It’s August recess here in D.C., which means while the majority of the South are wrapping up their vacations and starting back to school, our summer here has finally arrived, and we are just getting started. August is also a time for what I like to call “life maintenance.” You know, finally getting the shit done that you needed to get done but haven’t had time to do.
As part of my August life maintenance, I went in for a routine cleaning at the dentist earlier this week. Now I know most people hate the dentist, but I love it. I love the way my mouth feels afterward and how nice it is to run my tongue over my smooth, clean teeth. It reminds me of what it felt like to lick my teeth for the first time after getting my braces off both times. Yes, I wore braces twice and still rock with pride the same permanent retainer placed behind my lower front teeth in the 8th grade. I still get super excited when the dentist tells me I have no cavities and secretly wish they had a treasure chest in their lobby, like Dr. Henry did when I was growing up, full of plastic spider rings, fake tattoos and bouncy balls for me to choose from. I still call Lady Linda from the parking lot to report “no cavities, Momma!” because I know she’ll be so proud of me.
The one thing I do hate about going to the dentist is how you get trapped by the hygienist in a one-way conversation for a half hour. While putting the paper bib necklace on me, my very young and single hygienist inquired about my breakfast and I responded that I had just enjoyed my daily green juice. She reclined the seat, adjusted her overhead light about 27 times, and there I was–just lying there in reclining baby bird pose for so long that my jaws actually started to quiver while she started to yap away. She launched into how she could never juice, because she hates going to the grocery store, doesn’t know how to select produce, some stupid story about buying a bad watermelon because she didn’t know if she was supposed to smell or thump it, she didn’t have the time for that, it had been a horrible summer, the weather had been so awful, blah, blah, blah. She even asked me questions! WTF? Is it part of their training or something? I mean my eyebrows were going all over the place desperately trying to indicate she should thump, and I’m making these guttural sounds from the back of my throat trying to respond while she’s scraping, spraying and sucking, polishing, spraying and sucking and flossing, spraying and sucking.
After spending a few more minutes lying there defenseless against her relentless barrage of statements and questions, I finally succumbed to my fate like a horse with a bit, and as I listened to her going on and on about her lousy summer, the thought actually went through my head that what she really needed in her life was some cancer. Maybe not a stage IV diagnosis but, you know, just a little touch of cancer maybe. Just a little dash? Not really. I truly wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I did think she needed some perspective, because I was sitting there thinking to myself that my summer thus far had been MAGICAL. My husband is feeling really well, is working full-time, is playing golf and in the backyard with our son, our kids are happy, healthy and growing like weeds, we have taken some really fun weekend trips together as a family, I had the privilege of working for the kindest and most loving and sincere Member of the U.S. Senate for six+ years and am about to start this amazing new job next month and the weather? I haven’t even noticed the weather. Haven’t even felt it.
Cancer and perspective are often synonymous to many who have been newly diagnosed. Chip has always said he didn’t need cancer to gain perspective or to teach him to be grateful and appreciative for what he had, but I guess I did. I have always known I was fortunate and living a blessed life, but sometimes life still just felt hard. After Joe was born, life often felt overwhelming. The work week felt hard–the unpacking and repacking of diaper bags, unloading the dishwasher, bath time, bed time, cooking dinner and laundry were never-ending and exhausting. I often tried to rush through reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear for what seemed like the one hundred millionth time. Come on, Joe, you KNOW what he sees by now. Yes, you can turn the pages. Sweet Jesus, the pages aren’t stuck together. It’s a BOARD book. Ok, night night. Just one more song. Seriously, last one. OMG, just go the F to sleep!!
But now, my time with my family is just so dear. I used to live from one big event to the next or from one trip to another and would simply go through the motions of the mundane day-to-day living, but now what once was just background noise in my life has suddenly become the sweetest sound. What once was overwhelming and difficult, now feels pretty easy. Flying down to Destin with two kids, two car seats, golf clubs, a stroller and luggage was suddenly a piece of cake, because we were getting to go to Florida together as a family!!! I now savor every time we can have dinner together, go to church as a family, and every night Chip and I can simply go to bed together. When you stop to think about it, aren’t the Tuesday nights what life really is all about? Our childhood, our marriages, our adulthood are all really just a series of dinners and bath and bed times all strung together, which turns into days and into years and eventually into a lifetime.
I’m really not trying to get all DPS here or sound like a poster from Pier 1 hung in a freshman dorm room, but live deliberately. Of course you should be responsible and have respect for yourself and others but LIVE. Really live and appreciate it. Be vulnerable in your relationships. Drink the good stuff. Wear perfume to bed. Cut the tags off the new clothes in your closet and wear them. What are you saving them for? Eat off your china. Get down on the floor and play with your babies. Step out of your comfort zone. Order the bone marrow. Sing really loud in your car even when stuck in traffic and people are watching. Be present in your life and grateful for it.
I won’t pretend like it’s always just that easy, because it’s not. Every birthday, every Mother’s Day, every Father’s Day–you can’t help but think of what your life was like at that time last year and wonder where you will be this time next year. But if you dwell in that space for too long, that fear can be crippling and debilitating and more significantly, rob you of experiencing that very moment, so for us, Chip and I continually choose to dig in, squeeze each other a little tighter and remind ourselves that we are here. We are all here today and we are present in our lives and grateful for them.
We are approaching the place in the calendar year where it is naturally easy to think about this time last year. I was in Mississippi for my Tri-Delt reunion while Chip stayed home and painted the bedrooms in the new house we were about to move into. This time last year, Chip first started to complain of his back hurting, and most recently, this time last year, I was pregnant with Crosby and we took advantage of a work trip of Chip’s to Nemacolin and took Joe with us for a special weekend away before his baby sister arrived. We took that same exact trip again this year. One night I was awakened by Chip coughing in his sleep, looked across the room and saw Crosby sleeping away in a portable crib, then peered over the edge of the bed to see Joe sleeping in his big boy fire truck sleeping bag, and I just lay there silently crying and thinking about the prior year there. But after some time, I pulled my thoughts back to the present moment where we were all there, sleeping together in the same room, and I was oh, so very grateful to be there. Present and grateful is where I chose to reside for the remainder of that weekend. Present and grateful is how I choose to live each day.
Oh, and by the way, dental hygienist, just go buy a friggin’ watermelon. If it’s bad, then go buy another one. And another one until you find that perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy watermelon that takes you back to eating one while sitting on the tailgate of your daddy’s pickup truck in the driveway. And if you really don’t have time to go to the grocery store, then have produce delivered to your house once a week from a local farm. Go ahead and get yourself one of those fancy, special boxes or place a cooler on your front porch for your cold-pressed juice deliveries and organic, grass-fed, I’ve-spent-my-whole-life-freely-roaming-around-these-pastures whole milk, sweetheart. It’s all the rage.
P.S. Here’s Crosby, swinging for the first time. Talk about present and grateful.