Joy in letting it all ‘hang out’…

Bedtime rituals bring out my inner grizzly bear.  There are always impulsive exceptions to the rule introduced by the Fearless Foursome.  Exceptions that just about tilt my boat enough to sink it entirely.  Nothing ever goes exactly as per routine.  I roar for the majority of this most miserable of nightly moments, and then I am silent.  Because what good does it really do?  To roar and rage.   I am cranky, they are cranky; all are spent.  The two oldest have a near brawl over a money-making scheme that both have laid claim to patent the idea.  They want to open up a dog-walking venture here on the campground, and the business partners have been in start-up mode for all of one hour and are already at odds.  One has gone to bed fuming, the other crying.  Must it really be this wretched at bedtime or am I a glutton for punishment?

Prayers are forced tonight.  No one is really in the mood.

This was not really my day, this moment I am in right now.  I can adjust the gauge and turn back the dial.  Earlier, things were actually peaceful.  There was that moment.  That moment at the park, that moment of tranquility.  I go there.  That moment when I was transported back in time.

I am ten years old.  My feet pump beneath me as I stretch toward the tree line.  I try to beat each rhythmic swing of the pendulum created by my body’s weight.  Every time, I push my feet higher.  From my vantage point, my feet clear the evergreens off in the distance.  Ah!  I am just a little girl, no holds barred, ponytail swinging in the wind.  Every upward swing-return I make takes me back again to another place, another time.  To sweet, sweet childhood.  Simply free to enjoy all that life has to offer, its sweet, innocent goodness.

My girls and I play ‘Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown’ on the seesaw.  I am the dead weight on one end, while my two daughters take turns tottering up and down.  They laugh and giggle with joy.  “Come down the slide with us,” they call, but I have already made enough of a spectacle of myself.  Other campers more dignified, more refined than I, sit watching the crazy woman playing her heart out like a middle-schooler.  They poke sticks in their metal grates from which burn red-hot coals bursting flames.  They yawn with boredom and check their Facebook.  They call out to their children to stay clear of the road.  They look at me with detached amusement, for I am the anti-thesis of all this.  I am woman-child.

Joy.  Today, I follow my heart.  My heart tells me this.  Enjoy this moment.  And this moment.  And all the rest that follow.  For they are fleeting.  Forgive and forget.  Life is short.  Life is fragile.  Live, love, laugh.  Be all the clichés.  Don’t, but even for a moment, regret a thing.  Yesterday is what it is. Tonight might be a nightmare: stress-filled stomach-clencher of a nightly  moment, when all are locked up tight inside twenty-four feet of wall-to-wall mattress-filled confusion. What do I care? I need not fret about that.  And to be sure, tomorrow will take care of itself.  Even if there is that rain shower they have been predicting.  Bring it on.   I am what I am right now, and that is all that matters.  The present.  The here and now. The moment.

I let things ‘hang out’ today.   I never put a stitch of make-up on to cover up my imperfections.  I normally cannot see the light of day without my cover-up.  I hide behind my mask. And most days, I hide behind my clothing.  And so. Today I did not. I spent the entire day in my two-piece bathing suit.  I bared my arms and legs, those white extensions befitting of a stick figure.  Or rather.  Those pillars of strength that propel me to motion covered in varicose veins, bruises, marks, blemishes and a swath of deathly white skin.  White skin, splotched with red patches, now that I have tried my hand at sunbathing the last day or two.  But these are hard-earned battle scars.  The result of birthing four babies.  I wear the marks of motherhood proudly. Even if but for the day.

I did.   I let it all ‘hang out’ today.  I stood on the end of the diving board, looking down at my bathing suit, containing the slight protrusion of my belly in its bottom half with a good, solid piece of elastic; this two-piece wonder of a garment I am wearing has given me no promises to hold things together if I take the plunge.  I vowed to myself that I would do the necessary checks before emerging in plain view of all those other onlookers.  None of them, needing the shock of a lifetime.  I stood.  Inhaled.  Exhaled.  Had not a second thought.  A slight jump, then I soared.  Like a dove, in my mind’s eye.  Probably more like a spread-eagle bullfrog, to all those looking on.  No matter.  It felt great.  To let it all ‘hang out’.  I’d do it all again right now, just for the thrill.

I talked to strangers at the dog park.  I wanted to leave and carry on with my plans for the afternoon, we did have company coming for supper, but instead: I allowed myself the moments necessary to meet someone new, hear their story and learn a little more what it is to be human.  It is so freeing.  To let go of my plans, and embrace the freedom to be ‘in the moment’.

I put a full pot of coffee on tonight and only had one cup.  Because it is better when you make the full pot.  I dug out the s’mores, the licorice, the chocolate bars.  We strung the patio lanterns.  I read a book that will never increase my brain cells, even one iota.  I had that extra chicken sandwich at supper, just because.  The second tasted even better than the first.  And tonight, I write for the pleasure of it.  Because to write for me is to understand.  And now I know.

