I am grateful for the beautiful, messy chaos in my life because it means I have people and things in my life that make it that way. Where would I be without my people to love and care for and worry about?
Mark was a retired volunteer where I used to work. I liked Mark. We talked a lot while we stuffed and addressed envelopes for our mass mailings and while we walked to the post office to deliver them, Mark pulling flyers and stickers off of power poles and light posts as we went. We got to know each other pretty well. Well enough that he treated me to his favorite five-dollar martini when I resigned.
He and his wife, Meg, had retired to our town after months of careful and deliberate research. They’d decided our town was their new home because of its healthcare, cultural offerings, walkability—things like that. They were delighted with their choice and active in their new community.
Before retirement, Mark worked as an accountant for a large corporation so he understood numbers and he had created a retirement budget he and Meg followed religiously. It was worked out to the dime, to the point when they each died and donated their bodies to science, leaving no funeral expenses for anyone to deal with. They did not own a car, which required that they live downtown, within walking distance to the markets, the Y, and their volunteer engagements. Their careful plan was fascinating to me so I asked Mark about it every chance I could.
Another intriguing thing about Mark and Meg was that they did not have children. That was not unusual in itself–I knew other people who chose to not have children. The not having children choice was partly financial (kids are expensive), but partly because children had to be taken care of. The associated rule also included no plants or pets—nothing that required food, water, or being cared for.
Nothing that created any beautiful, messy chaos.
That point came up just a few times and when it did, I had nothing to say. I could usually only muster, “Huh.” Just once I asked, “Why did you and Meg decide to not have kids?” I guess he didn’t think it was a rude question. He’d probably been asked plenty of times before. “If you’d ever met Meg’s family, you would know why.” Good enough.
They were happy and that’s what mattered. I knew that, but I felt sad—and arrogant, I guess—sure that they were missing out. I mean, not even plants or pets?
If I didn’t keep houseplants I wouldn’t have to monitor their soil or get different pots for them to grow in or consider their location in relation to the light. Never mind houseplants—consider a garden. Anyone who has ever done it knows there are few activities more satisfying than gardening. The planning, amending the soil, seedlings, watering, weeding, pest control, harvesting. But life without plants? I still miss Sir Donovan, the giant Scheflerra that was given away to a former sister-in-law when we moved because he was too big to take with us. I have a 27 year-old spider plant–the best souvenir from my wedding besides my husband. My dad even mourned the loss of my goldfish and lipstick plants.
Without the dogs I wouldn’t have to buy flea, tick, and heartworm medicine. I wouldn’t have to give Scotch a bath every time we hike. I wouldn’t have to trim his fur or clip Aspen’s claws. I wouldn’t buy big bags of food and piles of little bags of treats. We wouldn’t walk outside at midnight and sometimes at 4:00 in the morning because they need to be outside. I wouldn’t have lint rollers in my bedroom closet, the bathroom, the laundry room, junk drawer, and car. I’ve never witnessed the devotion of a dog except . . . in a dog. They communicate beautifully without human language. They lick our faces and bark at strangers at the door and run and play with us, and sit quietly with our children and grandparents. There is a plaster paw print of Tahoe, our family’s first dog, in our hutch and the last of his ashes are still in the urn beside the plaster cast. The current dogs are a consideration in everything we do.
Beautiful, messy, and very often chaotic.
The kids? Where do I begin? My life would be pretty worry-free without them. It’s likely I would have traveled quite a lot more than I have. It’s likely I would have been a ladder-climber in the publishing world or any number of other fields, probably, and gloated that sleep was for the weak. Think of it—no crying babies, no sticky toddlers, no eager elementary kids who mispronounced words, no anxious, angsty teenagers. No endless hours studying or talk sessions at the latest possible hour. No piles of laundry and dishes and holiday planning. No trouble with friends. No late night projects and college admissions and finals and graduation arrangements. I wouldn’t have to tell my son to “be smart” when he rides away on his motorcycle. I wouldn’t have to mentally pace the floor when my daughter goes on climbing trips. Their educations and careers wouldn’t matter. Their love lives—none of my business. I would have only my own and my husband’s health issues to consider. The boxes and albums of pictures in my closet would allow room for seasonal decor to rotate, I’m sure. The stairwell wouldn’t be covered in frames telling the story of their lives. Instead, I’d likely hang maps of my favorite places. I’d spend my holiday money on clothing.
I would be routinely serene.
There would be no beautiful, messy chaos.
I wouldn’t rejoice when we’re all in the same town. I wouldn’t delight in my kids’ voices when they call me or light up when I see them. I wouldn’t text pictures of my dogs to them as if they are younger siblings. I wouldn’t consider where they are going to move so I might be nearby. I wouldn’t see their dad in their faces or coloring when I look at them or the familiar signs of so many other family members. I wouldn’t know how to love or be loved the way that I do.
I, quite frankly, just wouldn’t be.
Shannon maintains her own blog with her daughter, Brittan. Called Salt Lick Lessons, the site provides fun and helpful resources, tools, stories and ideas of all kinds.