Beer courage

Beer courage 750
I get it now

I’ve heard it said that in more advanced stages of psychological development, we come to accept and embrace our masculine self (for women) or our feminine self (for men); what Jung called the Anima and Animus. Lots has been written about it, including this guy’s blog post that I happen to really enjoy. But for me, I’m thinking that understanding what is typically a masculine trait–beer courage–could be part of this advanced stage of development.

 

Prying up old tile in my upstairs bath did not prove as satisfying as ripping out my old bathroom cabinet. What I thought was about a three hour job turned in to a painfully slow process, with me trying (once again) to save something that didn’t want or need to be saved–the poured mud floor underneath–and yellow floor tile mocking me, asking who exactly I thought I was trying to renovate my own house, all the while the voice of my mother asking why I didn’t have a new man to do that for me, reverberating in my ears.

I rarely buy beer, but something about doing home repairs makes it seem right. At one point I thought it would be a good idea for hardware stores to sell it.  While I doubt that anyone thinks using power tools and alcohol together is a good idea, I do think the idea of having a beer while tearing out a bathroom is a good one.

So I opened a beer and started chipping tile from the bathroom floor.  An hour later, I’m feeling buzzed and only about four pieces of tile are up.  The hammer keeps slipping and I’ve hit my thumb about 45 times. Beer courage fades quickly when you’re met with a smack down. Guys in bars, I get it now.

On my mind part of the time was a guy-friend whom I’d had a teeny-weeny disagreement with and who had run for the hills when my voice got all high and whiny like it tends to do when I’m upset. I think if men fully embraced their feminine sides, our getting upset might not scare them so much. But like my therapist used to say, “When a man hears that, all they see in their minds is a giant flashing red light that says  ‘MOM . . . .MOM . . . MOM. . .’  and they run away in fear. I wanted him to forgive me long enough to tell him that I’m not his mom, but I hadn’t heard even the slightest hint that would be possible.

In yoga class, we are taught to lie with our butts against the wall and our feet up in the air and lay like a giant L to clear our minds. So I did this for a few minutes and waited for the sound of forgiveness, but it never came. I was also hoping if I lay there long enough when I opened my eyes all the tile would be gone and a new floor would be there in its place, but that didn’t happen either.  It was pretty awful.

I almost gave up, but rather, I went to the fridge for more courage. I hammered away—mostly at my left thumb—until a good bit more tile was wedged from position. Not sure if it was the beer or the hammering, but I gained some more insight into the male psyche, ‘After hours of this,’ I thought, ‘I wouldn’t want to talk about my feelings either. I don’t even have any feelings—especially in my left thumb–so what is there to talk about? I just want to get to a stopping point, finish my beer and go to bed—maybe shag the wife if she’s still up and doesn’t make me take a shower first.’

I don’t know if men who write novels or are CPAs feel this way, but I think they must. Because they all say this stuff, right? I think I learned something else about men, too. A lot of them are more sensitive than we give them credit for, like my friend who won’t forgive me. They are just as wounded and imperfect as women are. I considered emailing him until he finally gave up and wrote back, but I won’t because I probably did sound like his mom that day, and I know what my brothers think about that.

Finding my ass with two hands and a spinning back kick

side kick largeWell, technically, I’m not allowed to do a spinning back kick yet.  Geeze.  This week was bad.   I can’t believe someone hasn’t found me laying on a sidewalk hyperventilating.  Thursday things already suck, because I drop Ben off at school Thursday mornings and don’t see him until the next night after work when I pick him up from his dad’s.  But this was a Thursday that should have sucked even more.

I get a call at work. (In my cube right? So I can’t really talk, which people on the other end of the line don’t know, so I always sound more like an idiot than usual.) It was my therapist (who honestly I haven’t seen in months). She just called nonchalantly to tell me she was retiring.

“Sooner than I expected,” she said. “I’m having some surgery so hopefully I will feel better, but I decided to go ahead and retire.”  She’s only in her mid-sixties, I’d say. I thought therapists work until they are in their eighties. How can she be retiring?

All I could think of to say in cube-world was “Oh.” And then I mumbled something inaudible about how I hoped it wasn’t serious. Lame, right? But she’s the therapist here, how the hell am I supposed to know what to say?

She said she would still be seeing clients through the next month but that would be it (.  . . so that if I wanted to get in . . . .hint, hint. . . ). Obviously she thought I might need to, based on my utter lack of verbal response. I didn’t feel compelled to make an immediate appointment or anything even at her prodding, so I guess that’s a good thing, right?

