Something Shifted and Sh*t Came Up

OK, confession time. I swear. A lot. But, I don’t swear around friends who don’t swear, and I never swear around people I don’t know or in a professional setting. I rarely swear in public and if I do, I do it quietly and only with close friends. I never swore around my girls until the youngest was almost out of high school, by which time I had also lifted the ban on their use of “gutter language” (with some exceptions.)

Still, when you come downstairs at 5 in the morning on a Saturday, after just having finished your shower, looking forward to writing and a cup of strong coffee, and then notice the toilet paper stand and the bathroom garbage can in the hallway, you can’t say much but, “Ah, sh*t!”

My husband, who works Tuesday through Saturday, discovered the backed-up toilet first. The water had already dissipated. In fact, he assumed the wadded toilet paper on the floor was simply evidence left behind by a mischevious puppy. Alas, it was not, it was our plumbing mainline, again.  The same mainline that was our nemesis when we first bought our house almost 19 years ago. During the first 18 months in our home, the mainline backed up pretty regularly. At the time, I was running my business from home and was grateful my husband was a stay-at-home full-time dad. I was also grateful for his skills. Before my husband and I met, he was the co-owner of a septic system business and knew well what needed to be done to repair our faulty mainline.  It would be both time-consuming and physically demanding, but he did it. He dug up the front yard, removed the old, long-established juniper bushes and their extensive network of invasive roots. Next came removing and replacing a section of the old clay pipe mainline that had been wildly destroyed by those roots. At the same time, he also installed a new clean-out access point so he’d no longer have to crawl under the house to clean out the backed-up pipe. His work served us well in that the backed-up toilet paper, etc, came up in the front yard this morning, at the clean-out access point, as designed.

After cleaning up and disinfecting the bathroom floor, we had only a few moments to connect before he headed out the door this morning. What did he think caused the mainline to back up again, I wondered. Just under two months ago, the night before we left on vacation, the toilet had backed up. But, using a garden hose, he cleaned out the line quickly, taught our daughters what to do in the event of a repeat while we were gone, and we left on vacation with the assumption that perhaps too much sheetrock dust (from our current remodel project) was washed down the sink and caused a plug.  Sadly, it would appear that was not the case. Ah, the joys of homeownership!

Before leaving for work he told me he suspects the seam between the pipes he’d put in (and long worried about because the ground beneath hadn’t been packed to his liking when reburied) shifted creating a gap at the connection. Tonight, as before, he tried flushing the system, but his troubleshooting made it clear he’ll be digging again tomorrow. Something shifted and sh*t came up.  And, whatever is going on can’t be ignored.

Who would have guessed our mainline could be such a graphic metaphor for life? Still, the message from this unwelcomed event was clear: when we make shifts in life, unexpected sh*t often comes up for us to examine. And, like a plugged mainline, we don’t necessarily plan for that sh*t, but we still have to deal with it. It demands both our attention and action, often stinking up other areas in our life until we repair the broken pieces.

More than once in my life, I’ve made some big and positive shifts for my mental and physical health. And, more than once, I’ve had to clean up and clean out old beliefs, patterns, and demons I’ve kept stashed away. The work is often messy and uncomfortable. It is rarely quick. It is rarely linear. But, it is absolutely necessary if I’m to fully benefit from any change or shift in my life. I’ve yet to find a way to clean out the old sh*t without bringing it up first. Still, once it’s been brought up and cleaned out life –no, me–I work better once I’ve flushed what no longer serves me.

Today’s plumbing adventure got me thinking. Life is, once again, on the cusp of some changes. There’s been this itchiness under my skin, not bad, but unrelenting. I haven’t slowed down long to pay enough attention to the messages, kind of like I didn’t pay attention to the slower flush of the toilet. Maybe I’ve been trying to ignore it back into the dark. Old patterns, even if uncomfortable, are at least familiar. Maybe that’s what’s been stirring my desire to write again. Perhaps my own mainline is plugging up.  It seems I may have some digging of my own to do.

Well played, old mainline, well played.

Tomorrow morning, rather than continuing the work on our large remodeling project, my husband will be digging up the frozen ground in our front yard. Say a prayer, if you would, that his work goes easily, that our old house doesn’t feel the need to demand any other unexpected repairs during this remodel, and that I manage to keep my language and patience in check during this small shift in plans.

