House Fires and Photos

We have had a crazy couple days. On Sunday my parents house burned down. Or, burned? There is still a house standing, so it didn’t technically “burn down”, but just saying “burned” sounds weird. It is no longer livable and a large percentage of their belongings were destroyed. My parents were out of the country when it happened and so my husband and I became the ones in charge of the situation. Let me just say, my parents can be very relieved that I married who I married, because my husband has been superman in a cape. I have basically stood off to the side wringing my hands. My brother also stepped up to the plate, long distance, and got all the insurance stuff moving while my husband worked on the grunt work of cleaning out paths of debris so you could walk in the building and boarding up broken windows and doors. The two of them have been amazing. Me, I have listened, nodded my head, said uh-huh, and hovered on the sidelines, available, but not sure how to help.

I ended up with 3 totes of water-soaked, charred photo albums. This became my baby. I told my brother I would try and find a company that could help with photo restorations. I called around. Everyone I talked to were full of lots of useful advice on how I should go about drying the pictures, and then, when the pictures were dry, I could bring them in. I asked one lady on the phone, is there anywhere I can take these where someone can help dry them? Oh no, she said, we really don’t have room for that. I’m sure you have a lot more room at home. Right. We have houseguests at the moment. I informed the lady that I had, literally, thirteen children in my home at the moment. There was nowhere safe I could lay out pictures to dry. She also didn’t seem to realize that we were talking closer to a thousand pictures or more. Not, a little handful. My mom is a photographer, my late grandmother was a photographer, and my mom is interested in family history. We’re talking about a 100 years worth of family photos here, from families that liked to take photos.

I finally took the very unorthodox method of sitting on a stool on my lawn and spreading wet pictures all over the grass. When they dried, I would then gather them up and put them in a box. I have been doing this for two days. I still didn’t finish all the photos. My brother, who drove down to help, finally came this evening and took the rest of the photos from me since I am now having to shift my attention to my son’s high school graduation which happens this Thursday, and all the hoopla that goes along with that.

It has been an interesting experience, going through all my mom’s photos. There’s pictures of me in the hospital, covered in wires. I was born a month early with weak lungs and then got pneumonia. According to the little notations on the photos, I didn’t go home till I was nine days old.

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Then there’s a pic of my parents when they were engaged. They were so 70s!!

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I found an awesome picture of me with my maternal grandparents when I was three years old. This picture means a lot to me. My mother was British and has two sisters. My mother married an American, one sister married a South African, and the other sister married an Englishman. Needless to say, I didn’t see my relatives on that side of the family often. My grandparents were missionaries in South Africa, our family was in Haiti or the US. I met my grandparents three times in my life: when I was eight months old, when I was three years old, and when I was ten years old. My grandfather died on the trip home after that last visit. I met my grandmother one other time when I was fifteen. They were amazing people, I loved them, and I wished that I could have had a chance to know them better.

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I found my dad’s baby book. My grandmother’s careful, elegant handwriting, detailing important facts of his first year of life. There was a picture of my grandparents holding my father. I have always been proud of the fact that my grandparents had an interracial marriage in an era when that was not very acceptable.

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As I gathered up all the dried photos, scattered across the lawn, everything got mixed up. Pictures of my children mixed up with pictures of my mother as a baby, mixed up with pictures of the Picazo family, mixed up with pictures of the Rigby family. All the time periods blurred together into a box that represented Memory. Memories that we were here. Memories that we lived in families, we hugged our babies, we smiled at birthdays, we got married, older generations died, newer generations were born. Memory of the human story. So Universal. So Personal.

In the end, I have played a small role in helping my parents with this tragedy. But I think it was an important role. Keeper of the Memories. I wasn’t really preserving these pictures just for my mom. I did it for me. For my children. For my grandchildren. Here is the story of our family. Let me tell you about these pictures.

