Monday, May 23, 2016

In search of tiny fragments of light



I've found myself sharing this quote by physician Rachel Naomi Remen from Krista Tippett's "Becoming Wise" with so many people:

"In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. The wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.  
Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It's a very important story for our times. This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It's the restoration of the world. 
And this, of course, is a collective task. It involves all people who have been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. That story opens a sense of possibility. It's not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It's about healing the world that touches you, that's around you."

I imagine this isn't the last reference to the book I'll share here. The book has become a bit of a manual on living right now.


Life feels like it's pivoting, right now. Transitioning into something new and unexpected and I've been struggling to figure out my purpose in that. The role I will play. The impact I will make. For a long time it felt like I was moving in a certain direction – I had a clear(ish) picture about what life could look like outside of freelancing and family. You know, the part where I accomplish the things I want to accomplish, or the things I thought I wanted to accomplish or whatever (it all feels muddied right now). 


It felt a bit like destiny. 


And ain't that a heavy word.


So now the future is blurry. As it probably always was. And I'm trying to center myself onto things that feel doable and purposeful. And this story ... the story about finding the hidden light – about healing the world that touches me, well, that resonates. It seems more possible than all the other impossibilities. 


It feels like an anchor. One of those negative words that's actually kind of positive. But its really the thing that moors us and gives us the security to grow. I don't feel capable of big things right now. But the world I touch? I mean, it's right there to mold. To change. To better.


And in the midst of the endless ugliness, well, that's beautiful, right?


If I can locate the missing shoe. Track down the lost Palace Pet. Tape torn picture of Rapunzel and super glue Queen Miranda's head for the 40th time, I can find one of those thousands of thousands fragments of light. 


I mean I see them already. In Jovie's hugs and the times Lily handing her favorite toy to her little sister and how my little brother grabs his little niece's hand to cross the parking lot. 


Everyone transforming what they are touching through small acts of love.


Last week I interviewed a woman who works for Bell Socialization Services, an organization that helps individuals with intellectual disabilities, mental health problems and homeless families. I asked her about how individuals and organizations can help, and I loved her response.


Averie said that inevitably, when they bring up the needs of the family shelter Bell runs, someone will suggest they call Oprah.


But she said we don't really need Oprah to fulfill our needs.


"There are people in our community who can help us solve this problem right now," she told me.


Then she told me a story about how one year when she was a young single mom, she came home find a couple bags of groceries on her porch right around Thanksgiving or Christmas. She said the impact of the gesture was huge. They left it on her porch so she didn't have to be embarrassed. They didn't expect a thank you, but they knew she would've been appreciative.


And anyone of us can buy the bag of groceries.


It's easy to be daunted by the enormous amount of need facing us. But Averie suggested that even if you just buy an extra bottle of shampoo or a toothbrush every time you stopped by the grocery store, you'd make a difference for the people she serves.


She said the next time you had a girl's night, if you asked everyone to bring a box of tampons, you'd make a difference.


If you have the drive and the means to change the world in a big way, then change the world in a big way. 


If not, then change the world in a small way. 


There are 7 billion of us. Surely, we can all find a little light.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Fish and fish dreams

Back in January Brad and I decided we didn't have enough chaos in our life. The girls had been asking about getting another pet, so we gave them a choice: They could either get fish or a kitten.

In an unexpected move, the girls chose fish.

So, a couple days before that big blizzard, we bagged a couple of fish – Jovie picked a black Molly and named her Anna and Lily got an orange and black Platy and named her Eliana. 

The joyful day.
When Anna and Eliana survived a week, I decided that Brad and I needed fish, too. So I picked up a sunburst Platy for Brad (he named it D.W. for Darrell Waltrip. Because NASCAR) and I picked out a beautiful golden-finned Molly that I named Kelly Taylor. Because 90210). 

From, left, Eliana, D.W. and Kelly Taylor.

Well, it turns out Kelly Taylor probably should've been named Steve Sanders, not only for the fact that the fish is obnoxious and annoying and pesters poor Anna all day, but also because she is, in fact, a he.

