Friday, May 1, 2015

Moments of Joy

Life is not the perfection depicted in soft focus Mother's Day ads. You know the ones: a young, perfectly made up, smiling blonde woman with a picture perfect baby in her arms, a vase full of roses, and a piece of jewelry with a large diamond featured prominently in the foreground. That fantasy version of life is as thin as the paper it is printed on. And, despite what the marketers insist, true joy in life is not available for purchase.

Real life is more mundane, complicated, and ambiguous than that. Wherever I have gone in the world, whether to Heidelberg or Mexico City or Whitehorse, I have discovered that I bring myself along. My perspectives, emotions, preferences, and worries come along for the ride. I interpret the experiences I have there through my own point of view. Similarly, significant events in life -- the birth of a baby, a graduation, a wedding -- are experienced through my personal filters. Add in significant others, and their perceptions and preferences, as well as the dramas and agendas of acquaintances and strangers, and the complication index rises. 

Life is not a freeze frame snapshot. Things keep happening. The ten year-old is stung by a yellow jacket. The two year-old has a tantrum. The nuts you are toasting for the salad get left in a pan on a hot burner a little too long and they burn. You feel like you have a head cold coming on. Someone at work has made a critical remark on email about a project you are working on.

Not only that, but a lot of your time isn't your own to do with what you wish. Instead it may be filled with work or family obligations and mundane tasks. Like most of us, I spend much of my time engaged in everyday routine tasks at work and at home. I attend meetings, I answer work email, I drive here and there, I cook dinner, and I do the laundry. These tasks are not primarily associated with the pursuit of pleasure. My "free" time is limited, and so it carries a heavy burden. I try to pack into it all of the experiences and passions that my regular duties exclude. 

Recently, I had a very special opportunity. I had the chance to travel to a distant city to spend time with my daughter and son in law, my not quite three year-old grandson, and my newest dear little newborn grandbaby. I was able to hold my new grandson within six hours of his birth. I was able to spend a few days helping out with cooking and childcare, and bonding with both grandsons. 

There is nothing at all that can replace the joy of gazing down into the face of a brand new grandchild and holding the that warm little body close. I also experienced the joy of seeing my strong and beautiful daughter mothering her two sons, and my wonderful son-in-law looking after his family in all the challenging little ways that occur with a newborn in the house, all on four hours of sleep. And I had the special privilege of spending time with almost three-year-old "E." 

Together "Bamma" (his word for grandma) and E read and re-read the book about the spikey haired guy, shopped for groceries, flew to the birdhouse in the top of the tree on a swing, built a cage of pillows, and made sticker pictures. E taught Bamma the proper bedtime sequence, and showed Bamma how he managed the potty and setting out his dishes for mealtime and getting dressed all by himself. 

The last full day that I spent with my daughter's family, E and Bamma went to the beach. Together we gathered armloads of driftwood and carried it down the beach. E explored a log and driftwood fort built by someone else. He considered adding his stash of wood to it but then decided to continue on down the beach. We crossed a stream, took a look at someone's dock and boat that were pulled up beyond the tide line, and then came to a patch of sand. At this spot, E directed me to drop my armload of sticks and he began to build a house. He used the smaller sticks, poking them into the sand, and propped them up with rocks as well. Then Bamma took a picture with her phone to show Mommy and Daddy when we got back home. 

E's House of Sticks

We made our way back along the beach with a few stops to examine shells and kick at patches of sand. My heart was full of love for my little guy. I felt like the luckiest grandma in the world to have had those precious few hours with him. Experiences like this, and like holding my newborn grandson, are intense nuggets of joy in the everyday flow of life. The worries and "shoulds" recede briefly to make room for the most important experiences of all. Life with all its tangles is so much better than the airbrushed media images. 

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