The Wiz

About six months ago, Dan found hundreds of dollars' worth of flagstone someone dumped out in the desert. Scavenging packrat that he is, he scooped it up for possible future use. We unloaded his truck, leaning domino stacks of the stuff across the front of the house and all along the fence, while visions of a front patio danced in our heads.... maybe wrapped around to the kitchen... with enough left over for various small projects. (Like little back side yards!)

Thank god we didn't start out with the front porch; we would have only made it a quarter of the way through before running out. It looked like so much material when it was piled up around the front yard. Laid down flat, turns out it wasn't so much after all.  We had exactly the just-right, serendipitous amount for the Little Back Side Yard, plus miscellaneous little pieces left over. They'll be just right for making walkways between the floating veggie planters out front.

Laying the flagstone out, although it took most of the day, was far less hassle than I'd anticipated. In my mind, I put things off because of the complications involved (At least, I guess that's why I put things off. Does anyone really know why they procrastinate?) --so to find it wasn't that much work after all made me feel... well, ridiculous.

 How many other things in my life are Wizards of Oz, built up to enormous, intimidating proportions? Are all the things I avoid confronting just scared little men behind curtains?


My Dad.

My dad expects the best from his kids, so when I brought home my first ever C in 6th grade, I was plenty nervous. But he just glanced at my report card and said, “I guess science class was pretty boring, huh?” I realized in that moment, he never doubted for an instant that I could succeed at whatever I put my mind to... as long as I really wanted it. His off-hand comment sowed the beginnings of my self-confidence.

He never cushioned us from the consequences of our choices. He said, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” -- usually in reference to things like not telling him we needed posterboard for a science project till the night before it was due. Through this, we learned young to weigh pros and cons, make the best of whatever situation we found ourselves in, and take responsibility for ourselves and our own actions.

If he told us we could get a milkshake to share, and we argued over what flavor to get, he’d announce “Well, I guess no one’s getting a milkshake” and drive right back home. We developed appreciation for the bigger picture instead of focusing on the false crisis of minutiae.

Dad’s arid sense of humor is not for the faint of heart. His stern presence and deadpan delivery has intimidated many friends, and petrified the majority of potential boyfriends. A few of them understand (as I do) that my dad is awesome and hilarious. They’re the ones that last.

Every spring, my dad helped me fix up my bike, and he’d let me help him out with projects around the house sometimes. The smell of sawdust or WD-40 always makes me think of my dad.

I learned my love of reading from him. I stole and devoured his copies of Lord of the Rings when I was still in grade school. He loaned me a dinosaur picture book to read along with his copy of Jurassic Park. “I bought it so I’d know which dinosaurs were which,” he said, not embarrassed in the least.

Dad got me hooked on Star Trek and Star Wars, and took me to every sci-fi movie that came to town. He introduced us to live theatre, and had us listen to the musical scores before taking us to shows so we’d get more out of them. During the performances, he sings along loudly enough that we have to shush him. Repeatedly.

Although he denies it, my dad knows everything about everything. When my sister was in theater, he jumped up from the dinner table, saying “I think I have some gels around from when I helped with the theatre lighting at college.” When I took piano lessons, he asked, “Did I ever show you the lullaby I composed?” When my brother got interested in photography, he said, “Have I ever shown you my old Brownie?” I have never asked my dad one question he did not know the answer to.

When I was sick and miserable at college, I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew dropping out would hugely disappoint my parents, but it was pretty well killing me to stay. I figured they’d lecture me-- especially Dad, with his relentless German practicality. I finally got up the nerve to call, decided Mom would be the more understanding of the two. When Dad answered instead, I was nervous, started talking, tried to explain... he didn’t care. He just said “You need to come home. Do you want me to come get you?” It was a 3 hour drive, and well past dark. I said no, but he made me promise to take the Greyhound home the next day. I took the rest of the year off.

A few years later, I found myself pregnant, unmarried and far from home at 22. I was too ashamed to tell my dad; I made my mom tell him. I thought my dad would feel-- as I felt myself-- disappointed in the loss of all my untapped potential. My dad just said “Honey, I am so proud of you.” He understood what no one else had-- or at least, what no one else would say aloud: that I’d chosen a hard path for myself. I felt like an idiot for getting myself into this mess in the first place, felt like having a kid right then was the stupidest decision I’d made yet; I felt equally sure that it was the right decision as well. My dad’s simple acceptance reminded me-- I am defined as much by my reactions as my actions. We can’t control our past, we can only decide how to move forward. In having Miss G, I chose my future with full awareness, determined to make the best of whatever came next-- lessons taught to me by my Dad.

