The Two Graces

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The Two Graces – Oil on canvas – by Odilon Redon

This is one of those weeks or, rather, two-week stretches that we don’t have any time designation for, but you learn to dread them when you’re not in the midst of one of them.

My wife worked 10-days straight at a mismanaged Starbucks, and it left some scars.

The younger kids had a half day of school on Friday, and they made plans, but the oldest had school all day, so they had to cancel their plans, which made for a miserable dinner table conversation on Thursday.

There are nights where our robust family dinner-table discussions descend into a circus only Fellini could appreciate.

Lest you think we’re any more put together than you are.

As a writer, I’m a procrastinator. The only thing I’m actually pro at, in fact.

I need the pressure of a deadline to squeeze the creative juices up to an acceptable drip.

Giving me three or four weeks to do something is actually a special kind of torture.

And this is the week where I need to have a pretty decent draft of a project I’m working on ready.

All this and something is out of whack with my gut too, so I took a fast day on Monday to see if letting my digestive system have 24 hours off would help.

I drank water and a little tea all day, and, as you can imagine, I was not really a fun person to be around on Monday. As a co-worker described, I was hangry and caffeinated all at the same time.

By Tuesday I was dealing with these strange fevers that would break into sweats that required a handkerchief to mop up, and it wasn’t until Wednesday that things started to normalize in my belly and my life, which happens to include four other people who are dependent on me, independent of me and which I’m dependent on completely for my sanity.

When I upgraded my phone to iOS 8 on Wednesday, it messed up everyone else’s phone, which means my wife and son were getting all my text messages to and from other people and having to deal with other problems. Basically, I stepped all over their routine in the name of  my own timeframe for progress.

This is one of those 10-day cycles where family life is exposed like a raw wound and you’re tempted to cover it up with a tarp and just tell people to move along, there ain’t nothing to see here.

Where you cannot be a great parent, even if you were of sound enough mind and body to try for that pipe dream.

Mistakes compound, and you start to wonder how much you’re going to cost your children in therapy down the road.

You’re burned up like a fuse on a dud fire cracker.

You don’t have it in you to teach a lesson or even to model the right behavior. You feel like hiding away in your room until things get better, which has to be better than keeping your family exposed to Mr. Hyde, when Dr. Jekyll refuses to put in an appearance for a week or two.

All of the books come back to haunt you, you know the ones I’m talking about. Those books that push good communication and scare the living shit out of you about how easy it is to damage a child’s sense of belonging and their delicate personalities as if they are a piece of glass that can never be fixed once they are broken.

I don’t read those books, but I see their ideas in posts that people share on social media, which perpetuates the notion that there is somehow one correct way to raise a child.

So you go to bed at night counting the cost of your week of illness, and selfishness and failure.

Which leads to very little sleep and more angst than a cup of chamomile tea or a bottle of whiskey can really be expected to combat effectively.

You really should get up in the morning and apologize to your 16-year-old son for the way you reacted when he asked you for help with a fundraiser for his cross country team.

You should apologize to your daughter for skipping a day of reading Harry Potter to her, because you were too tired, but you used the excuse of it being past her bedtime.

You should pull your other son aside and tell him that you’re really proud of the fact that he is running for student council and ask him if he needs some help with his speech.

But you’re an aging ball of stress, and you hit the snooze button until 20-minutes before you have to leave for your train, and then you lay there for another five minutes debating the margins of your life.

In the movies, this would be the part where the car breaks down or the house floods. There is a comedy in that physical brand of catastrophe that makes us feel better when we are sitting in those movie theater seats.

Then you wake the kids up, and they smile at you as if you never spoke to them in anger before. You eat together and discuss details of the day, and nobody brings up Monday or the fact that you were a grumpy jerk all day.

A friend recently asked me to write about joy. Joy as a concept. Joy as part of my life. The results of it.

I don’t spend enough time thinking about joy. This weekend I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grace.

When things are going bad, I always forget about grace, one of those essential ingredients that families run on.

The kind of grace that is a daughter’s believing smile when she brings you her Harry Potter book the next night, even when you sent her to bed without a story the last two nights.

The grace that lets you function as a parent even when you proved to yourself to be the exact opposite of that with your actions all week.

My friend and author, Gina Ochsner, calls it “The Necessary Grace to Fall,” which is poetic and far more meaningful than a bad week in suburban Chicago.

But it speaks to my soul, because my badness isn’t the essence of my character.

I’m not talking about theological grace, the kind that is unmerited and which substitutes for your depravity.

I am, but I’m not.

I’m talking about grace the beautiful. The beautiful word. The beautiful deed.

Grace as lifestyle.

One I can’t attain or ever hope to.

But which I’m given for free through the lives of my wife and children.

Grace as a gift.

I would say most people think of grace as a thing that you are. A certain way you carry yourself. Physically, as in the way you walk down a set of stairs. Internally, as in the way you present yourself to others. As an aura, something that just surrounds you.

But my rug rats exude grace too, grace in the way they allow for my rudeness and the folly that is my life day to day. Grace in their resilience and their faith in me.

There are two kinds of grace.

One you must practice and wear it proudly when you find that it comes to you.

And one that is born to you. Somehow transferred through the womb. Undeserved by most and yet universally present in children.

I can’t imagine where my life would be without the two graces.

One I would love to achieve.

And one I need to learn to accept.

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