After some yoga that ended with Stephanie Snyder from YogaGlo saying, "Relax the spaces between your fingers," I felt peaceful and pleased. And really, let me go ahead and say that "peaceful and pleased" are the words I could have used to describe my feelings at the end of Easter day, just before I went to sleep last night.
It is rare that a day begins and ends with the same sort of satisfaction. Yesterday felt like I was riding one of those lazy rivers at a big water park. The kind where you lay in the inner tube let the current take you where it pleases while your skin gets warm and golden, or in my case, usually bright red like the Quint 2 Firetruck that services my neighborhood.
I decided to make Aunt Stacy's Banana Bread for breakfast. Aunt Stacy is my sister-in-law and this recipe of hers is a huge favorite with my kids. My girls weren't home from the slumber party yet, but my boys looked at each other in wide-eyed anticipation and cheered and ran the lap in our house from living room to kitchen to dining room back to living room. Since I'm typically making food that they are groaning at, this was a nice change.
I'm not sure why I decided to make banana bread on the morning that I also had to make two pies and a salad for a family Easter gathering at 4 pm. I think it was because I had already salivated over the thought of a piece of that bread with a Neverland Mug of coffee and once you get that sort of ambiance in your head, it's hard to not give it to yourself.
I put on my apron, like I usually do when I realize I'm A. going to be in the kitchen for a while or B. wiping my messy hands repeatedly on my clothes. I felt so domesticated, which reminded me of that time I ran into a past boyfriend (like literally ran into him) in my hometown and he said to me, "You're all domesticated and stuff now, aren't you?" I grimaced and said I didn't prefer that word. Later, I broke out into an invisible soul rash for the next several weeks? months? years? because all I could think of was Isadora Duncan saying, "You were wild once. Don't let them tame you" and how I probably let down a whole pack of women who run with the wolves and Secret Rebels because I had gone and got declawed.
But I have resigned myself to the fact that I am in fact in some ways and on some days, wildly domesticated and that domestication feels a lot like being home (to yourself), being rooted, being grounded, being soft and being sure. It also feels like being peaceful and being pleased, which I've already told you was yesterday's theme.
With the banana bread cooking in the oven and smelling delicious in our home and the 5-year-old asking me every other minute if it was ready yet, I began on making the pie crusts. The process is unhurried and requires some patience. Flour, salt, cutting in the shortening, then adding a tablespoon of cold water one at a time until the consistency of the dough is just right when pinched between your fingers. The "just right" part makes me nervous every time, but it seemed to work out ok yesterday. The process is meditative as long as you're not in a hurry, as long as you can give yourself over to it. I wrapped the balls of dough in plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator to chill for a little bit.
I paused to watch a Facebook video of my niece, who lives far, far away in NY, reading a children's book. I cried and laughed at the same time.
My phone vibrated. A thrashing friend sharing her Easter church sermon notes with me:
"The bible is full of all sort of promises, but if you don't live up to our expectations, they aren't for you."
Then my phone started ringing. Another friend.
"I am warning you. I am highly emotional today. I will probably cry just because I hear your voice."
We talked a bit about Easter and Jesus and Bunnies and how bizarre this holiday is anyway, but how even more bizarre it is when you don't know where you fit or don't care to find out. She was spending her Easter morning in a McDonald's play place. I was spending mine being domesticated. No easter dresses and wrist corsages like as a kid. Things were just different, and even if different is okay, it still can take some getting used to.
I forgot to mention I made a double batch of banana bread, mainly for the practical reason that I couldn't stand for the bananas to go bad and unused, but partly because I couldn't stop thinking about my neighbors and how hard their lives are. How hard all our lives are.
I had some semblance of understanding about why my mother-in-law loves cooking big full meals for people, even if it wears her out. It's because sometimes it's the only thing that makes sense, putting food in the bellies of those you love. Today I loved everyone. Who cares if I didn't really like baking and I didn't really want to be the mom home alone in an apron while her husband did exciting things like winning bike races. Who cares if I kind of wanted the old ways of things: a new dress and fancy flowers and sunrise breakfasts. Who cares if I had other things I actually needed to be making, like pies and a salad and who cares if I burned out before I got those done. In this way my domestication was actually far from divulging my tameness. I was a madwoman who opens herself to love when it doesn't make sense to her. When the tears fall as if they flowed from some source other than her own.
