Thursday, August 20, 2020

Organs and merging and anxieties and stuff

When I wake up tomorrow I will officially be a graduate student. I've had quite a bit of anxiety leading up to this moment but I just now solidified my schedule and paid tuition so it looks like I'm really doing this. 

And I'm sure it will be fine. 

I mean, why not start something huge in the middle of a global pandemic? It will be fine.

Rachel forced me to create a Google Classroom for our homeschool today. She actually logged on to my profile on the laptop (she knows my password for that) and helped herself to my google account (since I was already logged on). After she made a "classroom" for me, she showed me what was up and how useful it can be. She's already submitted an essay for me to grade so it does look like a wonderful way to keep track of grades for her (honestly, I'm not too concerned with that for this year but next year I'm going to have to start keeping rather formal records for her high school transcripts, which is somewhat daunting). I have a feeling she'll keep us on our toes this year. 

Yesterday was an adventurous day for her and Andrew...and Miriam, in a way (though she mostly stayed home and daydreamed about her future life). 

We've been looking for a new organ for several months now—one with a full set of pedals—since Miriam is really wanting to progress but can't practice on only half a set. I found a few in the Atlanta area but they were all well over $1000 (or were cheap but the seller admitted it didn't actually work or, in one particular case, had been thrown away before we could claim it), but as I was scrolling through Facebook Marketplace I spotted a beautiful, recently restored organ for only $600! With pedals! 

The only problem was it was in Tryon, North Carolina. 

Still, we needed a new organ. Miriam's teacher had said she'd just reached that point—she either needed an organ with full pedals in our house or she needed to find an organ to practice on. We potentially have access to the church organ, but constantly borrowing keys sounded like a hassle we didn't want to toy with on a daily basis. So an organ it was. 

Actually, that was pretty funny. Andrew even put a note out on Twitter saying that he was "searching for a used organ for his 10-year-old" and people were responding with, " everything okay?" thinking we were looking for, like, a transplant donor rather than, like, a musical instrument.

Anyway, Andrew said he'd be happy to drive up and get it and Rachel begged him until he said she could go with him. I think they were both excited to sit in a quiet car and listen to audiobooks and/or read and/or stare out the window without a bunch of little people wildly jumping all over them. From all accounts they had a wonderful—if quiet—trip up to North Carolina and back again.

We rented a cargo van from Home Depot, which is really a pretty good deal (compared to other places like U-Haul), but you can't reserve the vehicle. You just have to hope one is available. So I was really nervous about whether or not one would be available when we needed one. I checked availability on the weekend and...there were no vehicles available...but apparently Tuesday morning isn't a popular cargo-moving day for the general population and there were plenty of vehicles to rent at our local Home Depot. 

Andrew insisted that I drive him down to pick it up, so I did. Well, technically he drove to go pick it up and then I drove home while he drove the cargo van (we went early in the morning to get the van just so that we'd be sure to have it for the day even though he didn't need to leave until later in the day). 

He and Rachel went on their little trip and made it back without any incidence and our neighbour helped us move the organ into our house and Miriam was so excited to sit down and practice! So we got the organ set up and I threw dinner on the table for the kids, told Rachel she was in charge, and Andrew and I rushed back to Home Depot to return the cargo van before they closed for the day (we didn't want to be charged for two days, did we?). 

I was a little nervous about driving to Home Depot because there's an "on ramp" of sorts that you have to use, which I've only ever used the one time Andrew had me drive to Target last year so that I could practice going that way (the way of Miriam's organ lessons, and several other things). But I never go that way. Because merging.

But yesterday I did. All by myself.

I considered pulling up to the intersection to turn right from there, but the light is long and when I looked up the street (before getting on the on-ramp) it looked like there was a long lull in traffic right about then, so I just bravely followed Andrew (muttering to myself, "This is fine. I can do this. I can totally do this..." the whole way) and merged into traffic. 

Andrew stuck his arm out his window to give me a thumb's up. 

And then we got to Home Depot. After parking, Andrew went inside to settle the bill and then came out and hopped into our car (into the driver's seat, of course). 

"You know," he said. "I just thought that you didn't have to drive me here at all. I could have just driven myself and left the car in the parking lot all day."

Which is 100% true! But keeping my driving nerves up to snuff is probably a good idea, anyway. 

