The Big Important Things

I’ve been pushing these out of my mind lately.

You know what they are. The Big Important Things you need to do. The things that seem terrifying.

And the longer you go without doing them, the more terrifying and difficult they seem.

An Example

Take, for instance, the dishes (not a Big Important Thing, but serves as a good example).

Since this is pandemic time, and we’re all at home together, we have four people eating three main meals a day and two smaller snacks. That generates a lot of dishes.

Say I were to leave them piling up in the sink and on the counters until the end of the day. By the time evening rolls around, the number of dishes in the kitchen is overwhelming.

There are now more dishes that I will ever possibly be able to do! The pressure!! The stress!! I naturally have a breakdown.

However, if we start the day by one of us popping all the breakfast things in the dishwasher right after brekkie, another tidying the lunch things away, quickly sweeping the snack dishes in in the afternoon…

Then, by dinner time, the kitchen is tidy and ready to be cooked in, and the dishes after dinner aren’t so crushingly overwhelming.

Voila! Simples!

In Reality, Though…

While we all know that the Big Important Things aren’t that difficult to do, they, like the dishes, accumulate and seem to take on an aura of impossibility.

For me, it’s financial things. Doing taxes, financial planning, etc. It’s not that it’s hard, but it’s something I do not easily grasp and must take a little more time to think through.

And so, I often push them aside until (like when we eventually run out of dishes to eat off of) I’m forced to deal with them.

(Now that’s not to say we’re not taking care of things. We are.)

Grow Into Boogeymen

Though these are things that can be fairly easily dealt with, because I keep putting them off, they seem to get more and more Big, and more and more Important.

That’s when I wake up to pee at 3am and suddenly it pops into my head that I haven’t looked into whether I can continue to contribute to social security in Switzerland while living in the United States, and OH MY GOD I NEED TO DO THAT, and what about looking into that investment we were thinking about, and have we saved enough for a down payment on a house, and OH GOD WILL THE BOYS WANT TO GO TO COLLEGE IN THE STATES HOW WILL WE EVER AFFORD THAT and I should be looking for a job but I’m stuck home with the boys and do I need to have that mole looked at?

But it’s 3am and it’s simply NOT THE RIGHT TIME.

This is where the Big Important Things become boogeymen.

When Day Breaks

But the funny thing is, that (after eventually drifting off to sleep), in the morning I wake up and I have entirely forgotten about these things.

Because the requirements of every day life take priority. And that to-do list of Big Important Things continues to grow.

Occasionally, I’ll take a scythe to it, and like the Grim Reaper will mow down the terrifying Big Important Things on my list and try to reset to zero.

And that’s the trick! The thing is to do one, just ONE of those terrifying things on your to-do list.

When you do that one, you quickly realize that it wasn’t that hard to do after all. And that gives you courage to move ahead with the rest.

Like washing up the dishes, it’s getting started that’s the hard part. Once you get rolling, it’s like they do themselves.

So let’s get rolling!

What are your Big Important Things you’re putting off? How can you get started on just one of them today?

Things I Did Today

I hauled myself out of bed and (miraculously) got on the exercise bike. It’s gotten to the point where it’s almost mechanical now. The day isn’t right if I don’t do it.

I epilated for the first time in far more weeks than I care to say. I did this while sitting stark naked in our bathtub with a three-year-old playing with the Paw Patrol on the bathroom floor next to me, constantly complaining that my “machine” made “too much noise.”

I piled the threenager into the car and went to the grocery store. Found some Spanish jamon serrano which I’d forgotten about until now and now I desperately want to pull out of the fridge.

I put some laundry into the washer. Then moved it to the dryer. Then left it there.

I obsessed over why, despite eating meals heavy in proteins and veggies and some carefully chosen carbohydrates, I’m still feeling hungry after my meals? Is this all in my head?

I ate four cookies (and wrote it down–though first I only counted it as two because two of them were really small, but then I thought the point of writing it all down is to really write it down).

I glanced at the clean and dry bedsheets hanging over our bar stools (to avoid wrinkles) and considered folding them. Then didn’t.

I finished a book.

