I have been off of work for the last week, as Baba’s day care has been closed for the Passover and Easter holidays. Not being a Christian nor a Jew means that this mostly turns into another one of of those holidays where everyone seems to need to be somewhere, but I’m not entirely certain where that is.
Apparently people get together for Easter? And they eat food? Also, sort of the same thing for Passover?
I’m not so culturally tone-deaf as to not understand that there are some significantly different religious underpinnings there, but my understanding is pretty vague. Jesus rose from the dead; a miracle is celebrated. The Jews were spared from the plagues that God visited on the Egyptians and were liberated from slavery — another miracle. These are fabulous and powerful stories, even if you don’t share the faith behind them.
And I must admit that I rather like the idea of miracles these days.
Our celebrations were more pagan. Baba was sent a chocolate rabbit and some bunny ears, which led to a full day of listening to Baba declaring her newfound love of chocolate. I spent the afternoon digging in the dirt in the garden and trying out my new garden shoes. (Sloggers! Recommend!) The house that we bought was uninhabited for four years before we moved in and the yard is showing the neglect. I don’t know a great deal about gardening, as you could spit across the entire yard of our last house without really even trying, but I’ve taken on fixing this yard as a personal vendetta project. I’ve been learning a lot about eradicating crabgrass and annihilating dandelions, which is very much the dark side of gardening.
Still, there are worse ways to celebrate a fertility festival than by making room for new things to grow. Tonight, I sleep the sleep of the just, even if we still haven’t figured out how to make our mysteriously 9-zone sprinkler system work.
It has been really relaxing to be away from my normal routine for so long. My grandparents were visiting for the week, which made my time with Baba very pleasant. She has very much become a 2 year old, with the attendant fits and dramas that limited language and a whole lot of will power entail, and the extra adult hands around were greatly appreciated. Our entertainments were pretty mellow, with many trips to the park and the grocery store and the back yard. The weather finally turned for the season and, for the first time since we bought the house, I’ve actually been spending time just sitting in the back yard, enjoying our tiny private patch of outdoor space. I bought Baba some chalk and we’ve been working on decorating all of the bricks in the patio, which is just the sort of life goal that I’ve needed for some time.
Perhaps the lessons of Easter and Passover aren’t for my family, but all of the time together with Baba and my grandparents has felt very sacred, all the same.
The flights to America leave from Terminal 2 in Dublin. There was a time when arriving at the airport was a relaxing part of the trip. It was a last chance to sit at O’Brien’s and have one last authentic fry-up, one last cup of well-brewed Barry’s tea before stuffing a real scone in my bag and heading back to the land of hot dogs and coffee.
Time has changed things. O’Brien’s is not what it was. The tea is a weak European blend that we don’t recognize. The fruit is green and the sausages are no longer spiced in the Irish style. The staff are eastern European, serving up a cheaper version of the Irish experience that has lost everything in translation without gaining any international flavor. The beans are insipid at best.
But this barely matters, because we no longer have time to stop there for breakfast before our flight. New American security concerns mean that we must go through two sets of security screenings, as well as customs, before we even get to the gate. Well over an hour later, when we’ve gone past all of that, we queue up for half an hour at the one restaurant in the American section of the airport, where I pick out a muffin that I don’t want because we no longer have time for the staff to heat up a panini. The plane is already boarding, even though we’ve been at the airport for two and a half hours. I swallow half of my cappuccino before throwing out the rest so that this time, thank God, we don’t end up running for the gate. I burn my tongue.
It has been an exhausting trip, this trip back to Ireland to bury my brother-in-law. I’ve cried a great deal more than I expected, while remembering more names than I anticipated. My in-laws are a veritable tribe, a tribe that shows up en masse to major life events. There are cousins and friends and adult children with children of their own, all of whom seem to remember my name. When I ask my Beloved to clarify which cousin Mary that he had just referred to, he gives me a blank look at my dense incomprehension, then rattles off a string of names and relationships that I lose hope of being able to follow by the second sentence. My family has been declining in numbers for a generation; I am simply not equipped with the skills to remember everyone, even after four years of marriage. But I am getting better.
