Life, death, and laundry

Around here, we like to say that how we do home is how we do life.

As I walked around our home on Saturday morning, the truth of that was quite apparent to me.

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How have we been doing home/life for the past few weeks? On-the-fly. Half-assed. The opposite of intentionally. Meal planning means I’ve been planning which drive-through to hit each day.

It’s no one’s fault. It’s just…life–and we’ve been doing home/life the best we can.

Over winter break, a co-worker died unexpectedly. I was behind on things at work before break started, and for the past two weeks I’ve been working extra days and doing extra tasks in response to this very sad situation.

On the home front, a child started driver ed. Semester exams are looming. And, of course, all of the usual balls are still spinning, too–robotics practice and speech tournaments and library volunteering and bill paying and appointment keeping.

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Cane (a former driver ed instructor) giving Grace her first driving lesson.

When it comes to home/life, I’ve got a huge jumble of thoughts/feelings swirling around about all kinds of things.

Right at the end of our winter break, I got all fired up about finally getting a handle on managing the business side of my life. I thought it would take an afternoon, but I spent the better part of three days transforming paperwork in my desk from this…

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to this:

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I had a list with 16 to-do items on it, and a plan for getting them all done. I also planned to write a nifty little organizing/resolutions post for all of you right at the beginning of this month, THE month for organizing/resolutions posts.

And then I walked into the work space of the person who died, and part of the challenge of that situation was that her work space was kind of like the before picture I just shared, and my plans (and my usual 4-day work week) went all to hell. (Not  my list, though. It’s right where I left it two weeks ago.)

I say that with no judgment. I realized–with some fair amount of queasiness–that it would be no better if I suddenly died. Those who’d have to figure out what to do next at both home and work would have a terrible time of it. It’s not that my life in either place is on the brink of disaster; it’s just that so much of the workings of it exist only in my head.

For pretty much my entire career, I’ve said that my desk looks like chaos, but I know what’s in every pile. That’s not going to be very helpful to anyone if I’m suddenly not here.

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And let’s be honest…even the chaos hasn’t been that organized, as I could see when I started digging into my pile.

Speaking of careers, well…the situation at work has stirred up a whole bunch of stuff in that realm, too.

I began teaching in January, 1990.

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How 24 years have passed so quickly is a confounding mystery to me. Since 2009, I’ve been out of the classroom, providing staff development and coaching for other teachers. This fall, I took a new position as our district’s media coordinator, meaning that I oversee all of our school libraries (there are 10).

The past two weeks, I’ve been working with kids again. My teaching experience is all at the secondary level (middle and high school), but we lost the library manager in one of our elementary schools.

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It’s been exhausting and amazing and all-consuming. Kinda like falling in love.

Within the span of one day, I got hugged, I got told that I’m beautiful, and I got flipped off (by a 2nd grader!). It was great. Although at first I felt like a duck out of water, it didn’t take long for me to get my teaching legs under me. Once I did, it felt like being home again.

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Reading this book to a class of kindergartners was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time at work. Maybe ever.

Sometime in the last two weeks I realized that throughout all of my 24 years in education, I’ve always had one foot out the door. Well, maybe not out the door. But for sure I’ve been using one foot to prop the door open, ready to fling it wide and run through if the right opportunity walked by.

January, 1990 is also when I moved to Oregon (from Seattle), and just as I never felt that teaching was my real career, I’ve also never felt that Oregon was my real home.  When I visited Seattle at Christmas, though, I suddenly felt all the years that have passed. I no longer remembered where things are, and I saw how much others have changed. While it still feels like home, I realized that it no longer really is.

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And whether we’re talking careers or homes, I’m seeing very clearly (and a little painfully) that you cannot be fully in a place if one part of you is peering through the door and hoping for something different to appear. And when you’re not fully wherever you are, you’re not fully living.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been all in. I’ve been eating, breathing, and sleeping school libraries. And even though I’m writing these words from a place of messy exhaustion, it’s such a better kind of tired than the one that comes from the effort it takes to keep doors propped open.

I’m realizing that I’m ready to let the doors softly close. I’m ready, after 24 years, to say: This is my career. This is what I’m doing when I grow up. And this is where I’m doing it.

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View from a vacant lot up the road from our home. From here, we can see across the Columbia River to the mountains in Washington.

In a post about our Solstice celebration, I shared what we asked/hope for in the coming year:

“More acceptance of hard things. More presence in our lives as we’re living them today. More honesty. More laughter. More time to read. More time with the right people. More embracing of the good, full lives we have, less seeking something else outside of them.”

It feels almost spooky, reading these words again, three weeks later.  I can see that I’ve been getting ready to make this shift for a little while now, and, as always, chance has conspired to nudge me right to the place I need to be.

Just this weekend, I read a brief, thoughtful piece from Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists, in which he shares what went through his head in a recent roll-over car accident:

“The fact is that any of us could die today. Right now. So everything after this moment is a gift. How can we best spend our bonus time, then? By shopping or browsing Facebook? By working hard for a paycheck to buy shit that won’t make us happy? Or maybe by living more deliberately, focused on the people around us? 

If I were to die right now, today, I’d want my paperwork to be in order. But I’d also want to have fully lived.

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Scene from a recent all-day robotics event. Both my kids are competing on the same team this year.

I love order, and peace, and calm, and our household hasn’t had much of any of those in the past two weeks. I mean, you saw our house, right?

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I don’t like it that way. I like the tidy pile I reduced all those papers into, and my neat to-do list. I’ve never been good at balance, at finding some sweet spot between competing passions. Fully embracing the good, rich life I’ve got right in front of me might mean less order and more messy exhaustion. But maybe that’s OK. Maybe there is no sweet spot.

Although I woke up on Saturday to a house full of dirty dishes and laundry, both the sink and the hampers are empty now. The cupboards are full of groceries, the house is picked up, and we’re ready to dive into another week, another chance to keep trying to figure out how to do home/life.

Hope you are, too.

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