Science Fair, O Science Fair. I’d Rather Write You a Sonnet.

Robb and I had this foolproof plan. With our collective energies and varied interests, with his left brain and my right, with his love for the periodic table and my affection for the dictionary, our kids’ school projects would be a snap.

And we planned for our kids to benefit greatly from our unified expertise. I would help them with english and literature assignments, and he would help them with math equations and science experiments.

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Then Robb went to heaven, taking all his science expertise, logical preferences, and the left side of our brain with him.  And now it’s time for the early-elementary science fair.

(Do you hear that slow and methodical click-click-click that’s getting louder and faster? It’s my anxiety. Inching up the first hill of the Magnum.)

(A shout-out to Cedar Point and all of you in northeast Ohio, America’s RollerCoast.)

I pretended not to notice the paperwork about the science fair, since – after all – it is optional until fourth grade. And then my children came home all hyped up about the science fair, optional or not, as if it’s just a matter of mixing together egg yolks and mustard and leaving the bowl out overnight.

“We are not doing the science fair.” I put myself to sleep with this mantra every night.

And so, guess what though? We’re doing the science fair. Scientific Question, Hypothesis, Recorded Method, and a tri-fold display and all.

Because every once in a while I get a glimpse down the road, a decade or two, and I can’t handle the fallout from this seemingly small and insignificant decision. My children could become riddled with their own science anxiety, haters of learning, all because their mother said no when she could have say yes, so long ago when it was all so much easier, involving celery and food coloring or a jar that has been cracked with the fascinating expansion of water in the freezer.

But no. She said no. And so now, they don’t know anything and they’ve become afraid to ask why.

I nixxed the celery and the food coloring, though I encourage you to give it a try if you’d like to know how chlorophyll or photosynthesis or pollenization or food coloring works. Something like that.

Anyway, we’re turning the ol’ volcano experiment on its head by asking: Will a balloon explode from the chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar?

Stay tuned, folks. Stay tuned.

(Google says yes. And they promise me an easy cleanup.)

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Too Much for One

Robb and I were flying somewhere on our own, long before the days of traveling with strollers and carseats and board books and goldfish crackers and a smile that asks forgiveness from everyone around us.

Unbeknownst to me, he planned a surprise for our flight: he upgraded our tickets to first class.

It’s the one and only time I have ever flown first class, and I was so unaccustomed to it that I didn’t really know how to appreciate it.

“Oh, but the leg room,” boasted my broad, long husband. I couldn’t reach the footrest on the seat in front of me.

“And the food!” I had packed my own favorite snacks.

I do have to give it to him: the steaming warm cloth to refresh the pores of my weary traveling face? This was a nice luxury.

But here’s the thing: I’m a ‘nester.’ I love a space that’s just big enough for me. When I was a little girl, I loved to make a little cave under a desk or behind a bookshelf. Just enough space for me.

When we were on a family road trip, I loved to be in the ‘way back’ with luggage packed around me. Just enough space for me.

Roadtrips are similar for me, even now. I bring a blanket or hoodie or small pillow, something to fill the space with me, and I keep all my bags tucked around my feet.

I’ve been known to stack pillows around me if the comfy chair is too wide; I sleep on my side with pillows at my back, since there is currently nobody to occupy the space. I like to be in a space made for me, just big enough.

I’m a nester.

On that first class flight, I was downright unhappy. You can perhaps imagine the point of contention this caused between the gracious husband who had splurged to surprise, and the wife who chose airline seats with a pickiness similar to the Princess and the Pea.

But I think I get it now, all these years later.

One person can only do so much. There are limits to what one person can do alone, finish alone, plan for alone, and accomplish alone.

It’s just really hard for one person to fill a space made for two.

White Water Rapids and Lipstick.

Robb and I went on a whitewater rafting trip when we had been married for a year or so. We camped with probably a dozen other couples, and we all donned our lifejackets and hit the rapids the next day.

I remember feeling that combination of afraid and excited and incredulous and brave and what are we thinking, but so ready to do this because it was on our collective bucket list.

We listened so carefully to the guide, listening to his advice on how to handle the greatest fear.

“If you get knocked out of the boat, don’t try to fight the current. Don’t try to stand, swim against the current, or even swim to a bank on the side. Just pick up your knees and let the water carry you. It’s stronger than you, bigger than you, and it’s going to do what it’s going to do. If you fight it, you’re only wasting your energy and causing a greater risk to yourself. So pick up your knees, float on your back, and wait to see where the river takes you. It’s the safest thing you can do, and I promise we will come find you, wherever you land.”

I don’t recall that I needed to heed his advice, particularly because the water level was record low that summer, and for even part of the rafting trip, the four of us got out of the raft and carried it across the emerged rocks in the middle of the river.

But his words found their way into my subconscious, only emerging today, so many years later.

I woke up this morning with the stiff tenderness of knowing it is December 23. My body knows the date long before I look at a calendar. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could pay no attention to the date and my physiology would still respond on the day of remembering.

The 22nd is annually more difficult than the 23rd, though neither day is one for cartoons and lemonade.

The 22nd is the day when everything was okay, good, healthy, and right with my world. And I just want to swoop into that happy scene and scoop everyone up before lightning strikes.

By the time I wake up on the 23rd, the moment of crisis has passed. He had already been pronounced. His life ended before the sun came up. It’s one small gift in the whole tragedy of it all: I don’t have to count the hours and watch the clock, count the seconds and listen to the tick-tocks of the end.

I woke up this morning, sure enough, three hours after the moment I can still picture and hear and revisit if I want to. Or if I don’t want to.

I had carefully planned this day, calling in reinforcements to give my kids a super-fun day and providing myself with acres of margin. And as I started the day, I went through my list of possibilities.