Jovie's fish Anna did not appreciate the ceaseless attention from Kelly Taylor (whose name I stuck with because it makes me giggle). While she did get bigger, she also seemed, well, anxious. You know, as anxious as a fish can seem. I became convinced that she was pregnant because her belly was growing and, well, Kelly Taylor. One day I found her at the bottom of the tank, alive but not really swimming around. Today is the day! I thought. Fish babies!

As it turned out it was a landmark day in our little aquatic realm. But not because Anna was having babies. During one of my many visits to the tank to search for little Molly babies (they're called Fry, according to the internet) I found Anna not moving, and as it turns out, not alive.

Jovie took the news well. Mostly because I told her she could get another fish.

So, I took the girls and one of their friends to the pet store to find Jovie a new fish. She selected another black Molly and named it Anna (we called her new Anna for a while, but Jovie, figuring the memory of Anna I had been honored long enough, decided we could just call her Anna. Interestingly enough, Lily still refers to the little boy who arrived in her classroom part way through the school year New Mason because there was already a Mason in the class. When I suggest that he could just be "Mason" she tells me he has to be New Mason because they already have a regular Mason. So much for self actualization.)

And because I like the idea of a fish that picks up some of the tank maintenance duties we got a Plecostomus (the garbage disposal of aquariums worldwide). I told the girls' little friend that the Pleco could be her fish, but that it'd live at our house (I really like her mom and didn't think it would help our relationship to force her into the weighty responsibility of fish ownership). 

So that's how we got Winter:

Tee hee hee. Sucker.
Brad mentioned that maybe I should stop going to the pet store because our tank wasn't big enough for my new-found love of fish. I promised I wouldn't purchase any more fish (unless, of course, we had any more floaters).

And I kept my promise. 

The problem was, that Anna (i.e. New Anna) didn't know I'd promised that there would be no new fish.

As it turns out, she thought there should be, like, 20 new fish.


New Anna's babies!

It was a very exciting day. Until the internet told me that unless I separated the fry from the other fish, they'd probably be eaten or sucked into the filter and suffer horrific deaths. Something I didn't want the girls to witness. So we collected the babies and sent them back to the pet store.

Correction, we collected most of the babies and sent them back to the pet store. 

Anna wasn't quite finished having babies. So now we have a Pleco, two Platys, two adult Mollies and four baby Mollies. Scratch that, three baby Mollies. I recently discovered that one of the babies – despite months of survival – got sucked into the filter. It was horrific.

So why am I share this fish tale? 

It seems as if they've swum their way into my subconscious. The fish and the fish tank have become symbolic somehow. I know this because I keep having dreams about them.

In the first one, Kelly Taylor and crew kept jumping out of the water. My friend and I had to frantically put them back in. And they'd jump out again.

In the next one, the tank was enormous and contained extra fish and a turtle and shrimp and other critters. But I forgot to clean it. It became algae covered and filthy and I found the turtle, dead floating upside down (do turtles even do that when they dye) and the fish struggling to survive. I felt awful – frantically attempting to clean it while faced with obstacles.

Then last night I had a dream that I was cleaning the tank, trying to suck out one of the dead babies from the bottom but I wasn't paying attention and sucked out all the water, leaving the fish buried in sand (for some reason there was sand, not gravel at the bottom of the tank). I raced to get fresh water for the fish but was stopped by a kid who was either one of my nephews or my brother (when he was a teenager) -- I yelled that he needed to leave me alone because the fish were going to die, but I couldn't get the water fast enough.

I told Brad about the dreams, and he suggested that maybe because the fish are totally dependent on us for their survival in their little closed environment, that my dreams were somehow related to feeling like I'm not meeting the needs of things that are dependent on me. Which feels kind of true.

I told my friend about the dreams and she suggested that the dreams were related to stress. That the fact that I put the other fish in danger by trying to clean out the dead fish somehow meant that I should be focusing less on the dead (or past?) and more on the living (and present). Which also feels true.

They are both very wise I think.

But it could also just be that the fish are in actual peril...


