The Day IKEA Ate My Heart (and other tales of hyperbole and jest)

Hey Huffington Post readers! Welcome. Looking for my Five Reasons post? Find the first one here.

How can a place this crisp make me *that* sweaty?

On Monday, I told Riley that this was the week I was going to get back into life. Writing two hours a day, clean house, dinner made every night!, service for others, wonder for the dear children and finally, finally an orderly house. You know with all the framed pictures finally picked up off the floor and a place for every little sock and stray crayon. He was supportive, as he is every time I make the new old decision to live deliberately.

On Tuesday, I woke up bright and early. Well, at 7:45 am, but my attitude was a “chipper 5am early bird gets the worm” sort of attitude. I cleaned the house. I scooped old food out of the back of the fridge and took out all the trash. I did laundry. I remembered to feed the kids more than breakfast crackers. I returned emails. I was, I thought, totally bleeping doing this thing called life.

And then I decided to go to IKEA. You know, the place that is literally a maze you have to sniff your way through? The place that tries to convince its customers that a lack of customer service is really empowering because,

“Look at you finding everything by yourself! Spending an extra hour trying to figure out the difference between the stuva oopsilong and stuva oopsilang means that you have saved money, the rainforest and that tiny piece of your heart that any other big box store would have painted black with icky consumerism.”

Ummm. Hey. IKEA. Your stuff is only a little cheaper than Target and at least there I get helped to my car. Also. Instructions for building furniture that have words instead of primitive pictograms. I’m onto you. You’re The Man, even if you have figured out how to make an entire line of furniture called“Lack” something English speaking people find fulfilling. Stop trying to sell virtue along with the Stockholm Collection. It’s annoying.

Anyways, I threw my principles into the approaching summer storm and drove to IKEA. I was in that damn place for three and half hours.

Because maybe I need that shelf? No, definitely that one. Hmmmm. I bet that I can’t live without that wall mounted planter. Unless I can. Walk some more. Hey, Zuzu and Viola? Would you mind not climbing into the five hundred beds sprinkled throughout the store? No. Keep walking. We can’t get that stuffed animal. Unless we can. Stay next to me, I’ve got to write down 154,982 numbers so that I know what 85 components I need to make the 3 pieces of furniture I am purchasing.  Let’s get lunch. Who wants meatballs? Just me? Okay, I’ll get nine. Holy hell, nine was too many. I feel sick. Hey, guys? Can you not climb on the kids tables? Or do. Okay. Done eating? Let’s keep going. I think we’re done in the showroom floor, let’s go to the marketplace. Do I need a $9 wok? Yes. Probably. No. Oh my gosh. So many lights and rugs and really awful art prints. Hey, lady. Put down the world map. Everyone has it. I have it. You can do better. Have you been to Target? Still walking. I thought they had shortcuts to get through this thing. I totally remember shortcuts. Found it! Wait. I’m back at the lights. Oh, hey Vi and Zuzu. Tired of walking? Let me hold you. I am mama, hear me roar. This is great. We are almost through. I can do this. Just get to the self-serve area, load up the cart with boxes and go.

Only at self-serve, I couldn’t find the right boxes. I found a lonely worker hiding behind a bureau.

“Oh, you wrote down the combination number. We have that there so that the customers can get the list of all the components at once. We use that number to look it up on the computer. But not the one down here. You’ll have to go back upstairs.”

The women upstairs were as confused as the man downstairs..

They suggested I take a photo of what I wanted and go from there. So I did. The detective work that ensued was as exhausting as it is uninteresting.

Cut to forty minutes later, three carts full of boxes and two children weeping with heat, exhaustion and maybe just a little fear that we had entered a place we would never be allowed to leave. My mom and sister had come with the truck to help load everything up. They started to push everything towards the door when my mom turned to me,

“Hey, this is stupid. This stuff will take you three days to put together, there will be at least one piece missing and it won’t last into next year. Why don’t you just spend fifty dollars more and get something that won’t drive you bat&*^% crazy.”

Her suggestion was so logical it made me cry. So I left the boxes and my good intentions and climbed into the car and cried all the way home.

I just really wanted that day to be the start of something new and somehow I had left that big blue store feeling like something old.  I called Riley and cried some more. And then turned down the radio so the girls could sleep and cried some more. And then got home and, you know, cried some more.

