A List and A Prayer

December 15, 2017

The other day, I was putting off writing these words, and I went to CVS, a great place to go when there are ten blank pages weighing on my brain. (Relax, the outcome was more like five. And I talk fast.) The woman behind the cash register was brand new, but she was familiar because she had been ringing me up at 7 11 for years.

I don’t know why, but seeing the person that I’d been buying coffee from since 2010 working in the drug store right down the street thru me for a loop.

You know the feeling? You’ve had it. That moment when something or someone changes, and you weren’t expecting it. When one of your favorite people announces they’re moving out of state. When two people that you love tell you they are getting divorced.  When you find out someone is sick, or wake up to discover someone unexpected was elected president, even though everyone said it could never happen.

There are great surprises in store too- there will be babies, amazing job offers, or full scholarships to top notch schools. Your favorite band might get back together after a nasty, public, breakup on Twitter.

Even considering the good kind, I am still not a huge fan of change.

When I’m going to the Cape, I immediately move all the way to the left, to the lane that merges with Route 3, so I can stay in the same lane for the entire trip. When our neighbors move, even if I don’t know them, even if I don’t like them, I grieve. I still watch Gray’s Anatomy.

For those of you that are like me, I’ve put together a list of things I use to help cope with the endless fluctuations, cancellations, and curveballs life will throw at you. If you have any to add, please feel free to email me. I mean it.

  1. Go to the gym. Ride your bike. Or take a walk. Do something with your body that helps you stay strong for all of the mind blowing, fantastic, and terrible stuff that is to come. There are so many options, from yoga in straps, to hiking, lifting weights, kickboxing, dancing- explore. Mix it up. Ruts are for the unimaginative and lead to other ruts.
  2. Get off the phone while you’re at the gym, riding your bike, or taking a walk. Okay, listen to music. Just don’t scroll thru life. No matter what you have heard, it is not necessary to tell your 872 Instagram followers every time you pick up a weight or climb a hill. It still happened. If you are going to deal with the world, you have to be in the world, not watching it go by on your newsfeed.
  3. Decide who matters to you. Make a list. We don’t have all the time in the world. Choose your people and choose well.

4.  You are driving your own bus.

I was planning my wedding with a good friend of mine. I complained that I was going to miss a concert that weekend. She pointed out that I had to get married right away I was six months pregnant. It was my responsibility to make sure that the baby wasn’t born out of wedlock. I agreed and stopped whining. Eighteen years after that wedding day, I’m still pissed I missed Springsteen.

If you want to go to a show, or out to restaurant, or to a ball game, on your special day, listen to that inner voice. YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOUR OWN LIFE. People will try to hijack your plans, or the route you choose, but remember- No one else should be driving your bus but you. You can ask for directions, you can give people a ride, but at the end of the day, it is your journey. You are going a long way. Don’t let somebody else take the wheel unless you trust them, and even then, sleep lightly. It’s your damn bus.

What does public transportation have to do with the roller coaster ride ahead? If you are in charge of the changes in your life, you own them. You can’t be in charge of everything- someday you might get laid off, at some point you are going to lose someone you love, but wherever and however you can, don’t let life happen to you. Be proactive, noisy, daring, decisive, and brave. At the end of the day, it’s nice to know you were the one that chose how it was spent.

  1. Be flexible. In yoga, or pilates, they tell you to keep your knees slightly bent during the balance poses. This helps you find stability, keeps you from falling on your face. Flexibility in life means you don’t freak out when the movie you planned to see is sold out, when someone cancels last minute, or when your landlord texts you to tell you they aren’t renewing your lease and you have two weeks to find a new apartment in October in a city that caters to college students. Let’s be realistic, a minor freak out is expected for the landlord thing, but after you’ve done some deep breathing, maybe gone to a yoga class, you’ll figure it out. Spinning your wheels happens, just don’t get buried.
  2. Choose your traditions and embrace them.

