“Mom, what’s wrong with your website?” my son asked.
I know, I haven’t posted in a while, between school and my current existential crisis I just haven’t felt inspired…
“What do you mean what’s wrong with it?” I asked back.
“It says your domain has expired.” he said.
Pulled it up and he was right. My site was gone. In its place was Go Daddy asking me if I wanted to bid on it in auction.
Cue full blown panic.
I logged into my account and sure enough, the 5-year renewal was up in March. My site went down on St. Patrick’s Day. (Where was the luck of the Irish? Is a Leprechaun showing up at my door telling me to check my old Hotmail account’s junk box too much to ask?)
My precious real estate on the internet evaporated because I didn’t update my e-mail address.
Now, you might think, gee, Heather, how popular could heathershuker.com possibly be? Seems awfully specific. Well, as long-term readers might remember, there is a photographer in England named Heather Shuker. Ms. Shuker is a rather pleasant lady whose e-mails I’ve randomly received over the years. Because of the ongoing mixup, she had mentioned that she’d like the .com domain if I were ever to give it up. (She uses heathershuker.co.uk.) Did she get it? Did she get my site?! Oh, the horror!
Well, obviously, she didn’t. I called Go Daddy, whined a lot, and they fixed it.
You get real clarity about how much you care about something when you are at risk of losing it. (Even more when you actually lose it, but, I’ve already written about that.)
And while this site might be an idle distraction for my visitors, for me, it is the embodiment of not giving up on being a writer or a potter. I’m getting older. I’m running out of time to do all the stuff I want to do. But, when I go to work, when I go to school, when I make dinner and do laundry and dishes and help my kids with homework, I can still say to myself, you might not write or throw as much as you’d like, but you still do it. You have a website and business cards so it must be true.
But, is it? If I’m not making time to write or throw can I still claim those identities? I certainly would stop calling myself a runner if I didn’t strap on my shoes at least a couple of times every week. (Although, “run” is still a strong word to describe what I do.)
I’m a firm believer in actions over words. Don’t tell me, show me. “Words are wind” as George RR Martin likes to say in Game of Thrones. (Yes, part of my problem has been sinking down that rabbit hole. Five books and you still aren't finished telling the story, George? Really?)
Well, here I am. I’ve written something. (They can’t all be winners, you guys. Sometimes, a girl just needs to show up to prove she still means it.)
Yes, I’m a writer. Yes, I’m a potter and a runner and a student and a nurse and a knitter. I’m also a mother to a boy who has my back. (Bless you, Hayden, for saving my domain!) I can’t do all those things at the same time, though. If I tried, everything would get really messy. (You know? Because of the clay? It is mad filthy, you guys.) Instead, I have to take them one at a time. I have to prioritize and negotiate and dig deep for motivation. Sometimes, showing up to work in clean scrubs is all I’ve got.
But, I know from experience, if I keep throwing those balls in the air, even if I have to pick them all back up off the ground every once in a while, it’s worth it. It’s worth the fight. It’s worth the effort. It’s worth overcoming the sometimes overwhelming feeling of why bother? to define myself by getting shit done. Excuses, forgotten plans, unrealized goals are made of useless words. Pride is made of actions.
My mother had an idea for a book. It was how your world could change in the matter of a minute. She called it: The 60 Second Hurricane.
When she described her idea to me, I knew exactly what she meant. I had experienced a couple of hurricanes already. They are those moments that feel as if someone reached into your life and flipped a switch, like a train switching tracks. The reality you were living changes almost instantly, and often permanently.
I received a text at 5:27 a.m. on Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 from my sister telling me I needed to drive to a hospital in Virginia. I knew my mom had been admitted the day before with pneumonia in both of her lungs. My sister and I had thought some IV antibiotics and respiratory support was all she was going to need to get through this illness. After all, my mom had turned 66 just five days before and she was the picture of vitality.
What was troubling, though, besides the early hour of the text, was that my sister isn’t one to panic. My sister is a nurse. She has worked exclusively in ICUs and ERs. She knows what sick looks like and she knows how to stay calm when the world around her is in chaos. So, when she says it’s time to get in the car, you know things are bad. And you get your ass in the car.
My hurricane didn’t come, however, until I saw her face.
I was on the highway, driving toward the hospital, and I looked down at my phone and saw that I had a missed FaceTime call from her. Curious, I FaceTimed her back. (Admittedly, it was a really stupid decision.) My first thought when I saw my sister’s face on the small screen was, she looks bad.
“You look like shit,” I said. She didn’t snap back at me like she was supposed to, though. She looked away. My sister, who prides herself on being tough in the hardest of situations, couldn’t look me in the eyes.
