This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
I found this short passage on Jill’s beautiful blog, A Thousand Shades of Gray, which is a daily read for me.
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
I found this short passage on Jill’s beautiful blog, A Thousand Shades of Gray, which is a daily read for me.
In the last week of each summer, we traditionally spend a day at a beach north of Boston. Lately, these outings have felt like encounters with the tide. Last year we stood on a sand bar, marveling at the way it shrank under our feet as the tide came in. This year my children built a sand wall and watched it disappear under the onslaught of the rising tide.
Eleven is like this. It is the last visible piece of childhood’s sand as the tide of adolescence comes in, inexorable, welcome, but bringing anxiety in its wake, too. That tide whose approach we watch with both wonder and fear will change the landscape forever. It will dismantle many things even as it makes space for new ones.
Eleven oscillates between closeness and the distance I know she is supposed to be pushing for. Mothering an eleven year old is bringing to life all the academic study I did years ago about the mother-daughter relationship. I’m living that which I studied so closely, and though I understand what’s happening intellectually, it is still emotionally difficult.
Eleven walks a neighbor’s puppy by herself. She is responsible and organized, and lets herself into the house I have never seen, collects what she needs, and returns the same way. It is a small universe that she controls by herself. She also sleeps with four stuffed animals, all of which are dogs. She wants to be a vet.
Eleven can beat me in a set of tennis and can always, every single time, get a soccer ball past me. This summer we went for a run together for the first time and she left me in the dust.
Eleven can wear my flip-flops and is almost my height. She runs a six minute mile and is fluent with technology in a way I will never be. She doesn’t have her own phone yet but I know that’s coming soon. She still sleeps with the two teddy bears she’s had since infancy. She likes to snuggle before bed and still says prayers that include “thank you for giving me everything I need and most things that I want.”
Eleven started running cross-country for her school this year, and I can’t watch a race without tears in my eyes. There’s something about watching her go, seeing her take flight, cheering for her sprinting towards the finish line, that makes me cry. A wise reader pointed out the metaphor that I can’t stop thinking about: she’s running away from me, and I’m cheering for her, on her team no matter what, even when I can’t see her. Though I can’t see the part of the race that happens in the woods, I can imagine it, based on my own experiences (of running cross-country as a high schooler, myself, but also of being an adolescent girl). Her path and my own feel interwoven, but that identification is largely in my head. The woods she’s running in, and the tracks she makes through them, are hers and hers alone.
More and more, Eleven is in the woods. Her world is her own. I have less visibility into what she is doing at school and the use of email and instagram has allowed her to develop friendships I don’t know as much about. I trust Eleven and we still have a lot of rules about internet access and social media, but I’m aware of her autonomy and growing privacy. This is just another manifestation of the separation that I know is healthy and right.
This was Eleven’s fourth year at sleepaway camp but the first she was homesick. In the sagging middle week of her 3.5 weeks at camp, there were tearful phone calls and sad letters. Then, as the days towards pickup shortened, the mood brightened, and equilibrium was restored. I can’t help thinking this was the last gasp of attachment before eleven pushes off for the other shore, for adolescence and young adulthood, for good.
For now, I will curl up next to Eleven at bedtime and listen to her stories about her day and cherish every minute of time she wants to spend close to me, both physically and emotionally. I can see the tide coming in, and I know what it will bring with it. I’m still looking forward to what is ahead and trying to trust, that like on the cross-country course, though she’s about to disappear into the woods, she will circle around and come back towards me. She will have a smile on her face as she sprints towards the finish line, and she’ll see me standing there, and I hope that will make her glad.
Last year, I was happy to participate in This is Childhood, the writing series that captured snapshots of each age, 1 to 10. The series became a book, available now on Brain, Child (a great holiday gift!). Now, I’m delighted to announce the launch of This is Adolescence, a series which takes off where This is Childhood ends. This series is the brainchild of my friend, Allison Slater Tate, for whose company as I enter this next phase of motherhood I am deeply grateful. My oldest child is 11, and hers is 12, and we communicate regularly about this moment’s particular joys and challenges.
