On the French Toast Attempt, Painfully

I almost named my cat “Murphy” because in many ways, I am the living embodiment of Murphy’s law. If something is weird, it will most likely happen to me. I’m that guy.

That said, I’m also a huge proponent of a life without shoes (or socks or protective footwear whatsoever).

Since I never spent too much time in the kitchen until recently, my ability to attract danger (danger is clearly the wrong word here) and my lack of shoes never became much of an issue, other than the occasional stubbed toe or tripping over something.

Last Friday morning, I was attempting challah French toast. I had been to the store, procured the necessary ingredients (boyfriend told me that if I bought one more carton of eggs, he’d murder me, since I seem to keep buying eggs that no one will ever eat), and returned to begin my breakfast endeavor.

My mom bought us new knives for Christmas and they’re fantastic. (If you click on the link, you can see the orange bread knife…..) I was using the bread knife to slice my challah, and had moved on to preparing the liquid. I had honey in the microwave to soften, and when I went to open the door, I pushed the bread knife off the counter and onto the floor.

Except it didn’t hit the floor.

I felt it hit my foot and didn’t think anything of it, but my friend Shelby turned around and gasped. I looked down. Blood, blood. Everywhere, blood. I grabbed my foot. More of it. Calmly, I examined the wound. More blood. I grabbed some paper towel to put on it. That failed. “I think I need to go to the ER,” I said, as Shelby grabbed me a bath towel.

Boyfriend was downstairs, and he couldn’t hear my cries for help. (I thought he was ignoring me.) When Shelby went to get him, he came running up. At this point, I was hopping around trying to gather my wallet and keys and stuff. He swept me into his arms and carried me to the car, then drove me the six or so blocks to the nearest hospital.

The ER parking lot was full, as was the parking garage. The paper towels were rubber-banded around my foot, and I had it held as high as I could. “Don’t get blood on the dashboard,” he cautioned. I glared at him. Pssh, I wasn’t about to bleed on the dash.

We found parking two blocks from the ER entrance – in hindsight, he could have pulled into the ambulance driveway or something, but you know what they say about hindsight – and then he swept me back into his arms and hauled me the two blocks to the ER. The police/security guy guarding the desk saw us coming and brought out a wheelchair for me.

“We’ve got another one!” the front desk guy yelled. (Another ER visitor or another bread knife accident victim, I will never know.)

They wheeled me to the back, Shelby and boyfriend sat with me. Boyfriend cracked jokes. I stared at my foot, feeling silly. “You did this to avoid cooking French toast, didn’t you?” he asked. I was not amused, mostly because I had been so set on creating a fantastic breakfast based on a top-rated internet recipe. (Ha, those. The refuge of desperate beginner cooks like myself.)

He held my hand when they numbed it. I cried. I’m pretty tough, but I cried. And then laughed because I was so embarrassed about crying. He later told me he hadn’t expected me to have such a strong grip. I told him he was lucky he still had a hand.

I was concerned about tendon problems, as I couldn’t bend my toes. I wiggled them for the doctor and was rewarded with pain I can’t even explain. Luckily, there was no tendon damage. We could see them! That was pretty cool.

Three stitches later, I was all set to go home. Boyfriend went and got the car, then lifted me into the seat. When we got home, he threw me over his shoulder like a caveman (much to his amusement) and brought me back inside.

I finished the French toast. It wasn’t half bad. Needed powdered sugar.

Four days later, I’m still in pain. The wound is healing nicely, but I still can’t bend my foot or lift my big toe (“the front toe” as I kept trying to explain to the doctor — what the hell is a front toe? And why was I so set on calling it that?). Walking is painful. Moving is painful. I’ve been removed from any work involving standing until at least Friday, so that’s good.

But I’m on the mend and feeling silly. My brother stabbed himself accidentally in November, so it’s now a big joke that we’re not allowed to have any knives in the house. Boyfriend teased that we’ll have to check them out from him now, and that they’ll only be able to be used with direct supervision. My mom suggested plastic cutlery.

Moral of the story: shoes in the kitchen from now on!

 

 

On the Puppy, Anxiously

There’s something wrong with Acorn.

We knew it the moment we met him. He’s all floppy black puppy, but he’s got sad brown eyes. He sat there on the floor of the house in Mississippi, shaking fearfully, timid but so sweet. We fed him, we bathed him, and he was ours. I knew it instantly. Boyfriend was hesitant, we wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with him before we took him in. And there wasn’t, mostly.

