Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On Being the Adult

I'm bad with details. And I don't care about money. And I'm kind of like that dog in Up who's easily dis... squirrel!

When I was a lad, I was a scout from Bobcat (they didn't have Tiger back then) to Life. That's one rank short of Eagle. I earned many merit badges. I met many requirements. I camped. I did survival training. I completed leadership training. I was selected for Order of the Arrow. Two things stood between me and earning the rank of Eagle Scout: the service project (coming up with an idea, pitching it for approval, and organizing and leading a team to execute it all seemed like a lot of work to me) and just one more merit badge: Personal Management. In hindsight, it was telling that I never completed the merit badge that would teach me how to balance a check book, to create and stick to a budget, and presumably several other valuable life skills.

Anyway, what was I talking about again? Oh yeah, being a responsible adult. This, the Year of Divorce, has been a roller coaster time in my life emotionally, and a time when new experiences are popping up practically every week. When I was 19, I moved out of my parents' house and straight into student housing, which they paid for, while attending my first year of college. Which they also paid for. At new student orientation, I was offered a credit card by the local bank, despite having no job and no demonstrable means of repaying any accumulated debt. Predictably, I immediately began a long campaign of spending money I didn't have.

When that year of college was up, I had to find a job, and an apartment, and a roommate. The next year was the only time in my adult life when I was entirely responsible for myself and my bills, and I continued with vigor my campaign to increase my credit debt.

The following year, I moved in with Aerie, and she, being the person she is, took responsibility for our finances. She swore when she moved out of her parents' home that she would never be dependent on anyone again, and she meant it. She was in charge. For the next 23 years, I paid little attention to things like "income/expenses" or "budget" or anything else related to our financial situation, except for a brief period when, because her stress levels were high, I took over responsibility for paying bills. Unfamiliar with timing bill payments to work in harmony with payroll deposits, I immediately overdrafted the checking account, and she immediately took back responsibility. It wasn't a learning opportunity, it was just more in a growing pile of evidence that I was not capable of being a responsible adult and an equal partner to her in the business of our family life.

Of course, in my defense, there were other ways that I contributed, ways that were uniquely valuable and perhaps would not or could not have been made by anyone other than me, but... Well, bygones, as they say.

So, my point, really, is that now I'm the only responsible adult in my household, and learning how to do that, how to be that, is a challenge for me. I still don't care about money, and I'm still bad with details. I forget things easily unless I write them down, and I usually forget to write them down. I'm constantly forgetting and resetting the passwords associated with pretty much all of my online accounts, including those that let me do things like check balances, pay debts, transfer funds, and other useful adult activities. The modern world is a wonderful place, with the convenience of autopay and electronic payments and transfers, but Jesus, the passwords. The passwords!

In my work life, I have systems in place to help me keep track of details and schedules, some of which I inherited and some of which I created, but for some reason, it's taking me a little while to learn to create and adhere to systems in my personal business. It's possible, I know, and I already have the skills to make this work. I've just never had to before. At 43, I'm finally learning how to be responsible outside of a work environment. I'm making mistakes, and I'm learning from them, and what's most exciting is: I don't have to answer to anyone, or apologize to anyone for those mistakes. I don't get chastised or criticized. My mistakes are all mine. I am my own boss. It's a little scary, but exhilarating, too.

And yes, I'm aware that the fact that this is how I feel about it is a strong indicator of at least one place where I went very wrong very early in my marriage.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fluctuations in My State of Mind Over the Last Few Weeks, As Illustrated by the Lyrics Searches Found in My Browser History

So you treat your love like a firefly, like it only gets to shine for a little while.
Catch it in a mason jar with holes in the top and run like hell to show it off.
Oh, promises were made when we'd go walking; that's just me and Charlie talking.

Just hoe your own row, and raise your own babies.
Smoke your own smoke, and grow your own daisies.
Mend your own fences, and own your own crazy.
Mind your own biscuits, and life will be gravy.

