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The Run

My phone said: “message received” at 5:15 in the morning. While the announcement woke me, it did not take much. At best the night on the pullout sofa was a rest for my eyelids. The bed was comfortable enough but the anticipation of the next day’s events had my stomach and brain doing constant cartwheels. I had been here before in a different body, one married six months and never having carried a child. A mind that had never known a sleepless night, unless of my own planning and choices. A stomach yet to be sliced open three times to bring life into this world. Breasts not sucked dry from three years of nursing and left to resemble raisins unless neatly tucked into a very expensive padded bra. Feet  yet to know the pain of stepping on legos in the middle of the night. A tongue yet to be bitten so as to not teach my children screaming profanities. And a heart naive to the cracks and holes a marriage of 13 years can bring.

The last time I did this, I was prepared. I followed a schedule to a fault, like a new mother reading What to Expect When You Are Expecting. Indeed in those simpler days, if one had a schedule and stuck to it, everything worked out as planned.  While it seemed like a large time commitment, it now appears I had nothing but free time. I simply had to choose which activity I wanted to do. So I ran. I trained for a marathon in all sorts of places: around Central Park; down the dingy West Side Highway before it was glamorized by today’s High Line Park; from my parents house in Alexandria to Mount Vernon and back; around the beaches of Southport, Connecticut and it’s beautiful Gold Coast of historic mansions; along the shores of Lake Michigan. I ran with the encouragement of the New York Athletic Club and all the privileges membership has. And I crushed the race. I ran from Staten Island to Central Park, through every borough of New York. I saw silent spectators with long corkscrew curls and yarmulkes in the Hasidic Jewish part of Brooklyn. I caught Halloween candy from kids in Harlem. I ran past college buddies along First Avenue,  and felt like a Super Bowl quarterback when I came out of the tunnel on 59th street and heard the roars of thousands of people. I ran so fast my husband missed our check point on the corner of first avenue and 75th. I arrived 15 minutes early while he was in line for a bagel and coffee. My aunt had to relocate from her spectating restaurant to Central Park to track me down. I ran the damn thing in 3:47, before chip timing which means my clock started with the shotgun -the 22 minutes of wading through other runners to get to the start line counted and I still beat my goal. I swore I would never do it again since I would never beat my time.

So how did I end up in Chicago on October 9? As a mother of 3, I have to go to extremes to get a vacation. It was a 40 year-old thing, a dare to myself. Do I have the time to train? The legs to run? The desire to finish?  After a lot of wine last March I convince two friends, both of whom had done one marathon before and were now 40, we could do this.  We signed up for the Chicago marathon based on these facts: Chicago is flat, friendly, a great city and cold. 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. Unfortunately, if I got to choose I would have forgone friendly or flat before temperature. The sun was strong. When we got in the corral I paniced, having not written my name anywhere and knowing how important it is to hear people call out during the race. I had to pee at mile 1. I drank water and gatorade at every mile. I took every sponge of ice water and squeezed it on my face. I ran through every sprinkler to get cold water. I got a blister in my left arch at mile 13. I started cramping at mile 16.  I saw Elvis, jogging in his long white pant suit, but apparently he was not able to hold IT before he got to a port-a-potty. At mile 17, a bank thermometer read 85.  Eventually, I was too tired to even cross the street in order to get refreshment. Because of the heat, I saw more runners down on the course than I had ever seen. I was impressed by the number of fans but Idid not really look up from the pavement to notice where I was. This was a greatly different race from New York City 13 years ago. And I am a greatly different runner.

On Friday I placed a tattoo on my arm which gave a per mile time break down to beat 4 hours. It is a standard goal among runners- impressive but attainable. I was on track, running miles in 8:50 or better. I began to believe I would break 4 because I have a “kick” when I run; I finish faster than I start. But on Sunday, I did not. At mile 22, I got slower and slower and saw my goal slip away in 15 second increments.  I could do nothing about it. For the final 400 meters, I got faster but not enough. I finished in 4:01:45.

In the grand scheme of things, I am proud of my accomplishment. I finished 9,075 among 45,000 registered runners. I finished 2,247 among all women, and 323 for my age group category. Considering I trained when I could -around ballet lessons, soccer coaching, and an overly programmed life, I am thankful. Thinking about William Caviness of Greensboro, a 35 year old firefighter who died with 500 meters to go, I am humbled. There are no guarantees anymore. Rarely are their even guidelines to tell you which way to go.

I think about Mary, with her life planned, knowing she was betrothed to Joseph the carpenter. It probably looked do-able. Normal and predictable. But then came the angel and all bets were off. A virgin carrying God’s son, a messenger to save the world. Who knows how to plan for that? The Bible is given to us as a training guide. It gives us stories and lessons showing us how to live. But the balance between running this earthly race and living a Godly life are challenging. Unknown and hard. They are like running a marathon. You may not be prepared. It may get hotter than you think. So I put one foot in front of the other, hoping to finish the race.

A New Season

The sun continues to fry the grass and flowers if I skip the watering can  just once. The mosquitos hang on to cover legs with bumps and scabs while the spiders and mushrooms pop up around the yard. Humidity lingers enough to trick me; the sky has begun to change towards longer nights and I am tempted to put on jeans and long sleeves, maybe even real shoes with a closed toe. But just cracking the door for the dog to slip out lets in enough hot air to curl my hair. This is not the image of fall I want.  I want apples and cider and gingerbread topped with lemon curd. Where are the crisp blue skies with warm sun and cool air?

