Recently we got to sneak away to New Hampshire with family.
We were excited for some fun in the sun but the weather didn’t seem to care about our outdoor plans. Instead, we saw lots and lots of rain. Lots.
So, we spent a lot of time playing board games, watching movies, and doing multiple 300–1000 piece puzzles.
As I watched our family of 10 in their puzzle process, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the puzzles and life.
A couple of us would start a puzzle and together we’d sort through the edges and inside pieces. Sometimes we talked. Sometimes we sat in silence. As people got tired, they’d simply walk away from the table. No one yelled for them to come back when they left and no one felt hurt when others needed a break. Sometimes someone else would jump right in to take their place and pick up where they left off. Sometimes the seat would stay empty for a bit. Sometimes we’d realize that one of us was sharper at night and one of us was sharper in the morning. Sometimes we’d realize that one of us was better at finding the edges and one of us was better at finding sections that fit together. Sometimes we’d realize that someone with fresh eyes was needed.
Somehow, without fighting, without strategizing, and without giving up, we worked together to finish those puzzles.
And that’s the key to life right?
We need to work together with our people to solve the problems in front of us.
Because life has a funny way of not going our way.
Sometimes our people need to walk away from our puzzle for a bit. Sometimes someone is there to jump right in. Sometimes things feel quiet and there’s no progress for a bit. Sometimes some people are better equipped than others. But eventually, piece by piece, things get figured out and put together in the right way.
And a 1000 piece puzzle, just like life, is always easier when you have support.
And life, just like a 1000 piece puzzle, can benefit from trusting in the people on your team.
We all have those places in life.
Places we can transport ourselves back to in an instant because they are so deeply woven into the fabric of our souls.
We remember every detail about those places.
We remember the colors of every wall.
We remember the sound of the antique radio playing music every Saturday morning.
We remember hanging upside down off the chair in the corner and watching everyone’s feet on the ceiling.
We remember the crisp snap of peas and the roughness of corn husks as we prepped the Sunday dinner.
We remember how many steps it was from the living room to our bedroom.
We remember how that big tree in the front yard cast a long shadow every afternoon.
We remember the closets filled with fancy dress shoes and the bureaus filled with makeup.
We remember how every spring a family of groundhogs would take up residency under the porch.
We remember the peacefulness and stillness of the fresh air at night.
We remember everything about those places.
Because those places are a part of us.
Those places were our foundation.
We remember how it felt to feel loved in that place.
We remember how it felt to be seen, really seen whenever we were at our place.
We remember how it felt to know we were safe and cared for there.
We remember because that is where the happy moments of our childhood lived.
We remember, and with aching hearts, we miss it.
We’d give anything to walk in that front door again.
We’d do anything to sit around that kitchen table one more time.
We’d trade anything to go back in time and relive just one day in that place.
But our places don’t always stay the same.
Blue houses turn yellow.
Trees get replaced by open spaces.
Open spaces get filled in with new houses.
People leave us.
And those places that once belonged to us someday belong to other people.
But they are still OUR places - stored forever in our memories and in our hearts.
And no matter how hard this life gets, we can always close our eyes and imagine ourself back in that place.
It will always be our place.
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I have a confession.
All around me this week people are sharing their posts from a year ago - posts from when our lives as we knew them came to screeching halt.
Although those 2020 feelings of dread, fear, and uncertainty are there beneath the surface and I can easily tap into them, those feelings are not how I define my memories of the past year.
I remember things a bit differently.
I remember my oldest son walking around in a bike helmet all day on a dare from his brother because what else was there to do? The photos from that day will forever make us chuckle.
I remember pulling out all our board games to pass the time, working our way through all the boxes that filled our hallway closet. Those games allowed us to share laughter and create memories.
I remember learning Tik Tok dances much to the embarrassment of my sons. Somehow those silly songs now hold a special place in my heart.
I remember group FaceTime calls with my friends as we showed our stashes of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Those calls brought us closer and provided me with a connection I desperately needed.
I remember creative date nights at home planned by my husband. His Dominican feast on the day we were supposed to be traveling alone to Punta Cana certainly did not replace our trip but it was a pretty good back up plan.
I remember sitting at our kitchen table every morning. That tiny table that somehow fit four humans, their four laptops, and mountains of paperwork became the center hub of our home as we all made the switch to remote learning and remote working.
I remember watching the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars catalog as a family - twice - once in the release order and once in chroniclogal order. Those films became the soundtrack of our year.
I remember crafting a new kitchen island as a family after on a whim I said we needed a bigger space to do our work. Now that Island anchors my family and serves as the gathering place in our home.
I remember building a new patio as a family, brick by brick, because our backyard would be where we would spend our entire spring and summer. Even now under cover of winter in New England, that patio makes me smile as it is a piece of my family’s heart.
I remember hugging my sister, brother in law, my nieces, and my nephew for the first time after the initial lockdown. In that moment, standing in my dining room with tears in our eyes, we all decided that we needed to be in each other’s bubble always.
I remember spending time with friends outdoors when at times it almost felt like normal life.
I remember how when we struggled we were there for each other.
I remember how we all adapted.
I remember how we learned important lessons about ourselves and our family.
I remember how we decided to make lasting changes to our lives.
I remember laughter.
I remember joy.
I remember love.
I remember hope.
I remember that the year we were forced inward and were forced to slow down was also the year when we learned how to stay connected and truly enjoy life.
I remember that we found out just how lucky and loved we truly are.
This past weekend I ran away. I took my family north for one last trip to the mountains to take a break before the next chapter of 2020 begins.