But there’s something wrong with Acorn. It isn’t physical. Whatever happened to him in the four and a half months before he joined our family left deep scars. We knew it when we met him, that he’d been mistreated. It’s in the way he cowers from an outstretched hand, the way he’s terrified of doors and floors, the way he used to curl himself up into a ball around other dogs. He’s anxious. Boyfriend likes to joke that he takes after his mother (me) in that way.

He’s come a long way in the two months we’ve had him. He’s more confident around other dogs now, he loves to play with them. He’s better with people. He stills shies away from a hand that’s put forth too quickly, but he loves to be loved. He climbs into bed with me at night and sleeps with his head on my legs. He sits on the bathroom mat behind me when I brush my teeth. (He blends in, since the mat is black, so I’ve nearly tripped over him a few times.)

He’s been ours since we fed him. That first night, he lay by the foot of our bed, and he’s been with us every night since. He’s loyal – when I’m outside in the front yard, I don’t have to worry about leashing him since I know he won’t go far. When we’re hiking, boyfriend usually takes the lead, and when Acorn can’t see me anymore, he’ll double back until he sees that I’m behind them, and that I’m okay. Then he’ll run back up to boyfriend.

He’s like any other puppy, eating us out of house and home, chewing on everything he can get his paws on. He’s stubborn – he won’t come in until he’s done playing, and yesterday, leaving the dog park, we had to put him back into the car because he didn’t want to leave.

The car was where we first realized he had deeper fears. The first few days, he wouldn’t jump in or out of the car. When you’d try to take him out, he’d plant his feet as though you removing him was going to be the worst thing. Same for getting in. And doors. And places he’s never been before. And bridges.

He’s hesitant, nervous, afraid. He won’t go in the side door of the house. One day, boyfriend had the back gate open and he got out. Boyfriend found him, a few minutes later, waiting patiently at the front door to be let in.

He’s sweet. He’s loving. He’s learning how to be a dog. But he’s still scared. The other day, boyfriend was lamenting that we ended up with such a wimpy dog, a coward, and that these aren’t ever things he’ll outgrow. Abused dogs, he said, are like that forever. There’s no changing them.  (Boyfriend loves him, don’t get me wrong. He just gets frustrated at the seemingly unending line of nervous anxieties we find and the seemingly illogical explanations for them.)

I disagree. I mean, I don’t think Acorn’s ever going to the most aggressive, alpha male out there, but I do think that we can love a lot of the fear out of him. He used to freak out about the linoleum in our kitchen (I mean, who wouldn’t?). He’d scamper across it like it was burning lava. He wouldn’t eat if his bowl was on it, and if he did, he’d run back to the safety of the living room as soon as he could. But now, if I’m in the kitchen, he’ll sit patiently behind me or lay down on the floor in front of the refrigerator. He’s getting there.

Instead of getting upset with him, I’ve been as patient as possible. At first, I set the bowl just inches onto the linoleum, where he could eat with all paws on the wood floor. And then, I inched it in, so that eventually, he was standing with all fours on the floor, happily chowing down.

He used to be unable to go outside without one of us. Now, I let him out and let him play outside until he signals that he’s ready to come in. He knows we’re coming back for him, that being outside isn’t being abandoned. Sometimes, after I’ve had enough of outside play, he’ll refuse to come in, carrying his rope toy and looking longingly at me. I’ll leave him outside until he comes to stand by the door, his signal that he’s done. He knows I’ll be there to let him in.

Right now, he’s curled on the couch next to me, asleep. Even his dreams are calmer now. He used to yelp and squirm when he slept, nervous little yips. Now, he sleeps more soundly. When he falls asleep, he’s out. He’ll try to fight sleep, his eyes getting lower and lower until finally, they close and he melts into his sleeping position. It’s so sweet. After big hikes, he’s usually asleep before we even leave the parking lot.

He’s got the most adorable face. He’s already learned the word “walk” and when you say it, his ears perk up and he stares at you expectantly. He’s all giant paws and he’s still mastering walking gracefully.

We’re working on reassuring him that he’s safe, that we love him, that when he does something wrong he’ll be punished, but it will be reasonable and consistent. We’re finding out how to adapt to his nervous habits, and how to change the ones that are changeable. We’re exposing him to other dogs, so he’ll have buddies to play with and learn from. We’re letting him be loved by everyone who wants to love him — strangers always comment on what a sweet, adorable dog he is.

