Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Happiness may be a choice, but it's not always the right one.

When my husband and I decided to get married I didn't originally picture myself in a big white dress.  I seldom have interest in doing what other people usually do, and I was not one of those people who had her "big day" all mapped out in her mind ahead of time.  The marriage interested me, not the wedding particularly.

As the details of the event came together I learned a lot of valuable lessons.  There are certain rites of passage that remain in the culture for a reason, and how you handle them can tell you a lot about yourself and others.  I assumed from the start I would just buy myself a nice dress I could use again because that kind of sartorial practicality seemed like me.  But it also seemed like friends of mine who had married before me and chosen a big white dress.  One of those friends told me to just try one on, because why not?  When she had, she'd discovered she liked it.

To my utter surprise I liked it too.  Because it's fun and it's a way to set that day apart from any others.  I realized that my wedding day was the only day I could wear such a dress and have it mean something important.  I could certainly wear a wedding dress any other day I wanted, but it would only be an oddity or a costume.  I had one chance to wear such a thing with any meaning to it.  Why would I pass up that chance?

I didn't.  I tried on dresses that I thought were pretty, gave pictures of them to a friend of my mom's who was a seamstress in the wedding department of a local fabric store, and she made a dress just for me in barter for one of my mom's drawings.  It was made of a rich beautiful silk and the bodice was covered in a thick English lace and it fit like a dream.  It was elegant but comfortable, and even had soft little clips in the shoulders to keep my bra straps up so I didn't have to worry about them.  I wore ballet slippers underneath because they were soft on my feet.  Aside from having to concentrate on not spilling anything on it at the reception, it was one of the easiest outfits I've ever worn, and the opposite of what I thought being in a wedding dress would feel like.  I felt beautiful and still like myself, and it was fun.  I'm glad I didn't let that experience pass me by.

It makes sense to be happy on your wedding day and that feeling comes easily.  There are ordinary days where things are certainly open to interpretation and it makes sense to take the effort to choose happiness.

But when we talk about "choosing happiness" as some sort of blanket default that does a disservice to other moments when it is simply inappropriate.  People shouldn't make happiness out to be the only worthy choice.  Sometimes it's outright wrong and people should respect that.

The first time I got the news that I had miscarried I was under no obligation to be happy.  It was a beautiful day out and I had a home with people in it who loved me and there was certainly much to be grateful for, but you can appreciate things in the abstract while choosing grief.  I was devastated.

The only people who seemed to truly understand that were people who had been through it themselves, and the shocking thing when you have a miscarriage is discovering how many of them there are.  Women come out of the woodwork with their own stories, and they recount them with solemn faces and a flat sadness in their tone.  They don't expect you to be happy.

But other well-meaning people who want to help, and want you to be happy again soon, take unsuccessful stabs at guiding you toward that choice.  They point out the children you already have, tell you that you can try again, or remind you that the "baby" wasn't meant to be anyway and it's for the best that something so flawed ended before it could really start.  None of that is helpful.

Because none of it acknowledges that in that moment, at that time, choosing happiness is ludicrous.  It was not wrong to cry all day.  And part of the next day.  And then it all started anew the day of the D&C.  All of that was a rite of passage too, in its own way.  That was loss on a personal level that I had to meet on its own terms and not try to re-frame as something else that was "better."  Happiness is nice, but not necessarily better.  Cake is nice, too, but not as the only thing in your diet.

And feelings don't have to be one thing or the other, either.  One of the most disconcerting parts of the last couple of weeks of my dad's life was how much joy there was tangled up with all that loss and grief.  We laughed and cried at the same time and both were real.  We were together as a family doing the best we could for one another, and facing the unimaginable that a major piece of that family was about to leave us forever.  We all felt a deep appreciation of what we meant to each other and what we were about to lose.  And we laughed and there was silliness.  But that wasn't happiness as a choice, that was life at its fullest.  That was love unsuppressed.

Yes, on an ordinary day, if you have a choice to be happy, and it makes life better than it might otherwise be, choose it.  But never feel like that's the only choice available that means something.  There are times it's not the right one, and that's okay.

For myself, today, I am happy, and it was a natural choice to make.  For the first time in a long time I am not conflicted about events in my life that have caused competing emotions to prevent me from feeling happy in a way that is simple and easy.  I am happy, and that is mine today, and it doesn't matter what came before or comes next.  I will enjoy it for what it is, and it is lovely.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Stray Thoughts in the Morning

Things are moving a mile a minute anymore, and any one of these thoughts could have been a post in a less hectic time, but in no particular order here are things I've pondered and learned from lately:

It's good to be able to return to a space that doesn't change.  Our cottage is that for us.  My brother was able to come with his family this summer, and he hadn't been there in almost 17 years.  He remarked immediately how amazing it was that it felt the same.  That's been by design--we've changed very little since my grandma died, and the place still feels like her.  She would lament that we've let the garden go, but someday we'll be there long enough to plant begonias by the front porch again, and weed some of the plants along the stairs on the hill.

It's also good that at the cottage the internet is spotty at best.  There is just enough of a signal from the neighbor's house that he said we could use that usually every other day I can upload email while I'm there and at least make sure everything is okay back home.  Otherwise being unplugged is a good thing for everyone.

My dad has been gone for two years now.  It doesn't really get easier.  I just don't burst into tears about it as often.  But damn I miss my dad.

