Book Stories Travel

Not Going to Apologize

 

I’m tired of apologizing for things this summer. I’m tired of explaining I haven’t gotten to email, I can’t get to my Facebook. I’ve had the same chipped toenail polish on my feet for maybe a month now. And I’m not going to apologize for that either. It just isn’t important enough.

 

My goal for these two short months of summer was to spend this block of time absolutely putting my kids first. As a part-time working Mom (everyone tells me its full time but I fake it by working at home) I never quite feel as if I’m completely turning my high beams on my kids. There is always something I have to do, groceries, work, dinner, simmering in the back of my mind.

 

That’s why I did something that is not in my nature; something that would connect me more tightly to my kids, slow my pace, make me still. I ordered an old-fashioned wooden jigsaw puzzle online from Liberty Puzzle in Boulder Colorado. I had seen these puzzles at a girlfriend weekend in Montana and been captivated by the intricate wooden puzzle pieces; shapes of people, buffalos, shooting stars and so many more. They were works of art.

 

Not being a puzzle person, or even much of a game/card enthusiast, I found myself surprisingly excited at the choices on the website. So many pictures, how many pieces? I wanted something that would be a long-term project, that we could go back and forth with and spend minutes and even hours lost in the search for building and creating. I wanted to feel the triumph of teamwork and to give us all that sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a section. We chose a Currier and Ives print of a train, mostly because it had the largest number of pieces we could find.

 

When the puzzle arrived and I dumped out all the intricate pieces I felt dismayed for a moment. What was a novice doing setting the bar so high? My girls looked up at me expectantly. How would we ever begin? My first inclination, being a type A person, was to organize all the sky blue pieces and then the border pieces and then the smoke stack gray pieces and the grass on the landscape.

 

“No,” my girls said in a chorus. “We want to do it our way.” And they began with a little section, building it out and plucking the pieces from the giant pile. I would have to learn to do it their way. Wasn’t that the point after all? not to rush through this, but to pick our way, to follow their lead.

 

This past spring was a flurry of speaking engagements and a book tour whirlwind, of leaving my kids for nights at a time. I missed the very last day of third grade of the very last kids I’ll ever have. I came home to their artwork already unpacked on the table, the backpacks, empty and limp.

 

On the way home from a book reading I picked up a copy of Ann Hood’s “Comfort.” We had met one another at a book event and had made a connection. I hesitated before opening the slim white cover, knowing it was a book about the unexpected loss of her daughter. In beautiful and painful prose she weaves the agony of what I consider to be the thing from which you never recover.

 

In the book, she describes how she and her daughter have what they call the “puzzle room” where they work on puzzles together after school, after homework, where they find the rhythm of mother and daughter banter.

 

It was reading this on the plane that made me decide I needed my own puzzle experience with my family. I didn’t want to lose them, to have them grow up and not be able to say “we used to do puzzles together.” Just once, I wanted us to be puzzle people.

 

The puzzle is still all over the dining room table. We find bits of time to do it. We laugh, we get mad at each other and I break up twin-type altercations, but mostly it feels like summer to me. The crickets buzz at night, the geese honk out on the lake, and wispy clouds sit low on the mountains on many of the misty mornings. I can hear a whipoorwill call and the scamper of chipmunks around my flower beds. As I walk by the dining room table before anyone else is awake and look at all those uncoupled pieces I don’t feel the sense of what is undone. Instead, I feel a satisfaction in what we will do together, on our own timetable.

 

 

 

30 Comments

  1. Paulette

    July 23, 2009 at 3:15 am

    Love reading your blogs, they are like extensions of your book. Your sense of humor comes thru, as well as your sincerity and positive outlook on life. Speaking of your book tours, wish you would come to Atlanta, i would so be there 🙂 Take care.

  2. Ellen

    July 26, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    What a wonderful idea for us Type A people! My kids, ages 6 and 4, love puzzles, and I find that doing them does help me slow down.

    It was really nice to see you at BlogHer.

    Ellen

  3. Sari

    July 27, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    I went on a vacation with my family this weekend and read your new book. I loved it. We must be close to the same age because I could relate to so many of the things you wrote about. I loved the comment about Bread and Baby I’m a Want you – I loved that song in the 70’s. I hope you and your kids have a wonderful vacation.

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  5. MishaPowerauto

    July 29, 2009 at 7:03 am

    Hello. I think the article is really interesting. I am even interested in reading more. How soon will you update your blog?
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  6. Liz

    July 31, 2009 at 12:26 am

    Lee,

    Thanks again for saying what so many of us must think !! I can so relate to your newest blog entry-

    We all see people and families we admire, and would like to be more like- how about the music family ?? They all play instruments…!

    I remember when my kids were growing up, feeling the same way so many times…we can never redo being a parent, and get back the years- so I think you are right on it- if you can catch yourself wanting to do something- do it. My children are adults now- well- kind of..the 22 year old still has away to go, but as they were growing, I worked out side of the home and tried on all my time off, to never have regrets as to how we spent our family down time- things were let go, so that other things could happen- Saturdays were often spent going to a library for arts and crafts, or a puppet show, or a musical performance in a park- instead of doing all the cleaning and laundry- then there were soccer games, dance class, etc. So….do your puzzel , watch a good movie, play a card game- soon enough, the years will be gone, and then you can be like me, looking back and not feel regret that you did not spend enough time with them…I laughed about missing the last day of 3rd grade- it is so something I would say too….

