As I've mentioned before, I have a lot of trepidation about going back to the USA for the summer. It is always very stressful and expensive, not to mention melodramatic and mentally exhausting. This summer is fixing to be a doozy. Thanks, Life. Much appreciated.
Needless to say, I've been feeling the uncomfortable under-skin itch of stress and anxiety niggling at me. I still function. Put on hair and makeup every day. Get up, teach seminary, make breakfast and lunch for my kids, get them out the door on time, get to work and put in a full day of writing, editing, and social media time. I would say that I have "high functioning anxiety," if that is an actual thing. And impending summers always make it worse.
But on Sunday of this last week, something happened that gave me just a wee bit of reassurance. You see, when we moved abroad, it was only going to be for three years. I didn't bring very many books at all. Mostly just scriptures, and church based materials I might need--which turned out to be smart, as I wound up being called as a seminary teacher, but, I digress...
I also packed a sexual education book. I bought it when my teenagers were little, and would sit down with them individually. We would read the book together, then answer questions, and have a conversation about sex, where babies come from, good touch/bad touch, etc. My teenagers hated being forced to read the books when they were 9 and 10, but were ultimately grateful that I'd opened up communication about things they'd previously considered too taboo to speak about out loud. As they grew older, and their kid brother, Charlie, my ten year old, grew and developed, they would tease him about the inevitable "book" and how mom would eventually get him and trap him and force him to read it.
As we'd been packing to move abroad, I'd grabbed that book out of my bedroom drawer, and thrown it into one of our suitcases to bring to South Korea, knowing that my two youngest boys would come of age while we were there--and that I would likely need to read the dreaded book with them. When we arrived in our apartment abroad, I'd unpacked it and slid it into a drawer for safekeeping. I hadn't even cracked that book open since reading it to my daughter at age nine, who is now nearly sixteen.
So when I pulled out the book this past Sunday, and a picture fell out of it and fluttered to the floor, my heart caught. I hadn't physically opened that book, not even to casually look at the pictures (cartoon drawings of dancing eggs, sperm, uteruses, and penises aren't my thing,) in many years, and I certainly hadn't tucked any photographs between its pages. In fact, the picture tucked in there was a photograph of my father, fly fishing (of course) with a catch on his line. He's smiling--something he didn't do much at all, which is sad, because he had such a great grin--and dressed just as I remembered him. Jeans and a worn flannel shirt. :)
When we'd packed up our house in Spokane, Washington, I'd packed that photograph with all of our others. It had been in a small metal frame for as long as I can remember, probably since I was in my teens, and I'd tossed it into a box with all our hundreds of other framed photographs. I remember doing it. And yet, somehow it wound up in that stupid book my kids hate, out of its frame.
Let me back up even further....about a week or two ago, I was talking to my dad. Yes, I realize he's dead, but I enjoy talking to him as if he's in the room every once in a while. Sometimes when my kids are acting like animals I will make a Jim Halpert face at one of the corners of the room, like this:
Because I like to think my dad in Spirit form can see me, and is sniggering at how poorly my children are behaving, (Paybacks, and all that) I will make the face and occasionally joke around with him when I am alone in our apartment. Well, the other day, I decided to offer him a challenge. I asked him to haunt me a little. To turn a lamp on, or to move a throw pillow. To do something to let me know he's still around. Because while I know he is...I still sometimes crave reassurance. When nothing happened, I jokingly called him an "amateur" and went on about my business, not thinking much about it.
And then the picture fluttered out of the book. See?? Proof. Exactly as I'd asked for it. But rather than turning a light on and off or making "wwwwwoooooooooooooooo......" sounds as I'm trying to go to sleep, my dad just sent my favorite picture to me to remind me that yes, he's here. And no, he's no amateur. It felt to me like he was saying "Hi, Bear. I'm still here. Hang in there."
(Bear was his nickname for me. It caught on, and most of the grown ups in my life called me Bear as I was growing up. As a teenager, I hated it, because teenagers hate everything about their parents, but as a 41 year old woman who misses her dad, I like it now.)
Sometimes I cannot wrap my head around some of the things I've been through in my adult life. Divorce, custody battles, dealing with someone who is mentally ill, raising kids alone, poverty, remarriage, having an autistic child, being a foster parent, losing a child, PTSD, career setbacks, alopecia, moving abroad, racism, prejudice against my political and religious beliefs, losing an estranged parent, having a cancer scare... So much to process, so much to be strong for, so many people relying on me. It's all very heavy. Occasionally the weight makes my knees buckle.
And then these little things happen, and I am reminded that:
And--if even for just a little while--I am strengthened enough to go on. This time it came in the form of an old photograph that fell out of an old sex ed book my children detest. It makes me laugh. My dad knows just how to make me laugh.
Oh, and I've also learned not to challenge a dead person to haunt you. Because they will.