My grandmother would have been 99 this year.  I miss her too.  There is so much I wish I could talk to her about.  It would have been so nice for my kids to have really known her. 

Grandpa, too.  I remember when he died he seemed really old.  But now 70 doesn't seem that old.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

So Close

I took the kids down to Illinois to see the eclipse on Monday.  Ian's off doing Army things so I was on my own with all the driving.  (We left Milwaukee at 5 in the morning and got home at about 9:30 at night.)

We had our NASA approved viewing glasses that we picked up from American Science and Surplus a week ago before they were sold out.  We had a bag of car snacks the kids had picked out at Target the day before (grapes, carrots, granola, pop tarts...) and we filled up our bottles with familiar Milwaukee water.  I had an iPod of podcasts to listen to if radio had nothing to offer.  The kids had some multi-player game that they could coordinate on their little devices.  We had the GPS and the iPass and everyone settled into their respective seats in the minivan as we hit the road while it was still dark.

My kids love a road trip.  They had been looking forward to it for weeks.  They are good travelers and undaunted by long stretches in the car.  They never whine.  They never ask to stop unless they need to use the bathroom, and even then they give as much warning as possible in case it will take time to find an exit.  They don't get carsick.  They can sleep when they need to as we roll along.  They sing sometimes, although they tend to amuse themselves quietly.  When they were younger and their heads didn't pop above the seats it was possible to forget they were even back there.

I had planned to get us to Carbondale, Illinois where big eclipse festivities were going on and where totality viewing would be one of the longest in the country.  I plugged a random restaurant with a Carbondale address into the GPS and gave us a cushion of well over an hour to reach it.

The problem is it doesn't always matter how much you prepare or plan.  Life doesn't work that way.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Nazis Are Bad

Apparently in 2017 this still needs to be clarified.

My mind is reeling from everything that is going on in the news and our society and I do not have the time right now to sort it out into words the way I want to, but in a moment where silence contributes to the problem I can't not put something in this space that condemns hatred.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Family is interesting because you don't get to choose.  You get what you get.

Sure, you can choose to interact or not, to be an active participant in different lives or not, but who you are and where you fit, in an objective sense, is out of your control.

When I had my first baby, I became a mom.  My husband became a dad.  Whether my brothers were interested or not, they became uncles.  My parents became grandparents regardless of whether they were ready to think of themselves that way yet.  A new life creates labels like "cousin" and "great-aunt" and "niece" automatically.  When I chose to become a parent it imposed new levels of identity up and down my family tree forever and always.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Reading the Bill of Rights

When I work in the kitchen or drive somewhere I usually listen to the news on the radio.  Quinn, if he's helping me out or along for a ride, listens too.  We used to play a game on the drive to Latin where before I would turn on the news we would each guess what the topic might be and see who got closer.  But now it's all Trump all the time, so that game has lost its appeal.

Usually when we listen to the news Quinn has questions.  Some of them are obvious, many are not, and too often I can't answer them as well as I'd like.  (That's where Google comes in handy.)

The other day during a particular news story they kept talking about first amendment rights and Quinn asked what that meant.  I explained that the first ten amendments of the Constitution of the United States are referred to as the Bill of Rights, and the first one guaranteed freedom of religion, speech, and assembly.  We had an interesting discussion about what the exceptions were.  We talked about different ways people have found to confront speech they didn't like.

In any case, the thing that surprised me as I had this conversation with my son in the kitchen as I was chopping vegetables, was that I realized as I was talking to him that I couldn't name all ten amendments.  I can name all ten commandments from the bible even though it's not my thing.  I apparently use the Jewish numbering which I didn't realize until I looked it up to explain to Quinn that different religions using those same commandments actually number then differently.  (This is something I wonder about when people put up ten commandment monuments since however they get numbered is a nod to a particular sect, not just to Judeo-Christian culture in general, but whatever.)  The average person I run into who claims to construct their life around those commandments can't actually name them, which I find either amusing or irritating depending upon the day.

But then I claim to hold up the Constitution as central to the choices I have available to me as a citizen of this country, and yet I wouldn't be able to tell someone what was in the entire Bill of Rights.

I had Quinn Google it and read me each amendment aloud.  I was sort of stunned by how much of it was unfamiliar.  So for anyone else on this American holiday who wants a refresher course on the Bill of Rights, here they are along with a few notes about what Quinn and I discussed as we read through them:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Another Two Weeks

Today was our 20th wedding anniversary.

We didn't do anything particularly special today other than share a sandwich at lunch.

Ian got up early to run, I swam.  There was an appointment with a roofer to get another estimate on the latest house project that needs to be tended to sooner rather than later.  When I left for work all the kids were nestled into spots on couches and cuddled together to do things on laptops.

I did a lot of bow work today at the store.  Ian brought me lunch and did work on his side of the store which is so different from my side.  His thing is all Quickbooks and bills and rental lists, and mine is all chisels and knives and planes.  It's a good thing we have each other because each of us is lost on the wrong side of the store.

In the afternoon he picked up this week's farm share box on the way home where he had to do an Army conference call.  I finished my last few appointments and then swung by the house to grab the kids to go volunteer at the soup kitchen downtown.  Then we stopped at Michael's and Goodwill to poke around for stuff for a project I'm doing, and then home where we were unsuccessful at coaxing the dog out from under the couch for a walk.  (Chipper currently remembers how to do stairs, but has forgotten he likes to go for walks.)