Joy in laughter…

Just now, I laughed.  Loud and hard, like a free-spirited little kid.  And it felt good to laugh!  I don’t know whether or not it was the first time today that I let out a bellow.  I honestly can’t remember.  I was too preoccupied all day long worrying about changes Autumn brings with it, along with routines and schedules and school and work, and then worry led to anxiety, and anxiety to a bit of an emotional break-down, and there I was.  A mess.  And here I am now, a recovering basket-case.  Trying to sweep up the broken pieces and find some joy in it all.

Even if that joy happens to be found in a pair of toilet seat covers.

I am taking an electric drill out to the car that Husband had used earlier to fix a toilet seat in our downstairs bathroom, when I see on the ground of our side yard, two dirty, broken toilet seats lying haphazardly side by side.  If that’s not the grossest thing to picture next to your petunia pots, I honestly don’t what is.  Call me a hillbilly and be done with it because that was the first thought that flashed into my head- that I had finally nailed the last spike into the coffin and become a true redneck.  The kittens even were playing amongst the debris, overcome with their good fortune to finally have found a toy big enough to sit on.

Meanwhile, inside the house.  Apparently, the screws on one of the toilet seats were corroded on and would not unscrew.  Thus, the electric drill. If you were to check our laptop Internet history, the second last search on Google this evening was this: how to remove a rusted toilet seat.  Doesn’t that just give one a little bird’s eye view of the goings on at the Gard household on a Tuesday evening.  I actually went to a meeting at 7:30 p.m., and two hours later, Husband had finally completed the bathroom renovation project.  Never mind the fact that I might have raised my eyebrows slightly over the wee bit to do with the kids still being up and running around.  I digress.   I just let that minor inconvenience slide in lieu of my newly installed, luxery toilet seats purchased for $19.95 each from Walmart.  Deal breaker- whether or not he can install toilet seats.  I guess he is a keeper.

I must say, I am pretty pumped that we got that old seat cover outta there.  Totally grossed out, by the way, that it was corroded by you-know-what.  I guess that is to be expected with two guys in the house. ‘Cause I know I am not the one responsible for that rusty little number on the back of the toilet .

But funnier still is this.  The very last Google search in our Internet search history is even more random than the latter.  Husband thought it would be “cool” to buy a bow tie to wear for his first day back to school.  We went to the mainland last week for a short shopping spree in the city, and his only purchase was this electric blue bow tie.  So the last search he conducted this evening was how to tie a bow tie.  My husband.  The fancy plumber.

The first couple attempts (think Mr. Dress-up, for any Canadian readers out there) were really worthwhile for me personally, as I needed a few more belly laughs to loosen up some tight, tense stomach muscles.  And for sure.  I am feeling quite footloose and fancy free at the moment.  I have brand new toilet seats in both my bathrooms, and a Husband who is sporting the latest in back-to-school attire with a bow tie, a long-sleeved dress-shirt and a dirty pair of shorts.   And I even got to laugh in spite of all the craziness of it all.  Joy doubled.  Go figure.

What more could a girl ask for then that?

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Joy is awk-waaard…

Sitting on a rickety wooden rail beside a sea of balls, one gets to see life as it is really lived out.  It is a vantage point like no other, really.  One must sit as quiet as a bird on a limb so as not to miss a thing.  For conversations like these are quick and to-the-point, especially when boys are doing the talking.

There are two of them playing, these curious boy-creatures so rough and tumble,  one boy whom I’ve known since birth, the other I am quietly observing for the first time.  The former is my nephew, a little imp with golden hair.  Although his angelic halo has ceased to fool me into thinking there is innocence in that crowning glory.  I wasn’t born yesterday.

To set the scene, it is supper time, and bellies are getting hungry.   Nephew has already asked me for cookies twice.  I was only able to distract him once with a roll, and even that was a challenge.  So when nephew sees the popcorn chicken, sitting there in that neat little Styrofoam container on the ledge, he does what any hungry little boy would do.  He lifts the lid to inhale the aroma.  Just a little sniff, and then a quick look to see if anyone is watching.  Perhaps the other boy wouldn’t notice?