But still, whose therapist retires? And who would I pay to listen to my whining now?  She recommended another woman in her practice she thought would be a good fit for me. Which I took to mean is desperately looking for new clients because her husband just left her and the four kids for a Scarlette Johannson look-alike.  Then we said our awkward goodbyes, and that was it.  God, I wish people would stop breaking up with me, I thought. I know my whiny little problems don’t amount to much, but I already suffer from abandonment issues. How is one expected to take this sort of thing?

Then after work I went to the yoga class I’d been attending every Monday or Thursday night for about five years, and my yogi tells me she’s leaving after her Thursday class next week. Their house sold 4 hours after they put it on the market (just to see what would happen) and they were leaving immediately for North Carolina to live on the beach for a while until she and her husband found where they wanted to land for good. Who has karma like that except a yoga instructor? I’m just a somewhat normal person, how do I compete with that in this crazy universe?

So you see why normally I would be breathing into a paper bag at this point? Wouldn’t most people? But for some reason I wasn’t. I didn’t know what to say to her. So I didn’t say anything. I just did my down dogs extra good her honor, and walked out like I was gonna see her next week, as usual. How could I just do that?  Every class something amazing happened. I saw purple when we practiced yoga nidra. I nearly levitated following her Savasana, and best of all, nearly every time l left that class, I floated home feeling as if I had just gotten laid. And let me tell you, for a single woman, that is no small deal.

Her class got me through quitting my job to take back some power in my life, then two years later losing my highest paying client when they decided to do all their writing in-house, then a period of employment in crappy part-time jobs, then reemployment, my mom’s illness, my divorce (when she told me not to get that tattoo until I was a full year out from it),  neck pain, a family wedding, some more neck pain caused by the family wedding, my dad’s illness. You get the idea.

Whatever I thought I would say, I thought I would just wait and say it next week. Then on the way home I remembered Ben had a program the next Thursday and I’d never see her again. But still, I feel okay with that. I know they say when the student is ready the master appears, but I think it might be true for me at this time. I think I am ready to let both my therapist and my yogi go.

Maybe part of that reason for that might be because I started taking Tae Kwon Do classes recently.  Not for any spiritual, martial artsy, find myself reasons, but more for shallow, flat ab, find my ass again reasons. Because honestly the ass I saw in the mirror the other day was not mine. It belonged to some lady who hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in years. Holy crap. That would be me. And all the Mary Kay targeted-action firming lotion in the world wasn’t going to bring my old ass back. So, I called Ben’s Tae Kwon Do Master and explained to him that I wanted to join the class, and not for any other reason than to get into better shape, and he was cool with that.

Hell, I thought, it all pays the same no matter why we join the class right?  So why would he care?  Besides, I had some awesome self-defense training growing up with three big brothers, so I might not be too horrible at it, anyway.

You know what happens, right?  I’ve been walking around the house kicking the crap out of everything and crying a lot. Sometimes because I hurt my foot, and sometimes because like I’ve heard him say a million times in the two years I’ve been sitting on someone else’s ass watching Ben take his class, “Taking a punch is a very emotional thing.” Don’t I know it, Master Song. Don’t I know it.

I used to think a removable shower head was a single woman’s best friend until I got my hands on one of these

prybar 750In the middle of tiling the basement,  the cold water shut-off valve in the main bathroom upstairs decided to start leaking. So I decided just to shut it off (like it says). That goes over for a while, but Ben absolutely didn’t like brushing his teeth in hot water. I mean, at first it works if you let the water run very slowly and use only the cold, lead-leached water left in the pipes all night before the hot water reaches the faucet.  But like most kids, he turned on the faucet full-force and used it all up pretty fast.

So the next thing that happens is he’s screaming about the burns on his little fingers and I run up there and, choking on the steam filling the room, shut it off as quickly as possible promising him I will “fix it tonight.” Well that was bullshit. For weeks after that we were forced to use the same sink every morning until one Saturday I had an extra 15 minutes to kill and decided fix it–for real this time.

That was semi-successful, but then something else went wrong.  Basically, my sink sprung a huge leak that I couldn’t fix. You see, when you own an older home, for some reason even the simplest plumbing repair can turn into a six-month long project (or in my case a year-and-a-half) because something old is always attached the new thing you wanna put in, and those old things break off in your hand like a Melba cracker. And that’s basically what happened with my sink. The actual sink had a hole in it that had been patched by the previous homeowners and the patch came off in my hand.

