Dad’s jacket.

I put on my Dad’s jacket today and went outside.  Life has changed a lot for me lately and I find myself living mostly in my own head.  It’s a fairly nice place, but I needed a change of scenery. Outside with Dad’s jacket seemed just the ticket.

Dad’s jacket is the one thing I asked my Mom for when he died. If a fire ever happens in our little house I will save my family and that jacket. It’s nothing special–just a red windbreaker with the name of a college neither one of us ever attended embroderied on the side. I don’t even know where it came from, but I love it. I also have a sneaky suspicion it’s magic.  I know it sounds crazy, but it might also be true. Let me explain.

When I put that shiny red windbreaker on I instantly feel calmer.  I go outside.  I look up at the sky.  I crouch down and dig in the dirt until I find bugs and then I watch them.  I sit on the rough steps of my hot tub and hold my little dog.  I breathe the smell of her hot fur and whisper that I love her.  I watch the waves of my pool reflect in the leaves of the red bush by the back door. I step down for a second from being in charge. I savor the freedom of taking a break from being the grown-up. I remember what it felt like to have a Dad standing watch.

I was married with two kids when my Dad died.  I was a grown-up by the world’s standards, but not in that little corner of my mind that kept me balanced. As long as I knew Dad was out there somewhere zipping up that jacket I wasn’t really in charge.  I could blow the whole thing and he would help me fix it.  The world’s problems weren’t all mine. Dad was my go-to guy. Until he was suddenly not going to be there anymore.  And, in those last moments when we use words as battering rams against what will happen anyway, I promised him I would take care of my family and I would take care of my Mom. And, I tried.  Really, really hard.  But, my kids still hit heart break and hard times.  And, one crazy day, a nice doctor from India told us Mom had cancer.

I had promised Dad I would take care of her and I couldn’t.  I could have ramps built and drive a thousand  miles what felt like a thousand times and express mail  her favorite tomato soup, but I couldn’t fix cancer. I couldn’t keep my two kids from hard things. I couldn’t do anything to make everyone feel better.  I was the grown-up and I was blowing it. Then, my mom died too, and, suddenly, there really was no-one between me and the edge of the world.  I could slide right off and that would be that.

I slowly realized my Dad must have felt the same way lots of times as he put on our jacket.  He must of slid it on while he worried about bills and roofs on houses and whether cars would start. He must have adjusted the collar as he contemplated what he would do about his kids and our heartbreaks. He must have doubted he could handle it all. But,  I never really thought about any of that then. Dad just stood strong between us and the edge. He was the hero. The bullet proof vest. The thing you could take for granted because it was so sure.  So strong. He was the guy zipping up the jacket and taking care of things.

But, my word, he must have needed a break every now and then.  He must have needed to go outside and study the bark of a tree like it was really, really important. He must have needed to lay on a diving board in the hot sun and watch planes fly over. He must have desperately needed to not be the guy in charge. Just for five minutes.

Now,  I wish I could go back and help Dad with his load.  I wish I could have treated him more like a person and not always just my dad.  I wish.

I wish I would have gone outside with him.  That we both could have watched the leaves blow, and listened to the guys across the street mow the lawn, and heard the kids two doors down yelling and laughing.  I wish I would have stolen a few of those moments with my Dad and just been human with him. Two people taking time off from being the grown-ups.  What a glorious thing that would have been.  How dumb I was to not know.

That is the magic in the jacket. Now, I know. I know that those around us carrying our loads are just people.  They get tired.  They need rest.  Figure out who they are and take them outside.  Buy them ice cream.  Go on a walk with them.  Pick them flowers.  Let them be a kid.  I promise you when it’s over they will zip up their jackets and stand guard again.  And,  you will be their magic–the very, very best kind.