My sister-in-law brought pictures of my Beloved and his three siblings to the wake, one from shortly after the birth of the youngest and another from right before my Beloved left Ireland for good in the late 80s. They are children in the first picture and barely more than that in the second. The second photo hung in the family home for decades, becoming such an icon that my Beloved and his siblings retook it a few years ago. I am so glad that they did now, though I remember being in a rush at the time, because there will never be another one with all four of them together. That time in their lives has finished, long before we ever expected that it would. So we passed around the pictures and told old stories to the new generation, while marveling at the changes in the family between then and now. Baba wandered at our feet, pulling at the photographs and trying to find out what happens when you bend them.
My brother-in-law was buried on Saturday, so we took Baba and her cousins to St. Anne’s park on Sunday for some much needed downtime. There is a playground there that is a Dublin institution. The carved horses and cows had fresh paint once, but it has been worn off by generations of small hands climbing all over them. Baba climbed up onto the Viking ship, which is far too tall for her, and her eldest cousin, who is a man himself now, reached up to keep her from falling. We posed her with her two cousins, and tried to keep her still enough to get a good shot. She doesn’t understand why we would want to sit still in a playground, where there are so many things to climb and explore.
Perhaps there will be a day, years down the road, where we’ll make another photo like yesterday’s, when Baba is old enough to understand, and marvel again at the impossibility of capturing time.
I know that I am grieving, because poetry keeps running through my head. A fragment here, a stanza there. It is a dark season, made darker this week by the passing of my brother-in-law, who was a fine, big man that I’d been planning on having in my life for another 20 to 30 years, at a minimum.
Tonight, we will get on a plane, a red eye flight that will take us over the dark waters of the Atlantic. We’re travelling with Baba and have taken enough red eye flights with her now that I do not think that I will be sleeping for the better part of 24 hours, because toddlers do not understand things like ignoring all of the distractions on the plane for some much needed rest.
There are, indeed, many miles to go before I sleep. Many of them will be spent walking my 30-pound toddler in my arms up and down the narrow aisle of the plane, begging her to just, please God, please just close her eyes.
And I am reluctant to go and see my brother-in-law. In April, my brother-in-law was a healthy man. I saw him this summer, after the brain tumor had started to destroy his body function, but when he was still talking. A seriously ill man, but an alive one, who was asking about the madness that has infected American politics this year, who had opinions about movies and wanted to tell you what you needed to watch next on TV.
As far away as we are, it doesn’t yet feel possible that he won’t be in Dublin, waiting to greet us when we get there. I have no experience of Dublin that does not include dinners at his house, his hugs and kisses, the feeling that he always gave me that I was truly a part of the family, that the in-law part of our names for each other was just a stupid formality that only mattered to other people. He was the first of my in-laws to call me his sister. I will never forget the happiness in his face as he did it, because it must have reflected mine.
Once I see him, then I know that it will be real that he won’t be there anymore. Not this time, nor the next.
And I do not want that. I desperately do not want to talk about him in past tense. I want to keep him in the realm of “is” and not “was.” It’s impossible. It’s just impossible that such an alive person could no longer be with us. It’s impossible that there will be no more beers in seaside pubs and stories of his motorcycle cop days and eating takeaway fish and chips at his dining room table, listening to the fire crackle and pop.
Cliché, cliché, cliché. But things become clichés because they are true.
And that’s where poetry comes to save us, to say things for us in beautiful ways, to express our grief in words that seem worthy of it.
And so, Joe, let me share with you the stanzas that I’ve had stuck in my head since I heard the news of your death. The poem reminds me of you, you who spent your weekends sailing yachts, because it was what you just loved to do. You, who took scuba trips to Caribbean islands, who worked in Croatia for a year, who finally found the adventure you were always looking for in the love of your life. You were never too modest to share how happy you were about the fine adventures you had! — and that gratitude, that spirit is something that we should all learn from you. And so I think of Robin Williams in The Dead Poet’s Society, again, telling a classroom of young boys about the preciousness of each day, because you, Joe, you were the essence of carpe diem. And so I say, to all of you…
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
This is the time to remember
Cause it will not last forever
These are the days
To hold on to
But we won’t
Although we’ll want to
(Billy Joel — “This is the Time”)
I’ve been doing some organizational work with my computing lately, as long-time readers of the blog may have noticed. As part of it, I found myself cleaning up my digital pictures, which are now a collected set of folders dating back fifteen years.