I want to put away the white jeans. I think white jeans are evil for anyone under the height of 5′ 7. I broke down and bought a pair this year, on the end of a trend I know, but anytime I purchased a top, someone would say “Oh that would look great with your white jeans.” And I wore them. A lot. And each time I did, at least 60% of the women I was with wore theirs too. I only wore mine in Maine. I know white is a year round color and all now but I don’t really wear any full length anything past April in North Carolina. The heat makes me claustrophobic and a tad bit grumpy, if not self-righteous.

I am a person greatly affected by weather. If it’s raining and cold, I must have mashed potatoes for dinner, preferably with meatloaf and a glass of pinot noir. If it’s sunny and 70, I cannot be inside, which is why I don’t know how I would go back to an office job. Above 90?…near some body of water. And I like to be dressed for the weather (see above paragraph) All this is to say I believe strongly in the seasons. I couldn’t live in California even though I love the lifestyle. I welcome the south’s early spring and have come to accept the short winter. It is certainly easier with small kids. I even understand why people call it  “skiing or snow skiing” rather than “skiing or water skiing” given the lengths of the seasons. I like the rhythm of ordering my days differently based on the sun and the heat and the air. Perhaps I need the weather to organize me because I am not a great planner otherwise. I enjoy thinking about spring cleaning and reading Martha Stewart’s calendars of all those things we should be planning and doing step-by-step so the benefits are reaped at a later date. According to the Queen of OCD here is what we should be doing: I will include September in case you have not done those things either:

September 1: Edit summer photos (I did get mine done on the 22nd)

September 3: Plant next summer’s perennials (too hot outside)

October 2: Change out your closets (that would require having 2 and enough clothes)

October 7: Store outdoor furniture (wish I had some)

October 9: Clean wooden cutting boards with coarse salt and lemon juice (yea right, then do a shot of tequila!)

October 14: Buy firewood

And on -andonandonandonandon- I know, she overwhelms everybody. At one point I was going to compile a book called “The Martha Project I Did That Sent Me Over The Edge“. Mine was homemade valentine cards. We were newly married and living in The City (which is of course New York). Martha instructed I show my blissful and undying love to my newly betrothed by purchasing cardstock, rice paper, and silk ribbon. I was told to use a thumbtack to poke holes in the rice paper in the shape of a heart. It took me 4 hours and a bruised thumb-pad to achieve a look remotely similar to the one pictured in her magazine not to mention the $34 in supplies. I have heard countless tales of attempts at making wreaths, gardening, or baking- all of which ended up in personal injury and countless lost hours followed by large amounts of wine consumption. If you have a contribution, please fill out the comment section. I may resurrect this book idea afterall!

The cliche goes that life has it’s seasons too. I f I had to guess, this current phase would  be about a garden in about mid July. The babies are made and thriving, strong enough to survive some things on their own but still needing great care to navigate unchartered territory like shoe-tying and bus riding and bullying. We have figured out what grows well in this soil and conditions. And there is bounty in the harvest -learning to ride bikes and surf waves; giggling from the same knock-knock joke, sleepovers, french braids; the tooth fairy and allowance. Some marriages are dying, like the plants scorched by the sun, neglected too long from water. Most have need of pruning, trimming dead leaves and bad habits in order to let new life spring forward.

A friend asked me recently, “Is this all there is?” At first I said yes, thinking most of our major decisions have been made, the ones that mold what our lives look like. And then I thought about it and said: “No, there is the bad stuff to come.” The sickness and loss of parents. The bodily aches and pains and the eternal search for reading glasses. The 10 pounds that won’t come off.  Cancer. The child being left out or cut from the team or heartbroken. The thought of puberty in three girls is enough to send me running for cover. I don’t want to be Debbie Downer but I do think we have a fall and winter season of our lives on the horizon. Just this summer three friends lost their fathers, before their time. For varying reasons, each of these deaths strikes a blow to the daughter left behind, some unfinished business that no longer has the gift of time for sorting out.

As we welcome the start of fall today, take stock of your life. Tend the plants. Enjoy the bounty. Give water where needed. And put away the white jeans.

 

Re-Entry

We are back. The blog and me. Reality. Kindergarten. Waiting for the bus and not knowing if it will come at 3:15 or 3:55. The eternal morning search for something nutritious and appealing to put in the lunch box. The repetitive questions asked 19 times at 5 minute intervals: have you brushed your teeth, your hair, where are your shoes-homework-backpack-permission slip-lunch? The routine. The rat race.  It seems easier this year with two in big school and a carpool set up for the 3 year old. There is more to do but larger chunks of time to accomplish them. I actually cooked dinner at noon yesterday, knowing we would be shuttling all over the Triangle area from 3 to 6:30. I was able to entertain my over-tired preschooler at the middle’s first horseback riding lesson, even though “horses are stinky and make big poops Mommy. ”  I learned umbrellas can make amazing toys, especially if they have a magic button to pop it open. I got everyone fed, bathed, and snuggled in bed by 8:30. It was a feat. I gave myself a high-five.

I use my calendar now; religiously. Without it I would not know what day it is or where I am supposed to be. My mother’s calendar use to amaze me. She uses the one the size of a desk blotter (remember those?) and hangs it on the refrigerator. She has upgraded to a non-magnetic sub-zero now but it hangs somewhere. Her squares are actually big enough to write a day’s activities in handwriting large enough to read. When I looked at my 2×2 inch square today I realized if I got to Target between elementary and  preschool drop-off, I would actually have enough time to think. And write. I have had a myriad of topics float around my head but not the discipline to sit and write them down in a coherent fashion. Maybe all my willpower is being taken up by the marathon training. Maybe I just need a scapegoat. It is actually a character flaw, stick-to-it-ness. I have ideas that I approach with zealous enthusiasm and then let peeter out after about six months. But here I am; and the most interesting part of this exercise of writing is life keeps giving me endless topics. I thought I was going to write about 9/11 but then I stepped into Target.

