the usual with tea, 9.

GEG-featured-imageWe wake the kids earlier than usual to observe the lunar eclipse. Emerging from sleep, the 10yo mumbles, “Why is it still dark outside?” By the time we are all in the yard, the moon is sinking into a bank of clouds. We miss seeing the earth’s shadow but the moonset is still quietly breath-taking. Then I grab my camera and turn east to chase down the sunrise. I like chasing light, no matter its source.

Tea and egg casserole for breakfast. The husband informs me a work crew will be starting their unshingling of our hailed-on, totaled-out roof this morning. Later I overhear the roofers cursing outside the window about an infestation of wood ants. They also butcher one of our trees due to its close proximity to the house, and it annoys me. Leave the trees be. I’ve got Lorax blood in me.

Piling in the car to deliver the 7yo to school, I tell one of the crew that he looks like a modern-day pirate. “Maybe I am,” he replies. With two hoops on both ears, a white mustache and goatee, narrow eyes that shine through shocking blue, a shaved head with scars across the right forehead and temple, he has the weathered look of a man who’s been on a lot of seas…or roofs. The teacher at the 7yo’s school is a few minutes late so I chat with another mom and realize we’ve attended the same church for the last five years and I’ve never seen her.

The 3yo and I head to a bookstore to return an Anna doll (Frozen? Ever heard of it?) that I found five bucks cheaper elsewhere. I ask the teenage cashier to please not take the doll out of the bag (so the 3yo won’t see it) and she replies plainly, “We’re going to have to take it out of the bag.” Seriously? I distract the 3yo with impulse items. Then we mosey to the coffee shop and I order an almond croissant, a hot chocolate, and a “tall single-espresso with two shots of mocha” because I am a moron when it comes to espresso. As we wait, the 3yo does the candy dance, extolling the loveliness of every confection at the counter. She also requests to push buttons on the card reader. The barista hands me a cup with less than an inch of liquid, two-thirds of it mocha syrup; it’s sickeningly sweet. An older woman at a nearby table approaches me. She says she liked watching Larkin’s and my interactions; she is impressed that my child didn’t throw a fit about not getting candy. I laugh and reply, “Oh, she can definitely throw a fit!” I had noticed the woman and her male companion as well, so I say so. “Your husband?” I ask. She says they’ve been together 48 years and her smile grows. “What’s your trick?” She shrugs, then says, “Best friends.” “Since the very beginning?” “Yep.” That’s the last thing she says to me before they leave.

We head to Target to buy birthday gifts for friends. Larkin wants to push more buttons on more card readers. Driving home through the middle of town, we pass a college campus whose focal point is a towering chapel. “What’s that?” she asks. When I describe it as a church building, she says, “To sing and pray?” I say yes and she replies, “I want to go there with Mommy and Daddy and Rowan and Sissy and Grammy and Pa and Mimi.” “Why?” I ask her. “Because you like singing and praying?” She shakes her head no, then says, “I just like to dance.” I laugh out loud.

Downtown we drop a few books at the library and I feel guilt when she asks to check out more and I say no. We step into the chocolate store and buy treats for a friend with a newborn, stopping by their house on the way home to meet the barely-week-old bundle of sugar. Back at our residence crawling with roofers (and wood ants, evidently), I get a notice from the 10yo’s school that he is missing a vaccine. Our contractor drops off paint swatches and asks me to pick out a new color by the next day. A friend living in Colorado texts: “I can’t tell you how often I think ‘Jana would love it here.’ Or ‘that’s so Jana.’ The hippie, laid-back, organic, farm-to-table, small-town granola vibe makes me really think you and Durango are perfect for each other. And I’m not just saying that because I wish you were here for my sake. It reminds me of you. Like a mini-Austin, in the mountains.” I ask her to please stop texting me such things because I really want out of this place right now. If you’ve ever lived in Abilene for extended periods of time, you might be familiar with the feeling of wanting to get the heck out. Or maybe if you’ve ever just wanted to hit the re-start button on some aspect of your life.

We lunch and hit the road again to pick up sister. The 7yo’s teacher asks someone to take a picture of the class to celebrate their butterfly release. A grandmother offers but I’m in front of her, closer to the camera, so I take it. All the parents are standing around, quiet, and grandma says, “Just hold down the button and take a bunch.” I know she’s trying to help but when I hold the button down it doesn’t take a burst of pics and then I’m embarrassed about my apparent lack of iPhone skills. I think about the moment for way too long on our drive to Hobby Lobby. The girls flit around on the fake flower aisle, then we stroll over to look at paints. And of course they both need to use the restroom. I’d rather pee in the grass on the side of the highway with my fanny flapping in the wind than use a public loo. But I’m not the one who has to pee, so in we go. Back out on the paint aisle, I find a set of watercolors. Painting with a friend the weekend before has lit a fire under my…easel. For years I’ve been hoping for a more convenient time (I’ve been a little busy this last decade, alright?), but have recently decided…I’ve just gotta do it. Can’t wait for a studio or a class or a better time or anything anymore. Just gotta do it. I stand in the checkout line – the looooong, slooooow line that is Hobby Lobby checkout – and finally give up because I’ve got to get to the other side of town to pick-up the 10yo from school.

After pick-up, we drive to the bookstore on the university campus near our house. With homecoming only a few days away, I want a new t-shirt sporting the name of my alma mater. The 7yo locates some over-sized foam fingers and hilarity ensues. When we step back outside, we spot a couple monarch butterflies; the 7yo chases after them, all the way across the lawn. I sit down in the grass and observe her joy. After she makes her way back to where we’re lounging, she and her siblings start throwing acorns at each other, then me. They say they want lemonade. We buy some inside the campus center, but the 10yo expresses irritation that I didn’t also purchase french fries. I say something like, “Drop the attitude, my friend”, and he replies, deadpan, “I’m not your friend. I’m your son.” Lemonade privilege gone. Firstborn mad. We sit on a couple benches and a sorority pledge stops by, apologizing for the chant she’s “required” to yell three times. The kids are so confused.

We head home, and the roofers all want to make sure I know that they have ERADICATED THE WOOD ANTS. Inside I assemble homemade potato salad to accompany the barbeque chicken I’ve made for dinner. Brandon comes home and we deliver a portion to a friend across town. I love the way my 7yo and my friend’s daughter hug each other. We admire their days-old kittens, a ball of mewing fur in their garage. The 3yo throws a squalling fit when it’s time to leave.

Back at home, because of a certain child’s lack of manners at the table, I leave and finish dinner in my room by myself. Sitting on the loveseat I glance over at the mirror and notice in its reflection a photo by Brandon’s side of the bed. It’s of me from over ten years ago. My squint lines are much less defined, before the days of kids, anxiety, insomnia, and significant friendship fall-out. My fourth decade has been my most life-altering thus far, in so many ways. I go say goodnight to the kids, lying down on the bed next to the 3yo. She wraps her arm around my face and whispers in my ear, “You are my beautiful girl.” Something in me melts.

a beautiful bunch of strawberries.