Fifteen years! How is it even possible?
Aside from my awe that digital photography has been around and accessible to the casual consumer for that length of time, looking through the years of my life captured in this way was really emotional. I found myself searching for the rare pictures of myself, because I’m still struggling with coming to terms with my post-partum body and I wanted to compare my mental image of what the numbers on the scale mean to some reality.
It’s a strange pursuit. Most days, I can keep focused on the fact that this amazing body created a human being — a human being that fills my days with relentless joy. Baby girl is at a really nice point in her development, now that we’ve transitioned from days of constant upset stomachs to watching her learn how to use her body to maneuver into the basics of mobility. Newborns are relatively inert, but now that she’s five months old, she spends her days interacting with her world in the most innocent ways. I spend my days waiting to run home and watch her. There’s really no better consolation to the changes in my body, but it’s still difficult to accept that there have been changes in my body that are beyond my control.
When I first left home, I gained a hefty amount of weight. I was eighteen, with no conception of nutrition. I grew up feeding myself egg sandwiches and Ramen noodles and whatever else I could scrounge in the kitchen. (My mom was very dedicated to her job and, more importantly, hated cooking.) When I moved out and into a ridiculously paid dot com job, I could suddenly afford eating out regularly and lots of dessert. The pounds packed on. When I moved to working a night shift, I used soda to keep myself awake, not realizing the extra meals I was taking in every day in all my empty cans of Mountain Dew. I reached an all-time high score on the scale by the time I was 20, which I didn’t see again until I was seven months pregnant.
I did learn. I learned about exercise and nutrition. I got the weight back down again, as college classes sent me to the gym. Better yet, I learned what it felt like to be fit and strong, rather than just having the effortless thinness of my teenaged years. Pregnancy hit me hard because it took a lot of that confidence and put it on a shelf for a while. For the first time in many years, my feet ached from the weight of my body. I had to catch my breath after walking up the stairs. I couldn’t keep up with the guys at work when we went out to lunch. I had to ask for help to lift things. Looking back, I wish I had enjoyed my pregnancy more, but I spent nearly all of it dreaming of the day when I would have the strength of my body back.
Now, five months after the birth of my baby, I’ve lost most of the weight that I put on, which was significantly more than the recommended thirty-five pounds. The majority of it came off in fluid and baby in the first two months, and there has been a slow but steady decline since, but the last pounds linger. I’ve been doing my best to lose the rest while not thinking about it, but inevitably I will pass a mirror and feel an unwelcome dismay. There are so many other things in my life that are so much more important, but my rounded mommy belly feels like a step backwards to my days of poor fitness. I admit that it hurts my pride.
But rarely does a day go by where I am not grateful for being able to do something that was inaccessible in pregnancy. My abdominals are still rebuilding, thanks to the planks and bridges that are now part of my daily routine, but I can change the water bottle at the cooler at work without having to think about it. If I need something out of the top shelf, I can climb up on the counter and get it. I lift and swing and move baby girl around wherever she needs to go. I can carry her without rest for the better part of an hour. These are all glorious things that seemed impossible a year ago.
And yet, in looking back at my oldest photographs, I don’t see such a dissimilar body. What surprised me most is how unimaginably young I look. I was out in the world on my own, living in an apartment with roommates, working a good job without any knowledge of the upcoming recession that was going to make the next few years full of financial struggles.
My hair, long from laziness, hangs past my shoulders and down my back. It’s usually carelessly clipped up, just to keep it out of my face. My clothes are often unfitted and unflattering, because I didn’t understand those things either. My face is rounder, my waistline bumpier, my arms looser. I could not have predicted what was in front of me, though I remember feeling a lot of anxiety about it. But I didn’t feel young.
