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.

Jun05-550x412

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

photo

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

photo

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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Where I’ll be … August

Brewster flats

Grace, Whit, and my best friend from camp’s daughter, years ago, on the beach where I spent so many summers

It has been a tremendous privilege, not to mention hugely inspiring and educational, to join my friend Aidan in the Here Year.  She announced that she’ll be taking July and August to be here in her life, and in August I plan to join her.  For the last several years I’ve posted pictures in August, and I may still do that from time to time.  I’m not sure.

August is the deep, hot, swampy end of summer, and it’s also when I start feeling keenly the approach of fall.  The year turns towards its next season and as I’ve noted before I think my own sensitivity to endings may come from having been born in this liminal season, when transition hangs on the horizon, coloring everything.

This August Matt and I will have two weeks without the children, who are away at camp (after 1.5 weeks in July).  As I think of my children at the same place where I spent so many summers, I’ll remember yet again how seductive and confusing then and now can be, twining together into a cord of nostalgia and memory and love and loss.  We’ll pick them up on my 40th birthday and then we will have a week of family vacation in Vermont.  We’ll go to the same place for lunch on our way up, and visit the campus where Matt went to college; the drumbeat of tradition will soothe us all, remind us of the rituals that frame so much of our family life.

I intend to be here for all of it.

By the end of the month we’ll have returned to the schedules to which our real lives march.  Soccer practice will have started, we’ll have new sneakers for bigger feet, and I’ll be packing lunches again.

I’ll see you then.

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Another year, another camp drop off

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Leaving home, early Thursday morning

Last week we took Grace and Whit to camp.  This is Grace’s fourth summer, and Whit’s second.  The drop-off doesn’t get easier.  I’m realizing that’s because the experience forces me to confront where we are right now, and in so doing to reckon with all that is already past.  It is impossible to drop them off without realizing in a visceral way that the path forward holds ever-more dropoffs, ever more farewells, that the distance between them and me continues to stretch as we move forward.

Yes, yes, I trust in the red cord that ties our hearts.  I do.  But it’s still hard.

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Beloved, Bear, and Beloved’s Brother lined up on Whit’s pillow at camp.  He ran to join his cabinmates in a game so fast I didn’t even get a picture of him, so I took a photo of these much-loved faces instead.

For some reason, dropping them off and leaving without them – and, maybe most of all, coming back into a house that feels echoingly empty – brings me face to face with many emotions.

I am reminded that my everyday life is full of magic, a truth that Grace saw, and told me, before I ever did myself.  That happened the night before I took her to camp the very first time, and I still think of that conversation all the time.

I think of my dearest lifetime friend, who I met at this very camp many years ago.  When I walk through the familiar camp grounds it feels as though the ghosts of the girls we were swirl around me like dust.  I fall into the black hole of memory where individual moments flash and glint: when I first met Jess, the moment she pulled up to be my co-counselor in cabin 18 after we hadn’t spoken in several years, her gorgeous, sun-drenched wedding, the morning I called her in a whisper to say I’d seen a second, shadowy line on a pregnancy test.  There are a million other memories that drift over me like snowflakes, together forming a bank that is one of the essential bulwarks of my life.

When I think of it I fall into the black hole of memory where individual moments flash and glint: when I first met Jess, the moment she pulled up to be my co-counselor in cabin 18 after we hadn’t spoken in several years, her gorgeous, sun-drenched wedding, the morning I called her in a whisper to say I’d seen a second, shadowy line on a pregnancy test.  There are a million other memories that drift over me like snowflakes, together forming a bank that is one of the essential bulwarks of my life. – See more at: http://www.adesignsovast.com/2012/08/these-girls-our-girls-this-next-generation/#sthash.CTX137uz.dpuf
When I think of it I fall into the black hole of memory where individual moments flash and glint: when I first met Jess, the moment she pulled up to be my co-counselor in cabin 18 after we hadn’t spoken in several years, her gorgeous, sun-drenched wedding, the morning I called her in a whisper to say I’d seen a second, shadowy line on a pregnancy test.  There are a million other memories that drift over me like snowflakes, together forming a bank that is one of the essential bulwarks of my life. – See more at: http://www.adesignsovast.com/2012/08/these-girls-our-girls-this-next-generation/#sthash.CTX137uz.dpuf

Most of all, dropping Grace and Whit off presents me with blinding evidence of how much I love my own life.  Right now, this, this mess, this beauty, this noise, this holiness.  This.  These moments, which seem to run through my fingers ever more quickly.  I think of the glorious good fortune that my children will stand in the same outdoor theater that I did, their arms looped around their friends’ shoulders, singing Taps, and also of the keenly painful reality that the years in between those two events have evaporated so quickly I can’t catch my breath.  Then and now, past and present swirl together in a burst of rainbow memory, lit by flashes of lightning, and I swallow, and try to hold back my tears as I hug my children goodbye.

