The highs and the lows

photo-236Humans love stories. They tend to fit into a certain format: these three things happened, ergo I had this insight and reached this conclusion. But life is not lived in epiphanies. One of the reasons I love the mosaic metaphor is that life consists of many moments, like a mosaic consists of many tiles. Some moments are stressful and some are wonderful. There is no need to draw a conclusion. These facts can exist side by side.

Parenting often puts these tiles in starkest relief, and today was one of those stark days. I decided to make this chicken soup (from a Real Simple recipe — that’s why I keep subscribing) for family dinner, which we were all going to sit down to at 5:45. And we did, like a high-functioning family. And the soup was very good! But as soon as I put the soup in front of the kids, they all howled. And not only did they howl about the soup, they howled about everything else, including the chicken nuggets I baked to fill them up (assuming they would only try the soup), and even the corn bread. They all refused to eat their corn bread. It made no sense whatsoever, and the screaming after I’d gone to the trouble of cooking a real meal did not exactly put me in a good frame of mind.

We let the kids watch TV for a bit after, and my husband and I snuck off to have some adults-only conversation. So that was nice. Then I came down to force the kids to go play in the basement, and the howling ensued again. Indeed, my 5-year-old and 3-year-old started scratching and kicking each other on the stairs, almost toppling down it, which did not improve my mood. I’m all for various challenges to stop yelling at your kids, but when they are about to seriously injure each other, you need to get their attention, pronto.

After they did calm down a bit, though, they managed to play reasonably. My 7-year-old and I played Scrabble, which was actually kind of fun. He tried to claim “Nid” as a word. I got “vexed,” which I was quite proud of. All was good until I realized I could not get up off the floor due to a pregnancy-related leg spasm. I eventually hauled myself up and did not sit down again for another 20 minutes, not wanting to risk it. We used the time to watch YouTube videos of Usain Bolt getting the world record time in the 100 meter dash. My 7-year-old is convinced that he’s only a few seconds off Bolt’s time, and if he keeps practicing running around the basement, he’ll get there.

Now they’re all up reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe with my husband. We have plans to hit the YMCA pool tomorrow morning because the little ones have the day off school. I finished most of the things I wanted to get done today, so I may just relax and read. I don’t have to work a split shift, even though my essay on that topic for Fast Company has now been shared almost 24,000 times. That’s good news, since it’s a topic I cover in Their Own Sweet Time. I’m glad to know there is interest. I’ll turn in my next round of edits on that manuscript tomorrow, and I’m really starting to like the book. I just read edits on a piece that may run in a new-to-me market soon. Life is stressful and life is wonderful. There is no contradiction here. It’s just the way the tiles fit together.

In other news: I hit NaNoWriMo 37,400 today. That’s 22 x 1700. I’m about 3 days ahead of schedule, which I hope to maintain going into Thanksgiving.

I’m also writing about departure memos — that genre of literature consisting of the letter you send to colleagues on your last day at work. Have you seen them done horribly? Have you seen them done well?

Photo: The fateful dinner.

13 thoughts on “The highs and the lows

  1. My sympathies on the dinner. Hopefully you will be able to enjoy some leftover soup in peace for lunch today 🙂

    I have to disagree about the epiphanies, but I do think the issue is complicated by personality type. The dawning of awareness based on experience is pretty different depending on how each person processes both fact and emotion, and that would influence whether we perceive an insight as an epiphany or not. There was actually a somewhat related Fast Company piece recently that explained the ways an “aha” moment differs in creative vs analytical types.

    I am curious about how this influences your fiction-writing though. It seems like the standard three-part story structure really lends itself to epiphanies!

    1. @Anjanette – the soup was pretty good as leftovers for lunch! I wish I’d made more. I agree that the 3-things-then-epiphany structure is perfect for storytelling. So I write that way too. Any personal essay is going to be based on that structure. But I don’t think life actually fits that way. I see this all the time with time makeovers. People have some insight and think everything will change. But it often doesn’t. The nitty gritty of life doesn’t lend itself to everything changing in a moment.

