To the parents sending kids to college

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I’ve never really understood the whole bird metaphor when it comes to kids leaving the house, but it’s all over the place this time of year. Especially on social media, we can’t seem to escape all the lovely, soft focus pictures of perfect little empty bird’s nests, overlaid with sweet sayings in curly font. The exact words vary, but the general gist is, “Don’t be sad when your children leave the nest! It’s because you did your job as a parent that they are ready to fly. You did it! Yay you!”

And if that works for you, if that makes you go, “Oh yes, I feel sooo much better! Now when my kid leaves, I won’t curl up into the fetal position and sob till my eyes swell shut or a vocal cord snaps, because I will be too filled with joy and pride to feel anything else! Yay me!” …then I’m happy for you.

If, however, those sayings just aren’t doing it for you, if they make you question your sanity and general ability to cope, or cause you to look around for something to hit, I want you to hear me right now:

It’s ok. It is.

It’s ok if you’re struggling, because sending your kid off to college – this almost-adult that you have devoted 18 years of your life to keeping alive – is HARD for a lot of us. Last year at this time, I was where you are. Staring at the growing pile of bedding, crates and various dorm room items in my living room, I kept thinking to myself, “I’m not strong enough for this.” And as I feebly tried to sort through all the emotions duking it out in my body, I realized that it’s possible to be proud and heartbroken at the same time. Proud because I had managed to help raise a great human being, who was ready to go off and make his mark on the world. Heartbroken because I had managed to help raise a great human being, who was going to…leave me.

To be clear, this was entirely about me. I never once worried about my son. He really was ready, and I knew it. It’s just that in growing into this amazing, launch-worthy young man, he had also grown into someone I really, really liked having around. And I was going to miss him. A lot.

If you’re a mom or dad who’s tracking with me right now, you also know the next thing you hear – either from your internal critic (please tell me I’m not the only one who has one), or from an external person trying to be helpful: “Don’t be so selfish! This isn’t about you!” Or, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t be so ungrateful! You should be thankful that your kid can even go to college.” These statements do make a good point about the need for gratitude. But gratitude and grief are not mutually exclusive. You can be thankful and still grieve.

And it really is a kind of grieving. Even though you haven’t lost them, you’ve lost the way things were. When change comes like a seismic shift, when the comfort of the familiar is ripped off like a bandage, grief is a natural reaction. Even when the transition is ultimately a good thing, we still grieve change.

Pride and sadness, gratitude and grief. All coexisting in one, crazy person. No wonder some of us struggle.

Now, I do feel the need to add that I know parents who handled this transition with nary a tear. Yes, some were actually glad to see their kiddos go, but most simply accepted it as a natural progression of things and gracefully adjusted. So it’s possible. If you are the parent of a younger child, and reading this is making you think that sending your child off to college will trigger an automatic crisis, just know you could be one of the lucky ones. But just in case…

We have several birdhouses in our yard, and late last July I noticed a pair of wrens building a nest in the birdhouse right outside the window by my desk. I watched the flurry of activity as they prepared, and observed in delight when, after some weeks of silence, the parents’ arrivals to the birdhouse were met with urgent, tiny peeps. As I perused dorm room checklists from my son’s university, I heard each arrival to the birdhouse. As I returned from yet another college supplies shopping trip, I saw wobbly little heads with disproportionately large, open mouths pop eagerly out of the birdhouse opening. When we finally packed up the car with everything our son would need at college, I could tell the babies were close to fledging. And the panicked thought flashed across my already emotionally compromised brain: if they flew while we were moving our son in and I had to come home to not one but two empty nests, things were going to be ugly. Like scary ugly. Thankfully, God loves my husband and daughter, and we returned to find the little wrens still in the house. They fledged a few days later, and as I studied the empty birdhouse, I had to wonder: what happens to the mom when they leave? So much of this bird mom’s recent life has been focused on growing these eggs into babies, and the babies into wrens that can survive in the wild. Their success in the world outside the birdhouse is a testament to her work, but…what happens to her when they leave? Does she busily turn her attention to other work, or does she just enjoy some well deserved rest as she reaches a wing around to pat herself on the back? Or, does she sit silently and simply miss her kids? It just struck me that with so many clichés and cute metaphors about children “leaving the nest,” very little is said about the time after.

So I’m going to say something. Two things, actually. One to all of us who aren’t sending kids off to college this month, and one to the parents who are.

To the rest of us: this is the time of year now when we are surrounded by parents who are going though the process of letting go. I have to admit, I never saw them until I was one myself. And I thought, how have I missed them all this time? They’ve been moving around me, hurting silently, and I’ve never seen them. I vowed then that I would see them from now on, and I would try to love them a little. Or a lot. Now, not every parent wants someone in their face, asking them huge, emotionally flammable questions like, “So, when does your daughter move in to her dorm?” But a little kindness can go a long way with someone who is either anticipating move in day or recovering from it. See them. And try to love them.

To the parents who are about to do this Very Big Thing: it’s ok to be sad. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have that right. Yes, you’ve raised a great kid, and yes it is time for them to launch. You can be proud of that and still grieve their physical absence in your life. It’s not selfish to miss them. And I can honestly say, as someone who took it pretty hard, that it does get better. You learn a new normal, and in this new normal you move forward. You’re going to be ok, I promise. In the meantime, however, be gentle with yourself.

I’m working on a Part 2 to this post, talking about the good and bad (mostly good) from the first year. Spoiler alert: it gets better, and everyone survives. And if you want the full portrait of a crazy lady, you can flip back in this blog and read the post I wrote last year, after we sent our son off to school. It only took me a month or so to stop sucking my thumb and start writing again. So there’s that…

Hang in there, friends.

Pride cometh before a…wall

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“What hurts?” The triage nurse in the emergency room asked, “My ego,” I groaned weakly.

The day had started out so well. No, the day had started brilliantly. I was having one of those mornings where I felt completely on top of my game; focused, efficient and supremely productive, I was nailing it. I am a master multi-tasker, but even I was impressed at how well I was juggling tasks. Like a logistics expert, I had crafted my daunting schedule to the minute, and as I darted nimbly from one event to the next, my only struggle was finding a free hand with which to pat myself on the back. I was on fire. And I was going to win Friday.

Then I walked into a wall.