I do this, and all that of which I write just because.  These are for me moments of freedom.  And I know that tomorrow will be that much easier because I let it all hang out today.

Joy in small moments…

I broke a fourth tooth in less than a year, all while eating a bagged lunch the other day.  A lunch that my husband had prepared for me, nonetheless.  I was eating alphabet pretzels when the tooth crumbled, in case you are wondering- creating a taste sensation of unparalleled proportions as it mixed in with all the other crunchy bits and pieces in the process of being swallowed down gulp at a time.  I had originally purchased the bagged snack/teaching tool for my students so as to make learning fun. FUN, I say.  Just like I was having now that my appetite had suddenly vanished.  Glad my little friends never had the joy of eating these tasty little morsels, as they are like crunching on driveway gravel. Particularly when mixed in with enamel.

I have been a bit of a cranky Mama bear lately.  And for good reason.  Turns out I have been grinding my teeth into gunpowder while trying to catch a few zzz’s in the process.  The dentist today remarked on the extreme power in my jaws which would have been flattering if he hadn’t had my mouth propped open with a two-by-four made out of a cotton ball and a piercing bright light shining on the gaping hole in there, further magnifying my chipped teeth and swollen gum line.

I look like a light-weight boxing competitor who has seen better days.  And indeed I have.  Seen better days, that is.

Life is all about perspective, right?  So with that in mind, I set out this evening to find a little piece of joy in nature so as to cast some illumination on an otherwise expensive ($2,200 worth of upcoming dental work), depressing (there goes the camper we were going to buy) and discouraging (I am wondering if false teeth are an option for a 38 year old mother of four) day.

I took a walk sans children, husband or friends.  I set out with a view in mind, that being the picturesque Mill River winding its way gracefully along the shores of red clay in Western Prince Edward Island.  It was for me, more of a pity party at first.  Poor me, why me, why now…yada yada.  Then, I began noticing a few things.  A  fuzzy caterpillar, and then another, crawling along the side of the road.  The elegant lupins, just beginning to emerge in hues of pink, fuschia and indigo.  A broken clothespin.  How did that arrive in my path?  The Queen’s Anne Lace, stooping to touch soft grass growing beneath.

And after a few more moments, I drew my gaze up and far down the path I was travelling, and the view of the water quite took my breath away.

The deep blue of the river, gently lapping the red sandstone. The road leading fishers to a point of entrance.  A boat floating tranquilly in shallow water.  The jagged rock underfoot.  Wooden staircases from cottage lots down to the shore.  A black dog, standing still and free in the river.  The sound of a lawnmower in the distance cutting blades of green summer lawns.  The smell of the water- pungent salt mixed with sweet algae. The beauty of the evening, soon fading to twilight.  This glorious evening of an almost-summer day.

And in the beauty of these moments, these brief interludes of time, in between reality past and reality future, I realized that I could be happy.  Right now.  I did not have to make a promise for fifteen minutes away, nor did I need to make compensations for the misery of hours ago while under the drill of my watchful dentist.  I could just commit to right now.  This was pure, unadulterated happiness.  To be alone in nature in blessed quietness. Does it get any better than this?

When we allow ourselves brief moments in which to feel joy, we find happiness is not so elusive.  And what makes us happy will in turn bring us joy in wave after wave of memory, as we return to that place of pleasure again and again in our minds.  Like those waves on a shore formed of red clay that I experienced tonight.  Our memory, that collective of sounds, sights, triggers and emotions that help to form for us reminiscences of those freeze-frame windows in time that we hope never to forget.  It is a gift.

We touch the face of joy, those of us who can live out our days as small moments rather than large time periods.  I can say I have had a bad day, but really I had a few bad moments.  Those moments will surely lead to more unpleasant moments in the days to come, as I seek to remedy these chipped and broken teeth.  But, there were moments in this day that were pure pleasure.  The moments right before bed when I cuddled with each of my children, one by one.  When I snuggled the youngest, read with the next in line- my middle child, when I kissed the warm forehead of my oldest daughter, and shared a laugh with my very oldest, my son.  Those moments are just as much a part of my day as were those horrific ones at the dentist’s office.  And so, I choose. JOY.

Again, and again and again.  I choose joy.  In the small moments.

Because that is not too much ask.  And I can commit to something small like a moment.

Joy is hard sometimes….

Sadly, our little puppy, Lucky, was hit and killed on the road this afternoon.  I never realized one could feel pain so deeply for a pet, but I have seen evidence of such tonight.  We are grieving, each in our own way.

It was a difficult day anyway.  I left the house earlier than usual this morning, shouting out orders to this one and that one as I ran out the door to the van.  I left instructions with my husband to put the dog in the shop so she would be out of the elements.  It has been a windy, rainy day. Even now as I write, the wind howls outside.  Blustery weather, to put it mildly.  Husband was busy finishing up morning errands, and we never finalized exactly what was to be done.  About the dog.  All I knew is that I did not want Lucky out in the rain.  So my final words were to my husband.

