Tell Me Good Things to Think About

Don't worry, be happy

“Tell me good things to think about while I fall asleep.” For years, this was the near nightly request of my firstborn, a sensitive and anxious child.

I’d prop myself up with Firstborn’s head against me, my hand resting on their back, as I murmured a recitation of everything good in the world that my brain could conjure at that moment. I would talk about puppies and kittens, individual varieties of colorful flowers, the interesting shapes of clouds, fun games and toys, whatever books and movies my kid was interested in at the time, their friends, comfortable clothes, lightning bugs. The list would go on and on. I’d keep talking, my voice soft, until I heard the rhythm of breathing that announced the arrival of sleep. The prime years for this were between the ages of four and eight, though the request still came at less frequent intervals right up to about age fourteen.

Being un-churched, I suppose this was the form of our evening devotion. It started as a way to help an anxious child calm enough to sleep. But it also became a comforting ritual for me.

I know the advice to count your blessings seems hackneyed. But if I really do it, it helps with my own anxiety and depression (my offspring come by this trait honestly.) The key is, though, I can’t just think of one or two things and flip a switch inside. For me, for it to be effective, I have to keep thinking and adding to the list, literally for as long as I can until I run out of ideas or fall asleep. Usually, it’s fall asleep. Because this is how I’m now soothing myself at night when the problems of the world loom. I tell myself good things to think about while I fall asleep.

In helping someone else, I inadvertently created a gratitude practice of benefit to myself. Funny how that works.

Happy Halloween — It’s Happening

I almost decided to do nothing for Halloween this year, with the pandemic and whatnot. My frequent walks around the neighborhood changed my mind. I have enjoyed seeing others’ decorations and jack-o-lanterns so much, I wanted to join in. My husband and son-in-residence were game. The spider is mine. I found a design on the internet and modified it a little; I’m not really that artistic. The 8-bit face is my son’s, and the goofy Jack is my husband’s freehand design.

Currently, these are by our front steps. This evening, I’ll move them out near the sidewalk (we have a deep yard) and put out a small table with Halloween treats and a sign for trick-or-treaters to help themselves. That way, there’s no bunching up on the porch. Ghosts and goblins will have more space to spread out and be safe.

Happy Halloween!

Yet Another Goodbye

Luna, our late feline matriarch

Thirteen days ago, my family said goodbye to Luna, the cat I had convinced myself would live forever. But forever finally ended after 18 1/2 years. I was hesitant to post about this because I know many people are experiencing devastating losses right now — jobs, homes, family members falling to COVID. How can I talk about the loss of a cat when so many are going through so much? But then I figured, this blog has always been about my day-to-day life in the bigger picture. And since I’ve frequently mentioned my pets, I decided to share the news.

Luna came to us as an eight-week-old fluff that could fit in one hand, back when my two children were little, the younger one still in preschool. I chose her name based on the small white circle on her chest that looked like a full moon in the night sky. She never was a large cat, weighing between seven and eight pounds for most of her adult life. But she was the boss of our younger, ginger tom, who was twice her weight. She stuck around and helped us raise our two kids, seeing them through to adulthood. Through all of our ups and downs, flux and change, Luna was a mainstay.

She and my younger son bonded strongly and immediately. He lived away from us for a while, and then moved back in. After his return, Luna didn’t want to let him out of her sight, and spent a lot of time in his room. In the last weeks, he placed her bed right by his desk, so she could be next to him while he worked on development projects.

Cat bed placed so she can supervise her human while he works

I was off work from my day job last week, something I had planned long in advance as a time to catch up on projects around the house and kind of decompress from stress. As it turned out, being home every day put it right in my face that she wasn’t there. It wasn’t very decompressing.

But an interesting thing happened last Saturday. If I believe in messages from the universe, which I do on some days, this might have been one. I went on a long walk — nearly three miles — because that’s my best therapy. At one point, a black cat appeared out of a wooded area and literally chased me down, running full speed to catch up with me in order to rub against my legs and get pets from me. It was like the universe knew I needed a bit of black cat in my life, or as if this cat was channeling the one I lost. My rational mind knows it was a random happening, but I’m not listening to my rational mind on this one.

Random cat that chased me down, demanding affection.

The Unworn Blazer

This blazer has hung in my closet, never worn, for several months. Its only current purpose seems to be to remind me of how everything in the world went south. I bought it as a gift for myself early in the year, to celebrate having raised my children, having finally finished college, having at long last arrived at a point in my life where I could focus on my own personal aspirations.

