The Midnight Library And The Lives We Left Unlived

I started reading (okay, fine, listening to) a new book today, now that I have finished The Gifts of Imperfection. This book is a novel by Matt Haig entitled The Midnight Library. My sister mentioned it in passing twice last week and seemed so taken by it I decided to go ahead and get on the bandwagon. I also jumped on the Wordle bandwagon yesterday, but that matters not at this point. In any case, I’m a few hours into this damn book, and my mind is in classic overthink mode. This means it is a meaty story.

The Midnight Library is about a woman named Nora Seed who, feeling lost and depressed about her life, decides she no longer wants to live. She takes some pills and washes them down with wine. She drifts off and ends up at a library. The librarian, a woman Nora knew from her childhood, shows her a book filled with Nora’s life regrets and tells her she can go to any of a million different iterations of places her life might have led had she made different choices. She simply needs to select a regret and she will be transported to that divergent life, already in progress. The books allow Nora to answer the age old question “what if.”

It has taken me a long time and a lot of therapy to land at a place where I no longer abuse myself over my “what if” regrets. I’ve discussed that here before. Your what ifs are impossible because in the past you made choices based on who you were at that time using information you had available to you at that time. Looking back now, with a different mind and different experiences, alters the light you shine on those past events, people, and opportunities you let slip away. It makes them either shinier and more attractive or duller and less attractive but, either way, your current consciousness transforms them into something they are not. All of this makes our regrets like our worries…thinking about them will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.

I am curious to see where Nora lands after exploring these alternate-ending lives. If she finds a better existence for herself or if she decides to go back to her old life or if she dies from her overdose as she had originally intended. But all this thinking about disparate endings to our one (as far as we know it) life has me stuck on one thought. We can’t go back and change our past, which has led us to our present. We are, for better or worse, here where we’ve arrived as the result of millions of small, insignificant choices and a few quite large ones. Our story, thus far, has already been written. It’s the future that has yet to be determined. In some cases, our what ifs might still be able to come to fruition if we take steps in that direction today. We just have to find the courage to believe we can change the outcome. If we couldn’t do it in our past, perhaps we can now.

And while I noodle on what I want my life outcome to appear, for as much control as I have over it, please don’t comment here about the book if you have finished it. I will likely finish it tomorrow, and we can talk about it then. I look forward to it.

The Trouble With Time Is That It’s Too Easy To Waste

It’s not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it.” ~Seneca

I have wasted a ton of time since the pandemic began. I can’t even begin to calculate how much time. If you checked my Nintendo DS, you could probably find a record of how much time I spent playing Animal Crossing during lockdown (okay, and beyond). It would be a gargantuan number of hours. Add to that the time I spent on TikTok or researching travel I could not undertake or playing Archery in my text threads with my sisters or reading tweets, well, it’s embarrassing. I know that my misuse of time stemmed, at least initially, from the overwhelm of being in lockdown and uncertain about what was going to happen with the pandemic. But, once things relaxed a bit, did I get back on track with living my life? No. I did not. The ups and downs of “do we mask” and “can we trust the vaccines” and “why am I wearing a mask when so many people aren’t” and “how far do I have to travel to get a vaccine” and “what do you mean cloth masks aren’t effective enough” and “will there even be room at a hospital if I have a stroke or something” made me want to check out. So, I did. I continued to bury my head in nonsense.

But then we went to Hawaii for Christmas, and I put my phone down more often and lived. I sat in the sun on warm, black lava rocks, and watched the waves roll in shades of turquoise. I walked among swiss-cheese rocks and looked for shells both teeming with life and devoid of it. I woke up to the sunrise ten out of eleven mornings there. I felt the sand between my toes, smelled plumeria blossoms, and tasted fresh, Kona-grown coffee. It felt good to be alive again.

I missed living.

So today I spent some quality time with our puppy because he makes me laugh every day. I savored my food and appreciated it. I went to my meditation meeting and listened intently to what the other participants said about their practices. I worked hard to be present all day.

