Now that we are past Thanksgiving, our neighborhood has gone full bore into holiday mode. The lights that were going up at the beginning of November were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Since that time, more homes have had lights professionally and tastefully installed. Other homes have also been decked out by hand by well meaning homeowners. Inflatables have sprouted up in yards like dandelions in the summer. Lights are strung across back fences between neighboring houses. On one block, it’s clear that the homeowners consulted with each other because each house on the street has the same light-up snowman, so as you drive the street it seems you’re in the midst of a snowman parade. I can’t decide how I feel about it. On the one hand, it’s lovely to see people making the most of the season and taking pride in their homes. On the other hand, however, it’s one big festival of keeping up with the Joneses.
Our block has been on the low-key side of things thus far. There are thirteen homes on our street, and a little less than half have some sort of exterior illumination and only one of those was installed professionally. I have to admit, though, that after driving through the neighborhood tonight I started thinking that we need to up our game, at least a little from the one lit tree we have in our yard and the light-up corgi on our porch. It’s hard not to feel the siren’s song of oneupsmanship. It’s hard not to feel like we’re currently getting a D in Suburban Life.
I suspected when we bought into this neighborhood that these type of displays should be expected around the holidays but, damn, I seriously underestimated the collective decorative insanity of upper middle class white households. This year, we will likely forego the requisite holiday explosion, but we’re making plans for next year. Don’t worry, though. We will not be lighting up the night quite like these folks.
Thanksgiving is in a couple days. My husband just finished having a late night snack. He went to load his plate in the dishwasher and start it.
Him: “Uh oh.”
Me: “What’s wrong?”
Him: “The dishwasher isn’t working.”
In my past, at this point, I can say with all confidence I would be losing my shit. Just in time for Thanksgiving? Of course. Why not? That makes perfect sense. Even with only 7 people dining, that’s 7 dinner plates, 7 dessert plates, 7 glasses, 21 pieces of silverware, assorted serving utensils and pieces, and this would add up fast. Way too fast for this English major to figure in her head. The whole reason I unloaded the china we asked people to buy for our wedding was because I decided I would not ever want to wash all the dishes from Thanksgiving by hand.
Me: (incredulously) “It’s not working?”
He is pressing all sorts of buttons, and I can tell from his expression nothing on the display panel is lighting up.
This gives me pause, but rather than lose my mind as I would have done in the past, I simply decide that it’s fine. We can hand wash or we can use paper plates and plastic utensils (not environmentally sound, but desperate times call for lowered moral standards). Maybe we have it both ways and can use some paper and do some hand washing of other items, thereby alleviating some of my guilt for using disposable items out of sheer laziness while still managing to be somewhat lazy.
I watch him for a few more seconds as he pushes buttons. Then, I can tell from a look on his face, it is working again.
Him: “Never mind. It’s working again.”
Me: “That’s a relief.”
Him: “My hands must have been wet.”
I assumed that meant that wet hands interfered with the touch screen. I made my peace with the fact that the whole incident had been a non-starter. And just like back we were back to normal. Steve was finishing the last bite of his toast, and I was back to watching episodes of Seinfeld. Thanksgiving was saved. We could use three plates a piece instead of just two and could put saucers under the cups now if we wanted to. Oh, reckless abandon!
I don’t know if it’s the time change and the early darkness or the after effects of a difficult therapy session or the puppy’s over-the-top energy today or just the fact that it’s Monday, but today has been a day. I feel like I’ve been chewed up and spit out and then chewed up again, swallowed, regurgitated, and left on the pavement to dry. I have tired on top of my tired, despite having slept well last night.
Days like today, though, make me grateful more than anything else because they remind me that some of my less than optimal days are still light years better than the days many people live. I mean, I think it’s fair that we all have the opportunity to whine about trying times, but it’s important to keep it in perspective. Life offers different levels of struggle. As far as I know, I am healthy. I have a thoughtful, loving spouse, two sons who work hard and constantly strive to grow, a beautiful home filled with everything we need and a ton of things we don’t need but appreciate nonetheless, two sweet puppies, loyal and supportive friends, a functioning and comfortable vehicle, and money to buy whatever food we need. My “struggles” today were more about frustration and exhaustion than anything else, and that’s a fortunate position to be in.
