Make a Decision

You know, I’m a competent professional. Part of my work is to make decisions, forecast the future, design plans that will move us forward into new places, and sprinkle the whole thing with innovative ideas. I’m good at it and I like doing it. I’m not a waffler, although at home I’m deliberate; at work I make decisions relatively quickly, accepting that if there are mistakes we can right them the second or third time. That would be a problem in fields where decisions are exceptionally costly or life-saving, but I work at a library, folks, none of my decisions are going to be disasters.

My wife likes to consider all of the possible options before settling on a decision. We’re incompatible this way (at home, I’m not always interested in options) but we are very compatible in that the time I prefer to make a decision (again, at home) is pretty close to the time she needs to consider all of the options. I like to think of it this way – she will lay out a range of options and then I can make a quick decision after having taken awhile to consider them all and we’ll end up landing in about the same place. You might recall that we had paint samples on our bedroom wall for a year.

My mother wants me to make instant decisions about things that are important to her. And then she wants me to do those things right then and there. Under duress, I can usually accommodate one preference, but not the other. For example, she wanted to know if I would take a lovely fountain and a fleet of end tables so that she didn’t need to move them. I said I would on the spot but they will certainly hang out in my basement until I’ve had time to consider where I’ll put them. This will take awhile, my brain space is occupied by other things, and it bothers me not at all that we don’t know where we’ll put them yet (or ever).

It agitates her that I sit on things past the .15 seconds she has provided for a decision. What dates am I thinking of traveling? Where am I planning to go? What do I think I’ll do when I get there? If there’s not a plane ticket, hotels, or a friend’s couch involved, those decisions may well come once I arrive. When we went to Disneyworld, I bent my entire will toward planning out the trip (although leaving plenty of flexibility) but this is not my regular approach. I head somewhere down the middle but closer to the last minute.

For example, earlier this month Debra and I decided that we might go away for the weekend. Two weeks prior, we decided on a location. A week prior, we made a hotel reservation. Three or four days prior, we decided what we’d do when we got there and we decided when to leave about 15 minutes before we got in the car. Of course, this is for a relatively local vacation. I don’t consider most of that last minute but I watched my mother practically tremble with agitation and judgement as we waltzed through this process.

Today I’m spending the afternoon with her wrapping up the tail end of her packing. I am well aware that she will expect me to make more split decisions about what I want to take and leave. I’d prefer to decide later once I’ve brought it home. I’m not asking her to delay any moving things and my decision will have no impact at all on her. I just want the chance to consider the greater picture and, if she behaves as she usually does, this is going to drive her insane. I’m not feeling particularly accommodating today. I’m trying not to think of this as a looming disaster.

I accept that there’s a happy medium here and that the stress she’s under doesn’t give her the flexibility to move outside of her comfort zone. The impending conflict is completely within my control. Clearly, the teenager in me is trying to act out – I could make decisions quickly, I just don’t want to. If I can just get that cantankerous 15-yr-old to cool her jets, I might be able to make it through this.

 

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A Smaller Loss

I don’t know if there’s a post marking the arrival of my parents and the subsequent overhaul of life. I looked but didn’t try too hard which I think is a good summary of how I feel about the last four years. When we suggested they consider this state over their current one and over the two inhabited by my sisters, we did so partly for their sake (better medical care! lower property taxes! four seasons!) and partly for RR’s, who otherwise would have, at best, annual contact with her only set of grandparents. It was not for my sake. I think that much is clear.

We had dinner with them, and then my mom alone, every Sunday. Our lives changed in dozens of small ways and some very significant ones. We have new electricity in the basement and new plumbing in one bathroom but the lights are crooked and the silicone lining the sink is shifty at best. Weekend relaxation ended at 3pm but we had multiple Sundays on a porch, in the fall air, with the scent of apple pie and pot roast wafting through the house. I got to spend the last two years of my father’s life with him and that’s unquantifiable. There are no more sentences for that because I can’t do it justice.

We were right that the medical care would be important. The property taxes didn’t turn out to be lower. And, in the end, winter is why my mother is moving away. That’s the kind reason, the one she drags out for friends. It’s so cold, she says, and my other daughter is in Arizona. That’s true. It’s the family she’s spent the least amount of time with and the daughter she probably likes the best. Although, to be fair to my other sister, it’s just me she doesn’t click with. But mostly, here is where my dad died. I don’t think she can get away fast enough.

