A yellow umbrella in a sky of grey umbrellas.

It's a wake-up call when earthworm life looks good.

It’s a rainy spring day here, which reminds me of the earthworm story I shared last year on my old and now-defunct website.  It’s one of my favorite stories, so I’ve copied and pasted it below. 

In rereading it, I’m amazed that I left out a critical part–about why I left my job last year. 

It’s true that I was overwhelmed with life and chronically. But the real reason I left my job is that several years after my son Matthew’s diagnosis with a brain tumor at age 11, it finally became clear to me that his and our family’s recovery was going to be a long haul. We were all floundering, and the only way we would survive is if I dedicated myself full-time to our healing.

My first wake-up call: I needed to become a stay-at-home mother.

And the only way Matthew was going to graduate from high school is if I became his full-time cheerleader, mentor, and tutor.

I’m not sure why I left that detail out of the original story, other than perhaps I didn’t want to get so deep at the time. As a fairly new writer, I tried to separate my “cute” stories from my brain tumor stories. I didn’t know how to weave them together. I didn’t know if a reader who liked one type of story would like the other.

It’s a sign of how my writing has grown, that I can better integrate all the parts of my life, all the nuances of what makes me me. And I think my readers like that. It’s honest. It’s real.

As for Matthew, he not only graduated from high school on time, but he completed a bachelor’s degree (in four years!) and continues to amaze us with his success in life.

I have it so great. Earthworms got nothin’ on me. What a wake-up call.

Here’s my wake-up call earthworm  story:

It was around 20 years ago. I was married with two rambunctious sons, a demanding full time job, and an old house. I loved it all, but the all of it was starting not to love me back.

I was frequently losing my temper with my kids, quibbling with my husband, yearning for low-maintenance apartment life. Non-stop sinus infections, colds, headaches, digestive problems, and exhaustion plagued me. I felt like my body was on the fast track to destruction.

One spring day, I pulled up in the parking lot at the elementary school where I worked as a counselor.  It was raining and the parking lot was a regular Eau de Earthworm convention. I tip-toed through the conventioneers, juggling my umbrella, purse, lunch bag and briefcase, with no third hand to hold my nose.

Out of the blue, or should I say “gray,” an unedited, spontaneous thought popped into my head:

“Earthworms have it so great.”

(I’ll pause for a moment because you’re probably reading that statement again to be sure you didn’t misread it.)

Now, what does one do when a thought like that bombards your consciousness?

Don’t look at me–I thought I was losing my sanity. (Spoiler alert: I was, a little.)

To clarify: I witnessed putrid earthworms congregate on the chilly blacktop. Their life consisted of brazenly risking bald tires, low-heeled pumps, and hungry robins. If they survived, they’d wiggle back home to eat dirt and poop it out.

I thought that was a good life? 

I realized it was time for some serious reevaluation.

So that’s exactly what I did, after I got inside and examined my pupils to be sure nobody slipped LSD into my morning coffee.

I took a good hard look at my life, at what could stay and what could give. The kids and the husband? Stay with a capital “S.” The old house halfway through rehab?  Stay. We’d need to pay someone to take it off our blistered hands. That left my school counseling job. Which I loved. But the needy students and fractured families were slowing sucking me so dry that not even a monsoon could rehydrate me.

“At the end of the school year, with a deep breath and a big gulp, I gave my notice and quit my job. As a family, we made some sacrifices, but we regained our equilibrium and I slowly regained my health. I believe it saved my life. And I owe to it earthworms.

Wisdom in this universe is everywhere, sometimes right under our feet.

“I am not a slimy beast,” the Earthworm said. “I am a useful and much loved creature. Ask any gardener you like.”               

                            – James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.

***

Author

  • An emerging writer in upstate, NY, Karen DeBonis tells her story on her website, in publications like the NY Times, (a Tiny Love Story), in her “Become Emboldened” projects, and elsewhere. "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" is Karen’s transformational memoir about the clash between her naive expectations of motherhood and her son's needs, which destroys her confidence and threatened her stability (Available for representation.)

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  1. Sarah Dahl on April 29, 2018 at 1:50 PM

    I can really relate to this story. I left my full time job in 2013 for many of the same reasons. Then a month later my SIL was hit by a car; ended up coming back home for many weeks at a time to take care of her in the hospital. God leads us the way we should go.

    • Karen DeBonis on April 30, 2018 at 11:51 PM

      Oh dear! Is that anyone I know? Yes – you had a purpose to be where you were. Thanks for sharing, Sarah.

  2. Mandy on April 30, 2018 at 6:20 PM

    I think a similar thought almost everyday, except instead of earthworms it’s cats. Particularly the ones in my house that do nothing but sleep and eat!

  3. Karen DeBonis on April 30, 2018 at 11:53 PM

    I think you’re much more sane than me to envy a cat’s life rather than an earthworm’s. LOL! Thanks for your comment, Mandy.

  4. RoseMary Griffith on May 4, 2018 at 9:19 PM

    Not that earthworms inspired me to do so, but after losing both parents in a span of 8 months, I’d had enough of working for a terrible boss and quit a job I loved to go and find the life I love. Good deal, Karen.

  5. Karen DeBonis on May 4, 2018 at 10:20 PM

    I guess all kinds of things can inspire us to take action. I’m glad we both found what works for us!

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