Begin Again

“Part broken – part whole, you begin again.”
~Jeanette Winterson (from ‘Why books seem shockproof against change.’ THE TIMES: BOOKS)

It’s that time of year again–the time when many writers hold themselves to a self-imposed commitment to write every day for the 30 days of November. Some call it NaNoWriMo. Bloggers– with no novel in mind– call it NaBloPoMo. Some think it is motivating, and some think it is pure hell, losing themselves under the weight of generating something new every day of the month.
I’ve jumped into this pool more than once, and I’ve been on both sides of the argument. There have been years that I was thrilled to be pushed to write daily. By nature, I am a goal-setter so I (usually) welcome that extra push to strive harder and meet the challenge laid out before me. However, that same drive can also become my fiercest enemy when not kept in check.

I had to check and double-check the date of my last entry on this blog. It has been almost 2 years since I’ve written on here. 2 years! For almost 2 years, this site has sat, gathering dust and my guilt. Since I stopped early, I’m guessing my last round of NaBloPoMo was more daunting and crushing than motivating. I don’t really remember what was going on in my life at that point. I do remember it felt liberating to give myself permission to walk away from a commitment, especially in the middle of it. On the other hand, I know this blog also became that over-stuffed closet in my mind, the one that holds the junk that needs to be purged but is, instead, ignored. Lights turned off. Fingers in the ears. Singing loudly. I did my best to ignore it, but I could still hear and feel the echoes of this blog. Especially when I wrote elsewhere.
I suppose I haven’t been entirely quiet for 2 years because I have been writing and sharing short vignettes on Instagram. (Did you know I’m on Instagram? https://www.instagram.com/reclaimingmary/) More often than not, my posts are connected to a moment captured in photo during my day, be it from my morning walk, life with the Guide Dogs for the Blind puppies I’ve continued raising, or just a random, unremarkable moment in my day that prompts me to dig deeper.
With a quick look back over the last two years, I’ve discovered the obvious;  I could never really be quiet. Whether on this blog, a social media platform, a long letter to a friend, or in my journal, I have been writing. In fact, and without a doubt, I’ll forever be writing. Words to paper are the air to my lungs. Thoughts come in, swirl about, filling me, and then pour out when there is no room left to draw in anymore.
Lately, I’ve been feeling the need to take let out a very large breath. That voice that pushes me to write has been screaming in my head. I’ve opened and closed this blog at least half a dozen times in as many days.  “Write!” I hear it calling. Then, I look at this site and question where to even begin. Still, I hear it, that pleading moan that I feel deep in my bones. “Write!”

I dabbled with the idea of writing here again but made no commitment to myself or anyone else. I wasn’t ready to commit.  “Write!” The voice grew louder in my head as my list of excuses grew longer. And, just when I was ready to turn my back on this blog once again, I saw a friend’s Facebook post announcing she was jumping into the NaNoWriMo pool once again.

“I’m in, too!” I announced. I didn’t think, I jumped, as I’ve been known to do more than once. But was I? After all, there is no one watching to make sure I write here. I could just as easily have said, “Sure, I’m in” before closing my laptop and flipping on the television. Instead, I opened this blog. Date of last entry: Nov. 12, 2017. Then, I wondered what was happening two years ago when I stopped writing.

I pulled up my old photos from Nov. 13, 2017, the day after I stopped writing here. Other than having just started raising another Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy, I saw nothing that indicated life had gone through a major shift. However, I apparently had sipped a cup of tea that reminded me “This life is a gift.” I agreed then, and I agree now.  Since I snapped a picture of it, odds are good I wrote about it someplace. Somethings in life haven’t changed.
I guess stopped writing here two years ago because it was time to stop. Perhaps I simply needed a break. Perhaps, I simply needed the time to let things swirl about in my head a bit longer. But, just as my dear writing friend, Niki, declared today, it is time to begin again.

I don’t know if I will write every day this month. I think I will try just to, well, you know, dust off the keyboards and my writing chops, but with a busy month ahead, I will write for the primary purpose I always do; to discover and to dig deep.  I hope you’ll stick with me because, my friends, I’m in!

Giving Up or Letting Go

Woman, Face, Head, Hand, Write, Glass, Word, Letting Go

I went to bed early last night. Really early. I think it was 6:45. I asked my daughter to tell her dad that I loved him when he got home. I tried to stay up. I grew impatient with my body and that impatience was expressed in snips of angry words and frustration.