Has gazing at my younger body given me any insight into my conception of my body today? Even now, I am fitter, older, more experienced. Then, my fat curled around my waist like a tire; now it hangs in the front as a long reminder of where baby girl lay, head down and waiting, for so many months. Our bodies are still joined, as I guide her to my breast every morning and night so that she can suckle and get the nutrition that she needs to challenge and conquer her world. She has changed me, through the fading stretch marks and the shape of my body. When I look at photographs of myself now — or at the end of my pregnancy — I see our connection in the shape of my waist.
I want to raise a girl that doesn’t spend so much energy on such ridiculous things, as much as I know it is probably impossible. But still, in looking back at my young body, I was reminded of all the places that I’ve seen since — trips to Aruba, Jamaica, Belgium, New Orleans, Canada, Cornwall, California, Paris — that I’d completely forgotten about. There are few pictures of me in those albums, since I’m usually the one behind the camera. Perhaps the takeaway here is to hand the camera over — to make certain that someone records me, not as a record of my body and its shape, but as a reminder of who I’m holding in my arms at the time.
Today I said goodbye to an old friend, my beloved convertible Tux, which seems a remarkably appropriate thing to be doing at this time of year. December always seems a little early for end of year reflections, as usually the weather has not turned enough to make me feel that the seasons are really changing. This year is no exception — as I watched my first car drive away attached to a stranger’s truck, I was unzipping the wool cardigan that I had thrown on over my t-shirt, because the weather is far too warm for what this season is supposed to mean.
And yet, somehow, it is already the end of the year. At work, we’ve done reviews and our end-of-year party. A good friend of mine that has been scheduled to move away at the end of the year is leaving within a few days. The solstice has already started making longer days. The New Year is less than a week away, which means that this babe in my uterus is now due in a mere five weeks, which seems impossibly close. There was a day in late May, when I sat on the banks of the Sandy River with friends, sipping beer and watching people float downstream in intertubes, which was one of the last days before I knew that I was pregnant. It seems impossible that that was over half a year ago. The moments in between have stretched out until they felt impossibly long, as my brain fought with my pregnant body, but now time has compressed again and I am left wondering how it has gone by so fast.
Today, as I patted Tux’s trunk goodbye, I felt like I was touching my own history. Tux was my first car and we have been together since I was 21 years old. New York has made it a long time since I’ve spent significant time in any car, but when I think of my car, I still think of my beloved convertible. I’ve barely driven him since I gave him to my baby brother to use two years ago, but the emotions are still there. I can well remember heartbroken nights where I would jump into the car and just drive and drive while my brain sorted itself out. Likewise, I’ll never forget joyous midnight drives and smelling the sweet scent of wheat on summer nights in Virginia, with the top thrown down and the wind in my impossible hair. Removing the knots from my long hair afterwards could take all night, but it was worth the pain for the sweetness of the breeze on my face.
Ever since the accident a few months ago,Tux has sat in the driveway, staring sadly at the house with his smashed nose. I did not crash him, but every time it rained and I watched the water seep into the gaps in his crushed hood, I felt a deep sense of guilt. I have donated him to the fire department so that trainees may learn how to use the jaws of life. I like the idea that this vehicle that is so alive in my head might help save someone’s life some day, but I also can’t help but be disturbed at the idea of someone cutting him apart. He is a friend, but he’s also a symbol, perhaps the symbol, of my young adulthood. Those days are solidly behind me now, as my increasing number of gray hairs and sensible shoes clearly attest to, but they were good days, filled with friendship and love and learning and opportunity. I wouldn’t give up what I have today to go back to them, but it’s natural to mourn a little when you know that they’re really gone.
This next year is probably going to be a haze of milestones in my life. I imagine that I’ll remember parts of it clearly until I die, as I take the first steps across the bridge into motherhood. There will be so many firsts as labor and my first parenting experiences pile up. The first joys, the first mistakes, the first problems, the first moments where I realize that I can do this after all. Cora be nothing but a bundle of firsts, but I hope I remember my own milestones as significantly as hers. First experiences are so sweet.
