I typically try to write a blog each month, but somehow May slipped away from me and it never happened. The school year ended, and right now I’m in the middle of my one and a half weeks where my kids are still in school and I’m not. In other words, I’ve been spending this glorious and rare windfall of alone time running errands, perusing the bookstore and bringing home an Anne Lamott book to read on my patio, barefoot, with a cup of coffee, and trying to be still in a world that continues to spin at a dizzying speed, each month and year seemingly faster than the previous if that is even possible.
There is much to be grateful for. Yesterday, my 6th grader participated in an egg drop. I was recruited the day before to volunteer. I happened to be at the wrong/right place at the wrong/right time and the opportunity presented itself. I swapped my rare free time for the rare opportunity to be on my kids’ campus, and it was so fun. My son’s design– which he had not shown to me prior, or shared anything about– was one of the best. I felt my heart swell with pride at the realization that he really, truly is going to be an engineer! It’s totally in him. I watched his weightless design come to a perfect landing, the egg in perfect condition, and I had absolutely no idea how I gave birth to that brain. I’m so glad I did!
My job was to cut open the egg contraptions and either hold up the intact egg or show the drippy broken ones while the crowd of kids roared. I was basically Vanna White, revealing eggs instead of letters. After school, my son complained that I was so lucky. I really am. As I paraded the eggs around to the crowd of children, I saw my first grader waving excitedly at me, and my third grader on the other side watching me with pride. In the distance, my 4-year-old nephew was at the daycare fence, holding the chain-linked fence with his face pressed against it, watching the commotion with wonder. It’s moments like that when I feel so deeply connected and appreciative of this place I call home, where roots have grown and the blood of vanquished dreams have nurtured new beginnings. It has all been worth it.
As I left the school after the egg drop, me and the other parents couldn’t get past the exit gate. There was a safety clip we couldn’t figure out, and I thought, “Oh good. Extra precautions, just in case.”
I was at the end of my junior year in high school when Columbine happened. Back then, it was still enough of an anomaly that I didn’t have to spend one day thinking it would happen to me. We didn’t practice active shooting drills. It was, as I’ve heard previous generations repeat ad nauseam, “a different time.”
There are no words to describe the recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas. I’m a teacher and a parent, and I now carry an awareness that this could definitely happen anywhere, including here. I’ve thought about the best places to hide in the classroom. I’ve talked to my own children about how bullets can easily go through drywall and you need to find something to slow down the bullets. We’ve had conversations about playing dead. It’s terrible. In those moments, one can only hope that circumstances and instincts perfectly align to keep you alive. Physically, that is.
I can not believe I am teaching my children how to become docile in an increasingly hostile and unsurvivable world. Literally teaching them how to play possum. That goes against everything I believe in, yet in the face of the kind of bullets that blow apart your flesh, it’s no longer about ideals.
This is not a world I want to leave for my children and grandchildren. I know we can do better. We have to do better. We need to feel the agonizing grief on behalf of those parents who had to bury their children, and the families who buried teachers, as if it were personal to us. As if it were our children. It can’t continue to be something that happens to other people. We have to care enough to change this trajectory.
One of the deceased teachers’ husbands died of a heart attack two days after the shooting. I can’t begin to know what it was like for him, but I do know what it is like to lose your spouse unexpectedly, prematurely. I wanted to die too. I’m so lucky I didn’t.
On my way home from dropping off the kids this morning (another luxury I do not experience during the school year), I waited at a red light next to a sedan with its windows down and blasting Hall and Oates. I turned, expecting to see somebody’s grandparent, only to see a young Latino man. I don’t know if those details matter, other than it wasn’t what I personally expected.
And I freaking love that.
I love when my assumptions are totally wrong and the evidence is right in front of my face. It makes me really curious about what else is out. It gives me hope.
Like how I thought I hated cats, but now get my feelings hurt if they aren’t asleep at the foot of my bed by the time I turn out the lights, and the way my heart melts at the sight of their sweet little noses, how they greet me at the door, and the way my orange tabby plops on top of me at the first sign of me stirring awake in the morning.
Unexpected and delicious. A reminder that there is always more to unearth, even when we think we have it all figured out.
