 5% more than we did before the word blew apart so I’m putting this in the win column.
I have put up bird houses all around my yard that have a steady tenancy I adore. I can’t have too many bird houses, that just not a thing to me, and so bits and parts of old projects have yielded some rather odd looking structures for our feathered friends. I love them almost more because their haphazard, pieced together oddness seems akin to life itself. A combination of accidental and deliberate. Unexpected happenings and moments where your heart dips and takes flight. Strange birds indeed.
I remember quite clearly the day my mother laughed recalling passing a mirror in the house while she was cleaning. Without really thinking about it she glanced up when her reflected movement caught her eye.
Her immediate thought was “who is that woman staring at me?” and then realized almost instantly that the stranger staring back at her wasn’t some older woman peering in at her through the window, but herself in the glass.
My mother didn’t recognize herself in that instant because she had been swept up in what she was doing, singing or humming, zipping along, only as old as she felt.
If you have ever had the immense pleasure of meeting my mother, you will know that she is always a vibrant, lively, and engaging companion. I have more pictures of my mom grinning wildly, up in trees along with my children than I can shake a stick at. My father’s heart has been caught in his throat more times over her scaling trees and ladders, when a more sensible person might have hired a handyman to do the job.
She is so young at heart, so unsinkable in spirit that she is the perennial tween, always caught up in the passion of the moment before sense and age weigh in to meter her level of physical investment. I adore her. I hope I am half the woman she is.
When she looked at the older face of the woman in the mirror, etched with laugh lines and worry lines from living so well, she was surprised to see that her outward appearance seemed at odds with her inner youth.
After years of never needing to wear glasses myself (although my children would argue my driving suggests I’ve needed them for quite some time) I find myself bespectacled.
I have been constantly amazed at how sharply things are in focus now, that I no longer need to stretch out my arms and squint at books and papers and instructions on medicine bottles!
I found myself enraptured with the details now visible to my eyes, thinking “How did I put this fabulously improved vision off for so long? How have I been getting around? How have I not poisoned my family yet?”
Then it happened. I passed a mirror the other day while cleaning in my house and stopped to lean in to fix a wayward strand of hair.
She was staring at me. A stranger. An older version of myself with lines on her forehead, creases around her eyes, and grey hairs. Where did that woman come from? Who let her in? And it hit me. I was the stranger in the glass.
Somehow, in the business of my life, in the energy and music of my days, I had changed outwardly while inwardly still climbing trees.
When had this happened? How did I not notice I was getting older? I decided I wasn’t so sure getting glasses had been a good idea, bringing into focus more than simply books and words. I was sharply in focus too.
Yet, the woman looking back at me had kind eyes that sparkled with humor and more than a little devilment. She looked like trouble, and I like trouble. She’s older than I’d like but I’ve decided she’s someone I want to get to know better. She seems like the kind of friend I want to be. And I bet she’s just the type who’s willing share a jail cell with you just to have a good time. I can tell just by looking at her that we’re going to be good friends.
Today was supposed to be your day. I remember entering this day on our family calendar back in March of 2019 when the school board approved it. I can remember feeling my stomach drop, my throat tighten a bit, and tears well up knowing my baby, my youngest, my sweet, brilliant and only girl would be graduating from high school and moving on.
It seemed surreal to me. Like breathing only air through decades of children at home with me, attending school open houses, field days, rehearsals, concerts, plays, practices, games, rallies, field trips, parent teacher conferences, I would now need to grow gills and learn how to start breathing water. There hadn’t been a year that wasn’t immersed in something school related.
Yet there it was, that date. Your high school graduation date. It was on the calendar. It was real.
You have accomplished so much. You have faced and overcome so much. You havs shined. You do shine.
The world turned upside down. A pandemic blew us all out if the water and sent us home. You had to finish what you began 13 years ago in this very same town in kindergarten, but remotely in zoom classes and online from the kitchen, the living room, your bedroom, anywhere you could find a spot to work along with your brothers suddenly home from college trying to do the very same thing.
