Positivity Post: Lessons from the Bug

Last week, I was driving to my son’s college to drop him off for the start of the school year. The car was stuffed to bursting with all of the necessities of college dorm life, so much so that my son was in the car in front of me. We were traveling up the highway at a good clip when a peculiar bug appeared from somewhere in the back of the car, flew directly between my face and the windshield, and settled on the window of the driver side door. I batted at it, and as I started to roll down the window, it flew to the windshield.

The bug was long and thin and black and pointy like it would sting with a vengeance. My daughter was in the seat next to me, pressing up against the door and watching as I frantically batted at the bug. I was not sure whether I was trying to kill it or brush it out the window—whatever was necessary to remove it from the car—all the while continuing to drive at highway speeds. My window was open, and each time I tried to flick it out, it would fly in the other direction.

“Mom, I think you should pull over,” my passenger commanded. “You’re going to crash the car if you don’t.” She had a point. I turned on my directional signal, glanced in my completely blocked rear view mirror, and pulled to the side of the road, my tires buzzing across the rumble strip.

At this point, the bug was on the windshield, and as I tried to move it toward my open window, it flew to the other side of the car and landed on my daughter’s window. She shifted to the other side of her seat as she slowly and carefully rolled down her window and was able to coax the bug out of the car. She quickly put up the window before it found its way back in, and we carefully pulled onto the highway, navigating the blind spots (i.e. anything behind me or to my right) provided by the cargo.

A few miles ahead, we merged with another highway, and as we did, I looked to my right, attempting unsuccessfully to check the right lane around my loaded car. As I did so, I was surprised to see the bug clinging to the outside of the passenger window.

“That bug must be mad at you,” I said to my daughter. “It’s clinging to your window.”

But it wasn’t long before its thread-like legs couldn’t hold on through the winds of highway speed travel, and it was gone. But this got me thinking…. The bug was clinging to what it thought was safe, what it knew. Letting go was a much bigger risk because the bug didn’t know what would happen to it when it let go. Yet, letting go would provide it with the very freedom it was seeking.

How many things do we hold on to because we can’t see the unknown? How often do we cling to what is safe and familiar when we might be better off if we take a risk, let go, and tumble through the unknown, growing wings and strength as we go?

Perhaps next time I find myself in a situation where I’m clinging to what is safe, I’ll remember the lesson of the bug. Rather than using all of my strength to hold on, maybe I’ll take a risk—let go and enjoy the ride. Taking a risk may be scary, but gaining newfound freedom might just be priceless!

Changes

I am pretty sure my father would have secretly loved to have a son. I say secretly because when you have two daughters, you can’t really express a fact like that. “Oh darn. I really wanted a son!” But if he’d had a son, he would have been very happy.

However, my dad always made sure that my sister and I knew how to make simple repairs and improvements around the house. When he embarked on a project, he would often recruit us to “help,” which allowed him to impart wisdom and instructions as well as dos and don’ts of home repair.

When my children left for a recent trip to Florida, I knew this solitary time was my opportunity to re-caulk the tub in their bathroom. There is no denying the fact that I know how to have a good time when my kids are away. Really, the only time the tub is not in use for several hours a day is when they are away, and anyone who has ever caulked [successfully], knows the tub and its various components need to be good and dry before the new caulk is placed.

When I settled in to remove the old caulk, I decided I would do a better job if I could just remove the tub spout to better clean off all of the tiny remnants (or large gobs) of caulk that had made their way under the fixture. But how to remove the fixture? It seemed to twist, but just in case, I consulted YouTube. There, I found a tutorial on how to remove (and replace) an old tub spout. Replace had not occurred to me, but a new tub spout would be just the thing to make the tub shimmer!

I took a trip to the local home improvement store where I found the parts I needed. At the checkout, the cashier looked from my purchase to the old spout that I had brought along just in case I needed a visual example. “That’s a good idea,” she said, pointing to the old spout. “To bring that along.” She paused for a moment, and then she said, “Are you doing this all on your own?” I nodded.

“I wish I was brave enough to take on that kind of project,” she commented. “That’s impressive.”

Not really. I must say, I was trained by a good man to recognize that many projects are not as overwhelming as they might appear. In truth, it’s not a big undertaking to change a tub faucet. The big undertakings I leave to professionals.

