Real world Valentines, or, “There’s something weird on the toilet”

My husband always remembers to buy me flowers.

I lead with this fact because I’m well aware that not all spouses are as:

  1. generous with their displays of affection, and
  2. organized with their time

as my not-quite-perfect-yet-perfect-for-me husband. In a world where partner-bashing could be a professional sport, I like to clear a space to express my inter-personal gratitude and all the ways that our relationship makes my life better.

Here’s hoping I’m half as well appreciated by him! I’m also quite definitely imperfect, after all.

But this isn’t going to be a post about my “perfect” husband’s grand romantic gestures for Valentine’s Day. Instead, I’m moved to write about the imperfect intersection of family life, daily reality, and romance. Odd bedfellows, indeed!

I’ve told my husband about a million times that he doesn’t have to battle the crowds of beleaguered husbands to buy day-of flowers for me on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or any other Day When Good Men Buy Gifts. I do emphatically! enjoy being acknowledged, but I’m quite happy to let dates slip by a day or two in order to avoid crowds and gross inconvenience for my partner or myself.

I’d rather eat in on a holiday to avoid dining elbow-to-elbow in a packed room at the “correct” time for celebration. Along the same lines, I’m happy to receive my flowers on another day.

And yet, DH—being a gentleman with old-fashioned manners—showed up last Friday with a large bouquet of red roses for me. Yes: his mother is suitably proud.

I was having a rough day as far as my ongoing health issues go, so I decided to forego a heavy crystal vase in favor of anything I could lift.

Dozen red roses in yellow ceramic pitcher on windowsillMy favorite vessel for cut flowers is actually a little dijon yellow ceramic pitcher. I thought the red roses looked quite fetching in it, and the arrangement matched my outfit, too.

DH’s largess, however, meant I still had quite an array of blooms left for which homes wanted finding. It crossed my mind that a bud vase next to my desk would be a nice reminder of how much I’m loved while I work on the bane of every first quarter of the new year, our income tax returns.

3 red roses in a short, tulip-shaped bus vase of purple glass

A slim glass vase held only a few more stems, though, so I wasn’t done re-homing flora.

In keeping with the lower-center-of-gravity-means-less-knocking-over-by-arthritic-hands philosophy of the day, I remembered my tiniest crystal vase. It’s good and heavy for its size, but also quite stable. I was having that kind of day. Arthritis makes me a klutz.

Half a dozen red roses in a small crystal vase

I placed the final half dozen or so roses and went about my business.

Valentine’s Day fell on a school day this year, and, eventually, my younger son arrived home. Upon entering the powder room after dropping his lunch box in the kitchen, he yelled,

Hey, there’s something weird on the toilet!”

Yes, dear readers, I’d placed the final little vase in one of the few uncluttered spaces in my maximalist home: atop the toilet tank lid in the guest bath.

I suppose “something weird on the toilet” is better than “something rotten in the state of Denmark,” at least as far as home decoration goes.

Small crystal vase of red roses atop white ceramic toilet tank

Here’s what Instagram stories rarely feature: we all live imperfect lives. Many families have messy homes. We certainly do. Yes, even on holidays.

Maybe especially on holidays!

Loving partnerships thrive in cluttered suburban McMansions, Korean banjiha, dilapidated farmhouses, and also I’d expect in zen-like modern interiors kept up by teams of professional cleaners as seen on tv.

Here’s the long view of my other vessels full of horticultural affection.

The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes, but our hearts are full of love!

I fussed for about five seconds trying to take a “pretty” picture of my Valentine flowers, but if I’d had the energy to get the dishes done and work on the taxes, it already would have happened.

It’s easy for me to get caught up in foolish self-inflicted punishments.

  • I can’t buy that bouquet today because they will look dumb on my cluttered dining table.
  • There’s no point replacing my tattered towels when the kids keep staining the good ones.

Lipstick on a pig!

You can follow that path to all sorts of dreadful places, like not buying flattering clothing that fits for want of losing weight. It’s silly, it’s harmful, and I try not to live like that.

My Valentine flowers are a loving gesture from a person who actually strives to make me happy every single day. That’s well worth celebrating in and of itself! Seen in that light, it would be downright shameful of me not to share my imperfect photos with the world with the celebration and joy that selfless love deserves.

On Valentine’s Day, I didn’t feel in wonderful health and my house was a mess, but I had the good fortune to spend the day with people I love and who love me back. It’s lovely; it’s enough. I wish everyone felt free to bask in such glorious imperfection.

And a skeptic as to my sincerity when I protest obligatory flowers, even 20+ years into our relationship!

Working through grief: a view from 4 months after Mom’s death

Much has been written about grief, most of it by people with more experience, expertise, and, perhaps, intellectual interest in the subject than I have.

What I know can be summed up thusly: there are no shortcuts; one must carry on through it, and knowing that fact doesn’t make it any easier to go ahead. Somehow, anyway, most of us do muddle through.

I’ve been muddling for about four months since Mom died.*

As often happens, I find myself abundantly grateful for my extraordinarily blessed life, even at an awful time. Because I am a stay at home parent with a supportive husband whose own parents share our New England home, I had the freedom to spend two whole months with my dad as he grieved the loss of his wife of over 50 years.

