When Life Hands You a Pumpkin

Sometimes, life throws some combination of lemons, rotten tomatoes, and poopie diapers your way. Sometimes, it rains…then pours…then hails. And as you sit there with a tomato-stained T-shirt and the sting of lemon juice meeting an old scratch you didn’t even realize you still had… feeling cold, downtrodden and…let’s face it…a little pissed off…you can’t help but ask:

“What is the fucking point of it all, anyway?”

But sometimes…

Sometimes life offers you a pumpkin.

I should explain.

To begin with, I should tell you that in addition to being a highly sensitive, sensory seeking, book-loving, goal-oriented health nut…I am also (she lowers her voice out of respect for any nearby children) a pretty basic bitch. Because much like my fellow XX chromosome carrying sisters….I love all things pumpkin.

In my defense…I loved pumpkin long before the annual November pumpkin craze hit cafes and supermarkets. But I don’t know if that really helps my case…aaaaanyway….

My love of pumpkin began the first time I tried my grandmother’s recipe for pumpkin pie cake. That’s right, folks. It’s pumpkin pie…with a crust… made of cake. How can you possibly go wrong? And I get to eat it on my absolute favorite holiday: Thanksgiving – a holiday that may have horrific historical roots, but has nevertheless evolved into a perfectly good excuse to give thanks and share a delicious meal with people you love.

All of this has a point, I swear.

For the last few months, much like everyone else, I have been dealing with a hurricane of lemons, tomatoes, and poopie diapers (not literally, of course…I am referring to our public health crisis, economic crisis, and political mayhem.) And I have been one of the lucky ones. I have kept my job, continued to pay my bills, and have managed to stay healthy in the thick of all this. It’s almost like I have been playing the world’s most chaotic game of dodgeball ever, and have remained, for the most part, unscathed.

But all that dodging and ducking and running…it’s exhausting. It’s hard to stay on top of every aspect of life with so many obstacles. And to add to the mix, despite the fact that I had kept my job (many shouts of gratitude are warranted, here)…I wasn’t making enough on my part-time income. I was making almost enough. So close. But no cigar.

So I went about my business finding a second income. I felt delicious pride as I navigated job hunting and actually FOUND one. Not only would that income cover the small deficit I was amassing each month, but it would grant me a significant surplus. I felt gratitude. I felt joy. And maybe…(she says sheepishly) if I’m totally honest, a bit of trepidation and fear. I have worked two or three jobs, before. I am no stranger to 60+hour workweeks. But I had done an awful lot of work to position myself such that I wouldn’t have to. Maybe, though…just maybe…it would feel different to work those hours when I actually got to enjoy the fruits of that labor? Maybe, I hoped, it would be an exciting challenge to work hard and not have to spend it all on paying off student loan debt or paying absurdly high rent prices in the Bay Area of California? Maybe, I could…like…spend some of that extra income on me?

I told the people closest to me about my situation (and about my excitement about the new job). It felt wonderful to report to my Mom “Hey! Look at me adulting! Paying off my own mortgage like a boss!” I felt proud to report to my boyfriend that I would be making big-girl money. And it felt empowering to say to my girlfriends “I am officially, wholly, financially independent. No roommates needed to pay my mortgage…no debt of any kind to repay…I’m firmly in the grownup zone!”

They were all supportive. They all cheered for me (because they are amazing people who know how to humor me).

My first week went off without a hitch. I was up at 6am, and ready to start work by 7. I navigated a meeting for this job, then a training for that one, then a smoothie making class for this job, then a group meeting on zoom for the other one. I was home by 7pm. Dinner. Walk the dog. No time for TV. Just a shower and off to bed.

Challenging? Yes. But doable. I think. Maybe. I mean…isn’t it?

By the end of the week, with muscles tight with tension, and my brain a kind of Jello, I rewarded myself with a long walk. I left the phone at home. I even (selfishly) left my dog at home. This walk was just for me.

