My favorite thing about summers in Florida is the thunderstorms. Most afternoons you can set your watch to them. Right around dinnertime you’ll start to hear the thunder rolling in, breaking up what was a full day of sunshine. It gives us all a little breather from the full, searing power of the sun. Of course being outside after one of these storms feels like you’re hanging out fully dressed in a Finnish sauna. Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays, and the afternoon storms are a big part of that. When I was a little girl, I remember heading up to the marina in Safety Harbor, which was the town I lived in from 9 years old until I left for college. The marina is at the end of main street in what is a very picturesque little town. Some of those years we went to the little league fields which weren’t far from the marina. We spread our blankets out and laid on our backs to watch the fireworks right above our heads. My favorite part of every single one of those Fourth of July holidays was taking shelter in our car, during the inevitable pop up afternoon thunderstorm. Even if we had a spot laid out on the crowded ball fields, or completed mission impossible and found a bench at the marina, once you saw that first bolt of Florida’s famous and deadly lightning, and heard the crack of the accompanying thunder tear across the sky, people scattered like ants back to their cars to wait it out. The windows would fog up from the chilly air conditioning inside the car mixing with the humid, oppressive heat outside. And we’d sit as a family, watching the other families in their cars squished beside us do the same thing. The clouds would roll in and the wind would pick up. The rain would come and the thunder and lightning would put on a spectacular pre-show for the fireworks later. The excitement of the tiniest hint of danger, mixed with the smell of the rain and grass, and the safety and security I felt in that car with my family will always be my favorite part of the Fourth of July holiday. And the hot dogs. Obviously.
This year has been unseasonably hot and dry here. I was looking through some pictures I took in the backyard from last June and the grass was such a bright, vibrant shade of green. Everything looked so lush and quenched. This year has been quite the opposite. Those afternoon thunderstorms that I look forward to all year have been few and far between, and never last long enough to really do any good. We were on a road trip last week and when we got back, all my plants were half dead. I have two very lady like pink powderpuff trees that I bought as small plants to use as decorations at Bellamy’s fifth birthday party. She turned six in April, so I’ve had the trees a little bit more than a year. They grow very fast especially when they’re watered regularly, so I’ve had to be diligent about training and pruning them to grow tall into a tree instead of wide into a shrub. Needless to say, I’ve invested in these plants. I planned on planting them in the ground soon to be a permanent part of our yard, to shade the 12 foot farm table I built last year, and to always remember Bellamy’s fifth birthday tea party. When we came back from our road trip, it looked like they had been set on fire. It looked like the sun came out of the sky, into my backyard and laser beamed its rays directly onto my little powderpuff trees. To say I was really bummed about it would be an understatement. I spent about three hours hand watering everything in the yard, trying to bring it back to life. The next day I removed the dead leaves which was literally every leaf on the plant. I cut the branches back, crossed my fingers, danced by the light of the full moon with a racoon pelt headdress, and made sure to aerate the soil. Most of those things are true. 😉 A few days went by and I was starting to accept the fact that they were goners. This morning I went outside on my back patio and noticed a few green leaves starting to peek their heads out of the seemingly dead branches, almost as if they were checking to see if the coast was clear.
I have many of life’s most important epiphanies while I’m working on a project or in the yard. As I was watering, clearing away some of the dead branches and leaves, staking our sad looking tomato plants, and pruning our zucchini plant, I realized how our brutal, arid weather was in some ways reflecting a season of life for many people right now. Its unusually, and some days dangerously hot. Its miserable to be outside. Even some of my most heat resistant plants have stalled in their growth, preserving their energy to merely survive, not having enough energy to thrive. That is certainly how the first few weeks of this pandemic went for us. Before everything started to shut down, Colt played about seven to eight gigs a week. Spring break is his busiest time of year since most of the venues he plays at are on the beach and heavily rely on tourism. His schedule was spread pretty thin, but he never wanted to turn down a gig, especially for a friend. For anyone that really knows Colt, there isn’t any client he’s ever had that he doesn’t consider a friend after he plays for them. We had a steady income and felt security in the fact that he played at multiple places. Even if one place had to discontinue music, he would have several other places to fall back on, and a waiting list of people trying to hire him at their venues if his regular gigs backed out. Our foolproof plan of consistent employment failed when everything started to close. It really was the perfect storm. We couldn’t think of any scenario other than this that all of his gigs would disappear at once. You can’t exactly work from home if you’re a musician, every venue he normally plays at closed its doors, and all of his corporate or private events he had scheduled backed out. Thankfully we had a little bit of money saved to live off of until the world decided to open back up again. But we were stalled in our growth. We went into self-preservation mode, just trying to stay afloat on what seemed to be a slowl leaking ship. We tried to get a few organization projects done around the house to divert our attention from the looming anxiety of our new reality. You can only organize the garage so many times, and rearrange so many pieces of furniture before enough is enough.