There were lots of reasons to not take the trip. My pet sitter wasn't available. The hotel cost more than I wanted to spend. The weather wasn't going to be great. Covid-19 is still a thing and would prevent us from doing the things we usually like to do up there. It would have been easier to stay home, save money, and try again another time.
But, we went anyways.
It was the right decision.
On our final day up there, we stopped for ice cream. My eye fell to the homemade chocolate chocolate chip flavor on the menu. Once again, there were many reasons not to order it. I just worked hard to lose 10 pounds in August. I would probably only eat three bites before declaring it too sweet. I would probably get a tummy ache.
But, I ordered it anyways.
It was the right decision.
A few minutes later, my family of 4 sat at a picnic table overlooking the mountains as we enjoyed our ice cream and talked about our trip, the upcoming school year, and the start of the football season.
Then it hit me.
Life is short.
I’m so glad we invested in the moment this weekend. I feel recharged and ready for whatever September has in store for us. The weekend was just what we needed.
So, what's your ice cream in the mountains going to be this week? What is that one thing you have a million reasons NOT to do but deep down you know it will serve you well? What would it take to make it a reality?
Before I became a parent, I had some basic parenting expectations for myself. For example, I was quite positive that my children:
Once I became a parent, however, that list quickly got tossed into the garbage. Parenting, it turns out, is something that you can never fully prepare for or predict. I am often making things up as I go along, course correcting and adjusting as I evaluate how I am handling the monumental task of parenting. Most days I feel like a total failure but sometimes, every once in a while, everything falls into place and often, when it does, it's because I listened to that little feeling in my gut - my intuition.
Two nights ago, after a weekend full of sports game, field clean up, work, errands and kitchen painting, my 8 year old laid in his bed and sobbed in my arms about how all he wants is "one day to just do nothing." He was tired of school, tired of sports, tired of running errands, tired of having to clean his room. He was tired. His gas tank was empty.
I talk about this concept a lot with my patients - the notion that we are like cars (crude comparison, I know) and if we don't take care of our cars and fill them with fuel, eventually they will sputter and leave us stranded on the side of the road. My little guy was very quickly running out of fuel and was close to breaking down on the side of the road. With my patients, we brainstorm ways to refuel ourselves. For some of us, it's exercise, for others it's time with friends, for others it's time alone. For my insightful 8 year old, he had identified that what would refuel him was a day to just be a kid.
My initial reaction was to validate his feelings and commit to finding a time to take a day off together but as we talked, I felt that feeling. You know the one: that intuitive, instinctive feeling in our bellies or our chests that is left over from evolution. Usually it tells us what we need to know in critical moments - like when we are in danger. But, if we listen, it can also help guide us in our decision making process and let us know which decision is the "right" one. My gut was telling me that I needed to make time now.
I tucked him in to bed and then set to work rearranging my schedule so I could be home the next day. When he woke in the morning, I invited him to stay home with me and have his day off. He smiled bigger than I had seen in a few weeks, hugged me and ran into the living room. I also invited his older brother, who had been fighting off a virus, to stay home as well. It took him a good 30 minutes to make his decision but he also ultimately decided that he could use a day off too.
You read that right. I let my children miss school and neither of them were physically sick. But, I would argue, both of them were mentally and emotionally running out of fuel and needed some time off. After all, mental health and emotional health are just as important as physical health. In fact, they could be MORE important than physical health as it has often been suggested that when we are emotionally and mentally run down, we are more susceptible to illness.
The rules of the day off were quite simple - there were no rules. Also, there had to be fresh baked banana bread (per my 8 year's old request.) We stayed in our pajamas and sweat pants for the day, ate fresh banana bread and just "were." The boys played games, watched tv, played video games, drew, colored and played outside. It was like a snow day, the blizzard kind, where the roads get closed down and everything pauses. Except there was no snow and no need to shovel.
As dinner time rolled around, I found myself reflecting a lot on the day. My boys were smiling and their fuel tanks were refilled. I also noticed that my fuel tank was much more full. Hearing my children just be children and do the work of children - play - was a beautiful thing. If we, as adults, can take a breath and really evaluate our lives, we probably will find that we could benefit from more snow days, minus the snow, in our lives.
No matter how busy our lives are, I strongly believe we all can find a way to fit some snow days into our schedule. Sometimes the laundry, dishes, phone calls, bills, errands and work can wait. Sometimes it is ok to ask others for help. None of my hospice patients have ever looked at me while approaching their final days on Earth and admitted that they wished they had worked more, kept a cleaner house or spent less time with their loved ones. No. It's the opposite. Almost everyone I have been with at the end of their lives shares the same sentiments - it's the small things that matter in the end - time with children doing nothing, time with friends over coffee, tea or wine, lazy mornings with their partner. It turns out that often the things that refuel us are also the things that we treasure and need the most.
So, my challenge to all of you is to tune everything out for 5 minutes. Really. Do it. Let the dishes pile up. Leave the stack of bills on the counter. Leave the laundry in the baskets. Let those calls you need to return wait a few moments. Look around at your life. What is truly most important? What fills your tank? How can you make room in your schedule this week to fit in some of these activities?
I suspect that for many of you, you are running on fumes now. You are flying down the highway at 90 miles an hour, seeing your gas needle nearing closer and closer to "E." Yet, you are ignoring it, hoping that you can run on fumes, "just" a bit longer. Pull over now and fill that tank. Stop putting you and your own needs last. Make your own snow day!
Now, more than ever, we all need a little support to help get us through the rough spots. With all the pressures of life, it can be a challenge to find time to not only take care of yourself but also to truly understand who you even are anymore.