This is how I had everything played out in my head.
While my husband was across the country attending a conference for his new job, I would nest. After a few days of feverishly unpacking, covering our walls with photos and art, arranging and rearranging furniture, filling our pantry and fridge with food, we would be settled. Our home would emanate coziness and peace. And we would begin making real, warm and fuzzy memories.
While my children slept, I envisioned my husband and me spending our evenings outside on our stone patio sitting on outdoor furniture we didn’t have (this was the first sign I was being unrealistic), hearing the tree frogs chirp and the crickets buzz as we sipped wine from the glasses we received from on our wedding day that we’ve never unpacked because we had no room to store them. The conversation flowed as smoothly as the crisp Riesling. There was no humidity. There were no mosquitoes making a meal out of us.
Other fantasies unfolded in my head. My husband would come home from dinner after his first day at his new job and I’d have an impressive spread prepared that would him to rest and to indulge after a hard day’s work.
On his birthday later that same first week of work, I’d walk over to the organic grocery down the street and splurge on fresh sea bass. I’d have figured out my new oven by this time and would cook it to perfection. When I heard him climb the steps of the side porch, I’d quickly light a few candles. He’d find me all dressed up, with a few curls in my hair, and blush on my cheeks.
I was optimistic even about our basement, which was under the supervision of a friendly but overly relaxed fellow. Because of mold damage, a wall had to be knocked out and planters behind it had to be filled so no more rain could trickle down and seep through the walls. Bookshelves had to be rebuilt. Everything would surely be finished in just a few more days and then I’d set up our new classroom/craft room/playroom. I’d fill the new shelves with the books my oldest would soon be exploring in her first official year of homeschooling. We’d have a small craft space set up, too, and the girls and I would paint and draw and get our hands sticky with glue as we created art together. (No matter that I don’t particularly like getting my hands sticky with glue. This was our new home, our new life; anything was possible!)
The girls and I would also enjoy evening walks around our new neighborhood and wave at any passerby strolling along with his or her canine companion. We’d point out the houses we liked and search for birds and squirrels darting about in the trees thick with branches and leaves.
I wouldn’t get too far behind on laundry or email (despite not having Internet connection right away), and I’d have some extra time to explore the community.
This and more is all that I’d envisioned.
I’ve never been much of a realist. Most personality tests peg me as an idealist. But whatever.
I also had it in my head that once we were through with the long road of medical training, life would get easier, better. I remember thinking the same thing when and if I reached other milestones in life: Once I lost a certain amount of weight, graduated high school and left the angst of adolescence behind, pieced together a broken heart in college, landed my first real job, got married, had a baby, moved closer to family after having that baby, survived supporting my husband through medical school, or got out of living in a cramped apartment or townhome – life would finally settle down and contentment would be mine for the taking.
But life never settles down or at least not until you’re 80 or so (my 89-year-old nana takes a lot of well-deserved naps, for instance). And contentment is ours for the taking, but we have to step out and take it, claim it, and give it a place in our lives and our hearts even when our move or our week or life doesn’t unfold the way we’d like it to.
My week was nothing like I’d imagined. My older girls were supposed to spend a week at the lake with Gaba and Papa, so I could be more industrious. The first night they were there Madeline became flushed with a high fever. We assumed it was a 24-hour thing. It wasn’t. It’s been more like a 240-hour bug. She still had a fever on and off this past weekend. Then it went away, but last night it was back.
And, of course, I didn’t have a pediatrician established in our new town.
Then there was a clerical error with our new health insurance that claimed our coverage wouldn’t begin until August 1st (instead of July 1st when my husband officially considered an employee at his new job). We straightened this all out and so I called the practice that was number one on my list because several different people had recommended them. But they weren’t taking new patients. I got off the phone and wanted to cry. I felt like I was being rejected and couldn’t get in to some exclusive club.
My husband was able to get her seen by another doctor. All the usual suspects (i.e., a UTI, ear infection, etc.) were ruled out. They have said it’s just a stubborn virus. Only time will heal.
But another family member wasn’t so lucky. Time nor fervent prayers would heal our sole pet (we’ll be getting a dog soon, but I’ve told my husband I absolutely cannot welcome a fourth “kid” into the family until we’re more settled in). Remember Izzy? He was a beauty, wasn’t he? And, how how happy he was, fashioning a thick bubble nest at the top of his big bowl.