The other night, I decorated the Christmas tree alone. I’ve always loved placing the ornaments collected over the years on the branches, and the ritual has been a big part of our holiday since the kids were old enough to stab each other with the little hooks. This year, we tried to coordinate a night to decorate together. Their father was working. Katy had flute lessons. Colin needed to stay after school. Colin needed to go out to eat. Colin needed to spend time on his Snapchat Anyway, Friday night, the only creature stirring was Michael the three legged cat. So, I decorated the tree by myself. It was a little bit sad, not having the company of my family. But at the end of the evening, the tree looked beautiful, Colin and Katy had a wonderful time fixing all of my horrible decorating decisions, and all was right with the world.

You will find traditions, create new traditions, and then they will change as your world changes. But it is wonderful to have touch stones to honor the past, whether it’s your personal past, your faith, or your family. It’s a thread that allows us to step back and appreciate where we have come from and where we might go.

 

  1. Stop looking around. Every single one of us is obsessed with how everyone else is doing. When you were little, your mom was checking out the toddler next door, and going a bit crazy because Jaimie started to speak five months ago, and you were still blowing bubbles and staring at your feet.

This attitude, this constant need to check in on whose doing what isn’t a true or even a semi true, yardstick of where you are at. Joe is killing it on Wall Street, but he’s not posting pictures on Facebook of his partner handing him divorce papers. Jenn just crashed a computer system at work, and is talking about going back to school to learn sign language. All the little pieces of information of how everyone else is doing, what they’ve accomplished, what they’re wearing and what car they are driving, have this incredible power to make us feel better, or worse and have nothing to do with where we are at.

Pay attention to your own path, and you won’t end up face planted on the sidewalk, wondering if someone is going to step on your head or come along and pick you up out of the dirt.

In closing, let me fill you in on the outcome of the uncomfortable interaction with the woman that inspired me.

While I waited in line, I wondered- was it her presence at CVS that made me uncomfortable, or was it the fact she hadn’t mentioned she was leaving 7/11 during one our conversations about Scratch tickets?

.  When I stepped in front of her, I asked why she’d switched jobs. It turns out Gwen, (we exchanged names during our conversation., thank God there was no one behind me,) had been studying to become a pharmacy technician, and the chain had hired her to work the retail side while waiting to pass whatever test pharmacy techs need to pass. So in a couple of weeks, Gwen will be the person I see when filling a prescription for penicillin.

Our lives are as big or as small as we choose to make them. People will come and go, or change positions, or we’ll change the way we define our relationships with them- from lover to ex, friend to best friend, to Christmas card recipient.

Some of you probably love the roller coaster of it all- not knowing what’s to come.

For the rest of usLean in. Reach for the commotion and the havoc.    Uproot everything you know to explore the unknown. Be a part of the changes you’re scared of, embrace the ones that are out of your hands, endure and learn from those that feel like they might break you forever.

     Find faith, and know who you are in this moment.

    Don’t be a person that clings to one system of beliefs, and one way of doing things, but recognize and build on the wisdom around and within you.

     What you discover in the years to come has the power to change you, and transform the world around you.

     Right now, the world needs changing.

     I trust all of you are up for doing your part.

     

 

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Maybe Ten Steps AWay

July 1, 2014

This is the weekend our next door neighbors finally packed up their things and moved. Well, that’s not true. They’ve been packing their things for three months now. I’ve been mourning their departure for about six months, when Thao first told me they had rented a home in Atlanta. So we’ve been saying good bye for a long, long time.

Saturday night, I took my daughter and the two girls that lived next door for so long up to Canobie Lake Park. I wanted to give them one last adventure together,and get them away from the boxes and the trash bags and all of the detritus that clutters a house that is being left. I let the older daughter bring a friend, as a bribe to get her to come too. It’s lonely at Canobie, with four pre-teen and teenage girls, all of whom would rather do anything than go on the chicken ride with me. But I brought a book. I had decided it was not my night to be a martyr, but to be a good mom and a great friend.