And when the tears had cleared and the house got quiet, I found that part of my soul that the day had dampened and let it dry out.  So maybe I decide to live deliberately every few months after another few months of chaotic living. So maybe the shoes will never have their place, maybe the emails will fill my inbox and maybe the dinner will be made late, when it’s made at all. My intentions are good and my hopes are strong. And you know what? When those two things take a beating, I’m going to be glad I invested in good furniture. Or at least, middle of the road furniture. Can’t you just hear it now?

“Man, today was frenetic. At least I am not having to Gorilla Glue the girl’s desk together again.”

Hmmmm, doesn’t that just warm the cold and dreary spirit?

So long, IKEA. I’m quitting you.

Until I’m not.

A Call to Womanhood: The Outrageously Outraged

shame on you!

There was traffic going both ways as I waited to turn left out of Riley’s office complex the other day. While I inched forward looking for a chance to go, a women in a beige SUV pulled up behind me. She was applying mascara and craning her neck around trying to see what the hold up was. (The cars streaming past us in either direction should have been a clue.) After about a minute of waiting, she began honking and waving her hands in the air at me while shaking her head. Her mouth was stuck in some sort of extended and angry OOOOOHHHHHH. It was like I was being chastised by a very blonde anime character. Another thirty seconds and then a hole in the traffic finally opened up. I drove away and let her wait her turn.

It had been a hard morning for me. The kids had cried on and off for hours, I couldn’t find my wallet and I was on my way to my parent’s house to pack it all up before my mom moves this next month. The woman in the car didn’t know I was already close to tears, that I couldn’t find my breath, that I was on my way to pack up my dead dad’s room and books. She just knew she had waited 20 seconds longer than she thought should have.

I wished I had stepped out of my car and asked her to interact with the world with more kindness and understanding. I deserve that much. We all do. And I was angry at myself for the rest of the thirty mile drive for not doing at least that much for myself and others.

Last night, I met my sisters at Chuck-a-Rama, a local buffet place that serves turkey dressing all year long, neon orange chicken some of the time and prides itself on it’s 64 drink choices. We, despite all of our better sense, love it. The kids can get macaroni and cheese WITH their pizza and fries? Immediately? And the bread pudding doesn’t have raisins? Where do I freaking sign up?

After a week of deciding what would fit into my mom’s much smaller new house, what needed to be thrown away and what of my dad’s deserved saving, we were all emotionally and physically exhausted. We’d gone to that all you can eat mecca to find respite in the mountains of mashed potatoes and noisy dining room. The kids sat next to us, ate all their food and then started playing Moon Landing. Moon Landing is one of those childhood games that make no sense. It  involved them sitting in their seats, climbing onto each other’s laps while laughing and saying in normal, non-yelling, speaking voices, “3-2-1 blast off!”. I don’t really get the rules, but the kids do and it was keeping them busy.

I am not about to pretend that this is behavior I would let happen in a setting different from the one we were in. But the dining area was so loud I could hardly hear across the table, there were people eating gravy on top of their mac and cheese and the server had just told us how cute the kids were. Basically, it just wasn’t a big deal.

Until it was.

A woman the booth over got up, walked over, told the kids to be quiet and then turned to us. Riley was in the restroom at the time and she only looked at the mothers present while she talked, her eyes staying away from the one man left at the table.

“You ought to be ashamed. I raised five boys and they never played in restaurants. These children should be sitting forward and quiet. And you!”, pointing to my one sister and her 8 month old baby, “Look at the floor around that child! Filled with crumbs! You ought to be ashamed! My kids never got crumbs on the floors at restaurants. I cannot believe you. This is disgusting. You should all be ashamed.”

I have to admit I was on the verge of being indignant until she use the word “ashamed” 562 times. And then when she yelled about the baby getting some cracker crumbs on the floor, I started laughing. Because that was just silly.

A few more words from both sides and then she went to sit down, all red faced and prim lipped.

I thought of the angry woman in the car and all the things I wished I had said to her. Then I took a deep breath and walked up to the angry woman in the booth.