Sadly, his bubbles have all burst.
My husband has always been in charge of changing his water. His bowl was looking murky, so I asked him if he could show me how to do it so he wouldn’t have to worry about it.
“No, I’ll do it,” my husband said late one night. It turns out his hours were awful his first week. I kept his dinner in the refrigerator for him to scavenge to survive at around 10 p.m. No sea bass. No discussions by candlelight. And I was too tired to put curls into my hair.
On his birthday, Madeline felt too ill to come down from her new bunk bed, so we brought my husband’s presents and the brownies (my husband’s favorite dessert) Rachel and I baked together upstairs, so she could still be a part of the celebration.
Dave wandered over to Izzy’s bowl and asked, “Where’s Izzy?”
“I don’t know. Isn’t he there?”
“I don’t see him.”
“He’s probably by the turtles. He likes to sleep next to the turtles,” Madeline said peering down from her perch for the first time.
But Izzy was no where to be found.
“Did he jump out?” I asked.
Dave started scanning the floor and the area around Izzy’s home. “Oh no.”
The tone of his voice said it all. He’d found Izzy, entrapped in a tangle of things waiting to be positioned on the girls’ sky blue walls. The poor guy was completely dry. We have no idea how long he’d been there or how long he had struggled. But when Dave gently picked up his withered body, his fins flapped.
“He’s alive!” he shouted.
He carefully placed him in the bowl. Izzy slowly, laboriously swam toward his beloved turtle statues. It was hard to watch him look so weak when just a day before he’d looked like vibrant blue swath of silk gracefully dancing in his watery, albeit murky, domain.
My poor husband. He sadly shook his head and said, “I was tired. I remember thinking I’d filled the bowl too high. I hope I didn’t kill him.”
I was crying at this point. All the stresses of the week bubbled up inside of me, and I could no longer hold back the emotional deluge.
“It’s fine, Mommy,” my girls reassured me. “Izzy’s fine.”
I wasn’t so sure. I suggested we pray to Saint Francis of Assisi for a miracle. And so we did. But Dave reminded us the real miracle was that he’d survived to celebrate his birthday and this precious moment with us. (He was preparing her girls for the possibility that Saint Francis might not answer our prayers the way we hoped.)
That was the end of the miracle. The next morning Izzy was still by his favorite turtle statues, but he wasn’t moving or breathing. He was limp and very dead.
I’m not sure who was more upset: Dave (when I texted him the sad, sad news), Madeline, or me. Madeline acted like everything was fine, but later I found her drawing Izzy’s last portrait, a pencil sketch of him floating in his bowl as tears streamed down her face. She was also wrote a note with random words.
“What does this note say?” I asked, noticed the words “Daddy,” “Ize,” [translation: Izzy] and “did” [translation: died] sprawled over the page.
“I don’t remember,” she said. “I tried to sound some things out.”
Dave came home and found the sad note and the floating body of Izzy and lamented, “I killed Izzy. It wasn’t natural causes. It was because I filled the water too high. This note is about me.”
Oh, poor, poor Daddy.
As for me, I kept my cool in front of the girls but when I slipped away that evening after they had drifted off to sleep, I started to sob. So I did what any grown up, mature woman does: I called my mom.
She did what moms never stop doing no matter how old their babies are and listened and consoled.
“It’s just a stupid fish,” I sobbed.
“You’ve just had so much to deal with right now,” she said.
“I had this Pollyanna idea of how everything would be in our new house,” I admitted.
I also thought my husband’s hours would always be predictable now that he had a “real” job, forgetting that his job, by its nature, is unpredictable. I had this idyllic view of everything about our new home being perfect. I didn’t foresee having to learn how to use my new oven (muffins we planned on baking for our new neighbor came out all wrong). I didn’t consider how difficult it would be to clean stainless steal. (Suggestions please! Every cleaning product I’ve tried on our fridge leaves behind streaks.) I didn’t anticipate nursing a sick child back to health, making sure our preschooler had some time every day for playing and cuddling up together with a good book, or having to spend every minute making sure my 15-month-old didn’t kill herself in this new (and hazardous) place.