As we come up on the moving date, I’m parts sad for RR and part happy for Debra and I. This is going to reduce stressful conversations and increase weekend opportunities. I’ll be able to take a deep breath. We won’t have to move a tv, or bring over supper, or change plans for anyone but us. She’ll be happier on the other side of the country. To be honest, I also could use a break from the constant reminder that my dad is gone. In the end, RR seems to be the only casualty. It’s (hopefully) the final loss in two years of losses. And just think, now we have an excuse to vacation in Arizona again!

 

The Variety Show

I don’t know if you did this as a child, or if a child does this to you, but RR does most of her deep thinking with Debra. Usually at night at bedtime, she unrolls a carpet of insecurities woven of dying, loss, and the future. The last two years have been difficult ones and it’s not something we’re overly concerned about. In fact, I’m glad she’s safe enough to use that time to explore those fears*.

Although the topics and timing are different, sometimes I’m the listener. Today I got to hear, at length, about her worries regarding today’s Variety Show. I suppose you’re not meant to celebrate this sort of thing but I was silently happy to hear it. Every so often, the Iron Curtain drops and we get to hear about life at school/camp. This week we got a deluge – she doesn’t actually need a snack this week or last (that might have been nice to know before the last day of camp); she loves egg salad, celery if it’s IN the egg salad, and, zucchini if it’s IN bread; she desperately wants a Pokemon stuffed toy; and, she was in a variety show last Friday and will be again today.

Well, this is a development. RR has long resisted public performance of any kind. It turns out that not only is she in the variety show, she has designed the bit that she and her friends** will do, and not everyone in the camp is performing, which makes her participation even more remarkable. I know you’re dying to know, but all I got to hear was that it was “a bird and cat” piece. This performance has issues though (like all do) and here’s a glimpse of what she’s facing today:

  • Stella’s costume includes a very long bird tail. No one know why she wants it to be that long but what if they trip on it?
  • Lyla keeps disappearing and no one know where she goes
  • Izzie keeps forgetting to play the xylophone and she’d probably be okay if it weren’t for having to do Lyla’s part.
  • Because what is Lyla even doing?
  • June keeps acting crazy
  • And perhaps most importantly (besides where IS Lyla going) is what if no one likes it?

I don’t know why she wasn’t nervous last week or, if she was, why she only mentioned it this week but so it goes with RR. We finished up the car ride with tips and advice that she’s heard before. Other kids are nervous. Other kids are worried no one will like their part. Adults get nervous and worried. We revisited the quirks Debra and I have before speaking in public. And concluded with one suggestion: when you get out there, meet their eyes, pause to breathe, and smile. They will always smile back. Always.

I hope the Bird and Cat is not a serious piece because that wasn’t the best piece of advice for a drama.

*I’m pretty sure this exact sentence is straight out of an early aughts parenting advice column. Believe me, I’m not proud of myself for saying it. But it’s true and also, who misses an opportunity to say early aughts? I had to do it.

**To be clear, it seemed like RR had no friends for a long time until we realized she just didn’t tell us about her friends or, more commonly, many other children were friends with her even though she was impartial. I’m not sure whether these are friends, recruited classmates, or the heap of younger girls that follow her around, but does it matter in a Bird and Cat show?

 

Mother’s Day Presents

In honor of Mother’s Day, I bring you these two tidbits. One is, most definitely, better than the other.

My mother needs lots of help as she prepares to move cross-country. Mind, the move isn’t until the end of July but, by golly, she is going to be packed and sitting on boxes by June 1st. I’m not sure why she thinks this is a good idea and my opinion doesn’t generally matter. Suffice to say, we’re doing a lot of drop by furniture moving, etc. We also have dinner with her every Sunday. Every. Sunday. I think that we have rescheduled three Sundays in the last four years and have only passed on one outright. So it’s reasonable for a reasonable person to expect that we’d have dinner again, and move boxes again, this Sunday. Which is how we got to this text:

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Is it unreasonable to hope that someday my suggestion of items to bring will not be met by a statement about mini ice cream but rather by a “Great! I have ranch dressing!” She constantly, in small ways like this, refuses to make any decisions at all. Rather than hold accountability for saying yes to bread and salad at the risk of forgetting something else, she doubles down on what she has. Every conversation goes like this. Reasonable questions met not with answers but by close-but-not-quite statements of sometimes totally unrelated fact. At least we were both talking about dinner. This time.

