How She Does It: Brettne Bloom

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Oh, Brettne.  Where to begin?  Brettne is so many things.  Most famously, she is a supremely accomplished literary agent.  She is a partner in Kneerim, Williams & Bloom and represents such fine authors as Courtney Sullivan, whose The Engagements I recently loved.

Brettne has several books out this fall that I’m excited to read, including bloggers Erin Gates’ Elements of Style: Designing a Home & a Life, Camille Styles’ Camille Styles Entertaining: Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style, and The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by PTSD expert Bessel van der Kolk.  I’m also really looking forward to Glamour book editor Elisabeth Egan’s first novel, A Window Opens, about a woman trying to have it all, which Simon & Schuster will publish next year.

Brettne is also a devoted mother, an enormously thoughtful reader, and the most gifted editors I have ever met.  I’m also honored and privileged to call her a dear friend of mine.  We talk often about the challenges and joys of juggling work and motherhood, about the books we want to read and those we’ve loved rediscovering with our children, about what it means to be a thoughtful, engaged human in a world that can devastate and amaze in equal measure, sometimes in the same day.  Brettne is a relatively new friend but she has become very dear very quickly.  I hope we’ll be close friends for the rest of our days, and am deeply grateful for her presence in my life. I was delighted when she agreed to answer my questions on How She Does It.  I know you will love her answers too.  If you want to know more about Brettne, she is active on Twitter and Instagram.

Bretttne girls

Tell me about the first hour of your day? (I often describe mine as being “fired out of a cannon”)

Ha! That’s hilarious. Well, I’m not a morning person, so the first hour of my day is like stumbling through a fog until I’ve had my first cup of coffee. My two daughters share a room and they’re usually up and raring to go pretty early. They have a lot of energy in the morning. My husband makes breakfast for the girls and gets the coffee going while I get ready for work. We gather around our kitchen bar to eat and caffeinate, and then I get the kids dressed, coiffed, and out the door. I try not to check my email or social media accounts until after I drop the girls off at school so that I can focus on them. That was one of my New Year’s resolutions–no iPhone until 8:20am. Very hard. It’s a work in progress.

Do you have a work uniform that you rely on for getting dressed? What is it?

If I have meetings I’m usually in a shift dress and heels, or my favorite black pants, a silk tank and a blazer. And then I try to remember to throw on a fun piece of gold jewelry to accessorize. Add mascara and a smile, and I’m on my way. I have this tweed blazer from Theory that I bought eight or nine ago because it reminded me of something my very stylish grandmother would have loved. I call it my security blanket–I wear it at least once a week. On Fridays I’m often in yoga pants disguised with a long sweater on top even if I have meetings all day!

How do you and your spouse resolve conflicts about scheduling?

We try to avoid such conflicts before they happen. For example, Lawton plays soccer after work on Wednesdays, so I avoid making plans that night. He also travels a few days each month. We work hard to stay on top of our schedules so that at least one of us can be home to put the kids to bed by 7:30. Lawton is supremely accommodating; he understands that my profession is very social–I go to lots of readings and work dinners; I’m also in two book clubs and I’m involved in the girls’ school. So I’m usually out two or three nights during the week. I’m also fortunate because our phenomenal babysitter, who has been with us for five years and who is basically my other spouse, is very flexible if one of us is running late or has a last-minute obligation, which is key for us because we don’t have family nearby who can help out in a pinch–my parents are in Houston and Lawton’s are in Atlanta.

Do you second-guess yourself? What do you do when that happens?

Daily! Hourly! I feel like I’m constantly making choices between my work and my family, and I don’t want to look back on these precious years with young kids and feel like I missed out on the everyday moments. Luckily, I have a great role model in my own mother, who worked outside the home throughout my childhood and who was always fully present when she was with us. I also have a very supportive spouse and an amazing network of girlfriends from all areas of my life–including you, dear Lindsey– who I draw on for support, comic relief, perspective and inspiration. I think we’re all just trying our best to balance our various roles as gracefully as we can while accepting that we will never be perfect and that a little messiness is ok.

What time do you go to bed?

My intention is to be in bed every night by 10pm. But the truth is I’m often not asleep before midnight. So many books, so little time! I always have something I have to read for work. And then I like to read something non-work related right before bed to clear my head and help me shake out any tension from the day. Usually it’s a novel or a New Yorker article. Or Vogue. The pile of books next to my bed is my Mount Kilimanjaro. I also have this Shakespeare app on my phone that gives me a scene a day and dissects it. I often read that before bed. I know that sounds super nerdy but I find reading and/or listening to Shakespeare relaxing. One of my clients who specializes in anxiety says it’s the iambic pentameter. The rhythm is soothing.

Do you exercise? If so, when?

Exercise is my therapy. I feel my best, both physically and mentally, when I’m exercising at least four or five times a week. I’m more present at work and more patient at home if I can burn off some of my daily stresses. I also do my best brainstorming when I’m running or cycling. I recently came up with an idea for a client’s novel when I was in spin class. But finding time to exercise is a challenge. Mornings are my prime time with the girls, and my days are usually filled with meetings and reading and conference calls. Still, I try to squeeze in some form of physical activity as often as possible, whether it’s half an hour at the gym, a barre class at lunchtime, or a brisk walk through Central Park after I drop the kids off at school. I always carry workout gear in my bag just in case I have an extra hour. I wish I were an early-morning-run person like you, Lindsey! If I had you as a running partner we probably would have dreamed up the next Harry Potter series by now.

