Each day when Layla plays on my phone before we arrive at her school, she gets sneaky. She sets up a timer along with a few alarm notifications so that when I’m least expecting it, the alarm will go off. Sometimes I see the countdown timer on the lock screen once I get to work. I could easily disable her little alarms and dismantle her plans, but I don’t. When I’m submerged at work and Layla’s alarms go off, I think of her sitting in the back of the car, stealthily clicking on random times that she can scare her mom. She’s probably spiked with excitement anticipating my surprise and having a laugh to herself. The notifications make me think of her thinking of me, which in turn makes me think of her. I’m given something unexpected even though one could argue I should really expect it by now.
After ten years of teaching, I should expect the stress of the end of the school year, but it punches me hard in the shoulder every year. At work we are all really just trying to make it to the end of the semester. We’re trying to grip to the camaraderie and the horizon, yet we’re all a little more quick to get irritated than usual. A retiree at our school who transferred from a middle school to a high school said humorously in a speech to his fellow teachers that he has “no idea how you do it. I don’t know how you’re not all dead.”
In general, for all of us counting down to an end date usually means a stressful mixture of desire and tasks. All of a sudden, the tasks you’ll normally just do because you’re a productive human bloat into this burdensome stone that you want to throw through a window. In my case, all good habits have been thrown out the window. Honestly, I’m eating a stale bag of cool ranch Doritos as I type this, not because I’m hungry, just because I’m rebelling. At Norah’s birthday party this morning, I ate a giant dressed-up waffle and then topped it off with a huge donut. The Whole 30 I finished in April and the running I’ve done to de-stress have been buried in the backyard until maybe after Memorial Day.
I have done some recent digging though, another unexpected source of joy. Last week Kal and I went full force on the landscaping the front lawn. I thought I’d be able to just dig a hole in soft soil, but that fantasy swiped up fast. Our ground here is filled with the previous owner’s memories. I dug up shells, garden fossils encased in cement, tarp, stones, brick edges, and clay pot chunks.
It was painful. I took a few selfies in disbelief as I mixed manure and soil or repeatedly jumped on the shovel’s edge to get the plant’s new hole “twice the size of the pot.” I helped plant hydrangeas and salvias, and I whispered little prayers that I’d see them bloom again next year as I put them in the ground.
I took in the view of our new plants surrounding the house just before I drove off to visit friends for dinner last night. I sat across the table from two ladies who heard about my receiving the TOTY award and wanted to celebrate. These are successful women who had no friend-obligation to celebrate me at all as our relationships are new, but they did something so kind for me anyway. Best of all, I had engaging conversation with a friend who asked me questions and made me remember stories that haven’t been relevant for some time, forcing me out of the grit of the heavy Friday. The unexpected energy of easy-moving conversation transformed a long day into a sweet one.
A surprise can be so beautiful. We all have things to do and lives to manage. When something clears up on its own to dazzle me, I’m so grateful. Last week at the kids’ Haflatuna performance, I found Zade’s dinosaur eraser dug deep in my front pocket; I have no idea how it got there. I thought of this eraser, a symbol of his age, as I said bye to him yesterday at his school. My friends at work helped me steal away an hour from work so I could see Zade sing in a school event. When I had to leave early to get back, he didn’t cling on to my leg or cry for me to stay like he usually does. He hugged me maturely and got back to his friends. My little man’s blooming in his own way.
The unexpected moments are a motif for the simple beauty that’s out there waiting for us to see it. Even my drive home from the birthday party today had a rural charm that has become such an interest to me. It’s what I needed as a pleasant backdrop my kids’ intense sibling bickering so I could have something to hold on to in the hard moment.
I’ve noticed that my plants look the happiest when the sun is going down; the marigolds’ heads stand taller, and the azaleas arch gracefully. If this crazy month can equate to a whole day, I’m looking forward to the 8:30-pm moment when there’s still just enough light to catch the view, but the rest of the day is behind me, leaving me unburdened and free to appreciate the night.