And that’s when the hurricane struck. I knew right then that I was about to lose my mom.
Less than 24 hours later, after every last possible shred of hope was gone, I was standing at the end of my mother’s hospital bed, holding my sister’s hand as we watched a nurse remove life support. She turned off each of the IV pumps. She and a respiratory therapist removed the endotracheal tube. Within minutes, the impending doom that I had read across my sister’s face became a reality. We watched our mother die.
I spent that day thinking I couldn’t imagine a worse pain. This had to be the most anguish a human being could experience. I felt like I was dying too.
The following afternoon, I got another text. It was from my husband. Our 10 year-old son, Hayden, was just diagnosed with pneumonia. The same disease that just swept in and took my mother away was now squatting in my child's lungs. My imagination was revitalized. I found myself back in the car, again desperately hoping that the worst wouldn’t happen, only this time with the freshly acquired realization that sometimes it does. Honestly, I have no idea how I made it home.
An infectious disease doctor recommended that all of my and my sister’s family take antibiotics to prevent the freight train infection that killed my mother from claiming another one of us. The pain of losing her was somehow tempered by the fear that things can always get worse.
Between us, my sister and I have seven children. Valentine’s Day morning, the day of my mother's funeral service, instead of chocolate, I was handing out little pink shots of Augmentin. My sister and I were desperately trying to keep safe the precious branches that extend from us on the family tree, as we prepared to memorialize the branch that made us.
And, thankfully, that storm passed us by.
I don’t know what my mother’s take on The 60 Second Hurricane would have been. I don’t know what conclusions she would have come to while writing a book she thought she still had plenty of time to write. But, for me, those hurricanes have brought the kind of clarity that is only possible when you have been knocked down. As you struggle to right yourself, you feel the push of all the people who love you, nudging you back into the light even if you’d rather spend more time in the darkness. And you realize that the endless words of comfort from everyone around you swirl together to send one cohesive message: You are loved. We are here for you. Please keep going.
The best way I know to honor that message is to believe it. I am loved. I am supported. And here I am, still really sad, but, still going. I have made it through every major holiday. I have made it through my birthday. I have made it through her birthday. And now, I'll do it again. I'll take another trip around the sun without her, even if, sometimes, I don't want to. I am loved. I am supported. I will keep going.
Thanks, again, for all the pushes.
I turned 39 on my last birthday. I’m not exactly sure why we’re so hung up on ages since they represent exactly zero guarantee of how much time we have left, but, we are. *sigh* Forty is coming. There’s a scene in When Harry Met Sally where Sally is having a bit of a hysterical, existential crisis and says, “I”m going to be forty!” Harry asks, “When?” Sally cries, “Someday!”
I saw that movie for the first time as a teenager but I still got the joke. Forty has long been a demonized age. It is celebrated with black balloons and cards that indicate you are now “over the hill”. (Which I'm totally guilty of perpetuating... with reckless abandon.) It is the tip over point into oldness which is, of course, the ultimate enemy. (Well, except for fatness. But, she and I are old buddies.)
As the dreaded year approaches, I’m wondering where this doom and gloom came from. If your body really feels like it’s turning to crap at forty then you are either not taking very good care of it or your genes kind of suck. (And I'm truly sorry for you.) I finished my first 5k six days before my 39th birthday. I couldn’t do that when I was 29. Hell, I couldn’t do that when I was 19.
And while we’re talking about running (okay, fine, that’s all I’ve talked about for months), being over the hill is a good thing when you run. At that moment, once you reach the crest of your last hill and think, “it’s all downhill from here;” THAT’S A GOOD THOUGHT! It’s a happy, I’m totally going to make it; I’ve gotten through the hardest part thought. Downhill comes with a surge of relief and accomplishment.
Maybe we all need to take a closer look at how life was when we were on our way up the hill. I’m not saying my 20s and 30s were all bad, but they certainly weren’t easy. I was broke (and/or spending more than I made) for most of my 20s and I’ve spent the better part of my 30s dumping every drop of blood, sweat, tears and milk into turning babies into functional school aged children. (Can I get a Back-to-School hallelujah?)
Well, some drops of bodily fluid were spent on becoming a nurse… You know what, lets go ahead and be done with that metaphor. Let's stick with hills.
ASIDE: I almost didn’t become a nurse because of my fear of what my fellow humans might ooze on me. After being in it for a little while now, though, bodily fluids aren’t even close to the worst thing that can happen to you on a shift. You throw on some OR scrubs and go about your day. The worst part of your shift is when you or someone near you either yells or calmly commands, “Get the cart.” As in Code Cart. As in someone is having a very bad day. Being part of that is way worse than a little blood, sweat, tears, vomit, urine, stool, mucus, etc. being sprayed on the pajamas and/or shoes we wear to work.
