2018 Manifesto

1. I will CALM DOWN about October. The arrival of fall fleece weather causes such a frenzy of excitement that I over-schedule every corner of October to take maximum advantage of no longer sweating the instant I open my front door. October then becomes this giant blur. It begins with a couple of mums on the front porch, a giant scarf around my neck and the first hot beverage of the season but it always seems to end in a frantic fit of exhaustion and shame when my kids find me shoving one more snack size Kit Kat in my mouth before I set fire to all of their Halloween candy whilst yelling, “WE FORGOT TO GO TO AN APPLE ORCHARD!” October is crafty in that it promotes itself as this super chill month full of deep breaths and crisp fall air but in actuality, you never stop moving the entire time before tumbling into November and then Thanksgiving which bleeds into the December holidays and then you wake up sometime in January five pounds heavier with wrapping paper stuck to your pajamas. It all begins innocuous enough. I’m on to you, October and I will not fall prey this year.

2. I will step away from the news at regular intervals so as not to fall into a pit of depression and despair, believing that the destruction of mankind is imminent and all hope has been lost.

3. I will invest in me.

*insert tremendous eyeroll here*

But, lo, I am firmly in my forties now and no longer as physically resilient as I once was. Basically, stuff on my person hurts. So, this year, I’m striving to fix what’s broken. That means, I’m going to wear the stupid brace at night to help alleviate the carpal tunnel syndrome I developed while growing three children with my body. I’m also going to do the stretching I’m supposed to do to help alleviate the plantar fasciitis I developed from excessive hiking to get some alone time away from the three children I grew with my body. I’m going to make the appointments and take the supplements and drink the water and get that weird bump behind my ear looked at so I can be as healthy as I can be for me and for the three children that wrecked everything when I grew them with my body.

4. I will finally figure out how to make the theme song from “Parks and Recreation” be my phone’s ringtone because it is delightful. I should probably ask Henry how to do this, better preparing him for the years and years he’ll spend down the road exasperatingly troubleshooting technology for his parents.

5. I will make a HUGE punch list of the home improvement items around this house that need to get accomplished so we can actually accomplish them. Bob and I talk all the time about our to-do list, casually mentioning over breakfast that the laundry room needs painting or the basement curtains are still waiting to be hung or the crack in the hallway needs patching. Frankly, someone needs to write all of this stuff down because we are easily distracted and inevitably one of us gets busy with something else or decides to take a nap or retreats with a book or goes shopping instead, forgetting all about the laundry room, the basement and the hallway. Then, the next weekend, we LITERALLY have the very same discussion about the things that need to get done around the house. It’s all very counter-productive. Bob asked for some sort of a master list some months ago so we can go room by room as time permits to complete the work and I love a good checklist so I’m going to make this happen. I’ll probably laminate it, to be honest.

6. I will show my kids new places and new things. As much as I love to lament parenthood, I think my kids are pretty much the coolest people on the planet. They’re so interesting and they love to learn and are so curious and they’re getting easier and more fun to take out in public. Bob set a goal of traveling into the city frequently this year to show them a new museum or exhibit and I’ve set a goal of two vacations with them to places that none of us have traveled before. This year, I really want to focus on more experiences and less stuff.

(I’m also in that post-Christmas deep regret stage as I try to organize and find space for the hoard of presents I brought into our home so, we’ll see how this one pans out is all.)

7. I will be generous with my time, resources and talent. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to better the lives of those around me. Not just for my husband and my children, but looking beyond that. I’d like to figure out how to extend generosity – in whatever form that takes – farther out in the circle. I have a certain set of talents and expertise and I have friends that are extremely talented and super smart in other things and sometimes, I feel like if we could just pool our gifts, combine our resources, we could make lives better. Easier. Lovelier. Kinder. For ourselves and for others. I’m going to figure out how to build that community of generosity this year. I feel like the world could use a lot more of it.