It was 8:30 on a Tuesday. I had my 3 year old in tow to purchase honey-nut cheerios, seemless socks, and underwear. I apparently did not clear out my top drawer of the house in Maine. The problem is another family will be in the house  before we go back next August.We packed in a haste, loading up three days early to beat Hurricane Irene down 95 and wait it out at my parents house, with a generator and a freezer stocked with food.  But for the mercy of my friend Becky, my most intimate of apparel would have been found by a school chaplain. Really? Why not the kids bathing suit drawer? Or my shorts or the kitchen pantry?

So we set out to by some temporary replacements. I was not even sure Target opened before 9. But apparently every fashionista in Raleigh does. Missoni created a line for Target and the shelves were stocked today. For about 17 minutes. People were attacking the clothing like they did bottled water in the last ice storm. They were hoarding, manic style. One woman literally ran from her place in line to the shoe department to pick up a pair of heels. The woman in line in front of me spent $1,458. The check out lady could not believe it; the purchaser just smiled and carried herself as if she had gotten a bargain. I have never seen so many Louis Vuitton handbags pushing overflowing carts of merchandise in a mass retailer. I recalled from my advertising days that Target’s real competitors are Kmart and Wal-Mart; these shoppers would be horrified.

I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. How did these people know and why did they care?  Why did I care who was buying what? All this retail spending is good for the economy which helps us all right? How did I get caught up in the rush? I made purchases that I didn’t necessarily need. It seems so crass. Wasn’t it just 48 hours ago we said we would never forget? Doesn’t that mean we actually live our lives differently? We don’t just watch footage of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and crashing planes. We don’t just get sad or angry or scared or even. We re-prioritize. We notice the small stuff. We are thankful for what we have. We hug our loved ones tighter. Because we can.

I lived in Manhattan for two short years. My client was on the 52nd floor of Tower Two. I was in that building at least 20 times in my two year stint. My husband did his seminary field placement at Trinity Wall Street, the church that stood in the shadow of The Towers. It was eerie to be on Wall Street on Sunday mornings. No verve, no rush, no bright lights, very few people. The church was a much more happening place during the week.  Ash Wednesday brought thousands of people to receive ashes on their heads. All shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds. As Episcopalians, we kneel at the altar and have ashes (made from the palms on Palm Sunday) placed on our heads in the shape of the cross. The priest says this: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. I cannot stop wondering how many people from those Ash Wednesday services turned back to dust in the burning of the towers.

Everyone has a story about that day. Survivors. Lost loved ones. A memory of exactly where they were at 8:46 on September 11, 2001. Ten years and two days later, at the exact same time, people were scrambling for Missoni at Target.

 

On the Road Again

There are many challenges  to being a minister’s wife. Scheduling is possibly the hardest, with no real weekend throughout the year. I recall being a young newlywed in the midst of wedding “season” when all vacation time and disposable income was absorbed by traversing the country, wearing dyed-to-match shoes and a dress that cost half a paycheck which every bride swore I would wear again (but I never did). I attended most of these weddings solo as my husband had to work bright and early Sunday mornings. My stag attendance meant I was often seated with the bizarro great-uncle from Cleveland whom no one had spoken to in 10 years.

But what a minister does have the option of doing, is saving yearly vacation and using it in one lump sum, usually in the summer months. For the past five years our family has done this, spending the month of August in Maine with my husband as the vicar of a small summer chapel. The word “perk” seems to small to describe this gift; lifesaver is more accurate perhaps. Our days are spent out of the heat and routine of North Carolina. We have a beach, golf and tennis. The girls go to sailing camp and don’t get in a car more than once a week. They can walk to the corner store ALONE and feel really grown up and independent. These baby steps in a safe environment have fostered self-confidence and curiosity, two personality traits I think this generation of parents has forgotten to teach.

So we are on the road again, me and the girls, taking our annual two-week “Mooch-March”  up I-95 North to visit friends and family. We stop in Alexandria, VA and spend time with my parents looking for “The Pencil” (Washington Monument) or running around the track at my high school. We stop in Philadelphia and see cousins and rock-n-roll concerts and the Liberty Bell. We go to Connecticut to visit more cousins and the beach. Each year as we cross the GW bridge, with the New York skyline to our right, I play a fitting song. Last year’s was Billy Joel “New York State of Mind” because, well, it’s one of my all-time favorites. It reminds me of my cousins Perry and Lis and their uber-modern house built like a boat  where we spent most childhood Christmases. This year’s theme song  had to be Jay-Z and Alicia Keyes “Empire State.” As I blast my children’s ears out with the volume and whiz through the right lane to be close to the Hutchison Parkway exit, I feel a surge of power course through me. I love New York. I loved it before I lived there. I wish I had stayed longer once I did. It makes me feel strong and free and badass.