GEG-featured-image“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees there are tigers below her as well. She then notices a mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” – Pema Chödrön

So…my present moment is enveloped by a Big Case of Feeling Friendless. I say feeling because I know I’m not actually friendless. I had an in-town BFF text me last night to tell me she’d been missing me. But my dance card is mostly empty. The heavy hitters, the MVPs, the VIPs are almost all gone from my roster, having left town…or just having left the relationship. And over the last few years, the relational losses have continued accumulating in rapid-fire succession before I’ve had a chance to fully process the previous ones. As heartbreaking as it’s been (and it really has), please don’t hear these statements as whiny. It just IS. It’s my present reality. I write about it here because I figure there might be another who 1) is in a similar place and needs to know they’re not alone or 2) has been here in the past and has wisdom to share about the blessings it can bring.

During the past three years, my growing friendship deficit has included two besties moving hundreds of miles away…two long-standing, meaningful relationships dissipating (one verbally terminated by the other party with no definitive reason as to why, and one fizzled out due to general life busyness and lifestyle differences)…another close friendship going on indefinite hiatus, initiated by me…and a small community of folks our entire family felt a connection with falling apart over the summer due to various circumstances. It’s not that there aren’t people of a friendly caliber in my corner of the world – there are plenty, and a few seem interested in pursuing deeper relationship. But after several years of high turnover in the friend department, I’m exhausted at the thought of having to start over from the beginning…again. Most of the folks I have history and/or intimacy with live hours away, are busy with paying jobs, and/or have children to raise. It’s all contributed to a sizeable, relational void.

So I’ve been praying. And listening. And reading. And via all the prayers/meditations/books, it seems the wisest teachers are advising: make peace with your circumstances as they are. It’s okay to want friendship, to want community. Of course it is. It’s in our DNA. But the mostly empty dance card? Stop expending precious energy fighting against it…and accept it as it is. The idea that this is the way it is frustrates me at times (in regards to a lot more than friendship), and my knee-jerk reaction is to either blame myself for the predicament I’m in (you’re not strong enough or clever enough to find a way out of this) or to blame others (if s/he would just CLUE IN and stop behaving that way and do this or that BETTER, my outer circumstances would be rectified thus resolving my inner strife). Maybe things would have shaken out more pleasantly if some of the folks in question or I had behaved differently. But they didn’t. And neither did I.

So here I am, dangling isolated from a cliffside. Tigers above and below. Mouse nibbling on the vine. I know I’ve got people in my corner but the crowd has diminished substantially. I could get depressed about it (and I have) but I would much prefer to delight in the preciousness of it. So what’s my patch of strawberries?

  1. More time to enjoy my kids. I don’t mean more time to spend with my kids. As a stay-at-home homeschooling parent, I do plenty of that already. I mean more time to ENJOY my kids. Not just being in the same room together, not just surviving diapers and tantrums and low blood sugar…but learning and adventuring together. Ten years into this parenting gig, and it’s finally starting to feel plausible. The other day I told the husband I wanted to secure an RV and travel the USA and Canada, all five of us. Don’t think I’ve quite sold him on that yet.
  2. More time to clear excess from my house, mind and body. Not that the clutter will ever be entirely gone. But with less relationships to maintain, more space is available to deal with the glut weighing me down (the build-up of papers, toxins, emotions and such that happens when one is pleasantly distracted with other people). Or as my yoga instructor advised yesterday afternoon: clean out the junk drawers.
  3. More time to pursue spirit-filling, creative endeavors: writing, reading, photography, painting, sitting outside watching the sunset, taking a walk under a blue sky, sitting by the fire when it’s wintry outside, trying to embarrass my 10yo, etc.
  4. More time to ponder why friendship, community, and all the good things that grow from friendship and community (affirmation especially) are important to me. At what point does my healthy, innate need for community morph into an unhealthy addiction to people and their approval? And there’s more space to contemplate which qualities I truly desire in a friend: loyalty, trust, taking initiative, mad-phat active-listening skills, cheeky sense of humor, willingness to discuss all things spiritual, occasional delivery of fancy chocolate.
  5. More time to listen to The Spirit. Outside of genuine community – the kind Jesus encouraged – I most often connect with God/Love while a) being still or b) in direct contact with creation (outside with toes in grass and wind in hair). But again, when I fill up my time with people (or the chasing of people), there isn’t much left for relating to God/Love. As one of those aforementioned VIPs once jotted to me: “…the only real, lasting happiness is some sort of deep connection with God, and that can only be found with lots of space and inner quietness.”

That’s quite a delicious-looking tangle of berries if I do say so myself. Here’s to savoring the scrumptiousness while dangling in a precarious cliff-hanging predicament. Could be a challenge. But I think it’s doable. Off to nosh.

the usual with tea, 8.

After waking at 6am for months, I rouse later than usual this morning, around 8am. It happened yesterday too. I’m not complaining. The husband is in the kitchen, asking who finished off the bacon and put an empty container back in the fridge. No one fesses up. The 10yo offers, “Maybe I did it while sleepwalking.” Over eggs and tea, Brandon asks how I’m feeling. I tell him I’m fine for the most part…but there’s this and there’s that. There’s always this. And that.

Minutes before we cart off to church, I get into an argument with my hair. My HAIR. It isn’t cooperating. Hasn’t for years. I’ve gotten used to it. So I do what I do and pull it back in a bun. But the lackadaisical knot especially aggravates me today for some reason. I re-bun several times, brush out my hair to a fluffy flyaway state, then bun again, all the while growing more frustrated. I finally tie a fabric headband around my noggin and climb in the car. As we drive, I tear up; tearing up is my thing these days. But the teariness is about way more than my deflated ‘do. Simply put, my hair is a reminder of yet ONE MORE THING I can not control. I feel not in control of a lot these days: my hair, my health, my children’s attitudes/behaviors, a few grown-ups’ attitudes/behaviors, my social life…not that any of those things are actually mine to control. Not that I ever had any “control” to begin with. But when life has been rolling along nicely and one ignorantly falls for the idea that it’s because one has done such a good job planning/parenting/befriending/hairstyling, it can be unsettling to suddenly, fully comprehend that no matter what you say or do, no matter how much you exercise or eat your greens, no matter how much gel or conditioner you dollop on your locks…people and circumstances and hair are going to ultimately do whatever they please.

At the building, I stay in the car attempting to compose myself while Brandon shuttles the kids to their classes. I see a friend sitting in his van a couple spots over and feel self-conscious. Another acquaintance pulls in right next to me so I pretend like I’m checking something on my phone to avoid making eye contact. When I finally curtail the tears, I do a mirror check, and my face is a big blotch of red. Great. I have to walk into class red and blotchy-faced with slacker hair. After five minutes sitting at our table, I realize I can not – don’t want to – participate in an intellectual discussion of Christian ethics. Not this morning. I want to leave and go to the room where people spend the entire hour praying. But then I think…I shouldn’t get up and leave…it would be rude…I don’t want to draw attention to myself. And then…seriously, self? I want to be near the pray-ers. I tell Brandon where I’m headed, then relocate down the hall. There actually isn’t a lot of praying today – mostly just discussion – but I like the peaceful atmosphere that pervades this group of people, and how the overhead fluorescents are turned off with the room lit only by a few small lamps. There are people in here who believe, who BELIEVE…I can tell by how they talk. My doubting heart is fascinated by their convictions. After class my friend Aimee introduces me to her artist aunt. When I mentioned my love of watercoloring in a recent blog post, Aimee immediately messaged me to pin down a day for us to visit her aunt’s studio. I love her persistence in helping me pursue a creative endeavor. In the atrium, I cross paths with an acquaintance who says she likes my headwrap. I end up dishing about my hair-tastrophe. She laughs and it makes me feel better.