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When Charlie was just a few months old, he came down with a nasty virus. He was in daycare at the time and our child care center seemed to always be ground zero for the really awful illnesses that my kids caught with such ease. I took time off from work to care for our sweet little Charlie at home and I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I knew we had to take him to the emergency room. I had been hanging clean laundry up in my closet and when I finished and reached down to pick Charlie up from the bed, he was stiff. His whole body. He was so little at the time and so new-baby malleable that to pick him up and feel his muscles so rigid was alarming. I knew he was really ill.

Bob and I ended up spending the majority of that afternoon and evening in our local hospital’s ER. Charlie was officially diagnosed with a “virus of unknown origin” meaning, the hospital didn’t know what he had, admitted there was really no good way to figure it out, but acknowledged that it was absolutely making him miserable. It was just something that we had to wait out. They wanted us to remain in the ER so they could hydrate Charlie and monitor him closely for a few hours before discharging him. With a compassionate shrug, the doctors and nurses left us on our own to sit and wait and watch. Our fears placated, Bob and I settled in to spend a few hours staring intently at Charlie.

Now, it should be noted that our local hospital at the time was more urban, less spacious and a bit more bare bones than the hospital we utilize now. The ER in the town closest to where we currently live has private rooms, individual television sets, a staff eager to accommodate and valet parking. The ER we took Charlie to that night had a long wait time, a maxed-out staff, absolutely no snacks, and the only thing separating us from the next patient on a stretcher was a thin curtain and about four feet. I’m certainly not complaining because I didn’t even know ERs came in fancier versions until we moved from the city but still, if we were able to even snag an extra blanket from a nurse that night, it certainly didn’t come all toasty warm from one of those giant blanket ovens our current hospital uses.

Sitting with a sleeping four-month-old and a lack of sufficient snacks left us with nothing to do but eavesdrop on the medical emergencies of those around us. It was fascinating. Directly next to us, on the other side of the curtain, was an intoxicated man who was handcuffed to his gurney and guarded by a sheriff’s deputy. He talked loudly for probably a solid hour about assorted topics before falling asleep and, thus, falling quiet. We heard other random snippets hear and there of bumps and bruises and broken bones but eventually, as evening settled in and the bustling quieted down, both Bob and I started listening intently to a husband and wife that were seeking treatment across the aisle from us.

It turned out, the wife was in the emergency room because she had been experiencing chest pains. It actually seemed quite serious from the tone of the doctor’s voice. The doctor was still unsure of what type of cardiac event she had experienced but he began reviewing with the couple the results of some preliminary testing and explaining to them some additional tests he would like to run before admitting the wife overnight for observation. It was at this point that the couple began to protest. They were concerned about how long all of this was going to take and seemed distressed about the necessity of spending an entire night in the hospital. Bob and I, unabashedly, leaned in for a closer listen.

“You see,” the husband began to explain to the doctor, “we have dinner reservations.”

It was at this point that Bob and I looked at each other with saucer-like eyes and tried not to laugh. Dismissing a possible heart attack in favor of keeping hard-to-get dinner reservations was just the MOST Northern Virginia thing one could do. I mean, I can appreciate a great meal, too, but I wouldn’t risk betting the sommelier knows how to use a defibulator. The ER doctor said about the same.

The conversation quickly escalated between the ER doctor and the husband and wife. Eventually, as the doctor was explaining the “against medical advice” discharge paperwork that would need to be completed before they could leave, the husband looked at the doctor and asked, “So, tell me, what’s worst case scenario here?”

Without missing a beat, the doctor looked at the husband wearily and said, “SIR, your wife could DIE.”

A few minutes later, the husband and his possibly-having-a-heart-attack wife were on their way to dinner to, presumably, eat mussels or foie gras or something like that. Shortly afterwards, Bob and Charlie and I headed home to rest up, recuperate and probably eat some Goldfish crackers.

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Ever since that fateful emergency room visit, Bob and I have used the Worst Case Scenario query to address some of our toughest life decisions.

Should we move the entire family to Richmond? What’s the worst case scenario?

Are you up for having a third baby? What’s worst case scenario?

Is it possible to still buy a waterbed? What would be the worst case scenario?

Maybe we should get that odd rash on the middle kid looked at? What’s the worst case scenario?

Does this egg salad smell weird to you? Worst case scenario?

