Dear Room in Every New Home that is the Last to be Unpacked,
You are usually an office. Or a guest room. You house stacks of book books, extra shelves, candles, picture frames, clocks, pens/pencils, files, and small pieces of furniture. There is never anything anyone needs on a day-to-day basis that resides within you. Sometimes they wonder where something is, and then they remember you have it. And you’re such a mess they don’t even want to walk in, so they just leave it there. With everything else.
Slowly, small objects that are unpacked and can’t find their place within the new home, migrate to you.
“Where should I put this vase?”
“Eh, stick it in the office.”
As the other parts of the house are cleaned and tidied on a daily basis, you…you’re neglected. You’re avoided. Because you’re just a bigger and bigger mess. And no one cares about the dead leaves that blew in and landed on your floor. You’re gross.
I mean, what are you? Huh? Are you an office? Or are you a reading room? Or a den? Nobody even knows. WHY DO YOU EXIST except to provide a home to a bunch of homeless crap? You’re a homeless home.
You make us all look bad.
You’re a jerk, Room in Every New Home that is the Last to be Unpacked. We all agree you don’t even know your own purpose, and until you do, they will continue to put Goodwill boxes, extra bathmats, and ironically, the vacuum cleaner, within your four walls until they can no longer fit anything else in. That’s when they’ll start stacking.
Clean yourself up, Room in Every New Home that is the Last to be Unpacked. Everybody thinks you’re an eyesore. No one likes you. Have some self-respect.
All the Other Rooms
I have so many friends who have experienced life trauma and pain in this past year. 2013 has done a number on many of us.
Today my friend called me to tell me that she just learned her therapist was diagnosed with cancer. We all know that cancer has played a role in my life recently and each time I am reminded of its existence, I have to stop myself from comparing. It’s so easy to say, “Well, I shouldn’t be upset. I shouldn’t even be worried. I don’t have cancer!” Comparing is a natural part of life, one that can quickly spiral out of control if we don’t pay attention. Of course, to say that I am lucky because I don’t have cancer is a chance to be grateful. But it doesn’t mean that I have to disregard my feelings and my process as the story of my own life unfolds. As one of my clients recently said, “My hell isn’t any hotter than yours.” Hell is hell, pain is pain, and trying to hold myself to anyone else’s standard of pain isn’t fair.
I used to speak to girls at a local school at the end of each year and one of my main topics was comparing. We walk past another woman and think I would never look good in those jeans or She’s so lucky that her waist is so skinny. I would explain to these blossoming teenage girls that while they’re thinking about those things, the girl passing them is thinking I wish I had an ass like that. We are all secretly comparing our bodies, our situations, our lives to each other. I would then encourage those girls to compliment each other instead of comparing because I found, in my own life, that when I reach out and put a voice to that Comparison Monster, other women immediately begin to fess up to the things they were comparing. Someone will tell me I have beautiful skin or an awesome sense of humor in the same breath that I compliment her hair. Turning those evil comparison moments into an opportunity to give and share love is the only way to combat the voices.
Remembering that being confronted with cancer yet again is only an opportunity to be grateful, not an invalidation of my feelings about my own situation, is necessary. I might be going through something you deem as more difficult than your own stuff, but the truth is that your hell burns just as hot as mine. Tell each other your fears, your painful truths. Be there for one another and create support not out of comparison but out of an understanding that the human experience is individual. As Brene Brown says, only be vulnerable with the people who deserve it. READ: Don’t overshare on Facebook. But when we give voice to those comparisons we actually give each other permission to be human! We’re each on our own paths (and if Carolyn Myss is right, it’s the path we chose at birth) and comparing ourselves to each other is like comparing tree trunks to cracks in the cement.
We’ve all got our joys and our burdens.
Grab the gluten-free granola. I’m going hippy-dippy.
I’m obsessed with a poet named Mark Nepo right now. I listened to him recite his poem over the weekend:
If you have one hour of air
and many hours to go,
you must breathe slowly.
If you have one arm’s length
and many things to care for,
you must give freely.
If you have one chance to know God
and many doubts, you must
set your heart on fire.
We are blessed.
Every day is a chance.
We have two arms
Fear wastes air.
There are so many days that, as my life changes, I am filled with fear. And I can recite to myself all day long that fear is not real, only love it real, but it’s very difficult to convince yourself of that when you’re in the middle of the fear. Somehow, this poem stopped me in my tracks.
“Every day is a chance. We have two arms. Fear wastes air.”
