Giving Meaning to the Not-Free Red Chair

Today I spied a gorgeous red chair next to a telephone pole. I slowed down the car and looked for a “free” sign. The chair stood next to the telephone pole that wears a witch around Halloween. The chair wasn’t wearing a “take me” badge, and I thought that the neighborhood kids must have been using this seat yesterday while playing outside. Perhaps they decided to leave the chair here for overheated walkers. All I know is I wanted to claim this red-backed wooden piece of furniture for myself.

I wanted to claim this moment as an omen. I would have made up a good story to go along with its capture. I would say, “It had a free sign and I thought for once the free junk wasn’t junk! The chair was meant for me, the writer who drives down this street almost every single day.”

As my 44th birthday beckons from just over a week away, I want a sign to mark the past, present and future as preordained justification for how I live my life. If I find a free chair on my morning commute, wouldn’t that be justification that the writer path I am on is unfolding as it should be?

Yes, I really want an omen to call out to me that all of my choices have been right. I keep thinking about how when I entered this decade almost four years ago I felt sure of everything. My first two books were hot off the press. My youngest was off to kindergarten soon. As a parent, I had survived early childhood and my career would surely take flight with the children back in school for six hours every day. I was healthy and my 40th celebrations found me surrounded by family and friends. I felt like I had survived and my forties were about thriving.

Don’t get me wrong: I am thriving. But the last four years have felt more like a washing machine ride than me conquering new career heights while my children coasted through grade school. I’m in some spin cycle that has me quickly figuring out how to sort my laundry for maximum effect. Recently I had lunch with a friend who has already passed through this decade. As I explained my recent conundrums to her she said, “Yes, it’s the sorting decade.”

This, this line was my omen. Even though I wanted to load that red chair into my gold SUV as collateral damage for the last few years, there is no talisman saying, yes, you have chosen well, carry on! Instead, I marvel at what my forties have already shown me. My youngest went off to kindergarten and instead of sailing into reading, she spent two years in kindergarten while being diagnosed with a few learning disabilities and garnering plenty of extra services. As I learned how to help her, I rethought my own ideas about what it means to be smart and how kids fit into the classroom both academically and socially.

I watched my oldest begin to navigate friendships without me standing nearby. While discussing her travails, she asked me, “When does this end?” For once, I decided honesty wasn’t the best answer. I’ve been recalculating the idea of friendship with extra scrutiny lately, too, and often all there is for an answer is silence, and gratitude for my family that is always here no matter what.

And a blossoming career path? It seems our two new dogs know a lot more about my current career than I do. With much earnestness, they have given me new resume bullet points. I’m now adept at the slow meander through the neighborhood with no destination in sight. I’m also good at tossing the ball to one while taunting the other one with a favorite stuffed animal. I’m unable to multitask while undertaking either of these skills. I think I’m finally getting somewhere when it comes to the meaning of life. And that, my friends, is something worth celebrating. That’s what I will be doing all next week: saying hello to age 44 while thanking my family and dogs for their persistence in teaching me the art of having fun as often as life permits. Thankfully, no free red chair is necessary for these pointless pursuits that bring me huge doses of daily joy.

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