He is just about to swipe a golden nugget of greasy goodness, when the other boy looks and then sees that his meal is about to be eaten by another.  Alarm bells go off.  The boy yells, “Hey those are my nuggets,” which startles my nephew out of his reverie and cause him to jerk his fingers away from the prize.  But it was what he said next, at the ripe old age of four, which made me chuckle.  As he walked away from that temptation, stealing not even a backwards glance at what he could have had, he whispered this word in a feather-soft voice.

“Awk-waaaaaard.”

Weary joy…

My baby lies feverish on the couch, her little eyes flickering open momentarily when I walk past her.  She woke with a headache this morning, and those pains led to lethargy and burning hot skin by early evening.  In light of the week we’ve had, with a young girl in our circle of friendship with spinal meningitus , we are watching this little one closely.  I have already consulted with Grammie twice and called the ER.  Ready at a moment’s notice to carry my sleeping child to the van and drive toward the closest hospital.

You do what you have to do to get by.  And for me, I like to consult with the experts every ten minutes or so.

It has been a draining day all around.  A funeral this afternoon for another loved one in our family circle.  Another candle burns in heaven, this one for Aunt Bev, who has not been well for close to forty-two years.  Can you imagine this?  For all of my husband’s life, as he was a mere twelve days old at Aunt Bev and Uncle Don’s wedding, brave Aunt Beverly has lived a life of pain, mental agony and brutal seizures.  Her life has been consumed by sickness.  And yet. To listen to the moving eulogy given by Cousin Jacqueline, one would think she had lived a full and fulfilling life.

Perhaps she has done just that, and I am the one who is missing something here.

I am learning, but still am a slow learner at that greatest of life’s lessons.  For this I know: life well lived needs not be a showcase of accomplishments, successes and achievements strung out in a line for all to see.  For some, indeed for many of us, it will never be that.  What will matter in the end is this: whether or not we were kind, we were a friend, we were patient and loving.  Forgiving.  What matters in the end is the stuff that builds character.  That is to say, all those ideals that we strive for in life, but often sacrifice in the end for success.  And for Aunt Bev, she was no success in human standards, as her career in nursing ended shortly after it began.  Nor was she able to showcase an impressive list of her public achievements, as most of her life was lived first in the privacy of her home, and later in long-term care.  What was evident in that eulogy address today was how impressive has been her family life.

Known for her smile and her gentle, caring ways.  She was an example.   Remembered by those who loved her best, she will always be a memory away.  For her snuggles and listening ear.  Remembered.  Especially by those three sweet grandchildren who loved their Grammie even from her sickbed.  In life, she gave what she could; in death, we give to her the respect and honor due a life well lived.  For it was just that- a life lived to the fullest of its potential, and she gave every day her all.  Even in sickness.  Every day, given her all.  I cannot even fathom this!  How that admission of my inability to live up to her standard shames me even as I write the words.  For I am not able to say the same of myself- that I give every day my all.

When I think of Aunt Bev, I think of humility.   And what greater legacy to leave than this: than a life lived in quiet, humble kindness.  Because no career highlights will ever be able to recreate a picture in your grandchildren’s heart of your beautiful, beaming smile shining down on them as they read to you, in that child-like faltering way.  Nor can any list of achievements match that of knowing you loved those people placed in your life both fiercely and whole-heartedly.  With love that would not let them go, even as body and soul fade into eternity.  And with a hope that one day, all sadness and tears will be wiped away in that Greatest of family reunions, when time is no longer finite

I feel I have so much to learn.  The more I think about Aunt Bev, the more I realize that what I value and prioritize in life are not necessarily what really matter.  I often think, when I am sitting in a church pew at a funeral, “What would my eulogy say about me?”  It is a sobering thought.  And on a typical day lived in my world, I don’t really want to hear the words of my eulogy because it would probably say something like this, “Thank goodness that’s over with!”   Thank the Lord for grace, as most days I need it in double-measure.

