Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Heart My Job and Other Thanksgiving Thoughts

Once upon a time, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It didn't have any of the fuss and glitter and time pressure and commercialism of Christmas, or even Easter. You didn't have to dress up in costumes or shop or hide eggs--all you had to do was bask in the warm glow of your life, spending time with friends and family and acknowledging all that you'd been given.

But three years ago, something changed...or perhaps, many things changed at once. My husband moved out of state. My mother had heart surgery and my daughter and I went to stay with her temporarily and never went home; when eventually we moved into our own place again, it was miles from our true home and the lives we'd built there. Returning to the workforce full time put a terrible strain on my health and my daughter's security, and for three years, my life was about keeping us alive and very little else.

I traded in a great job where the commute was (literally) killing me for another job that was great in a different way and involved no commute, but often had me working 18 hour days.

And all along the way, there were things in my life to be grateful for. I KNEW that. I could see them. But I couldn't feel them. They all seemed to come with an "at least" or a trade-off. I was grateful that my mother survived her surgery (though she didn't seem to feel any better after it than she had before). I was grateful that I was able to support myself and my daughter far better than many single mothers can (but I'd been hospitalized over it twice, and the strain on my daughter was tremendous). I was grateful for the wonderful people in my life (but I didn't SEE them or spend time with them, because I was too busy with the bare elements of survival) and so on.

Most of the year, I gave these things little thought. I was simply too busy. And I knew that I was fortunate to have interesting work that used my background and paid the bills. But each year at Thanksgiving, I had a crisis when I realized that, however much I knew that objectively, I simply couldn't muster that feeling I'd once had of being truly blessed. My daughter would invite us, at Thanksgiving dinner, to say what we were thankful for, and my mind raced in search of something I could say honestly. I came to dread the event as one more fabricated ritual.

And then, just in time for Thanksgiving, my life changed again, in a way that shifts my perspective not only on today, but on all that has come in the past three years. It's often hard to see where you're going when you're in the process, but the pendulum seems to have settled now, and the purpose is clear.

So, for the first time since 2004, I am going into Thanksgiving able to sincerely say "I am so blessed", and know it with more than my mind.

I am thankful for the new/old job I just started, which will allow me to do something interesting and related to my background from home, without killing myself, and will leave me time to sleep, parent, socialize...maybe even write. And I'm thankful for the company I'm returning to (and the people who created it) even if/when I'm not working with them, because they restore my faith by being people first and building a family in the ever-growing office even as their revenues keep multiplying.

I am thankful for the friends who have insisted on staying in my life even though I was, for a very long time, too rushed and brittle to possibly be any fun or comfort to them. And to those who patiently waited a year or two or three to get together.

I am thankful for the fact that my beautiful daughter, at nearly 13, has transformed from the warm ball of hugs and love that most tiny children are to one that is entirely unique to her--but with no diminishment of warmth or affection.

I am thankful that my family is so close by, and involved in our lives on a daily basis. I wish that everyone had this, even though I suspect that many people would tell me they were quite glad that they did not.

But mostly, I think, I'm thankful that I seem to still be inside myself somewhere--that as the pressure and the frantic pace and the desperation fall away, I am (and not nearly so gradually as I might have expected) discovering a person I used to be.

Friday, November 21, 2008

See, I Have This Friend...

No, really. When you hear the story, you'll know for sure there really is a friend...because what I'm worried about could NEVER happen to me.

I think my friend is in danger of inadvertantly composting her home and family.

My concerns started small. The daily trips to Starbucks to pick up coffee grounds set off a little alarm bell, but it was still entertaining at that stage--especially when she got stopped at a DUI roadblock and was very surprised that the cop on duty didn't want to talk about composting.

Then she went off to meet a stranger she'd met online because he offered her some free manure. The only comforting thing about that was that I figured a serial killer would use something more universally appealing as bait, and so this guy probably really did just want to unload a truck full of horse shit. He did. She was delighted.

But, okay. I mean, to each his own, right? I don't garden, and so maybe I just didn't understand the importance of this stuff.

But I started to see strange shifts in the way she perceived the outside world. For instance, one day she was reading my friend Barb's blog, and she sent me a link to a picture of Barb's garbage can. (So, see, I have some nice, normal friends, too. I mean, comparatively speaking. Photographing your garbage and posting the pictures online is way more normal than seeking out horse manure, right? RIGHT?)

Anyway, my friend was very concerned about this photograph--so concerned that she thought sure I'd see the problem right away, too. The problem, apparently, was that the garbage can contained tomato peels that COULD HAVE BEEN COMPOSTED. I ventured that I'd wondered whether it was the failure to recycle the paper that had troubled her, but oh, no. I'm a step behind, it seems. Paper, too, can (and apparently should...nay, MUST) be composted.

And then, she got worm poop for her birthday (and it wasn't a gag). She liked it.

I was on the fence. I don't like to judge, but it seemed that maybe an intervention was in order. Still, I kept reminding myself that I wasn't a gardener and maybe there was something to all this that I wasn't getting. After all, not long ago a blind couple in New Jersey risked prison in order to compost.

But today...today the scales tipped.

She told me she had something wonderful to tell me and something funny to tell me.

I got confused early in the story and thought the wonderful thing was the funny thing, because the wonderful thing had multiple parts and they were all about fertilizer.

The first part was that the city had agreed to deliver as many dead leaves as she could handle.

The second was that Starbuck's had agreed to save their coffee grounds for her, eliminating the need to race the other mad composter in the area for their discards each day.

The last one was about manure. Enough said.

And then (because, of course, I had a completely straight face at this point), on to the funny thing. The story started like this: "I saw some leaves I wanted sitting by a curb down the street..."