I don’t want to be a drama queen. I’ve taken the first step away from that by eliminating from my life people who cause that type of reaction in me. The next step is walking away from the drama I create in my head that doesn’t need to exist. One way I am working on that is by practicing gratitude. So, tonight, I am grateful that I managed today as best as I could. If I’m given another day, tomorrow I can wake up grateful that I get to try life again and use what I’ve learned today.
This morning I was driving near our last home in Denver when I had the opportunity to watch a homeless man, probably in his late 50s or early 60s, pushing a shopping cart half full with whatever worldly possessions he has now. He was moving quite slowly in clothes that were far too baggy for his frame. He had a light pink blanket hanging loosely over his shoulders for warmth. I passed him as I was on my way to drop off something at my sister’s house. On my way back towards the highway, I caught sight of him again down the road. I found myself wondering about him. Wondering how he got to be where he was. Wondering if he had family somewhere who had lost track of him. Wondering where he was heading and where he would sleep tonight. Wondering how long he had been a lost member of our society.
As I pulled onto the highway headed home, I thought about my current first world problems. I needed to purchase some duvet covers for new down duvets we recently bought. I needed to research puppy training for our new furry friend. I needed to figure out dinners for this week. Not one of these concerns of mine are anything other than intellectual. We can afford to take care of all three of the chores that were occupying my mind before I spied that man. My “worries” aren’t really worries at all, at least not in the same sense as a homeless individual. I have shelter, food, water, health care, warm clothing, and companionship. I’m rich in more ways than money.
There is a large homeless population in Denver. It’s unusual for me to go a day without seeing a person who is living without proper shelter and food. I often see homeless encampments or homeless individuals standing with signs on street corners or highway on/off ramps. I don’t have any idea how to help these disenfranchised, visibly invisible Americans. I donate clothes to homeless shelters. I hand out cash when I run across a person with a sign, hoping my assistance will provide some measure of comfort for them. I volunteer at organizations that seek to lessen the suffering of those who are without food and shelter security. But, at the end of the day, my efforts are barely a rain drop in a flood. All I keep thinking is how sad it is that, as the wealthy nation we are, we don’t do better for the people among us who struggle. We make no allowances for the unfortunate events in life that can leave a person without basic necessities. We can’t be bothered to care.
Call me whatever you want. Call me a bleeding heart. Call me a raging socialist. Call me a hypocrite in my lovely suburban home. Perhaps I am all those things. I don’t care. At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel we can do better, show more compassion, use some of our country’s wealth for the good of our people. If feeling this way makes me too sensitive and weak, a “snowflake” if you prefer, I’ll own it because I can’t understand why we won’t do better. And if you find yourself at church every Sunday and you still believe that those who suffer from homelessness or poverty simply need to do better for themselves, then it seems to me church is not helping you and you’ve not learned much from your holy texts. Look inside yourself and try to find your compassion, and then ask yourself why it is okay to malign those who struggle. Ask yourself how you would feel if your father, mother, brother, sister, child, or even you were in the same situation as the man I saw with the pink blanket today. Homelessness is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s a human issue.
“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.
We can do better. We should do better. Anything less makes the United States far less great than we believe we are. It’s not the homeless who need to do more to change things for the better. It’s those of us with boots.
We don’t even have the puppy yet. We are picking him up this weekend, but I have been on Etsy looking at dog paraphernalia. I have become that person. I did not plan for this to happen. I turned on the news earlier, which was an epic mistake that sent me into a negative spiral. To claw my way out of the crevasse I slipped into, I started looking at clothing items for dogs because nothing says “I need to get out more, but we’re in a global pandemic and not everyone is willing to get vaccinated” more than a puppy in a knock-off Burberry bandana. So apparently I have stopped myself from focusing on the miasmal political nightmare our country finds herself in by losing my mind in a treasure trove of puppy merchandise.
I suppose, however, if you’re going to lose your mind, indulging in puppy Burberry is preferable to going on a murderous rampage or drowning yourself in a river, right? At this point, bandanas, Halloween costumes, and personalized toys for our new family member seem like a healthy mental escape given the alternatives. At least that is what I keep telling myself while simultaneously shaking my head at the notion that this is where I am in my life.
So when you see me walking down the street with my dog dressed to the nines and cute as a button, be nice. Just remember I haven’t lost my mind. This is how I saved it.