Anyway, raising kids is hard as hell and I would definitely characterize it as an uphill battle. Also, my eldest will become a teenager the month before I turn 40. From what I understand, that is the steepest, hilliest part of parenthood. So, from where I sit, being “over the hill” is a decade off.
Although, people do seem to be catching on because the black balloons again come out for 50th birthdays. If you aren’t dead yet, you get a whole ‘nother black ballooned birthday celebration to remind you that you’re going to be one day.
I say, whatever. You know what, bring on the black balloons. Black is slimming. Also, yoga pants are black and I enjoy both yoga and being comfortable. I also enjoy chocolate. Basically, fat people love black so piss off, ageists.
I certainly don’t want to wish away my 40s (or the remaining months of my 30s) but I can’t say that I’m dreading the prospect of cruising downhill. Things like having all of my children out of the house, weddings, grandchildren, having my mortgage paid off, being able to take nicer, childless vacations, driving a convertible — these are all part of being over that hill. Where’s the bad part?
Oh yeah, aging. Dying. I mean, I get it. Through my work, I’ve seen people aging poorly, and I get that there’s not a small amount of pain involved, for some more than others. But, like I say to all of my patients who tell me “don’t get old”: It beats the alternative.
And, of course I’m going to die. We all are. As Ray Charles sang, “Ain’t none of us gonna get out of this alive.” My biggest fear of death isn't so much the death part as it is leaving my children before they are fully grown. And, if I’m being honest, I’ll be irritated if my time is up before I get to see Hawaii or Italy. (Or the Redwoods... Or Portland... Or Montana…) But, I’m otherwise okay with my inevitable departure. Dead is where my mom is and I miss her so terribly.
Whether these next 11 months are my final ascent up the elusive hill, or whether I have another decade to go, I appreciate the chance. My someday is now. Struggling uphill or cruising downhill are both signs that I’m still here. I’m here with my kids and my family and my friends. I’m traveling and writing and throwing pottery and being silly at work with my nurse buddies and patients. I’m knitting and reading and hiking in my forest and, yes, I’m still running because it turns out I’m crazy.
My age is not a secret and it’s not something I feel ashamed of. Though, yes, I dye my hair. I’m also good friends with my tweezers — hey, I never said I was all that into looking old. But, being old? Bring it. Please.
I ran 3.8 miles this morning. Well, run might be a strong word since my pace is one others might define as, “Sunday stroll.” Still, there is no mistaking that the girl who had to start out running for 60-second painstaking intervals has come a long way. Which isn’t to say I now find running easy. Yeah, no. But for a few stretches where I’m going downhill, in the shade, with a breeze, and listening to a great song, I’m basically forcing myself to take each step. But, those stretches do exist and I love them. I really am a runner now, you guys.
People love to go on about how great beginnings are, about how important it is to just get started, but I think beginnings kind of suck. Look at the beginning of people. Babies are terrible. They’re needy little noisy poop machines. If all of parenthood was dealing with babies, I don’t think I’d make it. But, they get better. They eventually deal with their own excrement, feed themselves, and buckle their own freaking seat belts. One day you are able to say, “We’re leaving, get in the car,” and your children actually do. (True story, new moms, I’m not making this up.) You sit there in the driver’s seat, waiting for buckles to click, and think, “this is it. I have arrived.”
I’m at my sister’s house and all seven of our children are in this great summer camp. It’s two weeks long and it consists of hiking, swimming, archery, crafts, capture the flag, and pure childhood bliss from what I can tell. They’ve been going for years and in the beginning, it was a nightmare getting them out the door.
Trying to get each of them dressed, breakfasted, lunch packed, shoed, supplied with a towel, and covered in sunscreen took two grown women and a ton of self control. Every morning at least one child was crying about something — usually the sunscreen. Now, morning send off is more like an exit interview. Have your towel? Lunch? Water bottle? Shoes? Have you been sunscreened? Great. Get in the car.
After a while, parenting switches from dragging yourself through the motions to enjoying the process. From what I hear, that’s what happens to you as a runner. Much like parenting, you go from asking yourself, “what in the hell am I doing here?” to “I don’t hate this right now” to “I’m really glad I chose to do this.”
As my moments of non-hate stretch, I can’t help but look back on the skeptic my former self was about my ability to be a runner. I want to be there for her in the beginning as she is trying to force herself through those 60-second intervals, doubting that she’ll ever be able to run her 3.11 miles goal, and whisper in her ear, “Keep going. It gets better. You’re going to make it.” Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure she heard me. That new runner, that new mom, that new nurse, that new potter, they’re all still me. They are the me that kept going. They are the me who has arrived.