I took the boys to the playground where I continually shooed them away from me and told them to go play, no, Mama is not “safe”, stop jumping on me, ouch, please go play, we are at the playground, there’s a jungle gym, you guys can climb on me at home. Finally, I fended them off with my knitting needles.

We saw a really really really big snake crawling through the playground. I managed to scoop it up onto a long stick and toss it into the bushes. It was kinda scary and cool. My boys weren’t impressed.

I cooked one meal for the Chico and me and another for the boys. I couldn’t face their complaints, meltdowns and grossed-out faces. The Chico devoured his meal and had seconds. God bless him.

I played the piano. I wrote to friends. I’m writing here.

It’s been a busy day.

And Yet…

When I think about some Big Important Things I should probably be doing, it seems like I have been wasting my time.

At least I finished a book. Time to start another.

https://morealtitude.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/evening-star/

It’s Been a Week

First, there was the whole Covid-at-daycare situation.

Which was thankfully followed by two negative test results!

But then came Thursday evening. Thursday evening was a bit of a bust.

A Dumb Accident

It was typical evening of roughhousing. I was practicing piano downstairs when suddenly I heard screaming from upstairs. I heard Chico calling my name, and I ran.

The Bug was on his knees on our bedroom floor, his right arm limp at his side. It was hard to make out what had happened through his screams, but it involved a twist and a pop.

Assuming his elbow was dislocated, I prepared to take him to the ER. I gave him a dose of Motrin, grabbed a new chapter book, water bottles and our masks, and we headed out.

Three and a half hours, several X-rays and a splint later, and we were home with a new toy in hand, given to him by the doctor as we were leaving. There are perks to going to the pediatric ER!

We had to follow up with an orthopedic surgeon on Friday, and it turns out the Bug has such a small radial fracture that it didn’t even show up on the X-rays.

He shouldn’t need his cast for more than a week.

And Now… Trump Has Covid.

We don’t have Covid, but the president does.

(I should say that what I’m writing about now has little to do with the above. It’s late. I’m tired. It’s been a week.)

I haven’t been on Facebook since the news broke, and I intend to stay off it for a while. I don’t really care to know what people think of this situation.

I cannot wish him ill, though. He’s a monster. He’s the human version of Covid, and yet I cannot wish him ill.

The Value of Human Life

It’s appalling to me the way people here seem to undervalue human life. On TV, in films, and even in the news, I see people throwing away human life as if it were nothing.

I read in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, that a dispute got out of hand between some neighbors in Fairfax county, Virginia. They were townhouse neighbors, and apparently for years they had been arguing.

One day, one of the men walked up his neighbor’s front steps. He knocked on the neighbor’s door. The neighbor opened his door, and immediately opened fire on the man. He shot him three times, and the man staggered back. He shot him three more times as he fell backwards down the front steps.

And finally, he shot him as he lay at the bottom of the stairs. Seven shots. The man died before an ambulance arrived.

What kind of country is this?

In the midwest, a young man drove hours from his home to shoot protesters in a city in a neighboring state.

All over the country, people are being shot at and disabled or murdered by the police. And then no one is being held accountable or responsible.

And now, on social media, people are spewing forth with vitriol, wishing death on the president.

I’m sure it happens in other places, too, but what terrifies me about the United States is that devaluing human life seems to be part of the culture.

Whether it’s by arguing about the right to own guns, to the normalization of violence in pop culture, I don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s not just on one side of the political divide.

This disregard for the value of a person’s life seems to be just as prevalent on the left as on the right. The left just seems to be a bit more hypocritical about it, it seems to me.

Tying the Two Together

Though our son was never in any danger this week, a visit to the ER is always enough to give one a little perspective.

My son’s life is just as precious as the president’s.

I recoil at the sight of those words, but the thing is they are true. No one’s life is of greater value than anyone else’s.

That is why Black Lives Matter is so important, because as things stand Black lives are not valued as greatly as white lives. As things stand, a Black man like George Floyd is not as valued as my precious son.

And he should be. Because every single human life is precious. Every single one.

Even the president’s.

How to Know You’ve Got a Good One

There are many factors that make a good man.

Too many, in fact, to write about here. So I’m just going to write about one of the many things that makes my Chico wonderful.

