so, some of it got paid forward today

Today…. well, a bit overwhelming in bits and pieces.

On the way to Aberdeen along with my mom she let me stop by the brand spankin’ new business of a local blogger, Etsyan, and young mother for a mystery package. After touring their office (the pride in their hard work really shone through) I accepted a gift package and well-wishes for the family. When I got in the van I found in the packet coloring books, crayons, and other little bits for my children as well as a Visa gift card with the following message:

“Sometimes things can be tight – regardless there’s always someone looking out for you! Go buy some cheese for those pizzas! [heart] & hugs – [signed] Amazing Family

I sat there a minute and swallowed hard while my mom asked me what my brief visit was all about. It’s hard for me at times because I work so hard to make sure my writing here is never a specific communication to anyone or a plea for any kind of help or consideration (as my friend Cyn says, “can I tell you how I feel without you feeling like you need to solve me”). I always want the freedom to write what I want to write even if that might make others uncomfortable (or maybe, on the other hand, colossally bored, whatever). On the other hand, all the rest of you reading this, you are nowhere near as cool as this woman for how kind she was to me today.

I kid, I kid. No really. I am totally kidding. And yes, I am going to buy us some excellent cheese.

Three minutes after this visit I set my bag of goodies on the floor of the van, get out, and hoist Nels into the parking lot for our all-too-familiar trip to my father’s biweekly poisoning session. When we arrive in the new chemo ward (fancy!) I realize I know three of the seven patients there. My own father and two fathers of friends I grew up with. You know, I never get angry at Cancer. But today I was really struck by seeing these men and I felt like there was some cruel joke being played on all of us. Why are these men being stricken, weakened, and yes, taken from us while they still have so much to offer?

The second part of my day I am on foot with my two children through the rain and wind. This is because I had no gas in the van and had piggybacked on my mom’s errands (hanging posters for our theatre’s upcoming showing of Mary Poppins among other things) so when she suddenly found herself caught short she dumped us in West-ass Hoquiam to take her meeting. Luckily my children are seasoned winter travelers.

“You really need to learn how to play that game,” I tell my son as we walk. Nels has this remedial, caveman-like concept of Paper Rock Scissors, the game I’ve adopted to help the kids choose who gets to ring the bell on the bus, or pick the ice cream flavor to split with one another. He thinks Rock should beat everything else (I swear, this makes sense to me). Depending on Sophie’s mood she will either take advantage of this to win, or deliberately Scissors so he gets the prize. When she wins, and we don’t do a rematch, he howls with anger.

Spending so much time on foot, bus, and bike (I have $134 left to pay off my new bike’s layaway… I am just so excited for it!) is a real blessing. I experience my children, my community, and my world so much more viscerally. Things slow down. I am grateful for my alpaca mittens and I think ahead about packing snacks in my pockets for the kids. I rarely see anyone out with their kids in this town. I see dads walking fast with a kid in a stroller, smoking. That’s about it. Everyone else is in cars.

"just like me… empty inside"

Tonight I walked the kids to my mom’s to have dinner. She was in a muddle of what her current state often is: stress / drinking to relax or relieve stress / over-giving / enjoying herself. The part that was enjoying herself was the part that invited us for dinner, made a lovely stew, and had rented some family movies. The part that was over-giving was the part that tried to make the stew “perfect” for us then (and this was the part that was stressed and used drink to manage it so inhibitions were dropped but not the underlying stress) used an angry tone on my children for preferring their cornbread and eating it first. My dad took some special medicine and seemed to be feeling better than he had over the last few days (something tipped this week and he has now become someone “dying”, no longer someone coping with illness. I’d like to feel differently on that one if I could) but this meant he retreated for our viewing of Harry Potter and I didn’t get to see him much. It was a nice dinner and I really did enormously appreciate the night out and the homecooked meal. But I can’t get away from the the strain and bad feelings that my life’s dinnerplate seems to hold when I look down at what I’m eating.

I’m getting that really paranoid, really perfectionist sense of angst. If anything goes wrong I am a wreck (internal, so as not to inconvenience anyone). Sometimes I get a vision of who I might be when age and senility set in. And it feels small, like tiny wheels turning in my head, mucked up and in semi-darkness and doubt, unsure of myself unless someone tells me they love me or not just that they love me, but they promise not to be mean to me. Today I missed two appointments I had. One I was able to recover OK; the other I just completely missed. This is rare for me. And when I screw up like that on a commitment I make to others, or something I told myself I’d do, or whatever, I really just hate myself and it eats away at me for an indeterminate amount of time.

I don’t think but two or three people close to me realize what a perfectionist I am. I laugh at the term “perfectionist” a bit because no one who knows me would think my life looked perfect. Yet that drive, that insatiable unsettledness, has a strong a grip on every aspect of my waking hours. I hold myself to ridiculous standards and then feel bad, like pit-of-the-stomach bad, when I inevitably screw up. I have to have a clean house or if I don’t, a plan to get it clean. I can’t relax until housework is taken care of; then I’d better relax correctly. I hate myself if I have something to drink, or if my husband and I aren’t getting along for the evening, or if somehow during the day I was amiss in my parenting. I have to take care of my kids properly which means clothing and grooming and brushing and flossing and if they miss a night of this I have to demand my husband help but if he doesn’t do it I feel like a failure that we don’t provide this to them. I have to meet my commitments on the three volunteer leadership positions I’m in. If I don’t meet them I feel I can’t get over it or make amends to those I might have (usually only minorly) inconvenienced. No, for me if I mess up, it means people hate me and they have a right to hate me. It takes me a lot of internal thought and sometimes discussion with a friend (Ralph, my mom, or Cyn mostly) to “talk me down” from the ledge of I-Suck.