I didn’t think I’d have to post again about running until I finished a race. I figured so much other life would be happening in the eight plus weeks between when I started and when I definitively reached my goal of crossing a 5k finish line that running would be a back burner item until then.
Running is not a back burner item.
This is the first mystery I have unlocked since I began this thing. (I may actually be starting to get these whackadoo runners.) There is a reason Facebook and Instagram are flooded with running photos and running stats and running routes: running is all-encompassing. And it’s hard.
Each time you finish a run, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. I haven’t been posting about my progress, but a few friends are getting regular updates. It’s not that I think they care, I just have to tell someone. “Great, Heather, you can run 22 whole minutes in a row. How far did you get?” they ask politely. Let’s not get muddled in details…
So, go easy on the runners who feel the need to share. Yes, they like to tell the world each time they finish another race. It's a solid accomplishment after months of hard work. Other people feel the need to tell the world each time they have another baby. Nobody gives them grief.
Besides how hard it is to actually run, it is also hard to carve a new habit into your schedule and keep it there as life launches time-sucking catapults at you without warning. If I had followed the plan diligently, I’d be finished the eight weeks by now. I’m not. My next run will start week seven. I’ve decided not to be hard on myself for getting off track, though. Instead, much like each individual run, I’m proud of myself for not quitting… even though sometimes I really, really want to.
Here’s the really insane part: sometimes I don’t want to quit. Sometimes I actually look forward to running. My body kind of tingles with excess energy that I have a strong urge to burn. Really, it’s almost like I crave a run. WHAT?! I know, you guys. I know. I’m just as surprised as you are. I can’t account for this lunacy. Maybe all the oxygen hunger has led to brain damage.
Running has not made me skinnier. I’ve lost zero pounds since I’ve started. I don’t even care. Honestly, I think there are easier ways to lose weight. What it has given me, though, is a mind shift.
When I was in my early twenties, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do in my life. (I was in sales and spent a lot of time thinking and not a lot of time cold calling — hence, I wasn’t a very good salesperson.) My list had things like: learn another language, visit Hawaii, speak in front of a large group of people, write a book, learn kung fu, run a marathon... You know, a bucket list. The concept was still new then. It was very exciting.
Sometime in my early thirties, I grew a cloud of doubt about what I was capable of and what I was likely to do with myself. The list made me sad and full of regret for the things I knew I’d never do. I think I threw it away so I wouldn’t keep feeling bad about myself when I read it.
Running a marathon was probably the thing I was most sure I’d never do. (Not “learn kung fu”, oddly.) For the first time since I wrote that list, I find myself wondering if maybe I could. I’m also wondering what else I might be able to do before my time is up.
I may have been motivated to become a runner by seeing skinny bodies and wanting to have one of my very own, but, what keeps me running is how I want to answer one question: Are you capable of doing this?
Yes. I am.
You crazy runners. You’ve done it. You’ve sucked me in to your vortex of insanity.
I have sworn my entire life that running is something I’d never do. No matter how popular it got. No matter how much fun it looks in the pictures of women covered in paint or mud or dressed in matching outfits, smiling from ear to ear. That will never be me, man. Those bitches are crazy. Running sucks and no matter how many people on Facebook pretend to like it, I’ll never be snowed into doing it... I thought.
And then a new breed of pictures cropped up. Pictures of women I knew IN REAL LIFE that were chubby like me, then weren’t any more. What the heck? What happened to solidarity, you traitors? What’s with getting all skinny on me?
Still. Those women must have some attributes that I don’t have because running is suffering. Plain and simple. That ‘high’ everybody talks about must be a lie. Only high I ever felt was that black, starry feeling you get right before you pass out. No. Not doing it.
Then, life kicked me in the stomach.
When I got back up and looked around, I realized my priorities had amplified and come into razor sharp focus. Health and human connection. There they were. My priorities. Big and bold and full of color. Everything else got a little smaller. Some things I thought were so important before, kind of shriveled up and blew away.
Health. Serious problems that I’ve been dismissing for a good year, suddenly developed flashing red lights and a siren. My first instinct was to dive back into the murky waters of weight loss dogma. The relentless swirl of points and writing everything down and weigh-ins and carbs and YOU CAN’T EAT THAT!
I’ve had enough taken away from me for right now. I’m not willing to give up anything else for a while.
But, I am willing to add something. When I looked around for something to add, I saw the smiling faces, the camaraderie, the swag, the fun, the graphs, the maps with routes, the looks of accomplishment. The runners. And I thought, I want that.