I went to my favorite park in town and cruised along the myriad of pathways…appreciating all of what Fall (my favorite season) has to offer.

As I walked, I stumbled upon a couple. They looked to be in their 70’s. Each wore a mask that said, very simply “VOTE” on them. Not “Vote for Biden” or “Vote for Trump.” Just…VOTE. Because I wasn’t hindered by earbuds or distracted by music, I had the capacity to stop and share a bit of my joy (whether they wanted it or not).

“I LOVE your masks!” I exclaimed (with an enthusiasm comparable to that of a toddler being shown a magic trick at a birthday party…what can I say? I’m passionate about politics).

They smiled back (at least I think they smiled…with their masks on I couldn’t be sure. But their eyeballs squinted convincingly with what looked like a smile). “Thank you!” said the woman standing next to her companion …her husband, perhaps? “They certainly aren’t subtle!”

“No.” I said “they aren’t. It’s why I love them. You are my kinda people!”

With that short exchange, I continued along. As I walked, I silently reflected on how nice it is when you are able to share something with a stranger as simple as a pleasant conversation. Much as I might be an introvert, I still delight in connecting with people. A small part of me felt a nag of discontent as I realized that with my schedule as hectic as it is, small exchanges like that might be far and few between in the future. I won’t be able to take quite as many leisurely walks in the park. Ahhh well. You can’t have everything, right?

As luck would have it, I bumped into them, again. This time, they stopped for a second to offer me a gentle warning. “Hey…just so you know, the pathway just ahead of you is flooded. We tried to wade through it but we quickly discovered that was a no-go. But if you pay attention, there is a small pathway that will direct you back to the front of the park…you know…where the dog park is? Or else you can also go back the way you came, but that will take you considerably longer.”

Grateful, I thanked them and promised to keep an eye out for the makeshift pathway that would guide me away from soggy feet.

“Good luck finding your path!” the woman called out as the distance between us lengthened.

The phrase stuck with me. Good luck finding your path, indeed. Am I on the right path? Am I doing, in life, what I was about to do during this walk? Trudging along toward an unnecessarily difficult destination…doing something “healthy” only to land knee deep in a flooded goopy mess?

It’s something to think about…

At any rate…I walked a little more slowly. Attentive to my surroundings. And sure enough, I found what looked like a pathway leading away from the main walkway I was on. If I hadn’t been looking for it, I would have missed it. As promised, it guided me toward the front of the park, far away from the flooded walkway I would otherwise needed to contend with.

My mind started making any number of connections as I digested the juxtaposition between the chaos of my week (which I navigated like a badass, mind you) and the pleasure of taking a leisurely walk…between the “I must do everything myself” mantra I’ve been raised with in my country, pitted against the joy and gratitude that comes with being offered aid by a stranger.

Again…something to think about…

Good luck finding your path.

That weekend, I luxuriated in the joy of NOT thinking about work. My boyfriend spent the weekend with me and it was decadent. Not extravagant. But decadent. We walked. Talked. Curled up on the couch to watch TV in absurdly soft robes – one that he gifted to me, no less. This guy gets me. (P.S…if you do not have a soft robe…or a boyfriend who is in a position to buy one for you…you really should get one. Or at least a warm and fuzzy blanket. Fall is so much better with warm and fuzzy things).

Somewhere in the back of my mind…I knew the hectic week was coming. These weekends might not be as frequent in the future. I may have to work during some of them…

But I would think about that, later.

When I got back to work the following week, I hit a snag. It turns out that both of my jobs have a weekly, mandatory, meeting that lands between the hours of 10am and 12pm PT. Now…I might be able to handle working 60+ hours a week…but I am not able to be in two places at once. That, unfortunately, is not in my skillset.

I quickly sent an email to my supervisor at the job I most recently had decided to take on. I explained my situation and also explained that I would really love to attend the group meetings…but the timing just doesn’t fit. How should I proceed?