After I had Miss G, I felt a lot of guilt that I couldn’t parent like my mom: home full-time, making mac n cheese from scratch, sewing cute little outfits. Then one day I realized, I’m a parent like my dad-- a provider, a disciplinarian, a helper-with-homework-- and I felt pretty darn proud of myself.

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad. And thanks. <3


Conquering Inertia

Two miraculous things happened this week:

1.) A job call finally, finally came in for Dan
2.) I finished clearing the Bermuda grass out of the Little Back Side yard.

Dan's been out of work since February. February of last year. At first, the layoff was perfect-- with our wedding & honeymoon coming up at the end of March, he needed time off anyway. Plus, one of us was staying home with the kids over the summer, and we'd already agreed it would be him. I had a new project firing up that was scheduled to last through Christmas; I would support us through summer, and Dan would go back to work in the fall.

Great plan. Except right about then, the recession caught up to Vegas. The construction industry went from great guns to bare trickle in the span of a few months. Upcoming projects went abruptly stagnant or declared bankruptcy. Or both. By Christmas, I was fully laid off as well-- and not "laid off for a couple months while waiting for the next project to start" but "laid off with no future prospects... EVER."

So, we are now--  six nail-chewing months later-- exhaling in giddy relief. It took almost a year for Dan to move up to the number one slot on the out-of-work books, just from number 8; the list is in the hundreds now. At my Union, the list is in the thousands.

I can't think of a worse time to realize we need new careers. But at least now we can keep putting food on the table while we're restructuring our lives.

As for the Bermuda grass, well... I guess its call came in too. It's about as likely for me to finish something as it is to get a job when there are no jobs. For the former, though, I can't blame the economy. It's just me holding myself back, and that is something I can change.

I reached my inactivity saturation point this week. The last few mornings, I found myself getting up with Dan and packing him off to work in the pre-morning dark. I wrote until it was light enough to work outside, then hit the Little Back Side Yard, fully armed with gardening gloves, shovel, and good audio book. It felt really, really good to put in a full day before 10 am.

Nothing moves forward unless something moves it-- unless we move it. This isn't new; Newton called it out some 400 years ago. I don't know where this newfound 'exerted force' came from, but I'm going to ride it as long as it lasts, and do what I can to keep it rolling.


Alone Together

Only three times have we been wholly without offspring longer than a few days, and number three is happening right now. Miss G is in Minnesota till the end of July, and Miss L is in Reno till mid-June.

Some would say it's an opportunity for romance, but Dan & I don't agree. It just feels boring and aimless without any kids in the house. And quiet, which is nice I guess... except that it's too quiet. 

There are obvious perks. I cooked fish for dinner. I can start a project, phone call, or shower without an interruption every few minutes.  Dan did not have to make an emergency ketchup run a few days ago when we ran out of the stuff. There's less general chaos, I suppose. 

But-- well, we're used to the chaos. We like the noise.  

Our marriage is defined by these kids. The daily concerns and stresses we have are kid-related-- Miss L's recurring sprained ankles, Miss G's recent migraines. The stories we tell to each other at the end of the day are about the kids. Even a chunk of our fights are about the kids. 

There's very little "us" without them. Our plans are all kid-centric. Our free time is spent with them, either one-on-one or as a family. We're used to the energy required to maintain ready compromises and crisis management. Without the all-hands-on-deck mentality... well, it's dull.

Maybe the problem is lacking a history together without our girls. There's no  me without Miss G; we're a team. And there's no Dan without Miss L, either. Our earliest dates were spent exchanging stories about them. 

As we grew closer as a couple, our definition of "family" spun out to include each other, and our respective daughters by extension. We kept right on making family our priority, but what "family" meant to us as separate adults  broke down over time and re-emerged as a shared vision. Although we've had our ups and downs, our love for each other-- among all four of us-- has deepened and grown over the years. 

We didn't sit down and make a conscious choice to smash our lives together;  it's just what happened. Our marriage didn't create a union of two; our "we" is four.