Tuesday, July 25, 2017

waiting room

The worst part about waiting rooms is that you have to wait.

*****

"I think I might need help," I said, which is something I force myself to say every few years.
-Anne Lamott

*****

So.

Let me tell you about yesterday.

Yesterday wouldn't have carried the weight it did if the last few weeks months hadn't carried the weight they have. It's been so much. So heavy. I remarked to Lumberjack two nights ago: "It's really been this year. Don't you think? Just sort of - one thing after the next?"

Different weights of different measure and different tension. Some things, public commitment, that take physical labor and a lot of mental give and interaction with dozens of people. Some things in private crisis, taking emotional and mental toll and wearing down on one's spirit. Questions with unknown answers hanging in the balance.

*****

One evening this week, we stood in a K-Mart, which is something I think I haven't done in about thirty years, and it had a rather post-apocalyptic feel to it. "Let's just...walk around in here for a bit," he said, grabbing my hand and planting a kiss on me over by the men's socks. "This is really too weird." Mattresses piled next to washing machines stacked next to DVDs next to closet hangers next to garden gnomes next to rows and rows of empty shelves and signs insisting that their online inventory was even more impressive. Yes. I bet.

For a few minutes, I carried around a garden gnome as if This Is The Thing That Matters Most. Eventually, I replaced it on a shelf with yoga mats and camping chairs. I looked at Lumberjack and he nodded approval. "It fits here as much as anywhere." After we managed to collect $19 worth of things we didn't need except to commemorate our stroll through the leftover remains of the 1980s, we stood waiting to pay. I desperately wanted to get a bag of Pawmegranite Salmon All-Natural Dog Chews, but Lumberjack reminded me we don't have a dog. Petty detail. The cashier asked us if we were part of the rewards program. The tired sign hanging from the register informed us the rewards program will be discontinued in nine days. I decided to pass on signing up.

That jaunt through the abandoned K-Mart is rather how I feel about the last - I don't know. Few weeks. Apparently most of this year. Disjointed. Dream-like. Nothing matches. Broken pieces. Rows and rows of emptiness.

*****

I have three bright red streaks on my left knee. Several days ago I was slipping some salmon into an iron skillet to sear, and the olive oil popped angrily and hissed its way down my left leg and three fingers on my right hand. I'm a Southerner. I'm no amateur when it comes to using hot oil. Still, the shock of the burn left me gasping and turning away in silent sobs, even as another splatter caused the burner beneath the skillet to momentarily flame up. Lumberjack removed the iron skillet, let the flame die off, and quietly asked me if I was okay. I shook my head. Sometimes you cry about more than the pain just in front of you. I slept that night with my hand coated in lavender oil and wrapped in an ice pack. I woke up several hours later, the ice pack now room temperature. At some point in the night the pain had left off.

*****
Sunday morning I asked my parents if our girls could spend the next day at their house. "I need time," I blurted out. "Not just a couple hours. Like...a day. An entire day. Is that okay?"

My mom was all too happy to oblige. She knows that getting me to accept help with the kids is like pulling teeth. She knows why. There are a lot of other grandkids vying for her attention; they still have three teens of their own at home; they're still on the road a million weeks a year; blah blah blah. She pounced on the chance.

And because they're the best kind of people, they also pounced on the chance when, after texting them a few minutes after 8 in the morning to let them know we were loading up and on the way, I called and said: "Well. The van won't start. Could you come get them?"

"OF COUUURRRRRRSSSE!!!!" they hollered over the speaker phone.

*****

Every time a phone call to my grandparents surfaces in my childhood memories, they answered on speaker phone. The two of them sat in their easy chairs at different points in their living room, and every phone call was a fuzzy blend of two overlapping, happy, geriatric voices plunging themselves into the joys of technology. My parents have become those people, except for the part about being geriatric. If you call them in the morning, chances are they'll both pick up and talk over each other. It's really too cute.

*****

God bless my dad. He stood in the driveway a bit later after moving car seats and said, "So, where are they at in meals? Have they had breakfast yet?"

Shoo. They're practically ready for lunch.