Starting tomorrow, a writer will be sharing their reflections, personal and universal at the same time, on parenting children in adolescence. I’m flattered (and nervous!) to be kicking us off with eleven. The lineup of writers includes some of my personal favorites, and it is a distinct honor to join them.
I hope you will enjoy this series as much as I know I will.
This month on the Here Year has focused on friendship. My friends and those I love the most have been firmly on my mind all month. The thing is I’ve struggled with what to say that is new, to be honest. I believe that true, honest, deep friendship is one of the most essential parts of a full and contented life. I believe that certain fertile moments in our lives lend themselves particularly to making friends. I believe that a person’s closest friends can tell you an awful lot about them and that who we truly love shows us a lot about who we are.
I have always loved my friends, and am truly blessed with wonderful people who are close to me. Sometimes I hear from readers, though, that it all seems easy and smooth. That’s far from the truth. I’m not always a picnic to be close to, that I know. I’m over-sensitive and take things personally, I react quickly and sometimes strongly, and generally I’m a pain in the ass. I assure you: nothing in this life of mine is always easy or perennially smooth. Please know that. Part of why I feel so strongly about friendship is that I’ve learned, often through heartache, to value and defend those relationships that matter the most to me.
Aidan has often blogged on the Here Year themes with lists, which are a mix of reflection and action suggestion. I love this format.
So, a few thoughts on ways to be, and have, a friend:
1. Remain Open. I think the key to those particularly fecund friendship-making periods in our lives is that they are moments of real vulnerability. When we let down our guard and reveal who we really are, that invites others in.
2. Be Loyal. Remember the other person’s feelings. Include them. Consider how they will feel about something.
3. Be Trustworthy. More than once people have been shocked to hear that I knew something about someone else and never said anything. I’m always surprised by this shock. To me, “don’t tell anyone” means don’t tell anyone. Period.
4. Keep in Touch. It’s simple and doesn’t take very much time at all. Just a quick “I’m thinking about you” means the world. Email and text have made this so much easier. Remember and mark birthdays (paper card is ideal, or an email or text, or, if it comes to that, a FB message) but the random “you’re on my mind” message or “I saw this and it made me think of you” can mean even more, in my opinion.
5. Say How You Feel. I don’t think we tell the people we really love and value that enough. Just say it. To be maudlin, we never know when we’ll get the chance again. Text it if you don’t want to say it out loud. I can’t tell you how much I cherish the expressions of warmth, gratitude, and appreciation I’ve received from others.
6. Defend Each Other. That quote about what the silence of our friends hurting more than the words of our enemies comes to mind. Oh, yes. I’m watching this now with Grace, in 6th grade. Sometimes we have to stick up for those we love, even if it means going against the easy current. Do it.
7. Listen. Friendship is made of attention. I believe this entirely. I am still learning to listen without jumping in with suggestions, observations, reactions. Just listen. Pay attention. Don’t be distracted.
8. Show Up. There are certain things you just show up for: weddings, funerals, christenings, big birthdays. I regret missing some of these in the lives of some of those I love most, though I can honestly say the decision has never been a casual one. Still. Show up if you at all can. It always means so incredibly much to me when others make the effort.
What are your thoughts on the most important things to remember about friendship?
The sun was out after a sojourn behind some clouds. Planes glinted in the sunlight and gradually diminished in the distance, leaving a trail of noise. A light breeze took the edge off the heat. The moment struck her as perfect, in the way that quotidian moments sometimes did. She tried to freeze it in her mind: the acid sweetness of her apple, the crunch of it against her teeth, the smell of the grass. It was cheating, in a sense, to circumvent the natural sifting process of memory, but she found that those moments when she stopped and thought I’m awake! as though in the midst of a dream, were ones she remembered with an uncommon clarity.
– Matthew Thomas, We Are Not Ourselves
Thank you, Lacy, for sending me this perfect passage.