I had just dropped my car off at the dealership to get new tires. At my direction, my daughter had left just five minutes after me, and was due to arrive any second to pick me up and take me with her to her doctor and orthodontist appointments, with a brief stop in between to purchase a new curling iron so we could do her hair for the school show that night. As I thanked the service rep and turned to leave, I saw a text from Tessa saying that she wasn’t sure if she was in the right place or not. She had taken a picture of the exterior of the building where she was, and I squinted at the picture on my phone as I took off for the exit at my usual brisk pace. I looked up from my phone as I approached the glass door, and just as I was reaching for the handle, something struck me in the face with a force so hard that it knocked me back a few steps. As the deafening sound reverberated in my ears and a stinging pain spread across my face, I realized: it wasn’t a door. I had walked into a glass wall.

If you’re like me, your first reflex is to pretend everything is fine. “I can’t believe I just did that!” I exclaimed with a faint laugh as I turned to check how many people had seen my act of supreme stupidity. The service rep I had just spoken with came rushing over, “Are you ok?” “I’m fine,” I instinctively responded, again with a casual laugh. Because people do this all the time, and it’s no big deal, ok? I’m fine. FINE. He looked embarrassed for me, “But you’re…” I could now feel the warm liquid spreading down my face and dripping off my chin. “….bleeding.” Well there goes the ruse. Damn. You can’t pretend everything’s fine when there is blood gushing down your face. It just doesn’t work. As the humiliation washed over me (along with the blood), he lead me to the bathroom, where I got to see what I had done. Damn again. There was a cut across the bridge of my nose, blood coming from one nostril, and my whole face was beginning to swell. I gingerly cleaned myself up, grabbed a bunch of paper towels and held them over my nose as I slid out the closest exit and into the waiting car.

Tessa was, of course, horrified when she saw me. “What happened??” She gasped. “Would you believe I walked into a wall?” She looked at me, speechless, and I nodded. “No joke, I did that.” She exhaled slowly, trying to figure out what to do. “Soooo, should we cancel my appointment? Should I take you to the hospital?” Her appointment! Crap! She had been waiting for weeks to see this specialist, and if we had to reschedule, it would be weeks more. No, we’d go to the appointment, and when we were done she’d go to the orthodontist and I’d have Rich pick me up and take me to the hospital. There. All figured out. She shook her head, shifted the car into drive and pulled out of the dealership. Because when your mom is crazy enough to walk into walls, you don’t argue. You just go.

How not to make a good first impression on your child’s doctor: show up with a broken face. Yes, I did that. Actually, it wasn’t too bad, since the receptionist took pity on me and hooked me up with a bandaid before we saw the doctor. The bleeding had stopped, and the bandaid was big enough to cover most of what I’d done. When we got in to see the doctor, I explained briefly that I had just hurt myself and assured her that I’d be seeking medical attention after the appointment. And then I sat there, with a bandaid on my nose and a swollen, stinging face and pretended everything was fine. I don’t know if the doctor bought it or not, and I don’t care, but we got through the appointment.

When you arrive at the ER with only a broken nose and a cut that has stopped bleeding, you wait. Because the ER is for people with life threatening, serious issues, not for clumsy people with lousy depth perception. At least they don’t have a separate part of the waiting room for us, so thank goodness for that. And at this point, I think it was safe to say that I was not going to win Friday after all, so why not sit and wait? They gave me a bag of ice — oh my goodness, can I just interrupt right now to say how FREAKING AWESOME ice packs are? Greatest. Things. Ever. I still have about 10 in my freezer from my last hip replacement. I swear, they are better than drugs. Ok, enough gushing — the point is, I had a lot of time in that waiting room to think. And by think, I mean whine. Rich was super happy that he canceled his appointments for this, I’m sure.

“Seriously, who does that??” I groaned as we sat there. “Don’t beat yourself up,” Rich reassured, patting my hand. “I charged face-first into a wall,” I shot back at him. “Ok, don’t figuratively beat yourself up. Your eyesight isn’t great, what can you do?”

Was it my eyesight, though? Or the fact that I was sprinting through my day? Probably both. Not only was the door closer than I thought, turns out it wasn’t even a door to begin with. So the vision might be worse than I want to believe. But I was also walking fast, with my eyes on my phone and my mind already on to the next thing. And if I’m honest, I find myself doing that a lot, this living ahead of myself. I think a lot of us do it actually, because that’s how we get everything done. We even take great pride in it: “Look how much I accomplished today!” Yes, the triumph we feel when we can go down that list and check off all the boxes is so satisfying, it’s almost like a drug. You think that was good? Wait till you see what I’m going to get done tomorrow! Yep, living in hyperdrive is seductive, but we can’t stay there. Our bodies can’t sustain that. Eventually something’s gotta give, and we hit a wall. Sometimes literally.

“So what happened?” The doctor asked once we were in the exam room. “I hurt myself pulling an old lady from a burning car.” She just looked at me. “I got in a bar fight.” Again, the look. “Fine, I walked into a wall.”

Five stitches and a broken nose. I didn’t just not win Friday, I lost Friday. Big time. And maybe this was the 10-run rule that mercifully ended it early before I could do something worse. Although, as I sat there, that didn’t seem like much comfort. I laid back and gingerly placed my trusty ice pack over my face as Rich answered texts from friends for me. “Why do they all keep asking for pictures?” He said, shaking his head, “That’s mean!” “No,” I laughed, “They’re curious. And they’re moms, they don’t gross out easily.”

Speaking of grossing out easily, I would be the exception to the mom rule. I do gross out, and I know this about myself, so when the doctor proudly asked if I wanted to see my stitches, I politely declined. Disappointed, she left the room, but later poked her head back in to check if I’d had a chance to look at them yet. “Nope, not looking,” I answered stubbornly. “They look great!” Rich enthused, feeling bad for her. Just then a nurse walked in and chirped cheerfully, “Oh, look at your stitches! They look like whiskers! How cute!”

I snapped a quick selfie for my curious friends before they bandaged me up and sent me home. The whiskers/stitches are dissolvable and the broken nose should heal on its own (although when cleaning out my purse a few days later I found an otolaryngologist’s business card, so it’s possible I missed something as I was slinking out of the hospital). I woke up the next day with black-ish eyes, but between my glasses, the bandaid and some very good coverup, it wasn’t very noticeable. And I discovered that my skin tone is a perfect Bandaid Beige, so that’s a bonus. For what I did to myself, it actually doesn’t look very bad. The funny thing is, I live in Minnesota, the Land of Polite. I can see people looking at my bandaid when we’re talking, but no one dares to ask about it. I’m guessing they think I had a nose job, which should make for some interesting reactions when the bandaid comes off. I can hear the whispers now: “Worst. Nose job. Ever…”

Later, I was looking back at some of the text conversations between my friends and my husband on my phone. One had asked him, aghast, “OH MY GOSH, WHAT HAPPENED???”
“Well, you know how birds sometimes fly into windows?
It was a lot like that.”