Do you cook dinner for your kids? Do you have go-to dishes you can recommend?

We have family dinners every weekend–that’s when we do most of our cooking with the girls. The kids love to help out in the kitchen. As far as go-to dishes, we like simple foods like grilled salmon, sautéed green beans, roasted Brussels sprouts, corn on the cob, rotisserie chicken, pasta. My kids love to sprinkle sea salt on their vegetables, which cracks me up. I’ve found most young kids, including mine, love pesto even though it’s green and green is usually verboten. For inspiration in the kitchen I highly recommend Jenny Rosentrach’s two cookbooks. Her recipes are delicious and kid-friendly. And her whole attitude about family dining is so sensible. On school nights, our kids eat dinner with our babysitter at around 5:30. It’s tough for me to get home in time to make a proper dinner for them, as much as I wish I could. I feel really guilty about this because I know how important it is to eat meals together; hopefully our routine will change when the girls are a little older. My mother managed to pull together a delicious dinner for our family of five every single night. I don’t know how she did it.

Do you have any sense of how your children feel about your working?

That’s an interesting question—to be honest, I’m not really sure they think about it that much because it’s all they’ve ever known. I didn’t take long maternity leaves. Now that they’re older, and books are such a huge part of their lives, they’re becoming a bit more interested in what my job entails. Then again, there are plenty of times when I have had to hide in my bathroom to make a call because the girls don’t understand that my work doesn’t always stay at the office. All in all, though, I think and hope my children understand that I love my family more than anything in the world, and that I also enjoy and value my work, and that these are in no way mutually exclusive. And I hope that in some way my enthusiasm for my work will inspire them to pursue their passions and dreams.

What is the single piece of advice you would give another working mother?

I would want her to know that there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to parenting and caregiving decisions. You have to do what feels right for you and your family. Mothers face a lot of criticism these days, particularly on the internet–I don’t feel the judgment as much in real life, but I certainly see women attacking other women online, where it’s so easy to cast aspersions anonymously. But as long as you feel like you have made the choice that works for you and you have a strong support system in place, I think you can find that perfectly imperfect balance.

And, inspired by Vanity Fair, a few quick glimpses into your life:

Favorite Artist?

I studied art in college so this is a tough one. My favorite living artist is Elizabeth Peyton. Her portraits are so intimate and compelling; it’s impossible to look away. My favorite artists of all-time include John Singer Sargent, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse… I am obsessed with Monet’s giant water lily murals, which I’ve seen several times and always find breathtakingly beautiful and modern. I also saw two incredible James Turrell retrospectives last year in New York and Houston. He is a genius; his work helped me appreciate light and space in a whole new way.

Favorite jeans?

Rebecca Minkoff.

Shampoo you use?

I have very fine hair so I have an extensive collection of volume-boosters in my shower. Right now I’m trying Living Proof.

Favorite book?

Another toughie, given my line of work. Leaving aside books by authors I represent… One Hundred Years of Solitude changed my life when I was 16. That is my desert island book. My mother let me read Gone with the Wind when I was in fifth grade. Questionable decision on her part, maybe, but Scarlett O’Hara remains one of my favorite characters in literature. I am named after Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises, so I always feel like that one needs to be on the list even though my favorite Hemingway novel is A Farewell to Arms. And it just goes on: Heart of Darkness, Rebecca, The Hours, The English Patient, The Glass Castle, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Seabiscuit, Crossing to Safety, A Tale of Two Cities, To Kill a Mockingbird, Charlotte’s Web, Manhattan When I Was Young, the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare…My favorite memoirs are Katharine Graham’s Personal History and Willie Morris’s North Towards Home. And of course I have read and reread every word that Jane Austen and Nora Ephron ever wrote. One of the many unexpected pleasures of parenthood is revisiting children’s literature and poetry with your kids. We are currently deep into the Little House on the Prairie series and I cannot get over her descriptions of the wide open landscape. So evocative.

Favorite quote:

“We are all works in progress.” –My mother

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” –Anne Frank

Favorite musician?

Bob Dylan. Also, being from Texas, I grew up listening to country music, which I still love for the storytelling. We listen to a wide range of music at home thanks to Spotify.

Favorite item (toy, clothing, or other) for your children?

The pink stuffed cat my dear friend Elisabeth Weed gave Eloisa when she was born. His name is Mr. Whiskers. He’s worn beyond repair, but he’s our Velveteen Rabbit and a vital member of our family. We all look out for him like he’s a pet.

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I love this picture of Brettne’s girls on the walk to school, which she describes as the highlight of her day.  I can relate.

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The bookshelves in Brettne’s office conference room.  I can’t wait to see them in person!

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Summer: long ago & some writing

One month ago today I picked Grace ad Whit up from sleepaway camp and turned 40.  It feels like that was a hundred years ago!  Today I just want to highlight a few writing- and web-related things that happened over the summer and recently.

