Once upon a time I was a high school student with a full load of challenging classes and a job and family responsibilities and I thought I was busy.
Once upon a time I was a college student with a full load of challenging classes and a job and no social life to speak of and plenty of food to cook and I thought I was busy.
Once upon a time I was a young mom with four little kids running in at least seventeen directions and I thought I was busy.
Once upon a time I was serving in a Relief Society presidency/Young Women presidency/Primary presidency in my church along with all the wonderful family things, and I thought I was busy.
Then I got a full time teaching job. And kept most of my other things. And I was pretty busy, and I learned how to be okay with sandwiches or pancakes for dinner (because, after all, sandwiches might be my love language, and pancakes are undoubtedly Kid 3’s) and a clean-ish home, and significantly less awesomeness in pretty much every aspect of my life: I still do all the things, I just don’t do any of them very well.
I miss naps. Wait. How did I take naps back in the day if I were so busy?
I miss small kids on my lap for story time. Wait. I had time to read books out loud back then when I was so busy?
I miss making bread. (Blessing: our congregation meets at 1:00 on Sundays now. Huzzah! Bread last Sunday! Cinnamon rolls the week before!)
I miss writing whenever I feel like it. Instead of its being a casual fling, I have to make time for the writing. We have to make a date with a beginning and ending minute. I have to get SERIOUS about this. And do you know what? I think it’s making me like it more. I have more respect for this thing that requires careful planning. And I have to think that’s a good development. It requires me to be grown up about it. As if, perhaps, this were a job. Which – well, they’re paying me, right?
I am in a place of perspective today that allows me to recognize the probability that I don’t know what busy is. And that it’s likely to arrive someday on my doorstep. And I want to be able to embrace it – that thing that life may bring me – wholeheartedly and generously. And I want to keep pressing forward with the other important things. And to do them better, more graciously, more gratefully.
As I approached the end of a couple of weeks of blessed school vacations, when the most I had to accomplish in a day was to drive a kid to the skating rink or wash a load of clothes, I started thinking about what I’d need to do every day once school restarted and I went back to work every day.
It was a lot of thinking.
About a bunch of unimportant things.
So I started listing out, in my mind, what the things were that I absolutely needed to do every day. I was a little surprised at what my mind came up with.
brush and floss
Really? That’s not too bad.
sleep – I’m acually really good at this one. I feel strongly about it for me and for everyone. I’m a little bossy about it for my kids, and they roll their eyes at me and say, “Yes, Mother.” Then they stay up late and make memories and I am okay with it.
eat – This is a lifelong battle of dependence, desire, and moderation. I’m getting there.
drink water – I’m pretty good at this, too, but teaching puts some limits on when and how often and how much. But I believe in it, and I like it. So I do it.
exercise – If the FitBit doesn’t read 10,000 steps by bedtime, I’m not doing the job so well. But I generally feel the need for more than that. I like it. I like to walk. I feel good about it. I live in the prettiest place ever. And I think it’s time to stop making excuses about my knees and my shape and just go do some more vigorous kinds of working out. It doesn’t have to take a whole lot of time. But I want to be strong.
brush and floss – Right? RIGHT? But hey – it’s minutes out of the day, so it goes on the list.
work – I usually show up at 7 and come home between 3:30 and 4. I do my best to get all the things that need to be done inside work hours. I rarely bring it home. I am well aware that makes me a less amazing teacher than those who spend all the hours doing all the work. I’m okay with that.
make meals – Most of the people in my house are capable of this one, but since I buy the foods, I should be the one to prepare them. It makes sense.
create something – When this one appeared on the list, I felt a little surprise. I kind of love that this dropped into my mind. What shows that my little life is full of meaning? Often it’s the things I create. Even if they disappear right after I make them. Do you know Buddha Board? It’s an exercise in creating and then letting go. Kind of like making dinner. But more beautiful. Sometimes.
worship – I make time every day for praying and studying. It matters to me. Sometimes as insurance, sometimes as joy-making.
meditate – This is one I am trying to improve. I have a brilliant friend who has a lovely, thorough, and meaningful meditation practice. I want to combine some of that with daily yoga – for balance and strength.
show love – I need time in every day to show the people I love that I value them. I fear this is the one that most likely gets bumped to the last available minutes, when a quick conversation has to replace quality heart-sharing. I don’t want that. I want to do better.
As it turns out, all those seemingly unimportant things are actually pretty crucial parts of my world. I seek to elevate them (yeah, even the flossing) to levels of “This brings me joy and strength.” That’s the plan.
In Creative Writing yesterday I asked the kids to do their writer’s notebooks (the part where they write by hand in a paper notebook) about this – what do you think you look like? It’s one of those things that’s super weird to kids, the fact that they’ve never actually seen themselves. They’ve seen photos. They’ve seen reflections. But they don’t actually know what they look like.
Blows their cute little minds.