The congregation is already on its feet singing when I enter the auditorium. We find seats near the front, just rows from my friend Christine who is leading worship after almost a year trapped in a hospital bed. I love hearing her sing and watching her get lost in what seems like a meditative state, turned inward, like she’s having her own personal meet-and-greet with the Spirit. My 3yo points at her, exclaiming, “Christine! Christine! Dis Christine’s song!” She says it every time we start a new song; every song is Christine’s song. Right before our preacher steps up, the theater department from a nearby college does a skit blatantly poking fun at everyone who participates in the Sunday morning program. It’s funny. And true. Lots of people of laugh. I love when Christians have a sense of humor about themselves. So many of us take ourselves too seriously.

After worship, I make a beeline for a woman I messaged months ago about her mane of dreadlocked hair. Maybe if mine was in dreads I wouldn’t have to worry about “fixing” it anymore. We have a lovely conversation about hair and Nashville (where we’ve both lived).

While the kids munch on sandwiches, the hubs and I talk about friendships…how to know who to pursue…and not pursue. I feel like I have been pursuing people for FORTY YEARS. I’ve had friends aplenty, but I feel like I’ve had to work hard for them. I grew up hearing the adage, “If you want a friend, be a friend.” And I have always wanted friends. Don’t most of us? So I’ve put a lot – A LOT – of energy toward being a good friend. I do this partly because I LOVE PEOPLE. I do this partly because I WANT PEOPLE TO LOVE ME. And I’m coming to realize that, in the name of “being a good friend”, I have occasionally extended friendship to the detriment of my health.

After lunch, I trek up to the campus library. I order a dark roast (with two shots of mocha) and go on the hunt for a spot with a window. So many collegiates working, sipping on coffees and tapping on keyboards. I think back to my days here as a student. Don’t remember spending much time in the library. I DO remember studying out on the lawn a lot…and wondering why more people weren’t out there with me. Maybe they were all in the library.

I land a chair one table across from a boy who resembles Elijah Wood with a buzzcut. His eyes – like translucent sea glass – match his light blue-green shirt. On the back of his laptop are a Patagonia decal, a couple of cycling stickers, and one that reads “LOOK”, which I notice only after I’ve looked at him several times. Later he dons hip-looking specs; they hide his pretty sea-glass eyes. Outside a girl walks past, dressed in a gray slouchy, v-neck t-shirt, and worn, tight-rolled jeans (back in fashion, apparently). Her brunette hair is long, to her hips, the last few inches bleached blonde. She looks cool, and she carries herself like she knows it. I will probably never see these people again but I wonder what their stories are. I love watching the students, most of them transitioning from the twilight of childhood into the dawn of adulthood, attempting to disengage from their families of origin, taking in this university preview of life-in-the-real-world, and learning how to interact with the ones to whom they’re attracted. So much of this phase of life is a dance to find a partner, someone with whom to share a journey. I know it’s not what everyone wants, but I’m gonna take a gander and say it’s what MOST want. Maybe a lover, maybe just a close friend. But either way, we all want someone to love…and someone to love us back.

The fam is supposed to pick me up so we can head out for obligatory fall pictures with gourds, but they’re running late so I start strolling home. I cross paths with a friend who is due with her third baby today; she is out on a walk hoping to jump-start labor. After our chat I return a call from the 10yo’s English teacher to discuss his issue with turning in assignments on time. She assures me that he’s perfectly capable academically and loves having him as her student.

By the time the fam rolls up we are running thirty minutes late and I’m annoyed. By the time we get to our destination on the other side of town, I’m over it. A trailer loaded with pumpkins sits in the circle driveway of the home, and we take some pics of the girls. Our hostess leads us on a tour of the house after the kids run out expressing enthusiastic exclamations about her living quarters. A spiral staircase leads upstairs to a solitary bedroom; the balcony looks out on a tree-lined golf course. The owner says I can come stay anytime I need a retreat from my life. I do…and I WILL. The husband says, “She WILL.” He knows me.

For dinner we head to Jason’s Deli, and I start feeling overwhelmed…like I usually do when we take all three kids out to eat. A stranger waves us down and runs across the parking lot to retrieve one of our take-home boxes left atop the car and hands it to us. His kind gesture makes me wonder about his story. On the way home we marvel at the neon pink sunset with a jet stream slicing right up the middle. After a frenzy of quick showers and teethbrushing and buttslapping (?!), the three youngest stories fall into bed.

I text an apology to a friend for a foot-in-mouth comment; she writes back that she didn’t find it insensitive but the perfect description of what was happening in her life at the moment. Brandon and I watch three episodes of The Wonder Years. Such a good show. But it stirs a sadness in me. Not exactly sure why. Maybe because it’s set during the late 1960s, a revolutionary time in the US. Maybe because Kevin Arnold’s story makes me think of other stories…mine, my parents, certain friends. I find myself wanting to hurry through, binge-watch just to get it over with, so I can move on to something that doesn’t make me feel so melancholy.

At the end of an episode, Kevin wanders dejectedly across the middle school dance floor, his friend Winnie walking past him through the crowd nearby, unbeknownst to each other. The foreshadowing tells me they’ll end up together, it’s just not their time…not yet. The grown-up Kevin speaks over the scene: “All our young lives we search for someone to love…someone who makes us complete…we choose partners, and change partners…we dance to a song of heartbreak, and hope…all the while wondering if somewhere, somehow, there’s someone perfect…who might be searching for us.” Such a big part of so many stories, this search. For so many of those kids in the library. Maybe the boy with the sea-glass eyes.

the fair.

Strolling the pony-go-round ride set my head a-spinning and my facial expression a-dorking.

The West Texas Fair & Rodeo blew into town this month. So we saddled up the horses, loaded up the brood, moseyed over to the fairgrounds, and proceeded to rope up some moments.

I’ve never been one for amusement rides. I rarely find them amusing. In high school, the Tilt-o-whirl made me nauseous for hours. And rollercoasters? That go upside DOWN? Heck to the no. I’ve got enough anxiety as it is. No need to self-induce. But I do love the fair, with all its sights, sounds, and smells (of fried everything…and manure). It’s a community event and I love those. Even if it IS a rip-off that reeks of cow poo.