(Of course, you’ll soon realize, that while I am singing his praises, this is all really about me.)

Discombobulated

“There’s only Black Rush Irish whiskey in the cabinet,” I said, tripping over the grocery bags in the kitchen.
“Black Rush? Do you mean, Black Bush, Jane?”

It was 9:30am and I was trying to put away groceries when my dad called on FaceTime. I struggled to hold my phone in one hand and put things away with the other.

That’s when he ordered me to the liquor cabinet.

Let me back up.

I’ve got a cold. And this being The Time of Covid, any cold or flu-like symptoms are worrisome. It’s nothing major, just a slightly runny nose, some sneezes and achey sinuses.

I mentioned this to my dad and his advice was: “Have a shot of Irish whiskey, warmed up with some honey and lemon juice in it. Right before bed. It does wonders.”

“Dad,” I said, “we don’t have whiskey. We don’t drink liquor.”
“Yes you do! I bought two bottles when I visited! Where’s your liquor cabinet?”

We don’t have a liquor cabinet as such. Just the cabinet above the stove in the kitchen. You know, the one that’s hard to get to without a stool and therefore used to store things we hardly ever use. Like whiskey.

“Open it!” he ordered.

Which is why, while I was emptying grocery bags into the fridge, I turned, tripped over a couple bags, and reached up to peer into the “liquor cabinet.”

Discombobulated, Part 2

“Black Rush? Do you mean, Black Bush, Jane?” He chuckled.

I closed my eyes and tried to think how to make a joke out of it.

“No, it’s Slack Lush, Dad.”

Bingo! That set him giggling. I relaxed a bit. It always feels good to make my dad laugh, seeing as he’s usually the one getting everyone else to crack up.

I was standing in the middle of the kitchen, the “liquor cabinet” open, grocery bags strewn around me and the open fridge beeping angrily at me, my father on FaceTime, and the prospect of a day facilitating distance learning ahead of me.

The whiskey might be a good idea after all, I thought.

That’s When Chico Found Me

I opened my eyes, and there he was. My husband. He was smiling at me, looking bemused.

He said, “Would you like a cup of tea?”

A smile spread across my face. Just the word tea made me feel better. A small, tinny voice piped up from out of my phone.

“Yes, get her a cup of tea for goodness’ sakes, Arturo! I think we may be losing her!”

Tension Gone

A couple more jokes, a bit more giggling, and soon the groceries were put away, the tea was in front of me, and I was sitting down to finish up my chat with my dad.

As he left the kitchen to head back down into his home office, my husband’s strong hand gently squeezed my shoulder.

I glanced up at his smiling face, and breathed a quick prayer of thanks.

For tea. And for this wonderful man who really knows how to make a good cuppa.

Goes a Long Way

I’m about to sound like I’m tooting my own horn. So feel free to leave if that annoys you.

Oh, you’re still here? Great!

It’s no big deal. But it felt good, so I thought maybe you’d enjoy reading about it.

Rainy Day

On a rainy day a couple of months back, the boys and I were venturing out. We were ready to sprint from our front door to the car, when we spotted some boxes sitting outside our neighbor’s door.

The Bug said, “Mama! Maxine’s packages are getting ruined!” So we quickly picked them up and put them in the covered passageway across from our door.

I rang her doorbell a couple of times, but when she didn’t answer, we just left the boxes where they would be safe from the rain.

By the time we got back from our outing, the boxes were gone and I had forgotten about it.

Fast Forward a Couple Days

My neighbor was on her balcony, smoking a cigarette, as I pulled up.

I got out of the car and she called down to me: “Jane? Was that you who took my packages out of the rain the other day?”

I said yes, it had been me.

She seemed momentarily overcome with emotion. Then she nodded her head and said, “Yes, I thought that was you. It seemed like something you’d do.

“You don’t know how much that meant to me. What you saved… It would have been ruined! But you saved it. I can’t thank you enough…”

I assured her it was no problem and I’d be happy to do it any time. She repeated her thanks yet again, and I was struck by how touched she seemed.

Fast Forward Some More

As I said, this was weeks, if not months, ago. On a couple of occasions since then, my neighbor has thanked me again for saving her boxes.