Oh right, we ended up getting a cat, too.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

That time I pretended I didn't need my antidepressants


Jovie and her pink blank-let.
Recently, I'd been thinking the grass might be greener over in the magical land where I don't have to take an antidepressant.

I'd been feeling as if I'd become too complacent about things I would've normally felt justified in being angry, anxious or sad about. Not having these authentic reactions made me feel as if I weren't really holding the reigns of my life (well, I'm not sure I'm ever really holding the reigns of my life). It's seemed like there were issues that I should take action on but wasn't because. Meh. 

In addition to this omnipresent air of "meh" I started feeling like I was missing emotional cues in my interactions with others. Like I was hearing them on that deeper level.

I understand this all sounds very vague and perhaps not grounded in reality, practical thinking or sound medical. 

But that's how I felt. 

So when the family was tackled by a stomach virus last week, all the nausea and vomiting seemed as good an excuse as any for a self-prescribed cleanse of my antidepressants. (I.E. I just sorta kinda stopped taking them for a week).

And the grass was greener. It was lush and springy and filled with wildflowers. You know, metaphorically speaking. But very quickly it was overtaken by prickly weeds and brambles and those shrubs with the giant thorns on them. My idyllic wonderland transformed into the Fire Swamp from "The Princess Bride." It was all very adventurous and wrought with emotions. 

And while I didn't run into any ROUSes, I did become convinced our family should adopt this cat:



His name in Pretzel ... because in our house,
we prefer to name our pets in such a way that
we would be comfortable eating them in the event of an apocalypse.
That was a joke FYI.

This all came to a head Tuesday night. 

One minute I was raging to Brad about how awful the kids had been during a playdate I'd hosted earlier in the day (the pièce de résistance was Lily hissing at and scratching her friend like a cat and spitting on me. Like, for real, actual spit. On my face). Then I turned to philosophizing about how ideas shared in Mark Ronson's TED Talk on how sampling transformed music, could be used for integrating communities and businesses in York. Then I was lit-rally* laughing so hard I snorted over this raunchy video on Tosh.o (don't watch it, Ma!) about a video game called "Genital Jousting" (seriously, Ma, just don't.). 


Then Jovie wandered out of her bedroom bleery eyed and ruffle headed with her pink blanket, so obviously, I started bawling.

"She won't do this forever," I sobbed to Brad. She won't be little forever. She won't carry that greying, fuzzy pink blanket everywhere she goes. She won't need me to tuck her back in. She won't grab my face between her two little hands and kiss me on the nose.

It wrecked me.

You seem to be a little all over the map tonight Brad observed.

It was a gentle observation on his part. 


An emotional map of my day would've resembled one of those "Family Circus" panels where Billy runs hither and thither all over the neighborhood, except mine would've had stops at screaming at my kid in the kitchen, giggling at stupid-funny internet memes and flopping on the couch in tears while the girls stare in confusion and concern.


I wasn't just all over the map. I'd crumbled up the map, torn it, stomped on it, spilled chocolate milk on it then used the remnants to blow my nose.


The map was useless.


I confessed to Brad and to a friend that I'd accidentally on purpose sorta kinda forgotten to take my antidepressants for almost a week and that I had a strong suspicion that my epic journey through the mystic realms of all the emotions ever was an unintended result.


I don't know what the answer is here. I don't want to take antidepressants for the rest of my life. But I also can't afford to jump aboard a nonstop emotional roller coaster every day either. I have two little kids to take care of. A dog. Nine fish. Two cats, one of which is currently attacking my fingers in vain attempts to stop me from typing (should I take this as a sign to give up the dream?)


It can take up to a year for antidepressants to help your neurotransmitters to reset (i.e. restore the nerve pathways that were broken down by stress and depression). So ... what's that? Five more months? Maybe six. 


I can do that. 


The grass isn't so bad here anyway. Winter's gone and it's getting greener every day.


I took my pills. And you know what, Jovie and her blanket is still one of the sweetest things ever.