Our “moments” were plentiful. There was the moment of coming to a dead halt in the middle of the crowd to deal with a 10yo who was all-horns-and-rattles due to hunger…and being 10. There was the moment where I was jonesin’ for a frito pie, until about halfway through the goo when the quease set in. The moment when the hubs tried to accompany the 3yo on her pony-go-round ride but had to cut out because his horse allergy flared. The moment when the pony-go-round made my 40-year-old self dizzy enough that I felt the need to announce it to the crowd (at least it got a big laugh…by all the adults who were NOT jogging in circles, mind you). The moment where we forked over our life savings for a sheet of 20 tickets. And finally, the big one, the doozy of the evening, the moment where I crazy-yelled at the carny running the caterpillar rollercoaster.

Until last Sunday night, I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at a stranger. I had climbed the dozen steps on the exit side of the ride to lean over the waist-high gate so I could snap a pic of the thrill-seeking 7-year-old. As I did, the mechanized gate started to swing open; I diligently but absent-mindedly attempted to pull it closed while trying to get a shot of the girl. Then I noticed the ride operator gesturing at me angrily. I shrugged my shoulders at him, unable to hear his words. So he yelled louder and uglier, “LEAVE MY GATE ALONE!” The next moment, my face contorted into a snarl, I was wildly waving my arms back at him and screaming over the midway din, “I’M NOT MESSING WITH YOUR STUPID GATE!!!” Maybe I was exhausted (I was going on only two hours of sleep from the night before). Maybe I was grouchy from the heat. Maybe I needed more protein than the frito pie provided. Maybe I was feeling the burden of other emotions incited by other life moments involving other people. Whatever it was, it all gathered up in me and shot out like a wild mustang on a prairie. I stomped down the stairs, griping about the exchange, and feeling immediately felt stunned at and remorseful about my behavior. Where the hay had THAT come from? As we headed back to the car, I walked a few paces apart from the rest of the family, trying to make sense of why I had reacted so viscerally. But I couldn’t. I just knew it had happened, and I felt the guilt standing right in front of me like a rodeo clown in a Budweiser barrel.

The next hour was one big fat MOMENT for me. I spent most of it trying to self-forgive and not inwardly berate myself for my mess-up. That’s typically my mode of operation: I goof…and then that quiet, persistent, shaming voice in my head starts in…AND I LET IT…you should have behaved better, you can’t get away with that sort of slacking, how unbecoming of you. But that Sunday night, on the drive home and then sitting in my bedroom with what had just happened, I consciously made an effort at extending grace…to myself. Instead of allowing myself to be carried down the track by my habitual, self-shaming thoughts, I faced up to them…and spoke back to them…saying something like…yes, I messed up…I’m human, I DO…I’m going to learn something about myself in this moment instead of beating myself up about it. I extended grace to my human self, and it it felt like the most unnatural and right thing to do. Why does forgiving one’s self feel about as easy as staying on the back of a bull who has his gonads tied up?

Each individual life is comprised of millions of moments, from amusing to mundane, nauseating to itchy….and everything in between. I’ve been on this ride for 40 years now, and for me the most powerful are the vulnerable moments, when people tell their truth for the first time. Or say I love you. Or I’m sorry. Or when someone interrupts the self-shaming to genuinely extend forgiveness…to herself. These sorts of moments – as small as they may seem when they’re happening – ring of Grace. They have the power to turn hearts. To give hope. To change someone’s life in the most magnificent way. It feels like the very best kind of moment.

When we returned to the fair later that week, just the hubs and I, things were tender between us, and I don’t mean in a sweet, endearing way; we were coming off a brouhaha a few hours before that all three kids said had frightened them (parents of the year…US). We shared some garlic parmesan fries while watching barrel racing and bullriding in the expo center. Then we rode the ferris wheel, our reason for returning; we had just enough tickets for us both to ride…and I wanted to. The view of the midway from up high…the lights of our little west Texas town…the balmy, rushing breeze…a solitary moment of sorts flying through the sky…there was a comfort to it.

I noticed the guy running the catercoaster was there that evening, working his same spot. After hem-hawing around for several minutes, I slowly climbed the half-dozen steps and caught his attention across the track. He leaned forward and I explained I had been there a few nights before, participating in the yelling match. He calmly described something about how the gate functions but it didn’t matter. I listened to his explanation, looked right into his eyes and said, “I’m sorry for yelling at you.” With all the commotion around us, he held my gaze and said back genuinely, “Me too. I’m sorry, too.”

We had a moment.

hard.

GEG-featured-imageOn my morning walk yesterday, I passed a woman sitting on a stone outcropping next to the pond on the nearby college campus. The sun was rising, occasionally peeking out from behind low clouds, and a breeze hinting of autumn was blowing. She sat there like a statue, hands clasped at her chin, staring out across the water, unmoving. She looked to be praying. Or maybe mulling over a coming change in her life. Like she had a hard decision lying before her. Do I marry him? Do I take the job? Do I come out to my family? Do I believe anymore? I kept turning back to look at her, pensive and still as stone, deep in thought.

It made me ponder a present transition of my own (there’ve been a lot lately). A circumstance I’ve made a formal decision about, just in the past few days. This week four people who love me deeply have all said, “It’s time.” They’ve spoken it in their own individual ways, but they’ve all said the same thing, and in my heart I know they’re right. My heart also knows changing the circumstance will hurt, so she holds the precipitating change at arm’s length in hopes things might magically recalibrate in the interim. But my heart’s arm tires and there’s pain anyway; she needs to drop her arm and let the hard hurt come in fast. Because it’s coming, now or later. In a last-ditch attempt to parse out my situation, I ask another friend – one who has more distance from my personal walk and thus I hope a bit more objectivity – to talk out the details with me. Several years ago he found himself in a situation similar to mine, and reflecting on his own life, he says, “Your people are right. The change will be hard. And it’s gonna hurt for awhile. But it’ll be worth it in the long run.” This is exactly what I do not want to hear. I sigh, shake my head and state the obvious, “This is hard. This is really, really hard.” All he says back is: “Yep.”

I’m not sure how I expected life to be at 40 years into my journey. But I don’t think I expected it to feel quite this hard. And it DOES feel hard right now. I know there are many who’ve survived living in abusive homes or oppressive countries who might read that line written by a white, middle-class, US American in a stable marriage with three healthy children and think, “Please. You have no clue how hard it can get.” And they’d probably be right. I don’t fully understand the heavy despair and burdensome fear that stick to some like glue. But I’ve been around long enough to know that life is hard no matter the house or country in which you reside. Life is hard in an unhealthy marriage…AND a healthy one. Life is hard with children who have limitations…AND with children who are free from them. Life is hard when you don’t have a dime in the bank…AND when you own the bank. The hard just manifests in varying ways.