So I wrote too. Here is my thought:
I know how tall I am (I think) – 5 feet and 6 and a half inches. But I seem a little taller, because I wear teacher shoes. My face looks younger than I am, especially when I’m freshly made up or my face is totally clean. When my makeup is tired, I look more like my age.
I carry 10 (okay, right now, 13) extra pounds. Some days I don’t care. Those are the days that nothing rolls over the waistband of my jeans. Other days I get a teensy bit obsessive about the food I am and am not eating.
I don’t know anything about fashion. Nobody is going to accuse me of being an excellent dresser. I have found a style I like, and I have a few articles of clothing that I love.
I have wrinkles around my eyes and mouth from when I’m smiling and wrinkles between my eyes and above my nose from when I’m scowling. Guess which ones are deeper.
My eyes are pretty, even if they don’t work at all. My teeth are pretty straight, and I’m glad I never needed braces. Here’s a thing I wasn’t prepared for – when a person gets old, her lips kind of lose their color. So lipstick = need.
After we wrote, and I asked them to say what they wanted to say (silence), and I read them this, I talked to them about a moment in their future. I told them this: There will come a day, not too far into the future, when a kid – maybe a niece or nephew, maybe an actual offspring of your very own – will ask you if you had a yearbook. Because you’re brave and fearless, you’ll pull it out. And you’ll find a photo of yourself. And you’ll gasp with wonder. You’ll be absolutely gobsmacked at how beautiful you were. You’ll be stunned. And you’ll be right.
I was walking down the hall to the faculty room today – to refill my water bottle from the yummy water dispenser as opposed to the yucky drinking fountain that’s practically outside my door – and I passed by the restrooms. This is normal. The restrooms are in the hallway. But weirdness ensued when I heard a full-voiced conversation happening between at least two unknown (to me) young men. I didn’t hear much, because I didn’t actually stop walking to listen (shame on me?), but I heard this:
“Not necessarily. You can’t make that kind of rash judgment.”
“I’m pretty sure I can make any kind of judgment I want.”
Which, in itself, isn’t the weirdest conversation. In fact, it’s kind of charming and nerdy and self-aware, and I like it. But the location. The location is … odd.
Do all teenage boys take a buddy into the bathroom and have a chat about judgment? And was this weird because they’re boys? I’m going to say no. I think I would have found it equally weird if girls were having the same chat in the same place, because I think most people, male or female, who go inside a bathroom stall, would like to pretend that they’re not doing whatever it is they’re in there doing. As opposed to – in a manner of speaking – inviting someone in to chat.
Which leads me to ponder upon the places that are strange conversational venues.
And mostly I think about public restrooms. For instance, when a person is simultaneously using, say, a movie theater bathroom stall and a cell phone, I always flush many more times than necessary. I feel honor-bound to give the person on the other side of that phone call a heads up about where the chat is taking place. Because IT’S WEIRD TO TALK ON THE PHONE WHILE YOU’RE DOING RESTROOM FUNCTIONS. It’s just weird.
And I wonder where else it’s weird. Because in general, I’m a fan of spontaneous conversation. I may have been known to strike up a grocery market chat over the merits of one brand of ice cream over another, or the joy that is freezer-aisle cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting in little plastic bags. I talk to people about clothes in clothing stores. I talk to clerks at every conceivable check-out register. I stop people walking past me at high school football games to tell them I like their hair.
But not in the bathroom.
Not in the bathroom stall.
So yesterday in my Novel Writing class, I sent the kids into the commons for the last 20 minutes of class, which happens to correspond with the lunch they don’t have. The commons was full of teenage humans. I instructed mine to sit down somewhere and start eavesdropping. They were to write down random lines of dialog that they heard people say. They turned in their 5 favorite lines. I laughed a lot. Their overheard lines were weird. Funny. Awesome.
Today I had them pick their favorite one or two and put them up on the board. I had made columns for them to place the lines in, and after they’d all put up their best lines, I revealed the topics heading each column. So now there are 5 or more lines of dialog – totally unrelated – under each of the following topics: Song Lyrics, Polygraph Machine, Job Interview, Explain Earth to the Aliens, Break-up, Babysitter Report, Newspaper Interview, and Love Letter. Now they’re furiously writing scenes that use at least one of the lines in whatever category it fell. I love watching them grin while they’re working.
Here are some of the overheard lines:
“It’s more than just a hat.”
“I’ve been drinking your blood and tears.”
“No. He doesn’t want them on because of his bug bites.”
“She’s literally like the spawn of Satan.”
“Babe. He doesn’t like the shirt.”
“Do you want your socks on?”
“I’m the whitest white girl here.”
“I seriously almost hit someone in the parking lot.”
“There was a guy who shipped two whales to Utah and kept them.”
“It’s free real estate.”
“Don’t write that down.”
“There’s a drink called the Hissy Fit?”
“Get out a marker and write YES on the goldfish.”
“He underwent intensive psychotherapy.”