I'll end with this cuz it's pretty and a little sad (H/T to Beth for finding it):




*If you get this reference to "Broad City" than you and I are automatically besties for life. I will send you tickets to my celebrity cruise as soon as I secure the boat, book the the celebrities and get over my unjustified hatred of cruise ships.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Goats and other tales of calamity

Lily: Much better suited for managing Annabelle the Sheep and Izzy the Goat than I.
The barn was calm Saturday morning.

It was overcast, but there was no chill in the air. The horses were slow to come in for breakfast, so I took my time. Stopping to scratch the soft spot behind Jenni the pig's ear. Snapping pictures of trees in bloom. Chatting with the hens who always seem to be fussing at me for unknown reasons.


I enjoyed the cacophony of song birds rejoicing at the new season. 


OK, maybe that last part is a little generous. Really what those birds are doing is advertising their availability to certain female birds. And reveling in all the tail they're hoping to get.





But this is a family blog. So it's much more pleasant thinking that they're just out there cheering on the hyacinth pushing through the dirt and reveling in the warm breezes.

This pastoral jubilee along with the assuredness of having nine months as a part-time farmhand under my belt, allowed me to stop and really appreciate the simple life. What joy! What satisfaction! What happy industry marked my hours there!

I even found myself waxing poetic about the worn metal notch on the water pump that allowed me to hang up my bucket instead of setting it on the dirty ground. How thoughtful of that resourceful person generations ago who thought to add this handy detail when forging the pump. I found myself thanking the unknown inventor of the water pump notch out loud – recognizing that seemingly small deeds can span decades, maybe centuries even, tethering us all in this web of human connection. 

Farmer Jim would've appreciated that.


If you find yourself rolling your eyes a little right now, don't worry. My little detour to bucolic bliss town ends here. 


The culprits? 


Goats.


Who else?


See, the water pump notch inventor inspired me to think ahead about the chores to be done. Rather than rush around to make up for things I forgot to do, I decided to be more deliberate. 


This started with opening all the stall doors – which would make it easier when it came time to let the horses in. 


Only Ally was ready for breakfast at this point, so I opened the paddock gate for her.


She walked right into her stall. And because I'd already opened the door, I didn't have to race ahead of her to open it while she wandered over to the other horses' food buckets, nabbing breakfast wherever she could get it.


The other horses still weren't ready to come in, so I visited the sheep and goat enclosure. As usual, Lola and Izzy were bleating at me. The sheep were in the back staring expectantly. I refilled their water bucket and got breakfast for Fiona the goat, who is older and skinny and in need of a little extra TLC.


I couldn't feed Fiona in the enclosure though. Why? Because the sheep and goats always act as if they don't spend their entire day grazing on lush grass and clover and the crackers farm visitors share with them. Whenever there's the slightest whiff of food activity they attack the bowls with a fury and militancy I've only seen exhibited in my children when given access to a bowl of ice cream. 


Had I brought the food to Fiona, there's no chance she would've gotten to eat any of it. 


So I had to get her out. 


I was stunned when she rose calmly and followed with only a gentle prodding of her collar.  I was even more stunned when the others stayed back, allowing Fiona to exit without a lot of hullabaloo.


I was just about to close the gate behind us when the hullabaloo struck.


Annabelle, the willful karakul sheep rushed the gate, squeezing past me despite my best attempts to block it. I pushed it closed against a growing tide of wily livestock. 


The sheep raced to the feed room and was attempting to root out any delicious morsels she could find.


Meanwhile, meek, mild-mannered Fiona was in a horse stall (you know, because I'd had the brilliant forethought to leave them open), helping herself to a bucket of horse feed.


I grabbed a bowl of grain and lured Annabelle back to her enclosure. Lola and Izzy were climbing the gate. I opened the latch, pushing them back. Shaking the bowl of grain in one hand I tried to get Annabelle back into the enclosure while holding the rest at bay with my other arm. I was like Chris Pratt with the raptors in Jurassic World. Minus the Jedi mind tricks. And the ability to maintain control.


The gate had to be wide enough for Annabelle to feel comfortable to get through, but not wide enough to allow the others to escape.

Annabelle came in lunging at the bowl of food. Izzy and Rosie the sheep got out.


I guess the gate was too wide.