And that, my friends, is pretty much it. It’s a sad tale, but I would like to think that it’s a cautionary one as well. If I can prevent any other bird friends from meeting the same fate, I will consider this a worthy sacrifice. So please, learn from me and don’t try to win Friday. Or any day, for that matter. The seconds we save by being über efficient will ultimately cost us when we go so fast that we live ahead of ourselves. “Living in the moment” is such a clichéd phrase, but I’ve never heard of someone who was living in the moment walking into a wall. I’ll admit it: I take an immense pride in being one of those women who gets it all done. And it’s kind of my personal “F You” to cancer and hip replacements and rheumatoid arthritis to be able to carry on like none of those happened. I think a lot of us are like that – we press ahead at our crazy pace, in spite of whatever challenges we’re living with that day. Because screw those challenges, that’s why. We’re bigger, we’re stronger, and we can get everything done.

So my personal challenge to myself right now is to slow down. Just a little bit. Try to not muli-task the crap out of every day and be a little more careful. And I’m already finding that really hard, even with a sore face to remind me, so this is not going to be an easy fix. But maybe, just maybe, there can be some improvement.

Happy Friday to all, and keep your heads up, birdies!

 

The Riddle

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REALLY sorry I’ve let it go so long! Any of you on Facebook with me know that I’m fine, but for my non-Facebook friends, I’m sorry I left you hanging. I am indeed fine. Actually better than fine, but you’d never know that from my silence! Sorry ’bout that. I know I said in my last post that I had scans at Mayo coming up in December, and I fully intended to remind everyone as the day drew nearer, so that my prayer army could saddle up, but I kind of forgot about one thing: finals. Yep, as the parent of a college freshman I can totally say this is my first rodeo, and I’m still learning. And what I learned this time is that you simply do NOT schedule scans when your kid is in the middle of final exams. First of all, it’s just not nice to add worrying about Mom’s health to a list of stressors that includes things like calculus and chemistry. And second, what if the news was bad? We certainly couldn’t tell him in the middle of finals. But if he knew I had the appointments he would ask about the results. And I suck at lying. So we had no choice but to keep the Mayo trip on the down low. Lesson learned.

The day went great, by the way. My liver, lungs and blood all checked out splendidly, so the cancer is staying put in the eye for now (and hopefully forever). My oncologist was positively giddy at how well the Avastin injections are working, and for good reason – I was supposed to be pretty close to blind in that eye by now, and I am definitely NOT blind. It’s sketchy, and I would be in trouble if that was the only vision I had, but sketchy vision is way better than no vision. Plus, as luck (and symmetry) would have it, I have another eye. And that one works just peachy, so it’s all good. Barring any weird hemorrhages in the radiated eye, everything should stay like that from here on out, which is pretty sweet. And my oncologist didn’t give me any crap about my RA meds! Woo hoo! So he and my rheumatologist can go on disliking each other, but I don’t have to get in the middle of it. I like that. A lot. I don’t have to go back to Mayo for 9 months now (and before you say it, I already checked – no final exams then).

In December and January I saw my rheumatologist and orthopedist, and everything is going well there too. The one disappointing thing from my one year post-op appointment (hip replacement for anyone who forgot. That includes me, because I mostly forget about my bionic-ness), is that my orthopedist’s idea of “light running” is even lighter than I imagined. Like taking 9 months to work up to 3 miles, and it all has to be on a treadmill – that kind of “light.” I have to see him again in a year and at that point he will decide if I get to ever run outside. So I haven’t even started the treadmill running, because what’s the point? If I’m going to be inside on a machine going nowhere, I can ride a bike to nowhere or climb stairs to nowhere and still get…nowhere. The point of running (to me, anyway) is enjoying fresh air, scenery, the company of others, and maybe racing (especially if there’s a fun t-shirt and/or cold beer at the end). So that didn’t work out like I had hoped. I knew it was a strong possibility though, so while I’m bummed, I’m not surprised. The hardware is looking good on the x-rays, and things are working so well that I mostly forget I have it. I do have a leg length discrepancy from the new parts, and it’s made my pelvis a little wonky, but the doctor didn’t seem concerned about it. So I’m not concerned either.

I’m still working with a nutritionist, trying to find out which foods make me feel the best, which ones tick off my RA and how to best fight cancer through what I eat. The key is to boot the things that harm, without going overboard. As I explained to my internist, I’d hate to give up dairy, then later find out I’m dying and have my first thought be, “I could have had cheese!!”

So that’s the scoop on my health – pretty doggone stable, and I like it that way. It’s boring, but it’s the good kind of boring. And speaking of boring, allow me to explain the picture at the top of this post (no, it’s not the photographic equivalent of a butt dial, I actually meant to take the picture): it’s the waiting room floor at my oncologist’s office at Mayo. I hate it, I really do. And it’s all I get to look at when I’m there, because the very first thing they do when I get there is turbo dilate both of my eyes. So no texting, checking emails, reading magazines or books. Just staring at the floor for hours (and I’m not kidding about the hours thing – this last time I waited for 2 hours to see my doctor. Super fun.). I think what bugs me the most about the floor, aside from the incredibly drab colors, is the fact that there is no discernible pattern. I’m a Type A, organized, child-of-an-engineer kind of person. I like patterns. I like knowing what’s coming. And this room, this cramped space with the ode to brown decor and stale air, is where I would most like to know what’s coming. I arrive at the Mayo Clinic hours ahead, sometimes even the day before, and I go through test after test, until I finally arrive at this place, where we wait to hear news that will be either exhilarating or devastating. And while we wait, I stare at this stupid, senseless floor with no pattern. It occurred to me this last visit that having cancer is a lot like looking at this floor, like trying to find a predictable sequence where none exists. I can read up on my cancer, and I can research treatments and survival percentages. I can eat perfectly, sleep enough, exercise regularly, and do everything in my power to increase my odds of beating it, but I can never predict what it will do. I can’t tell you why I even got it in the first place, either. I think that’s why I don’t like the floor. It has no pattern.

And I think that’s true of a lot in life, not just cancer. For those of us who yearn for the stability of predictability, when life throws us a curve we’re shaken. Sometimes we’re shaken in a good way, nudged out of our comfortable, protected space and into a place of growth and possibility. And we are ultimately glad to be in this new place, even if it was rough getting there. Sometimes though, we flail and gasp for air, desperately grasping for anything that feels solid and safe. And predictable.