I’m reading Anne Lamott’s book, “Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage.” I bought it while I spent that early afternoon the other day luxuriating in the bookstore without my kids, an ear bud in my ear so I could simultaneously listen to the Depp v. Heard verdict. I embarrassingly admit that I followed the case via Emily D. Baker on YouTube, reviving my Mock Trial law nerd days. I found myself running out of time before kid pick-up, so I hastily decided on the Anne book in front of me and left. I love the way these inconsequential decisions can lead us to the perfect decision. Right now I’m enjoying her wisdom baked into words that she effortlessly weaves together in her storytelling. I love this line where she talks about getting married for the first time at a late age. She wrote, “I had forgotten how disconcerting intimacy can be, how rare and how devastating the potential for loss that’s inherent in it.”
It resonates because I know that kind of loss so intimately and deeply, the searing kind of pain that crushes your bones before slowly fading into hollow space that you must carry to your grave. It can make you feel nervous about it happening again. Nervous isn’t a strong enough word. Terrified. Reluctant. Scared. Overwhelmed.
Life feels like a series of tiny acts of courage to get through the things that feel overwhelming and big, of which there are many, and usually around every corner.
Recently, Greg met my children, and my children met Greg and his daughter. I’ve been worried about this since their father passed. The day(s) in which I will have to introduce them to new possibilities, and what will happen if these possibilities never become anything. I remember reading a book the same week Kenneth passed away by a widow with children who were the same ages as mine at the time. She said that it was a long-term relationship ending that was more devastating to her children than their own father’s passing since they had been so young. Early on, I decided that I had to be scrupulous about every move I would ever make concerning my family. My number one priority was to provide the kids with an idyllic childhood, as close to the one I could have offered if their father were still here. This commitment to them has been non-negotiable.
And yet, I still have to be a person. It doesn’t seem fair to completely write myself off. There had to be more in the cards for me other than young widow and self-sacrificing mother.
Greg came sliding into my text messages right before Christmas. We attend the same annual Christmas cookie party and have for almost two decades at this point. Our mutual friends even tried to set us up five years ago and we hated each other. Since then, cookie parties were spent on opposite ends of the house, ignoring the other person’s existence and pretending that Starbucks date never happened.
I’m not sure why Greg texted me out of the blue after this last party. I had long ago deleted his phone number. He was kind enough to identify himself by the rude name I gave him in a scathing essay I wrote entitled “The Wimpy Texter”.
I’m so glad he did.
Five years later, I still didn’t really like him. Perhaps I was bored enough during winter break, in the middle of a covid surge, to say yes to the second first date. I wasn’t convinced after the second date. Not even after the third or fourth. Two months later, I wondered what was happening.
Just like a Hall and Oates song blasting from a young person’s car, you just don’t know what you like, really. You can have hints and clues and suspicions. But do we ever really know? I’m here to say that I didn’t know. I would not have picked Greg out of any line-up. I wouldn’t have chosen his resume. I wouldn’t have picked Kenneth’s, either.
But I’m so glad they saw something in me. The best things always come in unexpected packages.
In the days leading up to Greg meeting my kids, I kept reassuring everyone that this was bound to be awkward. There could be no other way around it. Who would willingly sign up for this?
They agreed, and the interesting thing about all of us is that we are all bound by the things we did not choose. The loss of my husband. And for Greg, the passing of his wife. My kids were deeply sympathetic. I’m lucky, because I think that helps soften the rough edges.
As I fretted and fretted, the day finally came. The kids liked him very much. Turns out, I over-worried, per the usual. It was going to be okay. At least for now.
Yet I’m still worried, because who knows how any of this will end? Or continue? There is always something lurking around the corner. I’m trying to rid myself of the constant fear of the other shoe dropping, but that isn’t going to happen overnight.
Greg is the optimism to my pessimism. He is Ned Flanders and I’m Marge’s sister. We are opposites in so many ways, and yet as he likes to say, we somehow “meet in the middle.” I can’t explain it. I really can’t. All I can say is, be open to what is possible. And lean into what feels like home.
Viktor Frankl said, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.”
It’s supposed to be awkward.
It’s supposed to be hard.
It will look like uncharted territory.
It will likely feel at least a little scary.
And it might not work.
But it will be worth it.
No matter how it turns out.