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This is Childhood, the book that Brain Child magazine published from our series about the various ages of childhood, is on sale this week for 40% off.  It’s just $6!  What a great birthday or holiday gift … just an idea.  I’m thrilled that my piece, This is Ten, an excerpt from the book (spoiler alert: it’s the end of the book) is on the site today and the link to purchase the book is easily available there.  I hope you will consider it!

 

photoI published Navigating by the Stars on Medium, a site I’ve come to really admire and respect.  For those who think I don’t write about Matt enough, here’s a rare example of a story all him.  It talks about our experience, a few months after we met, climbing Kilimanjaro.  I am proud of this piece and hope you like it.

 

photo(1)I was thrilled when Tabitha of Team Studer profiled me as one of her Moms Next Door.  Her interview, which includes a lot of pictures, is here.

 

 

 

Also: are you on Instagram?  I love it and even when I wasn’t writing here I was sharing photos there.  Please come find me!

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Thoughts on 40: female friends

peonies

Didn’t know what photo to include.  I didn’t feel right posting people so here, enjoy some of my favorite flower!

Turning 40 made me reflective. No surprise here.  There is a lot on my mind.  Some of it is good, because let’s face it, aging is a privilege, and I’m aware of it, and fully thankful for the life I live and the opportunity to have more of it.  Some of it is more complicated, about regret and loss and sorrow.

Front of mind right now is my female friends. I’ve always esteemed and valued my female friendships, and I’ve written about different women who are in my life here.  I’ve also observed that certain seasons in our lives lend themselves to making close relationships, and many of my dearest friends were made during one of these times.  One of the anthologies in which I’ve been fortunate to be published is The HerStories Project, which is a complication of essays about female friendship.

Though I have always cherished my female friends, I think they are growing more and more important as I get older.

There are the old, lifetime friends, the ones I met when I was becoming who I am.  The ones who knew me before I was a grown-up.  These women are my safest place, my most trusted companions, the ones who hold the stories that are in many ways most essential to who I am.  I’m looking forward to my annual reunion with these women, which is in a few weeks.  I cherish them and I think they know it.

There are the day to day friends, the ones who drive my children to practices and take Grace’s fish when we go away and pick up our mail we’re gone.  I joked this summer about the “particular intimacy of tying someone’s son’s hockey laces for two years” and I wasn’t wrong.  There’s a particular kind of closeness I feel with these friends, a loyalty and trust, a familiarity borne out of day-to-day involvement in each others’ lives.  These are the women I share the dailyness of motherhood and of life with, and I know from watching my own mother that these can grow into deep, irreplaceable, lifetime friendships.

There are the friends I met when I had my babies.  The friends with whom I became a mother, those whose nap schedules and feeding routines and choices about solid foods I’m still very familiar with.  This time of life is unique and exhausting and spectacular and sweet, and the women who shared it with me will always be special.

My friend Allison wrote about the importance of the friends who will eulogize us, when that time comes, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that.  My mother’s best friend died at 49 and I watched from a front-row seat.  Mum had three best friends, who functioned as adjunct mothers for me.  They held down the four corners of the tent underneath which my childhood took place.  When Susie got sick, it was, as I wrote in an essay published in So Long: Short Memoirs of Loss and Remembrance, as though “one corner of the tent was flapping.”  Susie’s son remains one of my most cherished friends (he was in our wedding and he is one of Whit’s godfathers) and I think of my fourth mother, now gone many years, every day.  I know that my mother still carries her with her.  The passage that has come closest to capturing what I observed in my mother and her dearest friends is from Elizabeth Berg’s Talk Before Sleep:

Women do not leave situations like this: we push up our sleeves, lean in closer, and say, “What do you need? Tell me what you need and by God I will do it.” I believe that the souls of women flatten and anchor themselves in times of adversity, lay in for the stay.

These are probably the most special and essential friends of all: those will will lay in for the stay with us, those who will stand up and fight tears to talk about us if that tragic day comes, the ones who will carry us no matter what.  And the ones who will tell our children who we were.  I think I know who those people are for me, and they come from all the groups described above. They are the women who show up for me in ways big and small every day.

I’m hugely thankful for these friends, who know who they are, and that gratitude grows every day.

What are your thoughts on female friendships?  Who do you love most?  Do you think they know?

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One spectacle grander than the sky

There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.
~Victor Hugo

Another quote I found on the gorgeous Barnstorming, which is a daily read for me.

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The Here Year, September: TIME

Maybe it’s apropos that I’m a little, um, late, posting about the topic that Aidan has chosen for September’s Here Year explorations.

Time.

Time is a subject that fascinates me.  You could argue that time’s inexorable, sometimes-brutally-swift passages is the black hole around which all of my writing swirls.

I have a lot to say about time.

I believe that time is our only zero-sum resource, and that one of the most important decisions of all that we make is how to spend the hours we have.

I believe that time, and attention, are the surest way to show love.

I believe that no matter how frantically I grasp and regardless of how present I am, of how fiercely I focus on being here now, time flies by me.  The truth is, it is going faster and faster.  I’m sorry to say that this is a deeply sad reality in my life.  I wish it wasn’t so.  It feels appropriate to repost this piece from June 2013, in which I wrote about this very thing.