I watched the devastating footage from Kabul today. I found myself crying, afraid for those left behind. I especially have concerns for the interpreters who worked with the United States during the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and beyond. It wrecks me to think that people who risked everything to help us will be left behind to certain death. There is no easy way to exit a war that cannot be won, but what we saw today was heartbreaking, desperate people clinging to their last bit of hope as it rolled down a runway.
I spent a fair part of my day stuck on thoughts of the women of Afghanistan, women who for the past 20 years have felt something of a taste of freedom. Young women, who have never known life under Taliban rule, are watching the futures they had hoped to imagine slip away. In all the footage today, I noticed there were no women in the streets. The women were home, hiding from the horror of their future. This will sadly become their new normal.
The United States currently ranks 20th in women’s rights. I am disappointed by how far behind other nations we are in terms of equal pay, maternity leave, and personal freedoms. But when I think about the Afghan women, I am incredibly grateful for the freedoms I have known by grace of having been born a woman in the United States and not in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, or Yemen. The United States might not be the best, but we’re far from the worst.
This world can be too much for my heart. Many days I struggle to find a smidgen of internal peace despite the tumult on the planet. Today was definitely one of those days. I dig myself out of this depression by focusing on gratitude. I had nothing to do with being born here. I, quite simply, lucked out. I may whine on my blog and in my life about my minuscule struggles, but I know how fortunate I am. If you can’t be born a white woman in Scandinavia, Canada, or Switzerland, the United States is still a lucky draw. I have been given a gift I didn’t earn.
I will hold the women of Afghanistan in my heart as I go about my daily life, a life any of them would be grateful to inhabit. They deserve more, and it breaks my heart they will now have so much less.
“This is the first time in history when you can save humanity by just sitting on your couch and watching tv. Don’t f*#k it up.” ~timely Internet meme
We are spoiled Americans. As a family, we are fortunate enough to be able to afford most of what we want when we want it, within reason. I mean, we don’t drive new Jaguars or BMWs. We do not live in a huge, stately home in a golf course community. We don’t take yearly trips to Europe. But we are able to buy a movie on our Apple TV without considering if the $20 is a waste, and the four of us can dine out a few times a month at decent, sit-down restaurants without being unable to pay our other bills because of it. If our sons need new jeans, they get them. If I want to buy a $75 concert ticket, I do it without guilt or stress. I know it is a gift to be in this position. And I do realize it makes us unlike most other American families. We are the lucky ones.
A few weeks ago, when I saw the writing on the wall regarding this pandemic, I went shopping. I didn’t panic buy or hoard multiple packages of toilet paper, but I was able to purchase about two weeks’ worth of groceries in advance knowing we wouldn’t be going to the store as often once the virus began to spread widely among our population. Perishables were mostly off the table on my stock-up trip. Not a problem, I told myself as I bought some frozen fruits and vegetables. Then this morning I decided I would love an avocado for my bagel. Alas, there were none.
In my past life, I might run out to Safeway and grab a few of those bumpy-skinned babies to satisfy my craving. But, that past life was in the olden days two weeks ago. Now, I honestly have to look at a trip to the store differently than I did then. Now there are exponentially more people walking around unknowingly affected by COVID-19 than there were two weeks ago. My risk of contracting the virus is much higher, at a time when the hospitals are becoming increasingly overwhelmed. So I had to have a long talk with my fortunate self about going without. I suspect that over the coming days and weeks I will have to lecture myself many more times about the importance of remaining at home. I need to learn the delayed gratification I have been delaying learning. To that end, I made myself this flow chart, which I can refer to in the future replacing, as necessary, “avocado” with whatever thing it is I think I desperately need but really don’t.
This is our new normal. It may be our normal for eighteen plus months. I need to adapt to these temporary restrictions. They will be short-lived and my efforts could save lives, including my own and those of my husband and sons. I’ve lived a fortunate and entitled adult life, thus far, traveling freely through the world, buying grass-fed tenderloin steaks when I felt like spoiling myself. Now it’s time to do with less. In the grand scheme of history, what the times are asking of me is not a lot. It’s simply the matter of a small adjustment.