The bread finished and stuck a bit to the bottoms of the pans. But no worries, my boys were shoving their fingers into the hot metal, risking a burn for the first crumbs. This sort of thing can melt a person, especially if said person is having a ridiculously gushy day. They wanted to partake of what I had made.
I cut the second loaf of Aunt Stacy's Banana Bread in half and wrapped it in wax paper, holding the folds with washi tape that didn't want to stick. I grabbed art scraps from a bag and dipped my fountain pen in black India Ink and scrawled, "With love." It made me so happy I felt embarrassed. I thought about sending my kids to the neighbors with the treats, which is how I normally handle such a delivery, but this usually ends with me asking my kids, "What did they say? What did they think? What did their faces look like when you gave it them?" And my kids looking at me blank, like it really didn't matter. But it does matter to me, so I decided I wanted to be the one to enjoy the delivery, even if it made me blush and go speechless and smile all goofy and toothy.
I knocked on my duplex neighbor's door, and Lil came out, also in her comfy clothes, and her face lit up and she hugged me and I hugged back.
"It's still warm," she exclaimed, cupping the little half-loaf in her hands like it was a small rescued animal.
"You guys have been working a lot of long hours..."
"We have, we have," she said exasperated.
"I just wanted to make something for you."
She thanked me, and called into her husband and teenage boys, "Look what our neighbor made for us."
I walked across the street and delivered the other half loaf to the single mom with a premie newborn whose kids hold a special place in my heart. Her son answered the door in his bathrobe with a package of bologna in one hand and a slice of bread in the other.
"I made you something," I said, and he smiled and said thank you and I felt shy when I realized a girl could get off on this sort of moment. There is nothing like seeing someone smile in a bathrobe with gunk still in their eyes. I rubbed the gunk out of my own eyes and walked back across the street to my home, feeling like Christian Slater as a flower delivery man in Bed of Roses.
I sat down at my table to enjoy my coffee and bread. One sip of coffee and the doorbell rang. It was my neighbor, Lil.
"Girl!" She said, her mouth half-full of banana bread and a big slice in her hand. "I just had to come over and tell you, this is DIVINE." She was shaking her finger and using her whole body to get her message across.
She had to use the word DIVINE, didn't she? Straight to my heart like a secret message arrow. I called God the Divine a lot when writing Thrashing, and here was evidence of the incarnation, showing up right here on my dirty porch with the paint chipped lawn furniture.
"It is DIVINE," she said again, chewing and savoring.
"Thank you. You made my day," I said, thinking secretively about how one part of me had pouted when I had made the decision to do the extra work to make an extra loaf.
"No, YOU made MY day," she said, shaking her head and saying "mmm, mmm, mmm," like I had just preached the best Easter sermon she had ever heard. She walked back over to her side of the porch.
I kid you not, no sooner did my butt land back in the dining room chair and my hand touched my first slice of bread, my doorbell rang again. It was Lil.
"Last time. I promise. I won't bug you again!" She was saying all of this before I even had the door open, and my dog was barking his head off and my heart was thumping love gush.
"My husband told me not to come back over here, but I told him hush, because you have got to know that this is the best banana bread I have ever had. And I LOVE banana bread. I have had all sorts, and this is better than most bakeries. The inside is moist, but the crust, the crust! We do not want a moist crust, you know what I am saying? And the texture of this crust is..." She was making moaning noises, and I was blushing and goofy smiling, feeling the skin tightening around my ears. My eyes were wet.
On the inside, a part of me was getting panicked. What if she expected me to make it again?What if it never turned out the same way again? What if she knew I could count on one hand the amount of times I had ever made banana bread? What if she quit her exhausting job and bought a storefront and expected me to start turning out moist loaves with textured crusts that made people moan?
"Well, it's Aunt Stacy's recipe," I said, as if she would know Aunt Stacy personally, "and maybe I just got lucky. You are so sweet!"
"I am NOT sweet. I am honest. I will be talking about this bread at work."
I felt the softening. I laid myself back in the big, cloud-like inner-tube and basked in that love though it might turn me red as a cherry. You have to give yourself over to it, like you give yourself over to the pie crusts.
"Thank you," I hugged her tight, got swallowed up by the entire perfection of her standing before me and knew the banana bread was saying everything I couldn't find words for in the moment.