So the whole sink was useless. Then I decided the whole bathroom was useless–at least that’s what it became because I started ripping out the cabinet with the sink, the tile on the walls, the wall paper, and anything else I could wrap my 14 1/2 inch pry bar around. Was I feeling some anger at the time? Yeah, yeah I was, but you know what? Ripping that bathroom apart felt so good after all I had been through, especially when a particularly stubborn place, like the old counter top in the photo here, wouldn’t budge and I pushed and pried and used all my strength against it.

And finally, when it gave way after all that force and struggle, it was very gratifying.  Would I say it was like an orgasm?  Well, for a single mom with no boyfriend, I would say yes, yes it was. It was the best orgasm I’d had in a while.  So much so that I poured a glass of wine, sat back looking affectionately at my work, and determined that the next day, I would haul the junk outside and start ripping out the floor tile.

The next time someone offers, I will just say okay

It’s important when you are recovering from someone or something, or a lifetime of a lot of things to accept when people extend a gift, an invitation, some help, or simply friendship. Today, I read in a book by Anne Lamott this: “I automatically think that closing down is safe, but really, staying open and loving is safer because then we are connected to all that life and love.” I’ve been messing up on that a lot lately.

But opening your heart can be treacherous and can send you into hiding when the outcome you hoped for doesn’t manifest. So after another  several days my ego and my heart battling one another for top position in my psyche, closing down did feel safe, but normal. I could barely accept an invitation to plod through the woods with my bruised heart and a couple of friends, yet it seemed like a silent, closed down, lonely old friend had returned.

I mostly didn’t talk and walked off to myself a bit listening to the sounds of our feet stomping the leaves beneath and the two of them (brother and sister) bonding over something going on in the family. This time, though, their mother is dying. Nana.

Today they talked about how Nana had been recently calling for her own mother. Sometimes when she did it, she was unawares. Other times, she would realize she was calling her daughter by the wrong name and smile, awkwardly embarrassed. When Vicky asked her about it, she said it was just easier to say mother, so that’s why she said it.  Vicky told me also about her aunt who died last year. When she was dying, she kept saying she missed her mother. She missed her mother, and she just wanted to go see her.

It made me think about how much I will miss my own mother someday and how my daughter will miss me. I thought about the prayer log I keep for all the orphans I know and how long it’s been since I paid them the attention they deserve: Michael, Melanie, Sharon, Angela, Jim’s kids, Debbie, Beverly, most of my cousins, dear Patrick.  My bruised heart didn’t seem so battered suddenly.

The melancholy stayed with me the rest of the day though. Ben was in bed before nine and we opened the windows and listened quietly for few minutes to the tree frogs and toads in the creek and farm field behind our house. Peaceful now, not like mid-summer when they are so loud he begs me to close the windows. He said he felt sorry for other kids who lived in big houses in neighborhoods where they never heard the lullaby of nature like that. He said that: “the lullaby of nature.”

A few minutes later I sat down to work when Mrs. S, the neighbor across the street, called to say that her husband had the telescope out if Ben wasn’t in bed yet and wanted to come and look. So we slipped on our shoes; his hair still damp from his shower, and ran across the street to see what was in the sky. We saw Jupiter and its four stars, with Venus sitting right next to it up in the western sky, and across from it to the east was Mars; all on the same plane early this March of 2012. But the marvel in the sky was the Hind’s Crimson Star. The jewel of Lipus, bright red and beating like a heart in the sky.

Mr S said several times. “I’m seventy-two years old, and that’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever seen it that bright and clear.”  I felt lucky to see it with him. I think it made him happy to share it with such an enthusiastic student as Ben.  He quizzed Ben on Orion, the seven sisters, the dippers, Taurus, and all the other things he’d taught him the last time we watched the night sky with him. Ben remembered everything he had said.

We said our good-nights and Mr S said if Ben was interested in Astronomy, it would really please him. He misses his own two boys, and their 5 small kids who all live so far away. The sacrifices those two made for their boys: she quit teaching to stay home when they were little. The boys never finished high school because they both went to college right after junior high, but you’d never hear Mr or Mrs S brag about it. Now the boys invent things for tech companies and invest our money and have beautiful wives and children, and their parents are still here in the old neighborhood, adopting my boy, who is smart and interested in everything like their boys were, buying his scout popcorn, asking after his school work, smiling at his precociousness that gets on my nerves some days.