I can’t help but think about how whoever it was that hurt him and then left him. I can’t help but think about what a miserable person they must be. I can’t help but be sad for all of the animals that don’t have loving homes. But I look at my two furry sons, both rescued, and I can’t help but feel like the most blessed person on this planet.

Carlos, my FIV+ Chicago street cat, missing a fang and half an ear, who was returned to the shelter by a family. Acorn, my anxious black lab puppy, abandoned in Mississippi. They are my favorites. Carlos is fierce and too aggressive for his own good, but he loves his wet food and to be pet right under his chin, and will hop up onto the bathtub ledge to say hi while you’re taking a bath. He loves to curl up in the crook of your elbow and fall asleep with you. Acorn is sweet and playful, full of energy, who shakes with excitement when you come through the door. He loves ice cream treats and his rope toys, tearing up anything with a squeaker as soon as he can. These guys are part of my family. These guys deserve all of the love. I sometimes wonder if it was just meant to be.

He was such an unexpected blessing. It’s like my brother said, “He’s such a precious little pup.” And he is. He’s our precious little (50 pounds and counting) pup. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On Pushing, Newly

I usually choose a word to live by each year. That word becomes a sort of meditation for me throughout the year, the goal being to incorporate that word’s meaning into my life so much so that it becomes a part of me. That rumination has served me well.

A couple of years ago, I chose “gratitude” and found that to be a very fulfilling challenge for the year. I worked on being better about thank-you notes, appreciating everything I have – friendships, family, relationships, and so on, and on loving the tiny moments that often go overlooked in the chaos of every day life.

Last year, my word was most likely not “survival” at the outset, but unconsciously, that’s what it became. I have heard so many people talk about how 2013 was not a year they’d like to repeat, and I have to agree. 2013 was the worst year of my life. I can say that with absolute certainty. I have never been so close to the edge of despair as I was for much of the year. I have never felt the depths of darkness licking up closer to my heart. I have never wanted so badly not to be alive.

And yet, the light could not be extinguished. “This too shall pass” did come to pass, and time began to wrap me in its healing, consistent progression and I did survive. It sounds melodramatic, but I’m not joking or stretching the truth. I hated to admit it to myself at the time, but looking back, I’m surprised at how low the lowest points were. There were more tears shed in 2013 than I imagined possible, more desperate, hopeless nights than I believed possible, and too many days where getting out of bed was almost more than I could bear.

There is no stopping the light, though. I remember the day when I woke up and said to myself, I will not let this beat me, and I didn’t. I still think about it sometimes. It catches me off-guard at moments when I least expect it. It stops my heart for just a beat, and then I start to breathe again, remembering that I am whole. I am safe. I am away. Distance. Time. Progress. All of those march forward. And so I go, too.

I am not where I thought I’d be.

I think that’s how much of life goes, though. The unexpected has a way of stripping everything unnecessary and bringing to focus the important things, the things you lose sight of so easily. In losing everything, I almost lost myself, but I also found more than I expected.

2014 is a new year. I’m not one to make resolutions, really. But this year, I’m determined to do so much more than survive. My word this year is “push” – yeah, like that. I’m going to do more and be more – getting back on the track that I was on before the unfortunate derailment. I think that was the most frustrating thing, losing the progress that I’d worked so hard to make for myself.

I’m going to push myself – I want to figure out what I want to do with my life, or at least the next few years. I want to think about grad school, about a job that will be fulfilling but also financially worthwhile. I want to work harder to be better – the working out at the gym business, the eating healthy, the organization. All of those areas are areas in which I’m already quite fantastic, but could stand to improve. (If you know me, you’re laughing now because I am anything but fantastic at organization and eating healthy. My therapist often expresses concern that my diet consists mostly of chili cheese dogs and uh, chili cheese dogs.)

I’m going to figure out a better plan. I want to grow professionally (oh dear god, more than anything I want that), personally, and as a human being – I want to spread more kindness into this world. I want to strengthen my relationships, with boyfriend, with my friends, with my family. I want to make more time to play. I want to push myself to calm the fuck down already and learn how to relax. I want to work harder and play harder.