Through a series of back-and-forth emails, she ultimately told me (in the kindest way possible) that the meeting cannot be moved and I need to choose…come to the meetings or else choose not to work in this new shiny virtual health coaching job. It was a perfectly reasonable line to draw in the sand. They were willing to give me tremendous flexibility. Expecting that I attend the weekly meetings is hardly a big ask.

If I’m being honest, even though I was disappointed, a small part of me was relieved. Maybe this was just life doing for me what that couple had done during my walk. Maybe life was lightly tapping me on the shoulder and saying “hey…you’re approaching a flood if you keep going in this direction. You might want to change course.”

I would simply have to find another way to make extra income. I can do that. Right?

I got into my office…the office I am absolutely delighted to say I get to work in, and felt good about my decision. A little low…but hopeful on the whole.

I opened my email and….well the word “surprise” might be appropriate, here…but if you could square a word and add a serious helping of elation to the equation…that’s what I was in for.

As it turned out, my supervisor had been working on a way to get me full-time status at my job. It really wasn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. One of my colleagues wanted to reduce her hours. I wanted to increase mine. It wouldn’t have changed our overall budget. Simple, right? But it had taken months to work out. That’s how big organizations work, apparently.

But after much trial, error, human resource emails and baked-good-briberies…my supervisor had managed to swing it. An email in my inbox read “your new status has changed from .75 FTE to 1.0″….

But there is more.

Our VP wanted to surprise us with a Halloween delivery. Every member of the team received a bag of pumpkin doughnuts, a small helping of candy, and….a pumpkin. For carving. Sidenote, these particular doughnuts were made locally and may be the best tasting pumpkin goodie I have ever had…but don’t tell my grandmother I said so.

I don’t know if you fully comprehend just how much glee was cooped up in my relatively small 5’3 frame. But imagine how you felt when you lost your first tooth and found a present from the tooth fairy. Then imagine how it felt when you turned 16 and could drive a car…and then found your parents had bought you one. Then add the experience of opening up the BIG envelope from the college you really wanted to get into. Plus your first cocktail you could legally order at the age of 21. Add in a first-date kiss with someone you really like and finally, the experience of walking into a pet store and locking eyes with the puppy you have every intention of bringing home with you. Add them all up and you’ll be approaching how it felt for me to move through this particular day.

That email was a promise to me that I could focus all of my attention in the one job I love coming to every day…and that I would be able to pay my bills doing it. That email was an affirmation that….yes…I DID make the right decision in uprooting my life and starting anew in a different state with a new group of people in a completely different organization miles away from most of my friends and family. And it was a VIP pass into the theme park of adulthood sans crappy job or crappy relationship.

Life had, literally and metaphorically, given me a pumpkin. No lemons. No poopie diapers. No tomatoes. A pumpkin.

But it wasn’t just about the goodies that were suddenly being showered upon me. It was about being able to pick up the phone and call my people . It was getting a text from my boyfriend saying “tell me when you’re home. I want to hear all about it.” It was the moment when my friends said “congratulations!” It was knowing that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice leisurely walks in the park, where I could exchange pleasantries with strangers.

I would love to be able to say that the reason I am where I am today is from sheer hard work. I have worked hard in my life. But it would be a lie (or at best, an incomplete truth) to say that hard work, alone, did the job. None of us makes our own fortune by ourselves. It’s part hard work, part good fortune, and part good timing. I might have found the path leading me away from the flood in that park…but it was sure made easier with the help of my fellow “VOTE!” enthusiasts. I might have found a way to make more money in this crazy post-covid world…but it was sure made easier by my supervisor’s efforts.

In short, when life throws you lemons, it might be appropriate to get happy in the same pants you got mad in and make some lemonade. But when life throws you a pumpkin (and some pumpkin doughnuts) The best thing you can do is savor it. Appreciate it. Be grateful for it. Carve something beautiful into it. And if at all possible…share it. Invite others to share in the celebration with you.

What is an example of a time when you felt like life handed you your version of a pumpkin?

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