Someday the virus will run its course. Someday we will have a treatment or a vaccine. Someday we will once again be able to run to the store on a whim for that one topping we wanted but didn’t buy the first time through. When that day comes again, you best believe avocado toast will feel like the decadent treat it is and always was. We just didn’t realize that our last avocado toast would be our last avocado toast for a while. Live in the moment, my friends, and make sure to appreciate what you have today because tomorrow you might not have it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to remember and appreciate my great fortune and teach my sons to do the same. And when this is behind us, we’ll celebrate. We’ll don toilet paper togas and feed each other avocado toast just because we can. And then we’ll fold up the toilet paper and tuck it safely away for a later crisis because you just never know what tomorrow might hold.
Our boys are growing up so fast. Once upon a time, they were connected to me. Then, hubby went and cut the umbilical cord. Ever since then I’ve been herding cats, desperately hoping to catch them and hold them long enough to get some quality time. These days they’re connected to other things…like their iPads, Xbox360, or their Mac. These are their new lifelines. So, I’ve done the only thing I could do. I’ve decided to meet them on their ground. I text them and I send them game requests. I’d friend them on Facebook if they had Facebook pages.
One game I play with my sons is DrawSomething, which is an online version of Pictionary. You draw something and the person you’re playing with attempts to determine what the scribbles you just traced onto the screen of your device mean. My first world problem is that it’s hard to draw a detailed image on an iPhone (even the iPhone 5 with its larger screen). Luke is a natural born artist. He has always enjoyed drawing and his creations on this app are quite detailed and contain appropriate contextual clues so that the amount of guesswork is deeply reduced. Joe…well…let’s just say his drawings are basic. They require a lot of creative thinking on my part. I don’t always know where he’s headed with his art but, as his mother, I feel it’s not an option to guess incorrectly. So, this simple game of drawing becomes a game of mental gymnastics for me. I become Sherlock Holmes. To solve the mystery, I must enter into the mind of the drawer who, in this case, is an 11 year old boy.
Tonight, after weeks of pestering him mercilessly, Joe finally acquiesced and sent me a drawing. This drawing was of a large brown object, which I eventually conjectured was an animal despite the fact that it seemed to be headless. I stared at it blankly for a few seconds and then traveled into the depths of Joe’s frenetic mind. I had an idea but had to verify my mental image with the letters provided for the drawing. Thankfully, tonight’s drawing was an easy one. You see, where I will draw the clue I think I can represent most easily for the other person’s interpretation, Joe most often chooses to draw clues that have a personal meaning for him. Translation: I see a lot of shark, prehistoric creatures, Star Wars, and superhero drawings. Tonight’s was no different. The minute I entered into Joe’s 11 year old brain, I could see where he had gone. To the ice age, of course. Why not?
I love that Joe is not the least bit concerned about his drawings. He doesn’t wonder if they will be understood. He draws what he likes, no matter how hard it might be to convey. I imagine that Joe is so used to meeting the world the way he is required to, so used to following conventions that don’t work for him or even make sense to him, that when it comes to this game he feels free to be himself. And, that is an awesome, wondrous thing. I enjoy these occasional opportunities to get inside his head. I figure it’s the closest I will ever be to him again.
Today I want to share with you a cautionary tale, an example of how a small first-world problem can morph and change into another small first-world problem and another after that on into infinity. If you’re not careful, a tiny first-world problem just might cost you your sanity. My mother always said that you can tell the size of a person by the size of the things that bother them. If that’s the case, I’m smaller than I want to admit. (And, I’m not talking about the quarter of an inch I afford myself when I tell people I’m actually 5’5″.)
First World Problem #1: A year ago September I got a new car. Well, it was a new car to me. It was actually my father-in-law’s car, which he had decided to replace with a newer version of the same thing. My new car was two years old when I got it, but it had one flaw. It smelled like my father-in-law. Now, this is not to say that my father-in-law is a stinky man. He’s not. In fact, I’m sure his hygiene is impeccable. After all, this is a man who safety pins his socks together so he never loses one to the black hole that materializes when you close the door to the clothes dryer. The car simply smelled like leather and my father-in-law’s cologne. No offense to my father-in-law, who is the kindest, most generous man I know (aside from his son), but I didn’t want to spend my days in a car that smelled like him. I merely wanted my car to feel like my car and I couldn’t feel like that when every time I opened my car door the aroma from within reminded me of Jim.
So, I went in the house, grabbed a scented car disc from the Scentsy company, attached it to my rear view mirror, and waited for the day when I felt like the car was mine. Sure enough, one day, I noticed that Jim had been replaced by a pleasant, cinnamon scent. The car was mine, and I kept it mine by replacing that disc every three months.