Back at home, I finished my project. It was straightforward without any frustrations, and I must say, it looks pretty good. Typically, when I finish a project like this, I would call Dad. “I just changed my tub spout,” I would tell him, and his first response was always the same.

“Did you?” he would respond with a hint of pride in his voice and then we would talk about what I had fixed and how the project had gone.

This time, I can’t call Dad to share my success. But I’m pretty sure he’s smiling with that same hint of pride up in Heaven. Because love… it doesn’t end. It only changes form

Fine

“This is the camp nurse,” I heard through the phone in the shallow end of Friday morning’s sleep. This was the third call I’d received that morning and the one that truly woke me up. I’ll admit I was sleeping late, but in my defense, I am recovering from surgery—and minor or not, it’s a perfect excuse to savor extra time behind the hazy veil of sleep where there are no demands on my time and energy.

“Your son is fine,” she continued. No, I thought. If my son was fine, there would be no reason for you to call me. I have been around the sun more than once, he’s my third kid, and I understand if the camp/school/health center nurse is calling me, all is not fine. I held my breath as I sat up too quickly, waiting for her next words.

Low-grade fever, sore throat, general achiness, she outlined my son’s not-so-fine physical state. A virus, it seemed, or possible strep. “Since he works in the kitchen…” she stopped and let me fill in the rest of the sentence. Yes, he would need to be seen by the doctor.

As an educator, I completely understand. But in the back of my mind there is the nagging lack of fairness that even though it’s fine for the campers to get my son sick, it’s not as fine for my son to get the campers sick. I drove to camp earlier than expected to take my son to the doctor where he was pronounced fine, as I suspected. Well… there is no doubt he has a virus, but thankfully, no strep.

In fact, on the way back from the doctor, we remembered that last year, when he was a CIT, he had the same symptoms at almost exactly the same point in the summer,  so we’ve dubbed it “camp crud.” Next year, when I get a call from the camp nurse during week five, I’ll know to say, “Oh, it’s just camp crud. He’s fine!”

Potato Chip Rant

My kids eat potato chips. Now, I’m not going to say they eat a lot of chips. They actually have fairly healthy diets, but chips are an “extra,” bringing crispy, salty goodness to snack time. If you’re trying to feed hungry teenagers, sometimes you go for the high calorie, filling foods. But in truth, don’t potato chips count as a vegetable? P-O-T-A-T-O-E-S, after all.

If you buy a “regular” bag of potato chips—and for the sake of our argument, we are using Wavy Lays in the red bag—you will get 7.75 ounces of chips. One serving of Wavy Lays potato chips is one ounce, or “about 11 chips.” [I’m sorry… eleven chips? First of all, who counts out eleven chips? What does “about” mean? Can I have eleven chips or can I only have ten?] Anyway, in the “regular” bag of potato chips, there are “about 8” servings, but I can do the math, and I know the eighth person is going to get gypped. Therefore, I would say there are “about 7” servings in a bag. That way, all seven people get a bonus chip (especially with the chintzy, eleven-chip serving size).

If you buy a “Family Size” bag of potato chips, you can still only eat those eleven chips, but now (because you are part of a family), you will get ten ounces of chips. The “Family Size” bag offers 2.25 ounces more than if you were a single person buying the regular bag of chips, I suppose because a family is only slightly bigger than one person. It doesn’t seem that a two-and-a-quarter-ounce difference justifies the denotation of “Family Size,” but maybe most families are different than mine. The nice thing about the “Family Size” bag is that there are ten servings. None of this “about 10” servings with the last person being gypped. Because chip makers knows how families work. And families must be fair to all parties so as to prevent World War Three.

Now, if you are really going to go hog wild on the chip-eating thing, you might splurge on the “Party Size” bag because then you will get a full fifty percent more than if you are only in a family. Yes friends, you will get 15.25 ounces, allowing you to invite half the number of people in your family to your “Party” as long as your guests count out their eleven chips. I am thinking they should see how many ounces they might cram into the “Hungry Teen Snack Size” bag.

And speaking of hungry teens, about this eleven chip serving size…. Whoever determined that eleven chips is a serving has most likely never even met a teenager, never mind eaten with one. Perhaps, they have never even met someone who eats potato chips….