In December, on my two-year “cancerversary,” two teenage boys in our town were killed in a car accident. On a day when my family and I were celebrating that I was alive, two families and an entire community were trying desperately to wrap their heads around the unthinkable. Days later, I went to Mayo for my scans, terrified as always, but also bearing the sobering thought that I had already lived longer than those boys. It made no sense. It was out of sequence.

When the unknown is merely theoretical, we can give it poetic names, like “embracing the mystery.” And that’s great when the mystery involves only lovely things. Like, will we have cake or cupcakes? Wine or cocktails? But when the unknown could involve heartbreak, loss and grief? That’s harder. Faced with that, who wouldn’t want to turn to the last page of the book to see how it ends? Ok, ok, I know people who wouldn’t. But I’m not one of them. I like knowing things ahead, so I can prepare myself. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown calls it “foreboding joy.” And it’s not a good thing. If we live our lives preparing for the worst, we prevent ourselves from enjoying the best.

Of course, if we always knew what would happen, we wouldn’t need faith. We wouldn’t need one another. We wouldn’t need a lot of the things that ultimately make our lives meaningful. So we “embrace the mystery,” we “wrestle with the unknown,” we reach for one another, dare to try new things, take chances…and we don’t wait to find out that we’re dying to live.

So I’m trying to change how I view that awful, beige floor. Sure it’s ugly, but it presents a challenge, a helpful exercise if I’m willing to look at it that way. As with life, when I survey its patternless expanse, I can allow myself to get frustrated at my inability to make sense of it. Or, I can choose to stop trying to figure out the puzzle and instead make the most of my time in it.

I had a friend who passed away from colorectal cancer years ago, and I remember how she and her husband loved the song “The Riddle” by Five for Fighting. At the time I really didn’t understand the appeal of the song, but it makes better sense now. I read an article about the songwriter, and it told of how he took 18 months and over 100 drafts to write the song – a song that started out as a meditation on the meaning of life, but ended up being about his relationship with his young son. And that is about as close to an answer as I think we’re going to get for now. Relationships. With our Creator, and with each other. Spending our time well while we’re here.

“There are secrets that we still have left to find,
There have been mysteries from the beginning of time,
There are answers we’re not wise enough to see,
He said, ‘You’re looking for a clue? I love you free’…

Here’s a riddle for you, find the answer:
There’s a reason for the world,
You and I”

So I’m trying to make my peace with the patternless floor.

It’s still ugly though.

College

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Hello! You thought I’d forgotten about you, didn’t you? Not a chance. Not. A. Chance. I love, love, love that I have this awesome army of support, people who care about me and want to stay current on the status of my health circus. I, for one, am kind of tired of it. Really. NOT that I’m asking for more excitement (that is actually my internist’s stated goal: “No new diagnoses.” I think it’s a good goal.) I just get tired of talking about it sometimes, because there are other things that are far more interesting, that’s all. So, let’s get the updates out of the way quickly, and then talk about other things, ok? Ok.

  1. Cancer stuff: next scans at Mayo will be in December. Getting all of it set up took the usual umpteen phone calls and arguments, but I’ve come to expect that now. I wouldn’t be surprised if very soon they put a note on my chart: “Just give her what she wants, it’s easier.” Actually they probably already have a note on there, it’s just very likely not repeatable. I’m still getting the Avastin injections, but they’ve been stretched out to every 8 weeks now, which is lovely (the 8 weeks in between, that is. Shots in the eye are not).
  2. Rheumatoid arthritis stuff: my rheumy upped my meds, since they weren’t working. I am now taking so many pills that I have an app on my phone to remind me to take them, which my family adores. If my phone ever goes for a swim in the toilet, I won’t wonder why. But it’s effective, and the meds are working relatively well, so we’ll call it good for now.
  3. Hip stuff: I graduated from physical therapy about a month ago, and the hip feels awesome. I’ll find out at my one year appointment in January if I get to run again – fingers crossed! (I was going to try to be cute and say legs crossed, but that usually means something else…)
  4. Nutrition stuff: Wait, what? Yeah, the newest addition to Team Jen is a nutritionist. We’re just trying to figure out how to best manage my RA, since my oncologist doesn’t really like me taking the heavy duty meds for that, and also trying to eat like someone who doesn’t want their cancer to spread. So as part of that, I’m currently in the later stages of an elimination diet to figure out my food intolerances. Not fun, I tell you, but it’s for a good cause (that’s what I kept telling myself anyway). But seriously, “elimination diet?” Individually those words are awful enough. Put them together and it’s a recipe for severe crabbiness. For real. I went to Chicago and didn’t have a single slice of deep dish pizza. NOT ONE SLICE, PEOPLE. If you know me, you can imagine, and I’m sorry to put that mental picture in your head. You probably can’t unsee that.

So what else has happened since my last post? Hmmmm…well, we took our oldest to college for his freshman year.

Oh yes, that.

It was very hard. And I’ve been trying to figure out why I haven’t been able to write about it here. I thought initially that maybe I was just being chicken and didn’t want to feel sad like that again. To write about it is to crawl back into it, to wrap it around my shoulders and feel its weight. Or maybe, it’s the fear of coming off as shallow or overdramatic. I mean, this is a blog that started as a Caringbridge site, after I was diagnosed with cancer, for crying out loud. I could end up dying from the stupid thing, and I’m going to whine about my kid leaving for college? Seems a little warped. And embarrassing really, because with all the serious problems in the world, it seems like a petty thing to complain about. Or maybe I was hesitant because I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am to have a kid who is healthy and well-adjusted enough to leave me and go off to school. All valid possibilities, but in the end I think what’s been stopping me from writing about Riley leaving for college is simply that I felt like I needed to learn some kind of lesson from it first. A sort of moral to the story. That is, after all, how writers tend to think of stories: “What’s the point?” And it’s definitely the way I’ve processed just about every event in my life: “What have I learned here?”

So what have I learned here? That’s the problem, I just don’t know. I’ve learned that it is infinitely harder than I thought it would be (and this is coming from a woman who cried her way through her son’s senior year of high school). I’ve learned that dropping your kid off in a strange place and then getting into your car and driving away feels unnatural. So does setting the table for three people. And that without a teenage boy around, food actually goes bad in your refrigerator.

