Hitting a low

Life, it’s been beating me down lately. Between parenting (which I’m pretty sure I suck at right now), coaching (middle school kids), working (super shitty night shifts), and trying (but mostly failing) to maintain some semblance of a half marathon training schedule I’m burnt right the fuck out. Like a tough, over cooked steak I’m beyond done. I’ve been feeling it for a while but Sunday was when it really hit me.

The day started early because I had to take my sixteen year old to my sister’s so he could babysit her kids while she was at Equestrian Team regionals with my daughter (but mostly the other high school team she coaches). Even though I hadn’t been to the meet once yet over the weekend I went back home instead of heading up there. I wanted to go back to bed but I knew this was the only time available to clean up and do the dishes from Saturday’s big breakfast that were still strewn about the kitchen and dining room. Later that day I was extremely thankful I did.

A couple hours later I was finally on my way to watch my daughter show in her last few classes of the regional meet she had worked so hard to get to. I left three other kids and two friends playing video games and eating cereal. As I was leaving the shit storm was brewing. My younger sister had posted on our family’s Facebook group page asking for opinions about set up for her upcoming wedding. I responded, as did other people, saying the area in question would make a good kids’ activity space. She then asked if I wanted to coordinate this. To which I responded that I could not as I’m way too busy this week. It’s the third time she’s called me out specifically asking me to do something in the few days leading up to the wedding and (at least) the third time I’ve told her I cannot. Not that I don’t want to, I literally cannot. I had however, already told her I’d be more than happy to help clean up after the wedding. I just can’t do anything before. Why? Well, reread the second sentence of the post, I’m busy and already stretched thin. Apparently that’s irrelevant. I got shit for stating (again) that I’m not able to help before the wedding. Which, by the way, is on a fucking Thursday afternoon.

Later in the day, after being at the equestrian team meet for most the day, getting pestered via text by my almost thirteen year old about letting his friend go to his football game with him (which was a solid no as said friend would be unsupervised and needed to go home), stopping at the grocery store for dinner essentials and cat and dog food (which we were completely out of), I headed back over to my sister’s to pick up my daughter and the son who had been babysitting all freakin day. At this point it was close to seven in the evening. I still needed to make dinner and get everyone on track for school Monday. Plus I really needed to sleep a little before my shift at work started (10:30pm).

After handing my sister (not the one who is getting married, the one who was at the meet with my daughter) a twenty dollar bill in an apparently inadequate attempt to contribute to the cost of hauling the horse she informs me that it cost her at least $50 a week. Oh and that I don’t do enough for my daughter’s showing and she’s tired of helping her so much. I told her I’m doing the best I can. The bottom line, that’s not good enough.

That seems to be the message of the week. And it’s only Wednesday evening.

Even later Sunday evening I was finally getting the pre-work nap I needed. A whole hour and a half to sleep, some of it with my eight year old sitting next to me with a flashlight and a book. I didn’t have time to read him a bedtime story; this was the compromise. Thankfully he got tired too and decided to close his eyes after fifteen or so minutes.

An hour and twenty minutes into my nap (barely half an hour before I needed to leave for work) excessive dog barking woke me up followed by a knock on my bedroom door. “Mom, someone from CPS is at the door. They need to talk to you.”

And that was just the beginning of the week. It’s nearing the end of Wednesday. I think I’ve almost made it through but I can’t remember where one week ends and the next begins. When you work the whole weekend it’s not really something to look forward to. In fact I’m not sure what I should be looking forward to right now. Yes, my sister is getting married next week and that’s a celebration. My whole crazy family will be in one place, something that rarely happens anymore. And it’s going to be great. And, yeah, the half marathon I’ve been prepping for is ten days away. I’m excited about it.

But the celebration and excitement seem hypothetical and far away. Vague. Like oncoming headlights in a thick fog. Today, this week, I’m feeling (but trying not to wallow in) the low. I don’t remember another time in my recent personal history where things felt this downright bad. But I know, somewhere deep in my core, that that’s only because time dulls these pains and it has been much much worse. That somehow I’ve always made it through to the other side; this is a low, but it’s far from the lowest of the lows.

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Constantly Adapting Expectations

“New goal” I said to my boyfriend as we ran through the forest “make it through this race without falling.”