“Something magical is about to happen.”
“Just buy a hose, you freak!”
“My mom was like, ‘Did you put on makeup? You know there’s guy makeup, right?'”
Clever little eavesdroppers. I can’t wait to see what they’ve made from their spoils.
This is a thing. I wish it were a thing I made up myself, because DR. PIMPLEPOPPER. But, in fact, my Kid 3 showed it to me last night.
Let us go back.
There is a truth universally believed but partially unacknowledged that there are few more satisfying feelings than getting rid of a zit. Am I right? The grossness factor adds to the overall satisfaction, I’m pretty sure. This is a thing that my kids and I have discussed.
So Kid 3 climbs into my bed last night and says, “I know you’ve had a bad day. This should help.” And she hands me her phone. Pulled up to Instagram. And I proceed to watch video after video after video (after video) of this dermatologist … wait for it … popping zits. Apparently she’s gotten past the HIPA laws because she wears a camera on her head and FILMS THE POPPING OF THE GOOEYS.
And I can’t look away.
It’s so awesome. My life is forever changed.
Letters are the only way I can talk to you now. For six months I’ve tried to write about you, about what you have meant to me all the years of my life since I was seven. I’ve tried to write about your illness. Your cancer was such a bully. I don’t know how to say what it meant to watch you fight it like a warrior. How I felt like a coward for keeping my distance, even though I know that this kind of fight (especially for you) needs a little space. I’ve tried to write about your gifts, your character, your talents. I know you hate it when I talk like this, but I don’t even know where to start. You are one of the only people I ever knew who was universally liked. Who was good at everything. Who balanced so well.
I wrote you a letter the night I came home from your viewing, and it was a jumble of nonsense. I couldn’t say – even through my fingers – any of the things that I meant. I certainly couldn’t say them to your kids that night. Or your husband, who stood for hours, tender and loving and strong, hearing the awkward condolences of literally hundreds of well-intentioned but human people. Raw grief is so messy, and when we offer it up, it has to transfer heart to heart. The words-to-ears grief never translates quite right. That night I could only think that you didn’t look like you because you weren’t smiling with your teeth. That’s how I always see you in my heart – those perfect teeth showing when you laugh.
You’ve been appearing in my dreams for the last few weeks. You show up unannounced and sit on the couch or help me chop onions in the kitchen or take a seat in the car. You brighten the dream world like you did the real one. You slip in naturally. You fit. You laugh and show all your teeth. I wake up in a combination of sadness and joy, and that’s what life is made of.
I want to tell your story, because it’s the way for me to tell my story. You are etched into my history and onto my heart. I want to tell about “meeting half way” on our bikes, but I (almost) never left as quickly as you did, and you (almost) always had to ride the long half. I want to tell about you playing violin and me singing with you or (once) accompanying you on the piano – and how even when we were small, I knew you had a great gift. I want to tell about baking and decorating dozens of bright colored cakes. I don’t do that anymore. But we spent days and days and days over the years practicing and eating and laughing.
I want to tell how you were my touchstone through my growing and grown years. How you ground me to my past and believe in my possibilities. How you gasped with joy when I drove the long way home from the publisher so I could bring you the first copy of my book. Twice. How you’re the one I called in the middle of the night when my mom died. How you called me in those months you were home sick to ask for reading recommendations. I’m so glad you got to meet Scout and Atticus and read “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and “The Book Thief” before you were finished here. How even though you loved to learn, the whole reading-fiction-for-pleasure wasn’t so much your thing until you decided it should be and then you asked me. I felt like I was sitting with you and we were sharing the open-mouth dazzle of Zora’s prose. And sobbing together at that second-last chapter of Book Thief. Oh, Rudy.
And I had no idea that you were living your last month. When we went for that three-hour breakfast with M and M over Christmas break, I’m not going to lie – you looked tired. But you felt so good. Remember? You said that you were a little afraid they’d make you go back to work soon. And on the way home, I said a long prayer. And I asked God to not make you go back to work.
It happened. I got a text. It said that probably I should get over there. And I came in my sweats and I sat in your bed with you and I listened to you and I whispered answers to your questions and I still hoped that it wasn’t the last time. And we told each other things we already knew. Good, important, best things. You offered to carry a message to my mom. And we cried tears and we held hands like we never used to do because your boundaries came right down. I saw your soul and you saw mine and we were together in a minute of eternity.
And I still can’t imagine writing about you in any way that does you justice. You were the best of us. You are the best of us.
I miss you, friend.
It’s not meditation, not really – because I’m not sitting still. I understand the value of that part, and I’m all for it. I’m just saying, it’s not how it happened today.
Today it happened for 2.5 miles up the mountain and then 2.5 miles back down. And here is what I told me, over and over:
Time is abundant.
You are strong.
Your words bring beauty to the world.
All-powerful God knows your needs and desires every good thing for you.
And now I believe it. I trust it. I feel it.