I’ve been man enough to tell you that I’m sorry when I’m wrong;
You never will admit it when I’m not.
Maybe you will finally forgive me when I’m gone,
But I won’t be there when you apologize.
Heads, you win; tails, I lose.
I can’t get the upper hand no matter what I do.
You’ll always be the winner, and I’ll always be the fool.
Heads, you win; tails, I lose.

You've seen your future from your present state,
And filtered through your past, it may not look too great.
If you could have your future generate your now,
You'd probably sit back, relax, kick off your shoes,
And just allow.

'Cause I can't be anyone but me, anyone but me.
And I can't keep dreaming that I'm free, dreaming that I'm free.
I don't want to fall asleep and watch my life from fifty feet.
My hands are on the wheel so I'm driving to Idaho,
'Cause I hear it's mighty pretty
In Idaho.

So I play my hopes and play my dreams
Just like two coins in a slot machine.
Sing "Glory, Hallelujah!" if everything works out fine.
My life is like a lemon drop;
I'm suckin' on the bitter to get to the sweet part.
I know there are better days ahead.
Lord, I know there are better days ahead.
Thank God!

Imagine your best friend and your worst enemy
Begs you to stay and then wishes you'd leave.
Like Marilyn Monroe, she can be who you want her to be.
You can't change her mind (even if you wanted to).
You can always try (she'll see through to you, she'll see through you).
If you think you're the only one she'll want in this world,
Then you don't know nothin' 'bout girls.

I set my sails for a new direction, but the wind got in my way.
I changed my course, but my definition of change just ain't the same.
I'm gonna sit right here, stay away from there.
I'm gonna make pretend I just don't care.

Motherfucker, I’ll be back from the dead soon.
I’ll be watching from the center of the hollow moon.
Oh my God I think I might’ve made a mistake:
Waiting patiently was waiting taking up space.
We are waiting taking up space.

You’re too mean, I don’t like you, fuck you anyway.
You make me wanna scream at the top of my lungs.
It hurts but I won’t fight you.
You suck anyway.

Never would've seen the trouble that I'm in, if it hadn't been for love.
Would've been gone like a wayward wind, if it hadn't been for love.
Nobody knows it better than me;
I wouldn't be wishing I was free
If it hadn't been, if it hadn't been for love.

I backed my car into a cop car the other day.
Well he just drove off; sometimes life's OK.
I ran my mouth off a bit too much, oh, what did I say?
Well you just laughed it off; it was all OK.
And we'll all float on OK. And we'll all float on anyway.

Sometime, can you feel the pressure does unwind, sometime?
Sometime, through the day and through the night, sometime.
Sometime, you can make the pressure does unwind, sometime.
Sometime, it's for your spirit and your mind, sometime.

I walk and cry while my heartbeat keeps time with the drag of my shoes.
The sun never shines through this window of mine; it's dark at the home of the blues.
Oh, but the place is filled with the sweetest memories, memories so sweet that I cry.
Dreams that I've had left me feeling so bad, I just want to give up and lay down and die.
So if you've just lost your sweetheart, and it seems there's no good way to choose,
Come along with me. Misery loves company. You're welcome at the home of the blues.

She loves to tell me she hates the things I do.

Sometimes you've got to bleed to know that you're alive and have a soul.

Just remember to fall in love. There's nothing else. There's nothing else.

And they’ll be quick to point out our shortcomings,
And how the experts all have had their doubts.
Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different.
We love to talk on things we don’t know about.

It's been so long since I've seen her face.
You say she's doin' fine.
I still recall a sad café,
How it hurt so bad to see her cry.
I didn't want to say goodbye.
Send her my love; memories remain.

How 'bout me not blaming you for everything?
How 'bout me enjoying the moment for once?
How 'bout how good it feels to finally forgive you?
How 'bout grieving it all one at a time?
Thank you, India.
Thank you, terror.
Thank you, disillusionment.
Thank you, frailty.
Thank you, consequence.
Thank you, thank you, silence.