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I can close my eyes and be back in this afternoon, exactly 7 years ago, June 2005, with baby Whit, 2 year old Grace, and my grandfather, who is no longer with us

It’s not a secret that I struggled with my entry into motherhood.  Grace’s infancy was not my finest hour.  I remember large swaths of time as only a blur of tears and a wailing baby that occurred in a permanent twilight that wasn’t day and wasn’t night.  But, somehow, I remember with crystalline clarity one comment that I received over and over again from kindly, well-intentioned people, friends and strangers alike:

“Make sure to enjoy this moment.  It goes so fast!”

Just like everybody else I know, I heard this more times than I can possibly count.  And every single time, through the haze of my exhaustion and despair, I recognized a kernel of truth.  This sentence pierced my gloom over and over again.  But the truth is it made me want to scream; this is probably because the sentiment cut close to the bone.  As with all statements that are uncomfortably true, I did not like hearing it.  And I swore to myself I would never tell a mother with a newborn to enjoy this time.

And yet I have.  More than once, I’ve looked at a mother with a tiny baby, or a mother with a baby in a Bjorn and a two year old by the hand, dark valleys under her eyes and a slightly wild, exasperated expression, and longed to be back there.  The way I express this longing is to say: “Oh, those were the days.  They go fast. Enjoy them.”

Every time I kick myself: Ugh, Lindsey, you swore you’d never say that.  I can remember vividly my own negative reaction to those comments.  But I realize now that the people who said that were just sharing their own nostalgia the only way they knew how.

Even now, aware as I am of not wanting to squander these moments with my children at home, I find myself – daily! – wishing time away.  I am sore from the cold bleachers under my legs at soccer try-outs, I am listening to a detailed story about a 2nd grade bus ride that is being told in real time, I am tired myself, just want to get into bed with my own book, and this third glass of water is going to put me over the edge.  I have realized this is simply the nature of parenting; the adage that the days are long but the years are short is so powerful precisely because it is true.

I am much better at appreciating my experience than I used to be.  There’s no question about that.  But even when I really AM there, even when I’m fully open and appreciating all the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of my particular life with my particular children at this particular moment, it still goes by too fast.  And this is the bitter part of my life’s bittersweet core: nothing I do, no paying attention and being here now can slow the drumbeat march of time.  No matter how present I am I cannot alter the hasty onrush of this life.

Sometimes that truth feels unbearably bitter.  Of course, yes, I do know that it’s bitter in direct proportion to the sweetness.  The presence I have worked hard to cultivate over many years has left me with very rich memories of this season of my life.  I’m grateful beyond expression for the way this blog has chronicled much of my life with my children.  I have thousands of photographs and dozens of letters.  But nothing I can do, neither white-knuckled hanging on nor meditative letting go, will make these days and years last longer.  I guess when I say the thing I swore I’d never say to new mothers, I’m trying to communicate that.  But I should stop, because I know it doesn’t help.

I’m pretty sure that my grandfather, in the photograph above, told me with a sigh that these days would go fast.  I know he handed me some notes that my grandmother had written about observing the development of boys (she should know: she had four).  But I also know that I probably shook my head, worrying about getting Whit down for a nap and making pasta for Grace, grimaced at the ugly plastic toys in my kitchen, and told him in a way that was both heartfelt and dismissive: I know, I know.

I thought I knew what he meant.  But I didn’t.  I do now.

It’s not a secret that I struggled with my entry into motherhood.  Grace’s infancy was not my finest hour.  I remember large swaths of time as only a blur of tears and a wailing baby that occurred in a permanent twilight that wasn’t day and wasn’t night.  But, somehow, I remember with crystalline clarity one comment that I received over and over again from kindly, well-intentioned people, friends and strangers alike:

“Make sure to enjoy this moment.  It goes so fast!”

Just like everybody else I know, I heard this more times than I can possibly count.  And every single time, through the haze of my exhaustion and despair, I recognized a kernel of truth.  This sentence pierced my gloom over and over again.  But the truth is it made me want to scream; this is probably because the sentiment cut close to the bone.  As with all statements that are uncomfortably true, I did not like hearing it.  And I swore to myself I would never tell a mother with a newborn to enjoy this time.

And yet I have.  More than once, I’ve looked at a mother with a tiny baby, or a mother with a baby in a Bjorn and a two year old by the hand, dark valleys under her eyes and a slightly wild, exasperated expression, and longed to be back there.  The way I express this longing is to say: “Oh, those were the days.  They go fast. Enjoy them.”

Every time I kick myself: Ugh, Lindsey, you swore you’d never say that.  I can remember vividly my own negative reaction to those comments.  But I realize now that the people who said that were just sharing their own nostalgia the only way they knew how.

Even now, aware as I am of not wanting to squander these moments with my children at home, I find myself – daily! – wishing time away.  I am sore from the cold bleachers under my legs at soccer try-outs, I am listening to a detailed story about a 2nd grade bus ride that is being told in real time, I am tired myself, just want to get into bed with my own book, and this third glass of water is going to put me over the edge.  I have realized this is simply the nature of parenting; the adage that the days are long but the years are short is so powerful precisely because it is true.