Maybe it was my Hawaiian holiday. Maybe it was watching Don’t Look Up. I’m not sure what has brought me to this place, but I have definitely been more present so far in 2022. I’m tired of wasting time and then being frustrated that I didn’t do all the things I wanted to do. I know what I want for this year, so I am setting an intention to show up for my life and the people in it. I’m going to spend some time this week figuring out what that looks like and how I think I can best accomplish it. And then I am going to get busy living again. It’s not a New Year’s Resolution. It’s a Life Revolution.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Living On Pandemic Time

I was reading a news article today about the pandemic. Specifically, it was discussing the need to deploy vaccinations to as much of the global population as possible. What caught me off guard from the article, though, was simply a statement that started, “As we are about to enter the third year of the pandemic.” The third year.

I find this so curious. On the one hand, entering the third year of the pandemic makes sense to me. When it started, most of the experts said they expected we would be dealing with this virus for at least three to five years. So I am not shocked that we are still in the clutches of Covid-19. What is crazy to me is that it seems like we’ve been living with this virus much longer than that. Traveling back in my mind to a time before masks, before the debate over vaccines, it seems like forever and a day ago. But it’s not. It’s less than three years. I think the stress of living with Covid, all its uncertainties and all the changes it’s brought, have made the past two years a blur.

My husband said today that he feels he lost a year. All of 2020 was a loss. This year was better than last. At least this year we’re able to move around more. But the pandemic, with its death toll and loss, has been exhausting. It’s no wonder that the past two years feel longer. So, year three will be more of the same. Hopefully, sometime soon, we will adjust to life with this virus and maybe time will seem to normalize.

I think this is possible. But we definitely need to get more people vaccinated or we’ll continue living this Groundhog Day for the rest of the foreseeable future. That is, if we’re lucky and don’t end up with a deadlier mutation that causes what we’ve been going through look tame. Mother Nature is amazing. Science is amazing. Now if we could just use science to get Mother Nature under control in this instance, we’d be getting somewhere.

Let The Holiday Season Commence, I Guess

I don’t know how it is going where you live, but in our neighborhood the holidays begin now, apparently. Many homes have their holidays lights up, and they are turned on nightly. It’s a little early for me. I don’t want my holidays combined like a vanilla/chocolate swirl soft serve. I want to suck every last moment out of fall and savor every drop of pumpkin spice latte. I don’t even want to think about putting a tree up until the last of the pumpkin pie slices and bites of turkey have been consumed. What is the big rush, anyway? The Christmas season in our home exists for five, precious, ephemeral weeks, and I think that is what makes them more special. It appears I am in the minority, though, because here we are, all lit up like I am already behind on holiday shopping and wrapping.

There is only one holiday component that is allowed to begin before Thanksgiving, and that is the preparation for our yearly holiday card. The family holiday card is something we’ve done since Thing One arrived in 2001. We have not missed one year of this tradition. We know that in a couple years it’s likely that the photos on these cards will change as the boys move on into their own lives, but Steve and I will continue sending out holiday cards as long as the post office continues functioning. It may be old fashioned, but we enjoy it and there’s no stopping now.

Today I started the process for this year’s cards. I began looking online for outfits for the family photos. In the past, I have gone in person to Gap, Old Navy, or J Crew to try to piece together clothing that would coordinate but not be super matchy-matchy. But with a thirteen-week-old puppy in the house, I have too little time for those shenanigans so I opened my browser and got busy. It didn’t go as well as expected, so in the end today I decided to shop in our closets for suitable photo attire. Without too much digging, it was mission accomplished. Next up: location scouting.