Just last week I had flown to Maine for a wedding. If you want to talk perfect, here it is. A large Virginia family who has summered in Maine for 90 years has a daughter who falls for the summer sailing instructor who turns out to be an incredibly smart and handsome guy from Massachusetts. His Dad is a former Harvard professor and astrophysicist (whatever that is) and his Mom looks great in a bikini at 50+. As the toasts showed, it is hard to imagine such a “J.Crew couple”  also being so nerdy, smart, and kind.  The weather seemed handpicked for the beautiful people…75 and sunny with a sunset of pink, violet and orange encroaching on the evening just as the 300+ people spilled out of the summer chapel that seats 150. Many things were unmistakably New England: the raw bar, the lobster rehearsal dinner, the sea of blue blazers, the overabundance of worn LL Bean bags as luggage, the weather and the somewhat disheveled groomsmen. Others were undeniably southern: the flowers, the band, the accents, and the beautiful bride and attendants, each one more stunning than the last.  My two worlds mingled at the bar: Richmond friends who had known me as a New England transplant, and my Maine friends who thought of me as a southern girl (no one has yet to confuse me for a belle!) It was that night I realized I had become more “southern” than “northern”. I do believe a flower budget can match a food budget for a wedding. I like the festiveness of a southern party with all the color and characters it brings.  My Richmond friend and former boss said: “Thank God, it has taken us long enough to win you over.  And you have never been better”. Maybe I am not either label, north or south. The war is over after all right? Maybe I am just comfortable in my own skin, being me and knowing myself even if others think I am a strange. I feel I am a collage of the places I have lived. Strong, sporty, practical and preppy from the early years. Quirky, festive, and appreciative of graces -both social and personal- from my current life.

Me and Dick Fowlkes on the dance floor

What I realize on this road trip every year is that my net of friends and family is wide and varied. By visiting their homes, each with different personalities, rules and decor, I learn a little more about myself. Some things I am doing well. Others need vast improvement. My cousin does a phenomenal job with listening, patience, boundaries, and creating tools in her children to cope with the world. My brother and his wife accept each other -and us- for who and where we are.  And my dear soul mate Anna has fostered adventure, confidence, creativity, and athleticism in her brood that many adults will never own.

Living in other people’s domains challenges me. I observe and reflect. I wonder about my choices, my parenting style, my priorities. It is hard because I doubt myself. But I think it is a good exercise to pause and redirect if necessary.  Anne Lamott once said we admire others from the outside but judge ourselves from within. The secret is knowing no one is walking around with an instruction manual. Life is a road trip if you will. One without GPS, directions or OnStar. It is filled with beautiful scenery and destinations. There are speed traps and potholes along the way. Sometimes our vehicles  cruise along easily and other times we breakdown. But we are all on the road. May your journey be fun and safe. Godspeed.

Let Freedom Ring

Summer is getting the best of me. With open weeks, free of schedules and lunches to be packed, time is evaporating. Impromptu barbecues and sleepovers spent catching fire flies or playing flashlight tag, compete with fresh peaches and tomatoes for the highlights of the season. My 5 year old girls soccer team starts the “fall” season in less than six weeks. Soon I will be receiving emails for school supplies and carpools; I have not even read through the suggested first grade summer reading list. I had so many intentions. Kill the television. Create art with my kids. Show them yelling is not an effective form of communication for adults or children. Break the juice habit. Eat Vegan on Tuesdays. Hit tennis balls with the kids. Start training for that October 9 marathon I am running. All this to be done in the FREE time of summer. So how is it slipping away?

I am sitting alone at a friend’s house on Bald Head Island, NC. (I won’t bore you with the typical story of the 1/4 mile sprint to make the last ferry, throwing my kids on the boat 3 minutes prior to departure only to realize I left the toddler’s must-have sleeping toy in the backseat with her orange juice and fast food wrappers. The car will smell lovely if I can only remember where I parked it. Constant fodder for the blog…) My husband is at home with the dog, my younger two are asleep, and the oldest is with friends on a Loggerhead Sea Turtle walk, hoping to see some eggs hatch and witness the babies navigate from the shore to the sea. The adventure of being out until midnight is excitement enough, turtles or not. This island is majestic with endless pristine marsh lands and an aqua green ocean which looks more Caribbean than Atlantic. Our house has a lagoon running behind it and today we witnessed a 12 foot alligator float back and forth beneath the dock for 30 minutes. I threatened to turn it into shoes or a belt if he did not show me his pearly whites (from a very safe distance or course) but the alligator felt no need to take the bet. We did see him blink, watched his nostrils breath and then vanish underwater. The eeriest part of this  dinosaurs-era reptile  is how stealthily he appears and is gone again, like a perfect action verb when one is trying to write.

I meant to post an entry last week about freedom. About how I have always felt “closer” to July 4th because of my Dad’s service in the Navy. For me the holiday has always included a parade and picnic followed by fireworks and beer. Most Americans would concur. But being a child in the armed forces meant July 4 was also about those who weren’t together to celebrate because duty called somewhere else. When I think of my childhood, I always conjure up memories from the Fort Monmouth days, circa 77-79. I am not sure if it was my age or the freedom living on an army post provided, but I remember those days more intricately than last week. My soccer coach drove a lime green beetle and our jerseys were long-sleeve black polyester with some orange cursive-thing in the corner. The Dads called me wonder-woman since I was the only girl on the team and I would steal the ball from anyone because a 7 year old boy was not nearly as scary as my 11 year old brother. I ate a pomegranate for the first time there and got caught saying my first swear word (s*it) when I fell from the trapeze at the playground. (I lied about it when my brother ratted me out, throwing out many rhyming words ending in the it sound and thus compounding my punishment.) Jennifer-from-across-the-street‘s big brother Eddie taught tennis lessons and he had one ball with Mickey Mouse on it. He got so sick of us arguing over who got to pick the Mickey ball, Eddie hit it over the fence one day and it was gone. We had never seen anyone do something so frivolous or stupid in our lives. We built an igloo in the backyard during the blizzard of 79 and it lasted for 10 days. We took dry cleaning bags and placed them on the floor of the igloo and ate our lunch in there. I saw Annie on Broadway and The Rocketts at Radio City Music Hall. We went to China Town for Chinese New Year -before the gentrification of NYC.

All this is to say I believe when people feel free, they do more adventurous things and remember those events vividly. And the only way to feel free is to feel safe. This matters in physical location. It matters financially. It matters in love and other relationships. And it matters greatly in children. In order for kids to thrive, they have to know it is okay to fail and be different. We all have to know, someone who cares about us is watching and hoping and waiting to hear the news of the day, good or bad.