Uncountable numbers of friends and family gave generously to support Dad and the rest of us. Mom’s energy and organizational prowess made a difference in so many lives, and people made that clear with their presence and their kind messages. The congregation of my folks’ church, Vancouver Heights UMC, freely provided resources and support far beyond what I would have imagined possible, had I ever been brave enough to imagine planning a parent’s funeral before I was forced to do so.

I can’t begin to imagine how much harder coping is for those with fewer resources. Then, too, losing my mother leaves me exquisitely aware of the universality of this crushing blow. All the resources in the world are a poor substitute for the love of the humblest mom.

Though I tried to be a help to Dad, those two months with him also served as a time apart for me to process my own grief. Oddly, returning home to normalcy hit me with a whole new series of unexpected reminders of loss. For me, at least, lots of things about Mom’s death have been difficult, but the situations I anticipated as particularly challenging have rarely counted amongst the most disruptive or disturbing. Trivial moments have dealt me my most significant blows, perhaps because I couldn’t brace myself for each impact.

Processing grief requires enormous flexibility from its sufferers.

My children, troopers that they are, both spent many weeks helping Grandpa as well. We were all there before the end, Mom’s last days in hospice care being both mercifully and, simultaneously, tragically very limited. The kids needed their own space, their own home, and time to prepare for the upcoming school year, so they headed home to Papa and his parents some weeks before my departure from my parents’ home.

Though I thought often about Really Wonderful Things throughout the summer and fall, I couldn’t find the strength to sit down and commit any of them to the page. Most of the thoughts were disordered; most of the time, my mind played second fiddle to my tumultuous emotions.

Now I know: I’m made exhausted and quite stupid by grief, and also irrationally frightened. I was afraid to approach my own cherished little blog.

Exactly what I’m afraid of is still hard to articulate as autumn decays into winter, but a caring comment from a regular reader did help prompt me to face some of this grief-induced anxiety and scrawl a few words on the page.

If you find this post because you are suffering a loss of your own, I hope my words offer some comfort.

If you’re a regular reader, I hope you haven’t missed my rambling too much. Many thanks for your patience.

*Though I did, in fact, begin this post on Labor Day, nearer the two month mark. An upload failure erased half of what I’d cried over on my cross-country flight home, and I simply couldn’t find the energy to resume until today, in late November.

It turns out that starting my car after school drop off equates in my mind with “call and check in with Mom.” 12 weeks into the school year, the instinct hasn’t left me yet, and it fades so very slowly.

Books by her bedside: a novel unfinished though the reader’s life is done

The smallest tragedies keep haunting one after a loss.

Mom was not quite halfway through a novel when she died. I found it in her nightstand today as I began the process of sorting through her closet to donate what my sisters-in-law and I don’t want to keep.Paperback novel with bookmark in the middle

Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast is a wonderful read, too, though a surprisingly gritty choice for Mom. She tended to prefer a comedic or cozy murder mystery. If it had been a Mary Daheim or Elizabeth Peters caper, I bet she would’ve finished it.

Sometime, soon, the ironed sheets will be gone & so will my mother

Could anything be more trivial?

Someday soon, the ironed sheets will be gone from the linen cupboard, and I will know that my mother is really gone.Neatly ironed sheets in linen closet

Mom’s tidy stack of pillowcases topped by my less elegant effort

She sick now. She is dying now. But is she still here?

Maybe she’s alive so long as crisply ironed sheets grace the linen cupboard? I’m tempted to guard them with my life and body, throwing myself between thoughtless users and pristine lengths of percale. As if bed linens can define the contours of a human life!

There’s stratification where the line between Mom and not-Mom exists in history, but I’m pretty darn aware that the line is not actually important in the grand scheme of things.

Sloppy folded sheets on linen closet shelf

When grandfather and teenaged grandson put linens away

Mom is dying. The sheets are irrelevant except when we sleep on them. And, yet, they seem to signify…

Poetry serves democracy: When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home…

Perhaps the most delightful side effect of educating one’s own children at home is the constant opportunity to discover and rediscover the vast riches of all the learning the world has to offer.

Case in point: a poem by Lord Byron.

When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home,
Let him combat for that of his neighbours;
Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome,
And get knock’d on the head for his labours.
To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan,
And, is always as nobly requited; 
Then battle for freedom wherever you can,
And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted. 

If you read it aloud, you might be put in mind of limericks. That’s because the meter is anapestic,* of course, though the rhyme scheme here differs from that of a limerick.

duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH

Extra credit if you know how many feet are in each line of verse…

Textbooks including Poetry & Humanity by Michael Clay Thompson from Royal Fireworks PressI’m grateful to the skilled teacher, Michael Clay Thompson, who wrote the multi-level language arts curriculum published by Royal Fireworks Press that I’ve used with my son for about eight years now. My own appreciation for and knowledge of grammar has grown alongside my son’s, and many of the poems included therein have become family favorites.

Lord Byron’s cheeky, even snarky, goad to action on behalf of human freedom is both a pleasure to read aloud and a timely reminder to do my part for democracy as people worldwide withdraw into petty nationalism while human unity fractures.

Here’s hoping my reward is to be nobly requited. That sounds much better than the alternative.

*Anapest. You know! The opposite of a dactyl. If I learned these details in school, I’ve long since forgotten them, but the poetics study included at every level of MCT’s language arts program is often my very favorite part. It doesn’t so much demand that we memorize these obscure terms as make us want to by showing us both the breadth and depth of what’s beautiful in the construction of our mother tongue.