  2. Oh, Laura, why is food such an issue for mothers? (or fathers who prepare it!) I could get so frustrated with your brothers mostly when what I prepared was not a success! You were better for the most part–except when you took us by surprise with a sudden announcement at meal time that you were no longer eating meat (age 13?) And now you have three little ones to feed–and one more coming! Bless you!

  3. It is SUPER frustrating when you make a new recipe and no one wants to eat it. Oy.

    (Also frustrating is when I make a new recipe and not even I want to eat it. Although this is mostly avoidable by using Cook’s Illustrated/ATK recipes.)

    1. @The Frugal Girl – at least my husband ate it! (though I hope he knows better than to howl about foods put in front of him…)

  4. Oh, the farewell email! You have to do it, but it is very rarely done well. If it is good, it isn’t memorable. The only ones that stick out in my mind are the bad ones, but those emails are always worth a laugh.

    The farewell memo is a bit like the interview thank you note – it can only hurt you. In my experience, neither of these standard business communications get you any more contacts or keep you in touch with people you actually like. This is why I stopped doing the thank you notes 15 years ago. (I have still sent farewell emails that are hopefully not memorable at all.)

    I think your dinner looks awesome. One of my friends said you can always tell who parents are because the first thing they try to find out is “what are your recipes?” It’s one of those sisyphean tasks for parents. I try to take comfort in the Greek myth and feel like I learn something from the process rather than the result. That thought is more helpful on some days than others. At any rate, great job for caring about what your family eats and making something!

    1. @Christine – thanks. Yep, the departure memo is so hard to get right. It usually isn’t done well. Worst case scenario you insult your whole office. You have to be in the right frame of mind to write it, I think. Many people, upon departure, are not.

  5. I just copied my boss’s and took out most of the flowers to sound more like me in my last one: It’s been great, I loved and will miss my team, you can find me online! Bye!

    The worst one I’ve heard of was when someone said they’ve have given less notice if they could get away with it. Yeah… and you wonder why people were encouraging you to be more professional.

    1. @Revanche – your approach sounds right. As for the less-notice guy – yikes. I think if one is going to write a departure memo, it needs to come from a place of being at peace with your situation and choices. If you’re not there yet…don’t write one. Send individual notes to colleagues saying where they can find you.

  6. One of my work friends shared your split shift article and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t read your books or your blog. I thought that was cool 🙂

    I haven’t seen any really good departure memos, though I have to say it drives me a little crazy to see one from a friend/coworker that just says “I’m leaving, contact me here”. I guess I’m nosy like that and want to know why they’re leaving 😉

    1. @ARC – oh, I’m nosy too! But it’s probably in everybody’s best interest to be restrained in the note itself. Leaving a job often has emotions attached to it, and too many people are tempted to gush about how lucky they are to get out, or try too hard to defend their decision (if, perhaps, they were forced out). In any case, the details may be best saved for an in-person happy hour!

  7. I must be working at the wrong places! Most of the departure emails I’ve seen are really quite normal and bland, with perhaps a mild witticism. When I left my old firm, I wrote some personalized departure notes for the team that I worked most closely with, and that was more funny and on point. The general one was along the lines of “thank you for the great experience, I’ve learned a lot. Please be in touch.” Now I’m curious what all these “awful” goodbye notes are about!

    1. @Rinna- be grateful for boring 🙂 It can be an extremely self-indulgent genre. The worst have long lists of inside jokes, attempt to be overly philosophical, or manage to be somewhat insulting (“I’m looking forward to finally being able to put family first” — um, are you saying your colleagues’ priorities are out of whack?) In general, writing individual notes to thank people you’ve worked closely with, and sending LinkedIn invites to people you don’t know as well but would like to keep in your network is probably best. Individual communication builds bridges in a way that mass emails just don’t. Mass emails can, however, burn bridges quite efficiently!

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