I have been floundering a bit lately with my kids. They seem whiney and timid and addicted to candy. They seem slothful and they aren’t prepubescent yet. And I think it’s my fault. Maybe I haven’t been rigid enough with the rules.  Maybe I haven’t been in tune with them enough-haven’t listened when they sent subtle signs. Maybe 3 really is too many. I certainly haven’t been patient enough-probably never will be. I wonder if they will ever feel free and safe like I did from ages 7 to 10. Is the world too crazy now? A bankrupt government, an unstable world order, constant digital input and news feeds, not to mention a diet contaminated with genetically modified corn and hormones and gigantic corporate greed fed by government farm subsidies. Or maybe this is what adult life was like for Mom and Dad when I was blissfully biking around the army base with Paulie Laflam, Amy Dewitt, and Susie Laturner. I can’t be sure. There was gasoline rationing and the Iran hostages and insane interest rates on home mortgages. Maybe I was just as whiney as my kids are being. It is hard to know how much is revisionist history or naive bliss. What I do know is we have 6 weeks left of summer, most of them in Vacationland, to do a better job. To help my kids feel safe. And let them be free.

A Journey

Travel. I love it. I wish I had the money to see more of the world, especially with my kids. I have been to Australia, Europe, Egypt, and Turkey, where I stayed in a tree house for 3 days. I lived in England and Honduras. I drove to Costa Rica -through Nicaragua- with 3 friends, one of whom was pregnant. When I was 7, I flew to St. Croix by myself. I have been to 40 of the 50 states. Recently my 7 year old put a “Don’t mess with Texas” bumper sticker on my car (not sure why) and ironically it is one of the ten I have yet to get to. When I finally visit Austin and Marfa and track down Tim Riggins in Dillon, I will take the sticker off.

G3. We pull backwards into the spot, promise each other to both remember the number since we lost a car once in an airport parking lot. Open the doors, get the luggage, and walk. No car seats. No kids. Just the two of us on our way to Maine for a wedding. If you know anything about wasps or Maine, it can’t really be described as a romantic getaway. A small community, open windows, and 55 degree temperatures, requiring welliess rather than sexy stillettos,  run interference for cupid. But it was to be a special weekend of friendships rekindled, memories made, and relaxation. If we didn’t kill each other in the airport first.

As we reached the end of our block, a mere 3 minutes after our ample departure time, I realized I had forgotten my ipod. No turning back says the driver (my husband). Oh well, the scenery for my runs on the beach will be motivation enough and since I have a travel companion, I  would not need to tune out other airport sounds. Once in the terminal, I quickly realize his “smart phone” with Angry birds, an Ipod, and a kindle meant this one device provided all the companionship he needed. As I combed the airport stores for a good read, my own companion, I thought about renaming myself the Iwife. A complete package of entertainment, who might be called the “smart woman” like his smart phone. I sing. I play games. I tell stories; what does that device do that I don’t?

There is of course the ever entertaining past-time of people watching. I saw 6 kids with leashes on. Yes, the versions now have fuzzy backpacks attached with some animal creature so it appears -to the child- the string is for the pet. But we all know it is to restrain the child. I thought these became passe when parenting books got their own section in the library. I wondered which came first -the leash or the running away? There was the obese woman with 9 tattoos and 4 cheek piercings- she looked so angry, I wondered what the butterfly inked on her chest could possibly symbolize. And I was shocked by the line wrapping around the corner, 20 people deep, to by a “Crumbs” cupcake for $4.95 plus tax.

As we boarded the tiny connector from Raleigh to Newark, I convinced myself this weekend could be wasted on thinking “he’s just not that into you” or saved by trying to trust the idea my husband is wired differently. When I found my seat wedged in the middle of Greg and a 22 year old Wolfpack fan with large headphones and bad acne, I leaned a little closer to my husband and was glad I had that option. When the annoying “Red Fan” took my armrest, I whispered to Greg “Doesn’t everyone know the middle person gets both armrests?” We chuckled with “youth these days” and were somehow back on track as a unit, as quickly as we had gotten off. Marriage is funny that way.

The wedding was stunning even if the weather left something to be desired. The rain added character. It was unique. It took the focus off of everything being perfect. We sat down to the rehearsal dinner in a tent overlooking the water and rocky shores of Wood Island Harbor and the heat lamps cranked out an amazing bit of warmth. The fresh clam chowder and perfectly steamed hardshell lobsters lightened the mood. As the father of the bride choked up during his toast, my husband caught eye contact with me. With a small tear in his eye, we realized this -hopefully-one day would be him. The bride, a kind yogi from Baltimore, raised in London and toasted by her godmother as a restful soul, stole the show. She retold a story of the engagement party, how she was becoming nervous with all the attention becoming focused on her. Her quiet, Portuguese fiance assured her all would be right. The focus in fact was not to be on the bride or the groom, but rather on love, a separate third entity which their commitment symbolized. Sarah was calmed, re-centered and sure the man she had chosen for a partner was just that.

The following evening, with the rain letting up long enough for the bride to get into the chapel and the reception without her boots or umbrella, the tent dazzled with laughter and joy and love. The tables were adorned with bowls of radishes and salt to symbolize Sarah’s English childhood. There was Portuguese bread, made in the shape of shells showing Henri’s heritage. And the place-cards were  pots of jam with our names on them, made by the father of the groom and mother of the bride. As the wine and conversation flowed, the groom stood up to toast his bride and all of us who came to share the day with them. It happened to be the 31st anniversary of his family’s immigration to the United States. He related the well known tale of a couple trading in everything known for the hope of a better life, one with more opportunity. He spoke of how marriage is a similar leap. It is a journey -one with setbacks and hardships and a hell of a lot of work. But one filled with adventure and unknown blessings along the way.