(Yeah, boyfriend. I have a boyfriend now. Not sure if I’ve mentioned that here yet. šŸ™‚ )

We had started the race thirty minutes after the gun went off; the person who was supposed to cover the tail end of my overnight shift showed up (half an hour) late. Initially the goal was to run the 15k Viking themed trail race without walking but that ship had done sailed. Within the first three miles I was huffing and puffing like an asthmatic smoker (Thank you, night shift work.) and had to walk… so I could adjust my sagging ponytail (any excuse would do at that point). Seeing both of us had stumbled more than once on the rocks and tree roots that littered the rough terrain of the trail that wound its way up, down, and all around the Michigan woods, not falling was an appropriate goal albeit it a different sort of accomplishment than the original. It required luck, balance, and intuition instead of the grit, stamina, and determination demanded by the first.

Moments after deeming Not Falling to be our new race goal we ran down a hill lavishly coated with the loose, medium sized rocks that seemed to dominate the surface of these trails. As we hit the bottom of the hill and tilted to make a sharp left I lost my footing and hit the ground (lightly though, I’m getting pretty good at falling while running). There went that goal.

Even without meeting the initial goals this race could be considered a success. We ran 15 kilometers (that’s about 9.3 miles) over hills and crazy footing, in my case after working all night, and still managed to pass a few people. Our chip times put both my guy and me second in our age divisions. On top of that my son who was also running won the race.

That’s right, he won the whole freakin thing, my eighteen year old boy.

viking dash win.jpg

I’m not sure if you can tell from the picture but he’s super proud of himself.

He reluctantly committed to the 15k instead of the five even though he hadn’t done much running since cross country season ended over nine months ago. My son’s fifth and senior year of cross country season came to a crashing and disappointing premature halt last October. At the beginning of the season I had high hopes for him. While I’ve always been proud of my son’s running, it’s long been apparent that there is untapped potential teeming just beneath the surface of this somewhat distant and detached teen. When he began conditioning for his last season it looked like some of that running potential would finally be tapped into. Until academia caught up with him.

First was the failed class from the year before. We didn’t know it made him ineligible to run until the first week of August. I found an accelerated online make-up class that still counted as summer school as long as it was done before school started. It was. Just barely. Well, sort of.

In typical avoidant teenager fashion, my son thought he could pass the class with the required 80% without doing the “speaking assignments” (it was a Spanish class). Technically he had enough points to pass but the fine print dictated that every assignment be completed. At any rate, he missed the first meet of the season.

By the second and third meets he was eligible to compete but his race times didn’t reflect the stats he was achieving in practice. When he was running the first two miles of a race in under twelve minutes but finishing close to twenty we realized this might be a nutritional issue. Unlike previous seasons, there was no significant increase in appetite when his running mileage increased. Instead a general malaise took its place. I was concerned about depression.

As October approached my son has posted a couple PR’s (personal record race times) but nothing close to his early season projections. My boy was struggling and not just physically.

The last two meets of the season are big ones: the “small school” regional meet (not sanctioned by the state’s high school athletics association) and the actual regional meet that would hopefully qualify my son and a few other kids on the team for the state championship meet. It being my son’s last year of high school running made them that much more important…and the disappointment when he found himself on the academic ineligibility list that much more intense.

That’s right, academia reared its ugly head again.

At this point one might think that my son is a little dull or that he was taking a very difficult course load his senior year. Neither is true. However, that malaise that was apparent in his appetite was also showing its effects on his schoolwork. He did rally and attempt to bring his grades up to passing before the regional meet but by that time the hole had been dug too deep. Both my son and his good friend were academically ineligible for what should have been the crowning event of their senior seasons. Instead of racing at the regional meet we watched his team falter without their leaders.

As is often the case, running is a metaphor for life. Well, in this case it was foreshadowing.

The rest of my son’s last year of school continued in the same fashion. He failed the college math class he was taking because he didn’t believe me, his teachers, and everyone else who told him homework is important. At one point he was suspended for being at the store before the school day started. (Yes, it was as stupid as it sounds. Basically he was penalized for being a teenager in public.) In the spring we had multiple meetings with the principal of the school about whether or not my kid would pull it together and finish his senior presentation, a graduation requirement at the school, in time. And then there was another independent study make-up class. Clearly his senior year was not the commemorative occasion it should have been.