I didn't say that.
"They've been up since before seven. They've had breakfast. They're probably ready to eat again."

I sprawled into the silence after they pulled away. Well, I say the silence. I already had the dishwasher and washing machine going, pulsing sounds of productivity. It was going to be a good day.

*****

I wore mint rosebud earrings yesterday that matched the mint green shorts I pulled on. A plain grey t-shirt completed it. My hair was pulled into a messy bun, a messy bun I perfected years before it became recentlyish popular. I wish I could draw royalties. And I wore contacts. I haven't worn contact lenses in weeks, opting for my frames instead. My reasoning has been preciously varied:

Seasonal allergies make my eyes itch and contacts are no good with itchy eyes.

Children who don't sleep make me tired and contacts are no good with tired eyes.

Sometimes life is sad and I don't like crying when I'm wearing contacts.

Also, my general rule of thumb is: personal tears are only allowed before the application of mascara and eyeliner. My second general rule of thumb is therefore, apply eye makeup early in the morning.

After makeup, I allow myself no tears (exceptions: scalding myself with a drenching of hot oil). It is an art form, this version of control, of pinning my weakness to the floor with my heel. It's another way I shrink back from asking for help. If I'm wearing makeup, you can't tell I need it.

(Sometimes I just wear my glasses because I WANT TO. So please: next time you see me wearing my frames, do not come running up and ask me if I AM OKAY. I probably am. Or if I HAVE BEEN CRYING. I probably haven't.)

Yesterday I wore my contacts.

*****

To describe yesterday simply would be to say that I was deeply loved, sensitively cared for, and a lot of mental rest happened through physical labor.

I cleaned the house from top to bottom.
Every floor was vacuumed or swept.
I dusted, and should get a trophy for that one.
Every dish in the house is clean.
Every piece of laundry is washed, dried, folded, and in its proper place.

I read and read and read and read and read. Maya Angelou, Anne Lamott, John Steinbeck, Agatha Christie, Addie Zierman, and some report on the life and character of Daniel Boone.

I caught up with Alistair Begg. He and I haven't been on speaking terms lately. I'll be honest: some days I have just been too angry to listen. Sometimes having chipped, rough edges make me want to press in to the good and healing, and sometimes those broken pieces make me want to say: Shove off. Who do you think you are? You think just because you're a Scotsman you can speak to my life? You think you know?
(I am sure those are not exactly the assumptions he is making, but it makes me feel like a rebel to say them, asinine rebel though I be.)

I had chocolate for breakfast and a bowl of cereal for supper.
I had a grapefruit beer with lunch. Lunch that I ate hot and without interruption or sharing bites.

I almost took a nap. But the opportunities of seeing chores completed that stayed completed and not destroyed five seconds later by the handiwork of a two-year-old were so deliciously compelling that I kept my eyes open and rewarded myself with more housework after every 50 pages of whatever I was reading. Do a chore, read 50 pages, do a chore, read 50 pages.

I didn't hear my name said in rapid succession and increasing volume. There were no arguments to break up or hurt feelings to untangle.

There were moments (count them: more than one) wherein Lumberjack and I had the house to ourselves, which in part can make you feel like a reckless newlywed and in part make you feel like someone who can think a whole thought without interruption. Top that high, cocaine. Reality: we had the entire house to have, for the 9261783567th time in our married life, the How Are We Going To Pay For This discussion, with the van being the topic at hand. That is not quite the high of feeling like a newlywed. But, on that note, newlyweds, listen up: there is no such thing as Living On Love. Bills are real. Expenses are real. Do not try to live on love or credit cards. Just prepare yourself to have the How Are We Going To Pay For This discussion more times than you want. Also be prepared to give up things like cable and vacations and newer cars and video games in order to answer that question. If you can be a newlywed, you can be a grownup.

*****

I can't even tell you how perfect this day was. I was gifted long drinks in places I didn't even know I was thirsty. I splashed in a pool of energy and self-care and thought and deliberation and I brought order from chaos, which is nearly my favorite kind of image-bearing, with great thoroughness, again and again until I looked around and saw that it was good and eventually plopped myself down for a rest.