Day is coming to a close, and my baby sleeps soundly.  And I am grateful for this day, even for the ways in which it has wearied me and stretched my brain.  For out of sorrow we grow.  Our lives will never be the same lives we lived before we came through the fire.  Through the pain.  No, they will not be the same, they will be better.  For we are always growing in knowledge and coming to find wisdom and understanding in each of the baby steps we take on life’s path.

For today’s baby steps, I am grateful.

Joy is Precious…

I have corralled my screaming child in the church bathroom.  We are finishing up a weekend of family camp, and not only is camp done, but so am I.  And then some.  I now prepare for inevitable misery that is the stage we call “packing up and heading for home.”  Everyone loves to see a party end. And so it is, I must also round up the clan, gather up all their dirty odds and ends and then clean my otherwise unrecognizable children’s dirt-encrusted bodies before we start the unravelling of the rest of the afternoon.

Let the good times roll.

So here we are, at the sink, screaming and cleansing.  A purification ritual of sorts.  The immediate purpose of our visit to the restroom is to clean sticky little hands and feet.  The greater purpose for me is to stall for time, cleaning feet here rather than trying to round them all up at home where the mood will be even more dismal.  Littlest One screams another ear-piercing trill that echoes thunder through my head.  I don’t realize this yet, but this screaming will continue long and hard as we prepare to drive for home, and will relentless follow me into the van and on down the road as I drive to our house in Mill River East.  More tears, more pleas.  I think an extra-strength Tylenol is in my not-so-distant future.

I ask my child where her shoes are.  Of course, she does not know.

The screaming abates for a moment as I try to figure out what could possibly be so wrong that she must need lose her right lung and both my ears for it. She spits out her answer, the rage evident in every word.  She is upset because…wait for it, she wants a balloon tree.  A bunch of balloons on a stick, people.  I scrub the brown bottoms of little feet while I try to talk some reason into her.  To no avail.  Thankfully, my friend comes to the rescue with the diversion of a funny story, and thereafter produces one small smile and in due time, the missing shoes.  The lost are found, thankfully.  But there is still the minor issue of the balloon tree.

I leave the bathroom, still screaming child in tow, and I meet up with a second friend.  She is talking to another, but as soon as I approach, she stops chatting and turns to me.  And this is what she says:

“These times are precious.  Some day you will look back on this and you will remember that this was a precious moment.”

I am still inwardly fuming from the exchange in the bathroom, the struggle and the meltdown.  I am in no mood or state of mind to concur that yes indeed, this is pretty precious.  Exasperating? Yes.  Infuriating? Sure.  Precious?  I think not.

But I cannot help but consider these sentiments given to me in a gesture of goodwill.  It was meant for good, and that is how I will take it.  But I will agree to disagree.

As the afternoon rolls on, and the predicted unravelling of emotions, patience and kindnesses indeed occurs, I am reminded again of her warning to me.  To consider even this to be precious.  Even this?  This undoing of my mind even as I listen to the four in the backseat of our van laying into one another?  Even this?  The teasing of one at the expense of another?  That too?  The whining?  The crying?  The boredom?  The general malaise?

But yes, even this.  For there must be some good found in even the worst of moments.  After all, it can be the best of times while also being the worst of times.  And I am determined to not let it unravel me any further.

What is precious?  That which is rare and lovely and sought after.  I do not see these frequent blow-outs as coming anything close to rare.  Nor is a meltdown even half-ways lovely.  And I am certainly not seeking ardently for an afternoon spent in misery.  But precious can also mean fleeting.  And this is true.  These moments of childhood, these rites of passage are momentary.  They are fleeting, and in and of themselves, they are strangely precious in their own little ways.

I hold Little One close tonight, drawing her into a mother’s breast, snuggled under arms of love.  Arms that cradle and hold, soothe and protect.  And she leans in to me as I read a bedtime story.  And I know the wild preciousness of it all.