Now Izzy was snacking on horse feed. Rosie wandered nervously up the barn aisle. Unsure of what to do with her newfound freedom.


I got Rosie back into the enclosure easily enough. Let's be honest, she wasn't sure she wanted to be out to begin with.


As usual, Izzy was a bit more of a challenge. I grabbed a half-eaten bucket of horse food (no thank you Fiona) and enticed Izzy into the horse paddock (she squeeze under the fence to get in there anyway). I closed the gate using the metal bar, but not the latch. This is important to note.


I got Fiona out of Tessa's stall and gave her breakfast in the barn aisle. 


The rest of the horses started coming in. I'd just put Sonny in his stall when I heard the metal bar thud.


It was the thud of idiocy on my part. 


Because there's a reason for the additional latch on that gate. That reason is goats.


Specifically goats, who let themselves out of the paddock by nosing back the metal bar, which allows the gate to swing open, given said goat access to whatever feed and hay they want (which is all of the feed and hay).


Izzy was out again. This time eating Fiona's breakfast. 


Another bowl of feed. More food shaking and pleading with the goats to go home. Another onslaught of sheep and goats, punctuated by being horned in my posterior by Annabelle. 


I escaped. Closed the gate. Latched it. Stopped to take a deep breath. Wipe the sweat from my brow.


The horses were stomping and whinnying at me. Asking what was taking me so long. 


Back when I was admiring the simple ingenuity of the notch on the water pump, I wanted the lesson of the day to be about the benefits of being purpose driven. Of identifying a thing to be fixed or improved and improving or fixing that thing. Of being thoughtful and deliberate. 


There's a quote Brad likes to share with me periodically when I'm bemoaning his constant list-making.


"If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail."


I tried it his way at the barn on Saturday. And I'm pretty sure I still failed.


Which leads us to that other quote, "The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray."


To this canon, I'd like to add my own reflection:


"When goats are afoot, plan for the apocalypse (or, at least a minor headache)."


For the record, I still love goats.


Which is maybe the real lesson in all of those: Sometimes the things you love, are also the things that drive you crazy.



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What I learned sitting at the kids' table


This past weekend I took Jovie to the fourth birthday party she'd been to in a month (her social calendar puts mine to shame. Hell, it probably puts the Kardashians to shame). She's met Elsa and Anna, jumped in bouncy castles, made futile attempts to master skee ball and eaten various Disney-character-themed confections and one badass leopard-print cake


And because she's only 3, Brad and/or I have gotten to attend every party, too. 


For all you single, childless readers who are forced to spend their weekends toiling through endless mimosa/Bloody Mary-filled brunches before taking leisurely bike rides or binge-watching entire seasons of whatever show is so hot right now (my guess is, it's not "PJ Masks" or "Paw Patrol") that feeling you have right now? It's called envy.


Who wouldn't want to spend a Saturday afternoon making small talk with the parents of your preschooler's classmates between sneaking bites of your kid's half-eaten cupcake and praying you're not being judged for sugar and white flour consumption or some other breech of etiquette (like maybe having your fly down for the entire party ... which you were mortified to discover when you got home)? 


Usually, I'm the parent accompanying the kid to the birthday party. It's not that Brad won't do it (in fact, he went to two recently), but he gets anxious at the thought of making small talk with his stylist at the Great Clips. Meanwhile, I've been known to seek out random strangers to chat with when we're out and about. The child's birthday party is clearly more in my comfort zone.


But I've been a little burnt out lately. So I wasn't feeling especially social when it came time to go to Saturday's party. I didn't feel like asking about Easter plans or sales on kid's clothes or what developmental stage which kid had reached at which time. You know, all that typical mom stuff. And the mom's in Jovie's class are lovely. Really, all the one's I've met are friendly and warm and engaging. 


But I just couldn't muster up the energy to converse.


So I sat at the kid's table (the kids said it was OK).


One of the little girls seemed like she was in the same mood I was. So, I kept her company. The two of us anti-socialites agreeing that it was perfectly acceptable to skip the pizza and apple sauce and go straight for the cake and ice cream. 