I’ve also learned that I’m not alone in this experience. In those weeks surrounding move in, we somehow cosmically found each other, these other moms and I. It’s hard to describe, but there’s just a sadness, a weary smile or slump of shoulders that seems to be an unspoken code word for “Yeah, I’m there too.” I have hugged more women I don’t know in the last few months than I have probably ever. Hugs are our secret handshake, entrance to the club of “You too? I totally thought I was messing up royally because I’m so sad about something I should be happy about.” Ok, long club name. Too long, so scratch that. But the overwhelming relief of discovering other women going through the same emotions is huge. The mom of one of Riley’s best friends called me a few days after she dropped her son off, and I could tell she was testing the waters: “So, how did move in go for you guys…?” She asked casually. I let her off the hook immediately, “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, to be honest.” As I went on to tell her how I was struggling, I almost felt my hair move from the force of her exhale over the phone. “Oh good! I mean, it’s not good, but I thought something was wrong with me. I’m so glad you’re having a hard time too.” After countless variations on that conversation with multiple other moms (and a lot of hugging), I am finally reasonably certain that it doesn’t matter where we fall on the mom-o-meter, or where our kids fall on the kid-o-meter; taking your kid to college for the first time is just hard. Period.

I remember when we dropped Riley off for his first day of preschool. As he leapt out of the car and gave us a quick wave before bounding exuberantly toward the school entrance, I started to cry (you’re sensing a theme here now, aren’t you?). Rich looked at me like any husband does when his wife randomly bursts into tears, with a mix of amusement and fear. “It’s just preschool, Jen.” “I know,” I shot back, “But I feel like we just set him on a moving walkway. It’s started. And we can’t slow it down or pause it.” Rich nodded soberly and kept driving, because that is what you do when your wife has completely lost her mind. That, and stop for a latte, which he also did. He’s a smart man.

Fast forward 15 years or so, and the moving walkway has indeed failed to stop or slow. After we got him all moved into his dorm and had made the requisite Target run for things we had forgotten and/or didn’t realize he needed, we took him out for dinner and then finally dropped him off back at his dorm. We said our goodbyes (and by the grace of God I mostly managed to hold it together), and Rich and I got into the car. As I watched Riley walk toward the dorm entrance, I couldn’t help but see that joyous preschooler, oh-so-ready to begin the next, big thing. And that damned, invisible moving walkway, carrying him toward it.

And here’s the most maddening thing about all of this: it’s good. I can’t indulge in even the teensiest sense of tragedy, because what’s happening is, in fact, wonderful. My kid gets to go to college. He worked hard and got into an excellent school that will prepare him for a bright future. And he’s doing great, by the way. Still trying to figure out how to simultaneously be an engineering major and have a life, and still texting me with questions every time he does laundry, but he’s learning and growing. He’s figuring out who he is and how he is, what matters and what doesn’t. He’s well on his way to becoming his adult self, and he is precisely where he needs to be to make that happen.

But it’s hard having him gone, I’m just going to say it. Technology is a wonderful thing, and it is largely responsible for the fact that I’m (outwardly) sane. But I miss having him around. My friend Sara perhaps said it best: “Really? So this is our reward for raising good kids? They leave us?” She went on to eloquently describe the bittersweet aspects of sending a child to college, but I, of course, appreciated the sass more. We’ll save eloquent for another post; today, I’m just being real. And I really miss my kid. No technology can replace just having him here, drumming on everything, making jokes, playing with the dogs, bugging his sister, scrounging though the fridge with a mildly frustrated, “What can I have to eat? I’ve had everything!”

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been reduced to sitting in a corner in the fetal position, rocking back and forth and sucking my thumb (that was only the first two weeks, silly). Rich, Tessa and I have settled into a new rhythm now, just the three of us. And Riley is very good about staying in touch, so it’s not like he’s out of our lives. It’s just different.

Maybe that’s what I’ve learned: that sometimes the good changes can be hard too. We work so diligently at making the best of crappy situations, perhaps it’s surprising when we find ourselves challenged by something that is actually good.

And it is good, I know that. I’m grateful every day for both of my kids – the one I have to text, and the one I get to annoy in person. Missing people is the price we pay for loving them so deeply. I know I wouldn’t love my kids any less in order to be spared the pain of them leaving, but that doesn’t make the process any easier. Change can be difficult, even when it’s for a good reason.

As always, thanks for joining me on the journey. It’s nice to have company. Onward and upward, friends.

(And On, Wisconsin! 😉)

Grace > karma

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How not to run a blog: apologize for taking so long to post and then assure your readers that you will try to write more often…and then take longer than ever to write another post. Yep, I’m not going to be winning any blogger of the year awards any time soon. Totally fine by me, but my sincere apologies to anyone who was wondering what happened to me.

What happened to me? Well, there’s the picture at the top of the post, for starters. That happened. Graduation. An absolutely wonderful, crazy whirlwind of a week, but I think I did a decent job of making good on my intention to savor every bit of it. So many people I love, coming together to celebrate and love on my kid…I still sigh audibly when I think of it.

Physically, my rheumatoid arthritis was crappy during all of it, so that was a bummer, but I was too busy to take much notice. And I knew I could take the prednisone that I keep handy for flares, but that stuff, while amazingly effective, does make me a wee bit crabby. Ok, a lot crabby. And this was just not the best time for Crabby Jen to be appearing in public. So I pushed through it and things were fine. Once the dust settled, so did my symptoms, so I didn’t have to hit the dreaded ‘roids after all. And my family breathed an enormous, collective sigh of relief. Cause it’s not a ton of fun when Crabby Jen is running the joint.

I have a rheumatologist appointment in August, and we’ll certainly be chatting about my meds then. I’m still not loving the ones I’m on, mostly because they don’t seem to be working as well as the previous ones, but also because they might be causing some side effects that I’m not crazy about. We’ll see what the rheumy has to say about it, and then – oh joy! – we might get to enter into the delicate diplomacy of trying to get the rheumy and the oncologist to agree on a new drug. Just in case I get bored having a kid off at college and need a hobby to fill my time.

I also had my six month post hip surgery blood work and – drum roll please – I am no longer excessively metallic! In fact, I’m barely metallic at all, which is supremely awesome. So it’s safe for everyone to have magnets around me again. What a relief for you all, I know. And speaking of my hip, I am apparently recovering so well that my surgeon didn’t even want to see me for my six month follow up. His assistant called and asked if I was cool with waiting till the one year mark to see him. Now I like my surgeon and all, but I am just fine with sitting in one less waiting room, thank you very much. In the meantime, they have me going to physical therapy, just to try to get back to 100%. I had hit a plateau at about 80%, so I’m very close, but it will apparently take a little more work to get all the way back. Bring it, I say.