Then yesterday, the doorbell rang.

I opened it to find a beautiful gift bag sitting on the doorstep. My neighbor was waving to me from her door. She smiled and said, “I’ve been meaning to give you something to thank you, but I didn’t find what I wanted until today.”

At first, I was baffled. I wasn’t thinking about the packages in the rain incident. Then she said, “What you did, it meant a lot. What you saved would have been completely ruined in the rain. I cannot thank you enough.”

I assured her it was nothing, that I was happy to have been of help. She smiled, shook her head in what seemed like wonder, and wished me good night.

Inside, I opened the gift bag to find a little thank-you note and an adorable apron wrapped in tissue paper. I’m a sucker for a cute apron!

Something So Small

In Germany, any of our neighbors would have thought nothing of something like this. We did that kind of thing for each other all the time.

But here, it really strikes me how my neighbor seems to view this little act as extraordinary.

I don’t know if it’s cultural or not. Is that something people just don’t do?

To me, it’s part of being a good neighbor. Looking out for each other.

Being, well, you know… Neighborly.

A Little Kindness

It really does go a long way.

And it felt really good to be able to do such a small thing, and yet make what seems like such a large impact on someone’s life.

Uninspired

The past few prompts from my creative writing series have been duds.

I’m not feeling inspired at all.

It’s not like each and every one of these posts has been fabulously inspired. But the past couple days, I’ve struggled to even muster up the energy.

Fickle Inspiration

Inspiration doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere.

Sometimes, something lights a spark. Often, throughout this process of writing (almost) daily, I’ve felt true inspiration.

Other times, I feel like it’s a struggle to hammer something out.

The past couple of days I’ve felt uninspired, and I’ve been tempted to not write. To wait until the spark comes again.

The Trouble Is…

If I stop doing the work and just wait to feel inspired, it might never happen.

Yeah, it’s true, sometimes I feel like what I’m writing here is crap.

(A lot of times, actually.)

But at least I’m writing. Quantity, not quality, right?

While I Wait

Any readers I still have may just have to suffer a bit! Huzzah! I hope you’re up for it!

I’ve got a sweater that came off the needles. Maybe tomorrow I can get some photos of it and write something up.

Hopefully I’ll feel inspired.

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying this podcast.

And this book.

Anyone’s Guess

What. A. Mess.

Here in the States, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is pressuring schools to fully reopen for classes this fall.

All the while limiting federal funding to schools, causing states and counties to have to make budget cuts to already woefully underfunded schools.

Like I said, it’s a mess.

Offering Options

Our local school board has offered two options for the fall semester this year:

  1. 100% distance learning, using online platforms and video call-ins.
  2. Hybrid model, where children go to school two days a week and do distance learning for the other three.

Parents are required to choose one option by next week. The choice is binding for the fall semester, and once made it cannot be changed.

Making A Choice…

We talked about it, considered the options, read and listened to information from health officials and from the school board.

We also thought about what is best for our rising kindergartener, what he needs in a learning environment.

We logged onto the parent portal and made our selection. No going back now.

…And Sticking To It

And then the doubt set in.

I made the mistake of logging onto social media to see what others had chosen.

Many people have remained quiet, but many are extremely vocal about their choice. And those most vocal had chosen the other option.

Immediately, I started to question my decision. Did I have all the facts? Did we really make the best choice for our child? Or did we choose the most convenient option for ourselves?

The more I cogitated, the more anxious I became. I worked myself up into nearly a frenzy when I remembered that once made, the selection cannot be changed.

My Calming Force

I melted into tears, I was convinced we had made the wrong choice!

And then I spoke to my husband.

Have I mentioned on this blog how wonderful the man is? [Quick pat on the back to myself for choosing a great husband.]

He quietly listened to my fears. His calming presence and soothing “Mmhmms” and “Uh-huhs” calmed me down. He then, very wisely, reminded me of a key fact:

Nobody has the right answer.

This is a scary situation. The schools are doing their best to keep children and staff members safe. Parents want to make the best decision for their families.

And while the CDC and state health departments can offer guidance, they do not have all the answers.

No one does.