First World Problem #2: A week ago, I noticed that my car no longer had that pleasant, Welcome Home, cinnamon smell. So, when I got home I marched into the house to grab a new disc. It was then that I realized that I was out of my favorite scent. I had two choices on-hand for a replacement...Sunkissed Citrus and Coconut Lemongrass. After weighing my options carefully, I went with the second scent, installed it in my car, and forgot about it. Long about the time I needed to pick the boys up from school, the car was well-saturated with the smell of coconut and lemongrass. My car smelled like Thai curry. It was a distinct change from the cinnamon, but I’m working on dealing with change with more grace so I inhaled deeply and carried on. By the time I got back from chauffeur duty, however, I noticed that I was quite stuffy. I am a person who is sensitive to smells, and apparently the new scent was not agreeing with my nose. It’s no good to have a car air freshener that makes you ill. It had to go. Hubby removed the offender, I took some Sudafed, and I waited for the scent to fade.
First World Problem #3: It’s now a week later and the coconut-lemongrass smell in my car has lightly faded but is still pervasive. For some reason, it won’t skedaddle. So now, every time I get in my car, I smell Thai curry. Thai curry (especially green curry with tofu) is one of my all-time favorite meals, and my car smells exactly like that. It’s disturbing. For starters, no one wants to smell green curry at 7:45 a.m. before coffee. But later, when I get in my car in the afternoon just at the time I’m trying to avoid late afternoon snacking, my stomach starts growling at what seems to be the lingering scent of take out Thai curry. Then today, not unlike the reaction of Pavlov’s dog to the introduced stimulus, my mouth watered when I got into my vehicle. This is not a good development.
First World Problem #4: This afternoon I mentioned to hubby in a text that every time I enter my car now I want Thai food. His response? Ooh…Thai food. Apparently now hubby wants it too. Any guesses what we’ll be eating for dinner tomorrow night? I’m hoping that the combination of satisfying my Thai food craving and installing a new scented disc in my car will turn things around for me in this first-world problem situation. That way I can go back to being annoyed that the new LTE network in Denver isn’t quite consistent enough for me and my first-world-awesome iPhone 5.
A couple days ago, Steve told me we could pre-order the iPhone 5 starting tomorrow. I rolled my eyes at him. It’s not that I wouldn’t appreciate a new phone. After all, I missed out on the 4s altogether, so I’ve never had the chance to torture Siri with questions about the best places to bury a body, which I guess is okay because I don’t actually need that information just yet. But, I don’t want to hear about the latest, greatest new gadget that I can’t get my hands on. That’s just cruel and unusual punishment. I told him that we could wait until it was available in stores to get it. No need to pre-order. End of story.
Then tonight, two nights after Steve’s original announcement about the phone, curiosity got the best of me and I made a very real, first-world mistake. I watched Apple’s introduction to the new iPhone 5. Five minutes into the video presentation, I paused it. I walked downstairs to look for Steve. He wasn’t there. I walked outside to look for Steve. I couldn’t find him. I walked out onto the open space behind our house, and there I found him taking his photo of the day.
“I walked all the way downstairs, all the way out here to find you for one reason. I need an iPhone 5. Yesterday,” came my announcement.
“Why are you saying this?” he asked, remembering my disinterest a couple days ago.
“I watched a product video. The only thing Apple is better at than making products I need is showing me why I need them immediately,” I replied. “If I was in Guyana with Apple and they asked me to drink some kool-aid, I totally would. Just saying. We need to order it tonight,” I told him.
“You’re awesome,” was all he said, a sure sign that he was pleased to have turned his wife into the Apple cult follower he is.
And, cult follower I am. My iPhone is rarely more than 5 feet away from me at any given moment. I don’t always answer it because like many iPhone users I use it less as a phone and more as a personal assistant. But, I always have it. If someone asked me to choose between Joe and Luke and my iPhone, I might pause for a minute to weigh my options. (I’d pick my sons, of course, but not without careful consideration.) Say what you will about Apple, but they continually innovate products that make my life better, easier, more fun, and more connected. I know there are those who are not Apple fans. They say their products are too simply designed, too basic, too easy to use. I get it. Some people like complicated. I used to think I did too. Then, I drank the kool-aid. Now it’s all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.