My girls came home from the slumber party. I ran to the grocery and got nutmeg and karo syrup for the pies and strawberries for the salad. While in the spice aisle a man, probably in his 50's, and his father were looking at the salts.
"Are we in your way?"
"Oh, no, I'm just looking."
Then the man says to his father, "Well which kind do you think it is dad, this one says ice cream salt."
"Ice cream salt?!" I said, "I think I want to eat at your house."
They laughed and the son said, "Yeah, I'm putting my dad to work. Going to have him make us ice cream."
They kept looking for their salt. I kept looking for my nutmeg.
"One of you smells really good," I said, to the father and son, catching a whiff of their cologne. "Or maybe it's your combined scent?!" I added.
The son looked at me his eyes twinkling and said, "I bet it's the ice cream salt." I threw my head back and laughed, thrilled that I was the chosen recipient for his wit. The day was obviously catering to me.
I returned home and made the pies, crimping the crusts like my mother-in-law taught me. Pecan first, my Love Interest's current favorite. Then apple, my father-in-law's favorite.
As I folded the dough for the apple pie and laid it in the pie pan I recognized this was the most pleasant part of the process for me. The dough felt soft and smooth and it was a sensual rush to drape it and unfold it, like silk bed sheets. When I put the apples into their bed, all I could think was, they are gushing, like me. This is why Julie Powell equates Mastering the Art of French Cooking with the book The Joy of Sex. Somehow the two go hand in hand. If my past boyfriend only knew how erotic a pie dough could get. Domesticated my ass.
The evening unfolded just as perfectly as my pie crusts. I called two of my friends and my sister and told them I loved them. I called my grandma and told her I was making pies and thinking of her and her pie. I met my baby niece, Eden, for the first time. I ate an incredible spread of food that my mother-in-law created. I shared heartfelt conversations with my family members and laughed so hard my sides ached. I relayed the banana bread story to Aunt Stacy in the flesh. I kissed my Love Interest, returned from the far-off lands of successful bike racing. I put all of my kids to bed with wet eyes and a burning nose. And then I collapsed into my own bed wondering how in the world I was ever going to put all of this into words or why anyone would ever be patient enough to read it. The Lazy River current pulled me into the rich night of dream world, peaceful and pleased.
My cousin says that Easter is about "Life, fertility, rebirth, the return of the sun, return of the resurrected god; for many thousands of years, this has been a time to celebrate the world coming back to life after the deadness of winter."
I do feel like yesterday was my resurrection day.
As you might imagine, I set my alarm for 5 am, did some writing and then went for a run yesterday. I was not going to have a repeat of the day before, and besides, I had already given resting a real solid attempt.
As I took off running away from the dead end street I live on, I noticed three things: one, my legs were still extremely sore in all the joints. Two, my city was a ghost town at 6 in the morning on a Saturday. Three, the sky was pink and orange with the anticipation of a new day. I was going to see what I could do with it.
With nearly no cars to contend with, I decided to run a different route than I'm used to, mainly because the running was getting boring, and I wanted to run for awhile. On my new venture I could make it clear to a park, run a portion of the trail within it, the portion that was not secluded in the woods where I didn't feel safe by myself in the dawn's early light, and then run back home. I ran the way there with no headphones, listening to the bird song and talking to myself about how much I love to write and why I had been avoiding it.
There were three other men out running. I wondered where all the women were.
In the park I was honked at my several perturbed ducks, while I marveled over the fountain and how pretty it looked in the morning light and how soothing it sounded, even if the ducks were quacking at my rude disruption of their otherwise .
On the way back I listened to music and tried to tell my legs that they actually could keep going if they would just trust me. For most of the run I followed a man who was running way faster than me with his dog. He had flashing red lights velcroed to each arm, that blinked out in front of me in the distance like a homing beacon or a donkey's carrot.
Having reached my goal of running 45 minutes, I ended my run on my Nike App, pleasantly surprised to find it was my longest run yet, and walked the last half a block or so back to my house. I saw a bird in the open lot next to my neighborhood. The bird was ripping at a piece of clear plastic wrap that had been torn off a package of cigarettes. It got startled by my approach and flew off with the plastic, presumably to its nest. I imagined its nest being some modern day work of art, interwoven with colorful bits of trash, of which there was plenty to choose from in that open field. I wondered what would become of the bird and his creation once the property sold and the development started. I wondered if all the field mice would end up in our home. They had to have a home.