Really, it had a dual purpose — one career-related, the other a political statement. On the career front, though I love a lot of things about my job, I decided I would keep my eyes open and possibly apply for other positions if I saw an opportunity I thought would be a good fit and pay me better. In that case, I would need something to wear to interviews. And even if I never applied for anything else, I developed a plan for my current place of employment, to try to make the job more what I wanted. Part of that would involve dressing more professionally. Dress for the job you want…blah, blah, blah. (I would have ironed it!)

Politically, I knew there were two local/primary elections this year, plus one presidential one. It may seem silly, and also late to the game, but I really wanted to wear a pantsuit to go to the polls. My own private statement, even if it only mattered to me.

You know what they say about making plans. The universe is having a big old belly laugh over this purchase. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a reason to wear it. Immediately after I bought it, COVID-19 shut down everything, including my workplace for a few weeks. And once we re-opened, the nature of the work had changed overnight. I’m at a public library, where suddenly a large, new part of our operating model includes curbside deliveries, carrying loads of books and other library materials out to cars in the hot sun, a task requiring a relaxing of the dress code to prevent heat exhaustion. For the first time, we were allowed to wear shorts at work.

My work wardrobe since May has consisted mostly of t-shirts and capris. I’m no longer teaching any classes, leading book discussions, or assisting with in-person programming, since we don’t have any and won’t for the foreseeable future. Thus no occasion to put on a blazer at the current job. And as few places are hiring right now, I’m unlikely to need it for an interview, either.

As for the idea of a pantsuit at the polls, COVID-19 has me casting absentee ballots for the first time in my life. Ah well, maybe I’ll put it on and wear it November 3 anyway. Why not? It’s here waiting.

Still Milestones to Celebrate

Photo by Tairon Fernandez on Pexels.com

I have so many younger coworkers with babies and toddlers, and some of my same-age friends now have small grandchildren. I adore seeing their pics and videos on social media, marking all the milestones. She rolled over! He took his first step! They started kindergarten! It brings back the feelings of excitement from when my own two were little and doing new things, which my heart tells me was only a couple of years ago, despite what the calendar says.

My kids might be in their twenties now, but there are still some developmental milestones to celebrate. My 25-year-old just publicly stated an opinion that parents should monitor what their teenagers are doing on the internet, which seems like a monumental piece of growth to me, considering the fights we had about it back in the day. I did not say “Told you so!” (He never reads my blog, so this doesn’t count.) Not only that, but he recently enrolled in a retirement savings plan through his workplace. I don’t have photos of him signing the forms, but I’m sure he was very cute doing it.

Those first steps are followed by so many more that are equally important.

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Yet Another Home “Improvement” Project

Oh, hey! Look what has been hiding under the carpet all these years.

That carpet is every bit as terrible and skanky as it looks. As I have mentioned repeatedly in this blog, our house was in not great condition when we bought it seventeen years ago. But we got a lot of space and a great location for raising our kids within our budget. Some people see problems. We saw character and opportunity. (Real example: a hole in the ceiling of the upstairs hallway where a light fixture used to be. We lived with it for two years before putting in our own light fixture.)

So anyway, this carpet was in my oldest child’s bedroom/soon to be my office. It was old and bad when we moved in. Then a kid who kept many little pets — rats, hedgehogs– grew up in there. I patched and repainted the walls, as well as replacing the curtains after the second time he moved out. Hoping the third launch is the charm, I’m taking over the space to be my office. I couldn’t stand the beyond-salvation carpet. Yet, we don’t have the money at the moment to have a new floor covering installed.

I started peeling it back from one corner of the room, just to see what the floor underneath might look like. Not bad, was the answer. My husband and I decided to go for it and rip out the whole roomful, hoping we didn’t uncover any terrible surprises in the process.

The good news is we found no rotting wood or warped planks. The interesting, character-revealing news is that paint crimes were committed in there at some point during the house’s history. Someone painted without a drop cloth. Maybe multiple someones. So there are splotches of white paint here and there. And there and there. I am honest about my limitations in the current moment, which means I’m not taking on sanding and refinishing. I can live with some character marks and cover up others with clearance sale area rugs.

Then I will have my very own office, with an octagon of tower windows for my desk area. And my writing productivity will soar. Of course it will. Stop laughing. I’m really going to get more writing done and not get distracted by other projects around the place, like putting in more pollinator plants or seeing what the floors are like in other rooms under the carpet, or repainting the living room, or fixing our front porch steps, or…

Special thanks to the spouse for cutting and installing the quarter round.

The Era of the Minivan Has Passed

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Poor thing!

After nineteen years as a minivan driver, my identity has changed. I am a minivan mom no longer. I had hoped my 2004 Chevy Venture would last a couple more years, but that dream was dashed nine days ago when I was rear-ended pretty hard while attempting to make a left turn into my own driveway.

