Things I Love Lately

Stronger Together – this open letter in the Harvard Crimson gave me goosebumps.  The Harvard women’s soccer team, famously described and derided in the men’s soccer team’s “scouting report,” addresses the situation.  They are named, and they speak for themselves.  I love what they say about learning to work hard, move past challenges, and that we are stronger together.  I very much appreciate their ackowledgement that there are a great many good men in the world. I’m sorry to see their acknowledgement – which resonates with me – that the reduction of women to their looks is still common in the world.

30 Best Young Adult Books of All Time – Thank you so much for Hilary & T for sending this along – what a marvelous list!  I of course love seeing my favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, on here, as well The Giver.  But I also love the way this list isn’t the same as all the others, and includes several titles that are new to me.  I will be exploring these books for sure.

Love Warrior – I am finally reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s book (thank you, Pam, for sending!).  Oh. My. God.  It’s like a freight train of glory already, heading at me at a million powerful miles per hour.

I write these Things I Love posts approximately monthly.  You can find them all here.

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Today. Tomorrow.

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Grace and Whit with me as I voted for Hillary Clinton for president, last Saturday, October 29th

I’ve resisted saying anything political here.  Ever.  I’m not strongly aligned with either political party, have voted for Democrats and Republicans (notably, always in Massachusetts), and deliberately retain my Independent status.

I do have some issues I feel strongly about, and often they tip me towards the Democrats: gun control, women’s rights, a woman’s right to choose, climate change.

This year, since the very beginning of this endless and bruising campaign, I’ve been a Hillary supporter.  All four of us are.

We are proudly with her.

All of us.  My husband, a long-time Republican who has only voted Democrat once before (for Obama in 2008), has been a vocal Hillary supporter for many months. When I walked to the polls with him and watched him vote for Hillary in the primary, I knew he was a good egg.  Well, I already knew that, but it was a good moment.

I’m afraid right now.  Scared about what’s going to happen tomorrow, yes, but maybe even more scared about the deep fault lines that this election has exposed in our country.  In particular I’m daunted by the latent sexism that these last, long months have revealed. I won’t get into all the reasons I think Trump is an unacceptable choice (it’s a long list), because for me his incredibly derogatory behavior towards and words about women are enough reason to say no way.

I’m also proud.  Proud that I got to stand next to my teenage daughter – who will vote in the next presidential election! – and my tween son and cast my vote for a female president.  I’m a feminist through and through, I’ve never wavered on that.  To me, being a feminist simply means that believing that men and women are equally valid and valuable.  Not exactly the same.  But possessing the same inherent worth. Given my definition of feminism, I’m shocked that not everyone agrees with me.  Call me naive, but when I’m confronted with evidence that people honestly don’t agree, I find myself bewildered and startled.

For many years, one of my all-time favorite children’s books has been Grace for President.  I’ve given it as a gift tens of times.  I wish the protagonist wasn’t called Grace, actually, because that coincidence has nothing to do with how much I adore the book.  Grace and Whit both know that I can’t get through a reading of the short picture book without actively crying.  So they still like to ask me to read it now and then, for entertainment purposes.  I cry every single time.  And here we are.  On the brink of that truth, of electing a woman because she is the best candidate, who said as she accepted the nomination, “standing here as my mother’s daughter and my daughter’s mother.” I loved the way she said that, the way she put her motherhood and daughterhood front and center.  I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton just because she’s a woman.  No way.  Do I think that her being a woman is pat of why she’s such an exceptional candidate?  Yes. For me it’s inextricable. But my vote is about more than electing a woman. It’s about electing the best candidate (by a wide country mile, in my view).  And she happens to be a woman.

I can hardly hold back my tears.  When tomorrow comes, I hope we will hear the people sing (yes I have Les Mis in my head), and there will be a roar of celebration.  I wish my grandmothers were alive right now.  I felt them with me in the voting booth as I cast my vote, with my daughter, whose veins run with their blood, standing beside me.  Nana and Gaga were both such important women in my life, intelligent, thoughtful, articulate women, feminists at their core, both Planned Parenthood leaders and supporters long before it was mainstream.  They would be in tears, too, I think.

 

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that was happiness

That was happiness. Not the framed greatest hits, but the moments between. At the time, I hadn’t pegged them as being particularly happy. But now, looking back at those phantom snapshots, I’m struck by my calm, my ease, the evident comfort with my life.

