Monday, August 28, 2017

When Your Baby Goes to Kindergarten


Jovie goes to kindergarten, Lily to first grade.

It happened.

The first day of school.

Lily gave us a hug, then marched through a line of teachers cheering for her and giving her high fives like she was on the red carpet on the way to receiving an Oscar (probably for her amazing turn as "all the woodland creatures" in a live action version of "Bambi"). She didn't look back once. 

And Jovie. Jovie stood between Brad and me. Her feet rooted into the sidewalk. A look of panic on her face. "I don't want to go!" Her mouth was resolute. She shook her head for emphasis. I hugged her for the millionth time and told her it was OK to be scared for the millionth time and that she was brave for the millionth time and that it would be a good day for the millionth time. And eventually Brad and I each took one of her little hands and skipped through the crowd like we were an odd trio of newlyweds walking out of a church– minus the rice or the bubbles or the sparklers. Like we were heading into the Magic Kingdom. 

Mind over matter, right?

Jovie made it to her kindergarten classroom. She sat down in her chair and accepted the Play-Doh offered to her. She kept her coat on. Like armor, I think. But didn't cry again.

And neither did I.

I'd prepared myself for all the tears, recalling last year when I'd kept my sunglasses on in the building ushering Lily to that same room. Feeling as if my whole life was breaking apart over such a little thing as the first day of school. Something that would happen over and over again for years to come. Those oversized backpacks looking smaller and smaller with each new grade as the girls stretched out taller and taller. They'd lose teeth one year, then grow new ones the next. They'd go from wanting sparkly butterfly barrettes and dresses with parrots and ruffled wing sleeves to off-the-shoulder shirts and the perfect sneakers. They'd want the goodbyes to be less emotive and father away from the school. I can see it all around me. The past and the future in all these parents and all our mixed emotions. 

I was ready and waiting for the knot in my throat. That burning sensation in my eyes. The self-consciousness of my nose turning bright red. 

But nothing. I kissed my baby, No. 2 out of 2, goodbye and went to Lily's classroom to help out her teacher by sorting school supplies. It helped, I think, having a job. Breaking open boxes of glue sticks and dry erase markers. Organizing folders by colors. Stacking boxes of tissues. Labeling headphones. Anything to forego the empty quiet of the house. 


Lily goes to Kindergarten, 2016.
I felt familiar pangs and a gathering of tears on the walk home. The one I'd done holding Jovie's hand the previous year. Plotting out the day and listening to her complain about how hot and tired she was. I won't have my grocery buddy. My craft buddy. My backseat buddy. My lunch buddy. I thought it was quiet last year when it was just the two of us with Lily at school. I probably didn't know what quiet really was.

But I didn't cry then either. I had to go to the doctor's to get a TB test– something I need if I want to be a substitute teacher here. Because that's my next move, I think. Filling my child-free days with children. Because I'm almost 36 and still don't know what to do with my life.

I got home from the doctors and running a few errands and it was quiet here. I put my keys down and my eyes stung. But just a little. I had some work I needed to do. And the lawn was overdue to be mowed. And before I knew it, time to get my girls, who were all smiles, of course. Because they go to a really great school and they have such great teachers. And they're young and life is this amazing adventure. There's gym class with the world's most glamorous gym teacher and there's egg shaker thingies in music class and there's getting to sit at table No. 1 in the cafeteria and the fact that you have a lot in common with your teacher because you both lived in Pennsylvania and you both have dogs. 

Jovie went to bed and told me she was too excited to sleep because she couldn't wait to go back to kindergarten. 

And who can cry about that? Because all is exactly as it needs to be right now.


*** 
Preschool, 2015.

Brad took the day off work Friday and the four of us went tubing down the Shenandoah. 

I'd gotten some Groupon-type deal for a four-person-plus-cooler-raft tubing excursion before summer started and, because this summer was kind of fleeting and over-scheduled, we waited until the last minute to go. 

The day wasn't looking so promising, a bit cool and overcast. Lily was shivering as we loaded onto a school bus retrofitted for transporting inflatable tubes and the leisure-loving people who sat on them to a boat launch up the river. The guy driving the bus told us we'd float about three-quarters of a mile and it would take about two hours, depending on how fast the river was that day. We doubted that tiny distance could fill two hours.