We’ve never had a paid, professional photo taken for these cards. We do them ourselves, which makes them feel less polished and more, well, us, I think. We have had, on a few occasions, a family member or friend snap photos for us after Thanksgiving Day or after we cut down our Christmas tree. More recently, however, Steve has set up his fancy camera on a tripod at our chosen location. Capturing a decent photo has not always been easy. For starters, when the boys were younger, they seemed had an aversion to looking directly at camera. So, we would take 30-40 shots, sometimes pausing to run back into the car to warm up because it was so cold. Some years, we had to go with a photo that was not what we really wanted but was the best we could get. The process has not always been ideal. Often there are myriad complaints. Sometimes there are cross words. In the distant past, there may have been threats, bribes, or ultimatums in effect. I always have the final say over the photo we use because this tradition is my baby. I love putting together and sending out holidays cards, even as the number of them we receive has dwindled because others have given up on the expense, time suck, and frustration of this perhaps outdated holiday tradition.

I’m still not quite ready to let this go. I’ve kept a book containing our holiday photos over the years. It’s fun, if a bit sobering, to view these now. Each photo has a story or memory attached. There was the year that Joe insisted on having his shark, Bruce, in the photo. There was the year we took our holiday photos in Hawaii dressed like typical Hawaiian tourists. There was also the infamous year the boys had bowl cuts and were looking pretty spiffy. I am grateful, however, that we have persisted with this tradition because we will forever have these memories and photos of our time with our sons as they grew, no matter what the future holds.

Spontaneous Notes On A Free Country

Once upon a time in my life, I penned poetry. It wasn’t necessarily great poetry, but it was a way to work out my thoughts without journaling them or writing them to a friend in a letter (back when people wrote letters). I found this poem today while looking for something else, and it struck me how nearly 30 years later most of it still rings true. This was written on the day the officers were acquitted in the Rodney King trial, April 29, 1992. I was 24.

Not sure where this little meme guy came from, but in our family this is what we text when we are disappointed about something

Spontaneous Notes on a “Free Country”

A black man is beaten senseless
abused beyond reasonable force by
white law officers

A female with an unwanted pregnancy must get 
a man's permission to make choices about
her own body

A homosexual couple must hide their 
love to avoid discrimination
and hatred

The rich get richer
The poor get poorer
The cost of living goes up
No doesn't really mean no
Medical costs are outrageous

I could go on and on eternally and
I'd like to send a message
but it's apparent no one is listening
in the 

Land of the free and the
Home of the dominant white male


 

The Best Cure For Middle Age Is Teenage

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I saw the above passage in my Facebook feed yesterday and promptly copied and saved it because I love it when other people write my feelings succinctly and turn it into an inspirational post so I don’t have to.

Before having children, I heard myriad dark tales of the harrowing experience of raising teenagers. Having eons ago been a teenager myself, I recalled the endless battles with parents, the scramble to balance friends and boyfriends and homework and extracurriculars and part-time work and social activities, and the confusion surrounding figuring out who I was and what I was supposed to do in life. I remember that time as exhausting and exhilarating, a period of self-development precariously balanced with self-loathing.

When my sons, now 18 and 16, were toddlers, I could not wait for them to get older. I longed for a time when I could understand what they wanted and discover who they were. And, through the infinite magic of time that speeds up as we age, I arrived here more quickly than I ever imagined.

While my parents struggled with their teenagers, I’ve found mine to be 10% terror-inducing and 90% delightful. Letting my son drive off at 6 am with his brand-spanking new driver’s license to head to the mountains for a hike, well…that’s terror-inducing. But waking up the next day, pulling up Google Translate on my iPhone to start brushing up on my French for an upcoming trip and finding my sons have been doing the same, well…that’s delightful.

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My sons have brought out both the best and the worst in me over the years since they arrived and made us a family. Fortunately, as I have aged, I have relaxed a bit, which has made experiencing my sons’ teenage years more filled with laughter than fraught with frustration. If you get out of your kids what you put into them, I must have given my all.

 

The Silence That Gave Me A Headache

 

When five days became five years…
 
I dropped our boys off for summer camp high in the Colorado Rockies this past Monday. It was a first for all of us, their first time going away alone (although they did have each other) and our first time being home without them for a week. When I drove down the dirt road away from them, it was bittersweet. I was excited for their adventure but already aware of the hole their absence was creating in my life. For fourteen years, these two beings have comprised the entirety of my reason for living. I hardly recall who I am outside the mantle of motherhood. And it’s at times like these that I feel most vulnerable and exposed. Who the hell am I anyway?

