Today was a good day. I failed my state certification exam. Again. By one point. Again. There’s irony behind it. This is a written test. Like a sit down, look at a prompt, draft an outline, and write kind of assessment. Written. Y’all! I once won a state poetry contest. So what if it was in 1994. I even beat out my older sister who is a much better writer than I will ever be. I studied creative writing at Florida State University. I’ve written a 123-page thesis on homelessness. Homelessness. I’ve been a high school English teacher for 10 years. I do this every day. I write. Hell, I do this in my free time. I write. And yet, I can’t seem to pass this written test. But like I said, it was a good day. I failed the exam.
I’m an overachiever. The type A personality. The outgoing one. The one who can do it all with perceived ease. The one that you want in your group when a collaboration project is assigned. The one who will keep a conversation going with a mute. For hours. In so many ways, it’s a blessing. But in many, many more, it’s a curse. Trying to get me to slow me down is equivalent to asking Donald Trump to delete his Twitter account. Nearly impossible. I’m always on the fast track of everything. The all or nothing girl. The it has to happen now chick. In relationships, house cleaning, parenting, gardening, furniture painting, career climbing, grocery shopping, even walking. You should see me in Target with a cart. Rather, you should look for me in Target with a cart. Good luck. I don’t stay in one department too long. And I feel sorry for anyone who has to keep up with me.
I especially feel sorry for Nola. My sweet elderly pup. I got her almost 12 years ago at a time when I needed her most. When I needed someone to keep me warm. When I needed someone to love me without expectations. Life was rough at the time. Turns out hers was, too. We met each other at the dog pound. She was so tiny in that big cage. So vulnerable. You could have said the same about me. And my mom and I knew one of us had to bring her home. So I did. And we loved each other. A lot. We probably saved each other. But I’ll be frank. Since then she’s driven me nuts. Insane. Parenting an animal is harder than a human. Period.
I’m not sure to do with Nola. Let’s be honest. I don’t know what to do with myself most days much less a small creature. For starters, her breath is horrible. Even the faintest waft will startle you. And what’s worse is that the minute I sit down, she’s all over me breathing in my face. Same goes for anyone who visits. If they’re not careful they end up with Nola’s tongue in their mouth, shrimp seasoned and all. Bless their hearts. They haven’t had the nearly 12 years of practice avoiding that unfortunate experience like I have. But no matter my efforts. No matter chew toys or breath sticks. Putrid it remains.
Another thing I struggle with is her constant jittering. She is part Chihuahua most likely off the streets of Tijuana. Like the worst parts of Tijuana. Which, now that I think about it, is probably why she has such an interesting aroma. Her incessant shaking and displays of nervousness give me anxiety. Like I really need more of that. I do not. Even a pheromone collar won’t do the trick. And as of late, the madness continues with her bladder. Poor girl has to take diuretics for her heart condition so the drinking and tinkling has quadrupled in volume. I can’t keep up with her potty breaks. Most days she pees on the only inch of the bathroom mat not covered by piddle pads. I swear. And to be honest, I’m sick of washing this damn rug.
So we go for a walk. These walks used to be 2 miles or more with her trotting ahead of me the whole way. Nowadays, she starts out by hopping around as I put on her collar. And before I can even shut the garage door she’s begun her sprint across the cul-de-sac. Sometimes I even have to hold her back from running into traffic. But several hundred feet in she starts to slow down. She lingers a little more at her sniffle spots. Stops and stares into the sky with her squint-y eyes. And watches the neighbors frantically reign in their barking canines. I think she’s laughing at them. I kind of am, too. It took me a while to realize I needed to slow down with her. Truthfully, I didn’t actually figure this out until last Monday.
We were doing our usual loop around the hood. Up one side of the street. Back down the other. Then I looked behind me and realized I was nearly dragging Nola home. I’m not kidding. Here I was, all wrapped up in my own head. Hurrying about. Thinking about what I needed to do when I got home. Or later that night. Or the next morning. Or next year (I’m actually positive it was next year). And all the while, she’s struggling to keep up, probably yelling, “Um, mom. I’m dying here. Literally. Could you please slow down?” And I thought to myself – damn girl, check your pace.