So, my Chico lovingly told me, there is no wrong choice. There are two right choices, and we must pick the one we feel is best for our family.

And those people, he said, who are so forceful and seemingly confident about their choice on social media are simply trying to convince themselves that they have made the right decision.

But of course they have. Because it is the right decision for their family. And we have made the right decision for ours.

It’s Done, Anyway

I felt better immediately.

But even if I hadn’t, there’s not a whole lot I could do about it. Our choice is made, and though I have doubts and insecurities, deep down I feel that it is the right decision for our family.

We’ll see where it goes, what happens in the fall. What is clear is that if this pandemic takes off again, no one will have any choice at all: the schools will shut down.

In the meantime, we’re wearing masks, washing our hands and choosing to trust our own judgment. A judgment based on the information that is available to us.

A Special Word to School Staff

Stay safe, everyone. Especially school staff.

We love you and value you.

And I will make this promise: I promise to vote whenever possible for the candidate whose platform highlights school funding, so that all schools have the ability to keep their staff and students safe in this pandemic.

From “Robin Hood” to “Ivanhoe” to “Hamilton”

I forgot “Hamilton” was airing on Disney Plus tonight.

In my defence, I don’t follow musical theater much and I’m not overly familiar with the music from “Hamilton.” I have been curious to see it, and had planned to nab tickets when it came to the Kennedy Center in September.

Thanks to the coronavirus, that’s been postponed (coronavirus, you beeyatch!).

But back to my forgetfulness.

Tonight, in addition to forgetting I had a skype date with some girlfriends, I also forgot about the airing of “Hamilton.” In fact, instead of watching “Hamilton,” I was watching “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” starring Errol Flynn.

If that doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because this version of the legend came out in 1938.

Yes, 1938. Yes, I am an old woman.

An old white woman.

Ivahnoe

I once read that in antebellum America, the most popular novel in the northern states was Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was a huge bestseller, and some argue its publication precipitated the conflict that became the Civil War.

In this same source (which I cannot currently remember, sorry!) I read that the most popular novel in the antebellum south was Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti-slavery novel, written by a black woman, which depicts the horrors of slavery and is the source of the name Jim Crow (as in racist Jim Crow laws).

Ivanhoe is a romance, set in medieval England, in which a Saxon knight fights for the liberation of Norman Richard the Lionheart, king of England, from captivity in Austria. It’s full of battles, witch trials, forbidden love, and features our friend Robin of Loxley (AKA Robin Hood).

I Grew Up with “Ivanhoe”

As a child, we had the 1952 film version on VHS. It starred Robert Taylor, Joan Fontaine and Elizabeth Taylor. It was romantic. It was glamorous and adventurous.

I watched it over and over again.

I have never seen a film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (probably because there hasn’t been a Hollywood production of it since the silent film era, when white actors in blackface played the leading characters and danced in almost every scene).

Whitewashing Literature

I have never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Nor, in fact, have I read many novels by authors of color. I’ve read some hispanic authors, south Asian and middle eastern authors. But I’ve never read anything written by a black American author.

Is this racist?

Yup.

By reading predominantly novels written by white men and women, I am devaluing literature by people of color. I am also missing out on a large part of what reading is supposed to do for you: opening your eyes to different experiences.

What does this have to do with “Hamilton” and “Robin Hood”?

Just the fact that I forgot about the airing of “Hamilton” because I was watching an old movie starring nothing but white actors shows how well entrenched I am in my white world.

I’m not trying to draw parallels between “Hamilton” and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or even to belittle the quality of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (it’s a fun, swashbuckling adventure!).

I’m just musing on how the choices we make (like which films to watch and which books to read) can keep us in our little white bubbles.

What To Do?

Branch out. That’s what I’m trying to do.

The book Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad has been helpful in opening my eyes to the extent of my own complicity in racism.

I recommend it as a starting place for anyone who really wants to know how we are complicit, and how to break the cycle.

The Joy of Arguing

I missed writing yesterday because we did an epic one-day car trip with the family. Thank GOD we scored a minivan with a built-in DVD player. Today’s article is coming to you from a different location. A very relaxing location.

35. War and Peace: Write about a recent conflict that you dealt with in your life.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

Conflict? Me?! Never.