 

Fat Fridays: Week 7 Crying Babies, Stress, No Autopilot Eating

Today my kids had an unexpected day off from school. We decided that the best thing to do on a wonderfully warm February day with nothing scheduled, was to go visit Grandma and Grandpa, about an hour away. I took the six youngest with me and we had a wonderful day playing outside, helping Grandpa with projects, doing crafts with Grandma, just relaxing. Finally, the kids started getting tired and fussy. I checked the time, almost 7 pm. Time to load everyone up and head home. My plan was to leave at seven and that would get us home at bedtime so the kids could just go straight to bed. It was dark and I was driving on poorly lit, country roads. I hate night driving. I can see, but I feel tense the entire time, sitting up straight in my seat, gripping the steering wheel. I put on a Disney Music Station and had it blasting in the car, trying to drown out any whining and fussing and also make it clear to the kids that we were going to sit and listen to music instead of trying to talk to mom or get into fights with siblings or start a loud obnoxious game. I turned down the volume just long enough to remind the kids that Mom didn’t like driving at night and she needed to concentrate on driving and please don’t try to talk to mom.

Well, the two year old was sitting in his car seat right behind my seat. He got into the car crying and then proceeded to cry for the entire trip. All seventy-five minutes of it. I asked my older kids to try and figure out what he wanted/needed. All they were able to establish was what he didn’t want. He didn’t want a bottle of juice. He didn’t want a water bottle. He didn’t want his toy fire truck. He didn’t want his brother’s pillow. And he didn’t want anyone to talk to him. In desperation I finally bent my arm behind my chair and offered him my hand to hold. He held my hand for a couple minutes, taming his crying down to a whimper, and then he would suddenly push my hand away and start kicking at my seat and start up crying even more. Meanwhile, I am trying to drive carefully at the speed limit, straining to see the road in the dark, trying to not get blinded by the headlights of oncoming cars. Music is blasting and the other kids are singing along gustily. And the baby keeps crying. I put my hand back again and he holds it for a couple minutes and then pushes it away. We then proceeded to repeat this process for thirty minutes. To say that I was stressed would be a bit of an understatement.

As we were getting closer to home I started thinking about what I was going to do when I got home. The first step would of course be to hand the crying baby to my husband. Tag, you’re it. And then I thought. Toast. Some nice hot toast with melted butter and maybe a bit of jam. That sounds really good. That sounds really soothing. That sounds heavenly. And then I stopped. I realized what I was doing. I was majorly stressed and so I was now fantasizing about what yummy food would help me feel better. This was not good. I wasn’t hungry. It was past supper time, heading towards bedtime, I didn’t need any food. Really, a much better way to handle this stress would be to get home and immediately step on my elliptical machine and walk off the stress instead. Of course, I am a mom of many children and it was coming up on bedtime. Fitting in a workout right away was not going to happen. So what could I do?

We finally got home whereupon the baby instantly stopped crying. Of course. I handed him over to my husband and went about the business of emptying the car and getting everyone headed off to bed. Then my little girls wanted me to sit with them while they went to sleep, they were afraid of the dark. Then after they finally went to sleep the nine year old needed a bit of one-on-one time and then finally everyone was where they were supposed to be and I could finally check out. It was almost 10 pm. Too late to make toast. And I thought about what had just happened. I had been stressed and reacted in my normal, habitual way: think of what food will help me feel better, make plans to eat it as soon as possible. And then I had stepped back from the habitual thought process and recognized what I was doing. Instead of it being a non-thought-out process, it became something that I was thinking about and analyzing. And when I recognized what I was doing, I was able to put off the food until I finally didn’t want it anymore. Because really, my old me would have told my kids to go to bed, made toast, quickly ate it, and then run upstairs to sit with the girls.

This is my takeaway. I need to continue to make Thinking about Why I am Eating, a priority. When I realize that I am eating for reasons other than hunger, I am able to take steps to stop. If I go about in a haze and just eat on autopilot I’m never going to get anywhere. So, that’s my goal for this week, no autopilot eating. Think about what I’m doing. And then hope I can make good decisions.

P.S. Clean Jeans Test this morning told me that my jeans are definitely getting a bit looser!