Everything seemed loud: the dogs’ scampering paws on the floor; the noise my daughter made as she prepared a snack; the cat’s meows; the nagging inside my head. Especially the nagging inside my head.

That nagging, I know it well. The voice that says, “Push! Just get it done. You haven’t finished this, that, or the other thing. ” The voice that lies and tells me everything is urgent when I know it isn’t. That voice, the one I’ve fought with but given into so many times.

Except, last night. Last night it didn’t win. I did.

I wanted to make a family dinner and sit as a family. I (we) didn’t.

I wanted to get some more work done on our remodeling project. I didn’t.

I wanted to do the laundry and get it all folded. I didn’t.

I wanted to get an hour of reading (at least) done. I didn’t.

I wanted to share some quiet time with my husband. I didn’t.

I wanted to write last night. I didn’t.

I wanted to…. (fill in the blank.) I didn’t.

In fact, the only thing I did get done was the one thing I deemed important, and that was giving the old cat his subcutaneous fluids. Yep, after I sifted through my long, and incomplete, to-do list, I decided the cat would be granted the only additional check-mark on that list.

I crawled up to bed. My body was achy. I was running a small fever. I needed to sleep. Despite the disapproving voice inside my head, I gave up.

I gave up on the rest of it, including pushing myself to stay up “just long enough” to say goodnight to my husband.  I gave up on the laundry and the remodel. I gave up on the family dinner and the reading. I gave up on trying to write. Other than the cat’s fluids, I gave up on everything left undone on my to-do list. I gave up on all of it last night.

Except, I didn’t.

At the start of every month, I set out my monthly goals, with the plan that I will have hit my bigger annual goals by meeting my incremental goals along the way. At the end of last year, I said I wanted 2019 to be my year for a health-makeover. In many ways, planned and unplanned (more about that another time), it has been. In keeping with that larger goal, I listed self-care as one of my (broad) goals for November. Self-care means taking time for me to do those things that fill my bucket. I enjoy meditating, but it can (far too often) be deleted off my list of to-dos when my schedule gets busy; same with reading, writing, walking, visits with friends, time with my family, eating healthy, doing my hobbies, etc.  Self-care is far too easily and too often discarded when that voice inside my head gets loud.

Except, last night it wasn’t.

Last night, I went to bed early. I didn’t give up; I let go. I let go of the expectations I had placed on myself and opted, instead, to honor the goal I set almost a year ago. A “health-makeover” isn’t a one-day-and-done goal, but is, instead, an on-going mindset. There are steps forward and, on occasion, steps back. Last night, I stepped forward. I quieted the voice that tells me to push until the work is done and focused on a bigger project; ME.

Last night’s win, however, was met by a bigger challenge this morning. Would I beat myself up when I had to add yesterday’s to-dos to today’s to-do’s? I was rested, very well-rested, and ready to tackle my to-do list. Nonetheless and very out of character, I avoided peeking at my calendar for a long time this morning. I sipped my coffee. I enjoyed the rays of sunshine bouncing off the new living room floor. I indulged in a very, very long hot shower(thanks, tankless water heater!), and even did some training with the dogs before I cracked open my planner. And, perhaps that long delay was just what was needed to let go of any hidden negative self-judgment. Before peeking at my calendar, I first looked at my November goal planning sheet. Last night, I let go and, in doing so, made the best choice possible to meet one of my November and annual goals.

Sometimes, giving up gives us the freedom we need to let go.

Roots. Damn roots.

If you read yesterday’s post, you learned about both my propensity to swear and our plumbing problems.  Neither issue is fully resolved, but there is hope for the plumbing situation.

Our day started early and with a plan. There would be no time to truly enjoy that (imaginary) “extra hour of sleep” around here. In addition to two dogs and two cats that have zero awareness of “fall back”, I awoke at 4:15 AM thanks to a very hard-wired internal alarm. I wanted to take advantage of the quiet morning before we needed to really start moving. Sadly, both pups assumed it was an hour later, and their “breakfast reminders” came at me fast and furious. Nonetheless, I had a little time to be still and look at the week ahead before I had to focus on the day ahead.