One night after the kids went to bed, Colt came out into the garage sit with me while I worked on a table I was building. I was surprised to see him out there, as the garage is a pretty hot, boring place to hang out if you aren’t working, but I was happy to have his company. About five minutes after he came out, and I had told him about what I was doing and when I would be done, the lull in the conversation lead me to ask, “Are you ok?”. He looked around the room and I realized he hadn’t come to entertain me or be entertained. He seemed antsy, uncomfortable, and not exactly sure what to do with himself. I asked him what was wrong, and he looked relieved that I had asked. He explained that so much of his role in our family was wrapped up in being the main provider. He was the one we could count on financially to take care of our family. He was right. I’m sure for many people, as soon as they hear that Colt is a musician, they automatically assume that he plays a few gigs a week, but all in all has a pretty laid back, maybe even lackadaisical existence. Nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to his professional work ethic, he is a machine. I can’t talk on the phone for more than 30 minutes without my voice going hoarse, but most weeks he plays four or five gigs on weekdays and back to back double gigs on Friday and Saturdays. He belts out the vocals, and plays until his hands cramp up, not to mention hauling his sound equipment in and out of each gig. He has almost no recuperation time between gig days, but you will never hear him complain. That night in the garage, he was coming out to sit with me in his uncertainty. And it made me feel good that he would brave the heat, and sawdust filled air of our garage, just to be physically close to me in that moment. We talked about how there are some things that you can control, and some things that you have to roll with. This was our “roll with it” moment. Instead of roaming around our house aimlessly every day, thinking about what a rut we were in, we resolved to put the extra time to better use. I said, “We’re going to keep praying about this. Together and separately, everyday… Tomorrow, you should try to teach the kids a song on their instruments. Maybe after you learn it, we can record it and send it to our parents and friends. It will give us something fun to look forward to.” The truth was, I was searching for something I could give him to help find purpose in his displacement, but I was just as clueless as he was. This idea would at least be a step. In what direction we didn’t know, but we were committed to putting one foot in front of the other.
The next morning we all slept in, felt the refreshment of a good night sleep, and woke up to tell the kids our plan. They were THRILLED. They were happy that Daddy was spending more time at home, but even they knew something wasn’t right. That morning, and into the afternoon, the boys each learned their parts for the song, and Bellamy practiced shaking her maraca on beat. We filmed the video in one take, and posted it online to share with friends and family. Ironically, our videos would have never been shared on Facebook if the first video had been short enough to fit in a text message, which was my initial thought when I went to share it. After we posted the video we hopped into the truck, rolled down the windows and took a long drive around our little city. As we drove around looking at the newly blooming flowers in what were very sparsely populated streets, friends and family sent us the sweetest words of encouragement about the video. We shared their comments with the kids. By the time we got home about 30 minutes later we noticed that the video had already been seen around a thousand times. That BLEW OUR MINDS. We truly thought only our parents and closest friends would watch. The next morning it was at almost 10,000 views. We filmed a new music video the next day, and noticed that many of the thoughtful, and encouraging comments people were leaving us weren’t from people we knew. I think the best way to describe this feeling in keeping with my theme is to say that we felt like we had just been watered. We had been a beautiful, healthy garden that had been scorched by the sun for the last few weeks, but the encouragement we received from the people that we knew, as well as many kind strangers had invigorated us. It made us feel like the time we were spending at home could have a purpose far more important than cleaning out the garage or organizing closets. We realized we had the gift of time, which is one of the most valuable commodities there is. And that is when everything changed.
We all felt inspired. The kids were waking up every morning excited to choose a song for the day with Colt. I finished the first outdoor dining table I had been working on, and started my first commissioned project which was a 12 foot outdoor dining table with six benches. We painted with watercolors and acrylics. We planted a vegetable garden, a flower garden, and grew a wild flower meadow in our backyard. We had family movie nights with the kids, and let them stay up late to watch old episodes of Survivor with us. We laughed as Bellamy lip synced the intro music to the show. I nervously gave Colt his first home haircut since we got married, and did a pretty spectacular job if I do say so myself. As video comments started coming in from more and more exotic (to us) places all over the world, we took time to research some of the locations and take in the beauty and culture through our study. Oh, and Ellen called. 😊 We were all growing again. And maybe we never stopped, although at times it sure did feel like it.
I think what I have learned the most over these last few months is that there are no guarantees in life. Even now, watching the news and seeing how our culture is shifting, sometimes it can feel like there are very few firm places to plant your feet as facts and opinions seem to
blend together forming an ever increasing gray area. The only thing we can control is how we react, and that is certainly something I haven’t mastered yet. So many times our reactions will rub off on those we come into contact with, especially those closest to us. Though the responsibility to react in a positive way is our own, many times in my own life I have found that the only way I can get into a good head space is through prayer. If I feel like I’m losing control, I can call on the one that controls it all. That doesn’t mean it will work out like I expect it to, but there’s comfort in knowing I’m never alone. Many of the most important and precious milestones in my life have come after a hard left turn.
Today, if you’re feeling like you can’t quite see through the forest of worry and anxiety yet, don’t be afraid. While you're searching for a way out, you just might find you grew taller than the trees.