Raluca State’s blog What Would Gwyneth Do is one of my daily reads and has been for a long time. She runs a regular interview series called I Don’t Know How She Does It which definitely inspired this very series here. For that reason, and because I admire her so much in general, it’s a huge honor to feature her words here. Raluca’s blog has an addictive mix of content and is all written in her approachable, wise, wonderful voice. I wish I lived closer to Raluca as I’d love to meet her. What Would Gwyneth Do covers tyle, fashion, and design, music, cooking, working motherhood, and a million other things. I highly recommend checking Raluca’s blog out and know you will be glad you did. I was thrilled when she agreed to participate in this series, the stepchild of her own wonderful investigation of working motherhood’s particular joys, beauties, and challenges.
Photo credit: Fawn Christiansen
1. Tell me about the first hour of your day? (I often describe mine as being “fired out of a cannon”)
The first hour of my day is surprisingly mellow…most of the time. My son is three and a half and always wakes up first, around 630am. Luckily these days he is a serious daddy’s boy so he tends to go to my husband first and pulls him out of bed to pour his cereal. I get to snooze for a few minutes while they do that and gather my thoughts for the day. It always takes me a minute to focus: what day is it? What’s on my calendar today? What do I have to look forward to? What do I not have to look forward to? I like to do a quick assessment before I get out of bed. I have to wake my daughter (she is seven) and lure her down to the kitchen. We’re incredibly lucky because my husband and I both work from home so while we need to get our kids dressed, fed and washed up to get out the door on time, we can usually handle drop off in casual clothes, make-up free and with a coffee cup in-hand because we are driving right back to the privacy of our home offices. We like to keep the mornings as relaxed as possible – no TV, no music on weekdays (a ton of it on weekends), natural light, and patient voices, wherever possible. I also don’t micro manage my kids in the morning – both of them, even my three year old, can pick out what they want to wear (I edit their wardrobes on the side so everything is mommy approved, for the most part) so there are fewer arguments and hiccups in the morning.
2. Do you have a work uniform that you rely on for getting dressed? What is it?
Since I work from home, my uniform is definitely on the more casual side but it’s not (always) yoga pants or sweats. I like leggings or jeans and layered tops for cooler days. A tee under a chambray or cardigan. In the summer, I am in dresses every day. We live in southern California and it gets warm so I like to feel breezy and cool. I try to do a little make up every day so I don’t fall into a work-from-home slump. A bit of BB cream, a cream blush and a little mascara and I am set for the day. For work events or meetings, it’s a lot of the same but I will always throw on a chic blazer (my favorites are Helmut Lang and J. Crew) and a pair of heels (Cole Haan are super comfortable) and a little more makeup.
3. How do you and your spouse resolve conflicts about scheduling?
I am very lucky in that my husband and I share our parenting duties 100%. We both work full-time from home so our schedules tend to be fairly similar in terms of limitations and flexibilities. It means we can swap pick up and drop off duties as needed, we can attend school functions together or solo, and we can cover for each other when needed. It is an incredible set-up for this chapter of our lives. We are also very good about recognizing each other’s need for personal time – I always make sure he has a few early mornings to go surf, he will cover bed time if I want to go to an evening yoga class or a cocktail with a friend…and we make that a priority not only for ourselves and each other, but for our family dynamic.
4. What time do you go to bed?
Early, ha. I am usually in bed by 9 and most nights asleep by 930pm. And yes, that typically includes Friday nights. On Saturdays, I might stretch to 11 or 12. But that’s a stretch. I like to stay I party on east coast time My routine is a little geriatric in nature – I diffuse essential oils and put lavender oil on as well. I typically have a candle burning and like to do some deep breathing and stretching before I pass out. My husband finds it all quite amusing to watch.
5. Do you exercise? If so, when?
I do. Sort of. I was one of those lucky gals who never had to worry about diet or exercise until I hit my mid 20s. Unfortunately, ten years later, it is still a struggle to make it a priority. But I try to. That means I typically aim to break a sweat at least five times a week and usually succeed three times per week. My work-from-home status comes in handy here because I will often sneak out for an early morning or mid-day class during the week and then always go to one on the weekends. I was a Dailey Method devotee for the past few years and it did wonders for my body, but have recently switched it up and started yoga. I tried it many years ago and didn’t enjoy it but now I have gone back with a different mindset and I am really liking it. You need to be in the right mindset for yoga, I think.