"The orange flag is where you'll get out of the river to go back to your car," he said. "When you see the flag, you'll still have around 40 minutes of floating."

That, too, seemed improbable. That it would take two-thirds of an hour to traverse a distance we could clearly see down river with our own human eyeballs. 

With a healthy dose of skepticism, channeled water buffalo attempting to mount an ottoman we gracefully stepped into our rafts , and proceeded to float. 


Summer 2014.

Because that's all tubing down the Shenandoah is. Floating. We had a cooler loaded on a  mini food yacht, so you can eat, too (the nearest flotilla family brought fried chicken, which we was a very festive choice in river snackage, we thought. Much fancier than our PB&Js and watermelon). But mostly you float. And listen to your 6-year-old scream at each passing damselfly. And observe that there are lots and lots of damselflies. And marvel at the fact that there are more colors of damselflies than you originally knew about. Like periwinkle and cloud and rust. And how is it that they're able to mate while flying around? And is it mating when the tail of one damselfly is jabbing into the neck of another damselfly? And why do they keep landing on my knee to procreate? 

So to recap, you float. And your kid screams about damselflies. And damselflies get it on, sometimes on you. And you just keep floating.

And with little-to-no effort, you progress forward.

Suddenly the boat launch where you started is out of view. But it doesn't seem possible, because you're going so slowly. At least it seems that way, as it takes a long time to get to the next landmark– say an abandoned rowboat or a heron on the shoreline– but maybe it's just because your one kid doesn't seem to understand the concept of just sitting still and going with the flow. She's never gone with the flow. The flow must be questioned at all times. The flow must be disrupted by splashing, shrieking and continuous wiggling. In short, the timeframe of the flow might be exaggerated based on the behavior of certain almost 7 year olds who shall not be named. 


Jovie's first Halloween, 2012.

It's blissful though– fidgeting children aside. That you can be carried from point A to point B. From starting point to destination, only occasionally having to dislodge yourselves from tree branches or boulders, without really doing anything at all. Just melting into an inner tube and watching the clouds or the trees. The sun warming your face. The quiet gathering in your ears like an un-choir singing about peace. The only place to be is where you are. The place you need to be dictated by a river current you can't control. No way to step on the gas. 

It occurred to me that floating down the river must be like faith. Giving yourself over to something else. Trusting it will be as it should be. That you'll end up where you need to end up at the pace you need to end up there in. 

How freeing that is. How it's a way to love yourself. Giving yourself the space to be unneeded and unnecessary (at least it feels that way, maybe) and how that's needed and necessary. 

I think about how I need to carry that feeling with me. How I've floated to where I am today and will float again to where I'll be tomorrow. And how they'll probably be a flag to let me know about landfall and life-fall. How I'll probably have to dislodge myself from a downed tree or two. How I've always had to dislodge myself from trees along the way. How floating down the river can be irritating at times. And comical. And calming. 

How it happens whether you want it to or not. How you can't stand in the downstream forever. Hoping to prevent the end from coming. It has to come eventually. 

We get older. And children grow older. And that's just the way it is. 

Stevie Nicks knows. 



And now I'm crying.

Because I used to sing this song to my girls. When they were little, little. Just babies. Swaying with them deep at night in their shared green bedroom in our little rancher in York. 

They were so sweet. Even when they were crying. Even when I was exhausted. I'm so glad the river carried me to those moments. Carried me through those exhausting moments. How lucky we are as mothers to experience heaven in our sleepless delirium. 

The weight of our children as we carry them. Their embrace as they return to us. 

How lucky we are to be carried through this life in this way. 

Lily's hand after we came home from the hospital, 2010.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Celebrating Five Years in this Tiny Internet Sidewalk Crack

"Everything passes. Everything changes. 

Just do what you think you should do."


This was on my page-a-day calendar Sunday. It's from a song by Bob Dylan and feels oddly appropriate right now as life transitions from one phase to the next.