You wrote papers and took exams with the sounds of saxophone, euphonium, piano, and drums sounding different songs and rhythms from the basement, the game room, and the dining room. You pieced together the rest of the quilt you made from tshirts that held special memories for you and presented it to your class using your phone.
You picked up your last few things at a table outside of the school wearing your mask, one student only at a time, paid your senior obligations, and came home with a bag. Tucked inside were your cap and gown, your awards, your gold rope and an envelope with your diploma. And you were excited about it. I wanted to cry, and you were already pulling your gown out of its plastic wraper and pulling it over your head. We even dressed up and took pictures to celebrate.
Grit. Thats what they call that. Noted psychologist Angela Duckworth described it as
“passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals”
It is the ability to persist in something you feel passionate about and persevere when you face obstacles. That’s what you did. Its what you do. You rose to each challenge. You learned to make the best of it. You found ways to stay close with your school friends here at home while making new friends in a college you’re preparing to go to. A college you might have to attend from our kitchen and living room and even your bedroom again until its safe to gather together even as our nation roils with anger and injustice and racial inequality.
You’re excited about your future in spite of everything going on in the world. You’re already engaged in the world. You want to help to build a better one, and you aren’t waiting for your future to start. You’re already doing it. I’m more proud of you than you can ever imagine. I love you more than you could possibly know.
Congratulations babybear, this is your day. This is one of many days that will be yours. I’m so glad this world has you in it. We need you.
**I asked to reverse her collar for this picture so the school emblem could be visible, to show gratitude to a town and school that gave my five children the gift of amazing educators for the 20 years that spanned my oldest to my youngest time there. Thank you for guiding, shaping and challenging them to grow their gifts and to use them.
The first grapeleaves are the sweetest, unfurling delicately all along the thick, knarled vine in my garden. I love this time of year. I love watching nature explode into color and texture after so much grey.
Every day something new breaks the surface of the earth, send shoots and tendrils, opening like a smile spreading across a face.
This vine is so special to my heart. The original vine was my grandmothers and grew lush and vast across her back yard. I took clippings from it each time I went to take care of her that last year, hoping to be able to keep some piece of her and of our family’s traditions.
I loved the smells of her kitchen. Always something cooking just like my mom’s kitchen. My mom is a warm, vibrant and passionate woman, forever rushing to welcome and feed people.
I remember feeling increasingly anxious with each failed attempt at transplanting as if I might run out of time before she left us. Her hospital stays increased even as her time home between them decreased.
I stuck bits of vine in water, in soil, in every conceivable combination of location and light and season. Eventually some took root and I carefully planted them and nurtured them like a new mother hovering too much, filled with joy and pride and relief as my baby vines thrived.
I learned to cook at her side and my mothers. I learned to prepare the stuffed grapeleaves as a child, first running to her backyard to pick the number of leaves needed for dinner, carefully selecting the ones large enough to hold the stuffing, and still small enough to be tender and sweet.
Hospitality is sacred in our culture. You can’t refuse food that is offered to you anymore than you can forget to feed any guest who appears at your door. I see the faces of everyone I love in those vines, and the ones I have yet to meet. Those unexpected guests. The ones that send you racing to the garden to pick as many leaves as you’ll need for the feast. Suh’tein❤
My heart broke wide open and became the universe, infinite, thrilling, exquisite and unknown the moment I became a mom.❤
❤Happy mother’s day to all “moms” the world over, the tummy mummies, the foster mummies, the adopted mummies, the step mums, the heavenly mums, and the dads who are “moms” too. Many blessings, much love, and great strength for your journeys.❤
It’s exhausting. Day to day life is exhausting. There are blessings. Countless blessings to be sure.There is so much goodness that comes out of difficult times. Kind strangers, selfless acts of generosity, extended, slowed down time with loved ones, every day heros being cheered nightly on their way home by grateful communities.
This doesn’t erase the battle fatigue, the anxious moments, the bills, the suspended lives, the tensions that rise. These things are all too real and its ok to acknowledge this unwelcomed uninvited guest’s presence in our lives. Its ok to flip it the bird and tell that mothuhfuckah EXACTLY what you think of it.