You could probably guess that I often bite off more than I can chew. No pun intended. Like when I decided in my first year of single motherhood to go to graduate school. Again. While working full time and still learning how to take care of myself and my girl. Alone. Because I needed a new challenge. Something to keep me busy. Career advancement. More money. All or nothing. Or when I decided I needed to sell my marital home in the midst of this. Right now. A sale that would require a ridiculous amount of painting. Approximately 1000 square feet of decking to be clear. But I did it. On one spring day. Multiple coats. Alone. And while writing a final essay for my Educational Law class in between drying. Are you out of breath yet? I am. And at the time I couldn’t figure out why I was so flippin’ exhausted every night. Or why I would fall into bed wondering how I would get up the next morning and do it all over again. I was that type A. And I’m not proud of it. Not at all.
I had a breakdown not long after all this. An MS relapse (forgot to mention I have that – multiple sclerosis). A completely unhealthy state. The sickest I had been in my entire life. And I didn’t tell anyone. Of course my family knew. My coworkers knew of some of it. I was forced to take six weeks of FMLA so I couldn’t hide that something was going on. But my closest friends didn’t know. The guy I was dating didn’t know. I went to therapy every day learning how to take care of myself. And I hid it. I was ashamed. I had to admit defeat. I had to admit that I didn’t have my shit together. That I had spiraled out of control. That I wasn’t listening to my body. To God. To my mom. To my sisters. They all knew I had gone too far this time. And I didn’t listen. Until my body gave out.
If you’ve been following this blog then you know I’ve been trying really hard to slow down. If you know me in real life, you know this is huge. Like a hand-delivered miracle from Jesus. I believe my present circumstance – you know, the jacked up jaw situation – is not a coincidence. It is a gift. And I believe that is God is working his ass off on me right now with this gift. I think I’ve gotten less type A (ahem, neurotic) in the last couple of years. Especially as of late. My family and friends may disagree. It’s true I still set ridiculously high expectations for myself. Expectations that I’d never impart on another being. I still add more to my plate than I’m capable of eating. And sadly, I will still try to eat it all. Or at the very least, throw it in the Ninja. My new best friend. And while I wish it weren’t true, I still push myself to limits that are often unhealthy all for the sake of feeling accomplished. “Something’s got to give,” God says. And so my TMJ begins to disintegrate. I start realizing it’s really time to shut up. I start truly listening to God and noticing what He’s placing around me. I start taking deeper breaths as quickly as I can (progress, people, not perfection). I starting looking around and within. I start clearing my desk of all the clutter. I start checking my pace. I start noticing I’m dragging around too many dogs. And I start realizing I need to tell all of you about all of this.
I’m trying to go easy on Nola these days. After all, she is well over 100 in human years. I’m also trying to go easy on myself as I round the homestretch to 40….which will most likely be celebrated in surgical braces and a jaw splint while drinking tequila from a straw. I can’t wait. And I know exactly why I failed that test. Twice. I wasn’t listening. I was merely talking. Telling myself what I needed to do. Telling myself what I needed to be. Forcing myself down the wrong path. Forcing a life that I wasn’t ready for. Moving too fast. All or nothing. Right now. Because that’s what I do. I mean, did. That’s what I did. Thank God for a joint that has died in my skull. Thank God for last Monday when I drug Nola down the sidewalk. Because now. Now! I finally realize I don’t have to do that anymore. I don’t have to force conversation. Or love. Or grocery carts. Or career advancement. Or Nola. Or anything. Instead, I get to listen. I get to check my pace. And I don’t have to decide if I retake that damn exam again. All I have to do is be still. Keep quiet. Pay attention. Listen. Sweet Jesus, that’s a hell of relief.
See. I told you. It was a good day.
Update: on May 6, 2017 our sweet Nola went to doggie heaven. We loved that girl so much but feel such relief knowing she’s at peace and sunning all day up there with all the other great doggies of the world!