Well, perhaps not never.

Most of my life, I’ve studiously avoided conflict. A lot of people do, especially (dare I say it?) women.

I’ve apparently internalized the desire to avoid conflict so much that I often respond to conflict with—I’m embarrassed to say it—tears.

Arguing Joyfully

In the last few years, though, I have tried to learn to argue joyfully.

You read that right! Arguing can, in fact, be a joyful experience. When you find yourself in a heated debate with someone you love, it can be a satisfying (and rather exciting) experience to disagree, to even get angry and argue about something.

The key is to always remain respectful, because in the end you do want to see this person again.

A Recent Conflict

Recently, I got into a heated argument with my husband on the way to the grocery store. I got so mad that I stormed out of the car and slammed the door behind me.

With each step I took away from the car, I felt my anger dissipating, and by the time I’d gotten into the store, I was able to do my shopping with a clear head.

Though I made a stormy exit, up until then I had vented my frustration verbally. The fact that there were no tears was a big victory for me.

Tears = Emotional Blackmail

I used to burst into tears when we fought, changing the situation from a mutual argument to making my husband feel ashamed for upsetting me so much.

Bursting into tears at the moment an argument breaks out is emotionally manipulative. I wasn’t sad in these cases; I wasn’t hurt. I just didn’t know how to express anger. I thought anger was the worst feeling you could possibly have.

I thought that it was a horrible thing to be angry with someone I love.

Recently, thanks to the therapy I started after my mother’s death, I came to understand that anger and love are not mutually exclusive. It IS possible to be seriously mad at the person you love.

The key is to learn to argue with joy.

How to Argue Joyfully

  1. Use your words. Anger can cloud our judgment and make it hard to find the words we want. Try to keep your head about you and clearly state what has made you angry and why it makes you angry.
  2. Do not make attacks. This is especially important when arguing with your partner. This is your chosen life companion. You don’t want to say anything you will regret later.
  3. Know when to end it. When frustration reaches a boiling point and you find yourselves arguing in circles, it’s time to stop. Walk away. Cool down. Clear your heads.

Last Rule

Oh, and for Pete’s sake and the sake of your mental health and personal well-being, never EVER engage in an argument on social media.

It is impossible to argue joyfully in social media.

What Comes in Threes?

24. Numbers: Write a poem or journal entry about numbers that have special meaning to you.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

Bad things always happen in threes.

That’s the old line, at least. But three is also a lucky number. The Holy Trinity. One, two, three, go! Third time’s the charm. Third time lucky.

But then again, three is a crowd. And deaths come in threes.

GOOD LORD. Number three! Make up your mind! Are you GOOD? Or are you BAD?

One of Three

I’m one of three. The third, actually (and in my case, yes, it was third time lucky because they’d hoped for a girl).

And here I am. The mother of two. Two boys, to be precise.

I always thought I’d have three. On an early date with my Chico, we talked about family expectations. I said I’d always pictured myself with three kids. He said, “Where there’s three there’s four.” (For context: he’s the youngest of four.)

“You’re not the one squeezing them out,” I muttered. Four seemed excessive.

What About a Third?

But now that we have two… Now that we have two wild and wonderful boys who fill our days with exasperation and joy, I’m just not sure.

I’m not sure I want a third.

I don’t feel anyone is missing. Our family feels complete and happy as it is.

Also, I don’t know if I want to put myself through the physical trial that is pregnancy and childbirth again. Granted, I managed both like a boss in my previous pregnancies and deliveries, but I’m nearly 35 now. My body has taken a long time to recover after the birth of our second son, and it will never be the same.

It sounds selfish, but there it is. I don’t know if I have the stamina and energy needed to carry another child, birth another child and then raise another child.

(Just the thought of going through potty training and the terrible twos again gives me great pause.)

Two’s Good, Too.

So maybe it won’t be three. Maybe we’ll leave it at two. For now, we are deciding not to decide. And if that goes on much longer, the decision will have to be no.

Tick tock, you know.

So I may have to start mourning the idea of three. Give up on the idea of a girl (though, Lord knows with my luck if I got pregnant again it’d be with twin boys).

But then again… They do say that third time is the charm.