The suitcases that we have been living out of for the last two weeks are large and blue, made of the durable canvas that all suitcases seem to be constructed from. We bought them for our wedding two years ago, when I was stuffing dresses and suits and cuff links and fashion tape into them. It is like visiting with an old friend to pull them out again. We have gotten good at schlepping them from the backs of cars and onto conveyor belts at airports and very good at ignoring the comments of the airline personnel when they see the size of the larger one.
Just how much does that weigh?
Enough. It weighs enough.
We are in our third country since we left home and are once again walking on the left hand side of the sidewalk instead of the right, enjoying tea and biscuits instead of stroopwafel and frites. This has been a trip that has been jam packed with visiting friends and family, but we’ve managed to do a little touring with just the two of us, which is not something we’ve had much opportunity to do over the last six years. We never took a honeymoon, largely because we could never agree on where to go. This trip has been a good lesson in that it doesn’t really matter where we go — it is about the adventure, the unwrapping of new places. It is about being outside of our comfort zone, together, and exploring.
It has been a long time since traveling gave me this sense of freedom and playfulness. I bought a new bag, a Harris Tweed, which has just enough room for my notebooks and my camera — the essentials for making art on the go. It straps across my torso and just putting it on makes me feel like an adventurer. I have been taking time to take photographs, to stop and really look at the world around me, to see, to comment, to describe. When I made our arrangements, I was sure to book in extra time; a night here, a few hours there with no objectives, because I knew that what I needed most was hours without obligations.
We have been visiting with my in-laws, who have been very kindly hosting us and feeding us ridiculous quantities of food and tea. I have been basking in their company, in hearing the old family stories, in seeing the family traits that they share with my husband. My Beloved is a natural born storyteller and I have heard most of the stories before, but they’re good enough that you can listen to them again and again. With the others here, I’ve been hearing them from different angles, different perspectives, and there has been so much laughter and love. It has been a really great thing to be immersed in, this tapestry of history that weaves this family together.
Tomorrow we return to the real world, the busy city of skyscrapers and ambition, the place that hosts our lives. I am glad to be going home, because it is the place that has the cats, but I am also glad to be taking the memories of the last two weeks with me. I am coming home inspired and ready to go, with ideas and art on the forebrain, I’ll be glad to no longer be living out of our suitcases, but I’m so grateful to be reminded why it’s important that we do sometimes, because being out of the normal parameters of our lives puts them in context. And it might be a little while before we take to the skies again, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start dreaming about it.
Christmas was a quiet affair filled with good friends and family, which is what it’s all about. I made out with some very thoughtful loot and ate slightly more than my body weight in cookies.
But I have prevailed; the cookies are all dead. In my belly.
I enjoy the week between Christmas and New Years an awful lot because it is so quiet. After all the hustle and bustle of lights, tree, cooking, family, etc., it becomes almost necessary downtime. The trains are quiet, nearly everyone is gone from the office, and I have no excuses for not getting a great deal done. As a productivity nut and worker bee, this makes me very happy. As a person with an exciting life to write about, well, not so much. But it’s been a nice quiet. I’ve been able to conquer the world in Civilization get some writing projects done, master some Bach and finish some big projects that have been hanging over my head at work. It’s a nice feeling.
I see other bloggers out there doing lists of what they’d like to do next year. It’s made me think about some of the highlights of this year. This year, I:
– got engaged to the love of my life (this is a celebration, not an accomplishment)
– actually managed to get good enough at the piano to be able to sight read stuff where the left hand does more than play chords. Slowly, mind.
– learned how to fox trot, to rhumba, to merengue
– learned that if fox trotting, rhumbaing or merenguing with a 6’3″ man, heels are a good idea. Otherwise, neck injury occurs.
– (self)published a knitting pattern
– had the realization that not being my skinniest weight ever does not, in fact, make me a bad person
– watched my ward pull in grades higher than he thought possible on his report card, despite having skipped most of two years of school a few years back.
– adopted a house hippy. Everyone should have one.