6. Do you cook dinner for your kids? Do you have go-to dishes you can recommend?
Yes, yes and yes! Menu planning is one of the pillars of my life and I blog about it all the time. It helped us get on a budget, helped clean up our eating habits and put family dinner front and center on the priority list…right where it should be. Sometimes it’s simple – tacos, homemade pizza, burgers – and sometimes it’s more elaborate – broiled salmon, roast chicken – but it’s a very important part of our lives. I also love to bake for my kids. Something about homemade muffins (I pack mine with zucchini, chia seeds and flax seeds for extra goodness and chocolate chips for extra flavor!) in the morning makes my mama heart sing. Most Sunday afternoons, you will find me in the kitchen with my two little sous-chefs. I want to set them up now for a long, healthy relationship with food and cooking and family dinners.
7. Do you have any sense of how your children feel about your working?
Yes. I think they are both annoyed and proud of it. They are definitely annoyed that my cell phone and laptop are always at the ready (one of the few cons of working for yourself and working from home – you are always working). I have been trying my best to put those distractions away, physically, when I am with them but sometimes it just isn’t possible or realistic. Most people don’t end their workday at 3pm so when my daughter comes home and my emails are still active, I need to be able to respond to them. On the other hand, they are proud. I have heard them talk about mommy being “her own boss” and my daughter is starting to understand what it means to have an income, where our money goes, etc. She asked me if I had more than $10 in the bank the other day and was beyond excited when I said yes. I think she gasped We also try to remind them that our situation is not typical. Most mommies and daddies don’t work downstairs in their house. Most mommies and daddies can’t be at every drop off and pick up and school meeting and event. We are lucky that we have the best of both worlds and they are learning that so it makes those late-night and weekend emails a little easier to accept.
8. What is the single piece of advice you would give another working mother?
Take it one day – sometimes one hour – at a time. Don’t worry about next week’s schedule or how you’re going to pay for preschool in three years or that you missed last month’s PTA meeting. How was today? Did you do your best? Were your kids happy and healthy? Did you feel fulfilled? Tired, maybe. Burnt out, likely. But fulfilled? I often say that some of my most exhausting days are also my most fulfilling and I like to look back on each one, individually, and give myself a little pat on the back.
And, inspired by Vanity Fair, a few quick glimpses into your life:
My daughter. She really is quite good.
Madewell for more affordable, J Brand for less affordable. Always dark and typically skinny…they can work on girls with curves, I am sticking to it.
Shampoo you use?
Pantene for more affordable, Bumble & Bumble for sort of affordable and Frederic Fekkai (way less affordable) in my Christmas stocking every year.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham.
So many come to mind, but I am going to go with this one from Ira Glass. Does that count as a quote??
I am very fickle when it comes to music and my tastes are all over the board, but I am going to say Michael Jackson. And anything on The Lumineers radio on Pandora. And a little Jay Z, always.
Favorite item (toy, clothing, or other) for your children?
Any kind of book for my daughter, she is such a bookworm and it makes me so happy. We buy a lot of books. H&M or crewcuts for clothes and PLAE for shoes, they last forever and look super cool. We also like Native Shoes for the summer months. Finally, our Oeuf crib. It has seen 7+ long years of daily and nightly use and holds so many memories from both our kids and it still looks great.
Glenda Burgess’ blog is a must-read for me, but this post, Permission, struck me even more than usual. “We are done with life when we cease to engage with our dreams.” Oh yes. How true this is.
I can’t stop listening to A Life That’s Good by Lennon and Maisy. So, so good. Makes me cry every time. Thank you to Katie Den Ouden for knowing that I would love it and for sending to me (is there anything better than an email from a friend that says “I thought you might like this”?)