So we're driving home, a different way than the way we came because, as Andrew reassured me that morning, "it's easier" that way (than it would be to try to turn left out of the Home Depot parking lot (and he's not wrong))...but there was a ton of construction and six lanes of traffic were compressed into two lanes of traffic and there were a lot of traffic pylons and big orange barrels and flashing signs and cars merging into my lane and even a guy on a bicycle was not an easy, breezy drive home for me. I was happy that Andrew was driving this time. He wasn't nervous at all.

"Oh, look," I said. "They're putting in a pedestrian bridge here!"

"Yup. You didn't notice that this morning?" he asked.

"No," I said. "No, I did not. I was not paying attention to what they were doing over there. I was paying attention to my lane and the cars and the pylons and the flashing signs and..."

"How do you even live with yourself?" he chuckled.

Very carefully, that's how.

Sometimes I wonder how it might be like to not be afraid of, oh, so many things. I am afraid of so many things. No matter the activity, I can think of a thousand ways things might go wrong. I've become pretty good at coming up with contingency plans but I'm sometimes a little slow to take action on things (because I'm so busy thinking about everything that could go wrong). Andrew was worried when I burst into tears minutes before our wedding, but I think he gets it now. It's not that I didn't want to get married it's just that there were so many things that could go wrong. Thankfully, thus far I've only been convinced that while life is hard, marriage is bliss. So that's worked out well. Still, I'm afraid of basically everything. 

A few weeks ago we went to leave the house for a family walk and the children pointed out that the window above the garage had fallen open. There's nothing above the garage really, so the window is just for show, but open window is a I climbed up a ladder and forced the window back up. It slid back down as I climbed down the ladder. So I climbed back up and pushed the window closed again. It fell open. So I closed it. It fell open again. So I did a little investigating. 

Oddly, climbing up ladders doesn't make me terribly nervous. 

Sure, one could fall and potentially die, but I have pretty good balance and being up high doesn't bother me too badly if I'm the one that put me that high (so while simply climbing a rope is fine, being up on a cliff does worry me a bit). Anyway, I did a little investigating and found a screw that had clearly been used to prop the window shut had popped out of place. All I had to do was fix that screw and we'd be on our way. So I got a screwdriver and I went back up there and I screwed the window shut. 

"Would it be better with two screws, do you think?" Andrew asked.

"Probably," I agreed.

So went back up the ladder to put a screw in on the other side of the window frame. But I couldn't do it with the screw driver. So Andrew suggested the drill.

Want to guess whether or not I'm afraid of the drill?

I'm afraid of the drill.

But, like, things have to get done whether or not something makes me nervous, right? So I went back up the ladder with the drill. 

I still couldn't do it. 

Of course, we'd tried to take a shortcut and I went up there with a screwdriver tip rather than a pilot-hole bit. But still. I couldn't do it. 

"Do you want me to try?" Andrew asked.

"You?" I giggled. "No."

Ladders are, like, the one facet of life where my bravery outshines Andrew's. 

"Why not?" he asked.

"I don't want you getting all nervous, up a ladder, with a drill. It wouldn't end well..."

"I'll be fine," he said. "It's not that high."

"Okay," I said in a placating tone.

"For real," he said. "I can do this."

"Fine," I said. "Go ahead. I'll hold the ladder."

So Andrew started up the ladder. 

He put one foot up. 

He put another foot up. 

He started shaking.

"You're going to have to go up higher," I said. 

"I feel pretty high," he said. 

"You are literally a foot off the ground," I said. "You're going to have to go much higher."

So he put one foot on the next rung. And his other foot.

"I think I can reach from here," he said.

"I think you'll definitely need to go higher than that," I said. "See how the window is way up there?"

"Yeah," he said, clinging to the ladder, sweat dripping from his brow. 

"Just gotta go a little higher," I coaxed.

"I'm going, I'm going," he said, but he still clung to the ladder for dear life, literally two rungs off the ground.

He never did make it up there, so in the end we decided that we'd leave it with one screw for now and that we'd add the second screw later. It was a good experience, though, because now when I'm feeling really anxious about something—driving anywhere, for example—I can just tell Andrew that I'm on the second rung of a ladder and it's scary from up here. It helps him be patient with all my anxieties.

Still, I wonder what it would be like to have, like, just a couple of fears. Like, ladders and...whatever. That would be crazy. My list of fears is...robust. I mean, it's super lengthy. Like, long.

What might it be like to not be afraid to drive or to fly? What might it be like to not prickle with fear every time you hear a dog bark? What might it be like to go to bed at night and not begin wondering whether or not your children are still breathing and whether or not you really locked all the doors and what that sound could have been? What might it be like to not...just be afraid of everything, always?