2013 is dead and gone. It will always be a part of my life story, but 2014 offers the chance for a fresh start and a new perspective. I’m thrilled. It’s not a new beginning, but it’s something better: it’s the chance to continue living the life that I’ve always wanted. This year, I don’t have to let the uncontrollable guide me. This year, I am in control. This year is going to be a fantastic year, I can feel it.

On the Puppy, Delightedly

I’m going to need more than one post to discuss the Thanksgiving trip to Mississippi, but I’m going to start with the most important part: the puppy.

Boyfriend loves dogs and has been wanting one for a while. He wanted a chocolate lab. (So does my brother.) I always object. I have nothing against chocolate labs, but why have a chocolate one when you could have a black one? Or a yellow one?

We spent the last week or so at his grandparent’s hunting getaway in Mississippi, which is a few miles outside of a tiny town. One of the neighbors came by one night to ask if we’d lost a black lab puppy, which we hadn’t. I was curious though, and kept saying that we should check on the puppy to see if he’d been claimed. (I was mostly joking, but hey, wishful thinking isn’t the worst thing.)

A couple of days later, we were prepping for a bonfire when a different man came by with the same puppy and said that he’d found him running along the road and wanted to know if we’d like to have him. (He must have had some sense that we were in the market for a puppy. I’ll just assume that he was pulled in by our radiating need for puppy love, like a magnet or a force field.) Boyfriend was the one who talked to him, and then he yelled my name as he carried an armful of black something into the house.

I opened the door and there was the black something, tail wagging and sniffing around. My heart stopped for a second – a puppy! We leapt into action and lured him into the bathtub with a piece of deer steak and then boyfriend held him while I began the soaping process – yuck. So much dirt! Poor puppy just rested his head on the edge of the tub and gave us sad eyes while the water went from clear to muddy brown. Boyfriend joked that he was doing the “Carlos submission” because when the cat gets a shower he just sits there and waits it out with the most pathetic look possible.

The puppy stayed the night in our room on a blanket folded by the side of the bed. He’s house-trained and very well-behaved, minus his chewing problem. He left the room in the middle of the night and returned with my hiking boot. When I took that away from him, he returned with a slipper, so boyfriend put all shoes outside the door and closed it. Throughout the next few days, he’d run into the grandparents room to steal slippers and bring them back to his place in our room to munch on them.

I couldn’t stop smiling. He’s the sweetest thing. Boyfriend wasn’t about to let himself get so excited so soon; he wanted to wait until we figured out if we were going to keep him. (I knew we were. Boyfriend’s eyes did that shiny-gleaming-love-at-first-sight look when he watched the puppy and I knew there was no way we’d be leaving him.)

After the first night, we knew we were going to keep him. We had some work to do with the land his grandpa owns for hunting, so we took the puppy with us. He followed us around constantly, running back and forth between us, sleeping on a pile of coats in the car when we were traveling. We bought him some puppy chow and a toy, plus a leash and collar so he’ll look like a proper dog with a family.

We decided to name him Acorn (pronounced “A-kern”). We took him to the vet as soon as we got back to Denver for his puppy shots and a general wellness check. He’s about four months old and he weighs almost 37 pounds. He’s got the biggest puppy feet I’ve ever seen. The vet looked at him and said, “My, you’ve got a long way to grow!”

I’m in love.

The cat hates him, but is possibly realizing that since he’s not going to attack him, the puppy might be all right after all. Fingers crossed. We’ve been closing my bedroom door at night to separate them, but there haven’t been any daytime attacks yet, so I’m feeling optimistic. I don’t think Acorn’s ever seen a cat before, so that helps.

I’m also absolutely exhausted from the drive back and am running on very little sleep – this puppy mothering business is rough. If it’s not chewing on shoes, it’s toilet paper, or mail, or clothes, or…..

So now it’s off to work for me. I’ll post more Mississippi stories soon!

On the Hot Dog Man and Austerity, Simply

My cousin was in town last week. He’s quite removed from all things pop culture, as he spends his time living a very simplified life. I find his perspective refreshing, and have so enjoyed being able to spend time with him not once but twice this summer. He was in the car with our grandmother and aunt during his brief visit, and they drove by a movie theater that simply showed “All is Lost” on its marquee. We laughed as he explained that he was quite concerned by this message, but I explained to him that “All is Lost” is the title of a film (which I know absolutely nothing about).

All is not lost.

Speaking of a simplified life (which I speak of as one who is impressed and motivated by the power to directly impact your own experiences with the choices you make), I’ve been spending a lot of time simplifying lately.