  7. Alice

    August 1, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Lee,
    I just finished your new book and loved it! My children are similar ages to yours, and I could relate to much of what you said. Caring for aging parents, aging ourselves, and rearing teenagers are all topics I could relate to. Also, as a morning swimmer myself, I enjoyed your “Swimming Through It” chapter. Thanks for the book. I look forward to your next one!
    Alice

  8. Jan Hunt

    August 1, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Thanks for giving me the “okay” not to apologize for not being a sports but. After three kids and so many seasons of sport in junior high, high school, and a little in college, I never “got it”. Never got the lingo, what a basketball screen was, never got team strategy. I am reading the “Take Me out of the Ball Game” chapter in your book, and you’ve made me feel much better.

    I always dreaded those orange questions (sports and leisure) in the orginal Trivial Pursuit, and if I HAD to take one, I always hoped somehow I would get a board game question or maybe something so obscure no one would have known. I don’t know the obvious, what everyone else knows, who is playing in the Superbowl, or the Final Four. I cheer at games inappropriately at time, but mostly just sit with a blank look. I really only care if my child is happy out there, doing his or her best, having a great game and a lot of fun. I love it when they have the “game of their life” and I cry with them when they are crushed. I really don’t care who wins, if my child has a good game. Sad?? I can’t change. My last child just graduated, and there has been no improvement. I still don’t truly understand any of the sports they played (31 seasons in all in high school alone). Lots of all-county awards and MVPs, etc. Not at all like my childhood! I was in horse shows and really knew how to lose, but I did have fun!

    Thanks Lee, for your wonderful book. I am enjoying every chapter. The sports one particularly hit home for me though. I also wanted to comment that I had to wear one of those blue gym suits with the elastic legs- they were just awful!!

    Thanks, JH

  9. Lisa Buksbaum

    August 2, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Dear Lee:
    We met at BlogHer when you were doing the radio show.
    I devoured your book, laughing and crying out loud on the plane back to NYC. I was laughing so hard I was crying over the themepark adventure… the caveman size turkey legs, going on each ride with the kids….
    Your voice is strong, your stories poignant and funny. I fell in love by the end of the first chapter. I swim five days a week, was a soccer coach for two years (more like team mom, I made all the kids feel part of the team and proud, but never knew the names of the kicks, or moves),

    I started a charity called Soaringwords after three experiences with death and illness in my family. The mission is to inspire millions of ill children and families to “never give up!” We’ve reached over 500,000 kids and families around the country. We invite the ill kids to pay it forward by creating things to inspire other hospitalized kids… SoaringArtwork, SoaringFables, haikus, superheroes … and share programs with employee volunteers. Our signature is SoaringQuilts and SoaringPillows which are decorated with inspirational messages and artwork and donated to the kids.

    I was invited to be a guest expert on GMA with Ann Pleshette Murphy. I did a piece on Ten Things to Never say to a Parent who has lost a child, which ran after Jett Travolta died. Is Ann the one you mention in your book? I’d love to include some of your essays on Soaringwords.org and speak to you about our Internet TV show.

    I’d love to speak to you, can you send me an email so we can figure out a time to connect.
    Many thanks and much love,
    Lisa

  10. Andrea

    August 3, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Hi Lee,
    I finished reading Perfectly Imperfect 5 minutes ago. Thank you for being so honest! Tonight, I will hug my 2 little sons a lot tighter and thank my husband for all of the thoughtful gifts that he has given me in our 14 years together. I will hide my childhood jewelry box in a safe place away from robbers and I will look at my knees differently. THANK you to your family for weaving your book. What a treat to spend a rainy day with you and them.
    XOXOX, Andrea of New Jersey
    PS Now go finish that puzzle! 😎

  11. Mary-Katherine Rogers

    August 3, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Dear Lee,
    I hear you! No apologies necessary. I just finished your book and now am going to comment in a few places. We do a puzzle this last Christmas as a family – it reminds me and my husband of Christmases past with our grandparents – and is an excellent way to relax the brain and forget about the computers and TVs vying for our attention. So thanks for the wooden puzzle tout! You are very sensible to just have a few pithy posts a month. Kudos!

  12. Susie

    August 21, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    Thank you for your continued blogs. In watching Julie and Julia one can see that the writer/reader connection is more meaningful than one realizes. So don’t stop. In this world of strived/contrived perfection of mid life, your writings bring a much needed touch of loving and humorous reality. I sometimes think if I started one it would be titled What You Can’t Possibly Expect Even After Reading This. Have you ever heard the saying a mother is only as happy as her least happy child? What do you think of that? My 21 yr old daughter’s heart was broken/shattered by who she and all of us thought was the love of her life. I swear I felt that pain right along with her this past summer. I had a ceramic fruit bowl from the 30s that had been my grandmother’s m and m bowl for all to get a treat from. One day my two sons were playing catch w/ a football in the house and of course after I said Careful… it broke into so many pieces. I yelled and cried. I have only a couple mementos of my childhood and that had been special. My husband kindly cleaned up the mess and let me shower away my tears. A few weeks later he came up to me and said I am not sure it will still hold m and ms but it is only missing one piece. He had super glued so many pieces and put the bowl back. I thought the mess had been thrown away. It is now safely in my glass hutch that is filled with sentimental things. The bowl means more to me now than ever before. This summer I tried doing that with my daughters heart. She is now back at college with what I hope is a super glued heart. I am not sure if I did as good a job as my husband and I made a couple big mistakes that would be a chapter of their own. I just know supergluing hearts would be in my What I Never Expected Parenting book. Your kindred spirit. Susie Mom of 4 who lives in Auburn CA near Truckee and does the bookstore arranging of your books!

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