Thursday, March 25, 2010

"You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the Facts of Life..."

First the turtle died. A week later, after much speculation that it was on the down and out, the beta fish died. Jake, who lived the fish life in the kids' room, was belly-up last Saturday.

I hesitated telling the kids. After Sean's acute grief over the loss of the turtle, I felt badly that it would be compounded by the death of his fish. Nevermind that I'm the one who fed it every day, or that no one besides me ever really talked to the little critter. But still, Sean was going to be sad. And a very big part of me wanted to protect him from that.

The boys were with their father Saturday morning, so Ian and I left Jake to float in his bowl for a bit while we went out for our first anniverary (which was Sunday). We enjoyed a nice late breakfast at the Stony Creek Market, hung out by the water surrounded by Creekers and others who came out to enjoy the day, watching birds and kayakers--and a photographer taking pictures of a large wedding party on the beach. It was lovely. A perfect couple of hours in the sunshine.

We had intended to hit the pet store on our way home to buy a replacement beta, but instead we were happily delayed when we ran into old coworkers of mine from my days at the magazine. Mark and Sabrina, who met and married while working at the magazine, had driven down to Stony Creek to enjoy the sun and clanging sailboat masts like the rest of us. It was such a great surprise to see them and introduce them to Ian. After forty minutes or more of chit-chat, we finally hit the road, choosing to take the long way home through Pine Orchard and Indian Neck, rather hop on the highway. We skipped the pet store. "I can't protect the boys from sad things," I said to Ian. "It's not healthy."

I should know. I'm currently at a weird place in my head. It's a good place, for sure, but it's weird to me because it's new. I'm finally, after five years of therapy and a whole lot of life changes, willing to admit and work on the fact that I have a hard time letting myself feel any emotion beside happiness.

What this means is that I will allow myself only a few minutes of feeling uncomfortable--sad, angry, fearful, whatever--and then I say to myself, "Well, I felt it but I don't have to stay there." And then I distract myself, with crafts or shopping or reading or writing or socializing or cleaning... But here's the thing: That unprocessed emotion always comes back to haunt me, because when the next unsettling thing happens in life that causes me to feel "uncomfortable" in one or another, those feelings are compounded by the ones I never dealt with the previous go-around.

In short, this is why I have a tendency to panic.

That unsettled energy has to go somewhere, and in my case, those unhappy feelings make me so uncomfortable and make me feel so out of control, that I panic I will lose control. And thus, a nasty panic cycle is born until I break myself out of it. Sometimes it takes a few days. Sometimes it takes a few weeks. Sometimes it can be on and off for, well, a couple of years.

I'm not going to get into the psychoanalysis of why I don't like to feel unhappy. That's for my shrink to know and me to keep figuring out. But I can say that I have been working hard lately to just let myself feel things, and yet not give into the fear that it is the end of the world--or even the end of me--when doing so.

So now I sit with fear, sadness, anger, etc. I am learning to own it until it passes through me--not around me. All feelings, even joy, are temporary. I am learning to let myself feel sad when things upset me, fearful when thoughts or situations frighten me, angry when something frustrates me. And if I really let myself feel what I need to feel, I will undoubtedly feel super-uncomfortable for a while. But then, it goes. And I'm okay. And I realize that dark feelings do not mean I am a monster and will lose control. Nor do they equate depression. They are simply part of the scope of being human. combine all of this with the fact that for Lent I've given up shopping for anything that is not a necessity, and you've got an edgy little Moira with a whole lot of emotion just brewing inside of her and no Home Goods or Kohl's to run to in order to charge it out of her system. What's more, I've kicked coffee again, going back to my usual one cup of PG Tips tea in the morning. And since I've really not been drinking at all since Christmas, I'm basically going cold-turkey as far as crutches go. It's me, my emotions, and my trust that I'll be fine even if I feel unhappy. This is a huge leap of faith for me, even after five years of therapy and 12 years of yoga. This is big.