Benjamin Franklin famously said that guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.
Well its been 56 days for our house. The kids came home for spring break and never got the chance to go back. By that next weekend, we had emptied dorms in a matter of hours and handed in keys for the semester. We resembled a refugee camp for a couple weeks before organizing the chaos into smaller clumps of chaos and storing the rest in the basement with the other chaos.
Classes moved online a week later, I started emergency FMLA, zoom meetings filtered in from every available work space. We broke down the dining room and set up an extra bedroom for our expanded family. We eat at a camp table each evening in our living room that gets folded up and slipped behind the recliner along with the folding chairs. We laugh, play games, and yes, take lots of walks.
When all of this started, and I mean really hit the fan we decided as a family that we would strictly limit our exposure to public places, and to just the parents once every two weeks. No one is taking any chances here. We have a family member we love too much to risk their suppressed immune system to this insidious virus.
Apart from daily walks for exercise, and hanging out in our yard, the hubs and I take this one long, tiring day every 2 weeks and make bandit runs to all the stores to gather everything we’ll need. If we forget something once we’re back at home, we make do, get creative, or go without until the next officially sanctioned bandit run.
Don’t get your hopes up, by the way. That’s a FIRM 2 week rule here. Ive tried to beg and plead but each time have met with stern refusal. No quickies to grab cream for your coffee or more “good” snacks. You’ll drink your damn coffee black and have another apple and you’ll like it like you liked staying in for recess because “some people aren’t following the rules so now everyone has to stay inside”.
In other words, you’ll choke down the dark, bitter but caffeine laced drink and plot revenge on Billy and Janey for talking during reading time. Oh you’ll have your day in the sun, but baby, it ain’t any time soon.
Today is our bandit run. Shopping for 6 adults for two weeks worth of food and supplies is exhausting. It requires thought, and planning and lots of lists. Our youngest and I stayed up in my bed together until 2am, planing out 2 weeks worth of dinners, and creating the shopping list from the menu.
We drank stout cups of coffee black enough to sprout hairs on my chest, stashed antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer in a small backpack, along with water bottles and asprin and headed for the car.
We started at 10am and finished at 4pm, hitting four different stores and stopping home twice to offload before stripping down, showering and donning clean clothes. Thank God for the four strong young adults who met us in the driveway each time to act as sherpas.
I was so tired my lips were numb and my legs were trash. I felt like I was dragging cinder blocks on my feet. Hubby lay stretched out on the floor, foam rolling his back and I think possibly drooling.
But now I’m in flip-flops, sitting on a swing with my dogs, staring at my chickens and turkeys and ducks and goats. One in particular (Cookie, the littlest) happens to have become the resident escape artist, leaping over the fence to graze on oak leaves despite an ample supply of hay and feed. When I turn around, there he is, munching an oak leaf right next to me and looking like the picture of innocence. I’ll catch him in a bit but for now its sunny and breezy and perfect and I think I’ll stay right where I am.
I know this won’t last forever. I know eventually we will all be back to the rush and press of high speed life. I also know I’m grateful for the unexpected gift that slowing down and staying home together has given us. Slowing down is really quite wonderful. There is time. Time to watch the sun set, the kids bump a volleyball around after dinner, and one naughty goat leap gloriously through the air and over the fence for the millionth time today.
Every morning when my brain begins to realize I’m awake and that yet another day of quarantine is beginning with its seemingly endless hours to fill, I try to think of how I will stretch simple tasks to bridge the gaps. How I will find ways to feel calm, to experience some small meaningful moments when all of time has begun to feel like one super long uninterrupted and lackluster moment. To keep anxiety, depression, and fear at bay.
My mother often cautioned me to be careful not to ask for patience, because life does not GIFT you patience. Life gifts you opportunities to LEARN patience and to PRACTICE patience. And who wants to learn and practice THAT??
