A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a friend's blog where she wrote about the challenge of staying upbeat and focused on the positive in what has felt like a very "heavy" fall.
I knew instantly that she had found the perfect word. Heavy.
In addition to all the trouble in our little neck of the woods, with public lies, personal threats, private hurts, broken trusts, big shakeups, etc, etc, there have been other challenges for us and for people we love: lost jobs (or still no job, despite constant hunting), unexpected illnesses/medical problems, and on top of it all a lingering uncertainty about much of the future. My grandpa (or rather, my grandma's husband--they've only been married 10 years, but they're sealed, so he's grandpa, no?) passed away the day after my grandma's birthday. Because of the ridiculous cost of flying to Montana (especially last minute), I didn't make it home and I felt rather discombobulated to not be with my family as they grieved/celebrated Clark's life and comforted and helped to care for Grandma. A couple weeks later, a woman who was a big part of my childhood passed away--the mother of a girl who was one of my closest friends from first grade all the way to high school graduation. Gaye was only a couple years older than my parents (and actually shares a birthday with my dad), and not having been around the last several years, the news that she was in the hospital was quite a shock to me. At the funeral, my mom approached Dennis, her husband, and expressed how grateful she was for what a great "second mom" Gaye had been to me as I was growing up. He replied, "Oh yeah, I always thought of her as my barefoot daughter." I was comforted by that expression of affection from him, and I was very sad not to be there to express for myself my gratitude for the generosity they had both always shown to me, and to offer to buy him a banana milkshake.
Its just all been a whole lot to process, mentally, emotionally, and in the practical "Now what?" of daily realities. Add to that the general busyness of jobs, callings, three little kids and a tiring (but, thankfully, healthy and uneventful) pregnancy, and the last few months have indeed felt pretty heavy.
But today Doug turns 34, and we decided to go to dinner and a movie tonight (have I mentioned that I LOVE my sister-in-law, who lives a few minutes away and babysits pretty much any time I ask?). That's two months in a row we've managed to make it out on a date. And I love going on dates with my husband, because when we don't have our hands full of children, diaper bags, toys, books and various sticky and/or greasy foodstuffs, I am very much his date: he opens my door for me, he holds my hand, he charms me. I happily and contentedly define myself primarily as a mother, but it is refreshing to be reminded from time to time that there is someone in my life who appreciates all of me--everything I do with and for the kids, and everything else, too. Someone who sees the whole me, and loves me (sometimes, admittedly, in spite of myself). As with most married couples, we probably get more of the worst of each other than anyone else does, but we most certainly get more of the best of each other. And that's why I love him so much--in the long run, we always make each other better. Our marriage is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Hayley, who is the one who lost her mom almost two months ago, sent me a message today in which she apologized to me for not being in better touch. Why would I ever fault her for that? But as I read her brief message, I thought about how every time I see a really great Halloween costume, or eat a bit of Nutella, or see a troop of Girl Scouts, I think of her mom. Nearly every time my little girl wants "the pink one", whatever the "one" is, I think of Hayley. I am grateful for the many memories I have of their family, because years later (and it has been literally years since I spent time with any of them now) they still make me smile. Their kindness still regularly gives my life joy, even though they aren't themselves a regular part of my life anymore.
Last night Doug bought a package of candy canes and I opened it today to give one to Kylie. The first candy cane of the year always makes me think of my dad. Right around this time of the year, he'd come home from Missoula one evening after being at the University or doing some shopping and tell Michael and I (and Eldon, when we were a bit younger), that while he was in town, he'd happened to run into Santa Clause. Santa had asked how we were doing, and Dad always reported that we'd been pretty good kids, and so Santa would send a few candy canes for us and make sure Dad reminded us to get him our Christmas lists. That "Santa candy cane" was usually the first one I got each year. Every time I pull out the first candy cane of the Christmas season, I think of my dad and feel happy all over, because now at 26 I can still picture in my mind, nearly as clearly as I saw it at 5, my dad's young, unwrinkled, mustachioed face, lit up happily as he delighted his children with his story of casual conversation with Santa and a little sugary treat. That has always been one of my favorite memories, but its one that actually means more to me now as an adult, because now I get it--now as a parent, I understand the joy you feel yourself when you can, in such a small and simple way, delight your children and bring a little magic into their lives. There's no feeling quite like that.
So I made a plan today. Some of the activities and treats that I know my kiddos love best, and some new ones I'm hoping they'll love, and where they'll fall in the now-til-Christmas schedule. Because life is full of twists and turns, hard losses, long trials and heavy burdens. But its also full of all kinds of little, wonderful moments: moments that can give us a little smile, a little joy, and consequently a little relief, even if just for a minute, from those trials and burdens. And now as I move a little further down the road of life and finally start to get enough distance to look back a little bit, I understand a better that those little moments are so important, not only for the joy that they give us at the time, but because they still have the power to bring us joy years after they happen. They make us smile, remembering how life has been good, and help us to refocus on the ways in which it still is.
Because it really is. For all its troubles, life is good.