An out-of-town friend I spent a summer with long ago, and now has two children under the age of 3, said to me last week, “Every day I feel like yelling. I feel so angry. I had no idea being a mother would be so hard.” Sweet mama in a nursery cradle, YES. Motherhood is HARD. Becoming a parent ten years ago yanked every long-buried insecurity of mine to the surface and said, “Here you go…DEAL.” It’s been the most challenging decade of the four I’ve lived: being the primary caretaker for three kids, having to actually confront the aforementioned insecurities, anxiety, depression, insomnia, feeling isolated and lonely and like I’m at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to society and profession. The hard of motherhood overlaps with the hard of life-in-general, too: trying to speak up and out but feeling ignored and invisible, friends moving cross-country, friends deliberately removing themselves from my life, navigating the intricacies of family dynamics. Decisions…so many decisions. Trying to maintain some semblance of physical, emotional and spiritual health. Trying not to panic. Trying to practice self-control. Trying to bite my tongue. Trying to be heard. Trying not to flip people off. Trying to extend grace…to others…to myself. Trying to forgive…others…myself. Wondering if I’m talking to air when I pray. Yep. Hard. All of it.

I find myself wondering too, though, if the edges might wear down and soften a bit if I accepted that plain truth: life is hard. I wonder if acknowledging the reality of hard would make it just a bit more tolerable. If sometimes the hard is harder than it has to be because of our desperate, stubborn human endeavor to try and make life easy. But there’s no getting around it. Live long enough and you’re gonna wade into mud, quicksand, a patch of stickers, a nest of hornets, SOMETHING. Maybe if we can accept that fact…that this will be part of the path, the hard…maybe it lessens the shock when you turn the corner and it’s THERE.

I find myself wanting to go back to the pond, sit down near the woman, and when she looks over at me, simply say: “Yep.”

all together.

GEG-featured-imageA new friend recently said to me: “After our first-ever conversation and a cruising of your Facebook page, I thought to myself, ‘That girl’s got it all together.’” And then I laughed. Loudly. She and I have had several conversations since then, and she now knows the opposite is true. But I hear it on occasion. Something akin to “how do you keep it ‘all together’?” It makes me cringe. And it’s so bizarre to me that I would ever come across that way; my mind can’t really comprehend it. Because the statement implies that the person making the comment has a notion that I’ve got all my ducks in a row and that my life is perfectly ordered.

I know what it feels like…to observe certain people and get the distinct sense they “have it all together”. So I want to nip this in the bud for anyone who’s ever thought such a thing about me. Most mornings I wake up anxious, so much it makes me queasy and I have to force myself to eat breakfast. Does that qualify as “having it all together”? I’ve had quirky physical symptoms antagonizing me off and on for two decades, and they scare me and I have no idea how to seek out the most effective healing and sometimes I talk about it incessantly to my husband. Yes, yes…very “together”. Both the anxiety and the physical symptoms (an ear issue, specifically) affect my sleep on a significant level. My struggle with insomnia affects everything: how I feel physically and emotionally, how I interact with people, my daily productivity. “All together” you say? Yes, all together in the fetal position.

This morning I visited a class devoted entirely to prayer and wept through the whole dang thing, especially when words were spoken over another mother that she be healed of her “physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds” and that God would infuse her with strength to love her children when she was weak. Yep, cried through that whole shebang…probably because it’s my deepest desire at this stage of my life. Yes, yes…very “together”. Later at a restaurant for lunch, surrounded by tables full of fellow churchgoers and feeling hugely invisible (as the hubs described, like we were standing awkwardly at the front of the school cafeteria waiting for an invite) and with the three kids asking rapid-fire questions (like kids do), I had to excuse myself to our car before our food arrived for a full-blown sob-session. How very “together” of me.

I have trouble letting go of friends; change does not come easy to me. I have trouble letting go of hurts; a spirit of forgiveness does not come easy to me. I get my feelings bruised easily. I spend way too much time trying to figure out what other people are thinking. I ruminate on people’s words and actions regularly, to the detriment of my health. Sadness, jealousy, irritation, and worry appear to me on an almost-daily basis. I get frustrated with my friends, I yell at my kids, my house is often in disarray. I go to therapy once a week; I probably need to go more.

I’m thankful for my life. For so many reasons. And I ENJOY it too. I laugh easily. I love the challenge of making my kids laugh. I love spending time outside soaking up the calm only nature provides. I love hearing people’s stories. We blast music and have dance parties. Occasionally – when I “get it all together” – we eat dinner all at the same time. But my life is equal parts joy and grief. Really. EQUAL PARTS. So please, please…to anyone who’s ever thought I have it “all together”…and who may think my life is one big joy bubble, let me go ahead and burst it for you. Put it out of your head. “All together” ain’t my thang. I’m limping through life, like everyone else – with occasional bouts of running through the house in a Forrest-Gump-like stride in an effort to entertain my offspring.

the usual with tea, 7.

GEG-featured-imageI wake up feeling crummy. Skipping my walk, I journal instead. While the hubs is gone to the farmers’ market to pick up milk, the youngsters pile into bed with me. I want to enjoy the moment. I so want to enjoy it. How often do all three kids snuggle under the covers with me anymore? I WANT to enjoy this moment. But I feel sick. Tired. Irritable. Their piling-in has interrupted my writing, they’re moving around a LOT, and they’re being LOUD. I wonder if the kids can pick up on my irritation and I wonder if it affects them inwardly. And with that thought, in comes the guilt. Ohhhhh the GUILT. Not the healthy kind that shows up when you’ve legitimately hurt someone. The unhealthy pseudo-guilt that worms its way into your spirit and mutters, “You can’t enjoy this moment? What’s WRONG with you?” When the hubs comes home and the kids tumble out of the room, I sob and he listens for the umpteenth time. He tells me I’m “sweating the details”, and then cooks me a plate of overeasy eggs. I sprinkle a grapefruit with cinnamon but the fruit is so tart, I end up squeezing the juice into a glass and add stevia. I climb back in bed (it’s Saturday, after all), journal some more, cancel an appointment for the afternoon, and respond to several texts from friends asking about last night’s “Meet the Teacher” event. My 10yo is going back to school-school after three years of homeschool, and my friends are wondering how I’m feeling about the change. Their thoughtful, checking-in messages make me feel loved.

The hubs has snagged us two tickets to a dinner gala at a downtown museum for the evening. I was hoping the weekend would be low-key and chill, especially after the chaos of the past last week of summer vacation. I appreciate the fact that he arranged for a special evening out, but I don’t have a sleek dress to wear, I don’t want to make small talk for over two hours, and I’m feeling unwell. A dinner gala will not be relaxing for my introverted self. Before lunchtime rolls around, I decide I won’t attend.

Halfway through the morning, I chat on the phone with a friend, detailing my close-to-the-surface emotions, mostly due to school revving up. Brandon heads out to buy a tie for the gala and takes the kids with him. I deliver lunch to another friend trudging through hard life circumstances. We talk for several minutes in her kitchen and then I leave, stopping at the gas station down the street to fill the car. The west Texas wind is blowing hot but not TOO hot; the bank sign says it’s only 91. The aroma of grilled beef swirls around me and sure enough, there’s a socially-irresponsible Burger King across the parking lot. In the shade of the station with the wind tossing my hair and the smell of burgers tickling my nose I have an odd moment of contentment.