It began out of necessity, but somewhere in the frantic rush to cut back on everything (I only somewhat joking refer to it as “austerity measures”), I found myself realizing how blessed I really am and how much there is to simply enjoy. In the darkest hours, I was solely focused on survival. As I grew tired and frustrated, impatient and anxious, I began to assess the positives, to focus on reinforcing the things that make me happy.

Creating happiness and finding the good in the worst of it all is the hardest part, but I firmly believe that it is the most worthwhile endeavor in which I have engaged in quite some time. Sowing the seeds of positivity has led to a bountiful return for me in both my experiences and in my own emotions.

It began when I sat down with now-boyfriend earlier this summer and he told me over dinner that he hadn’t done anything he didn’t want to in months. My cousin’s perspective is quite similar. He travels freely, lives simply, does exactly what he wants, and in turn, has a refreshingly grounded air of contentment about him.

I was so caught up in the struggle to move forward without direction that I neglected myself, first and foremost, but also my own drive. This year may not have been my favorite year, but it’s been rewarding in so many different ways.

Right now, I’m sitting on my front porch, feet perched on the railing, absorbing the radiant Colorado November sunshine. A steaming mug of tea sits next to me and a very jealous cat sits just on the other side of the front door. This is bliss.

I am looking at the most positive job week I’ve had in a long time. I had my first actual interview last week, rocked it, and was offered the job. I will be turning it down. I am also poised on the brink of creating a position with a company I’ve been a part of for the better part of a decade, and am thrilled by the level of respect and honesty I’ve been offered.

“What’s your ideal job?” my boss asked. “Let’s work on creating something that will work for the both of us.” Marketing, administrative work to include payroll, and assistant managing all wrapped up in one package? Perfect.

I am so pleased. I did this. I offered the boss my services, explaining that I’d love to help with the office and the marketing, then handed him my resume to remind him that I’m far more than the sixteen-year old he hired all those years ago. He responded with the offer and we’re all set to sit down and hash out the details.

And even more! I’m meeting with a recruiter for coffee on Friday. Where that will go, I’m not sure, but I’m thrilled by the prospect of reigniting my drive towards a greater future for myself.

But it’s not just on the job front.

I’m finding myself able to appreciate the positives and the beauty all around me.

My strange love of “the hot dog man” and his dog is my favorite example of good in the world. He comes in to work most days and teases me. He’s still upset that I won’t give him my grandmother’s phone number, and we’ve discussed why women are the root of all evil. (According to him, the ship that ran aground off the coast of Italy was most likely due to a woman. “You know why I was the captain of two destroyers?” he asked me. “I didn’t get distracted by women.”) Sometimes, he tries to give me money and tells me not to spend it on men.

He’s fantastic. Yesterday, he came in and I gave him a free hot dog because it was Veteran’s Day. I found out that he joined the Navy at 17 (in 1937!). He laughed as I gave him his free hot dog, and then told me that I was probably going to charge his dog double. (I give the dog a pup cup of ice cream every time they come in.)

He asked me if I was going to join the Navy when I turn seventeen. I laughed and told him that I’m far older than seventeen and that my boyfriend joined the Marines when he was seventeen. “Is he still in?” he asked. I told him that no, he isn’t. “Well, when you get sick of him, just send him back!” he said.

The hot dog man got a hundred-dollar bill from a random stranger the other day. She had just sold her house and somehow had a bunch of money from the closing, so she handed him the 100 and told him that her kids were grown and that she didn’t need it, and that she wanted to spread some good into the world. We told him that we’re going to start calling him “The Hundred Dollar Man” and he said his typical farewell of “whatever” and gave us a wave before finding his walker (with the dog tied to it) outside and heading off towards home.

He probably has no idea how much I enjoy seeing him. Yesterday, when he was in the store, he was talking to a mother and her young daughter. He doesn’t see well (blind as a bat might be a more accurate description), and at one point, he was gesticulating with his hand out and the little girl reached up and high-fived him. He smiled and asked her if she was going to hold his hand. It was such a sweet moment.

He’s the best. I don’t mean to ramble, but he’s one of those examples of the best parts of the world. They’re the most unexpected. They take you by surprise and uplift you in the strangest ways.

I’m so thrilled. Life has a funny way of handing you exactly what you need when you least expect it, and I’m finding that sometimes, the things you need the most are the things you’ve carried with you all along. (Oh, I know I’m spitting clichés out left and right and I don’t care at all.)