Here’s the thing, though. I’m one hell of a starter. I’ve got a good 25 years worth of before pictures to back me up on this one. So, before I stepped foot on the treadmill with an intent to be a runner, I decided I am not letting myself off the hook until I’ve completed at least one 5K. Even if I hate it. Even if it never gets better. Even if my initial thought that you runners are freaks is completely accurate.
That said, I just finished week three of Couch to 5K and I’m still wondering what kind of fairy dust is supposed to waft out of my phone over the next six weeks that is going to make me capable of running 3 miles when running for 3 minutes feels like my lungs are being scraped over a cheese grater. How can you people claim to enjoy this agony?
The week before last, I made the bonehead decision to run in my forest. My forest is on the side of a hill. Hills are evil. Hills are like satan is reaching into your chest and calves and burning them with hell fire. At one point, I passed a couple walking their dog and they looked at me as if they wanted to call an ambulance. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I was, for them, one of those things you wish you could unsee that ruins the rest of your day.
Shortly after I passed them, my phone died. My no good, lying, cheating, worthless phone that said I had 56% battery went dead. Mid run! I wanted to throw it against a tree, fall to my knees, raise my hands to the sky and scream, “NO!” How was I supposed to finish my timed walk/run cycles? How was I supposed to function without music blaring in my ears? It was a freaking tragedy, I tell you.
(I get it. First World Problem. So is obesity. I live in the first world. That’s where all of my problems are.)
Whatever. I totally regrouped. Unwilling to relent and give up the day’s worth of C25K progress, I started counting. One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi… up to 90 Mississippi. Then walked. Then started counting again. One Mississippi, two Mississippi… Three times.
That terrible experience may have been the first inkling that I might have a chance of actually doing this thing. I’m not. *huff huff* Effing. *huff huff* Quitting. *full blown panting*
Of course, that’s why I’m posting my commitment here. I’m counting on you guys to be a source of public shame if I quit. Mind you, I’m not looking for you to throw rotten fruit at me. Your silent knowing is enough. I expect to feel utterly defeated if I quit. Again. In front of everybody. I think that would feel terrible. Like, even more terrible than running feels.
Last week, I didn’t want to run on the treadmill and I didn’t have enough time before sunset to drive to a trail so I just ran on my road (also on a hill). My neighbor drove by slowly, I believe trying to figure out who might be chasing me and whether to call 911 or go home and get his gun.
So, if you see me out in the world, please don’t call an ambulance if I’m still vertical. Also, please don’t try to talk to me because, honestly, I don’t have the spare oxygen for that. And, before you offer, cause I know how you psycho runners operate, no, I’m not ready to run with you. I’d rather suffer alone for now, thanks.
If I do manage to keep going, though, I’m expecting y’all to be lined up next to me one day, with your (possibly fake) *I love to run* smiles and matching outfits, getting a picture for MY Facebook wall.
*I do not represent nor did I receive compensation from C25K or Panera for mentioning their products. I just like them. One more than the other.
Last month my mom died. It was unexpected and devastating. Trying to write about it without getting bogged down by despair has been challenging. However, it would feel cowardly to move forward in this blog without recognizing such a profound life event.
Still, I think most of the post ideas that capture how I’ve been feeling since it happened would not really be in keeping with my usual tone. Some of the titles I’ve considered include: “How can you be so happy while I suffer?”, “I don’t want to hear about how alive your mother is”, “People older than 66 make me feel bitter” or, my personal favorite, “Someone you love is going to die too, just wait.”
Of course, I’m not the only one who has ever suffered a serious loss. The self-involved nature of my grieving reminds me of being a first-time mother. Being pregnant and having a newborn is such a life changing experience you feel like you are seeing the world with unique eyes. In reality, they are just unique to you. Death, just like parenthood, is a shared human experience. Everyone has been exposed, one way or another, to both.
There are things about being pregnant and having a baby that I couldn’t believe people didn’t warn you about: the dark nipples, the line down the belly, how precious showers and sleep are, how much babies cry (really, daily crying is part of your life for YEARS), and how lonely it is to be a stay-at-home mom. There you go, moms-to-be, becoming a mother means your body gets weird and your stress reaches levels you can’t even imagine yet. All the poop will be the least of your worries. (You’re welcome.)
Losing someone close has its own set of insider information. At the forefront is the guilt. The best way I can explain the guilt is feeling bad for not being perfect. Or for still being alive when your loved one isn't. Or for not somehow stopping the chain of events that lead to death. Or for all the times you could have been a better person but weren't. Not all of the guilt is logical, but it's real and pervasive.
There’s also the pictures. There will never be enough pictures. And here’s the thing about losing someone older: that’s not who we’re photographing. At least, I’m not. I take pictures of my kids, my pets, and, embarrassingly, myself.