I guess I was finally ready to just deal with my own human-ness. And, quite honestly, I'm in the kind of relationship with Ian that provides a super-safe place for that to happen. What a gift.

But back to the fish.

Later that Saturday afternoon, as Ian cleaned the gutters and I vainly attempted to scatter grass seed in hopes of a lawn this summer, the boys came home from a night at their father's. They were looking forward to a birthday party at our neighbors' followed by a Pizza/Bingo party for the kids of our parish. In the midst of all the hub-bub, I informed the kids that Jake had gone on to a great big pond in the sky.

Sean's eyes brimmed with tears, but then he laughed and said, "Everyone is dying around here these days!"

For a second I worried that maybe he, too, was going to grow up learning to stifle unhappy emotions just like his mom.

Then I remembered that I'm new to this "feeling" business. It's okay if sometimes we're sad for just a minute or two. In fact, the more accepting of the fact that we are human and feel the scope of emotions, the more likely it is that all emotions will ebb and flow, rather than stagnate.

Sean went with the flow, drying his eyes, snapping on his bike helmet and going out for a quick ride on his BMX bike before the party. Nolan and Ian played in the back yard with our three dogs. Alone in the house, I unceremoniously flushed Jake down the toilet with a little goodbye, and then went to check on my vegetable seedlings, which are growing like wild.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Goodbye, Little Turtle

The turtle died.

We think he died this weekend. At least that's when we noticed him at the bottom front right corner of the tank, still as could be, eyes clouded over. His little turtle soul lives on. But Timmy's tiny body has quit this beautiful, big world.

I was sad. We were given Timmy by Ian's father three years ago as a housewarming gift of sorts, when the boys and I moved into "the old grey house" by the water, as the kids affectionately refer to it. Ian's father had found him in the middle of a road while out riding his motorcycle. A turtle-lover himself with Tommy the turtle -- now, it has been discovered, actually Tammy the turtle-- at home, he wanted to give the little guy a good home. And so the little guy came to live with us.

For a long time, when it was just me, the boys, and one dog, Timmy took center stage. He lived in his great big tank in our enormous kitchen at the old grey house, and he would jump off his floating log and swim to the edge of the tank to say good morning at the start of each day. The boys were fascinated with him. Nolan was not quite three, and Sean had just turned five. They took turns feeding him, and they loved chatting with him while coloring at the kitchen table.

When we bought the "new" house with Ian toward the end of 2008, Timmy came with us. His tank took up residence in what seemed like the perfect spot--a large mudroom of sorts between the living room and kitchen. It's a pass-through, really. And we tapped on the glass and said hi to Timmy as we walked between the rooms or headed into the basement.

He was no longer center-stage, though. Timmy took a back seat to just about everything. We now had two dogs--and by last July, three, since Lopez came to live with us. We were a busy family with two very active boys, various commitments, three jobs between the two of us, a sociable and lively neighborhood, and so on. We made sure to feed Timmy, but we no longer spent long dinners at a table beside him to keep him company. I wondered, maybe once or twice, if he was lonely.

His tank was a monster of a thing to clean, too. It was a production, at best. Ian was the one who took care of it, in addition to his already loaded plate. But Timmy was a turtle and, after all, turtles like Timmy love the swamp life, so we didn't feel it so bad if we let the tank go...a little.

And then he died.

His tank was pretty mossy. His shell looked terrible. It hadn't looked good since a few months after we adopted him, so we weren't sure what to make of it. But when the boys and I came back from church yesterday morning, Ian pulled me aside while the boys ran out to play. "I think, uh, Timmy died," he said.

My heart sank. I felt guilty of neglect. Ian hugged me and reminded me that, "maybe we spread ourselves a little too thin," in the pet department. I knelt on the floor before the tank and stared at Timmy's little body, sunk to the bottom like a stone. "Maybe he was sick to begin with, and it just got worse," Ian offered. Maybe.

