My grandmother and grandfather lived in a small house in Woburn, Massachusetts that seemed huge. And every Sunday after attending our respective churches, my Aunt P.’s family and my family would descend on Nana’s and Papa’s house. This was where I, along with my sister and three cousins would play and draw and the adults would visit and everyone would have a grand old time.
Which is sort of perfect sounding and, on the one hand, true.
While we kids would squeal with the joy and freedom that came with the assumption we could be safely ignored, the adults would smoke and drink and laugh and talk politics and world events louder and louder in the tiny living room adorned with velvet paintings of a donkey and an odd-looking young Mexican boy. These two masterpieces hung in diagonal juxtaposition over a huge console that housed a turntable that played Don Ho’s ‘Tiny Bubbles’ over and over and over, and a television that I’m fairly certain showed only The Lawrence Welk Show, The Boston Red Sox, Days of Our Lives, and the Wonderful World Of Disney.
Those Sunday visits, every Sunday for my first eight or nine years, were full and normal and went by in a haze of childhood innocence. A chill of real life crept in as the years went on. First my Dad stopped coming. Then my Uncle Bill stopped coming.
There were jagged weeks and months in there, strange and quiet and awkward questions between us children in hushed tones as we stood together in hallways or lay on the beds in ‘our’ bedroom at Nana’s and Papa’s house.
And, as the standard every-other-week visitations with fathers in other cities and towns took us away from Nana’s and Papa’s regular Sundays, our visits naturally became sporadic. And then they just seemed to stop.
Relax. This will get a bit worse, before it gets better. But I have a point.
For me and my sister, our young lives were full of uncertainty. My mother once wrote of not being wife or mother material, but being born in an era that pushed her in that direction. It was expected, she wrote. But neither role fit.
I read that, on half torn pages in a cheap, blue notebook with a bent and rusty spiral binder, after my mother died in 2001.
She had left work, not feeling well, on a Wednesday. A friend of hers called me the following Thursday after visiting her at home. She was diagnosed with metastasized cancer on Friday. Friends and family visited all day Saturday. She died very early Sunday morning.
I was the only one with her.
It was complicated, and one of those deaths that did not resolve anything, but proved that various moves can be undertaken by players right to the very end of the game.
Bear with me, one more bad bit.
My sister, three years younger than me, collapsed the following Monday afternoon, hours after I gave the eulogy at my mother’s memorial service.
She was almost three years younger than I was. She had an estranged husband, and two kids. And when life support was turned off, and she took her last breath five days later, I was again the only one in the room.
We were not close.
We could not have been more different.
Again, it was complicated. She never woke up, so the sibling games and oddities ended for us at my mother’s service. I don’t remember our last embrace. I don’t know for certain if we even had one. But if we did, it would have been awkward.
My family was… awkward.
And it was all gone, in the span of a week, back in 2001.
None of us perfect.
Then again, no one is.
There are many people who do not know that story (it’s not a secret, but I don’t tend to lead with it), and who wouldn’t guess that could have ever happened.
It would be hard for them to reconcile.
I’m too upbeat.
Too…. gasp…. happy.
Some of them will now decide I have put on a brave face for years. That I’m crumbly on the inside, and have perfected a happy mask for the world. They will need to believe it. They will try to create their own narrative for who I am.
And they will be wrong.
Actually, I have anecdotal (but witnessed) evidence that I absolutely suck at just going along to get along. It doesn’t work for me.
As Sammy Davis Jr. sang so well, I gotta be me.
Don’t get me wrong, I wish things had been different. It would have been wonderful to have a calmer, more predictable childhood, filled with love and support. It would have been great if my mother and sister were happy in their lives as a whole, and with their decisions.
It would have been great if my children had never suffered health setbacks, or heartbreaks, and had absolutely zero disabilities. It would have been awesome, even, to have the absolute perfect husband, instead of a Nearly Perfect one (sigh… the sacrifices I’ve been forced to make…).
But the at-the-time “Oh nos” and ‘Holy craps” and “Why is this happenings” have not morphed into nostalgic ‘what ifs’, or ‘I wishes’ for me. All of these things have been a part of my life, and there has been so much good stuff.
And I’ll take the good wherever I can get it.
I think that is the gift that the most terrible times in my life have given me.
I pay attention.
I see the good.
I don’t have to make it up, or pretend it’s there.
I see it all the time.
Because it is there.
The age-old reminder to ‘take time to smell the roses’ is lost on me.
Smelling the roses is the main part of life.
How awful to experience life as so busy or crazy or punishing, or to actually choose to be so busy or driven or focused on not-great-stuff, that you need to remind yourself to take time out to pay attention to the great stuff.
As if those are mutually exclusive things.
The good stuff is blended into everything. It isn’t a separate thing.
I’ve worked hard, got my college degrees, had a ‘successful’ career requiring a lot of ambition and drive and stress and growth (didn’t really fit any corporate mold, but on balance had a great time anyway, worked with amazing people, and did some pretty dang cool stuff). I left that, stayed home, figured out how to be me in a new world of PTAs and the politics of small towns, schools, and people (nope, didn’t fit that mold at all either, but did some great stuff with neat people). I’ve dealt with family issues and tragedy and awesomeness and wonder and the magic. I’ve messed up big and demonstrated the occasional fit of brilliance.
I am having an ordinary life, that is extraordinary to me.
Just like everyone else.
But in all areas, in all aspects, and most of the time – by far most of the time – without anyone even knowing…
I’m smelling the roses.
I’m not talking about how I’m going to do it one day, or posturing or posting Facebook statuses about it.
I’m just doing it.
I’m noticing the good.
In everyday things.
Sure, there are bad happenings. Bad people.
They are not the norm, not the majority.
And I have little to no time for them.
But if I have to, I’ll take time out from smelling the roses to deal with the bad bits.
And then I’m going straight back to the good stuff.
The main event.
Where the morning light on my grandmother’s dish filled with strawberries has me smiling, and grabbing my camera, as the Nearly Perfect Husband and I begin our day.
Thanks for readin’.
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