Madame Von Swearagin, my scary high school french teacher, once said: “If you want guarantees in life, by a refrigerator.” Practical advice and yet profound. Buying appliances is a drag, a large sum of money allotted to something mundane. Their penchant for breaking down usually comes in twos. I don’t want my life to be a guarantee. I am the kind of person who thinks wellies look great with a couture wedding gown of ruched silk taffeta. But sometimes it’s hard to see the sun through the rain.

Change

There is a new order in our house this week with the oldest gone. Camp drop off was fine, it was good. My friends keep calling to check on me but honestly, Coco was in for such adventure I cannot be bothered thinking about how much I miss her. Roy seems  the most aware and  has relocated to sleeping on her bed; maybe he just likes the extra leg room under the air conditioning vent, but dogs seem to be wise beyond human knowledge. The first two days Cheyney woke up asking where Coco is but now she seems content picking fights with Anna and having a quicker turn in the song and television rotation cycle. Anna is perhaps the most affected, reluctantly stepping into the oldest role without being so bossy as a first born.

Last night we had a friend spend the night; evening rituals seem too easy without three in the mix. Mimi is the middle of 3 girls also and does not have a shy bone in her body. She is easy going and imaginative and she and Anna played for eleven hours without one fight. They slept in a single bed, at opposite ends, feet touching in the middle. I think only middle sisters would be comfortable with such little space. As they were fading off to sleep, Mimi began to cry. She missed her Mom. She wanted to go home. I quietly stroked her hair and whispered it was alright as she drifted off to sleep in 30 seconds. We mothers do that a lot, play substitute or step up to the pate for one another. As Mrs. Clinton said all those years ago, “it takes a village”. Last night I realized the village isn’t just for us mothers who need a helping hand. It is also for the receivers of the care. As I knelt next to Mimi and Anna in their very crowded, stuffed animal-laden bed, I thought of all those who are not comforted by their mothers that night. And for the mothers unable to comfort their children.

My first high school classmate died this morning. She had slipped in the shower and hit her head ten days ago. She turned 40 and had her 10th anniversary in a coma, lying in a hospital bed. Andi was a friend of mine with whom I share a million funny, and probably inappropriate, memories. She loved diet coke and was a voracious reader of romance novels. She was a peace maker and wanted everyone to be happy and enjoy the party. There were 42 girls in my class and we lived by the motto work hard/ play hard. We got good enough grades to keep parents and teachers out of our hair. But we did some pretty crazy things that involved beer and rooftops and other frightening things with major consequences. It seems weird to live through bad adolescent decisions -relatively unscathed- and then have it come to an end getting out of the shower.

It is hard to grasp the finality here. I guess I am that age. When marriages fall apart or parents get sick or accidents happen. It appears to be the final stages of growing up, the unexplainable and unavoidable concept that time marches on, all too quickly. I don’t like it.  And I am not finding much comfort with God these days. We seem to be having communication issues. Mostly my fault. I am willing to accept the blame but not ready to do anything to change it right now. Hopefully this is a calm before the storm, when my conversations with God come back like a gale force wind, sudden and strong, and unstoppable.  I am comforted by these words from the Book of Common Prayer. It is from Compline, a nightly service, meant to  be performed by lay people. It seems to bring peace and closure to the day and ask for safety throughout the night. I always imagine doing this by candlelight, in a white cotton nightgown, in a log cabin in the woods. Maybe that is just my image of peace. I can also imagine it in the sterile hallways of an ICU. With monitors beeping and loved ones praying, and doctors and nurses working away. I hope someone whispered it last night to Andi or her husband Tony or her sister Sasha or her parents or her Aunt Studey.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or  weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who  sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.  Amen.

Being Present

I am not a big reader of weekly periodicals. By the time I get around to them, the news is usually about two weeks old and almost irrelevant. I used be a daily reader of The New York Times. We had a daily love affair, the paper and me, and a cup of coffee. Back in the good old working days, I even got the ad agency to pay for it and deliver it to my desk. We gradually grew apart, the news and I, dropping first to a Sunday only subscription (back when I still knew the people in the wedding section of Sunday Styles) and then to the local rag. Greg assured me the N&O is a good regional paper but I still found myself picking up the plastic bag at the bottom of the driveway after running over it 2 or 3 times daily. The news in my life became informative enough, if not overwhelming. “I need this permissions slip signed for the field trip” “Today is pajama and stuffed animal day” “I want to buy lunch today” “Can I have a playdate” “Today is ballet so I need my bag” “Honey I am working late tonight”. I was caught in daily survival mode and while I believe it is important to be an informed citizen, I simply did not have the time. Truth be told I didn’t have the brain power either.

Our house seems to be under a paradigm shift currently. School to summer, summer to camps, camps to Maine, Maine to school. And 2 will be in elementary. Bus riders. Able to bring peanut butter and wear crocs. 6 1/2 hour school days. The focus is shifting from all things Mom toward independence and wanting to do things on their own. Walk the dog around the block, water the flowers, make their own chocolate milk. Independence has always been my goal because, well, it is the ultimate destination. Sometimes it means the milk spills. The outfits are often indicative of a creative eye rather than a matching code. But my people are becoming their own people and that is important. And hard. It is a constant push and pull of knowing when to be present and when to step back. A war between opinion and values, and a dance between their way and my way. There is a lot of breath holding, tongue biting, information editing, and frustration. “No you cannot go to the big pool by yourself” (a boy drowned two summers ago) “Don’t you want to make that school poster look better?” (just because it’s easy for you doesn’t mean you have to do it so quickly) “Please let me help you put the crossed strapped bathing suit on” (it will get so  tangled up you won’t want to wear it).