I enjoyed an oddly silent, solo lunch and a peaceful ride home without constant chatter about Halo and Mario Kart. I stopped at the store and bought groceries for two, cooked a meal for grown ups without having to omit ingredients, and enjoyed a drink with dinner. Hubby and I slept uneasily that night in a house that was too damn quiet, as if we noticed the missing heartbeats of the two neighbors who usually reside in the next room. I spent most of my week cleaning like a woman desperate to reclaim her once spotless home. Over three days I made a sizable dent in the clutter and bit by bit the house began to look like no one lived in it. It was a hollow victory. The cleaner it got, the emptier I felt. And that’s when, for a split second, I pondered my loss, not having a career to fill my days and fulfill my life. To derail that train of thought to nowhere good, I popped the cap on a bottle of hard cider because, well, I don’t have a job and 2 pm is 5 pm somewhere, and I smiled for my good fortune.

Big changes are on our horizon. The boys will be heading to a new school in 2016, which means a move back to the city for us. While I am dying to escape the suburbs and the HOA and the insipid neighborhood banter I never felt comfortable around, there is melancholy in my soul as we prepare to sell the only home our little family has ever known. And directly behind the gate we will walk through as we move forward, the gate through which all the possibility and potential of the future exists, lies the burial plot of things we’re leaving behind…sandboxes, playgrounds, slip and slides, and snow forts. Saying goodbye is part of moving on, but I have always been better at hello.

It’s been a rough week for me as I cleaned house physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am glad to be leaving some things behind, happy to explore new options and reinvent myself. Some things I thought I could count on, though, have evaporated while I stood in disbelief, grasping as they morphed from liquid to gas before my eyes like water vanishing of a scorching, summer sidewalk. I am better and stronger for this trial experience of life, once again, without children. Steve and I have talked about cashing in on our house and using the money to travel more with our sons before they move on to their own life adventures without us. The past fourteen years have been a blur, and we want to eradicate any potential for a Cats in the Cradle ending in this family. I will miss the things that are no longer part of my life, but I am curious what I will concoct to fill the vacant spaces going forward. 

We will claim our handsome, capable sons on Saturday and be grateful once again to have a disorganized house filled with bedlam. The time for permanent quiet is not long off now, and it’s approaching much more rapidly than I ever could have anticipated in June 2001 when Joe was born. But before it hits I think I will buy Luke that electric guitar he wants. I might buy that drum kit I have always wanted too and knock percussion lessons off my lifetime to-do list. If there’s one thing I have learned this week, it’s that silence leaves me way too much time to think. I should probably focus on doing things as noisily as possible from now on. Maybe I can get some pointers from our sons?

There Goes Summer

 

A summer tragedy
 
Now that our sons are older and more independent, one of my true summer joys is a day lounging at our favorite local pool, the small one with the reclining loungers, the water slide, and the vigilant lifeguards who shout “no running” at my kids so I don’t have to. Last week, the gods bestowed upon us an arguably perfect pool day. No menacing thunderheads hovered in the sky, the temperature was a pleasant and steady 83 degrees, and there was the lightest perceptible breeze, the kind that gently reminds you that sometimes all is right in your world. When mornings like that arrive, my day is set. Errands, appointments, laundry, and responsibility be damned. We’re pool bound. There is no other choice. Our fate is sealed. 

After wolfing down the sub sandwiches we picked up from Jimmy John’s on the way over, we began our idyllic summer sabbatical. My goal: complete summer surrender. From under my mirrored sunglasses, I lazily watched our sons take ridiculous leaps (meant to be impressive but in the end only exhibiting typical teenage goofiness) off the diving board while the playlist of LCD Soundsystem in my earbuds kept my feet moving just enough to burn a few calories while I let the sun work its magic. Nothing could be better, I mused to myself, swept away in the glee of a few hours’ worth of unadulterated leisure in the middle of the work week.