On the other hand, I picked up RR from school yesterday and she has Mother’s Day presents:

RR: Mama! I made you and mama presents for Mother’s Day!
Me: Oh you did! That’s very exciting. I can’t wait to see them.
RR: It’s a secret. A potholder for you and this picture for mama.
Me: Those sound like good secrets.
RR: That’s right. They will be a surprise, won’t they?

Yep.

Technology, Man

Let me be upfront. I value the charm and convenience of technology more than I do the need to cautiously prevent my data from be sloppy all over the internet. Perhaps it’s a stint as a federal employee and knowing that my fingerprints and everything about me is in a file somewhere. At any rate, let’s all assume I know the dangers and woe and move ahead.

I love that I can keep up with my friends all over the world and that I can use facebook groups like Buy Nothing to keep things out of the landfill and meet my neighbors at the same time. I love that I can use Instagram to see pictures of food in Delhi and, right after it, your kid joyously conquering a new milestone. I love that I have exclusively online friends I’ve met here (yes, here!) and elsewhere who, on some days, are my closest friends who I happily text with regularly. I love that I have devices and apps to track my steps and tell me whether I’m getting a touch too lazy. I love that I barely need to check my email since I can use so many other more instant methods of communication. And I especially love Timehop which rolls out more than 13 years of “on this day” pictures. Just the other day there was this gem of my wife and I, three years ago:

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We look so young and so happy – it was a good reminder that we need to get away together more often and that our current states of neutral-unhappy shouldn’t be okay. There is a different standard.

And this sign from the same day, reminding me that my sister lived with us 13 years ago. On a day trip to a street fair she casually yodeled “hello prisoners” not truly believing the sign was still relevant. The voice on the loudspeaker scolding her has provided years of laughter.

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But my day died a year ago this Saturday and Timehop has been ruthless about pulling photos from shared google albums. Like today’s picture that my mother never should have shared of her propping my infant nephew on my father’s lap two days before he died. Maybe she thought the sentiment was important. My father looks worse than I remember. The tears got lodged so high up in my throat I haven’t made a sound in hours. I’m deleting the picture from my life.

I’m prepared for it to pull in the obit I shared to facebook with his smiling picture. I did a good job writing it and I think I captured him as well as anyone could. I’m prepared for pictures from the hospice waiting room of my sisters piecing together a puzzle. I was not prepared for that.

Facebook does something similar, recommending you reshare a picture you posted long ago. Many of my old friends are logging off for good and it’s bittersweet. I truly love knowing about their lives, when they have babies, where they are travelling, even when they die. But it’s true that I barely even glance at my newsfeed anymore, heading straight to the groups I belong to. I’m much more active on Instagram (that’s a hint, yes) and I appreciate the lack of “vaguebooking” and news infiltration. Also, it’s not going to remind me that one year ago I was falling apart at the seams and gently prods me to address that fact that I am not yet stitched back together.

It’s a double-edged sword isn’t it? Now go forth and follow @meridith_ann so I can follow you back.

 

Red Sky At Morning

Sometimes I have to remind myself that nothing lasts forever. I think this when I’m in a dull meeting, yes, but also when my daughter so readily slips her hand into mine crossing the street. Sometimes I get reminded against my will, like when the neighbor behind me sends a mild message about getting my tree that’s in her yard inspected again (I know. Just know that’s the case in her eyes.) and I know that our friendly detente over tree removal might be coming to a close. Or when suddenly, midweek, with no warning whatsoever, my kid no longer asks for a lullaby before bed. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry today. Even wore the non-waterproof mascara, so that’s all I have to say about that.

It turns out that the four years of Sunday dinners we shared with my parents will be over once my mom moves away this summer. That is a welcome but hard change for our family in a few different ways. It felt hard and unsustainable many, many weeks, but there it is. Over just like that. RR suddenly has a new afterschool zookeeper teacher and the old one, the artist, is rarely there when I pick her up. I had a great boss. Now I have a new boss. You see, as comfortable as it is, nothing is permanent. And sometime there’s no warning whatsoever.

