This Time Last Year

The other day, I received an email from Amazon.com. I was sitting in a car dealership, waiting for a shuttle to take me to work while my car was being inspected/repaired. I get so much junk email from the various stores that feed my second greatest addiction: shopping. (The first is Diet Pepsi .) So when I first saw the email, my instinct was to delete it, and that’s just what I was about to do when I focused on the subject line, referencing something about a birthday gift card. It was not my birthday, so I became curious. Did I have an old gift card that was about to expire? So I went ahead and opened it, and that’s when I was really taken aback.

AmazonThe email was a reminder. Last year at this time, I purchased a birthday gift card for someone, it told me. Wouldn’t I like to do it again?

The gift card being referenced was one I sent to my dad for his sixty-second birthday, and as much as I would very much like to send him another, I can’t. Dad isn’t having a birthday this year.

On the evening of June 4th, we were getting ready for a trip to Orlando. Jude’s birthday is on June 7th, and we were going to celebrate his third with Mickey Mouse. My dad moved to Orlando when I was about eight, so we were planning to work in a little visit with him, too. He was going to spend the day with us at the Animal Kingdom on Sunday the 8th, though I knew I’d most likely see him before that for dinner. The last time I saw my dad was the June of last year when he met Jude and I for lunch one afternoon. Growing up, we saw my dad once a year, so the gap in time wasn’t unusual for us.

I had so much to do for the impending trip, and I was feeling the stress. At about seven o’clock that night, I was planning on planting some flowers my mom bought me so they didn’t wilt while I was gone. In fact, I was wearing my grungy clothes, frantically throwing last minute items into my bag and crossing items off my list when I got the news that my dad died earlier that day. He didn’t show up for a social engagement, so a friend went to check on him and found him lying still in the garage. He hadn’t been in the best health in the last couple of years, but this was a shock, the kind that felt like someone carried a brick wall into my bedroom and dropped it on top of me.

All I could do was could myself into a ball, shove a pillow into my face, and scream. I screamed and screamed and screamed until I couldn’t make any more sounds. I felt so mad, and I needed to get it out, so I called my poor mom and yelled at her for an hour. About nothing. About everything. Even though she and my dad had been divorced for decades, she was hurting, but she let me go anyway.

After a while, I went outside to plant those flower even though I was distraught. I couldn’t just let them whither. I didn’t even bother putting on gloves, or worrying about where I was placing them. My nails and palms turned brown as I jabbed through the mulch and dirt to make way for the New Guinea Impatiens and Begonias.

My dad did not want a viewing or a funeral. His final wishes were to have a party at the bar he frequented, where the patrons and staff were like family to him. The party was held a few weeks after my trip, and because I had just been there, I was not able to return. So my closure was helping to sort through the things in his house one last time before a cleaning crew came through and emptied what was left.

I told myself this was okay. I told myself that I was just a fast processor of things like this, and I went back home and continued to trick myself into believing it.

But the problem is that I am too often flooded with thoughts or moments that threaten to poke holes in my carefully constructed barriers, and that’s just what this email from Amazon made me feel. It was a reminder I didn’t need. Like death, grieving is inconvenient. It never fits neatly into plans or seems to care what else is happening in a person’s life, good or troubling.

This morning when I turned on my computer, I got an alert from my calendar. Dad’s Bday Tomorrow, it reminded me.

Reminder

October 23rd is going to be here every year, and it will never stop reminding me. Though the emotions might lessen over time, it will always be difficult to not send a gift or to call and wish him a happy day. It will always be hard to know that we left things unfinished, he and I, and that this is the way it will always remain.

When the loss stops being so ever-present, maybe the reminders won’t be so profound. Maybe his birthday will come around, and I will welcome the memories. Maybe it’s better for those around us to have things like birthdays and holidays anniversaries so that they can hold onto a piece of what is no longer there.

For now, though, it kind of sucks. And so does Amazon.

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What Jude Said

I often find myself wanting to write posts about my son because he is the central focus of my life. I think about him almost every moment of the day, and he’s the person with whom I spend most of my time.

But, as much as I want to show everyone in the world how amazing and funny and adorable he is, I also want to stay true to the theme of this blog, which means I want to talk about all the ways in which I try to live a happier life. Some days, that means I’ll want to talk about Jude, and on others, I want to zoom the lens in elsewhere.

Because my brain is filled to capacity with Jude stories, I decided to free up some space by creating side blog called What Jude Said. It is quite literally a collection of the humorous things he does and says each day, and I thought that by preserving them in one space, I’d have a better chance of remembering them. Also, I hope readers might find it entertaining.