I think of my grandma, who was the sweetest, calmest person in the world. She loved bird watching and clogging and whistling and playing the accordion and Scrabble and Boggle and The Reader's Digest. She always ate the same thing for every meal, if she could help it, and once had to have a fireman practically carry her out of her house (when her neighbour's house was on fire) because she hadn't finished her morning bowl of All-Bran cereal yet. Once she accidentally tipped my grandfather down the stairs while she was helping him walk the hall for his daily exercise (more truthfully he lost his balance and she couldn't stop him from falling) and I will never forget how she stood at the top of the stairs with her hands fluttering by her cheeks, wailing, "Oh, Arnold! Oh, Arnold!" (while he pointed up at her and slurred, "She pushed me!" with a huge grin on his face). It was the only time I ever heard her raise her voice. 

Anyway, my grandma liked to leave motivational notes for herself, like "Feel the fear and do it anyway!" (Susan Jeffers) and "You must do the thing you think you cannot do!" (Eleanor Roosevelt) and as a child I always wondered what my grandma could possibly have to be afraid of. Her life was absolutely predictable. 

Of course, now I know that she was simply afraid of doing everything (and, of course, at the same time I was terrified of so many things in her house: that creepy picture of our ancestors above the mantel, the dark basement, the workshop, the way the storage room light flickered, the way the toilets flushed, the spiders that lurked in the maybe I could have at least tried to imagine that my grandma had something to be afraid of—after all, she lived with that ancestor picture in her house). 

Side note: Mom! Which relatives were in that portrait—the one over the mantel in the basement? I can't even remember! And I can't find the picture on FamilySearch. Was it Nicholas "Crazy-Eyes" Muhlestein and his wife, Anna?

Or was it someone else? All I remember is that their eyes scared me to death and I swear they followed me wherever I went in the basement (and I'm also about 90% positive that either some older sibling or cousin told me that they did and I was a gullible child and believed them).

Anyway, I'm sure Grandma was afraid of taking care of my grandfather, of having to manage their life after his stroke. She was afraid of breaking things and wasting things and losing things. She worried about her children and her grandchildren and her siblings and nieces and nephews. I honestly think the list of things she was worried about rivaled my own.

So much so that I was surprised when we moved down to Utah and my grandma offered to drive with us. In fact, we drove in her car! Our van had more or less bit the dust the year or so before we moved so we just junked it and Josie, my mom, and I drove down to Utah with my grandma. And then she drove back up to Alberta by herself. Which is something I simply couldn't imagine my grandma doing. 

And I'm sure every aspect of it terrified her. 

She cut her own toilet seat covers out of plastic grocery bags, guys! She was that afraid of public restrooms. So I'm pretty sure every aspect of that journey scared her. But she did it. 

And I wonder how different her life would have been if my grandpa had not had his stroke. My grandpa, who was afraid of nothing (not even ladders). I'm sure they would have had so many more adventures if my grandma hadn't had to use every last bit of her energy feeling anxious about my grandpa (taking care of sick people is very taxing).

After all, they used to go camping and hiking (things I can hardly imagine my grandma doing) and I know she wanted to travel all over the world (they did make it to Europe at the end of my uncle's mission, but that's the only big trip they went on; and they did serve a mission in Salt Lake (even after my grandpa's stroke) but traveling really soon got quite complicated). And I know she dealt with a lot of scary, anxiety-inducing things in her youth (her mother dying and her brother going off to war and so forth). So even though I'm 99% sure I got my worry-wart contingency-planning genes from her, I think she did okay in life so I think I probably will, too.

At the moment I'm not sure where a picture of her is (downstairs for sure, I know, but I'm upstairs and it's midnight), so here is a picture of my grandpa, who was probably only ever afraid of being entirely dependent on someone else for everything and had to live out that fear for twenty years, sitting behind me and my siblings (minus Josie) at our house in PoCo:


  1. Yes, that was a photo of Nicholas Muhlestein and his first wife, Mary Hauenstein. They did have kind of scary eyes, but it was probably because they had to sit very, very still for so long while that picture was being taken, and they were so worried that they might move and ruin the picture that was probably very expensive, and their worry just crept into their faces. That is what I think.

  2. I swear at Jason when I'm up on ladders but he jusf laughs and says he knows it's my nerves. I was standing on an unbalanced ladder using the drill to screw our barn roof on this desensitization is real 😘

  3. I love your stories! The driving vs ladder story illustrates so well how different things are hard for different people and that people should be patient with that.