Friday, August 7, 2015

High Brow Literary Allusions

So Thumper was watching Cartoon Network the other day, joyfully. We dropped digital cable awhile back because the content is generally awful and the cost is ridiculously high. But somehow, when I moved into the new apartment and I was activating internet service, I lost my mind and allowed myself to be lead by the nose into the land of "we're a bundling company, so it'll be a better value for you if you get all of our services rather than just one!" What can I say; I wasn't thinking clearly then. I'll rectify it soon, but in the meantime, the boy gets spectacularly awful Cartoon Network and Disney Channel and Disney XD shows.

Speaking of which, if Disney is a premium American entertainment company, producing, especially with their acquisition of Pixar and the Muppets, high quality works of contemporary pop culture art and children's programming, how on earth can they wake up in the morning and look themselves in the collective face knowing that they are cranking out an incredible volume of the lowest quality schlock and feeding it directly into the brains of millions of children worldwide? Have you watched any of those "sitcoms" on Disney Channel or Disney XD? The writing is awful. The premises are ridiculously half-formed ideas. The humor is so formulaic that you could mix and match virtually any of the characters and settings and the storylines would be indistinguishable. And they use the laugh track like a sledgehammer. The number of those shows that the same stable of child laborers, er, actors, appear on would lead one to believe that Disney Studios is a sweatshop, and those same kids are probably the ones writing and producing this awful canal of sludge that's flowing steadily into my home.

So, anyway, what was I talking about again? Oh yeah. How I see metaphors for my life everywhere I look. I realize I hadn't gotten there quite yet, but that's where I was going with this.

Cartoon Network, which does produce some of my favorite kids' television programming, including "Adventure Time with Finn and Jake" and "The Amazing World of Gumball" (both of which, incidentally, may be less "kid's television programming" and more "programming for dope-smoking teens and young adults") has apparently completely given up and decided just to air "Teen Titans Go!" 24 hours a day. It's so bad, this is video Thumper took of me one of the times that he asked, "Can I put on Cartoon Network?" and I said, "Sure," and it was frigging "Teen Titans Go!" again:

So in this episode, which shockingly I had not seen before, Beast Boy gets frustrated that he's not as smart as the other Teen Titans, and he steals Raven's spell book to cast a spell to make himself smarter. I'm not sure why every spell she utters is the same: "Azarath... Metrion... Zinthos!" But anyway, he steals the book, casts the spell, screws it up, then tests his results with "The Ultimate Test of Smartness," a box with various shaped pegs and holes. As he's doing his best to jam the round peg into the square hole, Thumper says, "Everybody knows you can't fit the round one in the square one. Everybody knows that!"

And it hit me in that moment that I, like Beast Boy, spent a lot of time and energy thinking that if I just! Shoved! Hard! Enough! that fucker would finally slide right in there. Ha. Everybody knows that.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Can't Argue with That

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

Change seems to happen so quickly now. When, on Monday morning, I look back on Friday, I think, "It seems so long ago, and I was a different person then." It's hard to grasp how long 23 years is, and how long I lived as that person, that Husband, and how strange it is, now that I've been out for a few months, stumbling back into that house again, that house where I was Husband, and finding it so foreign and inscrutable.

So I thought I was going to tell you about my weekend, but I don't want to now.

I want to tell you about me.

I want to tell you about the things I'm learning.

