The Juggling Act

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Looking at this oddly chaotic drawing whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed somehow makes me feel better. I found it years ago, and, sadly, I can’t seem to find it again to properly credit the artist. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, this one tells quite a story about everyday life as an adult – a perpetual balancing act of everything that’s important. So many balls in the air, and the consequences of letting any of them fall can be great. Yet, somehow, we manage to do it – and not just survive, but often thrive. We grow, we grow people, we help them grow.

My oldest son told me the other day that he didn’t want to grow up (but he still wanted to have birthdays, mind you!) When I asked him why, he said ’cause grown ups didn’t get to have any fun anymore. I, of course, told him that wasn’t true and reminded him of all the fun things we have done together. But it’s not just pictures that speak louder than words. Actions do too. And somehow, my actions are portraying life as boring, busy, and work filled. All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.

His declaration got me thinking. I admire people whose enjoyment of life is evident. Who wear joy on their sleeves like a beautiful accessory and brighten every room they walk into. I’m not talking about the fun or thrill seeking type, who shirk responsibility and look down their noses at anyone who chooses to tie themselves down with it. Don’t get me started on those people. I mean the people who manage to do the daily juggling act, and make it look fun. Because it is fun after all. Not each individual piece of it, but as whole picture, it is. And when I see something I admire about someone else, but don’t see it in myself, I have some work to do. I need to do better about not sweating the small stuff. Occasionally letting the little balls fall so that I can keep the big ones up. And showing my son that this juggling act of life, even as a grown up, can be a lot of fun. Who’s with me?

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Marking Milestones

Lets face it… the holidays are stressful. They were magical when we were kids. Sometimes, we still catch glimpses of that magic through the eyes of our children or a sense of nostalgia. But, as much as I hate to admit it, the older I get, the more the holidays seem to be about to-do lists and finances, expectations and family drama, and just making it through. By the time we hit New Years, I have so little energy or holiday spirit left that I just want to spend my long weekend clearing up all the Christmas crap and catching up on sleep. But, ironically, this is when we are expected, at the final stage of this seasonal marathon, to stay up all night and party like it’s 1999. Sigh.

As I contemplate the merits of going out versus staying in and try to dredge up the last remnants of good cheer and festive spirits that I possess, I find myself meditating (as I continually remind myself and all of you to do) on the small but meaningful milestones that have occurred during this season of chaos – trying to lift the hazy vale of petty stresses that seems to have settled over my eyes as of late. There are so many more important things than money and schedules and weight gain and chores. And if we’re not careful to mark them we may miss them.

  • This month, my hubby and I celebrated our 5th anniversary.  Five years of marriage and six years together really does feel like a lifetime – not because the time dragged, but because I find it increasingly hard to remember and nearly impossible to imagine what life was/would be like without him. He is my life and I am so grateful for this milestone and the achievement it marks, despite it’s relatively small, quiet celebration in the midst of Christmas travel.
  • This week marked the halfway point of my pregnancy.  Just two weeks after discovering that our little bundle is made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, he has begun making his presence known to me by kicking and punching actively every day.  And wildly expanding my girth from week to week.  It is so hard to imagine that – “WHOA-OH we’re halfway there!” And even though sometimes I do feel like I’m livin’ on a prayer, I am amazed at how far we’ve come and eager to see the fruits of my labor (pun most definitely intended.)

  • This month also marked my entry into another decade of my life.  And, I must say, the reality has been severely underwhelming.  For all the dread and angst that I invested leading up to that day, it has not dramatically changed my life or outlook.  But the more I considered this milestone, the more I realized that it’s not how many years you possess, but how much those years contained that matters. If they were full and rich, they were a success.  If they were not as full as I would have liked, than I have ten more years to rectify that before the next decade rolls around.  Guess I better get busy!
  • My son amazes me more and more every day. While constantly increasing his capacity to frustrate, he is also expanding his knowledge and understanding and ability. He is beginning to understand the rules of his world and how to live by them but imagine beyond them.  He may know that there is not really a monster in the shower, but why not create a blue dragon with red eyes to walk by his side and protect him as he checks to make sure.  He may know the names and natures of every single animal in his picture book, but he still pronounces some of them like “pokey-spines” and “flaming-glows.” He may scoff at Mama’s constant need for kisses and hugs or barely acknowledge the showers of little compliments we pay him daily, but I know our philosophy of positive parenting is paying off every time my little boy naturally and without any effort or thought compliments me to make me happy. These are the good times and we can’t let the spoiling nature of presents and late bedtimes and Christmas treats rob us of these memories.