And because the van is still down and out, my parents returned our children after suppertime, which allowed me to channel all my parenting efforts for the day into just bedtime, unfrenzied, and at peace. Cuddles. Stroking their hair. Burrowing my nose into their soft cheeks. Saying, like I do every night, "_______ YOU HAVE BEEN BRUSHING YOUR TEETH FOR FORTY-TWO MINUTES IT IS TIME TO BE DONE." Some things don't change.

*****
Half-Pint was invited to the birthday party of a friend a few days ago. The final gift given was a pair of roller skates. Her little friend desperately wanted to wear them immediately and go careening through their wooden-floored home, to the chagrin of everyone wearing flip flops. Once the wheels were on, personal terror took over for her.

I'M GOING TO FALL!!!! she kept yelling.

Her parents patiently helped her scoot and slide around. They opened up the package of elbow and knee pads and fingerless skating gloves that came paired with the skates. And as this freshly-four-years-old child held out her hands to her daddy, what was a sweet picture at first turned hilarious, and then grew to mounting frustration for them both. Every time he attempted to help her put on the gloves, she would wad up her fist or cram multiple fingers through one hole or ended up with only four fingers on one hand ("Where is your other finger?"  "I don't know."  "You have five fingers, right?"   "I don't know.") and finally her daddy held both of her shoulders firmly but gently and looked deep in her brown eyes and said, "CORA. I am trying to help you. And I know what to do. And you are making it so much harder than it needs to be because you're rushing ahead. Now let's try this again."

His wife, and her mother, and my dear friend who walked in my wedding, leaned over and said, "She's always been like this. Whether putting on socks or changing a diaper or helping her put on clothes or a coat, she'll arch her back or do exactly what we don't need her to do while we're trying to help."

I understand that. I think I'm cut from the same bolt of cloth.

*****

Even perfect days have their dusting of reality.

The van still isn't running. Lumberjack, rather automotively-minded, is nevertheless at a present loss on the repair, after spending several hours on it with no luck. He expects a visit from an angel tonight informing him of the solution. There may be lights and brilliance and music and a disco ball involved in said angel's arrival. It's unclear. I would settle for finding a wad of cash to just replace the van altogether. His solution methods and mine vary wildly. We make a good pair.

*****

This morning there was dry cereal ground into the living room carpet where the vacuum streaks from yesterday were still visible. Dishes have been dirtied and laundry has been accumulated and milk spilled all over the kitchen floor. There have been hurt feelings to untangle and sippy cups to fill and my children's grubby, hilarious nonsense to tickle, cuddle, and make Second Breakfast for. There's no resentment over the mess that's being made, no frustration over my careful work yesterday being systematically undone. It simply is what it is. Yesterday had its place and today does as well. Order can still be brought from chaos.

I look out the window at the van in its rebellious fit of not running and how we wait for a solution, deliberating our limited options. I think over the other areas in my life that we're carefully holding broken pieces and broken hearts and carefully waiting for wisdom and solutions to fall into place. I think about the impulsiveness to rush forward and shove a hand through a glove and how that's never a solution.

Waiting. For answers. For provision. For decisions.

*****

God when you choose to leave mountains unmoveable
please give me the strength to be able to sing

it is well with my soul



*****


The incredible thing about pain is its purpose, and none of us like to hear that in the moment of being scalded. I've pushed four babies out of my body, three without so much as a Tylenol, and while this is not a soapbox for natural childbirth, I can say this: the pain of contractions and transition and feeling a human stretch and break you as they pass through has immense value. It must be felt. Pain sends messages. It is communicative and deeply valuable. When pain is unilaterally numbed off, it loses its communicative value, and you lose your ability to respond in the way your body is designed to respond.  Pain management also has its place, of course. My only point is that when we go to great lengths to avoid pain at all costs, we lose a great piece of what makes us human.

And pain has its payoff. Does he bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery? Labor and delivery is not a sprint; it is more like a marathon.

And that is life: sometimes a marathon, sometimes a waiting room.