My husband joined me around 6:15. The plan was to drop our younger daughter off at work before a quick Lowe’s run, a strong cup of coffee at Starbucks, and then to start digging soon thereafter. The morning unfolded as planned and I think I made it to just after 11 before a single swear word crossed my lips. That is when he finally reached the pipe and there was no obvious sign of the damage nor cause for the backup. He was, however able to pull the stuck garden hose out of the mainline, and we then estimated on both the direction and distance to the (suspected) broken pipe based on the kink in the hose. We had a ways to go. He dug some more. Ah, sh*t, I said under my breath before returning to the house.

Another hour or two passed. More pipe exposed. Still no obvious signs of what could be causing the backup nor sign of any leaking water indicating we were tracking a broken pipe. He speculated he was digging in the wrong direction. I knew it would be dark in 3 or 4 hours and the prospect of going another day without flushing toilets was growing. A few more swear words slipped from my mouth.

After more than 3 decades together, I think he’s fluent in the refined dialect of my select words. He looked up at me from the depth of his five-and-a-half foot hole and simply said, “Right now, I’m less concerned about finding the break and more concerned about getting us flushing toilets today.”

Hallelujah!

We would need to rent a commercial sewer line snake and I didn’t blink twice. Within 20 minutes, we were on our way to pick it up. On the entirety of the drive there and back home, I quietly said prayers for this solution to work. I refrained from lacing my prayers with any profanity.  I think that helped.

Another 30 minutes or so, and he had the snake run almost the full 100 feet length, the toilets flushing beautifully, and the answer to our problem.

Roots.

Damn roots.

Our nemesis is back. From exactly where we don’t yet know. But, they are in there. The jaw end of the snake pulled up some up lacy roots with it as we (OK, he because we all know I didn’t do it) slow cranked the full length of the 1-inch twisting steel cable back out of the sewer pipe.

Still, we had an answer and flushing toilets. That was enough for one day. The giant gaping hole would have to wait to be back-filled until tomorrow because we also had only 45 minutes before the rental store closed for the day and over-night charges would apply.

Together, he and I lifted that monster back into the truck and high-tailed it back across our little town. We were there in less than 10 minutes and on our way home in under 20.

Dammit! Roots! Again!

Now it was time to play detective. Roots, from where? What is the next step? Does it and can it wait until spring now that the line is cleared? What do those little roots really represent?

The last one stumped him. He can follow my swearing, but I usually lose him when my writer’s brain emerges. I can’t blame him; it’s messy in there. But, I pressed on.

He knew what I wrote here yesterday. I had read it to him. He laughed and certainly understood the metaphor. Today, I pondered the role of roots in that metaphor. If our plumbing trouble and the sh*t that came up hadn’t been caused by a shift in the pipes but was, instead, caused by roots…

I was digging and he was following and better yet, he was getting it.

The roots we brought up were small, not the monstrous knotting kind. They’re the kind that can go without notice until they cause repeated and eventually big damage. I talked it out. He listened. These roots are like those connections–friends, family, co-workers–that we have in our lives that niggle and burrow into our vulnerable spaces, doing small, invisible, and very gradual damage. These are the ones that are difficult to cut out. Sometimes, we keep them, like the plants in our yard, because they add something to our lives or perhaps because their role is so large, they are not easily removed. Either way, like the plants in our yards, all relationships need tending and some need hard pruning.

I concluded, the small roots are almost more damaging than a single monstrous root because it is often harder to isolate and remove the damage caused by multiple invasive, suffocating strands than it is a single choking rope. It is in staying ahead of the small invasive ones, the ones that seem harmless, that the real challenge lies. Prune hard and prune often, I thought. Annual clean-outs may be necessary.

We made a quick pit stop on the way home and pulled into the liquor store parking lot. He’s earned tonight’s glass of wine. His body will most undoubtedly be feeling the day’s work in a few hours. As we browsed the selections, we both saw it. A firey red label sporting a man’s head with a plunger on it. It was almost prophetic, the day’s events mocking us. Those roots inviting us to laugh along, reminding us not to take life quite so seriously. Those damn roots inviting us to share a moment of connection and in celebration of flushing toilets.

We pulled into the driveway. I glanced at the piles of dirt crushing my landscaping. Roots! Damn you and your invasiveness, I thought quietly, but I thank you for the lessons.

Previously known as TransitioningMom.com

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