I live on a two-lane street, so I had stopped briefly to let oncoming traffic clear, then just begun my turn when — WHAM! My vehicle ended up jumping the curb and stopping across the sidewalk, nose-first into the slope of my front yard. I wasn’t injured, I assume because I didn’t realize it was about to happen, so none of my muscles were tensed. But things sure flew around inside the van. Remind me never again to drive with my purse unzipped. Its contents ended up all over the place, including in a pool of water where a gallon jug exploded. It took me two or three minutes to find my cell phone.

The driver who hit me was young, still in high school I think. She was using her mom’s minivan, which in turn was also struck from behind by a third vehicle. It was a bad day in the neighborhood for vans. But I found a silver lining in the behavior of all involved. The first thing everyone asked of each other: Are you okay? Do you need any help?

No injuries to anyone. Phew!

I saw some excellent parenting, too, when her parents appeared on the scene. She took full responsibility, stating that she didn’t notice I was stopped until the last second, and then panicked. When she tried to hit the brakes, she accidentally hit the gas again. Her mom and dad praised her for telling the truth, did not yell, did not appear angry, just concerned for the safety of all.

If you’ve followed my blog since the beginning and have a feeling of deja vu, it’s because this is the third time in eight years my family has lost a vehicle in this manner. We don’t even drive that much! But we seem to be on a four-year cycle of getting our cars hit and totaled. It happened in 2012 with my husband driving and again in 2016 with my younger son at the wheel. Maybe we should all stay off the road in 2024.

The spouse and I got our insurance settlement and did emergency car shopping this past week. I can’t remember the last time I drove carpool. Usually it’s me alone going somewhere. So we downsized and moved to a new phase of life, finding a pretty good deal on a used Honda CR-V EX. It will be my first all wheel drive experience. I hope we get snow this winter!

You say goodbye:

 

And I say hello:

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I have named her Ruthie, after Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in the hopes that she will be tough and hang in there a long time.

Speaking With My (Adult) White Kids About Race

Black Lives Matter Sign
Attribution: Andy Witchger

I haven’t been blogging much, partly because I’m back to work at my physical workplace, and it’s honestly kicking my butt. I wrote a funny post about returning to regular employment, but with current events, it seemed not the appropriate time to post it.

I’ve seen a lot of articles recently about speaking with your kids about race and racism. Good! These, of course, are aimed at parents who are still raising their kids. What I want to add is, don’t stop the conversation with them once they’re grown. You might learn as much as you teach.

I’m in my fifties, and both of my kids are in their twenties now. I come from a large family, where there’s a significant age spread among siblings. I think we all strive to overcome our racism, but I had an advantage over the older ones in feeling more comfortable around people of other races, since I attended pretty well-integrated schools throughout my childhood.   It also put it in my face regularly that some kids got harsher punishments than others for the same behaviors, and there was a pattern to it.

I, however, didn’t learn a whole lot of Black history, or much about how systems perpetuate privilege and racism. I didn’t become aware of those things much until I was an adult. I still have more to learn. My kids also attended pretty integrated schools and learned more than I did about cultures and history other than their own. But probably not enough. Well, remove the probably. I talked to them some about race, but probably not enough. Okay, remove the probably, I see in hindsight.

But they’re both educating themselves as adults, too. Much of our conversation these days is about race. And I’ve discovered they have outpaced me in doing research about things like community policing, and good resources, and how to be a better ally. They’re far ahead of where I was at the same age. In my twenties, my goal around race was just not to do or say racist things personally as I went about my life. Very passive. My offspring are much more about being actively anti-racist, and they have helped to bring me along.

With young children, you get difficult questions about why people are doing bad things. With grown kids, we might still discuss things that perplex us, but it’s more of a sharing of ideas and resources, of brainstorming what we can do in our lives.

So, here are some of my intended actions, partly stemming from discussions with my kids. I have found a community bail fund and made a donation. I’m intend to make it a monthly habit. On social media, I will share writings and art by people of color. In my work at a public library, I already have been striving to make sure I present diversity in book displays and blog posts. But sometimes, when I’m in a time crunch, or overwhelmed, I get lazy. And getting lazy when the publishing industry is still overwhelmingly white means the materials I’m promoting are going to skew toward overrepresentation of white voices. I will contact elected officials urging for better laws and policies.

Most of all, I will try to keep listening and learning and doing better. I know my kids will help me out there.

New Vistas and the Streets I Used to Walk

My firstborn has flown again. What was originally planned to be a one-week visit with us turned into a six-week stay, thanks to the timing of the pandemic. But he left Sunday to drive halfway across the country to his new life in the Pacific Northwest, arriving at his destination on Tuesday night. I have so much admiration for his courage in pursuing his dreams. I think he’s in a place where he’ll thrive. At least I hope so.