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Please follow us on Tumblr or check back often for updates using the link in the Millions of Suns header.

Happy Saturday!

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The Icing

On what was to be the coldest day in decades in our corner of Pennsylvania, I decided to keep Jude home from school so we could hang out and cuddle. I am still on holiday break, and though I want to ease him back into school, I also want to spend quality time together while we have it. I figured that single digit temperatures and whipping winds made for good enough reasons not to run across a parking lot from the car to the school building and back again.

Turns out, I was somewhat deluded naive about the fun involved in being confined indoors all day with an energetic two-and-a-half year old.

Oh, there were highs, like watching a little Mickey Mouse Clubhouse hand-in-hand:

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And making DIY, no-bake play dough:
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Top left: Food coloring hazard. Bottom left: A stegosaurus, by request (that color was supposed to be purple, but ended up, er, rainbow).

There was also homemade pasta sauce (with enough leftovers to freeze for a month’s worth of deliciousness), a good indoor run, and a pretty stellar nap for Mom and baby boy.

There were also some lows, including three time-outs, a frozen pipe in the upstairs bathroom, and way too much TV watching/staring at iPhone. 

Despite the continued chill, I’d planned on taking Jude back to school on Wednesday so I could have a little me-time, and it ended up being just the right counter to the previous day. Though I love being with my best little friend, I do find myself missing my solitude now and again. Before my son was born, the time I spent on my own was often my favorite. I loved coming home to an empty house and putting my feet up on the ottoman, enjoying a Diet Pepsi, a snack, and some mindless afternoon TV before a long, luxurious nap. I am the kind of person who likes going shopping and out to eat and to the movies by myself; it’s just rare that I get to do that sort of thing anymore.

So on Wednesday, after dropping Jude off at school, I headed to the beautiful Ambler Theater to see Inside Llewyn Davis, the newest release from the Coen Brothers. I am crazy about the Coen Brothers, and I thoroughly enjoyed their new movie, especially the beautiful music and the perfect performance by Oscar Isaac. Also, the popcorn was delicious, and the parking was free because the meter machine was out of order. Hooray! The afternoon was sublime and the company was good, too.

I am never able to accomplish everything I imagine I might over winter break, but spending time with my best buddy and still getting a chance to see the movie at the top of my must-see list has been some really sweet icing.

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Looking Stupid in My Backwards Time Machine

Like a lot of people, I spend too much time living in the past. Like maybe slightly less of those people, much of that rehashing is spent obsessing about things I can’t change and that probably don’t matter all that much anyway. I worry over the things I said or the choices I made (or didn’t make) or what other people might have thought about me along the way. It’s an exhausting waste of time and energy, and as far as I can tell, the only purpose it serves is to indulge myself in counterproductive, negative self-talk that is 100% foolish.

I have some definite goals for the new year: drink more water, use my mobile devices a lot less, write more, finish editing my novel, run more, keep taking improv courses, be happy, yadda, yadda, yadda. But, my biggest challenge for 2014 is to really start liking myself and to stop being so afraid all the time. And by all the time, I mean ALL THE TIME.

So, it’s kind of crucial for me to stop using my brain space for all that backwards time travel.

On Sunday night, I was watching and enjoying the Best of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon special, and I found myself laughing out loud for much of it.

Part of my reaction was in response to the clever writing and wit of the clips, but most of it was due to Fallon’s willingness to fully commit to such silliness. I have to say that I admire an comedian who, instead of just going for the joke, goes for the reality of the moment, and in making that choice, is funny. Jimmy Fallon always looks like he is open to try anything, and because of that, he seems genuinely delighted by just about everyone and everything, which is great fun for an audience to witness, or at least, that’s the case for this girl.

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Earlier in the semester, as I struggled with self-confidence in my improv course, I sent an email to my teacher to ask for help. Basically, I was crying on my way home every week, feeling totally inadequate and uncreative, and I just, you know, didn’t want to do that anymore.

She sent me a long, encouraging message in which she included the image below, and though her words were quite helpful, I could not stop thinking about this Amy Poehler quote, which has become a mantra of sorts for me:

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The fear of looking bad or looking not-good-enough that often plagues me is just the kind of thing a person shouldn’t focus on during an improv scene, or anywhere, really. If I keep worrying about the past or how the present will look in past-tense, I will never commit to anything, and I will never feel good about anything.  What kind of a life is that?

And that is why I’m going to work darn hard in 2014 to let go of so much of that fear.

