My phone buzzed with an incoming text: “Check your doorstep for a secret delivery. We love you! Get well soon.”
Chicken soup in a rich broth with root vegetables, homemade breadsticks drenched in butter and sprinkled with sea salt, a lemon cake with pink buttercream, love notes and cheerful flowers that– twelve days later– are still brightening my crowded nightstand.
Ben and Sammie spoiled us that evening. We’ve been lucky enough to be the recipients of so many kindnesses these past few weeks: a knitting book delivered to my doorstep, a large diet Coke, soups and chocolates and so many kind texts. Honestly, we’re fine. We have a well stocked freezer, thousands of books and a Netflix subscription. Still, every kindness feels like a postcard from heaven.
Our needs have been small right now, but I think of my friend Elizabeth who spent much of the last year settling her dad’s estate and caring for her ailing brother, Grandpa Fritz who cares for everybody’s car, Nettie who remodels her kid’s bathrooms, Liz who sends birthday cards to every person in the neighborhood, every mommy in the world who is buttoning up sweaters, playing endless games of peek-a-boo and crafting beautifully healthy meals their babies won’t eat.
This is not about working vs. not working moms (all moms are working moms) or even men vs. women. It’s about appreciating the person who takes the time to replace your broken violin string, make your favorite sandwich and walk with you on a Sunday afternoon.
I know it’s not original to say, “Appreciate the people right in front of you.” but in this age of hero worship, influencers and instafame, I think we need to say it more often. Appreciate the people right in front of you. Notice their goodness, their kindness, the sacrifices they’ve made for you (btw-all three of my daughters-in-law are beautifully adept at showing gratitude).
Last year, I spent a lot of time with people who were obsessed with titles, followers and income levels. I am much more impressed with Erik who makes it his personal mission to keep a year’s supply of toilet paper in the basement and snow tires on our cars. With Sammie, who pours her immense talents and love into creating a magical childhood for Fritzie. With Shelah, who could surely run an international corporation, yet spends her time teaching French to middle schoolers, caring for her six kids, and showing up as a genuine and kind friend.
And while it’s not about the mommy wars (can those be over, please?), caretaking and employment are often related. Ben got caught in a cycle of working 14 hour days this fall and wanted nothing more than time for bedtime stories with Fritzie and walks to the park with Sammie. When I was working 12-14 hour days I found myself trying to enjoy my family but mentally calculating how late I would need to stay up to compensate for hours lost of work; frantically treading water, but constantly in fear I would slip under the surface.
No one should live like that. No one. And no one can judge tipping point work hours for anyone else. My friend Megan quit a prestigious job to care for her dying mother; my friend Becca managed the gap by hiring a caretaker. They’re both right. They are both caring for the people they love.
As my work hours have decreased (and I’ll probably always work at least part-time, I have this strange addiction to money), I’ve savored taking better care of my family, my friends, my house, my garden, and members of my church congregation. I’m happier when I create a life with wide margins– time to talk to a friend, to sit in the sandbox with Fritzie, to spontaneously bake a cake and cry at a funeral.
Taking care of a household– may I just say this?– can take up every moment of time. I’m slowly working my way through messy storage rooms, abandoned projects and the daily cooking, cleaning and shopping. Homemaking is a full-time job (even without children) that we’ve cast off as a part-time hobby. I look around my neighborhood at the (mostly) women who’ve cared for their home and children for half a century and I’m in awe of their legacy.
I’ll stop now. I could go on. May I say something else unoriginal? The good life is the simple life. Family, home, friends, kneading bread on the counter, knitting mittens for a baby, admiring snowdrops blooming in the garden. May my eyes be open to the beauty right in front of me; to the good people surrounding me every day.