New Normal

The alarm goes off at the usual time. Time to make the donuts, she thinks. She chuckles, remembering that’s how they used to start every morning, with one of them quoting the old commercial from the 70s.

In the bathroom, she stares intently in the mirror, leaning close to examine her eyes. Red again. She thinks back on the previous night. Too much wine? Nope. Tears? No, thankfully. She’s past that stage, for the most part. Although this morning, she does feel a bit more fragile than usual, like there’s something simmering beneath the surface. She chalks up the bleary eyes to allergies and pops a Claritin.

In the kitchen, she brews a single cup of coffee in the Keurig she requested for Christmas. It proved difficult to make a single cup in the 8 – 10 cup Mr. Coffee machine. She grew tired of dumping out the leftovers every day once the morning caffeine consumption was cut in half.

She makes breakfast. Wakes the kids. Gathers uniforms. Dries her hair and puts on makeup, jockeying for a spot in the bathroom mirror. Her daughter insists on sharing the master bathroom with her these days, leaving the other bathroom to her 14-year-old son. The boy’s bathroom and the girls’ bathroom, her daughter quips.

Carpool. She knows she should engage the kids in conversation, but she’s just so tired. The kids seem tired, too. They ride in silence, content to have a few more minutes of solitude.

Traffic. Parking. Another cup of coffee at the office. Chit chat with coworkers before sitting down to check the day’s schedule.

She has a meeting at 10 a.m. with a jeweler. She’s decided it’s time for her to sell her rings. She’d asked his permission first, since the large one with the diamond had belonged to his mother – a gift from his father on the day she gave birth in 1969. He told her to go ahead and sell it.

She sits quietly at her desk for a moment, trying to identify the ache that’s starting to spread in her chest. She used to numb moments like these, staying busy in order to avoid feeling whatever she was feeling. Filling up her hours with work, volunteering, appointments, chores just so she wouldn’t have to face the sadness, worry, anxiety, fear.

These days though, she white-knuckles through the discomfort, asking herself questions until she gets at the root of the matter. Is she worried about the kids? Is it something at work? Is it money? Does she miss being married? Does she miss him? Is she just overwhelmed? Today, it’s none of those. Or maybe it’s all of those. She can’t figure it out.

Bad news, the jeweler says later that morning. It’s a nice size diamond but the color and clarity aren’t all that great. I’m afraid I can’t give you much for it after all. She figured. The rings are lovely and unique, but more sentimental than anything else. She thanks him and heads home for lunch.

She attends a meeting, her first with this group. She’s welcomed with open arms and hugs by the women there. She tries to stay focused, to listen and learn. Keep it simple! someone says. She has to laugh. Simple? Where on earth does that fit in to my life? she wonders. Nothing’s simple when you’re a single working mother of two teenagers.

She stops by another jewelry store on her way back to work. Again, she’s offered far less than she feels she should take for the symbol of the last 17 years of her life.

She can feel the ache spreading, rising in her throat. She calls her brother, who answers laughing about something unrelated. I’m not doing well, today, she says. There’s absolutely no reason for me to feel this way. Nothing’s different from yesterday. Nothing’s changed. 

The tears are coming. She chokes them back.

He listens to her. He says things like some days are just harder… take it one day at a time… you’re doing fine. He tells her a story that makes her laugh hysterically. The ache starts to fade.

More laughter with coworkers. Crossing things off the to-do list. It feels good to be productive. She texts back and forth with a friend, smiling at the utter silliness of the thread.

After work, she goes to the bank to sign paperwork for a loan extension. Only three more payments to go, her banker says cheerily. And you don’t have to make a payment this month. The tightness in her chest loosens a little more.

She gets a great report from her daughter’s voice coach and an unsolicited hug from the usually cranky preteen. Back home, she turns on Pandora and dances in the kitchen while she cooks. The fragile feeling is almost gone by the time her son walks through the door from baseball practice, saying Hey Mama! How was your day? in his deep voice.

Laundry. Dishwasher. Tidying up. She tucks her daughter into bed with a hug and kiss. She walks through the house, turning off lights, double checking the locks on the doors. She stops at her son’s room. Don’t say up too late, she says, kissing him on the top of his head.

She gets into bed, arranging all the pillows how she likes them simply because she can. The dog jumps up and settles into his spot at her feet. Her son comes in and flops on the bed next to her. She strokes his hair, marveling at how big he is now, feeling lucky that he still comes in every night to say ‘night Mama before heading off to his own bed.

She thinks back on the day, remembering how fragile she felt this morning, how she scoffed at the word simple, how she almost cried, how the laughter, the hugs, the smiles, the dancing in the kitchen brought her back to life.

I was vulnerable today, she thinks, but I’m grateful. I’m grateful for my family, for my job, for the roof over our heads, for the food in the fridge, for the gas in the car, for the dog at my feet.  

She turns out the light. One long breath in for four beats. Hold it for seven. Let it out for six. She sleeps.


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