Still I encouraged my brilliant but troubled boy to apply for colleges; to aim high and to be optimistic about his future.

Not only did I encourage, I cajoled, pestered, begged and pleaded.

All to no avail. My son refused to even follow through with a college application. The closest I got was an “I would go thereĀ ifĀ I was going to go to a university.” after an especially cool campus visit (a six hour drive from home). The farthest was when he asked me to consent to him moving out before turning 18. (Umm, hell to the no, kid!)

So what is my point here??? Ā Well, that (once again) running mimics life.

Much like the 15k trail race, I had hopes and goals at the beginning. As it progressed it became clear those goals were just not realistic right now (maybe someday though). Towards the end I was happy to accomplish what I did. Sometimes just getting through a thingĀ isĀ a success and sometimes you need to circle back around and try again under better circumstances. Such is the case for 15k trail runs and for my hopes of my son going to college (or choosing a path that will enable him to “make something of himself” …which to me means finding an engaging and sustainable way to spend his time and efforts).

viking trail 15kĀ viking run duo

 

Confessions of a less than enthusiastic horse show Mom

Confession: I never wanted to be a horse show Mom. Don’t tell my daughter.

I showed horses in 4-H for close to ten years. It was never something I loved but I didn’t hate it either (most the time). 4-H, specifically horses, was just what you did in my family, every summer from the age of nine through eighteen or until you got bored with it.

And it wasn’t bad. Sure show days were long (so so long!), often stressful and always exhausting, horses are hard work, but showing through 4-H taught me a lot about myself and about life. I gained skills and made friendships that are still going strong twenty years later. I built relationships with amazing adults who volunteered their time to keep our county’s 4-H program running. Some of them didn’t even have kids in 4-H. I had the opportunity to learn about work ethic, responsibility, and community in a hands on, concrete way.

Showing horses and being in 4-H was a big and influential part of my childhood. But when my daughter was turning nine and my sister, who never got out of horses and 4-H, asked if my daughter was interested in showing I hesitated. I wanted to say no. I remembered the time and the stress and the cost, the way showing took over our lives from May through August. I thought about the danger, the inherent risk of riding and managing a large beast.

And yet here I am. Five years later sitting in a camper after the first full day of fair. Thirteen straight hours of showing in the heat and the dust and the sun surrounded by cranky younger siblings who have been drug along for ride and a gaggle of stressed and exhausted parents and club leaders. What happened?

I remembered my daughter’s innate love of horses.

I thought about the value of responsibility and community: two things inherent in any 4-H animal project that seem to be disappearing in this crazy, chaotic world where anything goes as long as it makes you “happy”.

I wondered how many other opportunities my daughter would have to set goals and work towards achieving them in a safe, supportive environment.

And I said yes to 4-H and showing horses (okay maybe I said a skeptical “I guess” to 4-H).

I’d be lying if I said I’ve enjoyed every moment of the past five years as a 4-H horse show parent. Of course there have been fun, exciting, and rewarding times. There has also been tension and stress, long days at horse shows when I have five other things I’d rather be doing, and more emotional ups and downs than a TV reality show. In end I consider it an investment and hope that 4-H will help shape my girl, my young woman really, into a responsible, kind and hard working individual.

So when you happen to catch barrel racing on ESPN 15 or whatever or you see Olympic three day eventing or come across a social media post with a video of a high level dressage performance set to music and they all make it look easy, know it’s not. That athlete working with their amazing four-legged partner probably started out as a tiny 4-H kid. Their parent stood ringside and watched with their hearts in their throat as that kid rode a bucking pony across the ring or took on a jump at a seemingly reckless pace. And know that for every elite rider there are a hundred, maybe a thousand, kids who spent their summers at the fairgrounds in show rings and went on to use what they learned there to become a successful adult. So even though I didn’t want to be a horse show Mom, I never planned to come back to this, I’m here. Investing in my kids through 4-H.

