On being nibbled to death by ducks.

This is a phrase a friend of mine used to use, and I love it. I get the full image: someone lying on the ground, as after a fall, perhaps one incurred while tossing bread crumbs from a muddy bank. The ducks, which had been happy recipients of this beneficence, see their chance at The Whole Loaf and come splashing and quacking up from the water. They surround the fallen, a frantic, feathery flock, pecking and snapping at any available morsel, bread or arm or toe.

The flaw in the metaphor is: the image is comical. There’s no real possibility of danger, as these are not creatures that will drag you to the pond and pull you under. The water is still a ways off, and is by no means closing over your head.

In real life, however, the accumulation of all these “little things” is indeed enough to drown you. It wears you down with all the different needs for attention, for action, for soothing, for strategy. It renders your will and your spirit the sole arbiters of how you hang on, and that’s not always a good thing. Some of us are a little shaky in those departments. Or, perhaps, we’re just inclined to see the probability of bad if we can’t see the near-certainty of good.

And so, when the rental lease is almost up; the house-under-contract-to-buy is messing around with closing dates; the house-not-under-contract-to-sell needs all sorts of sprucing up (and is four states away); the job is overwhelming; the kids aren’t sleeping; the hubs isn’t finding the work he loves; etc. etc. etc…well, it can be hard to keep moving forward in a cheerful way.

And this is what I try to remember, then: Crying is okay. Friends are miraculous (and BLESS THEM, my amazing helpers!). Children grow up (and, presumably, less hostile). These are problems of great privilege. This moment is only this moment, even if it seems like lasting all day. Things can turn for the good just as fast as they turn for the bad. And I’ve done harder things than this and survived. (But holy CRAP there are a lot of hard things right now.) So we try to treat each other gently and breathe in and out and read Anne Lamott and Pema Chodron and anyone else who can remind us with grace and humor that survival is possible and maybe even desirable. Whatever. One moment — one duck — at a time.

On small gratitudes.

I’ve officially hit the point where I think about work all the time. Not in a pathological way, but because it is interesting and there is a lot of stuff going on and there are good challenges to mull. But let’s face it: I think about work all the time. This is a problem for me.

However, I don’t believe in un-thinking, or in chastisement, or in turning away from interesting things; I just want to give myself something better to think about. Something more whole, more shared. Like my brilliant, beautiful, beneficent husband; my fabulous but struggling kiddos; my bizarre good fortune at having a rental situation good enough to miss when we move again in another month. But when I stack up mental lists of gratitudes, I just feel cluttered. I get overwhelmed by all the thoughts.

So this morning, when my young sons went running out into the grass at 6 am in their stripey pajamas, I was otherwise occupied. I did not in fact see their small bare feet grow wet and stain green; I did not see their glee in locating the first dandelions, nor their careful planning of a Surprise for Mama. The first I heard of it was when they came back to the open doorway, faces bright with delight, with handfuls of yellow. “LOOK MAMA! THE DANDELIONS ARE HERE! Quick, let’s get a vase.”

Even the vase-hunting process had me in busy-mode, trying to find something small enough to be convenient in our under-equipped kitchen. But at least that hunt slowed me down and made me use my eyes, my hands, to size up the stems and faces of these flowers, to consider the array of vases we have in storage, to understand again what a central role flowers (growing, picking, arranging, admiring) have in my family’s life. I breathed. I became, for a moment, just a human deeply touched by the love and givingness of others.

Then I saw it: the small green vase a dear friend had given me the day before we left. It held all my gifts perfectly. I packed up my gear for the day — my computer and backpack, of course, but also my little canvas lunch bag from another friend, holding a container of the delectable soup my husband had made the night before and a few other treats. And I picked up my little vase of dandelions. And I felt, for the first time in days, ready to face the world, bolstered by these reminders of who I am, small gratitudes in hand.