This also goes for self control, strength, inner peace, you name it. Everything requires us to actually and actively invest in its pursuit. Not super high on my wish list if you get me. I’d much rather actively pursue foolishness and other such delights.
Be that as it may I’ve clearly asked for patience and inner peace an awful lot in life without meaning to, and been gifted a crap ton of opportunities to try to learn them.
Try being the operative word here. Try. This latest and rather massively global moment has rather uniquely bound us all together in common pursuit. I am trying. You are trying. We are each of us trying and sometimes succeeding and sometimes stumbling.
Like life itself, this experience is both terrible and beautiful. I feel alternately lonely and worried, and then comforted and elevated by the sights and the sounds and even the mess of my family all crowded together.
Tonight for dinner I planned fettuccine, marinara and meatballs. Usually a quick crowd pleaser. Throw it together, let it cook while I tackle other things. But there were no other things to do, and the kids online classes would be going on for a while.
I stood in my kitchen feeling like I was walking under water. No where to go, to be, not much to do. I decided to lean into the feeling. Instead of sinking, I decided to use the preparation of dinner as one long mindfulness practice.
Yes. Practice. It’s the best I can do since I’m no where near pro status. I slowly and deliberately selected spices, only one at a time. I walked back and forth grabbing one, using it, and returning it before selecting another.
I slowed the twisting of the can opener breathing in and out with each rotation. I cut the onion so damn slow my eyes were faucets and my nose ran like it was at a track meet.
I started rolling the meatballs. Usually the more rushed I am, the more gigantic my meatballs become as I hurry to throw them in and be done with it. Halfway through the very large tray, I decided to roll the tiniest meatballs possible, like marbles, to top a pizza I had going on the side.
If you’ve ever rolled marble sized meatballs you’ll know it’s a maddeningly slow and tedious process. Except for tonight. Tonight I just leaned all the way into the tedium, let forming each tiny ball be the end in itself. I breathed slowly and deeply. I watched my hands as I rolled each ridiculously small morsel. I tried to keep my mind empty. God knows my mind could use the rest. I stretched it to an hour until I had a whole pile of mindfully miniature meatballs.
A few things came of this exercise. The first obviously was a delicious dinner shared with my family. The second was the surprising level of zen I enjoyed throughout despite my prickly and initially reluctant start. The third, and for me, where I am right now inside this journey, for me the most important part was that I had managed to bridge what felt like an insurmountable chasm of time and come through it feeling ok. Really really ok.
And nice and full of mindfully miniature meatballs.
It’s pretty late and I’ve been lying here trying to slow my thoughts, to focus on my breaths, to let myself feel the warm comfort of the dogs tucked around my legs and under one arm. It’s been hard to sleep at night for a while now. This “new normal” feels so uneasy in my bones. All things pass in time, but the passing of the time itself is challenging.
I am reflecting on the beautiful moments from this latest day in what has felt ike a string of endless anxious sameness.
It was supposed to rain but instead the sun slipped in and out of clouds while I walked around the lake with the dogs. It was a welcome and unexpected release of tension.
The goats and chickens and dogs ran all over the yard, getting into everything, eating everything. For some reason the chaos was comforting. Maybe because this kind of chaos feels safe and happy and acceptable while the chaos everywhere else feels like just…chaos.
It was Liam’s birthday. My oldest (one of two living away in apartments who I’ve been aching and missing) surprised his brother and all of us with an unexpected outside short visit. He wanted to drop a present off for his brother and in doing that gave me the best gift of all. Even if we had to stay 6 feet apart and wear masks. I got to be NEAR him.
We converted our dining room into another bedroom to accommodate our swelled household. Each evening we set up a camp table in the living room, put on a pretty tablecloth, crowd chairs around it and share a meal together with all of us. Nothing matches, the ceiling tiles are unfinished, we are seated a foot away from the couch and yet somehow it’s all beautiful.
It’s even later now than when I began this reflection. I know its past time to close my eyes and rest and honestly I am trying. These sweet moments are the things I am working to keep in my mind as I listen to the sleep sounds around me and push against the worry in my heart.