As I’m writing, I’m sitting in a bean bag chair in front of the fireplace. I’ve started a fire, chilled from running. I rotate my body in small clockwise turns to heat my skin evenly. I can feel and smell the fabric of my running tights heating up, and that is how I know it’s time to turn. I settle into the moment of joy.
A short space away from me my children cluster around the table poking toothpicks into a wreath made of hay. On each pointed toothpick, they carefully press a pastel colored marshmallow peep. An Easter tradition, this wreath will hang…
“OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! She’s barfing! She’s barfing! Ewwwwwwww it’s so gross, mommymommymommymommy!!!!!!!!!”
“Wow, Mommy. Look at all that puke. It’s kind of beautiful, but also realllllly gross.”
This. This is my life. In the middle of my contented bliss, which lasted all of five minutes, the dog has vomited up a heaping pile of the three pounds of jelly beans that she stole off the butcher block while we were at basketball earlier in the day. We had known that something was amiss as soon as we opened the door and she met us, frantic and crazed, practically foaming at the mouth, like a hyperactive jackrabbit on uppers.
It’s my turn to clean it up, as she’s already voided her gut once on the living room carpet, while the twins and I were out for a run with my pals. Rob fielded that one. I scoop the puke. The metric ton of jelly beans had begun the digestion process and are nice and slimy, glistening on the kitchen floor. I dry heave at the smell. Rob tries to make things more interesting for me by making constant retching noises. Now the children join in. I can’t even.
The kiddos have made their way over to the fireplace and are playing with the iron poking tools. Of course, Benny drops a tool handle first onto Maddie’s exposed foot. She screams out in pain, a big blue welt already forming. She’s hysterically crying now, and Ben is yelling that it was an accident. Chloe is repeatedly yelling “Are you OK?!” to Maddie. Rob screams at Ben. I scream at Rob, in Momma bear attack mode. Ben didn’t mean it. It was an accident.
Rob’s default setting is to yell, while mine is to withdraw. Except lately it seems I scream back. I continue screaming. Maddie dissolves into a puddle of tears and suddenly I am rocking her, back on the beanbag by the fireplace. Ben has moped off to the living room with Chloe and Rob is torn over whose sadness to tend to.
“I don’t want you to get a divorce,” she sobs into my chest.
“You fight all the time.”
Lately it seems like we do.
Rob is with us now, and tears streak down our faces too. We are so sorry. So very sorry. Rage converts to sorrow. Clenched hands relax to stroke her head. How do we help her understand? We talk about how hard it is to be a mommy and daddy. How happy we are, but also how stressed we can be. I tell her that I’m sorry for yelling. Rob tells her the same. We tell her that sometimes parents fight. That sometimes parents need time alone, and we get very little. Her breathing slows.
And now we are three hearts in front of the fire, and I’m drawn into the moment, no matter how it was born. I let it wash over me. I bury my face in her hair. Breathe deeply in, and exhale. I take Rob’s hand, we are OK.
We cluster around the kitchen table, eating non-homemade rice pudding from tiny porcelain bowls. Chloe has wrapped herself in a flannel fitted sheet, the one that I JUST folded and had laid on the couch. I say this to her… she shrugs sheepishly and tells me how warm it is. I swallow my mouthful of pudding and am acutely aware of how soothing it is to my throat, which I’m only now realizing is sore from yelling. The guilt rises up. I swallow it down. Hard.
Still, we listen to the fire crackling, and enjoy the warmth.
This is how joy exists for me. These moments of connection, of peace.
Sun rays filtered through clouds.
Moments mined from the surrounding rubble.
My heart grabs hold of them when they shine out, and they sustain me.
I suspect this may be true for lots of other people too, this living off the moments. Life can’t be all rainbows and unicorns. It’s struggle and comfort and it’s sorrow and love. But so often, we tuck our stories inside our own hearts, keeping them in the dark. Swallowing them down. Hard.
What if we let them out more?
Would our stories reach the dark places in someone else’s soul?
Would there be joy in that connection?