The boys came in from playing outside in the spring weather, and we enjoyed a little lunch together in the war room (dining room that functions for all meals, homework, craft projects, etc...). At the end of our meal, after the plates were filed away in the dishwasher and the kids were chugging the last of their drinks, we broke the news to the kids.

Nolan immediately went to the tank to verify facts. "Yep," he declared upon returning to table. "Dead."

Sean's eyes brimmed with tears. He needed me with him to go look at the tank. We hugged each other and Sean sobbed. Sobbed. We talked about him for a little while, dried tears, and then the kids scampered off to the important business of racing, pretending and creating outside in the early spring sunshine. I went outside to do a little more garden clean-up and spring prep-work, while Ian ran a drainage hose out the window into the yard from the tank.

It was otherwise a spectacular day. The sun was setting beautifully over the harbor just beyond the yard. After we wrapped up dinner and the plates were once again filed in the dishwasher, we all went outside to pay our final respects to Timmy. Ian had dug a deep hole on the side of the garage to which the dogs do not have access. He fashioned a cross out of two sticks, and Sean had chosen three colorful marbles to place on the grave. We marched solemnly out of the house, through the gate and around the garage. The dogs watched us from the other side of the picket fence beside the big hole in the ground. We said a few words, and Ian placed Timmy, wrapped in a brown shopping bag, into the hole and began to cover it. Sean burst into tears.

Ian patted the dirt down on top, Nolan slammed the cross in the ground like he was staking a claim, and Sean placed a neat little triangle of the marbles in front of the cross. We walked inside and Nolan remarked that the blank wall at which Timmy's tank once stood now "looks weird."

Later, Sean thoughtfully pondered Timmy's afterlife.

"I think he's in heaven," he said. "I think God puts all the animals in heaven in one place. It's like there's this one big cloud, and above it is the Star of Bethlehem. The Star of Bethlehem was above the manger where Jesus was born. And that's where the animals were then, and when they die, the star is above them in heaven."

Makes sense to me.

RIP Timmy. We miss you.


Friday, March 5, 2010

A New Beginning All Over Again

My birthday is next Saturday. It's such a special day to me, because it is not only my birthday, but a sign that Spring has kept its promise.

Daffodils and hyacinths are pushing their way up through the mud in our yard this week. I was beyond delighted to see this. I gasped. I sighed. I smiled. I showed the kids and Ian. I took pictures of little green shoots with my cellphone. And then I busted out the rake and cleaned out a few flower beds.

Our yard is a mess. It needs repair. I'm more than willing to help it out. I love getting dirty in the yard and encouraging things to grow. But I'm starting to feel a little like Sisyphus when it comes this yard of ours. This yard...that I share...

with Pee Pee Joey.

Pee Pee Joey (a/k/a Lopez, a/k/a Fruit Bat, a/k/a "NO!") joined our family in July, after living with Ian's brother for close to a year. She was always Ian's dog, but since his other dog Sparkplug (a misnomer if ever there was one) and my dog Cee Cee got along so well without Lopez as part of the equation, we waited to bring her into the mix. We wanted the other two dogs to be firmly established in the house, with the kids, before bringing in little miss alpha bossy-boots with the weak urethra and perpetually full bladder.

But before Lopez moved in, and after our wedding last March, I got to work on our yard. Raking and seeding and raking and seeding and... you get the idea. I was determined to grow grass. And did I ever!!! The yard looked great. Even with two active boys, their friends, and our two dogs at the time, the yard remained in pretty good shape, all things considered.

It was truly a labor of love. I spent most of my free time--and a fair amount of money--last spring and summer making our yard the best it can be, given what we inherited from the previous owners. It's not a totally level yard, and we have some swampy woods behind us where a little stream once ran (until the city filled in many, many years ago). Those two factors, plus the tall tulip trees toward the back fence, mean a simple fact: grass does not grow easily in about one-third of the yard.

I also planted tons of perennials from April through September, and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes back. Theoretically, I should have blooms scattered throughout the front and back gardens throughout Spring, Summer and Fall. That is, if everything made it through the winter okay. I have faith that it did.