I drive to Books-a-Million to buy another journal. In the store, I hear a song and ask the multi-pierced cashier if she can tell me what it is. Another employee uses his Shazam app to decipher the tune and tracks me down to tell me; it’s “Shadow” by Colbie Calliat. Back at home, about the time I eat lunch, a friend from Houston drops by and we chat for thirty minutes. After he leaves, I ask Brandon to answer me honestly…am I more sensitive than most people? Do I get my feelings hurt more easily than the average person? He says it’s hard to make that sort of comparison, and then adds, “I think your issue is more that you FIXATE. Things happens and you fixate because, besides the kids, you have nothing else to fixate ON.” Which is part of the reason why I’ve lately been considering some sort of out-of-the-house, part-time job.

We have a bit of a cleaning frenzy…stripping bed sheets, starting laundry, sweeping, vacuuming, washing dishes. I make smoothies for the kids and am overwhelmed by another wave of emotion. When the 10yo sees me slide to the kitchen floor and asks what’s wrong, I move my weepy self to the bedroom. By the time Brandon comes in, there are a dozen tissues wadded up on the bed, and I’m in a full-on ugly cry. He asks what’s going on and I say, “The same thing as always.” He rubs my back and acknowledges, “You’re havin’ a hard day.” I want to get better. Physically and emotionally, I want to FEEL BETTER. Especially so I can enjoy all the LIFE that comes into our home by the way of our children. Brandon says, “You WILL feel better. I’ve had a feeling for several months now that you’re at a turning point. You’re on the cusp of something.” And I almost believe him. He gives me a fantastic pep talk; he’s gotten pretty skilled at pep talks over the last 17 years. He should have an honorary degree in therapy, that guy. I gather myself and say “thanks coach”. He chuckles when I say, “I was going to write a ‘usual with tea’ for my blog today but I really do not want to include all…THIS.”

He suits up for the gala. I text my friend K: “I need something besides mothering.” As I absent-mindedly gaze at the floor, she replies, “Many do, including me.” Later she writes, “You have so many talents and interests. Your issue is too many choices.” I don’t agree with the “so many talents” part but my interests are certainly aplenty. The kids watch “James & the Giant Peach”; I put clean sheets on the beds.

While folding laundry, I ponder a friendship and ask God for some insight on how to behave in my interactions with the person-in-question. I glance over to my corner of the room where, about a week ago, I posted cards with some of my favorite spirit-stirring words. Within 24 hours, all the cards had fallen except two. The two that remain read: “Grace is having a relationship with someone’s heart, not their behaviors” and “Be easy. Take your time. You are coming home. To yourself.” Yes.

As I’m putting the kids to bed I ask if they ever talk to God during the day. The 7yo says she does. What about? I ask. She looks at me with a half-grin and confesses, “Sometimes I have dreams that the bad guys win.” Her brother questions, “Not the good guys?” She replies, “Sometimes I dream that the good guys win, but sometimes I dream that the BAD guys win…and I feel like I want to tell God about it.” We haven’t had a pointed conversation with our kids about asking for forgiveness – I don’t know why – just haven’t. So I find it fascinating that hoping the bad guys win naturally strikes some deep chord in her spirit. Like maybe…we shouldn’t hope for the bad guys to win… we shouldn’t cheer them on…we shouldn’t nurture revenge, jealousy, hostility, contempt.

The 3yo is doing a cat impression – no meowing, just walking across the bed and the floor on all fours in a slinky manner – and licking her siblings. The 7yo starts “snoring” and it sounds like she’s saying “Honk…shoe!”, and we are all laughing. It’s a redemptive moment after how I felt when the four of us were together in my room twelve hours before. The gala couldn’t possibly beat this. The 10yo asks, “Is this how it was every night while I was gone this summer?” The 7yo replies, “No, never.” Thanks for keepin’ it real there, dear.

When Brandon gets home, he fills me in on the fancy-dinner details. I’m so tired my eyes are blurring. Somewhere in the conversation, he shares about a couple students who have told him how much he’s changed their lives for the better…and I feel a jealous twinge in my chest. I am happy for him. I really am. And I tell him so. I also go ahead and confess my envy towards him in that regard. I rarely receive that sort of affirmation and relational feedback. Certainly not on a daily basis. We start talking about potential part-time jobs or volunteering opportunities. It’s so hard to narrow it all down and know where to start. I mention to Brandon how much I love photography and painting. He replies, “Photography and watercoloring are great – and I think you should pursue those for sure – but what I think you really need is something relational, where you’re connecting with people.” I agree. And then I connect with my pillow.

inscribed.

“The only requirement of an artist is this: you must try to love and forgive yourself completely before you create.” – Glennon Melton On my morning stroll, as I was pondering what to write here today, I stepped over a … Continue reading 

when depression met me face-to-face…

Like so many this week, I’ve felt saddened at the loss of Robin Williams. Maddened, actually. Super-peeved at how oppressive a glitchy brain/unhealthy mind can be. The fact that his death was self-inflicted felt like a punch in the gut. Everything about it has made me re-evaluate the straight-up realness of depression, how it manifests, where it hides, who it looks like.

A few weeks ago we double-featured Hook and Jumanji for our kids, thus introducing them to the legendary actor. Twenty-five years ago I watched him in Dead Poets Society and, as a sophomore in high school, I remember being shocked at how the story ended. The main character taking his own life? I couldn’t believe it. NOT the outcome I expected. I could not comprehend how someone could do such a thing. But then, I was only 15. I had lived a peaceful childhood under a quiet roof with loving parents and experienced no major trauma in my decade-and-a-half of years. I had no INKLING of the curveballs life could throw at a person. Fifteen years later I would give birth to my first child and be diagnosed with postpartum depression. Then…I would begin to understand.

Adjusting to life as a mother sent me through the wringer. I had all these…expectations of how I thought motherhood would be, SHOULD be. Within weeks of my son Rowan’s birth – maybe even days – those expectations took flight like Dorothy Gale’s house in a twister and landed in some far Technicolor country. Even so, I devoutly did the mom thing, as moms of newborns will do…nursing, changing diapers, trying to figure out when to put him down to nap, reading books and blogs with all their conflicting opinions. Should I let him cry or nurse him back to sleep? Should I be talking to him more? Singing to him? Signing? (Yes, SIGNING!) Is it ok to put on a Baby Einstein DVD while I take 30 minutes to breathe or will it fry all his brain cells? Should I feel guilty for having had an epidural? I don’t think it makes me less of a woman but some of my friends who birthed epidural-free seem to think so. And on and on. AND ON. That right there is enough to turn any woman’s world upside-down but to make matters more interesting, the tiny tyke refused to take a bottle and nursed every two hours for the first three months of his life, feeding practically around the clock. Which meant I spent a whoooole lotta time planted on the sofa cruising the tube and terrifying myself by watching The Ring (there was nothing else on!!!). Most of my friends were still in the workforce, not home alone all day long with a wee eat-sleep-and-pooper. And my only sibling was getting married (a pleasant occasion but a transition all the same). Plus I still had laundry and grocery-shopping and meal-prepping and staying-in-touch with grandparents and thank-you notes to write – an endless list of Things To Do – all squashed in between hour-long sessions of baby boy sucking the life right out of me.