I scrolled through my photos to see the most recent one I had taken of my mom. It wasn’t on her birthday, or Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or even Halloween with the costumes she had sewed for my kids. She was there and I had my camera out, but I didn’t turn it toward her. No, the last picture I took of my mom, she was actually in the background of a picture of my cat. You can’t even see her face. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
The thing about losing your mother is she is the one person who has literally been there since your day one. The idea that she would ever be gone was inconceivable to me. Worrying about losing her would have felt like worrying about losing air to breathe or sunshine. Fear of losing my children has been with me since before they were born. Fear of losing her was something I never even considered. Hence, it didn’t occur to me to take her picture that often. It felt like she would always just be there.
Also, the clichés are true. The people you love will never truly be gone. My mom left her mark on every cell in my body. Vestiges of her are sprinkled throughout my house, most of my memories, and on the face of my daughter. She will always be a part of who I am. Not a day goes by where something doesn’t remind me of her. Right now, all those memories come with a sting. I hope, in time, the pain will be outweighed by the happy feeling thoughts of her also brings.
And finally, the people who love you can really help pull you out of the dark sadness that comes with loss. Because, much as it doesn’t make sense, part of you wants to stay sad. When my mother died, I wanted to curl up in my grief and shut everything else out. It felt like I was closer to her there in the darkness, clinging to memories of her. Your people know that isn’t good for you. They want you back in the light where living takes place. They want you to keep going.
Ironically, it is the same thing when you have your first baby. Everyone who has been there knows how hard it is. They pool around you because they want to soften the blow and encourage you to hang in there. (Once you are on to your second baby, however, you’re on your own.)
Just as there is no way to truly prepare for how life changing a new baby will be, there is no way to really prepare for a loss. In both cases, there will be pain and suffering. There’s no getting out of it. However, just as you try to prepare yourself for a child, you can try to prepare yourself for losing someone.
You do that by showing them you love them as much as possible. You forgive easily. You say ‘yes’ to plans or make some. You remember birthdays. And when they are walking out the door, you give them a hug and tell them you love them because you really don’t know if, like me and my mom, that will be the last time you get to talk to them.
The day my mother died, my sister’s mother-in-law was cleaning out my sister’s refrigerator in preparation for "the food". I thought she was being a little overzealous — until it came.
Unannounced, a stream of southern women came in carrying the predicted food. First, there was the biggest box of donuts I have ever seen. There was soup and chili and a meat and cheese tray and fried chicken and Pinterest inspired breakfast biscuit things. There was a basket of snacks for the eventual car ride north for my mom’s service. One woman, knowing how much food was coming, brought stacks of paper products so we wouldn’t have to worry about doing dishes. It was like an army of kindness came marching through my sister’s kitchen. Turns out southern hospitality is no myth, and its reputation as the pinnacle of graciousness is well deserved.
I’m from the north. But for a few exceptions, like, Italian families, up here people ask, they offer, they have the best intentions, but our northern culture generally gets in the way of follow through. The polite thing for us to say is, “thank you, but you don’t have to do that.” I was talking to one of my sister’s southern friends about it and she said, “Oh, you don’t ask if people need help, they’ll say no. You just have to show up.”
Death, like colic, happens. The same way you get through night after night of walking your screaming infant while patting him on the back, longing for sleep, is the same way you get through a loss. You keep moving knowing that this moment of pain won’t last forever, knowing that people who love you are depending on you to keep your shit together, knowing that, in the end, human connection is the whole point and sometimes you suffer the most for the people you love the most.
I'm no expert on loss, just as I'm no expert on raising children. In fact, I tend to assume I’m doing it wrong in both cases. But the real secret is you don't have to be an expert when it comes to being a mom, or moving on after losing one, or, in general, being a loving and loved human. You just have to show up.
When I was a little girl, I used to fall asleep in the bathtub. I wasn’t a baby being neglected by some crack-whore mother, mind you. I was totally old enough to self-bathe. I just had a habit of submerging my body until only my nose was above water, closing my eyes, and drifting off… then waking up to my hysterical mom who didn’t particularly like seeing her daughter in drowned position. I did this countless times. (I’m not sure my mother ever got used to it.)
I’m still a big fan of bathing. Only now, I use it for sensory deprivation. When chaos peaks, I run for the bathtub. It’s my escape pod. It’s hot, wet meditation.
This past Fall saw a lot of bath hours.
Being back in school is both wonderful and, you know, crazy stressful. There’s the *I’m totally moving toward some huge goals! Yes! Where is my cape because I am totally awesome!* part that comes from simply being enrolled in school. Then there’s the part where you actually have to do all the work. You have to write the papers. And take the tests. And talk IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE SKINNY AND YOUNG.