– learned to rip up carpet and stained all the wood for a new staircase in a weekend
– went to a spinning convention and actually learned how to spin yarn that looks like yarn
– fell in love with the mountains of eastern Oregon and took some awesome pictures
– bought a cowboy hat
– knit multiple sweaters, learned to not hate knitting socks and designed a few more things on my own
– have actually done a little bit of wedding planning, despite hating it like you wouldn’t believe
– actually genuinely enjoyed the holidays for a third year running
It has, all in all, been a good year. We are all safe and happy and the family grew again this year (see the house hippy aspect). I am filled with gratitude and can only marvel at my good luck. Life is good; my only goal for next year is to keep it good.
Happy New Year everyone. Let’s make 2012 even more filled with light than 2011.
I am clearly not a stereotypical bride. In the three weeks in which I have been engaged, I’ve started doing some research in wedding planning that is driving me nuts. This began with signing up for theknot.com so that I could access their checklists. The Knot presents you with a nearly 200 item checklist that is largely presumed to be my responsibility. Because I’m the bride, which means that apparently I’m meant to have been dreaming about my wedding day for my entire life. (Hint: never once thought about it.) I’m meant to have a vision and colors and some dream about a dress style, all of which makes me want to have no wedding at all, because it sounds like a lot of expensive work that I can pretty easily screw up by picking the wrong napkins, etc. It all makes me pretty grumpy, but I am a fan of ceremonies and rituals to mark the important events in your life and I love seeing my family, so we’re going to have one anyway.
Weddings, in their default traditional state, are pretty creepy. It’s probably no surprise that the heavily orchestrated gender roles of the process are giving me trouble. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on how to make my wedding awesome instead. I refuse to degrade my friends with the whole bouquet/garter toss and I would prefer both of my parents to walk me down the aisle, if only that were possible. I’d like a drum circle and dancing until the wee hours. I don’t want a groom’s side and a bride’s side – I just want our friends and family together, for a day filled with love and joy. It is a day for two families to come together, a day where I will not just make my fiancé my family, but also his family. It’s the day where he officially becomes part of mine. And that’s where I want the focus to be, not on the price tag of my dress or the rings.
We want something that’s authentic to us, which doesn’t sync very well at all with the traditional ceremony. Above all, I don’t want it to be boring. People will be paying a lot of money to come to our wedding, since most of our relations and childhood friends are far away, and I want to make sure they have a good time and talk about it for years.
About a month ago, I took my kid brother into my house and set about the business of raising a teenager. Although strange at first, this has gone surprisingly well, and it’s been just delightful having a young mind around the house. I really enjoy his different perspective. Even if the spaghetti I made for dinner sometimes ends up on the carpet. And my socks. And pants. (Really, I thought the spaghetti throwing stage was supposed to be over at a much younger age. Perhaps the aim just improves.)
Two weeks ago, I had news that my maternal grandmother was not doing very well. She seemed to have suffered a stroke and the reports were dire. As such, I caught the next flight to Wisconsin that I possible could and spent the weekend at the retirement home where she was being made comfortable. On Friday, she had stopped breathing for a few minutes – by Sunday she was eating a little and speaking a little. We are all somewhat amazed at the robustness of the human body and – more specifically – of Grandma.
I did leave the kiddo with my lovely boyfriend – and reports are that they got on just fine all weekend and did not miss me one bit. Harrumph.
Sometimes I look at my life a year, even two years ago, and I just can’t reconcile it to where it is today. It seems like ever since I got the call telling me my mom was sick, life has decided to keep throwing things at me that I never imagined for myself. The last two years have been an incredible roller coaster, but the sort that ends at the top of the hill, not the bottom. There have been dips and bumps along the way, but on the whole, it’s looking up.
Coming home each night to family is very, very nice.
New York has something called The Season, which I’d never experienced before moving here. It starts on Memorial Day, lasts until Labor Day, and means that you go to the beach as much as possible. You sip teas and take things slower. You go to your timeshare on Fire Island or in the Hamptons or Montauk. You wear white and walk the streets of Manhattan slowly, languorously, browsing sales and famers’ markets.
You smile a lot more.
But still, I think the thing I love best about The Season in the town where I live are little things like going out to fancy restaurants and finding that everyone is still in sandals and flip flops, because you just can’t bother to put on socks for any occasion.