That was when he stepped in front of me and everything changed. He must have been about seven, maybe eight, with sandy blonde hair. He stood out because, unlike the other children who had arrived in the same daycare group, he was alone in wearing street clothes and Crocs in place of brightly colored swim trunks and bare feet. A bold orange cast with blue tape, a nod to the Denver Broncos, held his broken arm firmly in place while he stood on the side of the pool watching other kids take acrobatic turns off the diving board. As I looked at him with a mother’s eyes, I found myself wishing there were casts that mended broken hearts as well as broken arms. 

We are less than two weeks away from the start of the 2015-2016 school year here in Denver. All over the city parents are snapping up school supplies while siblings wage frustrated battles with each other in the waning days of summer break. My favorite season is slipping away, and each day closer to school is a heartless reminder of life out of the pool lounger and in the carpool lane. Today, though, I am thinking of that darling little boy with a cast who is probably looking forward to school this year for the first time ever, thinking about friends and structure and the chance to feel again like he belongs.

Our singular experiences comprise our personal tale, but in the end it’s our shared struggles that make our stories worth recounting.

Beyond The Winter Of Our Discontent

“Our winters are very long here, very long and very monotonous. But we don’t complain about it downstairs, we’re shielded against the winter. Oh, spring does come eventually, and summer, and they last for a while, but now, looking back, spring and summer seem too short, as if they were not much more than a couple of days…” ~Franz Kafka

Winter with my boys (2005)
Winter with my boys (2005)

Parenting is an intriguing journey. When I think back on my life to a time before I was someone’s mother, it is barely recognizable. I feel I’ve lived an entirely new life since those days pre-children. I’ve come to realize that parenting is not unlike a 365-day trip around the sun through the seasons. And just as you turn the calendar on a new year and suddenly find December on the next leaf, the important job of parenting too passes in a blur.

When we were expecting our first child, the freewheeling fall days of our life as married couple floated off, crisp leaves gathering under our feet, and we braced for the brisk change parenthood would bring. We geared up. We prepared for rough weather. And when our sons arrived, we immediately found ourselves housebound in a snowstorm of diapers, feedings, and nap times. A trip to the grocery store alone was my sunny day. A date night was a beach vacation with umbrella drinks. Most of the time we were holed up at home, trying to dig out from under Thomas the Tank Engine, wooden blocks, and plush animals. We uncovered solace in movie evenings with Nemo and Mr. Incredible and Lightning McQueen, which were followed by family sleepover nights in our room where we would hunker down and take long winter’s naps together. Those were some of the best nights of sleep we got during this period in our lives, and good nights of sleep were few and far between back then. We were perpetually tired, surviving on caffeine in the morning and sugar in the afternoon, and trying to find time for ourselves when we could. Everyone tells you to cherish life with your little ones but, like living through a seemingly endless, difficult winter, that was easier said than done. Continually exhausted and struggling to figure out the dynamics of our new family, we prayed for a thaw.

Gradually the boys grew, and days seemed less bleak. Toddlerhood ended. Full on youth arrived with all its exuberance and light. We emerged from our hibernation and began to go places because, well, going places was easier. Gone were the bottles and sippy cups and diaper bags and extra changes of clothes for blowouts and Baby Bjorns and strollers. We were no longer bundled up and weighed down with paraphernalia. We marveled at the ease with which we traveled. We walked to the park as they raced ahead and sat uninterrupted while they cavorted.  A garden’s worth of handmade, paper-flower bouquets sprang up, accompanied by colorful paintings and creative tales. They started school and we appreciated engaging with them as they discovered the little secrets of life we’d long since taken for granted. We introduced them more and more to things we loved. We grew as a family, figuring out who we were together and how life worked best. Sure…there were occasional squalls, and brief deluges reminded us we hadn’t reached summer yet, but I knew things were getting better when we stopped complaining as often about the weather. We breathed in the freedom and exhaled with peace.