  • I am finally surfacing and remembering that there is a life past Christmas feasts and cookies and splurges, and lately it has taken the form simple, uncomplicated, comfortable foods like spaghetti and vegetable soup, bagels and homemade bread, sandwiches and a classic favorite around here – green beans. It is a welcome relief to be back in the kitchen and cooking healthy food for only 3 (and a half) people.

  • Our Christmas presents were small but lovely reminders of thoughtful love. Mine to Jonathan included things that contributed to his manliness and comfort. Some things he’s mentioned wanting and others he didn’t even know he wanted. A chrome safety razor shaving set, a pipe and good tobacco, a handsome watch, and intriguing reading material.  His to me were special tokens of an effort which I know is difficult for him but at which he succeeded because he knows it’s important to me. A black and white diamond heart necklace, a book of love poems, a fantastically retro kitchen timer, two beautiful sweaters, a scarf set, and a prenatal message. Aiden’s toys reflected his current interests and will help to develop his growing imagination. Who knew Weebles would bring so many hours of creative play! And our gifts to family and friends were large mugs filled with homemade peppermint cocoa mix – made with many hours and much painstaking testing by Aiden and myself. And also, for the kids in our lives, homemade play dough sets with cookie cutters. Aiden proudly proclaimed to everyone who received them, “I made it with Mama!” giving me the best gift of all – knowing my son is learning the value of giving from the heart with work from the hands.

If all of these things don’t make up for the stresses of the holidays, than our focus is in the wrong place. We have to remember that it’s not a cushy bank account that we will cherish at the end of our lives but rather the joy of those we spent our time and money on. Things are replaceable.  People, moments, feelings are not. How we chose to remember these times largely colors how we experience them. I chose to remember well.

Utilitarian or Aesthetic . . . or Both?

So many of the things we surround ourselves with in our daily lives are there because they serve a practical purpose.  But all too often, functionality exists to the exclusion of beauty.  Things are placed in one of two categories: utilitarian or aesthetic.  But why can’t they be both?  Wouldn’t life be so much more fun if we made a bit of an effort to dress up the practical and surround ourselves with simple beauties?  Take your office at work, for example.  If you, like me, work in a very small space the size of most people’s closets and every square inch of your desk is covered with papers, filing shelves, computers, phones, pens, sticky notes and general clutter, you may think that there is just no room for frivolous aesthetics.  But most of us use a desk lamp so that we don’t feel like we’re working in a cave all day.  So . . .

Why not switch it from this one . . . . . . . . to this one? (courtesy of Target.com)

Or what about our pets?  Many of us have pets because we love animals and the loyal, no-strings-attached affection that they offer daily.  But does having pets mean we are doomed to a life of mess and smell and having corners of our home that we hope and pray most people won’t notice?  Or perhaps even the practical necessity of a litter box can become a cozy nook in our kitchen or bathroom:

Which would you rather have in your home? (Second image courtesy of Merry Pet)

Or maybe our child’s relatively maintenance-free but awe-inspiring pet fish can go from a small plastic water hazard in his room to a living centerpiece in the home and garner much more attention that way as well.

Practical and pretty!

Unfortunately, most of the time this concept will only go as far as the budget will allow.  The three examples above are all very reasonable ways to upgrade functional objects to a new standard of aesthetic elegance.  But there are always things we daydream about one day being able to incorporate into our generally high standard of beautiful living.  Like some day being able to transform your bed from the place that you sleep to a mid-summer-nights dream.

Of course there are much more cost-effective ways to achieve this same aesthetic, such as leafy wall murals, earthy color schemes and throw pillows. But there is just something magical about this frame that can not be denied. (Image courtesy of theberry.com)

There are so many ways to convert basic, practical, and functional things in our environment into objects of beauty as well.  Just imagining the possibilities can put a brighter spin on your day and your general outlook, knowing that you’re making the world just a little bit nicer.

A Little Gratitude Goes a Long Way

We all long to feel appreciated.  We want to know if other people recognize that the things we do are important.  It is integral to our happiness in all of our relationships, from friendships and marriages to employers and children.  And today I learned, from a very simple source, that a little gratitude goes a long way. 