I am much better at appreciating my experience than I used to be.  There’s no question about that.  But even when I really AM there, even when I’m fully open and appreciating all the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of my particular life with my particular children at this particular moment, it still goes by too fast.  And this is the bitter part of my life’s bittersweet core: nothing I do, no paying attention and being here now can slow the drumbeat march of time.  No matter how present I am I cannot alter the hasty onrush of this life.

Sometimes that truth feels unbearably bitter.  Of course, yes, I do know that it’s bitter in direct proportion to the sweetness.  The presence I have worked hard to cultivate over many years has left me with very rich memories of this season of my life.  I’m grateful beyond expression for the way this blog has chronicled much of my life with my children.  I have thousands of photographs and dozens of letters.  But nothing I can do, neither white-knuckled hanging on nor meditative letting go, will make these days and years last longer.  I guess when I say the thing I swore I’d never say to new mothers, I’m trying to communicate that.  But I should stop, because I know it doesn’t help.

I’m pretty sure that my grandfather, in the photograph above, told me with a sigh that these days would go fast.  I know he handed me some notes that my grandmother had written about observing the development of boys (she should know: she had four).  But I also know that I probably shook my head, worrying about getting Whit down for a nap and making pasta for Grace, grimaced at the ugly plastic toys in my kitchen, and told him in a way that was both heartfelt and dismissive: I know, I know.

I thought I knew what he meant.  But I didn’t.  I do now.

– See more at: http://www.adesignsovast.com/2013/06/i-just-cant-do-it/#sthash.XswbKp7d.dpuf

It’s not a secret that I struggled with my entry into motherhood.  Grace’s infancy was not my finest hour.  I remember large swaths of time as only a blur of tears and a wailing baby that occurred in a permanent twilight that wasn’t day and wasn’t night.  But, somehow, I remember with crystalline clarity one comment that I received over and over again from kindly, well-intentioned people, friends and strangers alike:

“Make sure to enjoy this moment.  It goes so fast!”

Just like everybody else I know, I heard this more times than I can possibly count.  And every single time, through the haze of my exhaustion and despair, I recognized a kernel of truth.  This sentence pierced my gloom over and over again.  But the truth is it made me want to scream; this is probably because the sentiment cut close to the bone.  As with all statements that are uncomfortably true, I did not like hearing it.  And I swore to myself I would never tell a mother with a newborn to enjoy this time.

And yet I have.  More than once, I’ve looked at a mother with a tiny baby, or a mother with a baby in a Bjorn and a two year old by the hand, dark valleys under her eyes and a slightly wild, exasperated expression, and longed to be back there.  The way I express this longing is to say: “Oh, those were the days.  They go fast. Enjoy them.”

Every time I kick myself: Ugh, Lindsey, you swore you’d never say that.  I can remember vividly my own negative reaction to those comments.  But I realize now that the people who said that were just sharing their own nostalgia the only way they knew how.

Even now, aware as I am of not wanting to squander these moments with my children at home, I find myself – daily! – wishing time away.  I am sore from the cold bleachers under my legs at soccer try-outs, I am listening to a detailed story about a 2nd grade bus ride that is being told in real time, I am tired myself, just want to get into bed with my own book, and this third glass of water is going to put me over the edge.  I have realized this is simply the nature of parenting; the adage that the days are long but the years are short is so powerful precisely because it is true.

I am much better at appreciating my experience than I used to be.  There’s no question about that.  But even when I really AM there, even when I’m fully open and appreciating all the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of my particular life with my particular children at this particular moment, it still goes by too fast.  And this is the bitter part of my life’s bittersweet core: nothing I do, no paying attention and being here now can slow the drumbeat march of time.  No matter how present I am I cannot alter the hasty onrush of this life.

Sometimes that truth feels unbearably bitter.  Of course, yes, I do know that it’s bitter in direct proportion to the sweetness.  The presence I have worked hard to cultivate over many years has left me with very rich memories of this season of my life.  I’m grateful beyond expression for the way this blog has chronicled much of my life with my children.  I have thousands of photographs and dozens of letters.  But nothing I can do, neither white-knuckled hanging on nor meditative letting go, will make these days and years last longer.  I guess when I say the thing I swore I’d never say to new mothers, I’m trying to communicate that.  But I should stop, because I know it doesn’t help.

I’m pretty sure that my grandfather, in the photograph above, told me with a sigh that these days would go fast.  I know he handed me some notes that my grandmother had written about observing the development of boys (she should know: she had four).  But I also know that I probably shook my head, worrying about getting Whit down for a nap and making pasta for Grace, grimaced at the ugly plastic toys in my kitchen, and told him in a way that was both heartfelt and dismissive: I know, I know.

I thought I knew what he meant.  But I didn’t.  I do now.

– See more at: http://www.adesignsovast.com/2013/06/i-just-cant-do-it/#sthash.XswbKp7d.dpuf

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Fourteen years

wedding

Tomorrow we will have been married 14 years.  This picture, taken on the dock in front of our wedding reception after the thunderstorm had cleared, feels like both moments and a lifetime ago.

