Each year as I approach my birthday I look around to take stock of the changes I have created or endured. So far this year I have not worked on a cruise ship, had a baby, backpacked through Europe, modeled in the nude, detoxed from drugs and alcohol or tried to overhaul every single thing about life as I know it.
But this week, I did call to have a ding in my windshield repaired before it turned into a cracked-out emergency—and no one had even thrown a pumpkin through it. After that, I scheduled a check-up even though all of my limbs are firmly attached, my head is not on fire and I only have a low-grade sense that I will die…eventually. I asked my husband to help me pick out some new running shoes. (What?! Did the word RUNNING come out of my face?!) To top it all off, I asked my family to have a sit down dinner. At the table.
Clearly, these changes are more of the tip-toeing down the graduated steps into the pool one inch at a time rather than cannon-balling off the diving board variety. So incremental, I almost haven’t noticed anything's different until bam! suddenly I am underwater swimming through the legs of strangers. Or, as the case may be trying to get my family to sit down together at the table for dinner.
The impact has been just as profound.
At our first family dinner, my husband announced that he had eaten lunch five minutes before and that he was not hungry. "Not" and "hungry" rarely if ever show up together in my personal lexicon but that’s another blog-post. However, he obliged me by sitting at the table with a glass of water, enduring my pronouncements about the importance of togetherness. When I reached out to hold hands for grace, my son looked at me as if I had asked him to climb on the table, beat his chest like a gorilla and toss about his own feces, possibly an activity he would have preferred. “WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A NICE SIT DOWN FAMILY DINNER AND WE ARE GOING TO LIKE IT,” I screamed as they stared on in wonder at the new-super-human-mom-wife-woman before them.
Growing up, my mother did cook and we did say grace, but most often from a table cloth on the floor because all of the surfaces in the house were too cluttered for plates. On the evenings I was with my dad, we either circled a loop of fast food chains or, at home, ate with our TV dinners on our laps on one of the couches he assembled from parts in the alley while watching Mr. T. Though I have had thousands of beautiful family dinners during and since that time, for some reason these are the ones that have engraved themselves most deeply in my neural coding.
Even though dinner with proper plates and utensils and topics of conversation was a bit bizarre the first night, we did it again the second. My husband cooked. And it was just a little less weird. In fact, it was absolutely wonderful. It was as much of a marvel as the other people on the Greyhound cross country or the Euro-rail from Prague to Budapest. In the right light, my own family contains as much mystery and intrigue as the Seven Wonders of the World.
For the first time in my life I'd rather prevent than invite drama. However, I have noticed that the more “low-key” I want to be, the more high-maintenance I actually am. The longer I stay sober the more work it takes to stay that way—not just physically but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I used to pride myself on my ability to roll out of bed--or sleeping bag--and stumble into the next adventure (read: ill-advised drunken escapade) all fancy-free in the clothes I’d slept in the night before. I was always ready to go! Now I require a full teeth-brushing, clothes that don’t smell like the sewer, some form of exercise, a decent helping of healthy food and no less than 17-87 interactions with any number of 12-step programs ending in the letter A.
This year as I walk-- not stumble-- into 39, I have found myself wanting more family interaction and less performance art, more day trips into the country and less surreal dream sequences through the bowels of the underworld. I hope to God I always have both, but for now I want to spend as much time as I can witnessing and appreciating and discovering the world that is right in front of my face, the world I would be an idiot to miss.