For the past three years, since we have lived in our current house, we have had the same garbage men.  They come every Monday and Thursday to collect our waste and take it away.  I cannot imagine a much more thankless and disgusting job.  And yet, I must admit, that for those same three years I have harbored a slight annoyance at them – simply because they were careless about where they left our can.  Sometimes it would end up down the street a bit, often several feet away from the lid.  And I would always grumble about why they couldn’t just put it back on the curb.  All that changed when my son became fascinated with “Dump Trucks.”  From our kitchen, we can hear the truck coming around the block and for a half hour every Monday and Thursday morning, I hear the repeated exclamation, “Mommy, the DUMP TRUCK’s coming!”  And as it get’s closer and louder, he says with surprising urgency, “The dump truck!  I need to go see it!”  And we will stop whatever we are doing, sometimes covered in breakfast, and go marching outside to see the dump truck.  We wave emphatically and, because I am trying to teach my son to be polite and grateful despite the grumblings in my own mind, I tell him to say thank you loud enough for them to hear it over the din of the truck.  All three of the men have come to recognize us and smile broadly as we walk out the door.  The driver “beeps” his horn, and one of the collectors always waves and gives thumbs up.  Today and for the past several weeks since we began thanking them, the garbage can was placed nicely on the curb with the lid on top.  I never said anything to them about it.  It was just a natural response to kindness.  It made me wonder how often these men, who do such an amazing service for us, ever receive thanks.  Of any kind.  I intend to continue thanking them long after my son’s fascination wanes.

And then I began to consider all of the other unappreciated jobs that people do for us on a regular basis and how rarely we stop to thank them and make them feel like what they do is important.  Too often we feel entitled to services we would never perform.  Security guards at shopping centers.  Check out clerks at grocery stores.  People working fast food windows.  Entergy service technicians working at midnight in a storm.  The doctors and nurses at public clinics who even work holidays.  If we wouldn’t want to do their jobs, but we utilize their services, shouldn’t we be much quicker to show gratitude?  And not just to people doing jobs we don’t want to do, but also to those closer to home who do jobs we would have to do if they did not.  Like a spouse’s trip to the grocery store or afternoon spent folding laundry.  Or a child’s willingness to pick up their things when asked, or a colleague sharing the workload on a big project that could never be finished in time alone.  I think we’d find that we would get much better service with a much bigger smile if we found small ways to regularly say thank you.  And we may even make someone else’s job a bit easier and their day a bit brighter.

A sweet message of gratitude from my husband that completely transformed my day.

“Our Kind”

Today I am humbled and inspired to gratefulness by an unexpected encounter that I had with some gentlemen working in the yard of the vacant house across the street.  When Aiden and I went outside to turn on the sprinkler and play in the yard, Aiden immediately became enamored with these workers and was desperate to investigate further.  “I go see them, Mommy!  I help!” 

I was hesitant because I didn’t want to get in the way or seem like we were gawking.  The men were not just doing yard work.  They were demolishing an enormous deck that enveloped much of the back yard.  I’m sure the last thing they needed was a two-year old staring at them, asking odd questions, and insisting he help, right?  But then I remembered the many other encounters I have had lately that have so inspired me to engage people . . . to give them the opportunity to share their lives, their passions, their work with someone who is excited to learn about them.  So I led Aiden by the hand across the street.  I was not disappointed with my decision.  The men, who, until that moment, had been quietly engaged in their back-breaking labor in 100 degree weather, stopped, looked up, and smiled.  They immediately began addressing Aiden as “little man,” inviting him to sit on their tractor and speaking to him about what it means to work hard.  It was like something out of an old southern novel.  I couldn’t bear to see them working so hard in this desperate heat, being so kind to my son without offering them something in return.  So I went home and brought back iced tea and popsicles.

I was greeted upon my return with phrases like, “Thank you kindly, ma’am!”  “You’re too sweet.”  “You’re gonna tempt me to go find an easy chair.”  As the conversation blossomed, I discovered that the men were brothers.  Two of TWENTY children born to their mother, who is currently 89.  There were 13 boys and 7 girls that grew up together in Pocahontas, MS.  The older of the two gentlemen, who didn’t look a day over 50, if that, said he was 70 years old.  And still working hard every day.  “What would I do with myself if I stopped?” he asked.  He recounted as he pried floorboards off the deck with a crow bar, sledgehammer, and brute strength how he was trying to teach his grandchildren to be eager workers, but “they just aren’t raised like they used to be.”  But he always let them help whenever they were willing.    The “younger” brother bragged about his family and seemed ashamed to need the help of his older brother, but explained that he has had health problems and just can’t handle it alone anymore.

The longer we spoke, the more filled with respect I was.  These men were humble and kind.  Lived a simple life, worked hard, and made no excuses.  They knew the value of family and earning their keep and would not give up even in the face of age and adversity.  Yet somehow I find myself worrying on a regular basis about things like money and time and health, when in reality we have plenty of all three.  It is amazing how perspective can change one’s outlook. 

As we were getting ready to leave, the younger brother mentioned off-handedly that he “thought sure it was [their] kind that lived across the street . . . black folk, that is.”
“But you know,” he said with a grin, “you’re the first people to come visit us in all the years we been workin’ this yard, so I guess you’re our kind after all!”