Recently I started reading Happy Healthy Kids and the site is a trove of useful information. Last week’s post on the best TV shows for older children was really wise and full of good suggestions (and resonated with my kids’ recent passion for Survivor).
It was Julia Fierro who pointed me to Last Night’s Reading, which I fell into headlong and in love with at once. Kate Gavino’s marvelous illustrations are coupled with quotes from writers that I kept writing down. “We are always becoming. It never stops.” – Richard Blanco. “It’s my job as a writer to pay attention.” – James McBride. “We write to inform ourselves of ourselves.” – Julia Fierro.
I write these Things I Love posts approximately monthly. You can find the full archive of them here.
– Julia Fierro, Cutting Teeth
The mountain lake that we hiked to on Saturday morning
This month, Aidan has chosen Friendship as the topic of our Here Year. The topic is near to my heart and the timing is perfect. I just returned from my annual reunion with my dearest friends from college. It was a marvelous, sunny weekend of laughter (a lot) and tears (a few) that reminded me yet again why these women are so essential to me.
I’ve written a lot about friendship, and I cherish my female friends. As I get older I am more and more convinced of the importance of female friendships to our lives. The women who live nearest to my heart come from a variety of places and times in my life, but this group of college friends are the single largest and most stable locus of identification for me. They are my anchor and the first people I call with news, good or bad. They are the women who hold my stories. They are some of the few people in the world who know both who I am now and who I was then. They were my bridesmaids and are the godmothers of my children, and we have attended graduations, weddings, and funerals together.
These are the friends whose lives have now been beating alongside mine for more than half my life. They are the friends who know the specific part of Middlemarch that I missed because I was skimming a little too aggressively, what the trapezal is, all the lines to Jennifer Lopez’s performance in The Wedding Planner, the best roast chicken recipe, and how to work a 1970s-era one-piece ski suit. The memories run incredibly deep. We know the titles of each others’ theses and what we called our grandparents and why a DTR is important and how we celebrated our 21st birthdays.
For me, this was the best reunion weekend yet. All but one of us (those who were there) is now 40. We are all mothers and wives. We have a great deal in common, most of all the 4 years we spent on the same college campus in the mid 90s. But our lives are also very different. We run the gamut, professionally, personally, and geographically. Somehow, as our flight from those years in New Jersey lengthens, and our paths diverge, we also feel closer than ever. These women define where I came from and help me know where I am. Something about this past weekend was simply magic. Maybe as we hit our 40s we are settling into our skin. Maybe it was the mountain air and spectacularly beautiful weather. Maybe it was the triple cream brie and French Sancerre. Probably it was a combination of all of these things.
I suspect part of it had to do with my – and, I think, everyone’s – increasing ability to be here. For many years I’ve known that attention is love, and this weekend was a reminder of how true that is.
Friendship is made of attention.
We listened to each other and in turn we felt heard (I can only speak for myself, but my strong sense is this feeling was common in the group). I’m always amazed by how swiftly we slip back into comfortable patterns and by how easy it is to be around each other, because so much of our history is known and doesn’t need to be explained. . This weekend was no different. There is no way I can capture this strong, loving, dazzling group of women nor how fortunate and privileged I feel to be in their presence. I simply love them. That is all. And I hope they always know that.
I’m so grateful that Brettne pointed me to the Vogue video of Anna Wintour answering the 73 question challenge. She’s hilarious, and, as Brettne said to me, I totally covet her office. I was also fascinated by how the specific questions come together to provide a compelling portrait of a person. I’ve often written about this, about how small details can tell us a lot. In this case each question reveals a singular facet of a person and the 73 come together into a revealing kaleisdoscope. I thought it would be fun to answer them. I’d love it if you wanted to too! (I’m going to change New York to Boston for my purposes).
1. How long have you been in the area?
I was born here, but we moved around a lot, and I came back for good when I graduated from college in 1996.