I thought of Churchill’s quote about how “this is not the end.  This is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”  We left the end of the beginning back a while ago already.  And here we are, in the thick of it, life itself, teeming with both laughter and loss, joy and love and sorrow, every single day a tapestry of experience and memory.  Often this crazy quilt overwhelms me, and it did last week as we drove home from camp.

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Grace standing on the way to the beach.  I have walked through this passage hundreds of times.  Last summer Jess and I took photographs at sunset on this beach, and I treasure them.  

 

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Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life

Tree

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books–

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

– Jane Hirshfield

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The best books of the year so far.

Last week I read Nina’s excellent review of her favorite books of 2014. It made me want to write my own. I realize I’ve mentioned several of these books before, but here they are in one place. I highly recommend her picks (some of which are mine, too!) and am eager to hear what you’ve been reading.

We are just past the midpoint of 2014, and here are my favorite books of the year so far:

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr. I’m reviewing this for Great New Books in a couple of weeks so I will save most of my commentary, but suffice it to say that Doerr’s book has a firm place in my favorite novels of all time.  Probably top three.  All the Light is that spectacular. I can’t stop thinking of the book’s glorious imagery and can’t recommend it highly enough.

10% Happier – Dan Harris. This is a rare book that both Matt and I adored. Dan’s story is honest, open, convincing, inspiring, funny. I already meditated somewhat regularly, and now I do it with more conviction and commitment. This is a marvelous book.

Euphoria – Lily King.  I could barely put down King’s compelling story of anthropologists in the jungle of New Guinea.  She draws three characters I couldn’t stop thinking about and touches on themes of identity, feminism, love, subjectivity, and power.  I loved this book.

Americanah- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  This book came highly recommended by some of the readers I most highly esteem (I’m looking at you, Lacy) and it did not disappoint.  Americanah is a rich, sprawling saga about otherness and true love, about all the ways that we can be from a place and yet not feel at home, about what America really means.

Love Life – Rob Lowe.  I picked up Lowe’s latest memoir after reading his guttingly powerful essay on Salon about taking his son to college.  The book is similarly moving, and running through it is an intensely familiar sense of the bittersweetness of parenting and life itself.  Beautiful.

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell.  I’d heard so much about this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Rowell’s protagonists are fully-felt, deeply-human misfits who are as surprised to find connection in each other as we are.  Nina loved this one too, and her review is wonderful.

In the Body of the World - Eve Ensler.  Ensler’s illness narrative is difficult to read but a compelling page-turner at the same time.  She draws stark parallels between her own female body and the world at large, in so doing crafts a powerful love letter to this dramatic, painful, human, joyful life.

Paradise in Plain Sight – Karen Maezen Miller.  I loved Hand Wash Cold, so was eager to read Maezen’s new book.  She didn’t disappoint: the memoir is full of the plainspoken but deeply resonant writing I now associate with Maezen.  While I’m not a gardener myself, I found myself gladly following her through her own yard, and ultimately coming to see, with her gentle but firm guidance, that paradise truly is right here at my own feet.

Homesick and Happy- Michael Thompson.  I’m a longtime and devoted Thompson fan, and this book hit on a theme that has been central to my sense of myself as a parent from the very beginning.  Helping our children let go, and move away from us, is our most essential parenting task.  Camp is one way that we can help them do this.  Perhaps he was preaching to the choir, since I’m a firm believer in sleepaway camp, but Thompson’s book reminded me of what this endeavor is all about it.  It made me cry  more than once.

Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner.  I just re-read this for the fourth time, for my new book club.  It’s the only book that I have ever read four times.  And it just keeps getting better.  This time I was struck by the masterful way that Stegner shifts in and out of the first person as he tells the story. 

What are you reading now and what have you loved lately?  I would love your recommendations as I have some plane flights and downtime ahead!

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