It's been 7 months since the word "divorce" was first spoken aloud. Within days, I quit drinking, and I haven't had a drink since. Not because the drinking was the reason the word was spoken, but because I knew for years that it had to be done, and instead I had put it off. Suddenly, it felt like there weren't years left. That word, "divorce," was a big part of the push that let me finally stop. I also sought help, most importantly and lastingly and profoundly from my friends and family, whose outpouring of love and support has overwhelmed me and changed me in its own ways. But also from a professional. I found a counselor that I loved, and who was damned good at her job. She listened well and asked the right questions at the right time, helping me find my own way to the path I'm on now. We parted ways with a hug, in full agreement that it's a great path to be on. I also went to my primary care physician to talk about medication to bust me out of the depression that led up to that word, a depression that oddly didn't evaporate on the destruction of my marriage. I'm off those meds now, and moving forward, thinking and talking and writing a lot about who I am. There's nothing more exciting for me than finding out who that is since it's not who I was for all of those years.

That in itself is a difficult thing to understand, how I am and am not the same.

I've been thinking of the negatives about myself that I've lived with for decades and struggled unsuccessfully to change. They were key to the failure of the marriage, character traits of which I was ashamed, but never enough to really change them. Now that I've seen that which was most important to me detonate, in part because I would not or could not change, I'm beginning to see those traits as central to my character, and not as hated flaws.

We were married young, and neither of us knew who we would be 20 years later. I, and perhaps she, saw the struggle as an act of love, trying hard always through the years to be what she seemed to want, and always, or almost always, failing. And trying more and more, especially through the last half of the marriage, and definitely always failing, to get her to be what I wanted. I failed to love her enough to be the person she wanted and deserved, and I thought she didn't love me enough to be what I wanted and deserved.

But now, I have deep and profound gratitude to her for seeing that it had to end and for having the courage to persist through all of my objections and efforts to save it. It wasn't salvageable, and that's OK. She set me free to begin the journey that I'm on now, and I will forever owe her a debt of gratitude for that gift she gave me.

It hurt like a motherfucker, though, and it still hurts. Not because I'm sad that I'm not with her any longer, but because there is so much history and emotion piled up that it's hard to sort through. And because we both said things intending to hurt each other, and the memory of the hurt is almost as painful as the hurt itself. I don't always understand what it is that I'm feeling, just that I'm feeling it on all cylinders and can't do anything with it but to cry.

I couldn't think of the word I wanted, so I consulted the Oracle at Google, and found myself at the Wikipedia entry for the concept of "reappropriation." I'm sure that it's terribly racist and sexist, and probably other ists too, for a heterosexual middle-aged American white man to apply reappropriation to his own situation, but fuck it. I'm doing it. That's one of probably several hundred new mottos and maxims and philosophical tropes that I've adopted as guides to my new life: "Fuck it. I'm doing it." Or, "Kiss my ass, I bought a boat." I am reappropriating these hurtful definitions of me, and making them my own. I suppose it may seem like venom, repeating the words that were said about me out of anger and frustration, but it's not. It really isn't. I'm done feeling venomous.

I never could keep my fuckin' mouth shut.

I've decided what I want most of all in the world to be is honest. Simple. Straightforward. Direct. I want always to seem to be what I actually am. I certainly can't control other people's perceptions of who I am, but I'm telling you right now: if you have interactions with me, believe I'm not working you. I'm not playing any games. I am not manipulating. I'm not acting in such a way that you will be forced, tricked, or otherwise induced to respond in a certain way. I am being me for my own sake. If I want something from you, I will say it out loud, probably using too many words. If you want something from me, just straight out ask me, because I'm not committing any more mental resources to trying to figure out what you want, and if, when you did this, you were actually trying to say that. That shit's exhausting and not good for my self-esteem, so I'm not doing it anymore. I'm just going to be me and expect you'll be you.

And I will talk about it. Best believe. I will always overthink it, and analyze myself in endless circles. And Facebook it. And blog about it. I'm not secretive, is what I'm saying. I think. I am. I do. And I talk about it. A lot. I think out loud. This is who I am. If it's not something you particularly like about me, well... Sorry (not sorry), as the kids say today.

I do want to be better at keeping secrets, though, and not talking other people's business. Because I do that, too. More than I should. I will be talking my business though. And if yours and mine overlap, you might want to know that from the start. And don't confide anything to me unless you make it really, really clear that you want me to keep my mouth shut about it. I mean, I told a kid once what my brother was giving him for his birthday, and I haven't really gotten any better at it since.

