Sometimes a total breakdown can turn your day around.

Today, my life felt like a Zen Short of sorts.

When I left work, I was cranky and annoyed and frazzled. It hadn't been a feel-good day. And I was jetting out early to take Kai to the pediatrician—for shots. I needed to take the Escape, typically Jon's vehicle—a shift in plans that had prompted a hissy fit (mine) over mud-caked cupholders, fast food wrappers and abandoned softball snacks (which, this morning, I angrily referred to as "old nuts"). The car also contained toys, preschool papers, a college diploma (not mine) and two sets of skis that someone who was a small child in the 1960s must have worn. I have no idea of their origin.

Before work, I had removed all of these things from the car and tossed them onto the mudroom floor. I rinsed out the cup holder. So as I was pulling out of the parking lot of my employer, the Escape was uncluttered if not clean. It was all good. Turns out, not so much.

About halfway to Kai's school, the radio stopped working. And then started working again. The dash went blank and then flickered back on before all "computer" displays disappeared for good. I started feeling anxious, wondering if I should bail on the kid pickup, feeling lucky that Kai wasn't in the car already. I kept going, pulling into the Hannaford-plaza turning lane to get off the busy road. I glided to a stop. For good. The car was dead.

My first response: gratitude. The old Escape had chosen this relatively safe place to throw in the towel; I was by myself, no kids. I called the pediatrician and cancelled the appointment. Then I started flipping out. I called Jon and told him I had no idea what to do next (really?) and that I was SO hot (what?) He told me to calm the f*ck down (in much nicer words), call the car insurance and get the hell out of the hot car. So I did. From a nearby curb, I watched frustrated motorists lined up behind this unoccupied vehicle—mine—that did not turn left, COULD NOT turn left, curse and toss their hands wildly into the air. I tried to wave them past. I realized they could not understand me, that there was nothing I could do to solve the problem. I'd made the requisite calls. Now all I could do was wait.

And that's when the magic started happening.

  • The Progressive man dispatched a tow truck.
  • Someone called the police and two officers came out to investigate the the mysteriously abandoned car/direct traffic/get the car the hell out of the middle of turning lane. They directed me to get back behind the wheel and put the car in neutral and then they pushed me into the Burger King parking lot. 
  • Since my car was still sort of blocking a driveway, Officer Jamie stuck by and told me amusing stories about his day, then invited me to sit in his air-conditioned car. He offered to clear off his front seat so I wouldn't look like a criminal in the back. I declined and offered to get him an iced coffee at Burger King. He declined.
  • I got my own iced coffee—with real cream because didn't I deserve that?—and parked myself on the curb with the beverage. I posted pictures of my broken-down car and my calmed-down face on Instagram.
  • Seeing my post, recognizing my location as one near her home, KIMBERLY FREAKING DROVE OVER WITH A LEMONADE POPSICLE. FOR ME.
  • Blown away by her kindness, I babbled a bunch of nonsense, gave her a hug, snapped her photo (for Instagram!) and vowed to be the kind of incredibly thoughtful person that does things like this much more often.
  • Dave from Handy's arrived. He instructed me to get into his air-conditioned cab. He loaded up my car. He asked me what happened and, when he heard, he diagnosed a bad alternator.
  • Then he drove me and the Escape with the bad alternator to Darren's shop WHERE OUR VAN WAS READY, after having gone in for a routine service this morning. (Which is why I was driving the Escape in the first place.) What? How lucky is that?
  • I switched Jon's softball gear into the Escape—his after-work game was close enough to walk and now he had an awesome excuse to go out after the game and grab a ride home with someone else.
  • I was too late—obviously—to get to Kai's appointment but just in time to get him from school. And with plenty of time to drive out to Jules too.

All of this kindness and serendipity had me feeling downright giddy. Lucky. Happy. The only one who was bummed was Kai. "I wanted to go to the doctor to get shots!" he said, crossing his arms and turning away to process his disappointment. 

"I'm sorry, Kai. Sometimes these things just happen. It's disappointing, I know." 

He turned back to face me. "Mama, can we go to the doctor tomorrow morning?" he asked with a trembling lip. 

"We can try," I said. "Maybe we'll get lucky." 


Day 12 | 5x5 Challenge | Go for the run.

5 Minutes:
I'm using this post as a palate cleanser—as a way to transition from my overall approach to life from "asshole" to "effective." This finite and optional exercise will ease my fingers into typing what I really should be writing—something compulsory and ill-defined. It knew it'd be a challenging day. That's why I took five minutes this morning to walk through the garden, admiring the yellow flowers that have started to appear on the tomato plants, the tell-tale tops of carrots, the neat row of snap peas. To appreciate where sun intersected with shadows, creating sharp angles, to notice how simple was the swing hanging from the tree—something I never pay attention to when a kid is sitting on it.

I didn't run because I felt like there wasn't time. That might have been a mistake.

Tonight, I totally snapped. The boys suddenly turned starving when it was time for bed. I was too tired to fight it so I made some toast. I topped it with mashed avocado and sprinkled on the tiniest bit of salt. One kid poured himself a glass of milk and got down to it; the other threw himself to the ground and demanded almond butter. I said no, in a not-so-nice way. He peeled himself from the floor and brought it to the table. While the the boys consumed their snacks—one actively and one still in a pre-contemplative stage—I paged through a proposal. I set a timer for the snack deadline. I watched the clock. I became increasingly anxious. The snacking proceeded at a pace slower than the clock but because the pokey kid had moved into active eating, I allowed it to continue. And became more anxious. Teeth-brushing was agony. I raised my voice. I walked them up the stairs. They whined for 3 chapters. I told them it was too late. We started reading. One kid draped his legs over my entire body. I asked him to stop. The other leaned into occupy the little remaining space of my physical being and bonked my head. Hard. I started crying (frustration, not injury) so did he (pure sadness). It broke my heart. What was I doing?

