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Therapeutic Yard Work

I beheaded a palm tree last weekend.  

Earlier last week, I saw a little rat run along our side yard.  Some of you know about my complicated history with the rats.  Although we’ve successfully evicted them from our house, they’re still quite busy in and around our neighborhood.  So it wasn’t uncommon to see one skittering along the fence, but this one looked a little too comfortable for my taste.  So I crept outside and threw a rock at the fence above its head (honestly, I was just aiming for anywhere in the vicinity; Mando said I came quite close to actually pinging the rat and I spent the afternoon feeling smug and wondering whether I have undiscovered athletic talents).  DIE, rats! 

After the rat sighting, I decided that it was time to thin out some of the plants on our side yard.  We had some big leafy plants, and a tree that was growing both up and sideways, and a palm tree that we’re planning to have removed, but who wants to pay for tree work?  Tree work, new tires, hot water heaters, taxes: there are endless super-sexy items on which adults get to spend money.  I’d like a chainsaw to take care of my own tree work, but Mando says a chainsaw isn’t a “good idea” for me, the woman who once nearly electrocuted herself while cooling her curling iron under running water (it was still plugged in).  So I geared up with my approved children’s safety scissors and headed out. 

Had I known how far I’d go, I would’ve taken a Before shot.  And I should’ve known, because, typically, when I go out to “cut things back,” I put on my gloves and pick up my kid tools and my sand bucket (I do have one big, dangerous pair of pruners) and then I don’t stop until I’m starving and the yard waste bin is overflowing.  Sometimes the children have to bring me ice water and I temporarily transfigure into my father.  But I cannot be stopped: the plants are my prisoners, and I root out the offenders with enthusiastic prejudice.  I don’t like the look of you, plant, and now I will END you, in spite of your tenacious and complex tubular root system.  I went on my merry murdery way.  But while I was digging up the tubular rooted big leafy plant, I was attacked by the canary palm.  He stabbed me, drawing blood through my glove.  And so I cut off his head.  “DIE, Palm Tree!  DIE, rats!”  Mando came home from his run and said, “Whoa.”   

Yard work is good for my issues.  Regarding issues: I have them. 

My most recent issue is what I’ll call Fall Melancholy.  It’s the change of the season: the kids are back in school, the light is waning, the leaves are turning, and the homework is stupid.  I’ve felt a little restless, simultaneously lusting after change and rootedness.  Mando and I were recently in the car, where he plays his favorite role: conversational hostage.  I was bemoaning my purposeless existence and extolling my inspiring selflessness as a wife and mother.  I may have said something along the lines of, “I’m not allowed to have dreams,” but if we talk about it in person I’ll deny it because I would never say anything so dramatic.  But I’ve been circling it lately: I need a dose of purpose. 

Being a mom remains among my favorite roles.  I love my boys, and I love doing life with them and watching them grow.  But there are times it feels constricting, limiting.  Kids narrow the edges of life for a season: it’s fruitful, it’s beautiful, it’s worthy.  It’s painful, because it requires an impossible selflessness, but it remains a gift; sharing in the life of your child is a privilege.  But I’m noting that in times of change, or transition, or even quiet, it becomes tempting to see gifts as shackles, holding me back from what I could be/do/create with more time, more money, more freedom.  But in truth, it’s only the illusion that shackles me. 

I had breakfast with a friend in the midst of my mini-crisis, and she gave it to be straight: “Julie, be grateful for what you have.”  And this is what good friends do: they tell you the truth.  There are times I need to hear that what I have is enough, that my life is enough, that I am enough.  It’s so tempting to slavishly embrace the illusion that my purpose lies elsewhere, over there, anywhere but here; it’s tempting to think that my life is too small.  It’s tempting to give into the fear that my children will leave one day and I’ll be left sad and lonely, continuing to buy massive boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios at Costco and stalking my children until they stop returning my calls (not to get too specific or anything). 

But my friend reminded me to pay gentle attention to that fear, because my children are indeed gifts, but they were never meant to be my sole purpose.  There’s room for both gratitude and growth.  I can make decisions and choices that carry me forward: I want to embrace this moment while also making space for the possibilities of the future.  I’m 72 percent confident that I won’t be an Olympian, but I do love to write.  So I should keep at it.  I should make choices that draw me outside myself, because self-pity is a steep, slippery slide to nowhere.

When I pursue certainty, or success, or Purpose with a capital P, I can easily miss the mark.  I’m seeking to make things neat and tidy and all about Meeeee-eeeee (that part is sung).  I'm forgetting that I couldn’t have imagined the messy miracles of each of my children, or my marriage, or the joy of riding my bike on a fall day with a perfect sky.  If I could write the future, I would make a horribly incomplete mess of it (even if I did make myself an Olympian and a wildly successful author).

So, God, let me be less interested in success and more interested in faithfulness.  Dogged, plodding, step-by-excruciating-step progress: that’s the woman I want to be.  I want to be a grateful woman with grit and grace, who knows her worth and her own heart, who can follow her joy without the need for approbation or applause or accolades.  The one with good, honest, gentle friends.  The one who answers the right invitations, who makes the right choices, who embraces the ambiguity that is ever-present in this messy, lovely life. 

Who can hit a rat with a rock at a distance of twenty yards and can safely operate a chainsaw.  

I think that would cover it.

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