Holiday Baking (despite the craziness)

This weekend, my weekend with the kids and a holiday weekend, we’ve done yard work, had a family outing to an old school arcade, colored Easter eggs, baked (Well, I  baked, the kids not so much.), did the Easter basket tradition, and are about to attend Mass and head to a big family dinner. Yet it somehow feels like I haven’t accomplished enough. Final exams loom, I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry…but I’ve got one more lab write up, a homework assignment, and a final to get through first. That’s the cloud that hangs low and heavy over this weekend. (And my fairly legitimate excuse for the terribly infrequent postings around here.)

Balancing working enough to support my household of six, meeting ALL the needs, and giving time and attention to my classwork is a massive challenge, one that requires constant focus and re-calibration. Somehow I’ve gotten this far and done decently well at it. Most the time. Sometimes it makes me a less than enthusiastic parent. I’m not fostering the pre-holiday excitement or planning fancy coordinated outfits for my five  (not so) small ones like I once was. But there is one holiday tradition I’ve managed to maintain, one of my favorites, the holiday baking.

I know it seems like baking holiday treats is something I do for others…It’s not. Don’t be fooled. It’s a totally selfish thing I do. I bake what like for holidays and don’t do other things so I can get the baking I want to do done. Baking has always been a comfort thing for me. It’s a soothing ritual when I’m stressed or upset and a productive distraction when I’m bored or anxious. I think this (past) weekend I was all of the above. So I baked.

This year the emergent theme of my holiday baking was fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry though, it wasn’t healthy. I made pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake, and that blueberry cheesecake from last Easter.

Pineapple upside down cake is one of my mom’s classics. She makes it in a cast iron pan with this amazing gooey brown sugar goodness crystallized on top just under a layer of juicy baked pineapple rings. My mom usually makes this at Easter but decided we probably had enough desserts without it this year. I noticed fresh pineapples on sale on one of my many weekly grocery store runs and had seen a bundt cake pan version of the old cast iron classic that I wanted to try. And thus pineapple upside down cake was added to my baking list.  Like I said, this is selfish baking here!

Having never made my mom’s version of the cake I’m not sure how close this one was but I used a recipe found online. The melted butter and brown sugar went into the bundt pan first and then pineapple slices and cherries (which my mom never used). The cake batter gets poured over that, it’s all baked, and then flipped out. Easy peasy!

No really, this was quite easy to make. I’d recommend it. The only changes I made to the recipe were using fresh pineapple which I mashed up real good and, because I was concerned about the moisture level of the batter, an added splash of rum. I only had coconut oil on hand so rum seemed like a good balancing liquid. One of my sisters commented that the cake had a vague pina colada taste….maybe next year I’ll be sharing my magical upside down pina colada cake recipe with you all. We’ll see. šŸ˜‰

Unlike pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts to make (and to eat too). I started making it back in my early twenties when I was married. And, actually, carrot cake is responsible for my cheesecake baking obsession too.

My ex-husband’s birthday is in December. The first year we were married I wanted to do something fun and special for his birthday. I got tickets to a Piston’s game and planned to make his favorite dessert…but I didn’t know what that was so in the weeks leading up to his birthday I asked what kind of cake was his favorite. I swear he said cheesecake. Swear it! I had never made one before but had seen my mom make a classic New York cheesecake every year at Christmas for as long as I could remember. It never looked that hard. So I pulled out a cookbook, scanned the recipe, bought ingredients, and started a cheesecake a half hour or so before we had to leave for the game. I thought I could just whip it up and bake it real quick before we left so it would be cooled and ready to eat when we got home. It was going to be great and he was going to love it!

Except it takes way longer than half an hour to bake a cheesecake. Apparently my reading ahead and planning skills were even worse when I was 20 than they are now.

The result was a soupy mess of a cheesecake AND then, come to find out, my then new husband didn’t even like cheesecake very mush. He says he told me carrot cake was his favorite. There is no way he said carrot cake. Maybe he meant carrot cake but he said cheesecake. After that fiasco I decided I was going to master the art of cheesecakes. I’ve made many successful cheesecakes over the past sixteen years. I think I’ve succeeded. At some point after that I got a great carrot cake recipe from a co-worker and got pretty good at that too.

 

I consider it a win-win…at least as far as desserts are concerned.