And for the final ring of my three-ring health circus: my eye. I have now had three Avastin injections, and as I said in a previous post, I expect they will be bestowing pro status upon me any day. Really, I can rock those things. Ok, ok, they’re just not as big of a deal as they sound, but don’t tell anyone. I like that people think I’m tough. But the truth is, my blind spot totally works in my favor, because I can’t see the needles coming at me. So I’m grateful that worked out. I’ve got a lot more of these coming, as there is still bleeding around the tumor, but they’re starting to space them out more now. Once again, I say bring it.

So at this point you’re probably wondering what’s up with the title of this post, because so far I’ve just given you a rundown on my health status. It actually has to do with something that happened back in May, when Rich and I were traveling to St. Thomas, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately due to the road construction going on around our neighborhood. (Say what? No seriously, go with me here, it connects. I promise…)

There is a major intersection near our house that has been closed since May so they can convert it into a two-lane roundabout. Consequently, traffic has been diverted to surrounding streets (including ours), none of which were designed to handle the volume and speeds of the roads that are currently closed. I probably don’t have to tell you that this is not exactly bringing out the nice in anyone. And we who live here and drive on these streets every day get a front-row seat to witness all the anger, impatience and general ill-will of all the folks who now have to take a much longer route, with much longer waits, to get to their destination. It’s discouraging, to be honest, to see people acting like total jerks to one another, but you know what? It also makes me mad. And then I want to act like a jerk too. Because they deserve it.

And then there’s Facebook. Holy crap, can people get their nasty on when they’re at a keyboard. Just the other day, I saw that a friend had shared a post about a sensitive topic. It was a compelling message, stated with great thought and some solid logic. And it opened up a good opportunity for some thoughtful dialogue about the subject. But then I read the responses. The amount of emotion and venom contained in them was matched only by the extreme quantity of judgment and righteous indignation. Gone was any logical argument or respectful dialogue, replaced instead by LOTS OF SCREECHING IN ALL CAPS, because apparently that shows that you REALLY MEAN IT and that the other person IS SO INCREDIBLY WRONG. They all had to get their jabs in, and I’m sure they felt their hurtful words were justified because he had posted something so stupid and so offensive to them. He deserved it.

Which brings me to something I observed on our trip this past May. As our flight was about to depart, we noticed that while we were crammed together in a very full row, the row ahead of us only had one person, sitting on the window. “I’ll just jump up and sit in that aisle seat,” Rich offered. “That way maybe we can stretch out and grab some sleep on the flight.” Sounded reasonable enough, but as soon as he stood to move ahead, the guy sitting in the window seat of that row immediately slung his big, hairy, flip-flopped foot across the middle seat and onto the aisle seat, glaring at Rich over the top of his sunglasses (yes, sunglasses. Inside. On a plane). Wow, what a jerk, I thought. Rich returned to his seat next to me and sat down. “Sorry, I don’t think I’m moving,” he whispered. “It’s fine,” I grumbled back, “you probably don’t want to be near him anyway.” Just then, the captain came on the intercom and announced that they would be holding our departure to allow for some passengers coming in on a late connection. The guy in front of us exhaled loudly in disgust. I turned to Rich, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if they end up sitting right next to him?” Rich nodded. We settled in to wait for the additional passengers, the time punctuated by a few irritated groans from the guy in the row ahead of us. Finally, we heard breathless voices as the remaining passengers arrived and began to hurriedly make their way down the aisle to find their seats. An older woman stopped at the row ahead of us and squinted at the numbers above before yelling triumphantly over her shoulder, “THIS IS IT, HONEY! THIS IS OUR ROW!” As her adult son joined her, she threw multiple bags onto the floor and squeezed into the seat next to Grumpy Sunglasses Guy. I turned to Rich, unable to contain my glee, “This is fantastic!” “I hope she’s chatty,” Rich added, watching as the woman and her son (and all their bags) settled in ahead of us. Still out of breath, she turned with a grateful smile to Grumpy Sunglasses Guy, “Thank you for waiting for us!” He snorted. “It wasn’t my choice, believe me,” he shot back, sighing loudly before turning toward the window. She was not easily deterred, however, and continued chatting happily at his back, filling him in on all the details of their travel, seemingly oblivious to his disinterest. Rich and I just sat and observed, savoring the sweet schadenfreude of seeing someone get what they deserve. The lady continued to ramble on as Grumpy Sunglasses Guy writhed uncomfortably, and I thought with great satisfaction, this can’t get any better. After enjoying it all for a while, I sighed contentedly and got out my headphones and my book, settling in for the flight. All was right with the universe. About an hour later, I glanced up from my reading and saw to my great pleasure that she was still talking. Ha! Love it. But wait, it looked almost like – he was actually listening. And his body language was all different. He appeared relaxed and kind of…pleasant. Wait, what? I took out my headphones and sure enough, they were having a conversation. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but his head was angled in towards her as he listened intently, and I could hear that he was talking too. Weird. I went back to my book. Finally we began our descent, so I took out my headphones and started to put them away. The in-flight movie was just finishing up – McFarland, USA – one of those feel-good, based-on-a-true-story sports movies. It was the final scene, where the team runs in the state championship race. Rich, who had been watching the movie, shifted his gaze for a moment and then looked at me. He pointed to the guy ahead of us, “He’s crying,” he whispered incredulously. I glanced over, and true enough, he was wiping his eyes. Wow. We were on the ground a half hour later, and as we stood to get our bags from the overhead compartment, I looked over at the row ahead of us. The guy had his sunglasses perched on the top of his head and was reclining against the window, laughing with the lady. Like he wasn’t in any hurry at all, completely at ease and content to sit and chat with his new best friend. And I was stunned. At the beginning of the flight I thought things couldn’t get any better because come on, what’s better than karma? What’s better than seeing a total jerk get what he deserves? I now found myself looking at it.

Grace. Grace is better.

Because I have been that jerk. We all have. And thank goodness we don’t always get what we deserve. Thank goodness.

So I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, as tempers flare on the roads, on social media and in every other place where I’m tempted to think that it would just be so awesome if people got what’s coming to them. When I feel completely justified in letting anger make me the worst version of myself because, “That’ll teach ’em.” It’ll teach them – what?

We can’t really make karma happen anyway, it’s pretty much beyond our control. But we can be instruments of grace. We can resist the urge to return hurt with hurt, condemnation with condemnation, venom with venom. It’s not always easy – oh, how I wish it was! – and the rewards are more than we can see sometimes. But sometimes we do get to see it. On a plane, for example.