I turned the corner to my dead end street and walked down the middle of the road in big long strides trying to stretch out my ankles, arches, knees, calves and hips. There was a bird sitting on my fence singing a very distinct song. I tried to whistle the song back, though my whistling skills are second rate. The bird looked at me, turned its head to the side, whistled its song again and then flew into my backyard, as if to say, "I dare you to follow me." I didn't take the bait. After all, I highly doubted his little game of chase was going to end me at a bottle of Ibuprofen and a tall glass of cold water, and I had plans for that.
Inside Tony was awake and doing cycling laundry and shoving stuff into his race weekend bag.
"Good morning, Love," he said to me as I swallowed 2 Ibuprofen and tucked the rest of the bottle into the side pocket on his bag.
"Good morning. Do you have time for breakfast?" I asked, resting against the counter and feeling the flush of my cheeks and the throb of my legs. Resisting the urge to tell him I had just accomplished my longest run yet, because I wasn't sure he was in the mindset to really hear me or to cheer like a madman, both of which would be absolutely necessary at this point.
"I don't. I have to get going," he said reluctantly.
"That's okay. I just thought I'd offer if you were going to be here packing for a bit."
I worked on catching my breath. He worked on packing the last of his things and grabbing his laundry, and telling me the times of his races because he knows I like to know these things.
"I'm sorry I won't be there," I said.
"It's ok. I love you." He hugged me solid, sweat and all and I sighed, relishing the moment. One more "I love you guys!" hollered from the garage and then he was off.
My eyes watered. My nose burned. I'm not sure why that happens at the oddest of times, but it seems to happen more and more each day. I think it is my body going through the necessary motions of softening to this life.
The day from that point forward actually turned out to be far more restful than my previous attempt. My girls left for a slumber party. My boys and I went to the post office, where Luis the postmaster informed me with a grin that he would be on vacation for the next two weeks, and then we went to the park.
There was a big Easter party going on, and I assumed it was being put on by a church or a ministry because the loudspeakers were playing Switchfoot and someone prayed before they ate. The weather was perfect, the light breeze kept blowing my wrap off my shoulders, which made me feel pretty. My boys played nerf guns with other boys their age. No one fell and got hurt. No one tattled. (Okay, maybe once.) I sat and finally read through some of the final chapters of Julie and Julia with no excuses and had bits of conversation here and there with some other adults. My boys actually got tired of being there before I did.
We went home and parked our car and then went on a walk. Well, actually the boys rode scooters. I walked behind them and yelled out nervous and worried screeches until their eyes rolled. One of them had an ice cream gift certificate from school and the other one had a $5 bill from his Papi, so our destination was the ice cream shop.
The afternoon and evening were spent with the boys playing their new Wii game, watching batman cartoons and playing outside with their neighbor friend. I took a nap and drooled on my pillow and then finished reading the last 10 pages of Julie and Julia, celebrating it with the return of my watery eyes and burning nose as well as some chips with pico, wine and the night air on my back porch.
I thought about these two juxtaposed days of mine. The attempt at rest and the unexpected rest. I had thought about inviting some girlfriends over, but was glad I didn't because I really did appreciate being alone.
I thought about how strange it was that for a few solid hours no one needed me, no one was bleeding, no one was strangling another person, no one wanted me to make them supper or plan their activities. When they rushed in from the outdoors, I would jump and say, "What do you need?!" They would say, "Nothing mom, I'm just thirsty." When my phone rang last night with my daughter calling from the sleepover, I jumped and said, "What do you need?" She said, "Nothing, Mom. Victoria's mom just thought I should call you.
It made my eyes water and my nose burn.
I don't know how it goes for normal people, but I do know how it goes for me. And I don't feel normal.
I got a text from my mother-in-law yesterday at 9:38 am.
"Are you home?"
"Yes, just not out of bed," I responded.
I wondered what the normal people were doing on Good Friday. I started thinking about all the things I could have done had I been up at my preferred 5 AM wake-up time.
I could have exercised. I could have written. I could have breakfast already on the table.
Yes, but I am giving myself a break, remember? Sleeping in like I never get to. Resting.
