What are we going to do about this mess?

The call

“What are we going to do about this mess?”

I know it’s her when I see the caller ID. She used to know all the numbers by heart, but her mind is a mess now. She keeps my number by the kitchen phone.

“What mess?” I ask.

Honest question.

  • Did you drop a plate?
  • Lose your purse?
  • Are you trying to find dad?
  • Is the sitter annoying you, sticking too close to your every move?
  • Or is it the big mess? The mess in your head?

We’re in a mess.

Words come with great effort, and she’s tired, she can’t always explain. But sometimes, “I just sit in the chair all dad-blamed day!”

What are we going to do? She won’t like any of the answers.

I’m sad. But I don’t want the sadness or the mess to define me, so I keep looking for the answer of the moment.

The storm before the storm

Some days her frustration defines her, a hovering Pig-Pen cloud that, like the sitter, sticks too close.

A couple of weeks ago, I could tell she was undone by the pre-hurricane commotion. Unfamiliar faces of evacuees, organizing groceries, preparing food ahead of the expected outage.

“What are we doing?”

“We’re getting ready for a hurricane.”

It was time for me to leave, but I couldn’t leave her alone like this, in a cloud of confusion and frustration, her jaw set hard, muscles stiff. She was angry.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m just this, this old woman!”

She had washed my dishes, helped me in the flower beds, with some laundry, but in all the commotion, she didn’t remember doing things. She felt idle in a sea of busy people.

“Yeah, we’re both old, Mom,” I tried to inject some light into the moment.

“No!” She pounded her fist on the counter. Angry. “They don’t care about me! I’m just an old woman!”

The hurricane evacuees greeted her, gave her hugs, had small conversations, but the commotion was too much. Everyone was busy. Chit chat and hug, then scurry along to prepare hurricane food, settle pets, organize the fridge. She was just an old woman.

“They care,” I protested.

It’s never a good idea to protest.

I pulled her in for a long hug. She stayed stiff as a board. It was too much.

We have to do something.

Dad would call me a few days later.

“We have to do something about this mess!”

“What mess?” Again, honest question.

“Well, if you don’t know, there’s no point in me telling you.”

Oh, the big mess.

It’s a big mess. Most days it defines us. I don’t know what to say, what to do.

What are we going to do about it? All of the answers are unsatisfactory. We have to do something, but what?

Grilled cheese

I take me arms away from mom. Her fist is still clenched on the counter.

Lunch! I forgot about lunch. In all the commotion, I didn’t think to make lunch.

“Can I make you a sandwich?”

She stared dismissively into the back fields. A sandwich might not lure her off the ledge, but it couldn’t hurt.

“What are you doing?” She heard me pull a pan from the cabinet.

“Making you a grilled cheese. It’s already three and you haven’t had lunch. Will you forgive me?”

Still stiff, she walked around and picked up the spatula to move the butter. Something to do…

I let go of my urge to get on the highway. The storm wouldn’t be here for at least 24 hours.

“Rectangles or triangles?”

“Triangle,” she motioned with her hand. Sometimes she knows what she wants.

We sat.

“Where’s your dad?”

“He’s getting the generator ready for the storm.”

“Storm?”

“Yes, there’s going to be a hurricane.”

“Oh no,” she washes the cheese and bread with her water. “This is a mess.”

“It is. But we’ll be okay. You won’t be alone.”

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021.

 

 

Pattern Interrupts: Oh, Ida

What are pattern interrupts?

Pattern interrupts come in many shapes and sizes.

  • Vacation / War
  • Newborn / Newly deceased
  • House in flames / House under construction
  • Debilitating / Empowering
  • Fresh spring breeze / Fierce hurricane winds

Pattern interrupts heal or batter our emotional, physical, and financial well-being. They can be the cure or the hard stop. Or both. They can feel good, bad, or in between, but they’re almost always uncomfortable.

An intentional well-timed pattern interrupt is great for untethering from a habit or dull pattern. I’ve used them for overcoming writer’s block, developing healthier routines, and exploring new things.

Hurricane Ida

My current pattern interrupt is Ida. I never love a hurricane, but I don’t always hate them because a pattern interrupt can be interesting, if uncomfortable.

This time I wasn’t in the mood.

Collectively, we have not yet emerged from the giant pattern interrupt of 2020, the pandemic. My family is in a pattern interrupt as my mom is slowly swallowed by Alzheimer’s. I’m in a personal pattern interrupt as I seek balance in the author vs. editor routines.

I wasn’t in the mood because I’m tired from all the interruptions, imposed and intentional.

Lucky

I’m tired but I’m one of the lucky ones.

The big limbs fell next to my house, not on it. The rains bathed my home, they didn’t fill it. We have a generator and gas for it and we have a gas stove and water heater.

We are the lucky ones.

What is interrupted then? Some of same things we experienced in 2020. Empty shelves or closed groceries. Lines for gas and food. Inconvenience. The hurricane brings extra. Extra inconvenience, extra discomfort. Hot uncomfortable homes with damp surfaces and thick air. Spotty or broken phone and internet services. The morning breeze offers a little peace, but that peace is tempered by the 100dB hum of the 100 generators in earshot.

We’re lucky, but we’re tired.

Things we carry

For hurricane interruptions, most of the things we cling to require a generator.

Here, one cord leads from the generator to the kitchen, where I power the refrigerator and coffeemaker. I have coffee in the morning, salads for lunch, and a cool glass of wine when the sun goes down.

Another cord leads to our office, where I power the computers, a lamp, and my phone charger. I write and work, look up synonyms and post to social media. I wanted to stay connected and I am, because the generator powers our devices, and my phone sits full time on the charger to keep up with hot spot duties.

Things we create

Sometimes we develop a new routine to blast the interruption. During Covid, I devised my own pattern interrupt against the pattern interrupt, a new daily routine to prioritize my writer. This routine was my 2020 takeaway: morning pages, morning readings, and soul before soup, that is, creative writing before clocking in for work.

One week before Ida hit, I embarked on a new weekly routine designed to interrupt some blasé patterns and a daily exercise routine to interrupt… well, the spread of thighs. I worried Ida would smash it, but here I am today, blogging because its B-day. Yesterday I queried. It was Q-day. And I’ve biked or walked every day.

Pattern interrupts —intentional or imposed— can teach us a lot about ourselves. Harnessed they can be empowering. When I look back on some of my interruptions —new house, marriage, graduations, children, divorce, moves, vacations, illness, deaths—, I didn’t always go through them with my mind wide open. I wasn’t mindful about what I carried through them and mostly I didn’t create a intentional pattern interrupts of my own in answer to the situation.

I’d like to believe we come out on the other side with something we carried through, something we created, whether we are aware or not.

I’m better at mindful choices now.

  • What do I pack in that little bag to carry through the pattern interrupt?
  • What will I take away, learn or change about myself?

I wasn’t in the mood for Ida, but I paid attention.

  • What did I carry through Ida? Coffee, empowering routines, and connections.
  • What did I take away? I’m not sure yet, but as I pull on my biking shorts, I think the takeaway might be “I can do anything I set my mind to.”
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021