Then there are the deadlines.
Oh, the deadlines.
Fall semester finals? Two weeks before Christmas. That was hard enough back in the day when I was childless and my only job was as a cashier at 7-Eleven. Throw in my big girl job, my three kids, and my pottery business that is busiest when? Right before Christmas, of course. And what do you get? Insanity. Sleep deprivation. An upper respiratory infection…
But, you know what, Christmas has passed. Santa came. Pottery was made and sold. I kept my day job. And every last thing on all three of my syllabi were completed. I just kept chugging along until the to do lists were done. At times I was so under water that I felt like I was drowning, but I wasn’t, ‘cause I was still breathing.
So why am I telling you this? To toot my own horn? No. I don’t even have a horn.
The whole point is I’m not special. Well, I'm special in that everyone is special, but I'm not special-er. It's goal-setting season, you guys. If there are goals you want to achieve, here's the trick to getting stuff done: do it. BAM! That’s it. That's the magic. Enroll in the classes. Open the online store. Sign up for the race. And then do it. Doing it can be painful, I'm not going to lie. But, having done it, I'm here to tell you, feels wonderful. Kind of like a nice, hot bath.
Happy New Year, y'all!
It’s finally here! The animals are back at the zoo. Mothers everywhere have been watching buses pull away with their little darlings, then dancing back up their driveways (after perhaps shedding an obligatory tear or two for the new Kindergarteners) singing *Hallelujah!*.
January 1st? Please. The first day of school is the day that should start with fireworks. Can I get an AMEN?!
For this mama, amidst the bliss of fall freedom lurks a nagging little cloud of anxiety. Not because my youngest is a lunatic who is likely to drive his teacher crazy, hey, that’s her problem. She’s the one who went into teaching. Life is full of challenges. Meet Charlie. Good luck!
Nope, the countdown has been with mixed feelings this year because this mom is going back to school too.
I don’t talk about my day job much here because people get awfully twitchy about nurses publicly discussing their work. People like bosses, whom I don’t want firing me. But I’m pretty sure it’s okay to discuss the field of nursing which is a tricky thing. For one, I am an RN. There are also CNAs, LPNs, CRNAs, NPs, CNMs, DNPs...
Currently, there are (at least) three paths to gain enough education to allow you to sit for the nursing boards. You can get a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree, or a nursing diploma from a hospital based program.
Regardless which path you choose, if you pass the test at the end, you become an RN. As you might imagine, the bachelor’s degree (BSN) is preferred by most of the larger, more academic hospitals. Me, I have a diploma.
To be honest, I kind of fell into nursing. I went to college right out of high school, acquired a rather useless (but for the expansion of my mind, of course) liberal arts degree and proceeded to not really use it at all in a completely unrelated field. Time passed. A child was born.
Then, one day, my husband posed the question, “Would you rather go back to work or to school?” Which, in retrospect, is kind of like asking a child if he wants a bath or a shower; there seem to be choices, but remaining on the couch watching t.v. is not one of them.
It just so happened, the hospital where my husband worked at the time offered a “Future of Caring” scholarship for relatives of the employee which, if you received it, paid IN FULL for their nursing school. All I had to do was show up. Well, and, you know, learn how to be a nurse.
Did I mention it cost me nothing?
That diploma opened the door for one of the best part-time careers there is for a young mother. (I could still call myself young seven years ago... young-ish, anyway, I was still older than most of my classmates.)
The catch has always been that while my free diploma has gotten me into a great job, it’s done all it can do. While advancement in this field is possible without more education, the way I want to advance is not. So, with my last excuse heading out to school, it seemed time to make a plan.
I’m not going to lie. It was kind of a painful decision. All of my children are finally in school. I have been waiting YEARS for this moment. I want to be free, not tied down with papers… in APA format.
Plus, I always thought nursing would be a temporary thing. I was never "called" to be a nurse. It just seemed like a good idea while I raised my kids. My deepest desire, way down in my heart is to be a… I don't know... something else.
Also, like naming a child, everyone has an opinion on your decision and have no qualms telling you it's wrong: “You should do an RN to MSN bridge program if you already have a bachelor’s.” “You should do it online.” "I heard that program isn't very good." “Why bother, it’s not like you're going to make enough money to make it worth it.”
It’s hard enough working up the gumption to go back to school; hearing that you might be going about it the wrong way is enough to freeze a person’s momentum by stirring up their ample supply of self-doubt. (Which isn't very nice.)
“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost”
Of course, much as I like to complain about the people in my life being full of unsolicited advice (as I often am), most of them love me and have been crazy supportive. (Even if I do end up obsessively Googling nursing programs after talking to them.)