When Matt and I got married, a hundred years ago, I didn’t overly obsess about most of the wedding details (as you can see, I wore a ponytail and my dress was a sundress, notable only for the fact that it had a scalloped hem).  The only things I really cared about were the songs and the readings.  I cared a lot – agonized, even – about choosing readings for the service and also about our first dance song.  Our readings were two: Cavafy’s Ithaka, and an excerpt from The Book of Qualities.  Our first dance was to Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney and the last song we danced to before we left, on a small boat into the dark harbor, was Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic.

I thought of this yesterday when I was driving and Maybe I’m Amazed came on the radio.  This doesn’t happen much – the song that Paul McCartney wrote for his wife Linda, while lovely, isn’t exactly on constant repeat on Kiss 108.  I chose it, as is often the case when it comes to my musical attachments, for the lyrics.  But really, when I read the lyrics now, I think I chose it for the title.

Maybe I’m amazed.

I couldn’t help thinking, as I drove, the setting sun chasing me home along the Mass Pike, that some part of the 25 year old me knew this would be, in many ways, the anthem of my life.  It’s definitely no understatement to say that I have been startled, and continue to be, by how much flat-out amazement my experience contains.  This life amazes me every single day, with its surprising beauty, with its stunning pain, with its lingering grief, with its enduring sturdiness.  Of course I was thinking of my marriage, and my soon-to-be-husband when I chose Paul McCartney’s somewhat random song, but I think I also knew I was thinking of my life.

Of course Into the Mystic hits the same note, too.  That’s what this life, is after all, isn’t it?  A journey into the mystic, into a dark harbor, into a world lit by sputtering sparklers who consume themselves as they burn brightly, by fireworks whose flare leaves an imprint in the sky even after it fades.  I am so often hard on my younger self, focus so resolutely on all the poor choices I made and things I did not do well enough.  It is a welcome change to recognize that even in that young, impressionable bride there was a flicker of the future, an awareness of the themes that would come to define both my marriage and, most of all, my life.

– See more at: http://www.adesignsovast.com/2012/03/maybe-im-amazed-into-the-mystic-and-the-future-glinting-in-the-present/#sthash.yTf75xKe.dpuf

When Matt and I got married, a hundred years ago, I didn’t overly obsess about most of the wedding details (as you can see, I wore a ponytail and my dress was a sundress, notable only for the fact that it had a scalloped hem).  The only things I really cared about were the songs and the readings.  I cared a lot – agonized, even – about choosing readings for the service and also about our first dance song.  Our readings were two: Cavafy’s Ithaka, and an excerpt from The Book of Qualities.  Our first dance was to Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney and the last song we danced to before we left, on a small boat into the dark harbor, was Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic.

I thought of this yesterday when I was driving and Maybe I’m Amazed came on the radio.  This doesn’t happen much – the song that Paul McCartney wrote for his wife Linda, while lovely, isn’t exactly on constant repeat on Kiss 108.  I chose it, as is often the case when it comes to my musical attachments, for the lyrics.  But really, when I read the lyrics now, I think I chose it for the title.

Maybe I’m amazed.

I couldn’t help thinking, as I drove, the setting sun chasing me home along the Mass Pike, that some part of the 25 year old me knew this would be, in many ways, the anthem of my life.  It’s definitely no understatement to say that I have been startled, and continue to be, by how much flat-out amazement my experience contains.  This life amazes me every single day, with its surprising beauty, with its stunning pain, with its lingering grief, with its enduring sturdiness.  Of course I was thinking of my marriage, and my soon-to-be-husband when I chose Paul McCartney’s somewhat random song, but I think I also knew I was thinking of my life.

Of course Into the Mystic hits the same note, too.  That’s what this life, is after all, isn’t it?  A journey into the mystic, into a dark harbor, into a world lit by sputtering sparklers who consume themselves as they burn brightly, by fireworks whose flare leaves an imprint in the sky even after it fades.  I am so often hard on my younger self, focus so resolutely on all the poor choices I made and things I did not do well enough.  It is a welcome change to recognize that even in that young, impressionable bride there was a flicker of the future, an awareness of the themes that would come to define both my marriage and, most of all, my life.

– See more at: http://www.adesignsovast.com/2012/03/maybe-im-amazed-into-the-mystic-and-the-future-glinting-in-the-present/#sthash.yTf75xKe.dpuf

I wasn’t particularly focused on a lot of the wedding details (as you can see, I wore a ponytail and my dress was a sundress, notable only because I designed it myself).  I am grateful that I got married before social media, particularly before Pinterest, which seems to teem with small details to obsess over while planning your wedding.  I wanted blue and yellow flowers.  The minister who married us came from Rhode Island, where he had been close to my grandmother, who had recently died.  We had a buffet of slightly random foods chosen because we love them. I sewed blue ribbons into the hem of my dress on which my bridesmaids and close friends wrote messages.  We had a guest book on a small table on which also stood pictures of both of our parents on their wedding days.  We figured out midway through the reception that all seven of my mother’s bridesmaids were there: how remarkable is that?  If you wonder where I get my commitment to long-standing female friendship, there’s a clue.

I was guided, as I so often am, by my own sentimentality.