Resting feels horrible when it's 9:38 am and I have dirty dreadlocks, sore joints, and hungry antsy kids fighting over who gets to be what character in The Lego Avengers game and my Love Interest has already left for work, early, so that he can ride his bicycle, and my in-laws are texting me to drop stuff off and I feel like a slob.
I remembered the texted conversation I had with Rain over the course of the morning while I laid in bed. At least that was something, right? Me ruminating with an onslaught of words on how love is either going to kill me or change me. Her responding as though I were brilliant. Me wondering if I really meant any of it, or if I was just trying to make myself feel better for screwing up a perfectly good morning.
But I wanted to stay in bed. I wanted to rest. I am giving myself what I wanted.
I turned around upside down in the bed and put my feet up on the headboard which sits in front of the window that hangs with thin scarves that I once thought looked good in my hair, but then decided they didn't. Snapping a picture of the silhouette of my feet I wrote the words I had shared with Rain.
I can't I can't okay I can.
This is what resting feels like, what loving feels like, what getting out of bed feels like. What living with a competitive athlete feels like. What letting others into my life feels like. What parenting alone on a Good Friday feels like. What taking a picture of my feet and slapping on some filters feels like because I need to show myself through my frustration that I am allowed to feel like this. I am allowed to have no energy. To have to peel myself from the sheets because ready or not this day has started and no amount of folding my arms or stamping my foot is going to keep everyone else from having a day.
I can't I can't okay I can.
I managed to put on some clothes. Purple clothes because I read somewhere that purple is a royal color, and I needed all the regality I could get. I refused to look too long in the mirror while I brushed my teeth. I didn't have the desire to repaint the face that had been painted just yesterday. Second day markings would have to do. I greeted my mother-in-law for the drop-off and we said our I love you's and then she was on her way, to have a day. I was still revolting against mine.
I made waffles at practically lunch time and sat down to eat mine with fruit piled on top and a cup of coffee as my reward. Everything was effort. Even the swallowing. And the voices kept mocking me.
I could have ran. I could have written. I could have had some time to myself to do something legit, but I didn't want it. Remember? I didn't want it. I wanted to rest.
I can sum up the morning for you like this: The mom yelled. The kids yelled. The mom yelled louder. It would save you a lot of time and me a lot of embarrassment. Fast forward to the part where I'm stuffing my feet down into boots and hearing the deadening click marking the lock of the shackles forced around my wrists. I lost the key when I became a parent, just like I lost it all those years ago when I snapped the handcuffs around my weiner dog's neck and then panicked when he didn't seem to be able to breathe. Being a mom is way more involved than I assumed when I used to smile at cute kids in the grocery store and they would smile back. Now I am the one who doesn't seem to be able to breathe. At least not yesterday.
The fun afternoon consisted of swimming suit shopping. I might have called it quits about two hours in, but my girls were going to a pool party the never next day, and since they had grown out of last year's suits, we were kind of cutting it close.
"It's crazy. This is crazy. They're going crazy," I said to my oldest daughter after we made our fifth trip from swimming suit section to dressing room. Per usual I wanted to blame someone for the plot of my life, but everywhere I pointed the finger, it pushed away, like the north side of a magnet interacting with another north.
My kids are misbehaving. No, they're bored.
My daughter is being too picky. No, bathing suits suck.
I'm a horrible mother. No, you just shouldn't have rested this morning. Oh, shut the hell up already!
This is my life. Standing with a cart full of monkeys while I listen to the store employees fight over who gets to go on break next. (The woman with the headache won.)
I did what any self-respecting human being would do. I started taking pictures. The ripped box outside the dressing room spoke of all my longing and wanting.
Then, I went into the dressing room where my daughter was and took a selfie, so I could see myself and say to me, by the way, this is hard, this business of seeing and allowing everyone's behavior - my kids, my husband's, my in-laws, mine, the dressing room clerk with the headache. It's all allowed, even if it makes it wildly annoying for all of us to brush shoulders together.
After we had tried on every size 12 in the store, I waved the white flag. We had one bathing suit and one still to find. I tried to surrender myself fully to the moment, but I may have pouted a little. Who wants to spend a day inside a retail store like this, especially a pretty day with sunshine and a cool breeze?
"I hate that I am so sensitive!" My daughter groaned, in tears.