It’s actually a highly effective tool in distilling a problem or issue down to it’s possible outcomes. If the answer is anything other than one of us dying, we typically proceed.

All this to explain that Bob and I are thinking of renovating our kitchen ourselves. I mean, what’s the worst case scenario here?

How to Not Stay Married

Step 1: Have a long and rich history of purchasing unnecessary pieces of furniture and assorted decor for your home.

Step 2: Purchase a salvaged fireplace mantel from an antique store. Make sure you do not consult in any way with your husband prior to purchasing your new antique fireplace mantel.

Pretend not to notice your husband rolling his eyes when you arrive home from shopping and giddily tell him about your new antique fireplace mantel.

Also, make sure that the home that you live in at the time has a perfectly lovely brick fireplace surround that would not even accommodate your new antique fireplace mantel thus ensuring that no one, not even you, can justify the purchase of a new, antique fireplace mantel.

Step 3: Ask your husband to return to the antique store with you the next day to help you haul your new fireplace mantel from the bowels of the warehouse-like building to your minivan.

Ignore the deep sigh that emanates from his general direction.

Step 4: Retrieve new mantel from antique store and attempt to fit it into the back of your minivan. Be unsuccessful at this. Witness your husband’s complete exasperation. Witness your positive attitude making everything worse. Jerry-rig the mantel with improvised ties in such a way that makes it impossible to close the back hatch of the minivan so the entire 30 minute drive home, the BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP of the car’s there-is-a-door-open warning system is blaring.

Assure yourself that the noise is probably why your husband is no longer talking to you.

Step 5: Arrive home with your new antique fireplace mantel and have absolutely no logical place to put it. Ask husband to carry mantel to the third floor storage room while you “figure out a plan.”

Step 6: Devise brilliant plan! Decide to create one of those fake fireplace vignettes in your dining room. Something like this:

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Request husband retrieve mantel from third-floor attic so you can get to work!

Step 7: Do not get to work.

Step 8: Look at mantel leaning precariously against dining room wall for several months, hoping it doesn’t accidentally fall on one of the kids. Eventually, put some candles on the top that also lean precariously.

Step 9: Decide to move. When husband asks if the mantel should, logically, be left behind, react with shock and horror at such a suggestion. Explain in earnest that if you’re moving, the mantel’s moving, too.

Place mantel in basement of new home, leaning precariously against a wall. Hope it doesn’t accidentally fall on one of the kids.

Step 10: Wait three years.

Step 11: Clear out the entire contents of your basement in advance of construction work. Carry load after load of items to the garage, both you and your husband working diligently to ignore the antique mantel leaning precariously against the wall until it is the only item that remains.

Wordlessly and while making no eye contact, move the antique mantel to a dark corner of the basement.

Step 12: Bravely suggest to your husband that the super talented contractor working on the basement could maybe, possibly, perhaps also look into replacing your current fireplace mantel with the new antique mantel?

Watch as your husband rolls his eyes while simultaneously sighing deeply and reluctantly agreeing.

Step 13: Wait until your husband has worked an 11 hour day after rising at 4:30 a.m. and THEN ask him to help you bring the mantel up from the corner of the basement so the contractor can take some measurements and provide an estimate.

Ignore your husband when he exclaims, “FINE. BUT IT’S NOT GOING BACK DOWN THERE.” Wave your hands in a sarcastic, dismissive manner when he threatens to chop the antique mantel into many, many pieces and throw it into the fire pit. Do not, under any circumstances, suggest this might be ill-advised since, “it’s probably covered in lead paint anyway.”

Step 14: Get a response from your contractor that indicates the mantel installation is doable but that provides no indication of a work start date.

With great enthusiasm, relay this information to your husband. Watch him have much less enthusiasm.

Step 15: Pretend, along with your husband, that the new antique mantel isn’t currently sitting in the middle of your living room, leaning precariously against a buffet, like a ticking time bomb. Like an elephant in the room that is almost the actual size of a small elephant.

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Convince yourself that the old newspaper and small kindling your husband is gathering is for an entirely unrelated project.