– Maria Semple, Today Will Be Different

It strikes me that this blog is at its core an attempt to capture the “moments between” of my life.

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Proust questionnaire

I love minutiae and questionnaires.  I have a whole category on this blog for “meaningless minutiae.”  It’s not a secret that I don’t think all minutiae is that meaningless, actually.  I’ve answered the Vanity Fair Proust Questionnaire before, but not for several years.  Clearly some answers will never change, while others fluctuate with the years of our lives.  I would love to hear any and all of your answers!

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Insomnia.

Where would you like to live?
Cambridge, Massachusetts

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Evenings and weekends when all four of us are at home, puttering around peacefully.  Getting into bed with my book.  A cold glass of wine with ice in it on the porch of my parents’ summer home.  My annual weekend with my college friends.  Having run. Shavasana at the end of a yoga class.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
Over-sensitivity. The faults of those who doubt themselves.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Dumbledore.  He will always be number one.  Also, John Ames in Gilead, Harry Potter, and the butler in The Remains of the Day.

Who are your favorite characters in history?
Marie Curie, Joan of Arc, Georgia O’Keeffe, Anne Frank.

Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
Ina May Gaskin, Oprah, Anne Lamott.

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Hermione (Harry Potter), Cora (The Underground Railroad), Charity Lang (Crossing to Safety), Lyra (His Dark Materials), Eve (Paradise Lost), Mrs Ramsay (To the Lighthouse).

Your favorite painter?
Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, Helen Frankenthaler.

Your favorite musician?
James Taylor.

The qualities you most admire in a man?
Humor, calm, intelligence, and the difficult-to-define, difficult-to-find ability to make me feel safe.

The qualities you most admire in a woman?
Not taking herself too seriously, but not being flip either.  Willingness to say what she believes.  Ability to make her life reflect her true values.  Not complaining.

Your favorite virtue?
Patience. Faith. Commitment. Resilience.

Your favorite occupation?
I am pretty sure I’ll never be able to pick just one. When I was a child, I wanted to be a doctor.

Who would you have liked to be?
Someone more centered, more confident, more clear.

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That was then

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Halloween 2005.  Chicken and egg.  It feels like yesterday, truly.

This is now.  My new 14 year old and my almost-12 year old.

Oh, time.

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Keep this interval for life

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life.

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

~ William Stafford

Another gorgeous passage I first saw on First Sip.

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Fourteen

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my favorite recent picture of you, from last Saturday

Dear Grace,

Fourteen.  Fourteen.  I know I’m a broken record, a sad cliche, but really?  That incredibly rainy day when you arrived after a long, long labor – which I’ve written about incessantly – seems like yesterday.  It hovers around my experience on a daily basis, seriously: it was the day I became a mother, and everything shifted from that moment. Because of you.

No matter what, you’ll always be the person who made me a mother.

I have a lot of identities, and I hope one thing you’ll learn as you grow up is that being many things with and to many people is a recipe for a full and meaningful life (though not always a restful one).  But there’s no question that the most essential identity I hold is mother.  You should never, ever doubt that.

Today that 7 pound, 9 ounce baby with a head full of dark hair and a predilection towards screaming and sleeplessness is fourteen.  We are squarely in the teens now, and I’m afraid of jinxing us, but so far it’s going fairly smoothly.  You’re definitely a teenager.  When I say fairly smoothly I don’t mean to imply there aren’t hiccups. Your emotions run deep and your moods can be powerful.  I’m still figuring out the line between behavior that is unacceptable and a normal episode where you are just pushing off the wall (as Lisa Damour says – if you have a daughter and haven’t read Untangled, I highly recommend it).

But so far, so far, the red cord that ties our hearts is intact.  Stretching, yes, but definitely there.  I’m immensely grateful for that. I’ve written a letter like this to you for many years (thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six) but it feels harder now, surely because you are increasingly your own person. For the record you always have been – I’ve always maintained you and Whit have never, not for a second, belonged to us.  But these days, more and more, your stories are your own and I feel cautious about telling them.  I guard your privacy and am careful about sharing about you.