I didn’t conceive my husband would be putting in 13-hour days and that virtually the entire unpacking process would rest on me. I never even considered we’d lose a fish who had been healthy and strong and such a wonderful addition to our family within a week of moving. I didn’t imagine the beautiful new fruit bowl I’d just purchased to add a splash of color to our new kitchen would chip within hours of being placed on the counter after a freak accident. When I finally did make it outside with that glass of wine, I ended up with two huge welts on my neck from the bugs. And I was sweaty. I wasn’t prepared for finding this mess outside on a morning when I’d just promised to play with Rae:
Our kindly neighbor informed me that raccoons were everywhere and you couldn’t ever leave your trash out. Lesson learned. That never happened in the city.
There were other minor inconveniences. Nothing was life or death (except for Izzy), but by the end of the week I felt depleted and drained.
But oddly enough, I felt happy, too. I started to laugh when I thought of my ridiculous, Technicolor vision for the start of this new chapter. Really, what was I thinking?
When I heard our old-fashioned bell ring at the side porch on Friday evening and the girls and I ran to the door expecting to find Nana, who was coming to watch the girls so Dave and I could have some time for ourselves whenever he made it home from work (for the record: we could not have made it through this week without the help of my in-laws) and instead saw my husband, my prince walking in all handsome in his shirt and tie and crisp, white coat, I was overcome with joy – and appreciation.
God gives me many blessings. I also get my share of tiny crosses that can add up and start to feel like a crushing burden. But I’m the one who gives myself permission to be happy – or miserable.
The girls and I recently read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and I realized that before our big move, I’d kind of been thinking this new phase of our life and this new home was going to be my Australia. In this new place, very little would go wrong. But like Alexander’s mom reminds him at the end of the book, we all have days when everything seems to go wrong – even in Australia. There is no Eden. Or maybe there is. Maybe our Eden is right in front of us – a life with all its inconveniences, messiness, and trials. A life that is richly blessed despite all the icky stuff. A life that should make us happy.
Actually, these past few rough weeks revealed just how blessed I am. I had a mom to vent to. I had a younger brother call and text to check on me and to ask if there was anything he could to help. I had the girls’ Pop (my husband’s dad) stop by three days in a row and read stories to the older girls and spend long afternoons entertaining them so I could spend time collapsing boxes and talking ad nauseam to myriad service people without high decibel screeching in the background or any guilt that I was neglecting my children. I had a good friend call to see how Madeline was feeling. I had another friend email me and say she would be praying for me. My godmother sent Dave and me a beautiful plant as a housewarming gift. I had lots and lots of love and support that helped to make the lousiness not so lousy at all.
Recently, I was reconnected with an old friend. (Actually, I’ve been in touch with two old friends in the past week; these two reunions are examples of what has gone very right in my life). I met this someone in college, and she was one of those people whom I didn’t know for all that long, but she left a lasting impression on me. She’d been dealt a pretty lousy hand in life, but she never stopped seeing all the good things she’d been given, too.
A few years back thoughts of her drifted into my mind and I decided to try to email her. I’m not sure why we’d lost touch. We’d met in college, but she was a single mom at the time so our lives were very different. When I tried her old email, it bounced back. I assumed I’d never hear from her again.
Lo and behold, I received a note from her via LinkedIn. What’s even more serendipitous is that she just so happens to now live in my new hometown. How small world is that? This was an instance when I was very, very thankful for technology and its ability to connect people. In her note, which I happened to receive in the midst of all the moving chaos when I was feeling very sorry for my sorry self, she said, “I always remember you being so happy.”
(Bear in mind, I didn’t know her for all that long, so she was spared some of my histrionics. And I don’t think she hasn’t discovered my blog yet, so her impression of happy me is still intact.)
I’d like for everyone to remember me that way. But I don’t want to be the person who is only happy when life is happy. I want to be someone who chooses happiness even when it would be far easier to do otherwise.
Life’s never going to always be easy or to run smoothly. Life isn’t guaranteed to get better just because you’ve been blessed with a bigger house or built-in bookcases. Life is good now, right at this very moment.
Izzy, you were a good fish. We tucked you in a box in which Madeline added her artistic touch, and then buried you with great care in our new yard. You will be missed (for at least a few weeks and until we get a dog.
(Thanks to our dear friends for the lovely housewarming gift. The girls and their pop put it together, and it ended up making the perfect tombstone for our lost pet.)