I could go to Starbucks.
I should write. For fun and for deadlines.
I need to clean the kitchen.
I have more wrapping to do.
Stocking stuffers.
Gifts for my dad.
I could…
I should…
I would…

But I couldn’t string two thoughts together. It took my greatest concentration to get myself home after dropping the boys off for their day. Everything in me begged for rest.

I climbed back into bed, feeling like a failure for not pushing through and getting myself out of bed and out of the house. I’ll just sleep for an hour, I told myself. Just for an hour.  Or two. Or just a little bit longer.

I slept until 3:00 pm.

Just as the guide had said – When you’re knocked out of the boat, don’t fight what is stronger than you. Lift your knees, surrender to the current, and let it carry you until it sets you down.

At 3:00, after sleeping the very day away, I was just very suddenly finished. I got dressed, from boots to lip gloss and a great pashmina, and I smiled at my cute self in the mirror.

Sometimes you’ve got to pretty yourself up just for you. Even if nobody else will see you to swoon.

You’ll know that you rode the current and landed safely. With lip gloss, no less.

In the Cave

How are you holding up? What are you up to?

I’m in bed.

The short response worries me. Not good, I’m guessing.

It’s too much. It’s all just too much.

It is too much. For anyone to handle on their own. Can you talk to me? Tell me what’s in your head? On your heart?

I wish you were closer.

Me, too. You need a physical presence.

I do. Friendship incarnate.

I’m trying to find words. I’m not not answering.

Don’t worry about having words. I know the feelings.

I’m in bed in the dark, in jeans and a sweater and a belt,
because I was fine and then I wasn’t.

Everything about me is tired. Please don’t go.

I won’t. I never do.

That’s true. You never do.

I think it’s trauma.

It is trauma.

It doesn’t seem to be depression or even sadness. That’s the dichotomy in my mind. The confusion. Asking myself why I feel this way. But I think I know the answer.

It’s the events. I remember them perfectly. It’s the ER and the flu test and the prognosis and the promises. It’s like I have to drive through an intersection where my life changed forever. It’s the awareness of where I was. And where he was. And how afraid I was. I loved him through that night.

Are you still afraid?

No, I’m not afraid. My mind is stuck in that room. I can remember everything but the sound of his voice.

What if you stepped out of that room? Instead of being a character whos’ there, be a narrator. Or a spectator.

I can’t seem to leave. I’m trying.

How do you feel? What are the chains holding you there?

I feel so weighed down. Like I have to stay. I was the only one there. If I’m not there, nobody is there.

Do you know what happens if you don’t stay?

He dies alone.

You were there then.

You had to be there then. But what if you’re not there now? I am not suggesting that you don’t want to be there then, like someone else said – ‘wouldn’t it have been great if you had slept through it all.’ I’m not suggesting that.  But what if you watch yourself caring for him. Don’t BE yourself caring for him.

I did it so well.

You did. You did it very well. But he’s taken care of now.

You’re right. He’s taken care of.

I think it’s a piece of me. It gets bigger sometimes.

Of course it does.

You know what? I’m out of bed now.

You are very brave to enter this dark place with me.

You’re not supposed to deal with this alone. And now you’re not.

I came downstairs. I’m reading a cookbook.

In the last three years, anytime I am overcome or overwhelmed, I turn to food. Not to eat it, but to think of how to prepare it. I watched the Food Network for months.  I read cookbooks and food magazines.

Do you feel bad about that?

No, not at all.

Good. Don’t.

I just think it’s interesting to see how my mind works.

I want to read, but I don’t want to think.

I want to read solid directions that lead a to a concrete result.

Thank you for coming to find me in the cave. For coming in and bringing me out. For not just calling my name.

You’re welcome. You needed someone with a flashlight.

And then you came. And now I’m out.

Now you’re out.

How do you feel about chili? Or sausage gravy over biscuits?

One Thousand Days Later

I don’t really know how it happened, since I have long loved Chris Tomlin. But somehow, I had never heard that song before.

Three years ago, there were two memorial services for Robb: one in Colorado, and one in Ohio, our home for so many years. The absence of Robb was felt far and wide. On the day we all came together to remember him, both venues were standing room only.

In the Ohio funeral, which took place in the very same chapel where we were married, I heard this song that I had somehow never heard.

Our God is greater.
Our God is stronger.
God, you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer,
Awesome in power,
Our God, our God.

I sat in the front row, letting these words pour over me. Everyone around me, as far as I could hear, sang and worshipped the God who gives and takes away. That song has become pinnacle to me. Words, melody, lyrics, and truths that I cling to. It always takes me back to the front row of the Memorial Chapel, where I let my friends sing and believe when I could hardly do either.

Now, more than one thousand days later, I sit among the congregation of proud (and digitally equipped) parents listening to the children’s choir. My two sons are standing on the left as I face the stage. Tucker is in the third row, fiercely paying attention and singing his heart out. Tyler is standing in the third row, joyfully making up his own choreography, and sending messages to me through sketchy sign language and words written in the air.

(My favorite: he traced a heart in the air and pointed from his chest to me. I heart you, Mommy.)

And then, my children sang in a choir of voices loud and pure, unashamed and believing:

Our God is greater.
Our God is stronger.
God, you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer,
Awesome in power,
Our God, our God.

And then my boys stomp their feet in rhythm with the song, because this, my friends, is our favorite part:

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us, than what could stand against?

Tears stream down my face as my children sing these words, these truths, that have held my pieces together. One thousand days later, my children lead me in worship.

Our God is greater and stronger. If he is for us, then nothing, nobody, can ever, ever stop us.