The moment when spring ended and summer began wasn’t even distinguishable. One day we were praying for an extra fifteen minutes of sleep and the next we were waking up at 8:30 and wondering if the boys were dead. The boys began exploring their independence with sleepovers at friends’ homes and hours of Capture the Flag after dark and afternoons on their bikes at the park. Suddenly, we had something we hadn’t had in years. Quality time alone in our own home. This weekend, we had not one but two nights consecutive nights during which we got to be grown adults without responsibility for children. We weren’t even on vacation. We had lovely meals, conversation about topics other than Pokémon, and a rearview mirror glimpse of the winter years fading in the distance. We’re walking around in flip-flops with Mai Tais in our hands now compared to the days we experienced when the boys were toddlers, when we were buried under the daily tasks of wiping butts and spoon feeding. We’ve settled into this fairer weather and summer is in full swing.

With all this free time on my hands lately, though, it has begun to occur to me the added peace we’re enjoying in this warmer season heralds the earliest moments of the permanent quiet that lies ahead in our next season. The boys are growing older. They don’t hang out with us as often. They have their own interests. Their independence gives us our freedom but it also decreases our involvement in their lives as they begin to separate and form their own lives and identities. In the quiet over the past two nights, we’ve discussed how weird it’s going to be when we’re alone again. As slow as time seemed to be moving back in the early days is as quickly as it seems to be moving now. They’ll be gone before we know it.

And we now understand that this is why people tell you to enjoy your children while they’re young. As much as it sucks hearing it when you’re sleep-deprived, covered in baby puke, and dying for a minute alone in the bathroom, the universal truth of the eighteen years of parenting is that it flies by like seasons in a year. The parents who tell you to cherish the moments you’re wishing would pass a bit more quickly don’t mean any harm. They’re simply beyond the winter of their discontent and wishing they’d understood how quickly spring arrives with summer and fall nipping at its heels.

The Daily Pearls

Being a wise bunny and soaking up the moment with some sea lions in the Galapagos Islands.
Here I am being a wise bunny and soaking up the moment with some sea lions in the Galapagos Islands.

 

As the time ticked by this evening and I was watching the Colorado Avalanche lose game 6 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I knew that writing tonight would be damn near impossible. I was distracted and I could not think of a thing to say. I’d pretty much resolved to call it a night and put off writing until tomorrow when I came across this little Bunny Buddhism gem in my book:

The wise bunny knows there is no tomorrow, only a string of todays.

Well, crap. That’s a wrinkle in my procrastination plans.

I try to remind myself of life’s fleeting nature. I try not to take anything for granted. I get out of the car every morning at school drop off to give my boys a hug and a kiss. They hate it. On some days, they tear out of the car and I have to chase them across the lawn in front of the building to do it, catching them by their backpacks and kissing them on their heads in front of their teachers and friends and embarrassing the living hell out of them, but I make sure I am never in too much of a rush to miss the opportunity. I may only have today to show them how much I love them. It’s worth the full-scale sprint in my yoga pants in front of the carpool parents because you just never know. I live 6.5 miles from Columbine High School. My heart is engraved with unexpected loss.

I seriously doubt that overnight a full-scale invasion by a malevolent alien race will kill my chances for writing tomorrow. I also doubt that I will die quietly in my sleep (knock on wood), which would certainly render it more difficult for me to compose anything on WordPress tomorrow. (There might be a story idea in there, though, about zombie writers.) In all likelihood, there will be time for me to write later because I will wake up tomorrow, chase my kids down at school, and return home to my laptop refreshed and hopefully with something clever or at least vaguely interesting to say. But, just in case, I will put these words down now as an insurance policy because I understand that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. If you spend too much time counting on future moments, you fritter away the ones that are happening now. There’s always time in the present. Recognize it’s there and make the most of it. Today is as good as it gets, people. Each day is a pearl on a string. If you’re lucky, one day you’ll have a magnificent strand.