I mean, come on.
How do you not read that four or five times just to feel every syllable again?!
Every poem, every piece of art is open to interpretation. But this one, for me, says that each day, each moment, each second that I face the fear of not having/being enough is a new opportunity to breathe, to reach, to set my heart on fire. When I fail to do that, the fear wins and my arms are too short and I run out of oxygen.
I once heard a football coach tell a reporter that his winning team claimed victory every week because he taught them to focus only on the play at hand, never on the next one. I think Mark Nepo is saying the same thing here: We are so lucky that we have the chance to choose this moment, every moment. Worrying about what comes next is far too distracting. Nepo’s poem doesn’t invalidate fear, but it does accurately point out the fact that it’s really just a waste of air.
“Words are things,” says Maya Angelou. Even the words we tell ourselves, they’re things and they’re powerful. When I control those things, those words, I have the ability to decide the closed captioning in my brain that tries to narrate every experience I have. If I let it tick along without paying attention to it, my ego types in a whole bunch of bullshit that isn’t real, nor accurate.
“My son is going to suffer because of my choices.”
“I might not have enough money someday.”
“What if I never see the Taj Mahal?! I really want to!”
But if I stay conscious, stay present right here, I get to write the script of what’s happening in this moment. And in this moment, my son is joyful, my bank account is abundant, and the Taj Mahal still stands waiting for me to visit. THAT’S the truth. Fear is so rarely the truth but we clutch it like fact so often that we forget. So I’m here, reminding you today that your fears aren’t the truth. Examine what the truth is in this moment alone and feel your chest relax, your heart slow down, and all the air you need to breathe rushing in and out of you. Every day is a chance. Breathe slowly.
The waves roll in and roll out, continuous, and without pause. In perfect time, keeping the steps of an ocean tango, a wave crashes just as another one sneaks in behind it. I can’t decide which part will soak into the sand and which part will swim back out to sea. As separate as each wave seems, in the end, there is no end.
When I agreed to get married, I did so thinking that we were separate people who were coming together, never to form a new entity; only to share in each other. But as time went on, I realized that while we may be separate, love doesn’t separate. Separation, and fear of being apart, is all an illusion because nothing’s really separate anyway. Think about a loved one dying or moving away: love is energy, not matter, and you can’t destroy it. Love, like the ocean, you can’t harness and keep in a box so it will never get away. You can’t protect it the way you want to because it’s bigger than you are. You can’t even create it because it exists without you needing to do a thing. You can’t control anything about love. You can only experience it and be grateful for it. It’s ebbs and flows like those waves, seemingly separate during the extremes, but actually always one.
When love changes, it doesn’t ever have to be gone. Humans immediately go to an extreme, anger or sadness, in order to avoid the experience of love changing. They blame and fight, or scream and cry, or refuse to speak, opting to stay in bed and let life fly away. But love changing doesn’t mean love ending, and there’s no need to fear the changing of love. It is painful at times, that’s true. Any change is. But if you can go with the flow of the changing love, the result could possibly be even more powerful than you ever imagined. Going with the flow of the waves instead of fighting and flailing means simply being led to a new adventure in a new place, a place you may never have considered visiting were it not for the letting go. It could show you a lot, be even more beautiful than what you originally knew love to be. Because true love is vast like an ocean, ebbing and flowing, evaporating and spinning, controllable only in the way you react to it’s strength, but never-ending.
Beyond space and time and life and death, love can’t be destroyed.
During Abe’s parent-teacher conference last week (which in and of itself is it’s own hilarious blog because seriously? He’s 3. What is there to talk about? Has he not signed up for enough extracurriculars?), his teacher suggested we stop allowing him to make all his own choices because he is an only child. She explained that siblings help kids learn to negotiate and that life is not always fair. We, as his parents, should tell him what we want and sometimes force him to go along with our wishes in order to teach him tolerance.
Have you met a three-year-old lately?
So the next morning, Abe got up and I asked him what he wanted to eat. I know, I know. I should have TOLD him what he was eating, but I didn’t. I asked. (Stupid mother.)
“Cereal,” he responded.
This was my first predicament. We had cereal. We had a lot of cereal. Four boxes of cereal. Because, you know, we like to give Abe choices.
“Which cereal?” I asked.
“Ummmm.” He sat thinking about it. THIS. THIS was the moment I should have told him which cereal he was eating. I could have nipped it in the bud right then and there. But I didn’t. I stood there, like a big dummy, waiting for him to decide.