I’m going to make the most of this beautiful life, even though it’s not at all how I expected it would be. I think sometimes it’s the weird randomness of the universe that’s the most beautiful part of it all.

On Thanksgiving, Excitedly

This year will be the first year in a long time I’m not in Denver for Thanksgiving. (Not counting 2010, when Mike and I were in Africa.) Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s not as stressful as other holidays; there aren’t any gifts; it’s more about food than it is anything else. Since I’m not one who eagerly anticipates the shopping season, I have nothing to do that day and the next except lounge around and eat leftovers.

Thanksgiving leftovers are the best leftovers. (Cranberries! Stuffing! Gravy!)

This year is a big year. I’m going to Mississippi with boyfriend. I’m going to meet part of his family and go hunting. Oh god. Me hunting deer? I’m most excited about a road trip. I drive. He sleeps. Clears the mind.

I think I’m most nervous about deer hunting. What if I’m bored? Sitting still isn’t my strong suit. Sitting still and being quiet definitely aren’t things at which I excel. What if I actually kill one? Not likely. I told him I’d most likely either cry or be super into it.

I met his grandfather last week. We went to a hockey game and then had dinner the next night. I’m a huge fan – I love families and his grandpa had some great stories. I’m less nervous about the family liking me now that I’ve met him.

Still, I’ve never been to the South. I’ve already made the silent promise to myself not to say anything until after we’ve left. I want to take it all in and experience as much as possible. It’s going to be a very new adventure, but it’s also going to be a very necessary week off of work for me, which I’m looking very forward to.

In other news: I’m now the assistant manager at my store (officially, since I’ve been the assistant manager in all but name for quite some time now). I’ll be assisting with the revamping of the store as well as the training of the three new kids we hired. But more exciting than that is the prospect of some marketing and office work. The owner and I have yet to sit down and actually hash out all of the specific duties, but I’m thrilled about the opportunity to do more of what the marketing and administrative stuff while still being able to keep up my cake decorating and customer service.

Things are looking up, which is good. Finally a nice break for me and the chance for more positive opportunities and career growth, which are things that I’m looking forward to taking advantage of.

On Boyfriend and Baseball, Happily

The boyfriend and I have very different love languages. I’m all about expression and adorable things. He would never be caught dead using the phrase “love language” since it involves both emotions and communication, neither of which do much for him. 

Last weekend, I had to take the twins that I babysit to a birthday party. (They’re my absolute favorite family to sit for — the kids are amazing.) I asked boyfriend if I could borrow his car because it’s cleaner than mine, but also because it’s a bit bigger and I feel safer hauling children around in it. To my surprise, he came with me to pick up the kids. I’ve known him for over a year, but I’ve never had the chance to see him interact with children. I think that you can tell a lot about a guy based on how he handles children. 

He stayed in the car at first, hesitant. These kids aren’t shy at all, so upon realizing that my car wasn’t there, they got curious and wanted to head out immediately. They put their booster seats in his car, and I introduced them to the boyfriend. The questions began immediately. 

“Do you live together?” “Are you married?” “What’s your name?” “Do you have a dog?” “Can we open that thing?” (The sunroof.) “How old are you?” 

We had time to kill before the party started, so I decided I wanted to run to Costco to grab a hot dog before I dropped them off. (I had forgotten what Costco is like on a Sunday afternoon, so naturally, we did not have time to actually complete the mission.)

We were in the parking lot and I called for everyone to hold hands as we walked in. The little boy, who’s six, grabbed boyfriend’s hand. It was the sweetest thing. Boyfriend didn’t even flinch. 

We got inside, and immediately, they saw some Batman toys. We stood and looked at those for a bit before trying to get in line for food. I checked the time and realized that we didn’t have time for the line and to get to the birthday party on time, so I herded everyone back to the car, after much discussion about what they wanted to eat. 

On the way back to the car, the hand-holding resumed. The little boy was holding my hand, but he decided that he wanted to hold boyfriend’s hand, so he switched. I gave boyfriend a look that said, “What am I, chopped liver?” The little girl was not as impressed with boyfriend as her brother was, so she was quite content to hold my hand. 

The chatter was constant and hilarious. There were a few times when I had to avoid boyfriend’s eyes so I wouldn’t laugh. 