At one point I was turned into a frog (one of the girls used her arcade game winnings on a plastic wand). She later turned Jovie into a moose – at Jovie's request. We weighed the merits of various jelly bean flavors and how smart it was of Fiona to use her tickets for ALL THE CANDY, which she generously shared with her friends. 


It was a nice break. Not having to be on. Just being silly.


I think sometimes we need to sit at the kid's table. 


Maybe all the time. 


At the kids table, there's no shoving down feelings or standing on ceremony or performing (unless, of course, you're performing a made-up song about being turned into a moose). You're just there eating your pizza (or not because the cheese is too slimy) and begging your parents to go back to the indoor playground or inviting all eight of your best friends over to a sleepover that night. 

If you're cranky, you don't pretend not to be cranky simply because you're at a birthday party and birthday parties are supposed to be fun. Sometimes you don't feel like being at a birthday party. Even if it is with all the friends you love chasing around on the playground.


These days it seems like I'm having a lot of conversations with people (including conversations with myself) who are kind of bummed at the birthday party. Only, unlike a 4 year old, they're ashamed to admit it – because we're grownups and showing that you're kind of bummed, much less talking about it openly isn't socially acceptable.


So we're shoving all that down with and putting on a smile. 


But it doesn't quite feel right, does it?


Because there's a reason we feel kind of bummed. And feeling guilty about feeling bummed isn't helping us feel better. And rationalizing the reasons why we shouldn't feel kind of bummed isn't helping.


And telling ourselves that we're not refugees or starving or living under a bridge and therefore shouldn't feel kind of bummed isn't helping.


I mean right? We're still kind of bummed.


And it's OK. Because nobody is judging you for being bummed. They're all too busy being bummed about their own shit or enjoying being not bummed. And if they're going to question you for feeling how you feel, well, those aren't the people you need to be spending time with anyway.


It's not that I recommend you wallow or anything. 


Even a 4 year old knows that you might arrive at the party and be intimidated by all the strange grownups and be a little freaked out by how it's kind of dark and maybe there's a weird smell and maybe you didn't sleep because you had a dream about being force-fed green beans that are absolutely the worst thing you could possibly ever have to eat – where we we? Oh right, you come to the party with all this baggage and it doesn't feel great, and you kind of want to just sit by yourself somewhere. But then all of the sudden you're offered some vanilla ice cream and things start looking a little different. And because you're 4, you don't hold on to the fact that you felt bummed before. You let that feeling go and you celebrate the vanilla ice cream. 


There are a lot of people I know (myself included), who don't feel comfortable feeling certain emotions. We're so divorced from our instinct that we question why we're sad or why we're angry or why we're afraid and then deny the validity of that feeling because it's not socially acceptable. 

But you know what? It's really OK to feel how you feel. And maybe if we allow that feeling to play out how it needs to, then it goes away. And we can start feeling more like ourselves.


Lily is a fantastic example for this. She's a raw nerve of a person. Her reactions to any given scenario – hair brushing (OUCH WENCH! WHY MUST YOU TORMENT ME?!!!), Panera's macaroni and cheese (HUZZAH!! YOU HAVE GIVEN ME THE RAREST TREASURE IN ALL THE UNIVERSE!!!), absentee relatives (i just miss grandma and grandpa so much (lots and lots of tears)) – are absolutely genuine. And mercurial.


Her emotions are real. And immediate. And intense. And then they're gone.


And she's back to pestering her sister and pretending to be a talking Saint Bernard puppy and begging to watch YouTube videos.


I'm not suggesting we all scream and flail in the back seat of the car at the mere suggestion we go to a park after school even though our leg really, really hurts because of a mortal (relatively speaking) wound acquired the day before that required treatment with a Band-Aid. 

We are grownups after all. But it's OK that that we revert back to childhood. At least by allowing the emotion to run its course. Be angry. Be sad. Be scared. Be lonely. Be frustrated. 


Be all you need to be. 


Maybe don't scratch your little sister after hissing like a cat.


Though hiss like a cat if you need to.