Grace > karma.

It just is.

In it, not through it

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Let me begin with an important announcement: I’M FINE! Yes, I know it’s been over a month since my last post, but I assure you it’s only because I got busy with the stuff of life, not because something bad has happened with my health. I absolutely appreciate the concerned queries when I’ve gone an extended amount of time without posting, but I promise you, if anything ever goes wonky health-wise you will be the first to know. Wait, let me correct that. I will FIRST notify my parents and close family. THEN I will tell the world. “I don’t want to hear it on Facebook,” my mom is fond of saying regarding any major news. You won’t, Mom. Promise. And, I hope to never have anything bad to report anyway, so let’s talk about something else.

Ooh, how about something new, like for instance my health? Yeah, even I’m getting tired of all that, so I’ll keep it brief. I had my second eye injection last week and I think I’m already well on my way to achieving pro status at that craziness. Which is good, because the first one didn’t seem to put a dent in the bleeding around the tumor, so this is going to be a monthly thing for the foreseeable future. It’s a pretty slick process: numbing eye drops, then a shot of novocaine, then the Avastin injection and a super attractive eye patch for a few hours. The eye is irritated and a little sore for a bit, but that’s about it. If it didn’t take two hours, I’d be fine with the whole business. Yes, you read that right – two hours. I have no idea why, other than the office is crazy busy. Or they figure all the patients are ninety years old and don’t have anywhere else to be, I’m not sure. At least they didn’t dilate my good eye this time, so I was able to sit in the waiting room and send annoyed texts to friends. Yes, I could have used my time much more productively and positively, but the snarky texts were more fun.

On the rheumatoid arthritis front, things haven’t been going so swell (Ha! I just caught that when I reread this. Bad pun. Sorry, I’ll try to be better…). I’m starting to think that the new drug isn’t working as well as the old one, mostly because when I was on the old drug I frequently forgot that I even have RA. Now I’m not a doctor, but I would say that’s an indication that a drug is working. On the new drug, however, I am in no danger of forgetting that I have RA. It’s nothing terrible or debilitating, but it’s not pleasant either. I only switched meds in mid-April, so it’s probably too soon to officially say that it’s not working (you’re supposed to give RA drugs a good three months to work), but I might have to call my rheumy soon to chat about it. Which stinks, because in the Great Mayo/Edina Treaty of 2015 we were able to find an RA drug that both my oncologist and rheumatologist were cool with. Getting both parties to the table again in the same year would require a huge diplomatic effort. I might need to call in some reinforcements.

Speaking of calling doctors, I do have something to share that may be of some help to any of you who, like me, have ever put their life on hold while waiting to hear back from a doctor. You know how it goes: you call the office and leave a message with their nurse. She/he talks with the doctor and then either the nurse or doctor calls you back…sometime. You know that if you miss their return call, you’ll have to repeat the waiting process, so you resolve to have your phone on your person at all times. You’re ready. You bring that phone with you everywhere. In the car, to the grocery, within reach of the shower when you bathe, in your fitness class (yes, you even risk being one of those people), and yet they never, ever call. Fear not, sweet friends, for I have found the answer. I have discovered exactly what to do to cosmically summon that phone call: color your hair. Yes, it has worked for me enough times now that I can say this with the utmost confidence. Color your hair. Pile a ton of the darkest, goopiest, stickiest dye you can find on your head, smear it generously into your hairline, being careful not to miss the sections around your ears, and a doctor will certainly call. I just had to replace my phone case because it had auburn smears all over it, that’s how well this method works. A small price to pay for returned calls, I would say. So if you want a doctor to call you back, just color your hair. Or, if you like your hair the shade that it is, I bet that any messy project will work. Just make sure that it is super inconvenient to hold a phone while doing the task, and you can expect that call. I colored my hair the other day and not only did two doctors call me, the guy from the car dealership also called to tell me my new floor mats were in. Bonus.

So that’s it for today. I will try not to go more than a month without posting, but no news really is good news. It means life is keeping me busy, which is a lovely thing. Being alive is just great period, I try not to forget that. It’s easy, however, to get caught up in the to-do lists and things that stress me out – and when I do let them overwhelm me, I am not my best self, I will be honest about that. I end up just trying to get to the other side of it, get it over with, instead of relishing the fact that I get to be here for this. For all of this.

This week is totally nuts. My son graduates, I have out of town family visiting and we’re hosting a party. I’m also on the senior poster committee for the all night senior party and coordinating music for a Disabled American Veterans event the day before graduation. Riley has parties to go to, a few last tests, the senior brunch and baccalaureate. Tessa has dance team tryouts and a major group project due for one of her classes. We are not a calm household at the present moment. At times like these, it’s easy to think, “I just want to get through this week.” But then at church yesterday morning I ended up talking to my friend Marilyn and she said something that really grabbed my attention. Marilyn is one of those people that just has a light around her, one of those rare beings that you find yourself wanting to get as close as possible to, as if her goodness is a kind of wet paint and you’re hoping to get some on yourself. Among the challenges she’s faced in her life is a very advanced case of RA, and she inquired as to how mine was doing. I told her a little bit, but then couldn’t help totally fan-girling her: “You are so incredibly strong, Marilyn, and your attitude is just inspiring. How do you do it?” She smiled that beautiful, radiant Marilyn smile. “Well, I ask God every day to give me a heart for my journey, and peace as I make my way.”

I let that sink in a bit.

“Give me a heart for my journey, and peace as I make my way.”

I know that’s meant to apply to life in general, but I couldn’t help hearing it in the context of my upcoming week. I realized that during a pretty important week in our family’s life, I was only seeing the work that needed to be done, and the obstacles, both health and otherwise, that lay in my path. I was just trying to get through the week, get on the other side of it, rather than simply being in the week. Living “in the moment” can be such a clichéd phrase that the meaning doesn’t even register anymore, but that’s really what it is. Or needs to be.

I resolved then and there to focus on being in this week, rather than just trying to get through it. Being fully present for everything. Enjoying the company of friends and family, marking a huge milestone in my son’s life and doing it all with gratitude. A heart for my journey. And peace as I make my way.

