Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Memorial Day means a three day weekend. Normally I would dread three days with the kids- partly because I am still learning how to sustain single-parenting energy for that long. I'm usually exhausted and beating myself up at the end of the weekend for not entertaining the kids enough.

But, there's been a slight shift, even though you wouldn't know it if you walked by the house Saturday. Jack was working on his photo board since he's "special person of the week" this coming week at school (each student gets the spotlight for a week). After a particularly challenging Saturday morning, when I was trying to just accept that fact that we are a family that yells at one another from time to time (and by time to time, I mean every other day and double on Saturdays), I tried to distract us by talking about what makes the week "special." Part of the special person gig is to answer some questions. Among them is "what do you like to do as a family?" When Jack told me about that question, the refrain in my head was an automatic, "crap, we don't do anything fun." I asked Jack what he was going to write, hoping he had a better answer. His initial response was "hang out with friends." True enough. I have heavily relied- probably too much-- on our family and friends to carry the entertainment load. Ed was the fun one, he was the one that would make light of things if they got too serious or make a party out of an ordinary day. Me? I make sure the kitchen is clean and the beds are made and, then--*maybe*-- turn on the music for an impromptu dance party.

Jack looked at me and said, "I could write that we yell and fight." Yes, we do. But, we have a wicked sense of humor about it.

I'm reading Jeanette Walls' Half Broke Horses.  I finished Cheryl Stayed's Wild a few weeks ago and mentioned to Sarah that I was inhaling the story of rugged survival. She brought me Half Broke Horses, a  hard core Laura Ingalls Wilder "true-life novel" about Walls' amazing no-bullshit, resourceful, remarkable teacher-rancher-pilot grandmother, Lily (the narrator). Lily spends one page dealing with the death of a family member. The last paragraph reads:

I realized that in the months since [my sister] had died, I hadn't been paying much attention to things like the sunrise, but that the old sun had been coming up anyway. It didn't really care how I felt, it was going to rise and set regardless of whether I noticed it, and if I was going to enjoy it, that was up to me.

Marrying Ed - who was naturally a fun loving, energetic, humorous person- made me lazy- in terms of holding my own court of enjoyment. So, obviously, without him, I not only don't know how to make things fun, I've also been slightly terrified of trying. Anything I knew that would be fun would also mean facing an attempt of fun without the very person who helped to create the fun memories (bleh).YET- also, obviously, I am not about to give into some not-entirely-accurate identity of the "unfun" parent.

This weekend, instead of expecting exhaustion or worrying about whether or not we could have fun, I took the kids on two outings. Two. Without anyone else. Today, we went to the Seattle Mariner's game, our first as just a family of three. (They won 9-0.) And, Jack danced just like Ed, Uncle Steve and Aunt Lisa (and, I like to think, our living room dance parties) taught him- without abandon or self-consciousness in the hopes of getting on diamond vision. Reese danced like she would have no matter what: also without abandon. As I was sitting there, enjoying baseball like I always have (there are miracles), I thought of Lily's quote. It is up to us. And, we're doing it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

So far, so good.

Earlier this week, Jack and I were sitting on the couch reading a book about 9/11 for one of his book reports. He’s been obsessed with September 11 - it’s an eerie reminder of Ed, who would spend hours reading about the attacks. Sarah (my nanny/landscaper extraordinaire) said Jack mentioned to her that he watched the 10 year anniversary with me and his dad. I had forgotten. That was September 2011, a few weeks before Ed died. So, I guess this new interest makes sense.

One of the people in the book is a firefighter with tattoos. Last year I liked the idea of getting a four leaf clover tattoo with our names woven in-- to represent each person in our family. Ed was Irish, so it seemed fitting. Jack asked me if I was still planning on getting the tattoo. I don’t want that four leaf clover anymore. These days, I want a three leaf clover- for the three of us. When I told Jack, he seemed stung by this; he said “what about Daddy?” I said it would be too hard for me to see a reminder of our family of four. We are a family of three now. Besides, 2013 has reinforced -- after burglary, surgery and a car accident (no major injuries other than the car) -- that living in the moment is my best option. I won’t look back and have no idea what will happen next. So, here we are. 

I am steadily rising to the reality that We. Are. It. The three of us. There’s no Ed, there’s no husband, no partner. There’s no dad. Before now, I could see that it was just us, but I saw it from afar, like watching the news or a movie- it was me looking in. Now, I stand in my backyard and look at this house that I pay the mortgage on. I realize that I’m making a life for us, that I am creating a *home* and making all the decisions for my children and their well-being. All on my own.

The thing is: I got this. I recognize the woman in the middle of the picture Jack drew last fall that’s still on the fridge. She used to overwhelm me a bit- how could I live up to that expectation- bearing the weight of responsibility of being the only parent? How could Jack see me like this -- in the middle, keeping him and his sister near me, SMILING-- when I was flailing and failing all the time? I keep the picture on the fridge to remind me of what we could be, what we are going to be and what I hope we already are: a connected family of three.

I told Jack he could get a four leaf clover tattoo when he was older. His response was a classic “I don’t break the rules” response of the eldest. He said he wasn’t going to get a tattoo and was shocked at my suggestion. I told him he could get a tattoo of the fighting Irish guy. Jack paused and said, “Good idea” and hit me with a chill high five.

When I was going through Jack’s papers from school, I found a printout of a list of prayers to practice. At the top of the paper was a line to fill in:  “Today I pray for” _____________. He wrote in “my mom.”  I asked him why he was praying for me and he said it was to give me good luck. I thought of one of Ed’s favorite movies, Rounders - how Matt Damon’s character, when told good luck before heading to Vegas, narrated “People insist on calling it luck." The movie explores the idea of being true to your calling and the risks/potential rewards in reaching for dreams that seem absolutely unreachable. From the outside, it may seem like luck, but anyone who has pursued their goals knows the unavoidable reality of grinding it out, digging down and doing the work.  

I know Jack just wants me to feel good. He hasn’t had the burden/privilege of realizing that luck is often more in our control than we realize: in how we decide to adapt and react to life, in how we choose to steer life. I don’t have to look very hard to see just how lucky we are. I've had a lot of practice in looking for the good around us and helping my children see it, too. For awhile, it was some of the hardest work we've done. I am eternally grateful that not only do I see the good more often than not, I also feel it, wholeheartedly, in my bones. And, when I don’t sense it, when the moments or days are overwhelming, or when I’m anticipating the layer of emotional smog that will no doubt bring in Mother’s day, I have enough evidence to know that we’ll sense the goodness soon enough. Luck and good are all around: as common and abundant as a field of clover.