 

As for the aforementioned blueberry cheesecake, I used the same recipe as last year because, despite my poor judgement on ingredient substitution, it really was a good recipe. This time I still didn’t find friache but I did use a better quality substitute: plain Fage Greek yogurt. It’s rich and creamy with a slightly sour taste and none of that cheap vanilla Greek yogurt overpowering after taste. It was super yum!

 

Oh, and I did get all my kids to dress up even if they weren’t in coordinated outfits. With a group of mostly teenagers that’s as good as it gets.

Ripples

Three years post divorce (and almost one year post disastrous change of custody hearing) life is generally calm. Okay, calm does not even come near to describing my life as a divorced mom of five kids who is trying to finish a degree while doing all the other things too. Nope, life is not calm…but it’s got a certain pattern of functionality and (usually) fun to it, a day-to-day relative calm that makes it easy to forget how tumultuous our lives have been over the past four years. But every so often there’s a bump in the road, a blip on the relative calm radar, that is reminiscent of the disruption of life that your family has been through.

Getting a divorce is a bit like throwing a giant rock into the peaceful pond that is your child’s life so far. It disrupts their stable, serene state of being with a dramatic splash that’s followed by ripples extending outward through time and space even after the rock has reached the bottom of the pond. It doesn’t matter how old your kids are, this is always true.

Yesterday was a reminder that, even years after the rock crashed through the surface, ripples are still extending outward. Divorce is still affecting my kids’ lives in profound, albeit more subtle, ways. (Subtly profound might be something of an an oxymoron.)

First, on the way to swim class, my seven year old informed me that his school Valentines Day party was not very fun because I didn’t go. “Mom, you could have come to my Valentine’s day party, almost everyone had a parent there but I didn’t.” he told me. Ā Valentine’s Day didn’t fall on my parenting time and I hadn’t volunteered to help in the classroom, really there’s no reason I would go. This year the responsibility and fun of celebrating Valentine’s Day with the kids wasn’t mine; that’s just the way it goes. I said something along these lines and then mentioned that I thought maybe his dad or step-mom would be going to his class party. His matter of fact response caught me off guard. “Dad and Miss D don’t go to things at my school anymore because people think Miss D is a homewrecker.”

Turns out my diplomatic response skills are not what they should be. IĀ shouldĀ have said something about that being their, his dad and step-mom’s, loss; they’re missing out on fun and important things. That’s not what I said. I did not, however, say any swear words so it could have been worse. (ButĀ seriously,Ā WTF?!? How are these words coming from my seven year old???)

After swim my little guy told me that I should stop going to school….he saw me doing homework on my laptop in the bleachers during his lesson and felt like I should have been paying attention to him. I reassured him that IĀ was,Ā I was watching over the top of my computer screen as he back stroked across the pool and then later when he got to jump off the diving board. I think that appeased him for the moment.

And then later, at bedtime, we had the 100th day of school meltdown.

The 100th day of school snuck up on me like so many of these little big deals do. It was not on my radar at all; I had noticed it in the class newsletter weeks earlier but it fell on their dad’s parenting time so I didn’t add it to my long list of things to be aware of. But then at some point my ex asked if the kids could stay the night at my house tonight. They would already be here for the evening anyway, of course I said yes. I made sure I had enough school lunch food, milk, and cereal for breakfast. Good to go.

Yeah, not so much. As I was getting the little guy to bed (late) he started crying. It took a good few minutes to get him to tell me what was wrong but finally he said “I’m supposed to dress up as an old person but now I can’t.” And this is how I became aware that the 100th day of school was tomorrow. At 10:30 pm on a Wednesday night, an hour after bedtime (when I still had my own homework to get to, six lunches to pack, and a fair amount of cleaning up to do before I could even think about my own bedtime). I reassured my son that I could get an old person costume ready for him while he slept but he was not appeased by this.

Then, Ā suddenly, he jumped out of bed and started rummaging around his room. “What are you doing?”I asked.

“I’m looking for my markers.”

“Umm, why? You need to get to sleep!”

“To make a 100th day of school shirt.” he responded triumphantly.

While he was not happy with the option of me throwing together old person wear, the idea of making a shirt (also an option to commemorate the occasion) satisfied him.

Pay no attention to the stains on the shirt, undershirts are a scarcity right now.