Then, when the time feels right (or someone hand you ice cream), let it go.


Be happy.


And the moments when you feel like you just can't be happy, go sit at the kid's table. 


They'll show you how it's done.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

How beautiful it can be when things get ugly


Every morning I arrive back home from working at the farm Lily asks me the same question:

"Mom, what happened at the farm today?"

She doesn't want to hear about the how I efficiently fed and watered six horses, three cows, three sheep, three goats, seven pigs, a large flock of chickens and one cat. She doesn't care that I finally, after six months, figured out how to pick a stall without wasting sawdust and flinging poo over (rather than in) the wheelbarrow. She doesn't want to know that I no longer have a fear of retrieving eggs from under ruthless, overprotective hens and their pecky beaks.

No, Lily, with a glimmer in her eye and a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth, doesn't want me to tell her about things going right.

She wants me to tell her that I forgot to shut the door to the feed room door, allowing the pigs to feast on apples intended for horses. She wants me to tell her that Annabelle the sheep escaped from her pen forcing me to lamely chase her up and down the barn aisle because she's was surprisingly nimble and evasive for a frumpy looking Karakul sheep. She wants me to tell her that Alli the horse farted on me (again) while I was giving her water.

Lily celebrates shenanigans. Minor catastrophes. Little annoyances. It's the root of her bubbliest laughter and her most infectious glee.

She makes me want things to go wrong. Well, maybe not totally wrong. But at least harmlessly not right. Because when things go harmlessly not right, I get to see that smile.

And that's finding a bag of M&Ms and a fresh cup of hot coffee with a friend and warm wool socks and the day the paper whites your mom gave you for Christmas finally bloom.

I've been thinking a bit about when things get broken lately. Or when they're not quite right. Just off or a little uncomfortable.

The the perfect things and perfect moments are just so fleeting. Like a snowflake melting on your windshield. There to appreciate in one breath and then gone.

More often we're left to unearth our happiness from these grimy, dark places.

Brad and I have seen this in our marriage recently. There has been anxiety and frustration and anger. There have been cracks we couldn't have predicted seven and a half years ago when we said our vows.

He had a beautiful description in an email last week*: 

"I feel like I'm looking at you and the girls and feeling like it's all very fragile. And I want to hold you all tight and never let go. But also, I want it to be comfortable, like ... to be in a place where it's not tender or fragile, but confident and comfortable and steady. Not stagnant, but steady and settled."

I've realized lately, that it's critical to recognize the fragility of ourselves and our relationships and our communities and our earth. It's only when we recognize each other as breakable that we start to be more careful, right? 

I told Brad that I believed the foundation of our relationship was strong because we also know it's fragile. Like so many things, it's both. Steadfast and fleeting. Delicate and resilient.  

Enormous oak trees gather the light that allows them to survive the winter through leaves that brown and whither by November. 

The things that walk this wire are the most beautiful.

But you only get to witness them at the point when they're near breaking or broken. And then you might dig up something even stronger in the wake.

Lily loves to listen to Adele. 

"You can sing like Adele," I told her.

"No, I can't," she told me. "My voice is too scratchy."

When she told me this, my heart fell. So self-conscious and only 5 years old. But Lily, I said, Adele's voice isn't perfect always. It cracks, too.

In fact, I told her, one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite songs by Adele is when her voice gets a little ugly. The very end of "When We Were Young" when she sings, "Oh I'm so mad I'm getting old / It makes me restless" and you feel her fury and heartache through the shattering of her voice. 

It's true that messes can be frustrating and exhausting. That when things break it makes us feel sad and angry. Lost and afraid. Unsettled and adrift. All those negative things that make us want to crawl into bed, pull the cover over our head and never come out. 

But, just like joy and silliness, these moments of tension are what shape us and give us depth. They're the tinder for the fire in our souls. And without them, we're less alive. 

My 5 year old taught me that.  


* Brad said it was OK for me to share this. Then he said he felt like it was a little bit like being naked in public. Then I said, "Nah, it's just like being naked on the internet." It's what I do. Metaphorically, of course. And for those who worry, we are all just fine.