A month ago, or maybe last week, I was pretty sure we’d be in this house, in this community, at this workplace until we retired. And then some. But then I visited a different neighborhood in town with charming houses and many of the things we love about our own neighborhood (on the surface). Debra got a new job which also had many of the things she excels at (on the surface). Gradually, some of the things I had taken for granted (even while knowing things change) have evaporated. Flexible work schedules. good soil, a car that both runs and has four working windows, stable mental, physical, and financial health.

It looks like I’m far more open to a significant life change than I thought I’d be once the conditions that enabled the current state started to melt away. I had been so busy reminding myself about the small things (don’t forget to pet the dog! he won’t be here forever!), I totally forget to remind myself that the big things can change on a dime. I missed the warning signs because I’ve been trying hard not to try to read the future. Now I’m back to soothsaying again, looking for the signals, trying to see where to put the cushion before there’s a fall. Wish me luck.

 

 

Community

We moved to Charlottesville almost ten years ago. Before coming here I thought that the concept of “a village” was something that happened in queer collectives and groups of suburban moms who had lived in the same town with the same people since they were babies themselves. How lucky those villagers were to have carpools and potlucks and emergency sitters. Surely you had to live in some sort of neighborhood of brownstones or quirky farmhouses or anywhere in the midwest. I was nearly certain I’m not the kind of person who would be welcomed into the kind of village people praise. Too independent and private. Not bohemian or suburban enough. An impractical pipe dream.

A borrowed egg here gives way to a loaned jar of pins. Changed light bulbs and warm cookies turned into bedroom dressers and garden transplants. Sometimes it was a request without anything in return (would you help me scoop up this dead animal, please?) and sometimes it was a gift unasked for (I didn’t mind shoveling your walk, I was here anyway!). It didn’t take long to realize we had great neighbors. And then they moved and we got more great neighbors. And realized we’re pretty good neighbors, too. We’re woven tightly into the people in the village.

Debra went out of town recently and I got a direct glimpse of the strong scaffolding around us. First there was a committee of vultures in the backyard.* I put on my boots and grabbed a shovel. You guys KNOW I am in a fragile place with dead things. Fortunately, this possum was fresh. Unfortunately, there were possum pieces all over the yard. I flung the possum bits into the trashcan while the vultures sat in the trees above me considering whether I was feeling poorly enough to wait for.

Two days til trash day and I somehow came home without the requisite sticker that signals to the collection crew that we paid for pick-up. RR does not like to go back out once she’s in and so it was either deal with rageface or live with the possum (and vultures) another week. My neighbors came through with a spare sticker. Then it snowed and it appears our shovel, which had been holding up the house all winter, was nowhere to be found. Another neighbor happily provided a shovel so that I could dig out to get my wife from an airport two hours away. My wife was delayed (no drive a plus) but school was delayed the following day (not a plus). My sister-in-law agreed to take RR to school so that I could get to work on time.

I’m one of those lucky people.** Things work out for me. Debra was bumped but the airline made up for it and then some. The snow day meant I got a break from making lunches and running RR hither and yon. The delay also meant Debra arrived at the airport the same evening as my mom so that I could pick them both up at the same time and I didn’t have to make small talk with the other girl scout moms at the event RR was supposed to go to. The fence guy is giving us a discount because my wife and I are still married. Most couples, he said, don’t make it the ten years til a fence needs fixing. I left my wallet on top of the car, did a couple of errands and found it there at the third stop, snugly wedged in the roof rack. There was just enough peanut butter left in the jar and just enough milk.

It’s more than luck though. It’s the people around us. The folks that lent a hand this week were a tiny fraction of the people we’re tangled up with. If I wasn’t able to give the cat his medicine, I would have had help. If my sister-in-law wasn’t able to take RR, I could have called three different families for help. If the vultures had been more menacing, I could have called on two other healthy friends with shovels. It’s a community of the heart and I’m truly lucky to have it.

*Did you know that a group of vultures in the air is kettle, a group of feeding vultures is a wake (shudder), and a group of vultures hanging out on the ground in your not-at-all-rural yard is a committee?

**It’s a matter of perspective though. 3:33-3:47 And if you think the science of luck is as interesting as I do, this.