Clean.

via Daily Prompt: Clean

I took swimming lessons when I was a kid.  Two weeks every summer at the local high school gym. Tedious mornings of cold water and synchronized bubble blowing where we learned very little and really participated only for the last ten minutes.  That was free time and payoff for most kids, but for me the payoff was something different. My payoff was afternoons at Beth’s house.  She was another kid learning to swim and she happened to live on the way home from my Dad’s work so I got to go home with her after lessons.  It was a normal occurrence in a kid’s life, but to me it was life changing.  I say that because Beth lived in something I had never experienced before. Something I didn’t even know existed.   A clean house.

I grew up in a large family with a mom and dad who stayed around the dinner table with us for hours discussing big ideas and books and politics.  I will be forever grateful for those qualities in my parents, but, honestly, I just wish someone would have cleaned the bathrooms.  Or the kitchen.  Or anything.  I mean we didn’t live in call social services filth, but our house was always one step away from total chaos.  I remember bringing a little girl home from school once to play and as we climbed over the mound of dirty laundry to get to my room she asked me, “Doesn’t your Mom clean?” That was my first indication that maybe my house was different.  That maybe there was a better way of doing things.  However, that “better” way was never tangible until those afternoons I got to spend with Beth.

Folks, her carpet had dark tan lines through the plush where the vacuum cleaner had been.  I can’t tell you how beautiful that was to me.  There was absolutely nothing on her kitchen cabinets and laundry lived in drawers and closets.  Never on the floor or in doorways.  Her mom would bring snacks out on matched plates with matched glasses.  I grew up drinking out of tin chili cans that had been repurposed into glasses.  I honestly thought Beth’s house was perfect and my own home was a disgrace.

I would like to tell you that as I grew older and moved away from where Beth lived I grew up and learned to embrace my mom’s cleaning style, but I didn’t. Truthfully, I was a jerk about the whole thing.  I never missed a chance to rub my mom’s nose in how dirty our house was.  When she would ask me what my dreams for the future were I would always tell her I was going to grow up and have a clean house.  I told her there would be less books and more order.  I told her the top of my refrigerator would always be clean and there would never be trash overflowing.  I was very certain that my front door would never open to anyone if my house wasn’t totally clean. I picked up that torch and carried it with a vengeance.  And, guess what?

I did it.  My house was clean. Company never came that everything wasn’t perfect. Drawers were organized and corners swept. My son and daughter grew up in a house where dishes matched and appliances sparkled and they couldn’t have cared less.  In fact, my daughter prefers my best friend’s house that resembles my old home.  It’s not as messy, but there is that same air of “just let that go and let’s enjoy each other.”  All of my nights and early mornings cleaning never even registered to them.  They had always had it so it was their normal. It was just the way things were. But, I never quit.  To not have a clean house meant I wasn’t doing my job.  Good moms had clean houses.

Recently though, three things happened.  My mother died, my daughter got married and I finally stoppped cleaning.  Seriously. I just don’t care anymore. It’s just two of us here these days and cleaning should be the easiest it’s ever been, but the house doesn’t show that. I’ve quit my crusade. As I’m writing this, there are cokes on top of my fridge and crumbs in the toaster oven and it just doesn’t matter to me. Now, I want books stacked on chairs and socks under the edge of the couch and empty yogurt containers everywhere. I want the people who generate those things and I want them around my table. I want to let it all go and just enjoy each other. I want to tell my mom I’m sorry for giving her such a hard time for all of those years.  And, mostly, I just want the moments back I wasted on bathroom floors and tupperware cabinets.

As I mentioned, my daughter recently got married.  She called me one day to tell me she had hired a housekeeper.  I cried.  Part of it was jealousy, but mostly it was because I hope that my own daughter, raised in that tension between my mom’s way and my way, will live in that sweet spot of balance.  I hope her weekends and early mornings will be adventure and good books and that she’ll always be able to find a clean shirt or a matched pair of socks in the process.  And I try not to take it too personally when she tells me, with fire in her eyes, that she’ll never parent like I did.  She says her kids will have much more freedom than she did.  Good that she got that figured out so early.