Waiting, working, sweating, crying, cussing, focusing through the pain, knowing that this work, this labor, is producing something good, and you are not working or waiting in vain.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

shopping carts, the farmer's market, and mutiny

Yesterday I experienced something horrifying and hilarious and a touch traumatic.  I use a nasal rinse thing, kind of like the Neti-Pot, because it is the only way to stay alive with allergies. I admit there was a steep learning curve when I first got the thing, because it's counter-intuitive to everything you've ever memorized or been taught about How Not to Drown. There is a distinct inner revolt from intentionally putting fluid up your nose. However, I am an overcomer, and breathing is important, so I soldiered on.

So that is the back story. Yesterday, I was doing a rinse and noticed, to my dismay, significant congestion in my sinuses because there wasn't an equal amount of rinse draining out the other side. For those contemplating a sinus rinse, just stop reading now, because what is yet to come will either gross you out or give you nightmares.

Anyway, I could tell it wasn't draining fully. If I'd been paying attention, I would've noticed the "Bridge Out Ahead" sign and just cancelled all events and stayed home for the day, but motherhood has a way of distracting you from saving face, literally. Somebody probably barfed up a crayon on their sister at that point, it distracted me from the malfunctioning sinuses, and I went forward with life. If I had only known what was to come I would've just given up and called it a day. As Kenny Rogers says, 'Know when to walk away...know when to run.'

Fast forward to SEVERAL HOURS LATER. I was standing in the produce section of Kroger picking out tomatoes and mushrooms. Let's pause for a moment to point out where I wasn't. I wasn't at a Farmer's Market. For four reasons:

1. Obviously I am a pathetic mother who doesn't care about the quality of produce I feed my family (yeah, like my kids are going to eat mushrooms, anyway. AS IF.) or stimulating economic growth among my local farming and gardening people who are passionate enough to get up at 5 on a Saturday morning to sell yellow squash and clementines. Look, my hat's off to them and everything, but if I'm up at 5 on a Saturday, it's because of my own Clementine, and not because I'm out shopping.

2. Yesterday was Monday, so there wasn't even a Farmer's Market available to make me feel guilty for not choosing.

3. Grocery shopping in the middle of the street with my kids doesn't exactly sound like a situation where somebody doesn't get run over by a car.

and
4. The Farmer's Market does not provide carts the size of fifteen passenger vans with zero turning radius and squeaky wheels and a little plastic car stuck on the front covered with more E. coli than Chuck E. Cheese's ballpit. And if I'm doing grocery shopping, I want that cart for its aisle-navigating and child-containing prowess. (And the E. coli.)

Back to Kroger, now that it's clear why I was there. I've got the giant cart, the kids contained, and a box of mushrooms in hand. I glanced at my list to see what was next. The list had fallen sideways, so I tipped my head to read it accordingly. A fatal mistake.

The five quarts of saline rinse my sinuses had locked inside now were released. The time had come to drain it out, and drain it did. I panicked. I had nothing to plug my nostril with. This was no mild, unnoticeable drip. The levees had broken. Scout was staring at me in horror. I almost grabbed her shirt to start blotting up my mess with, but there was so much of it that she would've been soaked. So I did the only reasonable thing. I tilted my head back, and pushed my fifteen passenger cart with the squeaky wheel wildly as I ran as fast as I could to the bathroom. Half Pint was delighted because she suddenly decided she had to pee. I yanked her out of the cart and into a stall, grabbing wads of toilet paper to stop the dam. She immediately started scolding me. "Mom, that's the toilet paper for my buns, not for you!" At which point I answered like a calm, mature adult and said, "Hey let's get one thing straight, bubble eyes. We are in here FOR ME SO I WILL USE ALL THE TOILET PAPER I WANT."

