So we had a very interesting Thanksgiving this year. My oldest had to have an emergency appendectomy on the Tuesday before the holiday. His surgery went very well, but the recovery has been very hard. He really couldn’t get off of the couch and he was in considerable pain and had high fevers that we were having to fight with only Tylenol, since he has a severe drug allergy to other pain medications.
We had to cancel our existing Thanksgiving Day plans and come up with a Plan B for our Thanksgiving immediately, on the fly. We did and it was perfect.
Not in the Martha Stewart version of Thanksgiving perfection, but my idea of perfection: all hell is breaking loose but you roll with it, you find something to laugh about and you keep everything in perspective.
I’m not sure why, but this kind of unpredictable chaos makes me supremely happy. Like, giddy with joy. I swear I don’t have Munchausen By Proxy or whatever, but nothing gives me joy like facing down things that life throws at us because it reminds me how very close to the precipice we all live. When something goes wrong, it reminds me of how lucky I really am because things usually go right. Truly, we all live in a house of cards, and the fact that things don’t go wrong more often is, quite simply, a miracle.
I have not had the easiest life, all appearances to the contrary since I don’t really bleed publically. I tend to nurse my wounds behind closed doors and put my head down and get it done. I have had it harder than some, easier than most, but I have definitely been around the block and earned perspective. Going through Alzheimer’s with my Mom, seeing it violently break up my family because of disagreements over her medical care, and then finally, losing my Mom…it was tough. (More on that when I someday write my best-selling scorched earth memoir, the profits of which will buy us a killer beach house to which you’re all invited.) But it was perfectly imperfect in the sense that I had everything I needed to get through, not only with my sanity intact, but with a deeper understanding of the complexities of life and personal relationships.
Life is not black and white and it is most often lived in the fuzzy grey area in between. I am comfortable with that because I have had to be. I am not comfortable around people who don’t understand this squishiness of life, or who insist that life is black and white and that they are in control. I feel sorry for them because I know they have some tough lessons ahead but also, I find them to be less compassionate, understanding and forgiving. And quite frankly, boring. These bumps and bruises of life give you depth, stories to tell, appreciation and grace. Those are my favorite people: the perfectly imperfect ones.
My looking at the bright side isn’t about pretending everything is great or perfect; in fact, it’s the opposite of that. It’s pointing out the absurdities of life and finding deeper meanings or hidden truths– and it works for me.
I remember one Mother’s Day weekend a few years ago when we were woken up from a deep sleep by the unmistakable sounds of a child barfing. We both ran into the kids’ bathroom to see our son throwing up. Then we heard another, more horrible sound: the sound of someone barfing who was most definitely not in the bathroom. We then ran into the boys’ bedroom and there was our oldest son, leaning over the top bunk, barfing all over the lower, full-sized bed. If his younger brother hadn’t started barfing first, he would’ve been lying in the direct line of puke. So how perfect is that that he was already up and barfing??
The sight, sounds and smell were too much for me, so I started gagging and ran into my bathroom and began barfing. So there were three of us throwing up at the same time. “That’s not fair,” my husband shouted. “You’re not really sick! You’re just grossed out! Quit barfing and help me out here!”
Next, my daughter woke up and you can guess what happened next. It was unreal. But I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean, how ridiculous is this? I remember saying to my husband, “It’s Mother’s Day! I can’t clean up barf on Mother’s Day!” and he was yelling back, on his hands and knees with a bucket and Lysol, “It’s Friday night, it’s not Mother’s Day for 36 more hours, you totally have to help clean this up!” It’s one of those conversations you never imagined having while you were on, say, your third date.
So when my son started complaining of a stomach ache, I knew what to do. I have never wanted to miss the signs of appendicitis, so I take stomach pains seriously. It drives my husband crazy. “Oh for goodness sake, it’s not his (or her) appendix! Not every stomach ache means that, you know,” he’d say. But this time, it did.
I had been checking on my son, doing the rebound test, making him jump to see if he could without pain and for the first day, he passed all my “appendicitis tests” with flying colors. But when he woke up the next morning, he failed them all. So as my husband was literally walking out the door to work, I told him I was bringing our son into the ER. He stopped, turned around, put his briefcase down, went and changed out of his suit.
I told my son on the way to the hospital what kind of tests they would do, what questions they would ask him, what the procedure would be if he in fact, did have appendicitis. It went exactly like clockwork, exactly as I expected. They were surprised we caught it so early, and also surprised at our lack of surprise, but they didn’t know about my weird fear of missing appendicitis.
And he was exactly where he needed to be for his appendicitis: at home during Thanksgiving break. Thank God we weren’t travelling like we usually do. Thank God this didn’t happen the weekend before, when I was out of town. Thank God he didn’t miss a week of homework at his intense school, which would’ve been a nightmare to make-up. This imperfect situation worked out perfectly!
Yes, we had to cancel our Thanksgiving plans, but we ran out to the grocery store and bought all the ingredients for a feast. I cooked for two days with my other kids and husband helping. We had fun, it smelled good in our home, it was a festive atmosphere. We had good music on and we watched a ton of movies as a family, all of us on the couch, cuddled up under blankets.
It was a bit chaotic running from the kitchen, cooking a seven-course Thanksgiving meal, to the couch, to take care of our patient. The only dish that suffered were my mashed potatoes, because the potatoes were left boiling too long. They were a little gluey and didn’t look beautiful, but they tasted pretty darn good. When I placed the dish on the table for dinner, my 9-year old wanted to know why I had made oatmeal for Thanksgiving dinner? Oh, well.
The first day my son started to feel better, I was so relived I took a two hour nap, showered and shaved my legs. Out of the woods! Back to the business of normal everyday life. And then, a pipe burst in the basement. But how perfect is this: since we were all at home with our recovering son instead of out at one his usual millions of basketball games…we caught it immediately. The kids were downstairs and called up that they heard dripping water.
My husband put buckets under the leak, which was happening in a little closet. He had to empty them every hour. The plumber couldn’t make it out till Monday, so the village came out and shut off our water in the afternoon. The plumber didn’t get here until 1:15 today, and he’s still here, two hours later, working as I write. I have three toilets that are filled with little kid pee and poop, as we can’t flush them. It is delightful. It is about as imperfect as you can get. But really, it’s no big deal. It’ll get fixed, the toilets will get flushed, it’ll be fine. It always is.
When things go wrong, it just serves to remind me how the vast majority of the time, things are going absolutely right. You need a bit of sickness thrown in to remind you of your vibrant health that you normally experience– and sometimes take for granted. When a pipe bursts, you marvel that it doesn’t happen more often. When the bitter comes in life, it makes the sweet taste sweeter. This is what life is. It’s not supposed to be perfect and how would we appreciate anything if it were? I appreciate my perfectly imperfect life the most when things go wrong and it makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world.