"Every woman is sensitive when it comes to bathing suit shopping. You're just one of us."
I rallied the troops by stopping for a very late lunch and I splurged for Subway, financially justified because I was way too tired to go home and make something. Also healthfully justified because I didn't opt for the $5 Hot 'N' Ready pizza. Subway at least has the appearance of health because all those vegetables are an option (of which my kids ordered none except a few shreds of lettuce). Of course, I ate jalapeño cheetos because Katy Perry and I know if you're going to make a bad day better, you simply have to burn your tongue off. We clogged both toilets and then headed off to Kohl's.
I have never been in Kohl's in the 5 years I've lived here, but of course this is the day I would run into a friend from the homeschool co-op and church we used to attend. Me with my second day make-up and my jalapeño cheeto breath and my phantom shackled wrists, two hours into an uneventful scavenger hunt.
I hugged her, apologized for my breath, and we spoke of the ungodly way kids seem to grow up (It's not fair that it's so cliche to say "oh my how they've grown" because it's just so damn true. And something true gets its beauty swallowed up by a stupid cliche.)
"Are you shopping for Easter dresses?"
"No for bathing suits."
"Oh! Well good luck with that!"
We both laughed, knowing I was going to be there awhile.
When she left I thought about how horrible I must have looked, no thanks to all that rest I got this morning, and how of course I would run into her TODAY when I had chosen to gift myself with the luxurious freedom of a wrecked life.
Two of my kids played Pokemon on the floor in a store corner. One did a gymnastic routine on the dressing room bench, the other, as aggravated as I was with the length of this process, waited for me to make trips back and forth from the swimming suits to the dressing room with one more size and one more style. I had plenty of time to think as I walked the course back and forth. The voices in my head started up their repertoire:
I suppose most everyone in my former life assumes I am a screw up.
If we're not buying Easter dresses, I'm not in church.
If I look tired and worn out, I must be in a really bad place due to the choices I've made.
If my child has on sweat pants that are too big around the waste and too short at the legs, a shirt that barely covers his belly button and socks that are inside out and dirty, we must not be making it financially with the job switch from the church to "living the dream."
If I have jalapeño cheeto breath, well, anyone can plainly see this is a woman that has really let herself go.
If I had just gotten up earlier...
This is the surrender, not to the voices, but to my life. My life that hasn't cleaned up or gotten easier since I left the Christian community that has always been my life, but it is still the life I choose for myself, and though I don't believe for a single minute I have chosen poorly, I have to let those voices do their blurting, so they feel seen and heard and loved because I know then they'll quiet back down again and let me go on with my life. They are my thrashing invisible friends, and it is my mad duty to feed and water them, so they don't strangle me. Some days I tuck them into bed. Some nights I shove them into a closet and lock the door. We have a love/hate relationship, but I know now they are here to stay, and so am I. We get to both be here, brushing shoulders.
We found a bathing suit by the way. And it was so perfect on her ever-changing body, that we both squealed.
Also, today, I got up at 5 am instead of resting because that's what I wanted, and I do try to listen to myself.
I can't I can't okay I can.
#thatthrashingbook is 6 months old!
I am contemplating why my book, Thrashing About With God, may be a difficult and unnecessary read for some (*read also - humbly contemplating why Thrashing About With God hasn't sold as successfully as I thought it might or why the people I thought might endorse/promote it, won't):
And if you don't desperately resonate with the burden it's not worth being uncomfortable over. Really, it's not. Because the burden I speak of cannot be fixed or cleaned up, nor can you run away from it and cast blame. The book either asks you to surrender to the great Mystery AND own your great life or to be miserable, and I understand now why people who don't claim to have darkness anymore because they've been saved from it have no desire to take on my burden and make it their own. Who would willingly sign up for that? I get it now! I get it! I get why it just makes them sad for me!
So the book is for the desperate and the mad, which makes sense since it was written in desperation and madness. If you are the desperate and mad sort, would you please pass my book along to others as opportunities to do so arise?! It seems there are more of us than I thought. But we tend to be a quiet bunch, struggling alone. (Maybe because we've been told we are too desperate or too mad.) I love US.
I will be doing a book signing at my favorite local Oklahoma City bookstore, Full Circle, on Saturday, June 21 at 3 PM. Come. We'll talk.