So, one Saturday morning, when Rowan was three-months-old, Brandon offhandedly mentioned that he wanted to purchase a water hose, and all I heard was: “So you can add one more thing to your to-do list, Jana.” Buying a water hose implied someone would need to be watering the landscaped plants around our condo, and for some reason I interpreted that responsibility as falling to me. I would now have to add ‘watering outdoor plants’ to my list of Things To Do. And I promptly lost it. Because I couldn’t DO anymore. I was completely tapped out. The mothering thing – and all its expectations – were sucking me dry (quite literally via my breastages). I distinctly remember sitting on the patio off our condo, staring across the asphalt parking lot at the lush summer green of the Tennessee trees. Weeping. For an hour. Because I couldn’t handle ONE MORE THING. Not even the idea of watering some shrubs.

When the tears slowed and calm descended, I pondered how horrid I was feeling so much of the time anymore, and how there was just no way possible that I could be helpful to my husband and child in this condition. And suddenly, an idea: I’ll just LEAVE. It made complete sense. I sat there, working through details of how I could scrape together some funds, leave our home, and not be tracked down. BECAUSE BRANDON AND ROWAN WOULD BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT ME. I thought that. Lucidly. As plain as day. They deserve better than this mess of me, I thought. My condition as wife and mother is dragging them down. Life will be easier for both of them if I’m NOT HERE. My tricky trickster of a mind – riddled by undiagnosed depression – convinced me that my husband and newborn son would live healthier lives without me around. Depression has a cunning ability to make otherwise reasonable people believe things that aren’t true.

Suicide never appealed to me but I did seriously contemplate running away. Until that moment on the patio, when I would hear about someone abandoning their family, I thought what most of us probably do: What a jerk. Leaving your children in the lurch like that. How SELFISH of you. But I GUARANTEE YOU, there are parents out there abandoning their families – via suicide or simply speeding off into the horizon – because they are convinced of the lie that depression whispers: “Your family is better off without you. No one wants to deal with your crap anymore.” I would never have believed this…until it happened to me. And I’m not excusing the behavior. Just explaining that the mind – in an unhealthy state of clinical depression – has the power to convince a person of untruth.

When my parents were visiting us in the midst of my postpartum funk of the suck-most variety, my dad mentioned that he didn’t think he had ever known anyone who had struggled with depression, and my mom, without missing a beat, replied, “Yes, you have.”  Before my own meet-and-greet with depression, I most likely would have said the same. Depression is insidious in how well it knows how to hide. People with depression don’t look like the mopey animated characters on the antidepressant ads. We don’t have a cloud floating over our heads signifying our approach (though we feel cloudy on the inside). We don’t drag around a metal ball chained to our ankle (though we feel weighty on the inside). It’s just not that obvious. Depression can look like world-famous comedians who get paid to makes others laugh…like the mom with the kid-filled minivan who appears to have it “all together”…like the gentle giant of a farmer who sells tomatoes and cantaloupe at the market…like the neighbor who always shouts a friendly hello when you’re out in the yard…like the gorgeous classmate voted homecoming queen…like the wildly-successful-at-age-22 techie with his cutting-edge company…like the captivating guest who tells the best stories at a dinner party…like the elderly bookstore cashier who makes the most fantastic literary recommendations…like the preacher who speaks of God’s grace on Sunday mornings. Depressions looks like all of them…and more. With certain stats reporting 1 in 10 people in the US suffering from depression – and unless you’re a hermit living in the distant hills somewhere – YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS STRUGGLING WITH DEPRESSION.

If you suspect a loved one might be depressed, PLEASE reach out to them; those suffering from depression often lack the energy or motivation to reach out themselves. My circumstances landed me at the doctor when, shortly after the water hose incident, two close friends (one a pediatrician, the other a postpartum nurse) and my mom urged me to set up an appointment. Tell your friend what you’ve observed that concerns you and ask them about it. Dig a little if you have to. Most people – including me – do NOT want to talk about our overwhelming sadness, about how depression can be so inwardly antagonistic, because IT FEELS LIKE WE ARE BURDENING our spouses, children, parents, friends…and that’s not a good feeling. So please…ASK. Then LISTEN. And even if you don’t “get it” – if you look at your friend and all you see is the abundance by which they’re surrounded (dozens of adoring friends, skyrocketing success in professional endeavors, healthy children, a supportive spouse, financial stability) and you don’t GET IT – and you feel like you want to tell them to “be thankful” or “count their blessings”, I would ask that you please keep that to yourself and listen MORE. Practice compassion. Offer to drive them to their doctor, accompany them to a counseling session, or go on a walk with them in the sunshine.

A decade has passed since my postpartum depression diagnosis. My personal everyday struggle tends more toward anxiety, but depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand. Spending long periods of time feeling intensely anxious can be, well, depressing. (Understatement.) Since my mad go-around in 2004 – when I lost 20 pounds in a month’s time, and which took me almost a year to pull out of after weekly counseling, medication, regular reading of the Psalms, and a calendar wiped free of commitments – depression has visited me still, but with less intensity. I’ve had minor bouts here and there: when we moved from Nashville to Abilene, over the past two years because of several relational losses, and this summer as I’ve begun my spelunking self-examination expedition.

If we live long enough, overwhelming sadness taps us all on the shoulder and waves hello. For some of us, it lingers longer and engages us in superficial small talk. And for some, it is a constant companion, wrapping its arms around us in suffocating measure. I’m not 15 anymore. I know there are outcomes to stories that I will never comprehend. Still, I was stunned at how Robin’s journey ended. The experts – and non-experts too – could debate all day long about where exactly depression stems from…some say it’s a result of genetics, inclinations of certain personalities, the voice of Satan…some say it’s a physical illness, mental disorder, spiritual deficit. But no matter which slimy hole depression crawls out of, its consequences can be deceitful, disabling, and – evident this week – deadly. It had the power to snuff out the life of a man who exuded joy, who spent his life spilling out joy to others. It’s had the power – most likely since the beginning of time – to convince us that we have no business partaking in this precious Life.

Depression is real. It looks like me.

the usual with tea, 6.

GEG-featured-imageI wake up on an air mattress in an Austin apartment around 3:30am. (Sounds sketchy, eh?) Never falling back asleep means I’m heading into a day of carshopping on four hours of shuteye; this, along with several other factors, causes me significant anxiety. Sipping on grapefruit juice, I force myself to eat breakfast. If I can work through the early-morning ickiness enough to take in a bit of protein, it often takes the edge off.

At 3pm the previous day, we decided to trek to our state capital to shop for a new vehicle to accommodate our children’s ever-lengthening legs. The 10yo is with his grammy, so we figure we can manage a road trip fairly easily with the 7yo and 3yo. The locale of our rented condo is prime, on a shady block within walking distance of the University of Texas. I wish we had lived here when the hubs was in grad school; I probably would have seen him a lot more. We cruise around campus and I throw “hook ‘em Horns” out the car window the entire time. The 7yo asks me to “stop doing that” and B mumbles, “This is getting weird.” I reply only: “Solidarity.” I want to live in Austin again. I WANT TO LIVE HERE. I daydream about moving back to Austin regularly. We take the girls to the Capitol building and explore the inside of the rotunda. While observing the portrait of Davy Crockett, we explain to the 7yo that he, like her, was a Tennessean who moved to Texas. I text with a friend from Houston who was here just the day before, both of us bummed we missed each other.