We dropped the kids off and ran errands, including a stop at my mom’s house to help her with her computer, and then we went back to grab the kids. The little boy had gotten a toy owl at the party, and when I asked him what he was going to name the owl, he said, “What’s the name of the guy in the car?” and when I told him boyfriend’s name, he said that’s what he was going to name the owl, although I think that half an hour later, the owl had a new name. 

I think I fell in love with him after we got the kids back to their house, and were playing with them in the backyard. The little boy wanted to play baseball. He’s obsessed with baseball, and even though I’m not the best at the game, I did play t-ball and coach pitch, so I feel like our skills are about equal. I was pitching and the little boy was hitting, and then he declared that it was boyfriend’s turn. 

Turns out, boyfriend is horrible at baseball. Horrible. I’ve always been under the impression that he’s great at all things sport, so finding out that he can’t hit a ball made me ridiculously happy. (Not that we compete at all…)

At one point, the little boy strode over to the boyfriend, who was at bat but had struck out several times in a row, and very seriously explained that he shouldn’t swing if the ball was too high or too far out because that was a ball. Boyfriend gave me a bewildered look, and I had to turn around because I was laughing at the little boy’s air diagram of the strike zone. The little boy trotted back to first base and boyfriend hit a home run. 

I know that it was just an afternoon, but it meant so much to me that he spent his only day off running errands with me, hauling six-year olds around, and hanging out with my mom. He was such a good sport about it, and I really appreciated how sweet he was with the kids. He did do quite a bit of gloating about being the favorite, but I was too happy to even argue. 

On Listening, Importantly

Today, I was waiting at the pharmacy for a prescription to be filled. As I sat, I listened to the conversation between a woman and an elderly man. They’d obviously just met and were engaged in the same sort of life exchange – a conversation about everything and nothing, all at once. I smiled to myself as I listened to them talk about animals, overseas travel, even politics.

One rainy night this week, a man came into Dairy Queen for a sundae. He ended up standing at the counter for nearly fifteen minutes, sharing pictures of his mother and grandmother. He told me all about his history, his military service, his family, their small business, his father.

As I found my patience slipping away, I thought of how important a listening ear can be. It wasn’t by any means a sudden realization, but it was a firm reminder of the importance of human interaction, particularly as a significant amount of our population grows older.

I am one of those people who thrives on human interaction. My energy stems from the satisfaction I feel as I communicate and my most basic motivation is understanding and acceptance, meaning derived from experiences both shared and personally discovered.

We don’t talk about growing older much in our society. I believe that we’d prefer to imagine ourselves in a state of eternal youth, hiding crows’ feet and wrinkles with expensive creams and surgeries, replacing degrading joints with robotic ones, striving to stay active and youthful with pills and endless supplements. But it’s a reality that we’ll most likely face one day. Age will happen to us, or to someone we know. The body can’t sustain its seemingly perpetual motion and youth forever, and will eventually begin to decline, the slow march toward obsolescence we swore would never happen to us.

We push our elderly away, ensconcing them in homes and communities created specially for them, out of sight, out of mind. We disregard their opinions, mocking their experience. “In my day…” we’ll chortle and scoff. And yet, they are the very people we should be turning to. Their life experience is a compounded version of our own, far more complex and inherently stronger. Their wisdom has been carefully cultivated; their knowledge of the things we have yet to face is an oft-untapped resource.

I always listen when my grandfather talks about politics. I know that he’s got something valuable to say. I myself fail – I am not nearly the doting grandchild I wish I were. I do not carve out enough time to go and sit with them. I do not make enough time to listen.

I know that I don’t do enough. I need to be better at doing more. More listening, more connecting, more smiling, all of it. With all people. Loneliness is scary. And no one should have to be alone.

I’m rambling.

What I’m trying to share is the importance of interaction. The connections we form with our fellow humans don’t have to be deep friendships (but that never hurts), but individually, we have the power to make the world a more positive place for every single person we encounter. (I have to remind myself of this when I’m in Chicago-road-rage mode…) Your smile could be the smile that makes someone’s day. Your anecdote may fall flat (mine do….all the time), or it may be the thing that someone remembers for a lifetime.

Remind yourself that when you’re stuck in a waiting room and someone wants to show you pictures of their grandkids.