All this is a round about way of saying I found myself reading Time magazine the other day. I had a few minutes where everyone was doing something without me. I have an unusual approach to tackling any magazine. I flip from the back forward. The front usually has so many ads I can’t find the table of contents anyway. So I had no idea what the topic of this week’s issue was. The particular article catching my eye was about cancer, written by Dr. Oz. Apparently he had a colonoscopy scare and realized while he preaches to millions of patients and viewers about health and being a good patient, he did not follow his own advice. He was six months late to book his follow up visit. He is not alone. I have two friends with adoring families and great lives who have not been to the gynecologist in five years. (IF you are reading this, consider this your daily text about making that appointment!)

Last year was a health year for me. With pregnancy and nursing behind me and 40 looming in front, I was ready to take my body back. A high school friend of mine, Jennifer Griffin, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and she turned her tenacious reporting style for Fox News into a blog about her fight with cancer. It is a phenomenal resource – http://jengriffinblog.blogspot.com/ and a heart wrenching journey. A friend lost his mother to brain cancer and another friend had her fourth child -he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at just 6 months old. I was scared and I wanted a baseline of numbers, presuming I was healthy. It is much easier to take action when you are sure the results are going to be good. And that was Dr. Oz’s point. We are all sure death is something in our distant future. Tim McGraw of course reminds us to “live like you are dying” and I sing the tune loudly each time it’s on the radio, with the windows down and my arm out, no matter how hot or cold it is. But I am not sure I do it everyday. Do I live in the moment? It seems all to frequently I push the moment to some time later. I stick my kids in front of the digital babysitter -and another show- so I can get a break. I keep score on who has done more chores, more parenting, more emotional giving.  I  stay out too late and waste the next day lolling around.  I wait for life to be better when I am more ready to put my best foot forward. I will say sorry later. I will not yell next time. I will write a note when the idea comes to me.

Dr. Oz’s big advice was not particularly medical. Perhaps that is why he is such a successful doctor; he has perspective on a healthy life.  The final paragraph encourages us all to be present. “I need to show up in my own life. And you need to show up in yours. Sometimes that requires courage.” Whatever “cancer” you are avoiding, remember it will eventually catch up with you. The earlier we act, the smaller the steps to recovery. My children are calling. They want to play. Since my moments with them are fleeting, I will answer the request. I will sit cross legged on the floor and play polly pockets. I will find batteries for the really annoying Hannah Montana dance floor. I will walk the dog in the heat. I will do my chores and not give them anymore power over me. I will be present. And I will consider it a gift.

Camp

There is a stack of t-shirts piled on my ironing board. I turn the tv on and wait for the iron to heat up, having carefully placed the dial on the no-steam setting. One-two-three-four-five I count holding the weight perfectly still. The name label magically affixes. Release, fold, next. Then shorts, sheets, underwear, bathing suits, socks. I have spent the past few days scouring stores with a checklist tucked in my purse. Shower caddy. Bug Spray. Anti-itch cream. Clip-on fan. Sunscreen. Raincoat. Flip-flops. Photos. Flashlight. Laundry bag. Clothes. Swimsuits. Pre-addressed envelops. Stuff. We are preparing for camp. It takes a lot to get a child ready and that is just what  gets packed. Our 7 1/2 year old is going away for the first time. Overnight. 6 days from home on the Pamlico Sound of the Neuse River. It sounds like a dream vacation frankly with friends, zip wires, sailboats, off-road vehicles, a sharks tooth pile, and a magical mermaid. Legends and truth blended together in a fairytale of camp painted by Coco’s friends and she signed up a few months ago with gusto.

I have learned some tricks myself about camp. Get to drop off early. Pack a day’s outfit in a ziploc bag so it is easy to find. Mail the letters before you leave for camp so she has something to open on day 2. It is a learning curve for both of us. The first of many about being strong and letting go.  I am a firm believer in camp and in all adventures new. Spread your wings, meet other people, try something different, learn something new. Come back and tell me all about it. Show me how you will grow and thrive and become.

There have been questions popping up at bedtime when the other sisters are asleep. Will I know anyone? Can I get my haircut before I go? Are there lifeguards there? That is when it hits me. Why on earth did I decide “our” first camp experience should be not only near a body of water but pretty much based on all things aquatic? I confidently assure Coco the lifeguards are as good swimmers as I am and everything will be fine. I then quickly end the snuggling period to flop on my bed and try to comfort my own butterflies of doubt flitting to the surface. I am much more comfortable being the adventurer. I am not so good at being the one left behind. But I guess that is the bargain we cashed in on when we got into the parenthood game.

I went to two overnight “summer” camps my whole life. There were many sports camps and adventures to fill up summer time. Like the year my grandmother brought my cousin and me out to a dude ranch in Montana when we were about 8. My mother had sewn barbie clothes and coloring books for us to play with since we were traveling cross country by ourselves (really, at 8?). This was long before a Container Store or Target so our travel toys were neatly packed  in a tall blue cardboard Scotch container. I remember it vividly and would pay good money to see two 8 year olds walking through JFK with cowgirl hats and liquor boxes, by themselves. We had our own cabin about half a mile from my grandparents on the ranch and we were pretty much left to our own devices. I had at least been riding horses for two years. Lis had never been on one and was basically told to buck up, get on the horse and enjoy it. Surely Camp Seafarer won’t be this hardcore right?

