Marriage Savers and Magic Mike XXL

How do you thank someone who just gave you the gift of your own child? As in, all six years of elementary school? My friend Susan texted me the other day to say that she had just dropped off a ‘wee gift’ in my mailbox. When I opened it up I found a CD with pictures of my son and all his school buddies from Kindergarten through their just completed fifth grade. Set to music. I watched it three times in a row, reliving so many moments from his elementary school experience, things I had forgotten, things that made me laugh and then cry. The missing front teeth, the longish hair then the shortish hair. The matching Paul Frank t-shirts with a buddy. The Halloween costumes, the field trips, the goofy poses only eight year old boys can do, the half shy, half confident brink-of-maturity smiles of eleven year olds.  All that time, from Kindergarten on, Susan had been taking beautiful pictures, and keeping them in some sort of order, and then she put them all together, set to music, everyone represented, and gave us all the gift of our own children. She would probably say she was just doing something that interested her. She would be modest about her skill and her passion and most likely doesn’t realize the value of the gift she has given me.

Part of why I don’t take a lot of pictures (aside from being cataclysmically bad at it) is that I like to enjoy the moment that is happening. That’s hard to do when your face is behind a camera, when you are focusing on the focus, the centering, the zoom in or zoom out issue. Susan made that sacrifice and we all are benefiting from it. She didn’t get to live in a lot of moments so that we could have them preserved forever and I don’t know how to thank her enough.

Because what she did is part of what saves my marriage. I don’t take good pictures and with someone like Susan around, I don’t have to expect my husband to take good pictures. With people like Susan (and there are more, lots more in this community) I don’t have to expect him to do all the stuff that I can’t do (the old ‘you complete me’ bullshit, can we all just agree to stop expecting our romantic partner to complete us? My work here on earth would be done if I could convince people of just that one thing). All the people in my community who do the stuff my husband doesn’t do (and sometimes I don’t do), they are the glue that keeps us together. Not just as a couple, but also as a family, and as part of this community. My book club fulfills my deep need to talk about a book I just read (making it fine that my husband isn’t much of a fiction reader). My group of boy-mom friends gives me the chance to laugh about the intensity of odor emitting from boy feet. My group of girl-mom friends helps me figure out what age girls are starting to shave their legs these days.

I’m grateful to the dads and moms who give up so much time to coach my kids, because neither my husband nor I are up to the task (he has the skills but no time, I have the time but no skills).   I’m grateful for the parents who prep the fields before every baseball game. The moms who remember to collect money for coach’s gifts. The mom who set up a google docs spreadsheet for soccer carpool (I would have no idea how to set that up. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to just open it).

Thank you to everyone who has given what you have to give, it has kept my life full and satisfying, it has kept my marriage happy. You have allowed me to appreciate what my husband brings to the party without focusing on what he doesn’t. I can enjoy his humor and his affection and admire his unmatched work ethic (really, I do admire it, except when I’m tired. I feel all too mortal next to him, He Who Never Tires). I can appreciate his brilliant baseball mind, his amazing understanding of people, his kindness. I can enjoy watching him throw a baseball with my son and a football with my daughter without getting all bent out of shape that he didn’t drive carpool or read that parenting book or take me to see Magic Mike XXL (that would really be asking too much, wouldn’t it? Definitely a job for a girlfriend).

Some of us probably don’t feel like we are giving a lot to the world, at least not in a Sheryl Sandberg or Oprah kind of way. But maybe what we are giving comes so easily it doesn’t seem like a gift. Maybe just pursuing something that is interesting to you is enough. As Howard Thurman (theologian) said, “Don’t just ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and then go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Susan, my deepest thanks for doing something that makes you come alive. It was just what I needed.

 

Cat’s in the Cradle in the Cherry Trees

 

 

cherry blossomsI am the worst photographer in the history of time (and also modest and not at all prone to hyperbole) so the credit for this picture of cherry blossoms is shared by Mother Nature and my Android phone (with a small nod to my kids for teaching me how to use the phone).

 

I took this picture of blossoming cherry trees on February 26 in northern California along the walking/running/biking trail near my house. I often see people tromping along this trail, faces tense, arms in motion, grimly determined to get that workout in. With their heads down, slogging along with not even a glance at the spectacular show Mother Nature is putting on.  No judgment here, I’ve been that person, putting my time in on the trail just to check it off my To Do list, but I’m on the hunt for joy these days (and free joy is my favorite kind) so I’m trying to slow it all down a bit (you know, in between my jobs as chauffeur, cook, laundress, coach, nurse, butterer of pancakes, and did I mention chauffeur? Basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, these things all have practices and guess how kids get to practices?)

We have lived in our house for, yikes, fifteen years now and one year, in a flurry of child rearing and work, I missed the blooming of the cherry trees. Oh, I knew it was happening, I saw them as a blur in my windshield as I marched along the ant trails I follow day in and day out. I kept meaning to go for a walk and see them up close. But by the time I actually got out to the trail to see this particular trio of pretty ladies all that remained was a sprinkling of faded petals littering the grass below. In my rush to Get Things Done I had missed one of my favorite parts of spring and now I would have to wait an entire year for the chance to see it again. An entire year.

I am in a busy phase of life (maybe they are all busy) and most of us have a To Do list that is longer than the day. So it is all about choices, which task to do (brush teeth), which activity to skip (we missed the Science fair this year), do I fit in a quick trip to the grocery store or play a game of Horse as my daughter is begging me to and just have breakfast for dinner again? I would like to sometimes choose joy, or fun, or a moment with one of my children over being an efficient family manager. The cherry blossoms have become my version of Cat’s in the Cradle (the Harry Chapin song of a father who keeps putting off spending time with his son, and his son who grows up just like him). For me, the lesson of the cherry blossoms is that life doesn’t have a pause button, it moves on with or without you, and far faster than you expect.

So I made time to walk the dog past the blooming cherry trees (still feeling a bit of the ‘hurry-up-and-slow-down’ but I was out there) and then, too quickly, the blooms were gone.  This left me a bit sad, it would be so long until they bloomed again. And then I opened an email from my sister who lives in New Jersey, sending me a picture of her backyard on the first day of spring (March 20).

 

 NJ first day spring

Talk about Fifty Shades of Gray, and not the fun ones.

 

First. Day. Of. Spring.

It kind of put it all in perspective. So what, my cherry blossoms are gone. At least I’m not on my 25th day of school closings. And look what is blooming in my backyard now?

 lilacLilac!

So, yes, I want to live in the moment, enjoy the blossoms or the story my daughter is telling me or the sunset my son ran inside to get me to watch. But I also want to let go and move on to the next moment, the next set of blooms. I want to trust that more good moments are on their way and not cling to the ones that have passed. As George Santayana said, “To be interested in the changing seasons is . . . a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.’’

(And for those of you living in New Jersey, here’s hoping the changing of the seasons comes, like, yesterday.)