Honestly, if it weren't for my people, I probably never would have applied. I had completely talked myself out of more schooling, deciding instead to wait for my dream job (whatever that might be) to magically appear on my doorstep.
Then, I was sitting on a friend's couch late one night, talking about life, and told her, "I know I should, but I just don't want to go back to school." (There may have been some serious whining in my voice.) To which she replied, "You are a grownup. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do." SLAP! Golly. She might be right.
In my experience, regrets tend to hover around inaction like a cloud of gnats. So rather than waiting to be inspired with the perfect plan, I’ve decided to be a grownup, go with this good enough plan, and hope for the best.
“All The Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
And who knows, I might learn a thing or two. After all, isn't that why we are sending our children back to school?
*wink, wink* Sure it is.
It is almost summer. We’ve made it.
As I’ve mentioned, winter here is long. And cold. And long. Invariably, people who can afford to, escape for a week or two to someplace tropical. They come back all brown and relaxed and remind the rest of us how cold and poor we are. So, we like them a little less for a while.
Summer is the great vacation equalizer. You don’t need to have disposable income to luxuriate in the sun. All you have to do is go outside. Everywhere is vacation.
Without the oppression of unforgiving coldness, with leaves on the trees and flowers sprinkled everywhere, the WHY AM I TRAPPED HERE?! hysteria that winter drives me to each year, gets replaced with geez, I’m so lucky.
Even if you don’t have time off work, summer is still more vacation-y. At the end of your day you go out to your car, put on your sunglasses, roll down the windows and turn up the music. And there you are, enjoying your sunny commute. Ahhhh. Life is good.
At least, that’s what I keep telling myself because I haven’t planned any big vacations for my family this year.
The thing is, like most Americans, we have debt. Not all of it is the good kind (if there is such a thing). I see our debt as a large, soul-sucking monster perched on my shoulders, digging its talons into my skin and breathing down my neck. I want it gone. Feeding the beast with a high-priced beach trip seems counterproductive.
Still, the idea of not going anywhere during vacation season kind of had me bummed until I visited a Marylander friend of mine, recently.
For breakfast, she took me to a restaurant called Miss Shirley’s Café. (I still think about that meal, by the way, weeks later.) She said it was the place she recommended to friends visiting the Baltimore area, her stomping ground.
She then took me to a nearby community that had a huge, resident-funded tulip garden.
It occurred to me on the drive home that I have no idea where I would tell people to go when visiting my area. We moved into our house when my daughter was three months old. I’ve spent the last ten years going to Target and the bookstore.
As my children got older and I was able to steal time for myself, I added Starbucks and my forest to the list of places I go.
The problem isn’t that I didn’t want to explore my own stomping ground, the problem is small children make going pretty much anywhere not fun.
It’s the ugly truth. When three members of your party are perpetually hot, hungry, and tired of walking, whining happens. Whining that could make your ears bleed. A trip that should be leisurely and relaxing becomes a PLEASE MAKE IT STOP! living hell.
When my youngest was not quite two, I took my children on a beach trip with my extended family. Having no fear of getting lost or stolen, little Charlie would run full throttle down the beach without ever looking back.
I spent the entire trip chasing him. Which is to say, I spent the entire trip running in hot sand. Yelling. In my bathing suit. In public. And, I’m not skinny. Can you say spectacle?
In the meantime, I had to depend on the rest of my family to make sure my older two children didn’t drown. I can’t even begin to explain how not relaxing that trip was.
But, now that my little angels are older, the fact that we live in an American tourist destination mecca is suddenly more valuable to me. We can take day trips to four major US cities*. We can take a day trip to the ocean and to the mountains. (Not big mountains, but still.)
I no longer have to fight with strollers and diapers and drippy cups and nap time and HELP ME FIND YOUR BROTHER!
Suddenly, the world around me has opened up again.
It’s no wonder every day feels like a vacation as long as it’s warm. Without really noticing, a weight, much heavier than the debt monster, has been lifting.
It occurred to me when Charlie learned how to make himself a peanut butter sandwich that there should be some sort of parenting badge for that. Come to think of it, each step toward preparing your child for independence, starting with the mack daddy of parenting hurdles: toilet training, should garner at least a gold star, if not an embroidered patch.
I guess the real reward is one more task I can sit out. Or, when it comes to vacationing, one more moment I have to relax. (And, yeah, yeah child development.)
This summer, I’m making it my mission to find my favorite (inexpensive) local spots. If I only make it as far as my deck, well, at least the sunshine is free. I can be brown and relaxed, too.
*If you were curious, the four major U.S. cities I can day trip to are Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and New York. I've never actually day tripped to New York, but I know other people around here who have. So, it's possible.
I like to throw things.