“Hey, you know, I can see that the kids are being more rambunctious than you might approve of in your own family. However, they are sitting in the booth, they aren’t yelling and their laughter is quieter than the discussion about the World Cup happening three booths over. If you are bothered by something, a simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are the best way to go about getting your point across. People are much more receptive to sweetly spoken needs than self-righteous proclamations of shame and judgment. Also, I think you should take a moment to reflect on the fact that you never know the story of the people you judge. Our dad just died and we’ve just spent the last week packing up my parent’s house before the bank forecloses on it. We are tired and sad and this ridiculous buffet is the first breath of fresh air we’ve had in awhile. Your words have hurt people that are already hurting. I cannot for the life of me see how the laughter of three children justifies that cost. ”

She started to shake her finger at me and I put my hand up,

“No, you’ve said enough. Have a better Sunday.”

And then I walked away.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that both incidents happened between women. I’ve never met a man that was as ready to judge, instruct or reprimand as a woman who is sure she is right. Maybe men are more tolerant creatures, or maybe they are just too busy thinking about boobs and cars to give a damn. Either way, give me a distracted man over a crusading woman any day of the week.

A few thoughts for the two ladies that shared their indignation with me over the last few days: You do not have the right to not be inconvenienced. Your schedule is not the mechanism that moves the world or the actions of the inhabitants thereof. Children should not run wild, but when you are eating at a place that serves food out of troughs you cannot expect to dine in the atmosphere of a library. A car is not a place where your obligation to act humanely disappears. If the people around you are not being unsafe or untoward than you just keep on trucking along.  I can see you in there, with your sneer and mouthed yells and let me tell you, it is not a pretty sight. Would you yell and flail your hands and OOOOOOHHHHH your mouth  if you thought the person in front of you at the redbox line was taking too long? No. Because that would be psychotic.

Hey, girl. You look psychotic.

You do not know better and you do not do better. You know who else doesn’t? Me. I am barely making it through most days right now…and those are the good ones. Don’t even get me started on the bad ones.

So I am going to take a deep breath, shake the anger out of my heart and give you both the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you are having a hard time, too. Maybe you have sorrow that has been channeled incorrectly and turned you into a rage zombie. Maybe you just wish someone would hear your voice and it doesn’t matter one whit how, why or who you use it for or against. Maybe you just really, really need a hug.

I am going to decide to see you as you truly are – my sisters, women who have the same purpose and value as me. I am going to give myself permission to speak up with a gentle heart every time someone like you crosses a line. Having empathy for you doesn’t mean putting up with the bitterness you want to drop at my feet. And finally, I am going to work like hell to make sure I am the kind of woman that assumes the best of every woman that accidentally vexes me as she crosses my path. Because there is nothing – errands, opinions, schedule or convictions about parenthood, marriage or morality – that  is more important than her understanding that she is loved.

Hey, you are loved, too.

Now, let’s start fresh, shall we?

Immortal Clay

My little brother is serving an LDS mission. He is in Germany for two years working to serve the spiritual and temporal needs of the people he encounters. Dad died when he was just five months into the mission. This project I’ve undertaken is personal, but I think, in this space, with my lovely readers, it is alright to share. 

photo of dad and daniel, by justin hackworth

Dear Daniel,

Dad spent more time talking about you than not in the months before he died. He was so anxious for you to understand your worth, so proud you were immersed in the Lord’s work and so worried you wouldn’t have enough mail to get you through the hard hours, days and weeks. His mom sent him something in the mail almost every day of his mission. It wasn’t always a letter, even for a loving mom there wasn’t enough to write about that often. Sometimes it was a funny card she saw at the grocery store, a clipping from the newspaper or just a photo of the people back home that loved him. He saved much of this correspondence and as a child, I remember loving to thumb through the silly morning cartoons and little somethings she’d sent across the ocean to a boy she loved.

We were eating BBQ at his favorite local smokehouse when the subject came up again.

“I keep thinking about Buddy. You know, some days are just so lonely and it is so meaningful to come home to something in the mailbox. But it’s hard to think of something to write every week on top of emails and regular letters. I’ve been thinking, what if someone sent him snippets of literature, poetry and other interesting writing? For example, a favorite passage from Mark Twain with the reasons that it is loved. The thoughts it brings to mind. It would be a great way to expand his horizons while he is gone while also filling his mailbox. I think if someone were to do that, it would be as meaningful for them as it was for Daniel.”

And then he took another bite of his ribs and the conversation moved on to other things.