You are within a half inch of my height, your feet are bigger than mine, and you regularly wear my clothes. I can no longer reliably buy clothes for you, so we go together instead (as someone who shops almost entirely online, this is something I’ve had to adjust to). You are studious and hardworking and committed to school.  Your handwriting looks like it came from a typewriter and you are very organized. Your school planner and your flash cards are color-coded.  Your room is the neatest in the house by a mile: you are ruthless about clutter and regularly get rid of things, which makes my similarly-inclined heart sing. When I reread this paragraph, these details make you sound humorless, which isn’t true.  You love to craft and bake and decorate your room for every holiday, we watch Survivor religiously together, and often laugh so hard my stomach hurts.

You have been running with the varsity cross-country team at school this fall and really enjoying it.  Despite the races being longer and the teammates older, you’re enjoying it more than before.  I love seeing this. You’ve gotten to be friendly with some of your teammates and take training and racing seriously.  I go to most of your races and stand there, eyes inevitably filled with tears, and watch you as you start and then, as you finish.  As others have noted and as I’ve written before, cross-country is a profound metaphor for parenting. There is no question in my mind that you’re in the woods now, and I’m standing at the finish line – of the race and of childhood – waiting for you to emerge.

One of the things I say to you a lot is “run your own race.”  This is with reference to cross-country, of course, but far more often it’s about school and life and friendship.  You’re in middle school and the shifting social waters are tricky. You are learning lessons about identity and loyalty and who you want to be every single day.  Someday you will find your people, and all you need to do is to keep your eyes on the horizon and run your own race. Many, many of the people I love best found middle school challenging.  You don’t want to peak now! You are strong and brave and thoughtful and smart and I am so, so sure things will be fine.  They will be better than fine.

Sometimes your maturity astounds me.  Recently you took Snapchat off of your phone because you felt it was distracting you.  Your apologies are sincere and heartfelt. You remember to ask about meetings and doctor’s appointments and you care deeply about the chocolate lab down the street that you’ve been walking since she was a brand-new puppy.  Hand in hand with this maturity goes your sensitivity, which often overwhelms you.  Even last night, as I tucked you in, you told me that the night before was the best part of your birthday, because it was all still ahead. This sentiment is so familiar my eyes filled with tears. I hope I can help you learn to work with your strong feelings.  One thing to realize is what I wrote when you were ten, that when other people do things, it’s almost never about you.  The goal is to roll with things more.  Of course, I’m still struggling with this myself, so you come by it honestly.  Let’s learn together.

You are stardust, you are golden.  Sometimes I get the feeling you wish you could get back to the garden – to the security of childhood, to the days when I could make everything okay – but you and I both know you can’t. Onward.  To the garden that lies ahead, to the glitter on the horizon, to adventures big and small.  There is so much to look forward to, Gracie. Even when you can’t see me, I’m there, cheering.  I probably have tears in my eyes, and I will be rooting for you until the end of time.

I love you, Gracie.

Mum

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What’s your patronus, lightning, and other morning thoughts

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The chapel at Middlesex School.  I was early to an xc race on Saturday and my habit when I’m early (which is basically always, whether to a sports event or a work thing) is to find the chapel.  I love the light streaming through those high windows.

I’ve been waking up at dawn.  I think of my grandmother, who – to my memory – was always up at the crack.  I feel like I’m both getting old and getting closer to her when I keep waking up at 5.  No matter the day, no matter what time I went to bed.  I’m also tired, for the record.  I’d like to sleep past 6.  But this seems to be my lot right now, and I’m aware that as misfortunes go this is a small one.

On Saturday morning this weekend I went running in the dark at 5:15.  It was wet and damp and warm, and it was my first run in a long time.  I observed in August that my runs lately had been short and difficult, and that trend has continued. As Grace blossoms into running (she is increasingly comfortable with the 5k distance, and happier racing), I seem to be falling into a ditch. Clearly her father already did (fall into a ditch).  Here we are. I thought about that as a ran.  My daughter, who would run her last race as a 13 year old later on Saturday.

I remembered a piece I’d written years ago about Grace and Whit called Lightning in a Jar. I’m not sure why that piece came back to me on Saturday morning, but one thing I’ve learned to heed in my middle age is the thoughts that rise up apparently randomly in my mind.  There’s a reason, I am sure of it; it is as undeniable as it is inchoate.