So Ben and I ended the day with the melancholy lifted, feeling safe and happy again, with life flowing in through our open windows, thanks in large part because it was offered to us.  And so staying open is actually safer because staying inside with the windows closed would have just caused us to feel lonely. But running across the street  when Mr and Mrs S invited us led to a new feeling; a better feeling of being safe and loved.

I’ve lost a couple of friends and more than one or two opportunities because I was afraid to accept something that was offered out of genuine kindness or just for fun. I really wish I could get a second chance at those sometimes. But most of the time, the best I can do is promise myself that the next time someone offers, I will just say okay.

Let everything happen to you; beauty and terror

new rilkeI heard this poem one morning while listening to On Being on public radio. It’s my Sunday morning ritual, to drink coffee in bed and listen to enlightened conversation about beliefs and science, and whatever does or does not make up life. It’s my Church. The poem, Go to the limits of your longing, translated by philosopher and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy is a work by Rainer Maria Rilke. I love it because is speaks so clearly to recovery. It seems the closer we get to it (being recovered, if there is such a thing), the harder it is to go back out into the world because of things that happened “before.”

It’s easy in the beginning to hide inside and lick your wounds while everyone understands. When you turn down invitations your friends smile and say they will ask again next time. And they do, but their lives go on while you keep to yourself and heal so that sooner or later, if you don’t accept an invitation once-in-a-while, they will stop offering.  Who wants to have every act of kindness shoved back at them with a ‘No thank you.’

It’s a scary prospect to “let everything happen to you.”  But as Rilke says, no feeling is final, even though it does feel that way sometimes and I am always ready to accept that final feeling as the way it will be for me from now on—for forever.  If I feel old, it begins to be how I am. If I feel rejected, my posture becomes more guarded. If I feel powerful, then that is what I am now, until every little set-back becomes catastrophic, and again, final.

The truth is I am all of these things, each at different times or sometimes all at once. .

And sometimes I am back to baby steps; so small that no one on the outside could see them. Going to work, showing kindness to someone else rather than thinking of myself, literally putting one foot in front of the other by going for a walk when I would rather stay inside the house and “think about” everything I need to do. Then of course, not do it.

Such small steps can lead to something, though, and today, they led me to the hardware store to buy new hinges for my backyard gate. This gate has been sagging and scraping the stone path beneath it for several years, and finally, a few months ago, the hinges gave up and snapped under the weight of neglect. So, I was left with literally picking up and moving he gate every time I wanted to put the trash cans away or let the dog out.

Of course you know what that led to. The trash cans always sat outside the gate, and I let the dog in and out through the house. Then today, I finally let my baby steps take me somewhere. I texted a couple of friends about going to the Menard’s super store (where, by the way, they sell groceries, baby powder, toothpaste, and tampons), and had the time of my life wandering through the aisles to see what they had for sale next (new release videos, country music CDs, dog and cat toys, frozen delivery-brand pizzas).

Then I came home and fixed my gate and swept the garage and still had time for a Starbucks and grocery

Yay me!
Yay me!

shopping before I picked up Ben from his dad’s. And in between, I had a very long texting conversation with a friend who I never thought would forgive me for being such a bratt when all he did was tell me the truth

So I am going to let everything happen to me because I do believe that nearby is the country called life. And not too far in the distance is everything else.

Here’s the whole poem:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Patching things up

11526671_sRecovery is a precarious place. Just when you think you are all better, something causes you to slide backwards again.  It’s always something smallish; a child getting in trouble at school,  a disappointment, or your heart being broken just a little bit again. When you are trying to recover from something already, these smallish things loom large in your head. They make you sadder. They cause you to sigh quite a lot more . . . or you might even overreact just a teensy bit and yell at your son all the way home from Cub Scouts.  Really? Cub Scouts? What a delinquent. What could a 9-year-old really do that merits getting yelled at all the way home?

Well, he could be ruining his 4th grade social life by misbehaving at the boring scout meeting and risking his entire future, that’s what!  So that’s what happened after a day where small disappointments screamed at me that I am a worthless piece of crap, and things didn’t go just right at the post office, and his 9-year-old transgression means that his friends will never invite him over and he will end up a social outcast alone in his dorm room in college.