“Ok! Cheerios it is!” I was relieved. Decision made. Cheerios in a bowl and breakfast is done. “Here you go, son!”
“WHAT?!” He looked at the Cheerios and then back at me. “NO!”
“What is the matter?”
“Not THOSE Cheerios! NO!”
Here comes mistakes number two: “No? Well, which Cheerios, then?”
“Chex!” he responded, as though Chex cereal is another form of Cheerios.
“So, you don’t want Cheerios, you want Chex?”
“Yeeeah,” he said sadly.
“Fine. No big deal. Chex.” Why is no one stopping me from pouring the Cheerios back in the box and pouring Chex into the bowl?! “Here you go. Chex,” I said.
“NO!! NOT THOSE CHEX!”
“I…what are you talking about? There’s only one kind of Chex. What other Chex do you think we have?!”
“That’s not Chex, Abe, that’s Cinnamon Toast…Fine. Whatever. You want the cinnamon Chex?”
Are you counting? This is three cereals. That’s two more cereal options than the number I’m supposed to offer. I’m failing, here. Miserably.
I poured the Chex back into the box and the Cinnamon Toast Crunch into the bowl.
“Ok. Enough is enough, Abe. Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Here you go. Happy breakfast.”
You guessed it.
“Abraham! That is THREE cereals I’ve given you. Upon request! Like a short-order cook! Or a…short-order…cereal-pourer…You can’t look at every cereal in a bowl and then reject it like a…very small…cereal-tester…” Obviously I hadn’t had my coffee yet.
“Chocolate, mommy. The chocolate one.”
“Ok. You’re sure you want the chocolate one?”
Do you see that I’m now agreeing to pour him his fourth bowl of cereal after his teacher told me to stop giving him CHOICES? I need a personal chaperone at all times.
I poured the fourth and final bowl, which was only the final bowl because we only had four choices of cereal. I handed it to him and walked away before hearing whether or not he wanted to switch back to cheerios. Or eggs florentine.
I did better with lunch, and even better with dinner, telling him what he was going to eat and offering no other options. But, to be honest, I think at this point in our lives it’s very easy to want to keep Abe’s life super agreeable because his dad and I are separating. This, of course, won’t serve him at the end of the day, but I can now see why parents do it, why they overcompensate for their relationship with each other changing. When I step back, I see that I’d be doing Abe a terrible disservice if I didn’t hold him accountable (even at 3) and ask him to rise to each and every occasion. Giving in to Abe’s demands because I feel badly sends the worst message possible. So. I’m going to stop doing that now.
Right after Abe chooses which book he wants to read before bedtime DAMNIT I’m doing it again.
Oh, the big questions…
Of course, the big questions loom when you find yourself alone. And we’ve covered a lot of the big questions in some of my recent blogs (RE: Who is ever going to love me?!?!). There are smaller questions, though. And they add up. They’re stupid, and they creep. Those little thoughts make you think you can’t do things by yourself anymore, like you can’t figure things out that you used to rely on your spouse for.
Stupid. Little. Things.
How will I figure out how to use a digital antennae on my TV?
Where do I get my oil changed? And when?
What if I can’t open a wine bottle? (This actually happened the other night because my wine key broke. Never fear. I summoned the strength of Hercules and PULLED the cork out with my bare hands. Yes. Where there’s a will…)
How will I illegally download music?
Where do I get empty boxes?
What kind of hardware do I need to hang a picture?
I don’t know how to put this vacuum cleaner together!
How do I get copies of keys made?
How do I put the kitchen drawer back on the track?
WHO IS GOING TO SHOW ME HOW TO USE THIS HAMMER?
The day-to-day got so comfortable in my marriage that I forgot I can do so much more on my own. And I can do it well. I have the ability to figure my way out of any crunch or punishing situation because I do, in fact, have a brain and a sizable vocabulary. So really, it’s just fear that holds me back from solving my own problems. As soon as I begin to try something (and try it MY way I should mention) I realize that not only can I do it, but sometimes better than I thought I could. I’m actually pretty handy, fairly intuitive, and slightly technologically savvy. And when I’m not, I’m surrounded by friends with big strong hands who reach out and offer to help. No, I don’t know how to change the light in the bathroom fixture. There’s a screw up there somewhere, and probably a coil. But I do have Google, and Youtube, and the confidence to try. A little more confidence each and every day.
I even put the vacuum together. And I did it right, for the most part…