“Put that dog in the shop…she’s soaking wet!”

Little did we know at the time, she had managed to outrun her shock collar and get through the invisible wire fencing system we had introduced mere days ago.  And she did so when our son was on the way to the bus, unbeknownst to us.

Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve….

The last picture I have of her in my mind is from this morning.  I can picture her now digging a hole in the dirt where we just finished putting a new septic system in the ground.  She was as dirty as can be, happily digging there in that giant mud lot. She must have thought she hit the jackpot.

We waited until the very end of the day to tell the children.  Truthfully, there was no other time in between in which to even sit down and think.  What with swimming lesson for two hours, after school meetings with colleagues and another meeting with fellow congregants at my church.  And then, we were all off to a music awards ceremony in which our son was to receive recognition for perseverance.  We certainly did not want to bring anything up to him prior to his performance.

So, here we are.  It has been a rough night.

I am mindful that we have only lost a pet.  A cherished pet, but still, an animal.  However, death is death.  Grief is grief.  We feel it using the same senses, even if the sensations are more acute in some situations than in others. And because all life is precious, we will stop to take notice.  And grieve first and then remember.   Later on, we will find strength to understand that life is fleeting and we are only here but for a breath.  So make those breaths count.  Even stinky doggy breaths.  They count for a lot.  Especially to the people that love them.

My son has had the hardest time of all the children in accepting this loss.  To him, as to the rest, Lucky was a friend. A playmate.  A companion. Her presence will be missed.  She was funny, bright and loved.  She was silly and wild.  She was a true free spirit and she died doing what she loved doing best.

Fondly remembered, sadly missed, never forgotten. We’ll miss you, Lucky.

The joy of wet, smelly dogs…

It is a wet, cold rainy evening.  April showers to bring May flowers, if we are so blessed.  My husband sits in the entry way to our house with a wet dog at his feet that keeps passing gas and trying to escape the confines of her clearly defined boundaries.  I come downstairs after stories and prayers and I can smell her, our Mini-Australian Shepherd, in all her doggy glory.

Lucky spends her days in our backyard.  She has a lovely inside kennel in a building next to our house that has room for her to play, and at night she sleeps in our basement.  Through the winter, she was an inside dog, but now that spring has sprung, she has been stationed to her outdoor posting, only to come indoors at night.  The kids have told me several times that this is inhumane, but I tell them that God never created dogs with a doghouse attached.  I think dogs like being outside.  And apart from the one night this spring when Husband left the door open a crack and Lucky found her way upstairs to our bedrooms and Daughter’s slippers, she has not really been allowed to play inside.

Until tonight, that is.

Moments ago, the four children, my husband and I, corralled Lucky and plunked her in a blue Rubbermaid tote filled halfway up with warm water.  She looked to be in a daze.  It’s been a while since she saw clean water.  Husband poured water over her back while the tub quickly changed from clear liquid to brown, in short order.  I held her while Husband went to dump out the first round and then fill up the tub for a second.  In she went again.  This time she was not so stunned.  She wanted out.  We persisted, and she got the rinse and towel rub down.  Cleaner, she stood and shook while I cleared all hands on deck from the vicinity.

The children were enthralled.  Cameras were flashing everywhere, and one said she would be writing about this tomorrow in writer’s workshop.  Mommy is not so excited about the whole process as this means indoor dog watching this evening instead of a movie.  Ah…such is the price for the love of a dog.

When we love, we make sacrifices.  I do not love dogs, I’m not even always sure I like dogs, but I love my family.  Our kids wanted a dog for years.  I could not find any good reason to have a dog when I was still in the process of potty training one, shuttling another off to Kindergarten and running mid-week treks to extra-curricular activities for the other two.  Who has the time?  Precisely.  No one does.  But if you wait for the days when you have the time, your kids are already grown up and you are passed the point of no return.

So, we bought a dog.

As I picked her forty pound wet body up off the couch and placed her on the floor, I turned to my husband and said, “This shows you that I do have a heart.”  And if allowing a wet, smelly dog lounge around in your entryway doesn’t say I love you to the rest of the family, I don’t know what does.

Lucky does have a corner in my heart, albeit a small one.  She might grow on me in time.   I do enjoy taking her for walks and watching the children run with her across the lawn.  When I see her playing Frisbee with my husband and jogging along beside my youngest down a path through the woods, my heart swells with joy and love for the lot of them, and a little for her too.  I see the joy she brings them.  I cannot help but open my heart to allow room for the “like” of a dog.  We are not quite at the love stage yet, she and I.  But it’s a start.

Although rainy nights spent with a wet, smelly dog are a stretch for any self-proclaimed perfectionist and neat freak, I feel myself stretching beyond what is comfortable and easiest for me.  I want things just so.  Dogs don’t usually make allowances for neat freaks.  But they do stretch the hearts of curmudgeons.    I think my heartstrings need the exercise tonight, and so I said yes to the dog.