Thao, the mom, thinks she doesn’t speak very good English but I always understood what she was saying. We worried about our children together, while I stood in her beautiful kitchen with the shiniest floors in the world. She loves bananas and etsy and beautiful clothes. She has a smile so big I would laugh whenever she smiled at me.

Tue is the youngest. She grew up with Katy. They made videos of themselves dancing along to pop songs, and I’d watch them tonight, but then I will not only miss the Vo’s but the two little girls that aren’t so little any more. Tue is crazy smart. She told me yesterday that she is concerned today’s youth are becoming too disconnected from the world. I’m glad she’s one of today’s youth, she gives me hope.

Thanh is older, she’s in my son Colin’s grade. She is level headed, and kind, and hates fruit with an intensity most people save for brussels sprouts or really bad winters. She used to be shy and nervous. I remember once taking her with my family to Scream Fest, and spending the evening walking around looking for something that didn’t look very scary. I think I ate a lot o junk food that night. Now she is self possessed and graceful. If she is still nervous, I think it’s mostly about being made to eat fruit. And since it is unlikely she will ever find herself in a situation where that happens, I think she’ll be fine. Better than fine. Thanh is and will be amazing.

I never knew their Dad’s name until yesterday. It’s Hue, though I’m sure I spelled it wrong. He would show up at our door with huge bowls of noodle soup, or massive slivers of cake, or platters of shiny chicken wings. He is the only man I know that looks good in red pants. He loves his family.

And Coco. Coco was their little mini pinscher. Coco is a mean, nasty, yappy little dog and Coco probably loves me better than anyone. Ever. Than my mom even. Being loved like that feels really good, even when he’s trying to jam his sharp toothed little head into my mouth.

There is much more to say. But I’m going to let it be tonight. In life there is love and change and loss. And there is the blessing of truly getting to know another family, and the thousands of memories they have given us over the years.

Tonight, after we had said our goodbyes, my daughter grabbed me by the hand. She said- “Come on, Mom, we have to go stand by the drive way and wave good bye.

I had, like I mentioned, laundry to put away. So many phone calls to make. An online test I need to complete for my job. A library book that needed finding, and a dishwasher that needed loading.

But I followed her outside. We stood at the front of the house,by the porch that Katy and Tue played in all winter long. I’m really not sure what they did in there, just that it involved boxes and plastic dolls and a chalkboard. We waited in the twilight, on the stoop, next to an abandoned coffee cup. Ten minutes went by. I got impatient, all that damned stuff pressing down like a thousand heavy boxes on me. “We’re waiting, Mom.”

We got bit by mosquitos. We talked about books and camp and being nicer to her older brother. I think I saw a bat.

And when they pulled out, we waved goodbye and we smiled and we told them good luck.

And then we walked home in the dark. But it wasn’t far. Ten steps maybe. They were as close to us as neighbors can be. And really, really, really wonderful friends.

I am in the middle of a mess of change right now. My son is hurtling forward towards adulthood. My minister is moving on from our beloved church to take on a bigger world. And my boss at the Y has rearranged our fitness equipment and left our members wondering where the Kaiser Stretching Station went.

Colin’s voice changed a couple of weeks ago. Overnight. It’s low and strange and doesn’t sound like me anymore. He’s sprouted the beginnings of a mustache. He plays basketball in the driveway for hours. He smiles at me all the time, indulgent- I love my mom even though she is a little nuts but I’m going to put up with her for a while longer because I still need a ride to the dance. And then he speaks. And I’m so busy listening for some trace of the boy I knew last month that sometimes I don’t even hear what he said. I think he wanted me to give him a check tomorrow for his school lunches but he might have been asking when I was going to drive him to get his hair cut.