My first official summer camp experience took place in 1978 or 1979 at West Point youth camp. We were living on an army base at the time and my brother had attended the year before. I was so excited to finally be old enough to participate in one of the cool things he had done and thus lauded over me.  It should go without saying the West Point Youth Camp was a no-frills kind of place. Located in upstate New York on a clear fresh (freezing) water lake, the temperature was perfect for sleeping at night and frolicking by day. We woke up to the bugle or the sound of cadets in basic training. We had the option of running 1/4 mile around the lake as part of the roadrunner club or being a polar bear and dunking your entire body, head included into the lake. Did I mention it was in upstate NY? I loved it. I loved being outside for 7 days straight and I loved my counselors. I still remember one named Joy and the other  Karen. She let me borrow her yellow tube top (not sure how it stayed up) one day and would fix my hair in french barretts -those new fangled hair decorations which worked more like a comb. Karen was my pen pal for at least six months after camp and she even dotted her “i” with a heart! I was in heaven. So much so I sobbed when my parents came to pick me up. I did not want to leave and begged for them to puhleassse sign me up for the next session. It did not happen. I think we moved the following summer, otherwise I am sure I would have gone back.

My next summer camp came in 1982, the summer between 7th and 8th grade and this was WAY different. We were living in Virginia Beach by then and everything down there was different from my norm. Everyone went to Camp Chanco, even though it was an Episcopalian camp on the James River. This camp was co-ed. My friend Lori Spadea brought lip gloss and Esprit outfits and I think she even snuck some mascara.  At Chanco I learned to sail from Cliff, perfected my cat’s eye making, and fell in love with the ropes course. I think  I also learned to flirt. Not with any particular boy, but more standing around in large groups of girls giggling. I don’t remember my counselor’s name but I do know she was from Danburry, VA and had long blond hair. On her free overnight from camp, she went home and made grapeleaves for her boyfriend. She also thought the lyrics to Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a face” were “How’s about a Date?”. The coolness factor was not nearly that of Karen from West Point but she still left a mark.

As I recall these memories and milestones from my own camp life I realize, it is not Coco’s safety I fear for so much but rather this being the first step she will take away from us. Away from me. There will be people from camp she will remember 35 years later for their kindness. I hope there will be a love of outdoors and confidence she gains to empower her spirit. I realize this is not a fast forward button to the freshman dorm. It is summer camp and it is about freedom. Freedom to share yourself in a new light, learn from others in a new way, and come home safely to show your loved ones who you are becoming.

Lucky # 13

There are numerous and well documented superstitions surrounding the number 13. Some theories suggest that this stems from many cultures using a 12 month lunar calendar and so anything beyond that is odd. Freddy Krueger is perhaps the most villifying symbol of what can happen with this number but the phobia goes back way before the horror film genre. The Last Supper: 12 disciples and Jesus (we won’t talk about the female kitchen help here…) But there are so many reasons the number is good. A baker’s dozen for example -that free donut or bagel that comes just from buying 12. 13 is one more than my lucky number 12. Well maybe not my lucky number but my old sports jersey number and thus my favorite one. And it is the first year of teenager-dom, that moment when everything becomes weird including your parents, the size of your nose, and the things that make you laugh or scream.

Like most anything in life, 13 has both good and bad, followers and haters, facts and fiction. I never put too much credence into superstition but I hedge my bets: no need to fly on the 13th if the 14th will get you where you need to go. Don’t walk under ladders -I am more fearful I would somehow knock the ladder over and strand someone on a rooftop than be haunted by bad luck for years but maybe that is self defense. I will pet a black cat and am not bothered by them crossing in front of me, unless I am driving and the little devil runs in front of my car -that is definitely bad luck.

On Monday, my husband and I celebrated our 13th  anniversary. The wedding seems like a long time ago, a beautiful May evening in Alexandria. Cooler than normal temperatures and clear blue skies. One reason I chose May to get married was for the peonies. They were beautiful, pale pink and white balls of floral perfection. We were surrounded by friends and family and had an amazing preacher who talked about dancing. We were married at Christ Church which claims George Washington and Robert E. Lee as there more famous parishoners. I always loved it for it’s simplicity, no stain glass and white box pews.  The pale blue ceiling makes all children under 5 think the balcony is in heaven. The wine glass pulpit is one level up, even with the balcony, so you have to turn your head upwards to hear both the gospel and the sermon. There is no center aisle. A bride walks up the left side with her father and recesses down the right with a new husband. During the service the congregation took communion and as Greg and I sat in the chancel, we watched everyone come and break bread. He leaned over to me and said this is like heaven. It was. And it was a lot better than a long boring receiving line.

There were of course the snafus behind the scenes that no one except my mother and I noticed. My mother’s car broke down the Thursday before just to add tension and logistical nightmares to the equation. The trumpet soloist “did not show up” (Or the organist forgot to book him). The organist played the wrong recessional. My maid of honor’s dress ripped getting to the church. My aunt forgot the mini-bubbles we had spent hours wrapping in tulle back at the hotel. And the one photo that every mother of the bride sends out the following Christmas, with the nuclear family and the new spouse, somehow was not taken. But it all worked out okay. My brother rescued the bubbles in time for our departure, the trumpet solo can be “faked” by an organ, and the recessional was an amazing tocatta that I get to hear as a postlude about once a year. And as far as the photo goes, we staged it over the following Thanksgiving. The men put on their tuxes and we put on our dresses and we went to the church yard. We snapped photos in the church and got the perfect one. Everyone was relaxed and happy and pretty darn impressed with how good we looked.

I imagine the 13th year will be similar to both the superstition and the actual wedding day. Meaningful with some snafus along the way. Hopefully we will be surrounded by friends and family. We will dance. And maybe I will finally plant that peonies bush I have been talking about for a baker’s dozen years.

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