Now they are sleeping and I am counting my missteps. These being the only steps I've taken in 6 days. It's been an exercise free-week. I'm drinking black coffee and pounding salted peanuts. I am basically doing the opposite of what's prescribed in the healthy living program I'm about to propose. Noticing the contradiction seems to only fuel its propagation. But these situations go in cycles. I know this. And, now having finished this reconciliatory post, I will move on to getting shit done, to making it happen.

And, next time, I won't skip the run.

5 Snaps:

 (Sweet card by Scout's Honor Paper

Day 10 | 5x5 Challenge | The Secret to Super+

5 Minutes:
I have history of overproducing, making everything more complicated than it could—or should—be. What results are 75-minute recorded interviews with scientists who will contribute a quote or two to a 1,500 word story—and hours wasted transcribing notes that "will come in handy" someday. (Though sometimes they do.)  Or a meticulous organized closet shelf in a room that now appears as if a shit-tossing tornado blew through. A brilliant idea so "perfectly" planned it never gets executed.  But in the last couple of years—thanks to kids and colleagues—I've learned to see the beauty of a MVP. That is, minimal viable product.

Peonies are beautiful—but so are wild flowers. Making a new recipe is fun but chopping up whatever veggies came in the CSA share and boiling rice actually gets dinner on the table. It's OK to sneak a pre-packaged snack into a backpack, and special one-on-one time time doesn't have to be spent at the beach. When you do it well—owning whatever "it" is (a quick, pointed call; a simple chicken stir-fry; a one-on-one walk)—Regular truly can be Super +.

5 Snaps: 

Day 9: 5x5 Challenge | Breakout retrospective

5 minutes:
I'm not sure I'd call myself a creature of habit so much as a slightly over-scheduled parent always seeking efficiency. I do J's pick-ups and Jon does K's because they're on our respective paths. But today the convergence of Julian's first day of camp and K's early school closure left me picking up both boys early—at least by our family's standards.  I was excited to have a date with Kai but when I picked him up all he wanted to do was go get his brother. So that's what we did. I convinced him to hold my hand as we walked on the muddy cut-through past run-down buildings and signs with so many instructions—"no dumping," "please don't block the gate." Past purple clovers with bumblebees and rambles of yellow buttercups. I thought of growing up and the old abandoned elementary school whose brick walls I used for bouncing tennis balls. I felt happy. And nostalgic. Kai was just glad to get to see Jules at his climbing camp.


There were not parking spots in the street, or on the lower levels of the garage, so I drove the whole way up. Why stop at 4 when you can go just a little more and see the entire city? So that's what I did. Peering down at a town that doesn't feel like mine so much anymore, I noticed the jewelry shop where Olin bought the diamond he presented me in Maine and thought all of the time we spent on these city streets together, drinking coffee down the street and tea right next door. I noticed the Flynn Theater sign and remembered my dancing days. I spun East to see the tops of  UVM halls, that school half the reason I'd come here in the first place. I thought of long summer days spent in a hot Terrill Hall. I thought of lunches at Mirabelle's with my friend Beth. I thought about how this all seemed like a lifetime ago. 

And then I circled down the echo-y stairwell. The heavy metal door slammed shut with a bang. A sound I associate with this town. To this day. 

5 Snaps: 

Day 7 | 5x5 Challenge | Tag-team

Observation: the 5x5 Creative Challenge isn't the only numerically based, social-sharing centered game in town. There is, of course, #100happydays, a initiative in which you're supposed to post a picture (every day for 100) of something that makes you happy. Today, I read about #7daysofreality—proposed by British mum blogger (who, as it turns out, happens to be a friend of my friend). I love both concepts. Which perhaps is why my 5x5 post today combines perfect moments, pictured, and REALITY, the kind that bites. Until you write about it and it turns out to be pretty funny. 

5 Snaps: 

5 Minutes Writing:
The day began mellow, with both boys obsessively writing in the Star Wars workbooks we bought yesterday at The Flying Pig. These things were such a hit that they insisted that we bring them with us (along with a lunchbox full of crayons and markers) to the farmers' market. So we did. They sat and colored, then climbed the big pine, then each selected a treat—a Rookie root beer for Kai; a Stony Loam Farm egg sandwich for Jules—so nicely. Treats were consumed. Kai and Jon did somersaults in a semi-private part of the lawn. It was idyllic. It was not typical. So we went to the library. WITH OUR DOG.

That's when shit got real. And it wasn't the dog. The boys were running and jumping and loudly talking through the aisles; they were in and out of the little outside reading nook. Jon and I were handing them back and forth while the other of us tried to find a book. It all basically could be characterized as a big parenting fail. We left: me, feeling like we're overly permissible parents raising rude young men and lecturing about proper library decorum; Jon, just looking silently agitated. Our next stop: the school playground, to burn off steam, riding bikes.

Except that no one wanted to ride bikes. They wanted to throw a found softball at each others' heads. I dismissed Jon to go for a run with the dog. And tried to prevent the boys from injuring each other. Which mostly worked. Then Jules found a purple marker and I turned my back. I won't go into the details, as the photos above likely make it quite clear.

But I will say this: A lot of good came out of that little purple autograph. Jon and I, on a date tonight acknowledged the solid tag-team parenting/partnering that happened around it (I insisted on going home for cleaning supplies to fix the mistake; Jon insisted that he be the one to drive back with the boys so I also could get in a run). And, as a family, we'd reviewed an important life lesson:

We all do stupid shit and make mistakes. But almost everything is fixable. And, when you're fixing a mistake, it's good to ask for help.