But as for the grass, part of me is ready to install a lawn of astro-turf and call it a day. It is an uphill battle with Lopez at the center of it. Literally. She is a professional pisser of amazing proportions, and she has shown that lawn who is boss. I cannot believe that the other two dogs combined have done almost none of the damage that this one dog has done to our lawn. To make things worse, Lopez is a hard runner. She's hard on everything, actually. And considering the fragility of the new lawn, it stood no chance against her and her beloved tennis ball. Not only is the back third of the yard wrecked again, but the rest of the grass has been ripped up and burned out, too.

So now we must begin again. After raking yesterday, I found more things growing in every corner of the yard. Green buds are on the Montauk daisy. New hosta are poking up like little green porcupines sleeping in the dirt. Ian and I plan to rake out all the leaves that blew into our yard throughout the winter, scatter the first of many bags of seed, say a prayer and see what happens. Ultimately, I'm really just looking forward to a day in the sun with temps forecast to be around 50, churning up the leaves and smelling the moist earth. No doubt we'll toss the ball at least a little bit with Lopez, too.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What's in Yours?

I enjoyed a blissful, quiet moment next to my husband after work yesterday. And in that moment my mind was racing a millions miles an hour as usual with thoughts of everything from cooking dinner to our next vacation. In the middle of that, I thought about fidelity--and infidelity--and maybe at the same time I was thinking of what the kids would have for lunch today at school, because the following came to me:

Marriage (maybe even all relationships, even life general) is like a lunch box. You get out of it what you put into it. So if all you pack is a hard-boiled egg and an apple, guess what you're going to find when you open the box? (Pause.) Right. A hard-boiled egg and an apple.

Sometimes it's fun to swap and share lunches as a kid, something my kids rarely do because Sean's food allergies prevent him from accepting most random cookies and similar treats. But as an adult, it's really not all that fun. You pay for it later, that's for sure. Indigestion ain't the half of it.

So if you want a cookie in your lunchbox, or if you want more cookies in your marriage, stock up! Pack 'em. Since a marriage requires a lunch box built for two, it might be good to ask your spouse what they want in the box, too. And if you want to surprise each other, it's better to do it with sweet and healthy things, rather than with, say, sour grapes. Or a Ziploc bag full of something rotten. Just keep it interesting!

I think you get what I'm saying, right? I mean, after one marriage that didn't end so well, and one that, so far, is great despite life's curve-balls and challenges, I feel like I might actually know what I'm talking about. Maybe. Who knows.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Gifts, Everywhere

This morning Nolan, who is five, asked me if my boss had returned yet "from her field trip."

To India.

She had, in fact, returned on Saturday from two weeks in Chennai and the surrounding areas, having missed all of the Olympics since they weren't really being watched there. She was in India on business, since many of the developers who work on our software are based in Chennai, when they're not traipsing to our stateside offices to serve on projects.

India. Oh, how I want to go to India! I had thought I would make it there a few years ago for a yoga retreat at an Ashram run by Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, a wonderful Kundalini yoga instructor and hero of mine. But alas, life happened and funds needed to be diverted elsewhere. That's okay. It's still my dream to go there, and I know I'll get there someday, when I'm supposed to.

Until then, I can enjoy the little soapstone elephant statue she brought back for me, along with a cute little spinning top, and this absolutely gorgeous shawl to wrap myself in whenever I like...or whenever I need a little reassurance from my hopes and dreams that they are still there for me, and me for them.

I am just about two weeks through Lent, and so far my sacrifice of purchasing any non-essentials has gone just fine. It's also made me appreciate how much I do receive all the time, like lunch at Grandma's, a latte this morning at work from Heide, books from the library (I'm currently digging back into the Little House on the Prairie collection, and loving it), joining in a laser tag game at an eight-year-old's birthday party, and unexpected gifts--like my shawl and other trinkets from India.

I also unearthed a purse I hadn't used in months and remembered how much I love it.

February is over. Hello, March.