One thing I cared a lot  about was choosing readings for the service and also the song for our first dance. We had two readings: Cavafy’s Ithaka, and an excerpt from The Book of Qualities.  Our first dance was to Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney and the last song we danced to before we left, on a small boat into the dark harbor, was Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic.

I chose it Maybe I’m Amazed, as is often the case when it comes to my musical attachments, for the lyrics.  But really, most of all, I think I chose it for the title.

Maybe I’m amazed.

I can’t help thinking that some part of the 25 year old me knew this would be, in many ways, the anthem of my life.  It’s definitely no understatement to say that I have been startled, and continue to be, by how much flat-out amazement my experience on this earth contains.  This life amazes me every single day, with its surprising beauty, with its stunning pain, with its lingering grief, with its enduring sturdiness.  Of course I was thinking of my marriage, and my soon-to-be-husband when I chose Paul McCartney’s song, but I think I also knew I was thinking of my life.

Into the Mystic hits the same note, too.  That’s what this life, is after all, isn’t it?  A journey into the mystic, into a dark harbor, into a world lit by sputtering sparklers who consume themselves as they burn brightly, by fireworks whose flare leaves an imprint in the sky even after it fades.  I am so often hard on my younger self, focus so resolutely on all the poor choices I made and things I did not do well enough.  It is a welcome change to recognize that even in that young, impressionable bride there was a flicker of the future, an awareness of the themes that would come to define both my marriage and, most of all, my life.

So, Matt, as we celebrate 14 years, thank you for walking beside me on this adventure into the mystic.  I admit, I honor, and I declare: I am still amazed.

For the last few years, I have written one of my biannual posts about Matt on this day.  The others are here: 2013, 2012, 2011.

Parts of this post were originally written in early 2012.

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did you get what you wanted from this life?

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

-Raymond Carver, Late Fragment

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This is 40: the thick, hot heart of life’s grand pageant

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The last night of my 30s, at the summer camp I went to for many years and which both Grace and Whit now attend and love.

I turned 40 a couple of weeks ago.  On the actual day I woke up early at my parents’ house on the Massachusetts shore and drove with Matt an hour to the camp where I spent 9 happy, sunny years as a child and teenager.  We picked up Grace and Whit, who had been away for 3.5 weeks.  And we drove home.  I get carsick, so this was perhaps more time than I would have optimally spent in the car, but who cares.  When we got home we unloaded their trunks and I commenced what would eventually be 5 loads of laundry.  I actually love doing laundry (the smell, the creating-order-out-of-chaos thing), and though this was maybe a bit more than I would have chosen to do, I didn’t mind.  Grace, Whit and I visited one of our favorite places, the tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery and the fairy stream.  Then we had a simple family dinner at our dining room table and I listened to the children regale us with stories from camp.

As is often the case, my birthday wound up to be a perfect reflection of where I am right now.

So 40 was all about my real life.

A couple of weeks before my birthday, I shared a photograph of what I was reading on Instagram.  The pile included magazines, Reviving Ophelia, and Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?  A friend commented that those two books revealed that I was in the “panini years” (a great expression – pressed between the generations).

And oh yes, I am.  These are the in between years, the thick, hot heart of life’s grand pageant, busy and rich and exhausting, overflowing with demands, responsibilities, and love.

Life is very far from perfect – there are work stresses and health questions and far too many logistics to coordinate – but it is wonderful.  I was ambivalent about turning 40, I’ll be honest.  Some of that had to do with vain and not vain health reasons, but most of it was about my deep discomfort and unease with time’s relentless forward motion.  Reminders of time passing do not make me happy.  But here I am, on the other side, and I am so glad to be here.  Life has never been more dense with feeling, more full of magic.

40 is a time of contradiction and complexity.  It realizing in a deep way that these really are the days of miracle and wonder.  It is knowing this season is finite.  40 is solemn about what is coming and grateful for what is.

40 is toggling between John Denver and Katy Perry on the car stereo, knowing the words to both Cat Stevens and Taylor Swift songs, having strong memories associated with both CSNY and One Direction.

40 is overseeing homework and driving to sports practices and games.  It is recognizing the wisdom in the comment someone made years ago that some of the best conversations with adolescent children happen in the car.

40 has answered many – most? – of the big questions that haunted my young adulthood. 40 is about embracing the reality that those answers have built.

40 is being glad that my children still want still good night hugs and the sweet dream head rub before bed. And on the off chance they ask to sleep in my bed when Matt is traveling, it’s always saying yes.  Because this may be the last time they ask that.

40 is more emails about sad, scary illness news or chemo than emails with baby announcements.

40 is being absolutely fine that hockey practice is every single Friday night.  Which means no Friday night adult plans, ever.  40 is spending (a lot) more time with the parents of the kids my children play sports with any other adults.  And 40 is loving that.

40 is female friendship, and knowing how essential the few women who are truly walking through life by my side are.  It is taking time to nourish those friendships, to ask questions, to listen, to remember birthdays, and doctor’s appointments, and important dates.

40 is knowing that the ferris wheel of life is ticking ever forward, and that this is probably the tippy-top.  It is watching the decline of some in the generation ahead of us and the blooming of those in the generation behind us.  It is taking a breath and looking around at this spectacular view, and loving it, and knowing that it is changing even as I admire it.