I think it’s kind of time to seal the doors of my backwards time machine, anyway. It’s defective, always going back to all the worst parts and causing me to miss out on some of the best right-nows.

 

 

 

 

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Ready for Merry

It’s Christmas Eve! It’s Christmas Eve! Forget what I said yesterday. I AM psyched! So is Jude–he woke up at seven am after a night of little, interrupted sleep. When I told him he needed more rest, he said:

“I sorry. I excited about Santa.”

After two nights of wrapping and going to bed way too late, I was grateful that I didn’t have to stay up with him and could go back to bed for an hour or so.

And now, I am the only well-rested person in my family, and I am READY for the family/food/presents/superfun marathon to commence. The Eve has always been a big event for us, and I love passing it all on to Jude, even more so now that he’s aware of the festivities.

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Tonight at eight pm is also the start of another tradition: a twenty-four hour stream of A Christmas Story on TBS.

This part (like so many others) gets me every time. I think it’s what most of my students think when they submit a paper:

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Happy Christmas Eve, everyone!! Hope it’s merry!!!

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Happy Festivus!

Today is FESTIVUS, one of my favorite holidays of the year. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Here you go:

I’m still a huge, ridiculous Seinfeld junkie, and “The Strike” remains one of my favorite episodes (in a long line of favorites, mind you). One thing I like in particular is the absurd lengths Frank Costanza goes to in order to strip Christmas of its over-commercialization. Though the metal pole, airing of grievances, and the feats of strength are both scarring to George and downright silly, the past couple of days have had me thinking a lot about the root message of Festivus.

And here is where I take a big sigh before I admit the truth:

I am a Christmas shopping addict. Okay, so I am an avid shopper all year round, but during the holiday season, it’s amped up to ludicrous speed. I love making a list complete with all the names of recipients and all the items I would like to purchase for each person. And then, as I make trek after trek to the mall, I alter the list, removing and adding things until I am satisfied and can write the word “DONE” next to every entry. I love thinking about the individual person and what s/he would like to open on Christmas morning, so much so that sometimes I keep shopping after items have been bought, just to be sure there isn’t something better. The whole process is quite satisfying.

But as much as I enjoy the act of gift buying, I feel a sense of sadness when it’s over. When all the gifts are wrapped and all the cookies delivered and the cards sent, I am still antsy to get out there and shop. I can’t help myself. I don’t like the crowds or the lines or the rudeness or the traffic, but yet, I do find the sales and the extended-hours and the over-stocked shelves very exciting. It’s an adrenaline rush to be out there, which means that eventually, I am going to crash, and that always coincides with Christmas morning.

As we sit amongst the rubble (read: discarded gift wrap and boxes) on December 25th, I can’t help but feel let down. All the frenzy culminates in a lazy day of overeating and movies and family togetherness, and it should be joyful and, well, merry–and it IS–but if I’m being honest, it’s also a little sad. I get major blues on Christmas, and I think maybe it’s because I get a little too into the game of shopping. 

It’s hard with the fifty-a-day emails from every store on my radar and reminders everywhere that Christmas is only XYZ days away.

A couple of weeks ago, I was wrestling Jude into his jacket so we could get him (late) to school and me (later) to work.

“What’s wrong?” I said to him.

“I no go to school,” he said.

“Why sweetheart?”

“I’m tired of school. I want to go shopping.”

And that is when I knew the torch had indeed been passed.

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I have this fantasy where one year, instead of buying a massive load of presents, my family and I take a trip someplace warm and tropical for Christmas. There would still be presents–maybe one item for every person and a few more for Jude–but nothing crazy; they’d have to fit into our luggage after all. I feel like I do my best relaxing on vacation, and it seems like in order to get my mind cleared from all the baking, errand running, end-of-the-semester grading, indulgent shopping, a destination vacation would be just the place to hang out with the people I love and have no other distraction besides celebrating Christmas. The expectations would be low. The wrapping would take less than an hour. The merriment would be high.

I think that sounds like a better way to de-commercialize than Frank Costanza’s: telling my family all the ways in which they disappointed me over the year and/or wrestling them next the the metal pole, don’t you?

Happy Festivus, everyone!!

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Holiday Breakin’

In case you were wondering, this is what it feels like to submit final grades:

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Holiday break is officially here, and I am psyched–if not a little delirious.

May the stress-induced cookie eating stop and the all-night dance party begin. And by all-night dance party, I mean forty-five minutes or so of catching up on my Words/Hanging/Scramble/Dice/Whatever with Friends while I watch last night’s episode of The Daily Show.

It’s getting crazy in here, you guys.

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