This is the kid who two years ago when I was really trying to find a job instead of working for myself because the economy was bad and I was afraid, heard me telling a friend over the phone that the more I prayed for a job, the more I ended up taking steps toward making my own business grow. First I formed a real company, then I printed new business cards, then I invested in some marketing research. Ben butted in saying, “That’s because I keep praying that you won’t get a job.”

Why do they only listen when they are not the intended recipient of the words?

You might say that a child’s prayers can’t possibly cancel out my prayers because they are naïve and don’t know how important jobs can be when bread costs $4.00 a loaf, but you’d be wrong.  This is the kid who gave up watching TV for lent in second grade because, “I can’t give up my life like Jesus did.”

To which I reply, “Geeze.”

I am still more wounded then I knew. I stopped working on my house when I got the basement to the point that I could throw down a few rugs and invite people over once-in-a-while.  I was tired and didn’t think I really needed to repair anymore.  But now I see the deep gash in the wall where the boys moved the couch downstairs, and I feel the need to start lining up tiles again; maybe to bring back a sense of order, or maybe to hide out for a while and patch up some of the wounds that are still gaping open just a bit. So tomorrow I spackle . . . but tonight I apologize.

There’s no “I” in girlfriend. Oh wait, there’s two.

IMG_0139 (2)
How I feel most of the time, only with a more confused look on my face.

When you are recovering from something, or a lot of things. You might think you are ready for love way before you really are. I know this because of all the false starts I have made at it, and all the subsequent retreats. Take, for example, my lame attempt with Matt.

Matt showed up when things in my life were coming apart. Even before he knew anything about what was going on with me, we were becoming friends. Sometimes I think he liked me becuase I was so vulnerable.   I never talked about it, but I was sad a lot of times. So I think my brooding is what attracted him to me. I think it’s what made me attracted to him, too. Being vulnerable will do that to a girl.

He listened to everything I said, remembered to email me links for things I was interested in, like places to hike and articles to read. I liked the attention. I thought he was cute, athletic, fun to hang out with, and his sister is one of my best friends. Also, he lived in another city, but close enough that we could maintain a friendship and see each other occasionally. Perfect, right? But as soon as I wiggled free from my disaster of a life, he started wiggling the other way.

At first he would come to town and be all about me. He brought me wine. He sat close and talked in a protective way about how I should do this or that, touched my leg for emphasis, and I liked it–a lot. Then he’d come to town the next time and stay a safe distance away when our group went out for beers or walked through the park. I’d leave a party and he’d barely say goodbye. Then as soon as he got home he was facebooking and emailing me. It was safer from that distance, I suppose, but that was okay with me because I was still very much recovering from the whole mess my life had been and we were just getting to know each other.

But it went on like this for months until I finally decided it was time: We were hiking with a group and Matt and I managed to get some time alone on the trail. We shared camera shots of the herons, made lots of eye contact, and stood very close with our hands touching looking into eachother’s digital camera screens. When he wasn’t looking I bit my lips to make them look pinkish and swell up all pouty-like and irresistible (because it was sorta cold out there and they mostly looked purple and corpse-like). Basically, I gave him every chance in the world to make a move, but no moves were made.

That’s when I started wondering if I had bad breath or something. I reviewed what I had eaten; nothing but a Luna bar and some water. Still, I breathed through my nose, just to be safe, and kept up the irresistible act. Finally, after several minutes of nothing, I gave up and walked away. He followed, but at a safe distance. We drove back home in separate cars and when I saw him later that night at a party he mostly stayed in a separate room and then waved goodbye from the window when I left.

Rejection is confusing, I know, but the whole thing never made any sense until a week or so later when I found out he had a new girlfriend. “He has a girlfriend?”

I’ve been on the other side of this one. The other girl (me this time) can’t understand the guy’s strange behavior; making dates, then canceling, saying he’ll call, then doesn’t; pretty much only available in his car or via email. Yeah, I was the girlfriend last time this happened so I didn’t catch on at first, but then it hit me, “That’s what she said.”

Really, that’s almost exactly what she said. I was standing in my boyfriend’s apartment by the front door, she on the outside of the door, him standing in between us with his head tilted to the side and just his lips sticking through the door crack making excuses about who I was and why he didn’t show up for the movie, as if the two women couldn’t see or hear each other. She looked bewildered at first, but then said,”You have a girlfriend?” I was just F’ing pissed. That night did not end well.

