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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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!”