Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Digging Pit

When we moved into our house eight years ago, we were delighted to learn that the backyard neighbors had kids. Not just any kids--two boys the same ages as our son and daughter.

The eldest were three at the time, and the little ones were just babies. We spent a lot of time over the next few years in our backyards because, for a toddler, a backyard is world enough.

The neighbor boys liked to dig in the dirt. Really, really liked to dig in the dirt. Instead of buying their boys a sand box, the neighbors decided to build what the boys really wanted--a place to play in the dirt.

At the edge of our property lines, where we both could see it from our houses, the neighbor dad cleared an area of grass, much like he was putting in a small garden bed. He edged it with paving bricks, and then he did the most amazing thing. He sifted through all that dirt, making sure there was nothing in it that could hurt the kids.

It was back-breaking work. I know, because I stood there and watched him work and sweat, trying to decide if he was the best dad ever or just nuts. Maybe both.

It was a huge success. The digging pit, as it became known, overflowed with shovels, trucks, and kids. Their boys could move dirt around for hours, and in her second year, my daughter was covered head-to-toe in dirt most days. Over time, lawn chairs appeared so that digging pit spectators didn't need to stand. On weekend mornings, we parents would congregate around the digging pit with our coffee, watching the kids play and ensuring that no one got hit over the head with a rake.

Time marches on, and our kids are now eleven and eight. No one has played in the digging pit for a very long time. Without the children drawing us to the property line, we adults don't spend much time together anymore. The kids still play together, but we don't need to supervise them like we once did. We adults stay in our own houses and yards, doing our own things.

When I do visit the neighbors, I get wistful when I step over the digging pit. It is neglected and weed-infested. There are no more trucks. All four kids couldn't fit in there if they wanted to, which they don't. The overgrown digging pit is a reminder of when our kids' world was simple and small.

I watched landscapers planting there today. The digging pit is no more. It is now the garden bed it always resembled, with large plants blocking the way from our house to theirs. Instead of pulling us together, the digging pit is now an obstacle to be walked around.

The kids aren't so little anymore, and that's made us that much less neighborly. The digging pit era has long been over, but those new plants make it clear in a way the weeds had not. Those plants make me sad.

Goodbye, digging pit.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happily in the Middle

I was having a tough time. Last month was a hard one as a parent, because my child was hurting and I couldn't fix it. It left me exhausted and emotionally raw.

While in that fragile state, I read two completely unrelated books that combined to hit me hard.

The first was The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. It has a cheerful blue and yellow cover that asserts that O, The Oprah Magazine called it "funny and irresistibly exuberant." It looked and sounded like the light, mindless distraction I needed.

It wasn't. I hadn't bothered to read the back cover before I dove into it, so I didn't realize it was a memoir until I started reading. I should have stopped when I found myself teary-eyed at the three-page prologue, which concluded with the author's calling her parents to tell them she had cancer.

"And that's what this whole thing is about. Calling home. Instinctively. Even when all the paperwork--a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns--clearly indicates you're an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you're still somebody's daughter."

It made me weepy at the hair salon the first time I read it, and it makes me weepy now.

The Middle Place is funny and (thank goodness) not a tear jerker despite the cancer, but its central theme hit me in a tender spot that week. Corrigan's "middle place" is where I happily reside--I am both parent and child. I still call home when things get hard.

I called that week.

When I spoke to my parents the following week, things were a little less hard. Remarking about the previous dark week, my dad said that, had they not been expecting visitors at the time, he would have put my mom on a plane to visit me. He could tell I needed it.

I was suffering because I couldn't make my child feel better, but my parents knew how to make me feel better. I'm right in the middle, both giving and taking. It's a nice place to be.

Once I got through The Middle Place and the worst part of my month, I decided I was ready for something a little heavier than "funny and...exuberant." I picked up Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End. Gawande is a practicing surgeon, and he questions how the medical profession can improve end-of-life care, not only extending life but enhancing it.

While Gawande talks at the policy level about things like assisted living and hospice, I was touched most by his advice for those making end-of-life decisions for themselves or family members. Being Mortal appealed to my pragmatic nature. I accept that the end of life will come for each of us and believe we should plan accordingly. But combined with the memoir I'd just completed, this book also blindsided me.

What I hadn't accepted until then was that there likely will come a day when my parents rely on me for help rather than the other way around. Although I will gladly play that role, I find the idea rather terrifying. Someday, I will really, truly have to be the grown-up.

It's scary.

I like the comfort of the middle. I like knowing that, when the sump pump fails, my first call is to ask Dad, "What do I do?" I like knowing I can misplace the cupcake recipe, because Mom will email it to me yet again. And I really like having a grown-up to call when I'm having a hard time being one myself.

Fortunately, I have no reason to think I'll need to be a complete grown-up anytime soon. When I called to ask advice about replacing a screen door, my dad's answer was simple, "Wait until I visit next month."

I have. And I've confined my reading to fiction. It's easier on my brain.