Change Takes Time

we buy the giant minced garlic at our house because i love it in an unreasonable abundance, and now via stockholm syndrome, so does my family. when a recipe calls for 1 minced glove of garlic, i wave my hand like ‘pishaw!” and say, “sissies! it’s at least 5 cloves.” what can i say? i love my garlic and i’m saving my family from vampires. honestly, i should get a medal.

the giant jar of garlic is like 2 pounds i think, and it has a purple lid. you all probably have bought one and it’s gone bad before you used it all up. we buy them bi-weekly. i’m weird. we established this. before the problems with my neck and resulting spine surgery, i could twist and snap off that purple top with ease, as i dumped my heaping and excessive 1 clove (ha!) into whatever i was cooking. i was strong. i took it for granted that i would always be strong.

when my ams started to go numb and my hands stopped working, it was terrifying and frustrating. i had always done things with my hands. i’m a really crafty lady. i love to sew, bake, paint, refinish furniture and most of all needlepoint. well, it hurt me like crazy to hold up the loop and when i try to needlepoint now my right arm burns with agony.

and then the unthinkable happened; i couldn’t open the new jar of garlic. the baby and i were home alone. he was 14 months old and had yet to develop his manly, jar-opening muscles. i was making dinner, and i couldn’t get it open. i got one of those plastic jar openers, and i tried to pry it open, but i couldn’t. i leaned against it on the counter and then tried again with the plastic thingy. didn’t even budge. needless to say, i was stuck. i couldn’t move forward without it and i couldn’t get it open. 45 minutes later, the merman came home to find me on the floor really having a go at the jar with a wrench and he was both alarmed and filled with great humor at the fact he picked lucy ricardo as a spouse.

i handed him the jar, and he twisted it open with zero effort and handed it back to me. when he saw how frustrated i was and totally upset that my hands were failing me and he with no trouble had snapped the seal like so much a wishbone, he said “well, you loosened it up for me.” believe me when i say, it was super nice of him to say that, but what a load of crap! i hadn’t made it move at all. i couldn’t do something i had always done.

for the rest of that week, i was getting deeply discouraged about the whole thing. i couldn’t do any of my favorite activities anymore, i could barely even type. i used to type 95 wpm. it was now about six. lil’ flipper could type faster than me.

the other day, while i was in the pool, i tried to do a flip turn to disastrous results. i got water in my nose, goggles and cap, i misjudged where the wall was, so when i went to extend my legs, i was too far away and it hurt. when i came out of the turn, i tried to be all casual, “yeah, i meant to do that,” but between the burning chlorine in my nose and the water i my eyes, i was a drastic mess.

i eventually managed to recover. later, once my face stopped burning, while i was doing the backstroke, i had a thought. i was going to have to relearn how to do a flip turn. while the range of motion in my neck is incredibly good for the surgery i had, my body didn’t remember how to do it. i had to teach my body the movements again and over time, i would get better.

so as i flip turned again at the other end of the lane, this time, i was better. i hit the wall square, i launched off with full power and i soared through the water like a missile. it was awesome. as i was again backstroking, i thought, i probably need to teach my hands how to work again too. they might’ve forgotten how to open jars on my own or needlepoint. they might need some help getting strong enough to do that again. maybe i needed to do some art therapy with my hands to get them back to, at least a better fraction of, their former glory?

but change is slow and hard and it always hurts and it’s so easy to get discouraged. it’s not like i could get on a scale and see how much weight my hands lost. i needed a way to measure my success even though i felt like i was going backwards. so every day i sat with my computer and i typed. my hands shook. they betrayed me. they made egregious typos that were simply unacceptable. but eventually they got the hang of it again. now i’m about 40 wpm, not good enough to get a job as a secretary, but better than where i was.

every time we got a new jar of garlic, i would try to open it first. the merman would stand by, ready to help out, but i’d cast a furious brow at him if he even tried to reach for it. when i was ready to ask for help i would. until then, i was going to keep trying.

yesterday, i got the garlic open on my own!! you would’ve thought i won a million dollars in the lottery tax free, i screamed so hard. my son got worried, the merman came running in. everyone was panicked at my ruckus. but when they saw the jar open on the counter and my big grin, i got loads of hugs and spitty kisses (from both of them) and a “good job, momma!” i cried big fat joy tears and did a ’success kid.’ i swear. i told you i cry a lot in the kitchen.

the thing about progress is that when you’re in the montage of self-improvement, it’s hard to see yourself achieving anything big or small. it’s because you’re looking at it on such a granular level. you’re living with it every second of every day and when your thoughts lead you to self-doubt and self-cruelty, those seconds last a lifetime. when starting something new, and hard and challenging, you have to allow yourself to make mistakes, to fail, to be unable to finish something you start, because it’s only by failing that we eventually succeed. now, that 2 pound tub of garlic doesn’t own me, i own it, and it’s delicious.


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