It’s all so astonishing, so baffling and overwhelming at the same time, and I feel awash, often, in the swarming wonder that is parenting.  My own children, growing tall and lanky in front of my eyes, their childhood passing in one swift swirl of color, the brilliance of their being here flashing intermittently like a firefly in the dark.

And now, Grace and Whit (over five years later!) have surely shattered the jars.  The lightning of their beings flashes around the house, jagged, hot, and dazzlingly beautiful.  I’m still battled and overwhelmed, still awash in the swarming wonder of parenting.

As I ran, bunnies kept dashing across my path.  I thought randomly of Harry Potter and his patronus, a stag.  I wondered what animal my patronus would be.  A memory reared up of climbing Kilimanjaro with Matt, in June 1998 (I wrote about that experience in more detail here). As we neared the summit, I had a very vivid sense of a reindeer running by me.  To this day, Matt and I laugh about it.  Reindeer at 18,000 feet in Africa?  Probably not. But I was so sure.  In that moment, Matt says he was not sure if his new girlfriend was struck suddenly with altitude sickness or joking.  I imagine it was the former, but luckily I got to the top and we made it down in one piece.  I’ve never forgotten that vision of a reindeer, though.

Is that my patronus?  Maybe. Who knows. I had not even discovered Harry Potter at that time. I read the first four books in the week leading up to our wedding and on our honeymoon, actually. Another possibility is a large cat.  I dislike house cats as much as I’m riveted by large ones.  I’m a Leo who was born in the year of the Tiger and when we were on safari it was the cats I was most drawn to.  Maybe my patronus is a lion or a tiger.  I don’t feel fierce, though.

Thinking of lightning, and Harry Potter, and a long-ago dark walk up Kilimanjaro where a reindeer flashed by me, I kept running.  The streets were dark and quiet, damp from last night’s downpour.  I let the thoughts run through my head, and I ran home.

What form would your patronus take? 

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recovering an essential self

I thought my midlife season would be about pushing into a new future … and it is.  I thought it would be about leaving behind the expectations and encumbrances of the past.  It is.  What I didn’t know is that it would feel so much like recovering an essential self, not like discovering a new one.

Hold close to your essential self. Get to know it, the way you get to know everything in the world about someone you’re in love with, the way you know your child, their ever freckle and preference and which cry means what.

This self – this fragile and strong, creative, flip-flop and ponytail self – she’s been here all along, but I left her behind, almost lost her when I started to believe that constant motion would save me, that outrunning everything would keep me safe.

You cannot be a mystic when you’re hustling all the time.  You can’t be a poet when you start to speak in certainties. You can’t stay tender and connected when you hurl yourself through life like being shot out of a cannon, your very speed a weapon you yield to keep yourself safe.

The natural world is so breathtakingly beautiful. People are so weird and awesome and loving and life-giving.  Why, then, did I try so hard for so long to get away without feeling or living deeply?- Shauna Niequist, Present Over Perfect

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Around here lately

It’s been a while since I shared snapshots of what’s going on around here.  I realize I tend to do that more and more on Instagram these days.  It’s been a quiet fall, with a lot of time at home following a rough couple of weeks, and in a weird way as we come out of the fog back into real life I find myself strangely nostalgic. There was definitely a silver lining to those challenging days.
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This fall has been a lot, lot, lot about the kids’ sports.  Matt came to watch one of Grace’s home xc meets.  He was unable to sit down, so as you can see, he lay down on a bench to wait for the start of her race.  img_3641

At another meet, my parents came to watch with me.  I took this photograph of our shadows as I stood next to Mum.  Now and then the good fortune of my parents living so nearby that they are able to do stuff like that threatens to swamp me.  Of course, it’s deliberate, that we live here, and this is precisely why.  Still.  I am so, so lucky.  img_3649

Matt’s parents sent me flowers.  How lovely is that?  The happy energy of these sunflowers filled our kitchen for days.  Once again: I am so lucky. img_3666

Whit is playing football for school.  Which is to say he is practicing, and in the game for one or two plays per game.  Which is fine by me.  But I do love him in his little uniform (they had to order new pads, since they didn’t have any small enough for Whit or his friend).  img_3639

I take a lot of photos of Grace running, and this is my favorite so far this year.  Somehow the blur, the movement, the way she’s looking away … feels like right now.

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