Deep breath. Here we go…

Cleaning glasses and taking carts

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Well folks, the news on the eye injections is that they are NO BIG DEAL! Can I get a woot woot? As you can see from the picture, I still rewarded myself with a chocolate bar, but it was definitely a case of the anticipation being far worse than the actual event. And yes, I did see that scary anti-smoking commercial (by accident, I assure you), where the woman is sitting in the doctor’s chair with her eyelid held open with some torturous device and a needle coming directly at her, and that is quite honestly what I expected. Thank goodness that wasn’t the reality. But oh, I sure did work myself into a pretty good panic ahead of it, I will tell you that. And it took forever at the retina specialist’s office before we even got to the injection, AND they dilated me in both eyes first, so I had absolutely nothing to do but sit in the waiting room nervously awaiting the procedure, listening to all the other patients around me chatting – and by chatting I mean shouting at the top of their lungs. I am sure I don’t have to tell you at this point that everyone else in the waiting room was a good 30-40 years older than me, because that’s pretty much the drill at all my specialists’ offices. What can I say, I don’t just have an old soul, I apparently have an old body too. After listening to one couple engage in a disturbingly clinical discussion of funeral homes, I heard another lady remark to her daughter that she was getting another injection. “Does it hurt?” I interjected. The woman looked at me quizzically. “DOES IT HURT?” I shouted desperately. She looked at me like I was a total wuss. This frail, 90-something year old woman, who needed a walker and was about half my size. “Well not really,” she responded, still looking at me like she couldn’t tell if I was joking or not, “It’s just a little stick, that’s all.” Seriously. This is how I knew I was being the world’s biggest ninny.

Honestly, the worst part wasn’t even the injection, it was getting dye shot into my hand for the fluorescein angiogram (fancy eye picture that shows blood vessels). The eye injection stuff was legitimately no big deal. They used numbing drops first, and the doctor gently held my eyelid open with his fingers, not that horrible clampy thing from the commercial. He stuck me with a needle of novocaine and then the needle of Avastin, and it was over. And I didn’t feel anything. All that panic for nothing. Which is good, because apparently this is going to be a monthly thing for me until they get the bleeding under control. I had to wear a patch for a few hours and I was sore for the rest of the day, but really – not worth the emotional energy and stomach lining I wasted worrying about it. I find that a lot of things in life are like that, and every time something like this happens I am reminded of something my friend Jami’s mom used to say: “Worry is suffering in advance.” Truth.

Oh, and Riley picked a college! He’s going to be studying engineering at the University of Wisconsin – Madison next year. And no, we didn’t get any signs to help with the decision. Not one. No prophetic dreams either (one of his friends was lucky enough to have one of those, and is going to Madison because of it. “Did you happen to notice if I was there too?” Riley asked him hopefully. No dice). No, sometimes tough decisions demand to be wrestled with, and that was the case here. We are all just relieved that it’s finally over and that we know what color sweatshirts to buy.

I saw something in the paper the other day – one of those heartwarming stories about a person who did this very huge, very generous thing for someone who was down on their luck. It was a great story and an even greater act of kindness. I cried when I read it – but then, I have a senior who is about to graduate, so I cry pretty much daily now. Don’t judge. But this was legitimately tear-worthy. And it got me thinking about all the amazing acts of kindness that I’ve been the fortunate recipient of with all my health “issues” in the last few years. The thing is, the ones that come to mind aren’t always the huge, splashy ones. Actually, it’s some of the smaller ones that touched me the most. For instance, we were over at our friends’ house one night a few months ago. I was tired and crabby for reasons I can’t remember, and I was complaining to one of the other guests that I can’t keep my glasses clean. Yes, that is the minutia that I chose to gripe about – my perpetually smudged glasses. I had to start wearing them after my cancer diagnosis (to protect my good eye), so maybe I associate them with that. Or maybe they’re just a pain to wear, who knows. Anyway, just as I was mid-rant, our friend Stan (who, with his wife Deb was hosting the evening) happened to walk by. He stopped and listened with a furrowed brow, and then held out his hand. “Give them to me, I’ll clean them.” “What?” I stammered, “No, you don’t need to – I mean, I can totally – it’s nothing, really – I’m fine.” As I was protesting, Deb walked by and patted me, “Oh let him clean your glasses! He’s so good at it.” “Yes!” Stan laughed, “I’m the expert! Now give them to me.” So I meekly handed them over and he went to their kitchen desk, produced a special cloth and a bottle of glasses cleaner – I think I have one of those but I’m too lazy to ever use it – and began to meticulously clean my filthy glasses, periodically holding the lenses up to the light to check for errant smudges. I just stood there and watched. It was such a small thing really, but in that small act of kindness I felt heard and cared for, even at my whiniest and least deserving. Grace… It doesn’t just feel good, it has the power to transform.

One other moment that I remember vividly happened in February, a few weeks after my hip replacement. I had made the transition to using only one crutch, and was fully enjoying my newfound mobility, freedom and independence – well, I thought I was independent. At this moment I had just completed my first solo run to Target and was feeling thoroughly triumphant as I exited the store with my cart. Unassisted, ha! I can do this! Now, the thing about having a handicapped tag for your car is that you get to park close to the store entrance, but not necessarily close to the cart return. Did I mention it was snowing? Hard? Yep, and as anyone who doesn’t live in a tropical paradise knows, carts are hard to push in snow. I contemplated this reality as I used my non-crutch arm to unload my bags into the trunk of my car. So much for being capable and independent. Just don’t wipe out, I told myself. As I turned to look for the nearest cart return, a woman approached. “Can I take your cart for you?” She asked with a kind smile. “Oh my gosh, that would be amazing! Really?” I peered at her through the heavily falling snow. “Really,” she laughed, and proceeded to commandeer both her cart and mine and move briskly toward the cart return. “Thank you!” I called after her, suddenly feeling very warm even as the cold snow fell.

It’s impossible to put into words exactly what these small acts of kindness meant to me, or how they encouraged and changed me. And I wonder how many times I’ve missed opportunities to do similar things for others. How often have I been so engrossed in my own personal sphere of “me-ness” that I haven’t noticed people around me who could use a hand? Or an ear? Or a shoulder? It’s so easy to get caught up in the mental to-do list, the “what’s next?” and completely miss what’s happening now. Because what’s happening now could be an opportunity to love on our fellow humans, if we can just poke our heads out of our bubbles long enough to see them. We tend to think of acts of kindness as being BIG things. But there is incredible power in the small acts too. I know because I was and continue to be the recipient of so many beautiful gestures. They inspire me.

Hoping you maybe find yourselves inspired too, and that you grab hold of those opportunities – both big and small – to be kind to others. You may not get thanked or know the full effect of what you did, but I can assure you, it makes a difference.