Eventually the flow of saline stopped and I was able to finish my grocery shopping, but not without taking thirty times as long as necessary because the whole event was so traumatizing I couldn't remember what aisle anything was in and had to keep doubling back. And then I woke up this morning and realized all the groceries WERE STILL IN THE CAR. I completely forgot to unload them. Thankfully, no dairy. Next time my sinuses decide on a saline coup, I'm just staying home.

groceries, a water bottle, camp chairs, and a single shoe.
all the necessities for the back of our van, apparently

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Our Annual Family Holiday Letter

Hellooooooo there. It would not be bragging for me to say that this holiday season has been busier for our family than ever. One minute you're putting away Christmas, and before you can shout VALENTINE'S CANDY IN AISLE THREE AT WAL-MART, February 2 springs its shadow - or lack thereof - all up in yo face and it's time to let the real merrymaking commence. And I'm really serious about that: I put the last two Christmas items away only this morning just before realizing what day it is today (time flies!), and though not a holiday we break school for, definitely a day where the only word that matters in spelling is 'Punxsutawney.'

All is well here in the Johnson household. Our kids are generally about average, so that's nice, except for their sense of funny which grows rapidly every day. That's what you get for having two funny parents, so they better thank me when they get old enough to know what's what. Everybody seems to thrive on waking up too early after not sleeping at all during the night. Some things never change. I hope that does.

One annual question we field is why we write a Groundhog Day letter instead of sending Christmas cards like everyone else. Well, I am happy to answer that. First, we want our own place on your mantel or refrigerator. No sense in sharing space with all the other people who are sending stellar We Went to Disney Five Times This Year letters. Plus also, I am a terrible Southern mama, because I don't stick bows on my girls' heads that are, well, bigger than their heads, and then take a picture. So I feel guilty about that whole thing. Not the whole Giant Bow thing. The picture thing. I browsed through all the pictures we've taken of our entire family this year and guess what! There aren't any. I promise you, our family exists, but we spend tons of time together having a BLAST and don't apparently take any pictures of our entire grouping at any given point. Yay us.

That is really the predominant reason for the Groundhog Day letter, because at one point in my life I felt certain, while a total December failure, that I could absolutely get a family photo and worthwhile statement stamped, addressed, and into your mailbox by this worthiest of holidays, February 2nd. But who are we kidding? Social media has made a lazier, slobbier, lazy slob of me than I ever was before, so THIS IS ALL THE ANNUAL UPDATE YOU GET, complete with no photo whatsoever. This is why you're friends with me: to feel better about yourself.

I love you. I'm sorry about the whole 6 more weeks of winter thing. (Not really. It's not my fault. But if it were my fault, I still wouldn't be sorry, because YAY WINTER!)

corrie for the rest of the posse

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

that time my face was stabbed, cut, and burnt

Hi. Hello. So, yesterday I saw a dermatologist about three tiny moles on my face and great news! Two of them are allowed to stay. They are friendly little fellas, apparently. However, we all have that one suspicious friend who is probably plotting to kill us and it's best if we remove them from our life, and that's kinda how Dr. Nopersonality felt about this one. 

So I'm sitting in the exam room, feeling also ultra suspicious that he thinks maybe MY personality needs to be medicated, when the words, "So I'm going to give you two shots under your eye and then just razor that off and cauterize it" were uttered like, you know, with the same lack of emotion as you might expect if you were having a conversation about, say, how frequently to change air filters.

WELL. I shot up off that exam table and said:
"My good sir, I have birthed four children without meds and I am pretty tough, but--"

"Oh, you'll want anesthesia for this," came his reply.

"Yes. I know. As well as my mother, who is in the waiting room, to come back here and hold my hand because that is what moms are for. If I had to birth children out my eye sockets, I'd be medicated for THAT event, so there is no way you're coming at my eye with a needle and a blade and a skin melter without making sure I am dead to the world."

So he stared at me like HOW ARE YOU EVEN ALLOWED TO LIVE ANYWHERE BUT A PADDED CELL but let my mother come back. She had Charlotte, who, as you all are aware, is a real treat. Charlotte cuddled up with me and he attempted normal conversation once more during the process of numbing, cutting, and burning.

"So, what's her name?"
"Charlotte Clementine."
"Charlotte is a nice na-- wait, Clementine?"
"Yes."
"Clementine's her middle name?"
"That it is."
"Well. Charlotte is very well behaved."
"Aw. Thanks. She's faking."
"Ok, now I'm cauterizing it."
"Yes, I know. Burning flesh smells so nice."

Moral of the story: I'm glad to see the mole gone. He was glad to see me gone. My face hurts.