(Even though this post is centered around the very elderly, please feel free to use this unsolicited advice for when people want to show your 800 slides of their vacation to Canada – see that whale? or that whale? or that rock? or that bird? or that great cloud? Oh look, there’s a picture of the shrimp cocktail at the one restaurant in that one town you’re never going to go to – and remember, if you haven’t already, you’re going to be that guy someday, too.)

On Adoption Camp, Happily

This past weekend, I volunteered at Domestic Adoption Camp, which is exactly what it sounds like: a camp for families who have adopted children inside the United States.

I was one of three counselors helping with the pre-kindergarten/kindergarten group. We had five little girls in our group, which was fantastic. The smaller group size allowed us to do a lot more one-on-one activities, which is important with kids that small.

As domestic adoptees and (arguably) adults, my brother Mike and I were invited to speak on an adult adoptee panel in front of adopted parents. I was nervous and excited. Adoption is a non-issue for me; it’s always been a part of my life and I’ve never really thought of it as being a huge deal. It’s not anything that sets me apart; it’s just a fact.

As I get older, I find that adoption is more important to me. It’s something I’m proud of. It’s something I respect and for which I am eternally grateful. It’s something that does set me apart, to a certain extent. It is a curious thing, the way that I now have so many different mothers: I have my birth mom, my mom, my brother’s birth mom, my dad’s girlfriend. I love each and every one of them.

The panel focused on issues related to adoption and how we as adoptees handled certain things like self-esteem, open adoptions, searching for parents, and transparency. I explained that Mike and I have very different relationships with our birth mothers; I told them how envious I was when Mike got to meet his birth father (Mike jumped in to say that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be); I told them that even though I’ll never get to meet mine, the curiosity about what he looks like only grows stronger.

It’s a magical thing, to be surrounded by families like these. I’ve learned a lot about family over the years, as one tends to do when confronted with the inescapable reality that family is non-negotiable and therefore something you’ll have to adapt to. I’ve learned that family is what you make it. I have friends who are family. I have family who is family. I have family that I don’t consider family.

I have been fortunate enough to find so many different relationships, and when I went to my birth mom’s wedding in South Dakota, my family got a little bit bigger. (I’ve been playing a word game on the phone with my biological aunt. It’s been fantastic – she’s a seriously worthy adversary.)

I have been incredibly blessed to build the kind of strong support system that everyone should have. Through my participation in these adoption camps, I have been able to see the strength of family. The powerful and overwhelming amount of love there is something that gives me chills, in the best way.

Speaking on the panel, I told the adults that transparency was important. And unconditional love. I told them that when I started therapy, I told my mom that I might be angry with her sometimes, and in her graceful way, she told me that she knew that and that she supported me. I told them that if I were to be arrested tomorrow, the first phone call would be to my mother. I told them even though she doesn’t always like what I’m saying, she’s always there to listen. And for me, that’s huge.

When I told her my birth mom was getting married, she wanted to go. I was a little nervous, but I think she was more excited. I was grateful that she was there so that we could all share the experience, both of my moms and me. My family.

I watched a documentary called “Closure” about one woman’s search for her family. She had been adopted by a family in Washington when she was an infant, and as she grew older, she struggled with the not-knowing. (It’s a serious pull.) She began the search and was ultimately successful. It was a moving story, but a poignant reminder that family is forever.

In the documentary, they showed a clip of an old home video in which a stranger was questioning the dad about the kids (eight of them, I believe, all different colors and kinds). “How’d you get so many kids?” the man asks. The dad responds, “They stick to us like magnets. Better question: how do you get rid of them?” Laughter.

My favorite part is the laughter. At the last camp, I remember a girl telling the story of how her parents came to find her. They were in Africa, she was in an orphanage. She beamed as she recounted how they picked her up for the first time, and she smiled at each one of them, and they knew that she was their daughter. She radiated joy as she told the story, and my heart ached with happiness. I could tell that the parents had told her that story over and over, and I could feel the pride she felt.

My mom, Mike, and I have our things. We call each other the “worst guy” and we regularly quote The Sandlot. You’re the worst guy if you are doing something annoying, like when my mom senses that the stop light ahead might – just might – change, so she slows down while it’s still green. You can hear the chorus of groans and “Ugh, you’re the worst guy!” coming from both of us. My mom and I dissolve into a fit of laughter-induced tears when we tell the story of Mike falling off the treadmill. (No one, including Mike, thinks it’s funny.)

Family may be what you make it, but for some of us, we’re lucky enough to have more opportunities for family than most people.