For a half year I wouldn’t allow myself to buy the family clothes but had to scrump, sew or thrift them. This was a fun and interesting project, sure – but it also became a burden at some point. I hold myself to the standard of preparing nutritious meals without taking culinary shortcuts. I feel bad if I buy anything “extravagant” or even buy anything without having it on a list first – or else I eschew cooking altogether and go out to eat (which, for some reason, feels like a tremendous ease on my daily cooking burdens). I choose to, for God’s sake, plan, write, edit, layout, and design for a zine which I then have to publish on our shoestring budget. I have to balance my marriage such that I support my husband and manage my own needs without asking for his emotional help when I’m fragile – which I am all the time these days, whether it’s apparent to others or not.

Some reading here may think these confessions mean I’m a miserable person all the time. That is precisely the problem; I’m not miserable, I love doing so many of these things. Every effort of mine is born of love and energy. I thrive on creativity, on learning now to do things well, on pushing myself just a little bit because it seems like I can. I do sometimes congratulate myself on the fact that I can “coast” as a housemom on some days and do well at providing for my loved ones. I love every single thing I write, or sew, or every meal I cook or the way my counter looks when I wipe it down. It is precisely the dual love-hate of the work vs. the drive to do the work right, every time, that makes for tricky terrain.

Perfectionism, as far as I can tell, has no easy cure. It isn’t a matter of, “Why don’t you do less?”* That question is like asking, “Why don’t you stop having the Kelly-brain?” or, “Have you thought about leaving your tits at home before you go out in the day?” It’s a non-sequitur. It doesn’t follow. My struggle with perfectionism could probably only be helped by – no offense to any reader who thought I was more hip in some way – prayer and discourse with God. My struggle with perfectionism was manageable in PT. It has become at least trebly difficult since moving here. I have my ideas of why this would be; for now it’s enough to recognize it’s happening.

One thing, the walk with the kids over to my parents’ was nice. I’d prepared us for the cold – coats, hats, gloves and good shoes – but the rain started falling intensely and there was nothing to save us from the wet of eight blocks. How to explain a Pacific Northwest winter rain? It is not violent at all but rather like a cold spell that covers us, the air filling with rain that is safe, nourishing, life-giving. You expect rain so you don’t begrudge it except a few weak moments, here and there, in the five solidly soaking months we get per year. You get home and strip off your clothes and put some in the dryer and towel your hair (we don’t generally use umbrellas here) and fix coffee and look outside at our beautiful weather. Tonight I watch my children on the walk. Sophie walks self-protectively. She puts her hat on firmly and zips her coat and steps carefully but purposefully. Nels just barges out into the elements, sure that he will be fine. I start to know he’s cold and wet when his hand creeps into mine and he falls silent. The children act as if they were born for this weather.

* If any well-meaning friend writes or says, “You should relax your housekeeping standards,” or “Why don’t you give up such-and-such?” I will deliver a cock-punch via Airmail.

for lack of two bits

Today I found myself at 11:15 leaving my daughter’s school (where I do volunteer work every Monday) and on my way to pick up Nels when: problem? I forgot bus fare. Luckily it was only very, very, freezing-nuts-off cold as opposed to the torrential rain that descended at 2:45 that day when – again, on foot – I needed to go pick up my daughter. At 11:15, realizing my error, I tied my hat earflaps down and walked super-fast to my parents’ house to ask for their van or 50 cents and the use of the phone. As I walked I thought about what it is like for families who really DON’T have a car or people who RELY on public transportation regularly. There is simply no room for, “Oh whoops, I forgot such-and-such,” or “Oops, running a little late!” when you’re catching a bus in order to get somewhere.

As of two yesterday our van battery is dead. Luckily nothing phases me when it comes to getting around; it’s a good life skill if you ask me. Today at 3:22 as I pulled the kids along to our bus stop (uncovered and right by a crosswalk; people slow down and glare at me, waiting for me to cross. I point and point to the sign we’re next to but no one registers it is indeed a bus stop. It’s weird.) my children asked me why we have to walk so fast in the pouring rain. I said, “OK. Let me tell you a story about what’s happening. When our car breaks down, we don’t have money to fix it right away. So we take the bus. You know some people don’t have cars at all. Some people have money to fix their cars right away,” and a bunch of other things. It was a good conversation. They really listened as we slogged through the wet. My three year old son valiantly hiked his coat up and kept a jog for four blocks. Yes, we made the bus. They are pros at it. Nels rang the bell when we got to the Y.

Despite being on foot, on bus, and bumming the use of my parents’ van once I still managed to arrange school for the kids, take homebaked cookies to Suse’s school, deliver a hat to a friend, and get the kids to the Y for my workout (very sluggish today) and the kids’ first night of Short Sports (tonight’s workshop: basketball skills). Arriving home at 7:30 and my body doesn’t yet know it’s time to rest (in fact, the dirty dishes and piles of laundry encourage my body to keep going). But it really is time to rest. And give the family the SNUGGLING OF THEIR LIFE! Does that sound threatening? Because it’s meant to.