I'm a lazy piece of shit.

OK, not the piece of shit part. I know with certainty that I'm not a piece of shit. I'm an amazing guy, and the more I get to know that guy, the more I like him. But it's a fact. I'm lazy. At least when it comes to things that I don't care about, which I'm thinking of less and less as a character flaw and more and more as just pretty normal, actually. I do not prioritize housework above very many things. I cook and wash dishes and do laundry and such, so that the household operates just fine, but I do not choose, for example, to sweep and mop the kitchen floor over, for example, going kayaking. Or reading a book. Or playing video games. Or sitting on the porch listening to music. Or staring off into space. Or anything else, really, until it reaches the point that it draws my attention every time I go in the kitchen.

This used to make me feel like a terrible person. This used to be a constant struggle, to transform myself somehow into a person who wanted to sweep and mop the kitchen floor. I made schedules for myself that I didn't follow. I set up Outlook reminders. I put a dry erase board on the kitchen wall. And then I wouldn't do it anyway, because there was always something else I'd rather do. I was angry at Aerie that it seemed to matter so much to her when it didn't matter to me, and I was angry at myself that it mattered so little to me when it seemed to matter so much to her. Now, I have my own space, and it's a source of joy. I walk around naked when Thumper's staying with her, and I clean when I find myself thinking, "Gross, dude." As a parent, I will have to balance this with teaching Thumper to take care of business, because ain't nobody 'round here his servant. But my own standard of acceptability is just fine.

Re-reading this, I realized that the fact that I walk around my apartment naked when no one else is there has nothing to do with anything. But like I said, I overshare. You're welcome.

So there you go. That's what I'm thinking about today. I am who I am. I will continue to work to improve myself, especially as it relates to diet and exercise, because I want to and not because it will make me who I should be instead of who I am. I like me a lot these days. I don't hate me for not being someone else. And I don't hate her for wanting me to be someone else, for marrying me before she knew who she was, or who I was, or what she wanted from herself or from someone else. That's what I'm learning. That's what I wanted to tell you. I'm a lazy piece of shit of who never could keep his fuckin' mouth shut, and I'm pretty happy with that. Is that the wrong thing to say? Fuck it. I'm doing it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Songs About the New World

Aerie and I arranged to get together last night and talk details for our divorce decree. We're doing our best to make this transition as amicable as possible. I've been saying and thinking that word a lot lately. Amicable. Amicable.

And now that we're not living together, and we're navigating our new lives apart and our new schedules as Joint Managing Conservators instead of, you know, whatever we were before, things really are fairly amicable. I look around me at the divorce stories that suddenly seem to be everywhere, and if divorcing well is a competition, I think we're winning. She's not taking out a Protective Order against me and fighting in court for full custody. We're not pitting our friends against each other or making them choose sides. She's not hiding money from joint accounts. I'm not stalking her, or playing mind games or threatening her with dastardly deeds. Neither of us is telling Thumper that the other parent is awful. He's not a pawn in some jacked up game between us. We're just... you know... amicable.

But with all this amicability flying around everywhere, and with the excitement of exploring my new life outside of all of the old roles and patterns I'd been living under for so many years, I thought that I was past the point of getting upset.  Yes, I really thought that after 23 years, I was emotionally over the hump, just six months after the word "divorce" was first uttered. I wasn't.