40 is seeing my mother’s hands when I look at my own, and realizing that my daughter is much, much closer to being a college freshman than I am, and accepting that what I see in the mirror – a middle-aged woman – is who I am.

40 is recognizing that more years lie behind us as a family all living together than lie ahead, and existing every day in the shadow of the goodbyes and departures that loom.  40 is thinking parenting just keeps getting better, but also knowing that one day – sooner than I would like – this season will come to an abrupt end.

40 is having missed the window to start wearing red lipstick.  I always felt like it was too sophisticated and I would learn how to pull that off “later.”  Oops.  And now it’s too late.  40 is often trying on dresses to find them too short.  40 is still wearing a bikini, but not for long.

40 is learning to dance with the limp, as Anne Lamott says.  I have had a hip that’s bothering me all summer and abdominal pain (yes I am seeing a doctor and no, we have no answers yet) that shifts between absent and excruciating.  But I’m still running, and I’m still living my life.  I refuse to let this pain, and these questions, keep me from doing so.

40 is realizing that a birthday of chores and errands and a candlelit family dinner is exactly what I wanted.  It is understanding in a new, visceral way, that all I want is more of this.

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Summer 2014

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I’m starting to realize that the reason cliches are cliches is because they’re often true.  Maybe not all, but certainly some.  And the adage that summer goes faster every year?  Oh, yes.  My, that one is true.  And it’s just so bittersweet; so bitter because it IS so sweet.

I’ve been reflecting on what this summer contained and on what it was.

Right after school ended, the four of us spent a weekend in New Hampshire.  This was a very successful example of taking an important family tradition and morphing it to adapt to our growing children.  Instead of going to Story Land during the week with just Grace and Whit, the four of us went ziplining over a weekend.  We stayed at the same hotel, ate at the same restaurant that we loved, visited the same water park.  The weekend was both familiar and new, and it was absolutely marvelous.  The kids loved the adventure and I was so happy to mark the end of a school year with a joyful celebration.

We spent a long weekend with my sister and her family at my parent’s house on the Massachusetts shore.  As always, there was noise and tumult and many, many special memories.  It poured on the 4th of July.  And it cleared into a lovely weekend.  We saw fireworks, we swam in the rain, we went to the movies, we tried to take a Christmas card photo of the 4 grandchildren, we had family dinners around the large oval table, we watched my mother blow out birthday candles.  I love this tradition.

Our hydrangea bush had very few flowers.  We’re chalking it up to the long, cold winter in Boston.  As usual, I can’t stop seeing metaphors everywhere – with the hydrangeas and in general.  The bush is not flowering very much because it is bruised or wounded from a difficult winter.  Hopefully it will heal and burst into bloom next year.

This year our children were away from us more than ever before.  They spent 2 weeks at my parents’ house – a magical interlude with freedom to bike wherever they wanted, a happy and calm camp experience, new neighborhood friends, and lots of downtime with their grandparents – and then 3.5 weeks at camp.  I missed them like a howling ache.  But that’s not why I cried, after dropping them off and sporadically when they were gone.  I cried because at this point I realize the future is studded with more and more goodbyes.  The red cord that ties our hearts is going to keep stretching.  Yes, I trust it.  But I also find it difficult and sad.

Grace, Whit and I went to Niagara Falls for a few days.  I have never been there, and they were excited to see it.  It was just a little adventure and an opportunity to be away, together.  Niagara was home to some of the most staggeringly beautiful natural vistas I’ve ever seen and some of the the least attractive man-made ones.  Fascinating, paradoxical, enchanting.

I had a passionate love affair with peaches.  I can’t explain it.  I learned how to make jam (peach, of course).  I even made pickles.  Just call me Ma Ingalls.

Grace and Whit went away to camp for 3.5 weeks.  They went to the same camp that I went to as a child, a place that remains crucially important to me.  In a childhood of moving around, where I always felt like the new kid or the one about to leave, it was the only place I was just normal.  I treasure their camp, and to watch them love it is a remarkable thing.  I spent the last night of my 30s there, with them, celebrating the close of another wonderful summer.  It was truly magical.

We spent a week on Lake Champlain at the end of the summer.  This has become such an important marker in the summer for me: it’s a way to retain a connection to Vermont, the state where Matt grew up, and a way to reconnect as a family after the children have been away at camp.  They love it there and so do we.

I took August off from this blog for the first time, I read a lot of books, I felt particularly introspective, and I turned 40.

For the last several years I have written a post like this reflecting on the summer that was.  The others are here: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

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Navigating by the Stars

 

Kili

Hi!  Hope everybody is having a marvelous August.  It’s flown by here.  I’m looking forward to being back next week, but am popping on here to let you know I have a piece up on Medium today, Navigating by the Stars.  It’s about the 1998 trip to Kilimanjaro that I took with my then-new-boyfriend Matt, and about the lessons that began to dawn on me as we climbed slowly to the summit.  I’m still learning those lessons.

I hope you’ll click over and read my piece.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Photo of the summit of Kilimanjaro taken from our campsite two nights before, June 1998.

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