Grocery Receipts

When I was a kid, and I mean a very little kid, I used to think a long grocery receipt was so amazing—in an awesome sort of way. I would watch the receipt poke its way out of the cash register and lengthen with each item the cashier keyed in during our weekly grocery trip. At first, the paper would loop around on itself. But soon, it would spill over and inch closer and closer to the floor, moving under its own weight. When the cashier pulled it out, she would wind it back and forth like an accordion until it was the same size as the bills, handing Mom a neat pile of dollars, receipt, and green stamps. How exciting it would be, I thought in my little girl mind, to get such a long strip of paper as a receipt. When that happened, it would mean I was truly an adult.

Back then, the receipt was a tally of every single item, unlike now when some things that are bought in a quantity of more than one might only count as one line on the receipt. And back then, each item was keyed in by the cashier. There were no scanners in my childhood, but we didn’t seem to mind the wait in the check out line. Of course, we didn’t have a choice.

Today, I am here to say that if a long grocery receipt is the sign of adulthood, I have (definitely) made it! Not only have I made it, but I will be back at the local grocery store in the middle of the week. Because no amount of food lasts long in my house. The reality… that 2.7 pound bag of cherries I bought at 2:30 this afternoon that I thought would last the week? That was a snack for a hungry teen.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how our perceptions change as we grow older. Nowadays, I am likely as not to cringe at the long grocery receipts. What did you used to think would be really cool, but now makes you cringe?

Painting Rainbows

It’s been almost six months without Dad. In those six months, the grief comes and goes in waves, but lately, the waves have been farther apart. I think this perhaps because I am not in the car as much during the summer, not alone as much, and therefore, I don’t have the opportunity to cry. As much. And some days, that creates an illusion that the grief is subsiding.

But on Sunday, I had one of those “sneak attacks” of grief I had been warned about. I was at my daughter’s dance recital, and I was enjoying the show. I had remembered years when Dad had been in this very auditorium watching his only granddaughter perform, but I was able to bury that thought. That is… until the kindergarten class took the stage. The little ones are always the cutest, but then their music came on, a rendition of “Baby Mine” performed by Alison Krauss. And suddenly, feelings I didn’t know I was having came bubbling to the surface in a figurative storm of emotion. It was a whole mixture of Dumbo and circuses and Dad. And sitting there in the dark, I cried.

That afternoon, after a literal storm, there was a rainbow. It was the second that weekend and was followed by two more the next day. These rainbows were gifts that lifted my spirits and filled my heart.

When Dad passed away back in January, I found—tucked in a drawer with some other papers for safe-keeping—an old card that he had sent me when I was living some distance away on the other side of the country. On the front of the card was a picture of two painters on ladders, each painting opposite ends of a rainbow. The card, and the message inside, became the basis for my words at Dad’s service. I talked of the notes and silly poems that he wrote, and I ended with the following:

When we were in college, Mom and Dad would send care packages at exam time, and Dad would write poems to encourage us to study hard, to do our best, but also to let us know he believed in us. Before I returned home this time, I searched through a few old letters I had hanging around. The best of the notes are in storage boxes, but I did find one he sent to me when I was in California. This one was “just because.” After a brief newsy letter, he ended with a poem. It started out, Wish I could… and went on:

Paint you some rainbows

Write you some prose

Find you some fellows

(Even more of those!)

Bake you a cake

Offer you some laughter

Give you a break

Help you get what you’re after

Not many dads take the time to write poetry for their daughters. But my dad—he was the best. So Dad, we send you off with all the love we can muster and a promise to miss you forever. And if you’re listening, paint us some rainbows.

This year, I have seen more rainbows than usual. And for me, every rainbow is a gift—a very special gift—that lets me know Dad is still with us in some way, and he is letting us know he is thinking about us.

 

Smiles

I sometimes forget how much I appreciate living with creative individuals—they infuse my life with happiness and humor.

This weekend, my children left on Friday for a visit with their father. On Saturday morning, I picked up the watermelon I had gotten earlier in the week and was getting ready to cut it. The “paid” sticker from the grocery store (really, just a circle of bright color) had lines in it, and I bent closer to see what was in it. Smiling back at me was a cute little face that was radiating happiness. I have no idea which of my creatives drew the face—they did it when I wasn’t looking—but whoever did it knew I would see it.

These are the simple things that make me smile.