I've picked Thumper up and dropped him off at her house, that used to be our house. I've driven through the neighborhood before and been inside the house picking up clothes and furniture and piles of stuff. But last night, for some reason, it hit me harder. I saw neighbors walking and jogging through the neighborhood that used to be mine but isn't now, that I used to walk and jog through but won't anymore. The loop that I used to push a stroller around, past that playground we've been going to since Thumper was a brand new baby and I was a brand new stay-at-home dad. I stood on the porch and rang the bell. I didn't make myself at home and get a soda out of the fridge, or plates from the cabinet for the sandwiches I brought for us to eat while we worked. It's her house now, her stuff, her kitchen. I used the guest bathroom, not the master, and when I came out and sat down at the kitchen table to start working with her on details, I was a little shocked to find myself crying. The anger, the sorrow, the regret, the loss, they are all still real, no matter how much I want them to be memories now.

I hadn't been on the blog in quite some time. I saw I had an unpublished draft post from January, about the time the d-word first came up, that was entirely the lyrics to "Love's Recovery" by Indigo Girls. At the time, there still seemed a slim chance, but now our storm has passed and that slim chance is gone. A lot of the words fit, including the friends we thought were so together. So I'm sure I'm a cliché, 43 and divorcing, but the emotions don't feel so cliché now that I'm in them.

But now I'm just getting maudlin.

It's funny how things come to us sometimes all at once. I've never been much of a country music fan. I have a dear friend who's let me borrow her truck a few times through all of this moving of stuff, and a good many of her stereo's presets are country stations. Not wanting to jack with her settings, I listened to country music while I drove. I also worked a country music festival at my beloved arena not too long ago, and I thought some of those songs were downright toe-tappable. But still, I think of myself as too good to listen to country, really, and complained about having "Rock me, Mama, like a wagon wheel" stuck in my head. I think I'm too smart, I suppose. I have an ugly bias against it where words like "hillbilly" and "redneck" and "Deliverance" pop into my mind.

Then a friend posted a photo of what she saw as "a cool cat," and I was transported instantly back to 1979, when Hoyt Axton appeared on my favorite TV show, WKRP in Cincinnati. I still remember the hooks to "Jealous Man" and "Della and the Dealer" from that show, though honestly, I must've seen them over and over again in syndication throughout the '80s for me to have memorized them like that. But I instantly commented on my friend's picture, "If that cat could talk, what tales he'd tell about Della and the dealer and the dog as well. But that cat was cool, and he never said a mumblin' word." She probably wondered what in the hell any of that had to do with a cat she saw on a street in Italy.

Later, I read Film Crit Hulk's article about Disney's Robin Hood that mentioned Roger Miller's original songs, and I found myself again inexplicably contemplating a master of '60s tongue-in-cheek country storytelling. So today, while spending the rest of my lunch hour walking around and around the concourse of my beloved arena to burn off the brisket and sausage I ate, I plugged "Hoyt Axton" into Pandora on my phone and spent a little bit of a while with Hoyt, Roger, Willie, Waylon, Johnny, Hank Jr., Merle, Jerry Reed, and Jimmy Dean. I don't know why I'm on a first name basis with everybody but Jerry and Jimmy, but there you go. I didn't even know Jimmy Dean was a singer. I thought he just sold sausage. My mom met him in an Eckerd's drug store once. Or so my faulty memory tells me the story goes.

So I was smiling as I walked, 'round and 'round, both at the music and at my own folly. I've always known so many things that it turned out I didn't know at all. Like that my marriage would last forever, and that I hated country music. That the end of the marriage would be the end of the world. But nah. It's working out. I've always been crazy, but it's kept me from going insane.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Beginnings

It's been a strange and difficult couple of years here in Rodiusland. I went through a period of depression and lethargy stemming largely from my fear and uncertainty over my changing role in my family as Thumper moved through his early elementary school years. I didn't feel necessary as a full-time stay-at-home dad, but I didn't know how to re-enter the workforce or how to sell myself as a valuable addition to an employer's team after so long in a mostly domestic role. I didn't know what to do with myself, so I spent too much time doing nothing. It took me a little bit of a while to recognize that the feeling of being stuck, of not wanting to move, was a symptom of depression and that I needed to get help.