2. What’s your favorite season in Boston?
3. What’s your favorite activity in Boston?
Running along the Charles at sunrise
4. Would you ever leave Boston?
I don’t think so
5. What are three words to describe living in Boston?
Seasonal, bookish, manageable
6. What’s your favorite movie?
Hard to say – not a huge movie person. But first reactions are: Stealing Home, all the Harry Potter movies, Old School.
7. Favorite movie in past five years?
Truthfully I have barely been to the movies in the past 5 years. Maybe Where the Wild Things Are. Though that may have been more than 5 years ago!
8. Favorite Hitchcock film?
I haven’t ever seen one!
9. Favorite TV show that’s currently on?
House of Cards
10. What’s a book you plan on reading?
11. A book you read in school that positively shaped you?
To the Lighthouse
12. A book you read in school that you never think of?
13. On a scale of one to ten how excited are you about life right now?
14. iPhone or Android?
15. Twitter or Instagram?
Close call, but Twitter
16. Vine or Snapchat?
17. Who should EVERYONE be following right now?
On Instagram, my friend @averdiroach, whose shots of where she lives take my breath away with their beauty. On Twitter, Book Quotes (@ao_BookQuotes) and Mary Oliver Poetry (@MaOlPoetry) for beautiful snippets of prose and poetry.
18. What’s the coolest thing in this room?
The view out of the window
19. What’s your favorite Boston restaurant?
Probably the bar at the Harvest
20. What’s your favorite food?
French fries, chocolate chip cookies, a perfectly ripe peach, brie with fig jam
21. Least favorite food?
22. What do you love on your pizza?
White pizza with arugula
23. Favorite drink?
Coffee in the morning
24. Favorite dessert?
Gooey chocolate chip cookies
25. Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
26. Weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Brain, maybe – as a baby I was looked after by a French woman who fed us very authentic foods
27. What’s the hardest part about being a mom?
Not doing anything well enough
28. What’s your favorite band?
Literally, this stumps me. Pathetic. Cool about music, I’m not.
29. Favorite solo artist?
30. Favorite lyrics?
Waiting for my Real Life to Begin by Colin Hay
31. If your life were a song, what would the title be?
Be Here Now
32. If you could sing a duet with anyone, who would it be?
33. If you could master one instrument, what would it be?
34. If you had a tattoo, where would it be?
On the inside of my wrist
35. To be or not to be?
36. What’s Oprah like in person?
I wish I knew
37. What number of question was this?
38. Dogs or cats?
39. Kittens or puppies?
40. Dolphins or koalas?
41. Bird-watching or whale-watching?
42. What’s your spirit animal?
43. Best gift you’ve ever received?
My engagement ring, from my husband
44. Last gift you gave a friend?
45. A person you want to have coffee with?
46. A historical figure you’d love to have coffee with?
Joan of Arc
47. How do you like your coffee?
With milk and sugar
48. Can I play a note on this piano?
49. What’s your favorite curse word?
50. What’s your favorite board game?
51. What’s your favorite country to visit?
52. What’s the last country you visited?
53. What country do you wish to visit?
Chile – Patagonia
54. What do you see in this image right here?
55. Can you write down your favorite word that starts and ends with the same vowel?
56. What’s your favorite color?
57. Least favorite color?
Don’t have one
58. What color dress did you wear to your prom?
59. Diamonds or pearls?
60. Cheap shampoo or expensive?
61. Blow-dry or air-dry?
62. Heels or flats?
63. Can you give an impersonation of someone?
64. Can you do the same impersonation with a British accent?
65. My friend outside this window would love to ask you a question?
66. [Holding two different colored dresses] Which should I give my girlfriend?
The one on the right
67. Pilates or yoga?
68. Jogging or swimming?
69. Best way to decompress?
Read in bed
70. If you had one superpower, what would it be?
71. Can you describe an experience you felt most nervous?
Speaking in front of a group (giving a toast or reading at my grandfather’s funeral)
72. What’s the weirdest word in the English language?
I don’t know why, but “ooze” and “unctuous” come to mind – clearly I have onomotaepia on the brain.
73. Last question: Is this the strangest interview you’ve ever had?