So it looks like that’s what kinda happened this time to me. I guess it turned out okay, though, because Matt and I are still friends enough that I can hug him in front of his girlfriend now and nobody cares. I was still a mess back then and not much of sure thing anyway and it’s hard to compete with getting laid regularly, so I can’t blame him for wiggling away. As a matter-of-fact, the whole experience helped me establish a ‘no dating anyone’s brother’ rule for myself. Brothers are sacred. Getting involved with Matt probably would have messed up my friendship with his sister and hers is a long friendship that I cherish above many things—maybe even getting laid regularly.

Start small and carry a large trash bag

Trash bag postWhen you don’t know where else to start, go to a neglected place and bring with you a large trash bag. This applies to me more than ever tonight as I try my hardest to let go of self-destructive behaviors and trash from the past.

When you find that neglected place treat it tenderly but treat the trash like it’s burning a hole in your soul. Get rid of it. Don’t hold on to anything you think you might need, because you won’t. Don’t save something because it had meaning 20 years ago. Don’t keep it because it’s comfortable—whatever it is. Whether it’s an old habit that causes you familiar (and weirdly comfortable) pain or an old shirt that smells like a memory, dump it in the bag and don’t look back.

I did this a lot in the beginning, starting in the spare room and moving through the house. The closets with their broken doors, the dust-filled corners of the rooms, the garage full of junk and mouse droppings. I have before pictures of these neglected places. I get them out and look at them from time to time when I think I haven’t made any progress. They look a lot like I did back then, uncared for and treated with indifference. Not at all what we look like now.

It’s an easy place to start–or start over–so I go back there often when I need to take baby steps again. But it means something and the results are instant. All you have to do is bend over from time to time, grasp something with your gloved, dominant hand, and then just let . . . it . . . go. . . into the trash bag.

As you feel stronger, if you have a rubber mallet or a hammer in your house, you can start breaking apart things you always hated, like that old table, the crappy fake-wood office desk your sister gave you, or the faces you have been wearing for others; faces that keep others’ secrets, that tell their lies, wear their feelings instead of your own.

Then hoist it all over your head and haul it all out to the street. Even if the trash doesn’t come for several days and you are worried about what the neighbors will think, take it out there now. Next week no one will remember how long it sat there. If you do all of this, I promise, your biceps will be in the best shape of their lives, your core will strengthen, and you will begin to notice yourself again. Then before you know it you will be ready for the next big task.

That’s what I do anyway.

Finding God in macaroni and cheese

20121226-173216.jpgNo disrespect intended to those who claim to have seen images of the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese or Jesus in a Wal-Mart reciept. Who am I to say? But today I think I saw God in some macaroni and cheese.

This has been a tough week topped off with a trip Saturday to the car dealer where I was turned down on a new car lease. Then today Ben complained of a stomach ache at Church so we left early, because I’ve cleaned up barf at the WalMart pharmacy, lots of bathrooms and various couches and recliners, but never at church and I was not doing it today.

After we got home he seemed to be better so we had some Mac and Cheese for lunch to see how that would go. He seemed fine, and I had errands to run. I needed groceries, had to drop by the 24-hour BMV kiosk to renew my plates that expired last week, and had to weather strip the front door before the big snow tonight. When he complained, I agreed to skip the grocery store and just get my plates and run into the hardware store.

As I stood in the aisle—much too long—looking at the overwhelming selection of weather stripping, he started to feel worse. So I hurried to a check-out line where he said, “Mom, I’ve got to get out here right now.”

So I told him to go stand by the door a few feet away and get some fresh air. I HAD TO HAVE MY WEATHER STRIPPING after all, before the snow started blowing in that old door. Ben stood at the entrance of the hardware store like the bravest little soldier he is, while the girl at the register offered to hurry for me. When I looked back up at him I saw him bend at the waist and lay a huge pile of his lunch at the feet of the people going in and out. I heard a few ughs, and ooohs, but the people just kept walking.

So I dumped my stuff and ran over in time to catch the next load in my hands, and the next in the jacket I’d stripped off. And I know my cotton bikini underwear were sticking out of the top of my jeans as he sat on the floor and I bent over him, trying to comfort him and catch the vomit that just kept coming, saying sorry over and over, and choking back tears.

