Groundhog Day


I’m laying in bed wishing my life were a movie, and unfortunately Groundhog Day is the one that keeps coming to mind. Today was a day when I could not get it right. I could not be kind or patient or even grateful for all the blessings I have. I walked out of the house this morning without even kissing my family goodbye, distracted by all the things I needed to accomplish before the day began, and tired, instead of rejuvenated by the weekend. This Monday felt like the end of a long week, instead of the beginning, after six days with the husband gone elk hunting, and then headed back today on shift at the firehouse, and I could not see my way to Tuesday. If only we could hit the rewind button, or live the day again, but do it better. This is what comes of being a perfectionist, wishing to do things over and over again until I get it right, instead of letting today go, so tomorrow can begin.

Haven't we all wished once we could be Bill Murray, and live our day over again right this time?

Haven’t we all wished once we could be Bill Murray, and live our day over again right this time?

Perfectionists don’t look like you think they might. They are not all perfectly-pressed pristine paragons of pulchritude (wordies of the world unite!). The first time I read that most perfectionists are procrastinators, I felt someone had opened up my half-empty diary and read the scribblings within. This fear of imperfection stops up creativity and progress. This folly is what has my blog littered with drafts “that just need a little more tweaking,” languishing in the junk drawer of my mind. I don’t blame Pinterest or all the other parenting blogs with their professional-looking pictures of crafts I could never master or perfectly clean homes that don’t have piles of clean laundry that still need folding. I was born this way, and have unfortunately passed this trait on to my kids, with Daughter #1 wailing at age 3: “But I can’t make it perfect”, while trying to tie her shoes. I can’t be Bill Murray today, so in an effort to let go of this ideal of perfectionism, I am sharing this sad, largely unedited tale of how I picked my self-pitying self up and kicked myself (metaphorically, of course) in the dupa as the Polish say. (You can’t grow up where I did in Michigan and not pick up a few useful Polish words, another useful one being paczki).

Sometimes, we live the Pinterest life, or at least give the appearance of doing so. Last night we dined on bone china eating grass-fed husband-hunted grilled elk steaks with a side of organic brown quinoa, and garden fresh-picked kale stir-fried with onions and nitrite-free bacon. Here is a picture of that lovely meal.

Pinterest-worthy, don't you think?

Pinterest-worthy, don’t you think?

Most times we don’t though. Today, I picked up dinner from Wendy’s (by request from my little guy–not sure if that makes it better or worse) on the way home so we could get started on the hours of homework I knew lay ahead of us. My kids ate their Kid Value Meals (“with toy from Dreamworks!”) while I prayed that the fumes in my tank would get us through the line at the gas station, hoping the gas light would not start blinking like the robot in Swiss Family Robinson. I’m sure the bacon on the Junior bacon cheeseburger was not nitrite-free. There is no picture of that meal.

When we got home, Dragon Mama reared her ugly head, and the battle of the homework began. My middle daughter has no great love of math, and a summer in which we did not review multiplication tables is bearing all of its tearful fruits now. As I sat there, wishing the husband was home so I could tag out for a few minutes like those old WWF wrestling matches, I wondered if perhaps I am the cause of her dislike of math. Not a great motherhood moment. I walked away to sit on our patio swing, in the hopes that it would give me some perspective. This would be the moment I discovered the dog had found something delightful in the compost to string all over the yard. I have to admit, there was nothing Zen-like about this outdoors experience, and the swing would likely be more calming if it weren’t powered by angry feet, rocking wildly off its foundation.

This is me on a bad day.  Note the mouth made for spewing fire.

This is me on a bad day. Note the mouth made for spewing fire.

My spirits thusly fortified by the brisk swing, I felt up to the homework battle, in which the phrases “No, it would not be easier to add it 36 times, just MULTIPLY!” and “Yes, it is still wrong! Add it again.” were uttered. This is why I would be horrible at home-schooling my children, and why I believe teachers should be paid exponentially more than they are. At the end, we negotiated how to dole out the last 6 problems of Sunshine Math for the rest of the week given a full schedule of baseball, soccer, dance, scouting, and, of course, work. That was when my middle daughter said, “I really hope Daddy will be home for at least some of those days.” “Me, too,” I thought to myself.

In the middle of this, my husband called back to apologize for our earlier conversation in which I had retorted, “I don’t understand why we’re yelling when we agree with each other.” I had the good sense to also apologize, though not very graciously, and then he shared the news which made every single grumpy moment seem ridiculously banal. Our friend has cancer, and the outcome is uncertain.

On a day when I managed to yell at my kids just trying to add and multiply, my husband while trying to agree with him, and the dog for doing what dogs do, this news made me drop my head in shame. I looked at my self-pitying soul, and resolved to live better. We get no second chances, this not being a movie set and all, and so, we said our bedtime prayers, I apologized for being a dragon Mama, and we had a cuddle session which put them past their bedtimes, in the hopes it will all balance out in the end.

Tonight I’m thankful for second chances and forgiveness. I’m grateful for Wendy’s Junior bacon cheeseburgers and elk steaks. And I’m thankful for all the teachers who spend hours a day teaching our children with patience and skill. I’m praying for all the other dragon mamas (and papas) out there who have to parent alone all the time. I’m praying tonight for our friend, and for all of us out there who are struggling to live each day with grace, whether it is our last day or our first, again.

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Ashes & Smoke


On this Ash Wednesday, my thoughts turn naturally to fire and smoke.  Did you know that the ashes smudged on our foreheads come from the burning of Easter palms? I don’t pretend to be familiar with all that goes into the preparation of these ashes, but I picture an enormous conflagration burning white-hot, shriveling green and yellow palms into the black ashes with which we are marked, billowing white smoke surrounding those tending the flames.

Smoke can tell you a lot about a fire.  It seems intuitive, but something I never thought about until I became a firefighter’s wife.  In my life, and probably yours too, my only contact with smoke was innocuous and annoying at most, like when the wind blows campfire soot and embers toward you, or perhaps a signal that it’s time to get rid of the $10 toaster you bought on sale.

Now, smoke is always bad, in this land where the Rio Grande no longer lives up to its name, and a cigarette butt thrown from a truck window can set flames greedily licking up the wooden stairs to a freeway bridge.  Like settlers in the Old West, my husband and his crew scan the horizon, reading smoke signals.

White smoke on the horizon tells them that a knock-down is occurring. Steam and residual smoke from a fire are mixing,  and the fire is on its way to being contained.  Not surprisingly, black smoke is a harbinger of a poorly contained-fire, likely burning toxic materials, one that is not yet under control.  Either way, firefighters see smoke and a curious mix of trepidation and excitement charges through them.  This is what they train every day to do.

Wikipedia-Fire

In the same way, Ash Wednesday heralds the beginning of a fire for me.  It is a time of change, burning away the old, and each Lent I am filled with a similar mix of trepidation and excitement.  When I was a child, it was a time of deprivation: what could I give up, so I could mimic those 40 days in the desert?  I did not understand then what I know now.  The challenge is not just emulation, but true change.  Can we burn away that which makes us toxic?  Will the fire that lies within us be enough to leave nothing but the ashes of renewal?

This blog is part of that renewal process for me. The drive for perfection stalls me before I speak, before I write, before I start any new project, as a protection against failure. I am giving up my fear of failure for Lent, and thus I will be posting every day, fighting the urge for perfection in every line, and I’m sure my hands will be shaking before I hit the publish button. And so, on this first day of Lent, I begin this journey and invite you to be a part of building this fire with me.2012-11-24 16.48.31What do you want to set ablaze?