On wonder…

Herein is the essence of wonder.  I have just spent the last hour and a half reading a philosophy book entitled Recapturing Wonder, on the topic of renewing a disillusioned spirit and finding wonder and enchantment in the reality of day-to-day life.  It is a good read.  Refreshing.  After my retreat from reality, as I took my book and secluded myself at the log cabin down by the river (so as to secure a slice of peace and quiet), I drove back home to the zoo.  And when I drove in the driveway, I found my youngest playing with a long piece of rope, one end tied to the branch of a chestnut tree while the other she pulled taunt toward the ground.  I never even asked her what she was doing, for I had no sooner come around the side of the van when she hollered to me, “Mom, can you tell me how to do this?  I am trying to make myself a monkey bar!!”  Ah, but of course!   Whom other than a child would think of doing this.  For children have in their possession that rare and special quality, spawned from an active imagination, that is the beauty of childlike wonder.

Would that I could capture that sense of wonder and bottle a bit for myself.  But unlike a child, I would probably hoard it, placing it high on a shelf for safe keeping.  Wonder is meant to be spent, generously poured out in abandon.

Life is filled with wondrous moments, within reach and available for the pleasure and enjoyment of those willing to take risks and to those who avail themselves to life lived in the moment.  We are wise who spend all we have on what is rare and precious, knowing that while the cost is great so too is the reward.  Life is also about cost-analysis.  Is it really worth it?  And at what price would I be willing to pay?

We played at a new beach on the Island’s western shore today.  My husband loves new, undiscovered back-roads beach sites.  So as we turned right to drive down the dusty lane that is the access road to Donahue Beach, he leaned toward me and said he thought this was going to be a nice beach.  When we pulled in to park our van, and witnessed the splendour of the waves pounding the shore, he added, “See, I told you it would be a nice beach!”

Indeed it was.

The waves crashed in endless succession, foam tips dissolving into a continuous torrent of energy.  It is alluring, that force and display of power.  The children wasted no time running full tilt into the water and had a glorious time jumping headlong into the waves.  One after another, they gave themselves over to the natural thrill unmatched by any manmade attraction at a theme park or fairground.  It was pure joy for them, and quiet joy for me.  Joy can be gained through secondary measures, as I have had experience.

While older ones got their thrills from the waves, little ones played on the shore.  Building castles from red gritty sand, moistened by salt water that inched ever closer to their creations.  And mothers and fathers watched attentively, while safeguarding the perishables necessary for sustainment throughout the afternoon.  Heavenly.

I snapped picture after picture until my camera card would hold no more.  And yet, was unable to do justice to the beauty and majesty of it all.  The sheer glorious wonder of the vast ocean’s length and breadth. The power exuded in even one wave pounding the shore.  Sand, water and sky painted on an endless canvas.  Evidence of Intelligent design.    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And the essence of that beauty is contained in the soul.  How can my soul not but sing? My soul, my soul must sing.

For beauty and pleasure and wonder and awe are rare and exquisite gifts.  And through my enjoyment of these, wonder has been renewed.

On perspective…

I peek in the room, and she is propped up on pillows, reading by lamplight left on from the evening before.  I come in, bend low to her head and kiss her.  It is 7:00 a.m.  We have a busy day ahead.  I have two presentations before lunch, and my mind is on this.  I mentally prepare while multi-tasking, as I do for most things in my life these days.  Life rushes, as if on continual fast-forward play.

Later my husband and I drive the forty-five minute commute to work.  I know the children are in good hands, hardly giving a backward glance to life back at Grammie’s house, where breakfast is probably in full swing by now.

The morning passes, and my presentations are a carried out successfully.  I spend the afternoon in sessions.  At 2:45 p.m., I meet my husband in the parking lot.  We have ten minutes to make it to the designated pick-up spot where we will meet up with my Mom and Dad and our four children.  We pull out from the parking lot, and faintly in the distance, on the road directly behind us, I hear an ambulance siren.  “Should we pull over now?” I ask. The wail gets louder.  In one minute, it is upon us.

