Lately I’ve fallen back into some worn, comfortable habits. Instead of consistently preparing a healthy, balanced meal, I’ve thrown frozen fishsticks in the oven and sliced up whatever fruit is on hand. I’ve convinced myself that pushing a full shopping cart around BJ’s Wholesale Club and loading its contents into the minivan’s trunk count as a daily workout. I’ve told myself reviewing spelling words with the kids while driving them to practice is the same as completing homework, and that it’s no big deal to leave those folded clothes in the laundry basket one more day…for four days running.
This may seem like a list of small, insignificant things, but in truth they snowball into a large accumulation of “not getting done what should be done.” What I eat directly impacts how I physically and mentally feel. Furthermore, the lurking guilt that one or all of my kids could potentially be BRCA2 positive means I am responsible to control whatever I can to safeguard their health. Does anything shout out “moral imperative” more?
Exercise is a love/hate thing. I love that it strengthens my body, keeping me in working order and helping to prevent side effects from osteoporosis. The hate part comes from having to actually do the exercises. I keep waiting for the switch to flip, for me to find enjoyment in what is so necessary for my well being, but it hasn’t happened yet. Working out is an excellent use of my time, yet I can’t help but think about a million other things I could be doing: writing, reading, playing with the kids, cooking, washing the dog, staring at a wall, Chinese water torture, oh hell! I rather be putting the laundry away!
A family of six has a crazy pace to maintain, that is certain. Our days have a rhythm to them, and the insanity of their orchestration is never as overwhelming as it is at this time of year. December can’t help but be a blur, between social events, extra shopping, school performances, moving Chippy, the Elf of the Shelf, and our countdown to Christmas. Just yesterday a friend reminded me that this is the last week of dance classes for the month. I drove to buy gifts for the dance teachers in a panic, taking Baby #4 with me into a gift shop. Not only did he touch every candle and toss greeting cards in the air , but he also licked the glass candy display case and wrote “W’s” in his smeary spit. For a grand finale, he pulled gift bows off of their adhesive backing. ‘Tis the season. If I have to shop for one more ornament, I might behave the same way.
He was exemplifying what I’ve been feeling inside: a lack of control. My mind has been a thousand places these past few months, but not anywhere near where it should be in the moment. I’m forgetful, I’m disorganized, I’m sad. The worst of my breast cancer treatment is over, and I’ve come out on the other side. What is it that creates the storm in my head?
November contains the painful reminders of others I loved that did not survive their battles with cancer. I am awash with survivor’s guilt. November is also the anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy, the first major step that changed my life drastically. You would assume I can embrace the month of December with open arms. ‘Tis the holiday season, but I’m searching for the Christmas Spirit these days. The Pope’s declaration of a Year of Mercy is being largely ignored. Most US citizens have lost faith in our federal government’s ability to be productive, and the media is saturated with the negative messages of presidential hopefuls. The people of the world are divided by creed, color, nationality, and social class, with a severity that I can’t recall observing before. Our Veterans have an unconscionably high suicide rate. Education is tanking. Syrian refugees are literally running for their lives. Peace in the Middle East seems like a pipe dream.
Me, the eternal optimist, weighed down by sadness? Me, reflecting on my personal sorrows on top of the world’s pain? How can this be happening?
We have had unseasonably warm days here the past few weeks. Yesterday, it poured through the evening and into the morning hours. When I walked the boys down the driveway to wait for the bus this morning, the following scene unfolded:
Baby #2: Why are there worms all over the driveway?
Me: It rained a lot last night, and the worms washed out of the dirt and ended up on the driveway. They have trouble getting themselves back into the dirt.
Baby #2: That’s so sad! Are they going to die?
Me: Yes, unless they can get back to the dirt. They need to be in the soil to survive.
Baby #2, (who consistently bears the weight of the world on his young shoulders): The bus is going to be here soon! I can’t pick them all up by myself! I’m going to have to leave them here, and they will die!
Baby #3, (bending down and flinging a worm into the grass): That’s why we’re a team. You don’t have to save them all by yourself.
The three of us frantically scooped up earthworms and tossed them back into the soft earth. By the time the bus arrived, we had saved them all. We were grinning like fools, reminding one another to wash our hands as soon as we could and hurriedly wiping our fingers on tissues pulled from our pockets. They waved to me as the bus pulled away, their little faces secure in their good deed, confident in knowing they had used what they possess to make a difference.
I walked back up the driveway with my eyes fixed on the sky above me. I don’t have to do anything alone. I don’t need to bear hurt or worry or sadness by myself. The Christmas Spirit is present and ready to be embraced. I no longer possess a sense of dread, but instead have hope for the future.
Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Man…because those of us who can always will.