"I think I might need help," I said, which is something I force myself to say every few years.
Let me tell you about yesterday.
Yesterday wouldn't have carried the weight it did if the last few
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.