I knew where exactly two sharpies where, luckily they were different colors. After drawing 50 smiley faces each my emotional little guy was satisfied…until the next morning when he decided there should be a hundred aliens on his shirt. Agh!

This is why I can never be on time for anything. Aliens.

Even after the tears and chaos of the night before he went to school happy. Some days the ripples make for choppy waters but we ride the waves and move forward. Throughout the upheaval of getting divorced the mantra “Fake it until you make it” helped get me through my day-to-day life but, with this chaotic crazy life we have, I’m pretty sure we’re actually making it now.

Almost an AdventureĀ 

I think I had an adventure the other day, it’s hard to say.

See, my oldest son is 17. He’s a senior in high school. He took driver’s ed this past January. My life being the complicated mess it is, we didn’t get his pernut until the end of August. Needless to say he’s not one of those kids who’s eager to start driving. Even now that he’s got his permit I have to twist his arm to get him to drive (figuratively not literally, usually at least). He has to log at least forty hours of driving before taking the next level of driver’s training and being allowed to road test for his actual license. At this rate we may end up waiting until he’s 18.

Back to my adventure…my son asked if he could go to a friend’s to “study” after school. I wasn’t too keen on having to go pick him up later in the evening so I gave him conditional permission. Thinking it wound deter him, I said if he went he would have to drive home. My plan failed, he was fine with that so he did. And we took the freeway home.

There in lies the adventure.

adventure is out there

In his interview on The Art of Charm podcast, Jon Levy talks about adventure. How some people have a higher tolerance for novelty and excitement, that adventure doesn’t just happen by chance, and how adventure pushes us past our comfort zone thus bringing about personal growth. Levy defines adventure as something Ā that is “exciting and remarkable”, something that “possess adversity or risk” (or even just Ā perceived risk), Ā and as I already mentioned something that “brings about growth”. So maybe riding in the car while my 17 year old is driving at 70mph doesn’t seem like much of an adventure but by Levy’s standards it sure is!

Well, maybe not by his standards Ā (we’re taking about a guy who had travelled the world doing done crazy shit), but at least by his definition. There was a perceived risk. Any parent who had ridden with their teenager knows what I’m talking about. 70 doesn’t seem all that fast when I’m driving but put my kid behind the wheel and, holy hell, it’s terrifyingly fast.And my white knuckle grasp on the nearest handle proves that it was exciting. Obviously it’s remarkable, I’m remarking about it right now. The experience was definitely just out side my “skillset” which pushed me to grow, to rationalize my fear and trust my son’s capabilities just a little more. It was a (very) small step towards adulthood for my son and towards me, as a parent, acknowledging his immanent adult status. That right there is the very real adventure in parenting.It will definitely make you uncomfortable, if you’re doing it right it promotes self-improvement, and it sure as shit gives us challenges to overcome.

Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking my life is boring, and occasionally the day-to-day does feel pretty Ā mundane, but there is endless opportunity for adventure, excitement, and growth in my quiet, small scale life. I bet there is in yours too.

On a somewhat random side note, there’s been progress on the WIP fandom blanket. I made this….

It’s adapted fromĀ this hat pattern. Ā One of these days I’m going to have to sit down and come up with a plan for the blanket layout but for now I’m really enjoying these themed mini-projects, err, squares.

The Things we Keep and the Things we Carry

It’s hot and muggy, we don’t have central air and there aren’t enough fans in this giant old house with it’s high ceilings and plaster walls. The stagnant heat makes us all a little cranky, that and everyone having consecutive days of various friends sleeping over. Everyone except me. I don’t get any friend sleepovers. (Sigh) The house is a mess, the kind of wild, uncontrollable mess that comes from six people being home all day. The piles are every where pressing in on me, mimicking the heat in their attempts to smother me. Ā Papers, laundry, shoes, dirty dishes, the debris of daily life in its natural state. Entropy in action. It’s surrounding me.

In the one small window of my dark bedroom there’s an air conditioner humming, the door stays shut to trap in the precious cooler air. It gives a momentary reprieve from the heat if not the mess. Here, too, the piles haunt me. Predominantly laundry that I haven’t found the time or space to put in its proper place. I’ve been lead to believe neither the “clean” basket nor the end of my bed is considered the proper spot, though my patterns of behavior especially of late beg to differ. Normally it doesn’t bother me but the heat and crabbiness of the day make me want this laundry to be somewhere other than the floor and furniture. In fact, I want all the mess to be somewhere else. I want it all gone. There’s just so much stuff. Why is there so much stuff?