He was a good son and messaged his mother at every stop to let me know he was still alive. Here’s part of our exchange from Monday. Caveat to readers in states mentioned: he and I both know there are a lot of positive things about those states. This is more about the experience of grueling interstate travel.

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Meanwhile, I’m still, until next week, on a very flexible work from home status. Which means I get to go out for a walk every day. Yesterday, with the knowledge I would likely not see my oldest child for several months at least, I suffered a fit of nostalgia and walked around to see every house we lived in with our kids previous to our current residence. We’ve stayed in the same part of town, so my entire journey was accomplished in under an hour.

I didn’t take any photos of the homes because I didn’t want to seem creepy. But it was enough to see them and mull over my memories. First I went past the bitty little rental house where we had our first baby, the house where my self-identity changed forever. It had originally been a garage, later being converted to a home. The 8 x 8 bedroom we’d designated as the nursery was never used as such while we live there, as I discovered we all three got more sleep when the baby was in the room with us. We stayed there for two years, moving on to a different rental house with more space as we discussed expanding the family.

Rental house number two where we had child number two was a small, but not tiny, brick ranch house with an unfortunate tendency for the pipes to freeze in the winter. But it had a yard for outdoor play and was on a quiet, dead-end street with great neighbors, including two different retired couples who loved to fuss over the children the block. We liked living on that street so much that we bought a place only a few doors down a year later, the house I think of as our first true family home. We moved in when our kids were ages three years and three months respectively, and stayed until they were eight and five years old.

It not only had a lovely yard, but the back yard was fenced, something that had never meant much to me before I had children whom I sent out to play. There were two bedrooms downstairs and a big finished attic that we turned into a playroom/office. It was where my husband used duct tape and boxes to construct a playhouse within the playroom — a structure that kept the kids entertained for hours on end. It was where we lived when my oldest started kindergarten. Where we spent many hours drawing on the cement driveway with chalk, blowing bubbles while sitting on the front steps, seeing how high we could stack the spiky balls from the sweetgum tree before they started to tumble. It did my heart good yesterday to see that whoever lives there now is taking care of the place. The roof looks brand new.

And then the walk back to our current home, scene of many birthday parties, gatherings of friends after Halloween trick-or-treating, games of hide and seek, enthusiastic science experiments, homework battles, teenaged drama. There’s a parking area in back where the training wheels first came off my younger son’s bike, and where later, both kids would practice parallel parking between camp chairs with vertical poles attached. This is the house where we had a wheelchair ramp constructed so I could bring my mother to visit, where we’ve chased out bats and raccoons, where we’ve repeatedly fought city hall over proposals to make the street more like a highway, and where we are now problem solving how to set-up dual home offices for my husband and myself.

Life changes slowly and all at once.

Meal Planning is a Whole Big Thing Now

I’m genuinely afraid my family is going to get used to me cooking dinner. This is temporary, people — a temporary situation!

When I was thinking through the ramifications of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, the one thing I didn’t realize at first was how much of my time and energy would be consumed by meal planning. I had become quite laissez faire about meals around here over the last few years, cooking real dinner only two to three times a week. I was working odd hours, and we’re all adults in this house now. I kept the kitchen stocked with stuff that was easy for my husband and son to fix for themselves and figured they were also capable of running to the store if we didn’t have something they wanted. My husband usually picked up lunch out somewhere, a slice of pizza or such like.

Now we have four in the house instead of three, every one of us eating every last meal at home. Meanwhile, casually popping over the grocery store for a forgotten item is no longer a thing. We are plowing through supplies on hand at a pretty good clip. Food acquisition and use are logistical puzzles, taxing the executive function center of my brain. I have switched from in-person grocery shopping to ordering online for pick-up, but the available time slots have to be scheduled several days in advance. By the time I went to pick up my groceries on Wednesday, I had forgotten what I ordered the Friday before. I tried to look at it as a fun surprise. And, oh, hey! I inadvertently ended up with the world’s largest oranges!

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Quarter for size comparison

One thing that makes me say, “Yay me!” is the fact that on the very early edge of all this mess, I subscribed to a local CSA program, with a box of fresh produce scheduled for our household once every two weeks. Here’s our first delivery:

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Delish

Each member of the family forages for their own breakfast and lunch. So I’m only preparing one meal a day. That’s not too much, really, even for someone who isn’t overly fond of cooking. Having consumed my share of rice and chicken neck dinners as a kid, I try to remember to be grateful for the ability to buy this food.

Another bright spot is that I never touch the dirty dishes, of which we are producing many stacks. The other three members of the household keep them cycling through the dishwasher and back into the cabinets.

And the other morning, I woke up to discover the cookie fairy had come during the night.

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I suspect the Cookie Fairy is really my oldest son

We’re figuring this thing out.