We pull over to let the emergency vehicle go by, and then drive on.  Oblivious.  Ignorant of what is to come.  It is a strange state of reality, of which I have since given over a great deal of thought.  In essence, that state of being is one in which life is changing, usually for the worse, even whilst the person is completely, blissfully unaware.  I still find it hard to believe that the ambulance emergency technicians knew first, and crossed our path, even while we were still unaware.

We come to a stop sign, and my cell phone is ringing.  I can’t find it.  It continues to ring, and I locate it at the bottom of my purse.  It is my father.  He is saying words that do not make sense.  Things that do not happen.    Like, our van has been in an accident.  With our four children on board.  

WITH OUR FOUR CHILDREN ON BOARD?

I hear him say the words, but I am now thinking about the ambulance that just screamed passed, connecting the dots.  My husband is driving, but his eyes are on me.  He is forcefully demanding I tell him what is going on.  I am not feeling anything right now, because this is a dream.

It is a dream, right?

We hang up the phone and drive.  Blindly.  Furiously.  As if our lives depend on it.  I see the ambulance speed by again, this time it goes through an intersection that we are now approaching in our own car.  I am starting to come out of my reverie.  This same ambulance just passed us moments ago. I am dumb-founded.   It all feels surreal.

We come upon a traffic jam, and suddenly this is all too real.  There are flashing lights and police cars.  The ambulance has arrived.  We cannot get to the scene fast enough.  Husband drives on the shoulder of the road until we find a dirt path by which we can cut across all this pile-up of cars.  We are now driving across a potato field.  We come to a quick stop, and I open the door.  It occurs to me I am wearing 2 inch heels.  I am sprinting through a ditch full of ragweed and vines, and I run as if my life depends on it.

And there they sit.   Our van, loaded with precious cargo, jack-knifed in the middle of the road, the front end crumpled and bent.  My mother, crying over the steering wheel.  My father still dazed, talking to a kindly gentleman on the right.  My daughters, whimpering in the back.  My son, tears in his eyes.  My youngest, just waking up with the impact of the collision, unharmed and seemingly, unfazed.  I plow into the van.  I cannot touch them all fast enough.  I cradle their heads, and I move in a frenzy between the two sitting in the front, back again to the two sitting in the rear.  And as they cry, I hold them.  Life, a fragile thread that joins the present with the past and future.  Questions of what could have been, replaced by truth of what is not.   But for the grace of God.

And suddenly life’s little petty problems just don’t seem so important anymore.

For it is perspective that grounds us.  It might not be everything there is to living, because that is to deny ourselves weakness and opportunities to build character, but perspective is that which gives us the truth about ourselves and our situation and then enables us to move forward with a better mindset.

Many months later, after having had a frustrating day- (and I do mean an all-out, ‘throw-in-the-towel’ kind of rough day, complete with two and a half hours of dental drilling, crazy schedules and then at the end of the night, me becoming “that” cranky mother that I loathe due to a few other unfortunate mishaps)- I was reminded again that life is not only about perspectives, it is also about alternatives.  I can embrace the life I live, or I can choose to not do so as well.  Alternatives are presented to me all the time.  I do have a choice to embrace life in all its murky, glorious beauty, or shut off and pull away.

And I am reminded again of those moments, not so very long ago, when my perspective changed, and I chose to embrace.

On being forgiven (or subtitled: ‘Second chances’)…

I am ashamed to say it.  I became “that” mother today.  That mother that yells at her children, that puts the house ahead of her child, that cares more about shoes than her crying preschooler- and that finally strips her child down to her birthday suit on the front door step and carries her screaming to the waiting shower (that looming cavern of fear for most preschoolers I have encountered).  That mom who then slams shower doors and later on leaves the house in her husband’s care, all while muttering under her breath that “she is going to lose her mind” as she runs toward the doorstep.  Yup.   That was sadly me today.  I became that mother I despise- the one that is a basket-case and has one precious nerve left.   Of which, it just so happens that last nerve just got stepped on.  And so now she has none.