You know Dad. He was asking me to take on this project without really asking. I thought about it for a minute and then got caught up in fall, winter and then the months that came and took him away. In the time since he has been gone, I have missed him for me, but I have also missed him for you. I had a sitter today and should have been working. Instead, I drove around town and cried over the pen pal you’ve lost. I pulled into a parking lot and bent into the steering wheel and asked the air around me what I could do to help you, to give you the experience Dad was so anxious for you to have. Through the wet on my cheek and the grip on the wheel I felt a drop of calm and remembered that conversation over spice rubbed ribs and mustard sauce.

I can’t give you the letters Dad would have written, but I can finally start the project he sneakily laid on my doorstep that day. I don’t know how much it will help you. I can tell you that it will help me. Dad used to call me just to tell me about a good line he’d read in his latest book and he was always interested when I came to him with new to me discoveries he’d found years ago. Right now, I can’t think of a better way to keep that close to me.

So, you’ve got about 54 weeks left in Germany and I’ve got at least 54 new and old discoveries to share. Some will catch you where you stand and others you’ll watch pass you by. There will be lightfilled poems and heartwrenching prose. And maybe just a few thoughts on astronomy, gardening, food cultures, the likelihood of a zombie apocalypse or anything else that sparkles long enough to catch my wandering eye. I can’t say that the collection will be more than its many little parts. I can say Dad wanted us to have it. And for me, right now, that’s enough.

First, a poem from CS Lewis. I found these lovely lines in a book given to me by my friend, Rachel. She sent it to me in the weeks before Dad’s death and it has been a constant companion since then.

 

Walking Away

for sean

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –

A sunny day with the leaves just turning,

The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play

Your first game of football, then, like a satellite

Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see

You walking away from me towards the school

With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free

Into a wilderness, the gait of one

Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away

Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,

Has something I never quite grasp to convey

About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching

Ordeals which fires one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so

Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly

Saying what God alone could perfectly show –

How selfhood begins with a walking away,

And love is proved in the letting go.

 

Daniel, we could sit and talk about the concepts introduced in those few words for hours and hopefully, someday we will. But for now, I will share just a few brief and incomplete impressions.

First, I think sometimes as we grow up we feel that we must be the ones that do the walking away to achieve our selfhood. You and I both know now, that isn’t true. Dad never would have walked away from us, rather he was carried from us. But he is away, nonetheless. So you and I and all the people that looked to him, and the partnership comprised of him and mom, are left a little like our friend in the poem, searching for a path where none seems to lie. The path is there, it is just waiting for you to make it. Take the first step. Yes, we’ve been burned by the ordeals that fire and set our irresolute and immortal clay. Buddy, I want you to know, that it’s okay if it feels too hot sometimes. Don’t let the heat distract you from the flames’ work. Acknowledge the pain of the fires that lick and then feel about your soul for the things they’ve hardened into place.

Second, in both the most brilliant and most agonizing moments of mortality, we are given glimpses of God. Separation is the act most necessary for us to establish our eternal selfhood. We must walk away from home to get back it both in mortality and immortality. You and I believe that we were sent here, away from our heavenly home so that we could become more like God. What I think we often forget is that by reaching to become our best selves, we are also reaching for our divine selves. God trusts us to become like Him by living up our truest selves. It’s a beautiful and heady and honorable task. You are strong enough for it, I promise.

And finally, love does not dissipate across the distance of space or time. Rather, those two things work to prove its construction. Love doesn’t simply reach across the baseball field, the move from home, the closed casket. It overcomes them and sees clearly beyond them and and picks us up to place us in the spheres we are meant to inhabit. We’ll find one another there when this mortal daylight dims. Until then, we’ve got fire to face, paths to make and love to prove.

I’m watching from across the field and buddy, you’re doing just fine.

Love,

meggie

Ride On

On Saturday, Riley and I shook off our househead and took the girls to the Strawberry Days festival in the next town over. It was one of those – hot damn the sun is burning my soul – kind of days. All the colors of the carnival rides were multiplied by the heat. Just hip high, my daughters looked at the carousel and ferris wheel and spinning orbit of death with awe across their eyes and rose red cheeks. I wanted to see the small festival in their big way, so I knelt down and held them while we looked up.

