On Unpacking and Light Bulbs
I sat down to open the mail last week, and I cracked.
Every envelope I opened brought something new.
New address. New car. New insurance - home and car and health. New voter registration. New credit card, because mine got compromised by someone who went on an online dating service spree. Sigh.
I tore open every envelope, each one with more anger, more frustration, more exhaustion.
After two exhausting months, I'm done. I collapse on the couch and stare at my phone until I fall asleep at night. There's nothing left.
Moving is gutting. It doesn't matter if, like us, you are moving into a beautiful new house - a house you love. It guts and rearranges you. It takes everything that is in some semblance of order and throws it up in the air, like Ellie does with her puzzle pieces. And then we find them under the couch, in the chair cushions, in the kitchen drawers.
Here is my life: my lamps don't have bulbs.
We've lived in this house for almost two months, and my lamps don't have bulbs.
When I get up in the night, when I creep into Ellie's room and put my hand on her belly and feel her breathe so that I can breathe, I turn on my phone's flashlight and perch it on my bed. It's not a lamp, but it works. Because my lamp doesn't have a bulb.
Putting a bulb in a lamp is a small effort - minuscule really. The impact, of course, would be huge. But it hasn't happened. I don't know where the light bulbs are. I don't know when I will find them. The Vegas line on my lamps getting bulbs would probably be at least + 6 weeks.
There's a large amount of shame that frames my day. Why can't I get my shit together? Why can't my lamps have bulbs? My dishes get done? My laundry get folded?
Because I work. I work, I cook, I have dance parties with Ellie every night. She loves “No” (Meghan Trainor) and "Handclap" and we can listen and dance to them on repeat until we collapse laughing on the couch. She dances up to me and says “I do, on! I do, on!,” requesting the Hamilton soundtrack in the most darling possible way. We turn it on. We belt at the top of our lungs.
And then my heart beats faster when I think about the other kiddos we hope to have. I think about the lamps in their rooms. I think about more laundry and less time.
We’ve been talking a lot lately about our hour. It’s the hour we get each day, the hour between rushing home and making dinner and cleaning up from dinner and playing with Ellie and putting her to bed and then going to bed ourselves. There’s about an hour there - sometimes it is shorter, because we fall asleep on the couch. Sometimes it’s longer, because I want to watch Colbert or Fallon or some other distractingly funny thing.
And what I’m slowly discovering, what is being scraped out of me like the seeds when we carved our pumpkin, is that I can’t live for that hour. Because when I believe that that hour is my only hour, I live from a place of scarcity.
I believe the lie that Melanie can only really be Melanie in that one hour, that 8:30-9:30 PM, because that’s the hour that I have no other responsibilities other than to myself, and to the bottle of red on the counter.
When I live for that one hour, I don’t see God’s abundance in the other 23 hours of my day.
I stand in that posture of scarcity, believing that there’s not enough of me to go around … believing that there’s not enough of me left. Which is true. There’s not enough of me, and there shouldn’t be. My expectations are too high. Guilt and scarcity are terrible bedfellows.
I dream of a clean house. I dream of order, and timeliness, and folded and ironed laundry.
But I also dream of laughing late into the night, of cuddling up next to Price on the couch and falling asleep like we have for the last 10 years. I dream of a door that’s proverbially always unlocked, of friends that have keys and come and go, and don’t have to ask where the corkscrew or the trash bags are.
That’s the beautiful thing about this house of ours. Do we have bulbs in our lamps upstairs? No. But downstairs, we’ve had a dozen nights already of drinking and laughing and eating with our favorite people. Weekends, weeknights, good nights, hard nights, fight nights, flight nights, football nights, baseball nights, take-out nights and home-cooked dinner nights.
I’m stretching muscles I haven’t stretched in a while. I’m fighting for what we love over the guilt I feel over light bulbs and laundry. Because this life is abundant, not scarce. It’s hard, not easy. But it is full of good and beautiful things.
So the back-breaking work these days is not putting bulbs in lamps, though that’s important. It is not the gutting work of moving, but rather the gutting work of motherhood, of adulthood, of marriage, of prioritizing, of cutting out what I don’t need - guilt and shame - and making space for what I love - cooking, laughing, writing, my people. It’s wearing glasses that force me to see abundance, not scarcity.
As I decorate and arrange our house with the hodgepodge of art and furniture and knickknacks we’ve collected over the years, I begin to put together myself as well. It will take time. I can’t snap my fingers and every disparate thing have a home in my house, nor can I expect that the person who has been undone and rocked and gutted these past few years will instantly become a whole person. I don’t snap together like Ikea furniture.
Unpacking a house takes a very long time. Unpacking a heart that’s been hiding underneath crumpled white paper, stuffed in a cardboard box and carried from state to state? That takes even longer.