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.

 

Rubber Bands Everywhere

Or the art of seeing what you need when it is right in front of you.

Current daily mantra: exercise something, write something, clean something

February 27, 2015

It’s been a very up and down week/month/year. I went for a run today, reminding me for the hundred thousandth time that running resets my brain into something suitable for human interaction (how can a brain that can successfully complete 24 years of school forget, over and over, that running is my greatest mood stabilizer?). I saw a hair twisty on the ground and was suddenly back in Chapel Hill, a little slice of heaven where I lived during my graduate school days. Come to think of it, life was very up and down there too, and not just because of the hills (it is named Chapel Hill for a reason).

In Chapel Hill I was out running one day and my brain was running even faster, doing its agitated squirrel race from one thing to the next, despairing of even one solution to the many problems I tend to dream up on a daily basis. At the time my hair was Rapunzel length down my back and I had it tied back in a pony tail. It started to rain, which experience had shown me would snarl my long thin hair into a mess (not the magnitude of a just-lied-to-congress mess, but definitely in the realm of a just-cut-it-off-rather-than-try-to-comb-it-out mess). I actually like running in the rain and if it was raining before I started I would braid the pony tail so it wouldn’t get tangled. However I was about three miles into the run when it started to rain and I cursed myself for not having a second rubber band to tie off the braid. Then I cursed myself for being such a sissy (I mean really, snarled hair has never topped the list of world problems –you don’t see Bono lobbying foreign governments to stamp out snarled hair).

I pounded along the trail for about 10 yards before I realized I had just seen a rubber band on the ground behind me. Because I was so focused on having only brought one rubber band and because I didn’t believe I would be able to make a braid while out running I didn’t even look for a rubber band. My eyes took in the rubber band but my Bear-of-Little-Brain self didn’t make sense of it because it didn’t believe I could find the answer to my problem out on the trail. I turned around and ran back and got the rubber band and braided my hair and eventually ended up at home with untangled hair. My professors at the time could have told me this was an example of selective attention. Oh wait, in fact they did. Sometimes I’m a little slow in the application.

The whole rest of the run I wondered how many times I had stepped right over the answer to a problem. How many times has my narrow vision for life prevented me from an obvious solution? It reminds me of the saying (or is it a song?) ‘standing knee deep in water and dying of thirst.’ Sometimes the thing you need is right there.

After that I started picking up the rubber bands I found lying around in the world and within months had filled two honking big nails I pounded into the wall in my closet. I stopped collecting but the clutch of rubber bands stood as a reminder to broaden my vision.

And then I moved to California, married a great guy, had children and I swear each of them came out clutching one of my cerebral lobes, turning my steel trap of a brain into sleep deprived, hormonal oatmeal. On a quick grocery store run for even more diapers (size 5 and size 2, how’s that for failing to space out the procreating) I stepped out of the car covered in spit up and amped on stress and landed in, I swear, a scattered clump of brand new rubber bands. Like, about a hundred of them. As if someone had just bought a bag and it tore open and spilled and the person didn’t even notice.

Sometimes God has to use a whole bag of rubber bands to get your attention. And there it was, the reminder that the answers might well be right under my feet. It’s not like life immediately became the soft focus fairy tale of motherhood we see in the movies but I did have a moment of remembering that I was probably standing in the water I was so thirsty for.

And I looked around and noticed I had friends and play group moms and neighbors who care about me and while life still goes up and down, it feels like there are a lot of soft places to fall. And a lot of hands helping me back up. Turns out I have a village.

But it also turns out that when it comes to life skills I have a memory like Dory in Finding Nemo (remember, those kids, now 12 and 11 years old, kept chunks of my brain as souvenirs of our first journey together). So I’m starting this blog as a way to remind myself of the stuff I know, or once knew, or knew someone who knew. A sort of guide wire out of the cave. Feel free to join me. You can start by picking up some of those rubber bands you find lying around in the world. I swear, they are everywhere.