That woman, dear reader, is me.  I am sadly “that” mother.

I am standing beside the downstairs bathroom sink, watching a cleaning bucket fill up with sudsy soap bubbles.   The bucket has been prepared for the express purpose of keeping my floors free of the muddy river clay stuck to the bottom of my son and husband’s feet, by which they will wash off their feet in the warm water and then dry off with a towel.  The boys are just getting in from a boat ride up river, and have now towed the vehicle out of the water and into our driveway for safekeeping overnight.  Boating adventures are over for another day.  The pending rain has so far been kept at bay, but the sky looks ominous.  We had planned to go for an evening boat ride to cool off, but perhaps the rain will take the humidity away for us instead.  Here’s hoping…

As I watch the water rising in my red utility bucket, my youngest daughter slips into the house and calls me from the doorway. “I have to use the washroom,” she states matter-of-factly.  I hear no urgency in her voice, so I allow myself the second or two that it takes me to turn around and walk from the bathroom to the entryway where she stands.  As I walk out of the washroom and toward her, I see between us the six or seven bags of groceries I still have not put away, along with the four pairs of soccer cleats, the various shin pads, jerseys and soccer shorts lying helter skelter everywhere, and I silently remind myself that this room is next on the list for a complete end-of-the-day overhaul.

In that ten second interlude in which I walk from the bathroom to my daughter, she has decided she cannot hold it for one second longer, and when I reach her, she is peeing on the shoes.

All.over.everything.

All over her soccer cleats, my son’s Adidas sneakers that he bought with his own money in North Carolina (won’t he be impressed), and over top the various sandals and shoes that happen to be strewn everywhere.  I feel like things are moving in slow motion, and I yell at her to ‘stooopppp’ all while making a gigantic lunge toward her small frame.  She is in no condition to stop the process that is already underway, so instead I scoop her up, all while insisting that she stop in the name of time this poor decision to pee anywhere other than the toilet (or in dire situations, outside under the tree…which is what she should have done, come to think of it), and then we two proceed out the front door.

She is crying at this point, but I am in no mood to simmer down. I keep up the tirade.  I am merciless.  I strip her down to her birthday suit, carry her back into the house, over top the puddle that has formed on my entryway floor and on into the bathroom, where I shove her into the shower and turn on the water, full blast.

I move away from the scene to collect myself.  I am still fuming.  Not only has this little inconvenience added another job to my ever-growing list, but there is the small matter of my daughter to deal with.  And she is currently screaming at me from the shower.

“Mommy, mommy, mommy?” she yells out.   I assure her I am right here in the room next to her, but she is not appeased by the sound of my voice.  I start to sift through the various grocery bags with melting ice cream and other perishables within, and as I am trotting downstairs to the freezer, I hear my daughter calling me again.  She is no longer in the shower but running naked and dripping wet through the entryway looking for me.

I think I am about to lose my mind.

I am “that” mother, at this point.  It is not pretty, nor am I proud of my decision.  In fact, I will wear my shame like a trophy all evening and into the night, when I confess my sins to my husband and later still, to God.  And the next morning, I will try to make up for my grievances by cooking a big breakfast for everyone, complete with bacon and eggs,  which I will bravely endure even though I hate the smell of bacon in my hair for the rest of the day.   And as I calmly sip my coffee and survey the peaceful faces of my family, this is what my precious daughter will say:  “That’s funny!  Last night was the worst night ever and this morning is the best day ever,” as she happily eats her scrambled eggs on toast.  She will beam at me, and I will be unable to help but say thank-you to God for inventing forgiveness.  For Father, I have sinned and been forgiven all in one short stroke of life’s paint brush.  And for that I am grateful, oh so grateful.

And my daughter, the clearest example I have of how sweet forgiveness really can be, is the one I have to thank for that.