A couple months ago I cleaned out part of my basement in the process of creating a work out area. My kids and I have been in this house for almost four years now, double the longest time we’ve lived anywhere else. As we were sorting through the stuff that had collected in the basement a theme emerged. Boxes. For some reason there were a lot of empty boxes in my basement, specifically the boxes that stuff came in. Packaging. There was so much empty packaging that I had held onto for some reason or another. There was a box from one of my daughter’s nicer dolls that was a birthday present when she was seven or eight, the packaging of a remote control helicopter I bought off Groupon three Christmases ago, even the box from my vacuum cleaner…and a few more. I have no idea why I kept them but there were So Many Empty Boxes. Occupying space with no known purpose.

I didn’t realize I was a collector of boxes until I saw it all compiled, it got me thinking: Why? Why did I keep all that empty packaging? Why bother storing it for years and years? Seriously, you could compose the history of my purchases with all the boxes thrown haphazardly in the corner of my dark, dank basement. It’s like I was never quite convinced that I wouldn’t be moving again soon. I might need to pack up all that stuff and transport it in a year or two like I had before. Or maybe I thought I’d be desperate at some point in the near future and have to sell stuff on Ebay, just to get by. I’ve done it before. Things are more valuable with their original packaging.

It wasn’t just the boxes that I was storing without awareness.

In the back of my closet there’s a dress. It’s a shorter black shirt style dress with bold, angry plaid trim and shiny metal loops and buckles reminiscent of punk rock fashions. Years ago I had a skirt that was similar, I’d wear it with a cut up t-shirt, ripped black tights, and my Doc Martens. But this dress, I’ve never even worn it. My former sister-in-law bought it for me at the salvation army maybe six or seven years ago. We used to be good friends and when she saw it she thought of me. Shortly after that the shit hit the fan and divorce ensued. We haven’t spoken in years, my once sister-in-law and I. I tried to reconnect with her after the dust settled but I guess blood really is thicker than water and she wanted nothing to do with rekindling our friendship. I still have the dress though. It’s survived many purges. I just can’t seem to let it go. I’m thirty-six now, it would be a little ridiculous for me to wear it but there it hangs in my closet.

There are other things too. Torn t-shirts and jeans with worn out knees that I meant to make into something useful and fun, a grocery bag of washed out tin cans that were supposed to become C3PO, my dad’s cross country jersey from college, a watercolor of me on my wedding day that was a gift from my ex husband on our first anniversary.

It always made me uncomfortable, this painting of me standing there in my elaborate wedding gown and fancy hair, but I still have it more than two years after the divorce. Partially because I’m not sure what to do with it, throwing it away doesn’t seem right. Partially because I forget it’s there (out of sight, out of mind) until I stumble upon it again while searching for something else. Then all those Ā feelings come back, the awkwardness and discomfort I felt when it was given to me, not knowing how or whether I should let on that I didn’t love this painting of myself for fear it would be perceived as personal rejection and scorn by my brand new husband. Even in the early years of marriage I knew I had to tiptoe around his unpredictable feelings. I knew that having a reaction that was less than he expected would be construed as total rejection of him as a person; I couldn’t not love the gift and still love him, not in his mind. So I danced around what his reaction to my reaction was going to be and adapted as I saw fit. That tailoring and filtering, the inability to be authentic, I’ve tried to get rid of it, to throw it out, but remnants of it hang on. Scraps of it are woven into the fabric of my being, something I keep and carry whether I like it or not. And I don’t. It’s there though, as real as the mess in my sweltering home. It’s just one of the things that holds on, gathering dust in the corners until it finds an opportunity to remind me of its presence. There are things I carry, without even realizing, that do not have a place in my newer life, the one where I don’t dance unless I want to. The one where I’m the king of my own castle, albeit a mess of a castle. But I can’t seem to let them go. I have trouble discerning between the things I should keep, the useful stuff, and the things I carry. The stuff that weighs me down, the stuff that should have been let go of long ago.