My earliest childhood memory came to mind today, as it often does when I am reminiscing. This little girl, three or four years old, happily toddling across a hardwood floor in the living room of the home she shared with her parents and two little brothers. Light streaming in from tall windows, carrying sparkling fragments of Northern New York dust down to land gently, silently on the coffee table behind her; while she straightened the colorful, crocheted blanket on the back of the monstrous sofa. Standing on her tippy-toes, she was barely able to stretch her little body across the cushion to tug on a tassel. Music was coming from somewhere, maybe the big console tv in the corner, or from the record player in the next room. There was always music. Maybe that’s why, to this day, music is so important to her. At the end of this little reverie, my parents appear in the doorway to the dining room – smiling, happy.
This nostalgic vignette sheds light on another constant in my life – HOME. My happy place. The one constant I can carry with me… even when I’m not there. The roots of which, dig deep; even though the familial foundations were short-lived. My parents divorced when I was five.
Fast forward almost 50 years to any Saturday morning. My iPhone is plugged into the soundbar on the entertainment stand in the corner, filling the whole house with tunes from my favorite Spotify playlist. I’m flitting around the living room, Swiffer duster in hand, sometimes pausing to belt out a chorus into the yellow-handled ‘microphone’. Diffused light flowing through the sheer curtains that cover the big picture window behind the faux leather sofa (no blanket) carries equally sparkly Nebraska dust particles into the room (no coffee table). Katy Perry, Juicy J, and me… we’re warning everyone to beware of the Dark Horse that’s “comin’ atcha!” Water the plant, dust the piano, sweep the hardwoods; “… cause once you’re mine, once you’re mine, there’s no going back!” Just me… and URL, my 10 year-old miniature schnauzer. He is not phased at all by my dance moves, but is patiently waiting for the area rug to be vacuumed so he can roll around on his back, flailing all four legs in different directions. I call it frolicking.
This is not exactly the scene you would expect to witness in the home of a divorced mother of five, who’s been on her own for the past seven years; juggling work, bills, matters of health & wellness and dating after age 50, is it? Juggling sounds like I'm handling things flawlessly; like those balls are swishing through the air one after the other without even a little hitch. Not! Balls have been dropping all over the place! I have scrambled for what seems like forever to retrieve one while another gets away - like wrangling five very young children for "perfect" Christmas card photos. It suddenly dawned on me today though, over the past several years, I have somehow managed to organize my personal disasters into their own neat little cubicles... somehow. How did that happen? How did I find my way back to this seemingly calm, happy place?
I don't know exactly when I started doing this, but Sudoku puzzles have become my Saturday morning ritual - before any cleaning commences. I wake when I'm ready. No alarm on this day. I shuffle out to the front porch in my pajamas to retreive the Tribune. Hopefully, the carrier didn't chuck it too far down the sidewalk since I'm dressed this way. Grind the coffee beans. Add cold water. Push the button. A few minutes later, I am sitting at the kitchen table or, in the summer, on the back deck with my coffee in hand, paper folded neatly in a small square, exposing only the puzzle. Saturday Sudokus are the best. They're five stars. The hard ones. I love a challenge!
I'm guessing anyone who likes to work these puzzles has a method, a system that they use to figure out which numbers go where. I don't. Not really. I kind of work it backwards if I'm honest. Huh. I just realized that. I also read the paper from back to front. Not sure when I started doing that either, or why. Hmmm... Back to my puzzle. By backwards I mean, I figure out where the numbers CAN'T go, and by process of elimination only one empty square remains. That's where this particular number has to live! Simple, right? No. This is a five star puzzle, remember?
Have you ever seen a movie where the main character is a genius kid solving a cipher? All the letters and numbers get blurry and float around the screen until one by one they become crystal clear, and the puzzle pieces all fall into place. That's kind of how my puzzles work. I know. Weird, right? The numbers don't actually jump off the page and float around. Don't send your letters of concern just yet. lol!! But, when I pull the paper back away from my face (I'm not doing it because my glasses are still on my nightstand. Haha!!), I can see all of the numbers at the same time. It's easier to see what's missing. I can see a lot of 7's, so I look to see where the few that are missing will fit. Before I know it, my puzzle is done and it's time to clean the house.
Up close, the hard things in life look daunting, confusing. If we step back to view the big picture we can see what is missing. Think about it. A major life event... could be divorce, the death of a sibling, your kid's medical condition; how do you deal with it? There will be a lot of information to process. There will be a lot of emotions involved. It can be messy. When you're in the middle of it, you can't see through the tangled, gnarly knots of pain and confusion. It will seem like you'll never get back to dancing around the living room again. And you won't, if you stay there. Step back; find a clearing. Take a deep breath and take in the view. From this perspective, you can see more clearly what needs to be done.
Seven years ago, I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. I was getting divorced. I had been married for 19 years. Four of my five kids were still living at home. I did not have a career, or even a job. We homeschooled. My ex was in no position to help financially, even if he wanted to. It was Christmas. My family was 1300 miles away. I spent whole days in my bedroom, curled up in a ball on my bed, crying, agonizing, worrying myself almost to death. I really did feel like I was dying. My life was an absolute mess, but I still had all these responsibilities!
It is only now, looking back at this terrifying, gut-wrenching time in my life, that I realize what I did. I took a step back. A really, really big step! I packed up the kids and went home to New York. We stayed for six weeks. Some of my kids went to public school for the first time in their lives. I looked for a job, and a place for us all to live. In the meantime, all five of us crammed into my parents' two bedroom double-wide. Yep. Very cozy. My intention was to stay there, in New York, finish raising my family, pick up the pieces and move on with my life. That is not what happened. But, six weeks was enough time to think things through, regroup, make a plan. I was able to look at the 'big picture' from the safety of my parents home. I took a time-out; gave myself some space.
Here we are, seven years later, back in Nebraska. All of my kids are adults now. I have a beautiful one year-old grandson! I go to work every weekday, and clean my house on Saturday mornings. Yes, most times I'm dancing and singing along with my music... after my Sudoku puzzle is complete, of course. That rough patch is behind me. There have been others; some equally devastating. But, now I have insight. I know what to do when the going gets tough. I step back, take a long view, breathe. Then, I get to work. It's not always easy to take those hard steps, but hindsight is a great teacher. I call it big picture thinking. Next time you find yourself in a tight spot, you should try it. It works!