Then out of nowhere a man and a woman were asking the cashiers for paper towels, asking for someone to come with a mop, cleaning up my child’s vomit. I begged them not to help. I didn’t want them to get sick. This was not their problem. But they ignored me. The husband just kept cleaning up and stuffing vomit-filled paper towels into Lowe’s bags while the wife cooed at me, and empathized, and told me she understood—and never once judging me for the underwear and top of my butt sticking out of the back of my hip-hugger jeans.

When we finally got enough of it cleaned up for me to look up and notice, I saw they had been standing there with a son and a daughter selling fruit baskets for Boy Scouts. Still, I protested the husband’s help but she insisted saying, “He does this all the time at his job.” All I could say was, “What kind of a job requires you to clean up somebody else’s kid’s barf?”

“Oh, he’s the manager of a restaurant. You can’t believe the things he has to clean up. He’s used to it.”

Still.

I could hardly look either of them or their two innocent kids in the eyes with my underwear showing and my hands and hair full of vomit. I have a funny thing about complete strangers seeing me at my worst. I felt bad that I had no cash to buy one of the fruit baskets to help them, too, after all of that. Geeze. Not sure what was worse the underwear problem I could do nothing about at the moment, or the jacket full of vomit I had bundled up in my hands; my guilt over not returning their kindness, or my guilt over making my poor little guy go through all this in the name of weather stripping—though looking back, I don’t think any of it really bothered him. He just wanted to go home.

Unsure if this was the end to a horrible week, or just the beginning of another awful one, the hot tears stinging my eyes, I just wanted to take my bag of vomited-on clothes and go home too. As I stood up and turned to thank them one more time and make a quick escape of it, I looked up into the face of their son with his shy smile and long hair covering one eye, and he just stood there silently holding a fruit basket out to me. After all that, giving me something else for no reason. I looked at his mother who just nodded and smiled. That was the end of the choking back. The tears poured from my eyes. I thanked them, tried to make some sort of excuse about a horrible week, took the basket and ran off to my car.

I cried for the longest time in my car in the Lowe’s parking lot, trying to do it silently so Ben wouldn’t hear, hanging on to my last shred of dignity, with my poor little guy whimpering in the back seat trying to hang on to the last shred of his lunch.

And as I thought of all this later, unpacking the fruit and placing it carefully on display on the dining room table as a reminder of the goodness of others, I saw that what that family gave me for no reason was a lot like what God gives us for no reason. We are here and He is holding out a life that nourishes us, and will treat us kindly if we allow it. I imagine His offer is somewhat like that of that adorable boy scout and his dear family; silently urging us to take it, not expecting anything in return, even after he has cleaned up after us, ignored our pleas for him to just leave us alone, and has seen us at our worst.

How much is too much DIY beer?

Gift from the racoons smallIf you want a good way to find out if you are drinking too much beer while doing your DIY projects, just leave your trash can unsecured overnight and the raccoons will let you know. I did this the other night and when I woke up everything that had been in the trash can was now, instead, out of the trash can and ripped to shreds all across the back yard.

At first I tried to say ‘screw it’ and leave it until after work, except I let the dog out and she jumped into the middle of the whole thing and started having her own little shredding party. Rather than face a bigger mess later, I decided to go out and pick it all up. After about fifteen minutes of picking through old food and toilet paper rolls, worrying the whole time about getting rabies on my hands, this was about all that was left. (This, and the dead mouse I had caught a couple of days before still stuck in the trap, but I decided to leave that out of the picture.)

Apparently raccoons don’t eat beer bottle caps (or already-dead mice or dryer lint) but rather collect them into a group and leave them for their owner. I imagine the little things shaking their heads as they lumbered away, pitying me for the shallowness of a life that needs to consume three beers a week to get by. It was at this time that I remembered texting my best friend Cassie the other night, “Does it mean you are an alcoholic if you mix your vodka with a Capri Sun fruit punch drink pouch because it’s the only thing in the house?”

She said no, I was just being creative. I agreed. Besides I found a Minute Maid mixed berry juice box and some lemon juice to mix it with, so it was a moot point anyway. I don’t think three beers a week is unreasonable when I’m digging fence posts and hauling mulch evenings and weekends. Anyway, I think only two of those caps were mine. I do have friends who stop by sometimes when they aren’t afraid I will hand them a pair of safety goggles and ask them to hold the far end of a 12-foot board or something. But it could explain why I’ve gained a few pounds despite all the manual labor I’ve been doing.