I grew up on fairs and festivals. I can hear my childhood in the clink of the gates at the front of the line. Taste it in the funnel cakes and spiral cut potatoes. Glimpse it in the exhilarated faces of my girls while they ride something that is just a little faster than they expected. I can’t really explain it. The words aren’t there to capture the feeling. But as I saw my daughters whip around the corner of each ride, look for us in the crowd and smile with pride at their bravery, I felt closer to my dad than I have since his death in February.

He and my mom used to stand in the crowd while I adventured across the metal landscape of carnival rides. I’d look for their faces in my joy or fear and then smile because because I knew they understood. My dad’s parents were both dead by the time he was my age. I wish I could hug him then. A twenty nine year old orphan with wife and babies and no parents in the crowd to search for as he laughed and cried across the landscape of life. Maybe without them, he turned to us. Maybe he felt closer to them, too, while he stood and watched his babies. Maybe, just maybe, in those moments we were able to give to him half of what he gave to us.

After the rides, we ate hot dogs and kettle corn. The girls walked ahead of us to the car, the paper crowns Riley got them trailing glory and cut stars into the heat. As we drove by the carnival, I let myself look into the crowd just once. I didn’t see what I knew wasn’t there. So I reached for Riley’s hand and then turned to the girls,

“That was so great, you guys. Thank you for going with me. What was your favorite part?”

They chattered in their little voices about all the little big things of the day.

And I smiled through the tears.

Ascent

I’ve got ten voicemails from my dad saved onto my phone. They nearly all say the same thing,

“Hey, Megs. It’s Dad. Give me a call back. Love you.”

One is a three minute long peek into a discussion he had with Riley about work. Minutes of grace from a misdialed phone. I love to hear him have a conversation again. The cadence of his voice and the image of his hands moving with his words.

My favorite is from last year on February 27th. He’s wishing me a happy 28th birthday. It feels like my birthday every time I listen to it.

I’ve listened to most of them since he died. Easing myself into the seconds that hold his voice. It both excruciates and alleviates.

On friday, I was doing laundry and breathing through the loneliness that still hits with closed fists.  Freshly dried towels spilled across the concrete. I bent down to pick them up and decided I was done standing for awhile. When I sat down I let my weight rest on the warm the towels and the cold floor.

Maybe it would help to hear his voice again.

Phone out, I couldn’t bring myself to press his name through the cracked screen. So I found a voicemail from my mom from December 4, 2012, thirteen days before his initial diagnosis. I save some of her voicemails but this one had never been played. A message that slipped through the cracks of my technological neglect. Maybe there’s a meaning behind these things. Perhaps, I thought as I leaned my head against the wall and closed my eyes, perhaps I had been unconsciously saving this message for this moment. Maybe, I thought, it was the two of them. Calling from the car. Inviting me to lunch or checking in. My mom pretend yelling about my dad and my dad laughing in the background. Maybe.

I pressed play.

And there was silence.

It was the kind of silence that can be recorded – cracks and clicks, the sense of air moving. I sat and listened to the quiet on cooled towels and cold concrete. I cried for the beauty of the thing. As the seconds picked up and slowed down across the voicemail, I felt the awe of a time traveler. For a moment I could almost touch the space it had carried to me – a time before we knew the change that waited, a place with thirty more christmases and the weight of his hand on my shoulder. I held the past against my head. It rang against my eardrums and vibrated across the spaces of my brain. It seemed like it was only my misunderstanding of time and space that kept me from being enveloped and carried back to it completely.

At the advent of the hot air balloon, men and women of science took to the skies risking breath and limb. They were equipped with barometers and ballast and journals to record the shape of the clouds. There is a story of an intrepid seeker that climbed to the highest heights and attempted to take samples of air at altitudes never before breached by man. He thought, that maybe, the air was different there. So he went up and brought down jars of the stuff and sought to compare it to the air he breathed six feet above heather and holly. I’ve always wondered how he thought he’d keep it all from flowing out from under his fingers when he opened that jar for his first experiments.

He, of course, would have discovered the same thing about air that I discovered about time on that laundry room floor. There isn’t anything much that differentiates the time we course through now and the time we coursed through then. One is simply harder to reach.

The recording with its cracks and gaps ended. I hadn’t really been carried anywhere that would keep me.

My little girls laughed and called from upstairs. So, I pushed myself up off the floor and into the hall to the moments that are ahead. There seemed to be no other choice, all the ones that lay behind keep flowing out from under my fingers.

© megan conley 2012

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