Racking up the Milestones

About 9:30 last night, I sat down, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. It felt like the first deep, cleansing, relaxing breath I had taken in months. It probably was! I’ve been working at a break-neck pace since the beginning of April. I knew going into this spring that my calendar was full and life would be hectic. But life has a way of spiraling out of control and making other plans.

In early April an opportunity came my way (freelance work) at the same time that I was gearing up to host a couple of large parties. I work full-time during the day so the freelance work is usually something I do on weekends. But weekends are also the only time I have to do serious spring cleaning. Even so, I was determined to find a way to do it all. I plotted it all on a calendar and though it would be a tight fit, it would all work.

The freelance project showed up and it was a mess. After talking with the project owner, it was sent back for more work. Suddenly, I found myself in a panic. The plan had been to work on the project in April, then have the first two weeks of May for spring cleaning, followed by the two parties two weeks apart. Easy peasy. Not quite. The project got pushed back a month. So, I adapted and moved up the spring cleaning. I figured I’d get all the hard work done, then do the freelance project, and then host the two parties.

I was doing okay and then, we were forced to say good-bye to another of our beloved pets. Nick the Turtle has been with our family for at least thirteen years (none of us knows for sure when Nick showed up), and we were all pretty attached. Nick was really my daughter Emily’s pet, but I was “turtle sitting” while Emily was away at graduate school studying to be a veterinarian. And it happened only a few short weeks after losing our black lab. The one remaining dog in our house went into a serious depression wondering if her time was up as well. (She’s still with us!) And I was not in much better shape, knowing I had to call Emily and let her know Nick died on my watch. But I made the call, answered her questions, wiped my tears, and dug a hole. And promptly threw out my back. Seriously. I buried Nick in one of our flower gardens, which has a gentle slope. It’s a beautiful spot and I thought the turtle spirit would appreciate being there. But digging a hole on a slope was too much strain on the dormant herniated disk in my lower back. And all the spring cleaning came to a screeching halt.

I took another look at my list of priorities and the calendar, and decided to get started on a scrapbook celebrating my daughter Brianna’s years from birth to finishing her high school education. Brianna is the last of my daughters, the last one to reach this milestone, so this is the last of these scrapbooks I will make. Gathering old photos brought me face to face with my ex-husband and memories I had shoved down deep. It was an emotionally trying effort, but one that I knew I alone must do. The scrapbook was about halfway done when the freelance editing project surfaced again. So the scrapbook got piled into a box and the freelance project took over the desk. And my life!

The revised manuscript was improved but still needed a lot of work. It was terribly dry reading and the meds I was taking for my aching back made me tired on a good day. I would read for an hour and fall asleep sitting up. So I changed up my routine and started waking up earlier in the morning so I could work on the project a couple of hours before my “real” job. I was about halfway through the project when I had to stop. I had four evenings (after my day job) to get the rest of the cleaning done before the first party. My back had improved enough that I felt I could get the rest of the work done if I took it slow and easy. So the freelance project went into a box of its own.

Back into spring cleaning mode, feeling good about the progress I was making, and the phone rang. Michael had died and I was going to have to find time to go to a wake. Michael was the ex-husband of one of my best friends. Two of his sons were very good friends with two of my daughters. And one of my daughters felt the need to go to the wake but she didn’t want to go alone. And I felt the need to be there for my best friend. Even though she and Michael had been divorced for several years, she would need to know her friends were there to support her as she helped her two young sons go through funeral planning and saying good-bye to their dad. So my daughter Rose and I went. It was nice to spend the hour drive each way catching up with Rose. She’s been super busy in her final semester of nursing school, so it was nice to be confined in a car, all alone, with nothing but time to talk. And we felt good that we both took the time to go to the wake and support this grieving family.

The next two days, I worked hard at getting through my day job then working late into the night to get ready for the first big party. Rose came and spent a couple of hours while I was at work doing some of the cleaning that would be too big a strain on my back. And my oldest daughter, Kate, arrived the night before the party and was a huge help in finishing the preparations.

Saturday, May 17! It was the Preakness horse race and my extended family reunion. And we had fun! It was a gorgeous day and there were Irish smiles on every face. A few of my cousins that I hadn’t seen in some years came along with a cousin from another branch of the family tree—to delve into the genealogy research cache that I have. It was passed down to me from a couple of my uncles and I’m really just keeping it safe until someone else wants to take it on. There’s a lot of stuff! Twelve boxes full! Every time I open a box I discover something new. Amazing! Anyway, the party was a hit, we had a full house, everyone had a blast, and California Chrome had a fantastic day winning the second race in the run for the Triple Crown.

The next morning I was up bright and early, back to work on the freelance project. I had two days to get it done and I worked on it right up to the deadline, but done it was! That was a “feel good” moment I would have loved to stop and celebrate, but there was no time. The very next day I re-opened the box with the scrapbook project. Brianna’s open house was two weeks away and I was only halfway through marking the milestones in her life. At least the spring cleaning was done. But there would be a pause for two other celebrations before Brianna’s party.

The first celebration—Emily came home! We hadn’t seen her since before Christmas. She’s been tucked away in the country Grenada at veterinarian school. She left her dorm early on Thursday morning thinking she’d be home by that night. But life happened and she had a nightmare travel experience and didn’t get home until early afternoon on Friday, just an hour or so before Rose’s graduation ceremony from nursing school, the second celebration. So as Rose walked into the auditorium wearing cap and gown, Emily walked into the auditorium through a side door having just come from the airport. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted the moment any better. Rose caught sight of Emily and smiled from ear to ear. After the ceremony we went out to dinner. It was so great to celebrate Rose’s achievement, nearly one year to the day from when she was hit by a car and we thought she might die. What a sobering thought that was.

Finally, one week left before Brianna’s open house. I scrambled and finished the scrapbook. She loved it! I dusted, vacuumed, and cleaned bathrooms. Saturday morning I did the shopping and began to prepare some of the food. Kate and her family arrived Saturday night. Sunday morning, we all pitched in and by the afternoon, we were ready. In so many ways!

Brianna had fretted about this party and didn’t think anyone would show up. We ended up with a house full of people, again. One of my brothers even kept his promise and came with bells on his shoes to celebrate Brianna’s accomplishment. It had rained for several days, but the sun came out to shine in all its glory for the party. Another moment seemingly scripted by Hollywood.

So as I took in the deep cleansing breath at 9:30 last night, a lifetime of memories passed through my mind. Raising four daughters, teaching each to crawl, walk, and talk. Helping each to learn to ride a bike, to read chapter books, to do math problems. Guiding each into adolescence, through driver’s training, and finally, the end of high school. To the point where a child crosses an imaginary line into adulthood, where she owns her decisions completely. It was a quiet moment to stop and silently shout in my mind, “I did it!”