I'm coming out of that depression now, with the help of therapy, medication, and a full-time job that redefines my role significantly. I'm weaning off the medication, and I've moved on from my therapist with her blessings. She and I agreed I'm on the right path now, approaching my life and its difficulties and its opportunities with a new attitude. Aerie and I are divorcing, a further redefinition of my role. We nave not been a happy or effective partnership for some time, but we're working on breaking up that partnership as amicably as we can. Both of us are focused on Thumper and what's best for him as we move forward into an entirely new stage of our lives after nearly 23 years together.

I've missed writing about my life, but I didn't have much to say, and frankly much of what I had to say over the past 6 months was best said privately. I live my life visibly here and on Facebook, some would say too publicly for my own good. But, as has been said of me, I never could keep my f***in' mouth shut, so I couldn't stay away from this blog forever. I'm going to try to continue to use this space as a place where I can think aloud, talk about my life and my understanding of it, and keep my friends and family aware of and involved in what Thumper and I are up to and how I feel about it. I will also do my best not to talk publicly about things I shouldn't, especially as the divorce proceeds.

Honestly, though, for anyone out there who has wondered what became of me, I am finally in a really good place. I'm working at a place that I love and as part of a team whose purpose and goals I find valuable and worthwhile. I have my own apartment, and Aerie and I are splitting custody 50/50. We alternate weeks, which means I get lots of time with my my favorite person in the entire world. On our off weeks, we each have dinner with the little man one night, which means it's never more than a few days before he sees the parent he's not staying with that week. It's a great arrangement, giving me time to focus on him and time to explore my new life away from the woman who has been my wife, fiancée, girlfriend, and/or roommate for more than half of my life. It's a strange transition, but also an exciting one. There were plenty of hurt feelings, anger, accusations, and general unpleasantness through the first half of this year, but now, I feel like things are finally truly getting better for both her and for me, which can't help but make things better for Thumper. That we both love him and want what's best for him, I have no doubt.

So, uh... What'd I miss? What's new with you?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

5 Years

I realized today that this month marks 5 years since Thumper and I started driving for Meals on Wheels. Much has changed in those 5 years. He almost never comes with me now that he's in school. We're on our third Director and our second route, and we don't get to see our old friends any more, the clients who made a big deal over him, who let him play with their collectible model tractors, and their grandkids, and their dogs.

Most of our new route now consists of an "independent living facility," a giant apartment complex for seniors where resident volunteers take the meals from me and deliver them to the individual clients. The volunteers are incredibly nice, and friendly, and they're always happy to see the boy when he comes, but we don't get to interact with the clients any longer. When we were looking for a volunteer opportunity, and we were failing to find something that felt just right for us, I doubted that I would do well talking to strangers. We were still dealing with nap times, and we were at the very beginning of our playground adventures where he made me talk to people, and as always, my expectations were nothing like reality. Thumper helped to drag me out of my shell, and I quickly learned how to stand on the front porch of an 83-year-old woman and have the same 45-minute conversation with her this week as I'd had with her last week, and to cheerfully change her light bulbs and talk to the cable company for her. I learned to accept that she would drop off the list, as most of the clients do eventually, without explanation, her story never finished, at least for me.

It's still a satisfying part of my week, Meals on Wheels, but things are different now. The women at the Senior Center where we pick up the meals, those women he still calls "the dominoes ladies" because they play every day while they wait for lunch, are still so kind. They always ask me about him, and always make a big deal when he does come with me. When he was a year-and-a-half, they clapped and cheered for him when he banged on the old piano (the one that disappeared after the renovations from the kitchen fire a few years ago), and they gave him candy every week (he still asks me if Ms. Celia sent me home with anything for him if I mention that I drove Meals on Wheels today), and they gave him stuffed animals at Christmas and Valentine's Day. But the people have changed, again and again, and with Thumper at the ripe old age of 6 1/2, there's almost no one left who remembers when he first toddled through the door and helped me reach out and connect in a meaningful way.
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