We get on with our business at hand and drive to the first dealership on our list. The car salesman – who knew we were coming – makes us wait so long that we finally leave without ever seeing any inventory. I can tell the hubs is already frustrated. I say, “You doin’ ok? You’re seeming stressed.” He replies: “See this huge zit on my face? I’m pretty sure the stress pushed it last night.” I respond, “Dude, only one of us is allowed to be anxious in this partnership…and that’s ME.” Fortunately he laughs. A weathered-looking man who hints of homelessness ambles past our car while we are waiting at a stoplight. Several weeks ago at church, the 3yo put together a bag of snacks and water for someone who might be in need, so we share her offering with him. He takes it and thanks us, and her pleased grin shines like the morning sun.

Upon our arrival at the second dealership, the day has turned blazing hot. I’m hungry. And sleep-deprived. Thus I am irritable (to put it nicely). We test-drive a used Mazda with a sunroof. My five minutes of interstate-driving incites a full-on inward panic. No one in the car can tell but I am freaking…OUT. My head feels weird, my heart races, and I feel afraid of fainting while driving. As I turn back into the dealership, I calm down…but am still shaking and tell Brandon what happened. He says, “You did fine.” I didn’t FEEL fine though. At all.

Lunch at Chipotle. There are no tables available so we stand there waiting for someone to take notice of the family with two young children and one hangry mama. When a table opens up, I notice the teenage girl who leaves it is sporting a buzzcut, carrying a plastic box filled with meds, and has a port in her chest. After we sit down, the hubs notices the massive ulcer on the inside of my bottom lip and expresses frustration (with God, the universe, what-have-you) in regards to my struggles. He says it’s unfair that I have to deal with anxiety, insomnia, cankersores. I shrug my shoulders, then ask if he saw the teenage girl who just left. He ponders her for a moment, then replies: “Talk about unfair.” No kidding.

I mention that even though I often daydream of living in an urban place like Austin, I don’t know if I could take the frantic speed of it all. I feel frantic on the inside so much of the time, thus I need my surroundings to be the opposite. If I felt inwardly at peace more often, maybe I could better handle the whirlwind (traffic, noise, crushes of people, waiting for a table when you’re hangry) that is big-city living. We talk about how we have lots of changes coming in the next few weeks: Brandon’s job, the 10yo entering public school, the 7yo attending a new two-day-a-week school, and I say to B, “I feel the pace quickening…and I’m not ready.”

Two other patrons’ extremities are completely inked in tattoos and I want to study them all. But it’s rude to stare. I am fascinated by the stories people feel so deeply that they have them permanently etched on their bodies. The hubs and I start car-talking. Is it too hard to climb into the back seat? Does the back seat get enough air circulation? We move the convo back to our mini-mini-van parked on a side street and sit in the heat talking to our insurance company about fascinating topics like interest rates and financing. When the 7yo requests a potty, we drive around the corner to Starbucks. I notice more scrubs in the shop and outside a punk-looking girl dressed in black with a green ponytail…using a walker. Putting together all the health-professional-looking adults, a couple of ill teens, and a medivac helicopter flying in over the parking lot, I realize we are in the backyard of Dell Children’s Medical Center and it feels like my heart doubles over. This is one of the conundrums of life that is so hard for me to comprehend…ill and suffering children. As much as I have lingered on this thought in my forty years, I choose to push it away right now.

We decide against visiting the third dealership, and instead to make an offer on the Mazda with the sunroof. The girls and I spend the rest of the afternoon in a sky-blue waiting room while the hubs takes care of all the laborious detail that comes with purchasing a car. This is Brandon’s game and I am fine with that. I do my part by keeping the munchkins out of his hair. The girls do a terrific job waiting and entertaining themselves…and me. A friendly salesman offers for us to change the channel from ESPN to whatever the girls want to watch, so we hit up PBS. As he leaves the room, he whispers, “Football is so boring.” Another employee wanders into the waiting area and buys three snacks in about thirty minutes. On his third go-around, I say, “Maybe you should just go buy some lunch.” He laughs, turns red and says, “This IS my lunch.” He doesn’t come back after that. Did he think I was flirting? I don’t care. I’m forty years old. I’m starting to care less if someone thinks I’m flirting.

The sky turns dark toward the north. Blessed rain is moving into the city and the surrounding hill country. I go out to our hail-dinged car to retrieve our insurance card and sweet mercy! The shade of those thunderheads! As we wait for the dealership to do a last-minute tidy-up, I overhear the financing guy spilling to Brandon about the bad blood between him, his ex-wife and her present husband. It’s a sordid story and we’re only hearing his side of it, but it’s an appreciated reminder that everyone everywhere has stuff they’re dealing with. The 3yo notices my cankersore and says, “Oh, you okay? It hurts me too.” Empathy at three years old. Impressive. She hands me an invisible something and explains, “Crackers…eat them ALL.”

We are finally new(-to-us) car owners. It’s about 5pm and Brandon wants to push for home. Because we now have two cars to steer back, it means I’m driving and I am nervous about navigating through rain, in rush-hour traffic, and on four hours of sleep at dusk. But if we stay in town it means we have to pay for another night of lodging, and what if I don’t sleep well again? Will I be any more rested for a drive home tomorrow? We finally agree to stay put and head back into central Austin. I feel relieved. The apartment we rented the night before is fortunately still available so we pile back in. The weather is overcast, sprinkling and cool enough for us to walk down the street and let the girls have dinner with a mooching pigeon on the Chick-fil-A patio. Then we drive our new wheels to Whole Foods to buy dinner for the grown-ups; on the way, the hubs says ‘someone’s thumpin’ their bass tonight’ and I say ‘I think that’s US’…and it IS. Nicki Minaj and Usher in the middle-aged house, yo. Parking in the underground garage at Whole Foods makes us feel like legitimate city-dwellers. There’s no way we could shop in a place like this regularly (price point!) but it’s fun to do on “vacation”.

Back in the apartment, the girls crash into bed and Brandon fiddles with the phone charger. I dig into my baked potato and open Facebook to the news that Robin Williams has died. His death is sad enough as it is, but then I see something about ‘self-inflicted’ and ‘asphyxia’ and I know he has most likely hung himself. No…NO! Dammit! I think. Maybe I whisper it out loud. I don’t react this way because it’s the famous, funny-man Robin Williams, but because I loathe how depression can play such tricks on your mind. It lies and makes you think the world is better off without you, that your existence is a burden to your beloved ones. After 63 years of nagging at Robin, that insidious voice has convinced him of the lie. It ticks me off that depression – the oppressive spirit that haunts so many – has turned the ear of another child of God. I’ve come close to falling for that lie too, but that’s a not-so-usual story for another day.

I lay down my exhausted self in the city of my daydreams and fall asleep thinking of Robin.