Parisa has been our minister ever since I found my way to First Parish seven years ago. I had the privilege of working with her when I held a summer job in the office one summer. She is a bit of an introvert, I think. I have the sense that getting up in front of a roomful of people isn’t something that comes naturally to her and she chose to become a minister because she had, and has, something to say. Every time I hear her from my pew, I applaud her courage and I walk away aware she has lifted the bar for me a bit. To be a better member. A better mom. A better person. To take on challenges that may not come naturally to me just because I have something amazing to share. I will miss her, her wisdom, and the knowledge that this magical, fierce, wonderful woman was my minister. And I will always count her as one of my friends.

And if you belong to a gym, I want you to know something. If the management changes around the furniture, so to speak, it’s not to mess with your heads. It’s not because the trainers are bored and discovered an article in Fitness Today on how a little feng shui makes a better workout. It’s because it’s important to take a step back from time to time and evaluate. To pay attention, even if the information is coming from a source that recently sprouted a few more hairs and can no longer audition for the Viennese Boys Choir. To move on, to greener pastures, if that’s what is calling, or to places where there are no pastures, if that’s where you’re needed.

Let me know if you need any help. I’m not always good with change, and it makes it a little easier for me to handle if I’m helping somebody even more bewildered than I am.

 

 

I am fifty years and have been actively involved in celebrating Christmas for about forty five years. And tonight, for the very first time in my life, I took down our Christmas tree.

I lifted the ornaments from the branches and wrapped the delicate ones up in a newspaper bought just for this task. I jammed the nonbreakable ones, the stuffed snowmen, the pine cones, the little watercolored masterpieces from nursery schools a few years back, in between the little balles of paper. I swept up pine needles.

I stood on my tip toes and lifted our angel from her perch. I nested her inside some of the “snow” that looks awfully similar to asbestos, and placed her on top. I swept up pine needles.

Next I began to deal with the lights. I was the one that wove them among the branches, it was only fitting I was the one that began to untangle the tangled web I wove… four different strands of lights. At one point, the length was so long and I was pulling so hard to free them in a long single strand, the Christmas tree fell back into the foyer. I finally dragged the entire tree, stand and all, and miles of lights out to the sidewalk. There I had room to work. And so I did. I’m sure the people walking and driving by were thinking of better ways I could have gone about the whole task. But no one made any suggestions. If you are one of those people, next time, I’m open to any and all advice. (There is so much in this world I know absolutely nothing about.)

Next was the storage of the lights. In the past, my husband has wrapped them around empty paper towel rolls he’d saved for this purpose.

I used one paper towel roll, after I unrolled, according to the wrapper, 250 feet of paper towels. I began at one end, slowly reeling in yards and yards of twinkling stars,  using the steady  gestures a fisherman uses when bringing in a good catch. I think. I don’t fish. But I imagine it feels similar.

When I was done with the the first line, I searched for alternatives. The remaining lights are wrapped around one sippie cup, one bottle of almost empty toner, (Bonnie Bell, left over from a brief horrid period of adult acne, thank God I’m finally too old for that,) and one tube of sunblock, still full, but number 15. Nobody uses fifteen anymore, the ozone layer is going to disappear any minute and using fifteen would pretty much guarantee skin cancer the following week.

And then I swept up pine needles. I lifted up the rug,I  think I saw some from last year, and swept them up too. I took down the Christmas cards, and the stockings, I untangled tinsel from shoes,  I put the last scraps of wrapping in the recycling, and ate the last Hershey’s kiss hidden under a log.

This was the first time I put Christmas away, into a box. Wrapped it up, onto a cylander. Buried it under fake snow. They say that we need to keep Christmas in our hearts all year long. It doesn’t feel like Christmas tonight, it feels like the end of an era. An era when I didn’t have to responsible for unplugging and angel and tucking her away for a year.

But change is good. I’m going to go sweep up some more pine needles. I hope it still smells like Christmas for a day or two. Those candles that claim to smell like trees just smell like the home of someone that smokes that thinks they are keeping it a secret.

But that’s another story.

Happy January 6th, my friends.

P.s. And if you haven’t taken your tree down yet, start saving your paper towel rolls.