Since I'm outside my area of expertise, I could use some help from you gardeners out there. Is there a 12-step program for this? 'Cause I'm starting to have images of this giant mound of leaves and manure just enveloping the house and everyone in it, gradually decomposing the structure and the furniture and at least one really cute kid into high-grade fertilizer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

So, I Bought a New Ironing Board...

Like most of the things I post on this blog, this shouldn't be big news. In the life of a normal person, it probably wouldn't even bear mentioning. But here's the thing: I haven't had an ironing board I could use since June. (Don't worry too much--remember that I work from home and that I certainly haven't had any time for socializing in the past several months. You don't really have to iron your clothes to drive your kid to school.)

Back in June, you may recall, the universe sent me some raw sewage for my birthday. My ironing board was in the closet where the sewage came up, and obviously needed to be disinfected before I used it again. But I've been busy and I haven't needed to iron and frankly, I really didn't want to handle it all that much (because even though it LOOKS perfectly clean, I know there are secret, invisible sewage germs crawling all over it), so it stood there for...well...okay...five months.

Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that ironing boards come cheap and I could just toss this one and get a new one without sewage on it. This seemed like a good idea because, in addition to having had no time for things like scrubbing ironing boards, I'm a TINY bit OCD, and I knew that no matter how thoroughly I cleaned the ironing board, I'd always FEEL like it had secret, invisible sewage germs crawling on it--germs which would somehow manage to transfer to my clothing and even multiply there with no diminishment of the germs remaining on the board.

Yep, definitely seemed like it was worth twenty bucks to avoid all that.

So yesterday, I bought a new ironing board. The timing wasn't an accident--I have to dress nicely today, so it was either clean the old one or buy a new one. I cheerfully bought a new ironing board (which turned out to be only $12--what a bargain!) and brought it home. It's a "T-Leg Ironing Board", presumably so named because its legs form an "X".

And then I gleefully carted that old ironing board out the back door to the garbage...and hesitated. Because, you see, it's a perfectly good ironing board, and someone might come along and pick it up and take it home. And it looks all gleaming white and spotless--you'd never suspect that it was teeming with secret, invisible sewage germs...it suddenly occurred to me that they might transfer to someone else's clothing.

I tried to reason with myself. I mean, if someone is the type to pull an ironing board out of someone else's garbage and use it without sanitizing it, chances are my sewage germs are the least of his worries, right? And anyway, anyone who would pick up something like that WOULD clean it, right? Even if it looked clean? RIGHT?

But the thing is, we have people around here who pick up items and take them to the second-hand store. Granted, my ironing board probably isn't worth much (after all, you can get a brand new one for $12), but it's perfectly good (except for the sewage germs) and it could happen. And if someone picked up an ironing board at a resale shop, then she might NOT think she had to sanitize it. She might think the store had done that. But maybe they wouldn't have. The image of secret, invisible sewage germs transferring to some stranger's clothing--some stranger's CHILD's clothing--was just too much for me. After buying a new ironing board so that I could throw this one away instead of sanitizing it, I...

brought it back in and sanitized it so that I could throw it away.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Loveliest Thing

This morning, in the parking lot at Carson Pirie Scott, my daughter reached out and took my hand. That's enough of a blessing--she's going to be thirteen in February and I'm well aware of how fortunate I am to still be allowed to hug and kiss her in front of her friends and that sort of thing. But this moment was especially poignant for me because it brought back a clear memory of walking up those same steps with my daughter more than nine years ago, the summer she was three.

That day, I took her hand because she was three, and we were walking into a busy department store. Newly asserting various independences, she asked, "Why do you have to hold my hand?"

"Because I love to hold your hand," I told her, "so I'm going to do it as much as I can while you're little enough to let me." And she said, "Mommy, you can always hold my hand."

My mother, walking on her other side, laughed and said, "Remind her of that when she's twelve." I agreed, simultaneously smiling at the sweet innocence of a child young enough to think she'd never outgrow holding hands with her mommy and aching with the knowledge that she was wrong.

And she almost certainly was. But somehow, miraculously, that day hasn't come yet.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm Up...and I'm Pretty Unhappy About It

For months, I've been working more or less around the clock, sometimes staying up all night, other nights sleeping from roughly midnight to 3:30 and then getting up and starting work again. Naturally, I've been exhausted, and a couple of weeks ago when I gave notice at my 100-hour/week job and started planning for something more civilized, I started sleeping eight hours most nights.

At first, I wasn't all that surprised that eight hours didn't seem like enough, and that I still had to drag myself out of bed in the morning. After all, I had a lot of catching up to do. By day ten or so, I was getting suspicious, but hey...the weather is changing. It's allergy season, right? Could be any number of things.

Like mono, for instance.

Yep, that's right. At 42, I've got mono...AGAIN. Which means, of course, that I have to limit physical activity and sleep a lot. I don't mind sleeping a lot--I'm generally quite good at that and I love to sleep. But...hello? I've been waiting SIX MONTHS to have time to clean my house. And I just finished a project that left more than four thousand pages of work sorted on my living room floor and my couches. I can't, for instance, lie down and watch a movie--there's only one free cushion on my couch. And I can't do it in my bedroom, because the new television I got for my birthday (in JUNE) is still in the box. My house is just not conducive to resting and recovering at this point--and I apparently can't do anything about it.

Which would, you know, be manageable if I were SLEEPING. But I woke up at 7:30 this morning, and that was it. And it's been like that almost every day. I'm TIRED, sure, but I can't sleep for more than 6 or 7 hours. It's like my body has forgotten how. And I can't do anything else, either. This is not what I had in mind when I decided to cut back. This isn't even a sensible way to go about being sick. I'm thinking about hiring Merry Maids or some such operation to come in and clear these papers out of my living room so I can use my furniture while I recuperate.