The other day as I sat scrolling through my phone while Jovie attempted to perform circus tricks in front of me. "Mom!" Jovie yelled. "Look at me. Watch me. You're not watching me!" And I would glance up and see she was doing something that, frankly, wasn't all that impressive, and turn back to my phone. And she would tell me I was missing it. And I would kind of agree, but not really care. "I'm looking," I'd tell her. But not really.

And then Lily chimed in.

"Some people look without seeing." 

My little Confucius.

We visited Brad's parents this weekend up at their home in the Pocono Mountains. Yesterday afternoon, I took the girls to the neighborhood playground. There's a creek that runs alongside the park, hidden among rocks and tall trees. The girls wanted to throw rocks in the water and let their feet flirt with the edges so we followed a moss covered path into the woods- all dark and cool. They crept from rock to rock on the bank, pretending to be deer. I sat on the moss and folded my legs into my chest. Watching the girls. Watching the water and the trees.

The sunlight filtered through the leaves and made the water glimmer, bouncing reflections onto the surrounding tree trunks and branches in such a way that they shimmered. Like the spirits of the trees were dancing. And I felt lucky to be sitting in just that spot at just that hour because I knew this vision was temporary. That any minute the sun would drop too low or the clouds would wander in and just like that the light show would be over and the trees would go back to being trees. The water to water. 

Just like with the eclipse. How you have to be looking at the right time on the right day with the right eyewear and then– magic.

All the things we both look at and see. These are the things that feed us. 

***

It's been five years today since I made the decision to start over-sharing on the internet. The over-sharing wasn't the initial plan when I decided to start a blog. The original plan, as I recall, was to write about the process of writing a novel while raising young children. 

Back in 2012 I had an almost-2-year-old and a 4-month-old and a partially written manuscript that would not stop pestering me to be finished. I thought announcing to the world (OK well, a small portion of the internet that consisted mostly of my Mom) that I was a wannabe novelist would offer up a commodity much-needed by any aspiring writer and wannabe novelist: Accountablity. I was also writing a monthly column about motherhood for my local newspaper that was under threat of being discontinued and the prospect of losing that opportunity to write was kind of devastating for me.

So My Inside Voices was born.

In the years since my children grew– learning to walk and talk and sing and run and write and play soccer and dance and make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. I completed my manuscript and submitted it to literary agents (so far it's been turned down 29 times and counting). I completed a manuscript for a children's book and submitted it to literary agents (so far it's been turned down five times and counting). And that column I loved writing so much was eventually canceled. 

We lost two beloved cats and gained a new beloved cat (for a net loss of one cat for those keeping track) and acquired four fish (all of which have since died and been replaced multiple times over). We traded in my beloved lime green Volkswagen Beetle, made epic messes, went to the beach, went to the mountains and moved to Virginia

I took up yoga, whined about scrubbing the kitchen floor, cleaned all manners of vomit, read a story out loud to an audience of artists for the first time (and second time and third time) and flashed the interstate

In five years life happened. As it does. One hour to the next. One day to the next. One crisis to the next. One celebration to the next. 

While I don't like to be self congratulatory, I will say there are few hobbies in life I've kept up in life for five years running. Maybe none, in fact. Showing up here every week or every two weeks (or ... in the lean times ... every month) is something I am proud of. Not because I think I've dropped a whole lot of wisdom or worthy thoughts on to the internet (the internet already has plenty of those– I'm talking to you Parry Gripp), but because it's forced me to spend more time thinking, listening and watching. I sit with uncomfortable thoughts longer. Try to make sense of the ugly and beautiful things that happen in my own brain and in the world at large. Being able to share it here with family, friends and the odd stranger is just a bonus.

My life is richer because of writing. This gift I give myself. That's important to note. Because if I had waited for someone to call me a writer before I began writing in earnest– I wouldn't have spent the past five years writing in earnest. 

Over the years I've learned there are no perfect conditions for listening to your inside voices, for pursuing creativity. There's no waiting for the perfect desk. For the muse to show up. For the kids to be older. For the kitchen floor to be clean. For some authority on high to give you permission. If there's something you've been wanting to do, than you just need to go and do it. 

There's a gravel path leading to the playground by Brad's parents house. As we were walking up the path the other day, I noticed tiny white pebbles interspersed with the dark gray gravel. I bent down to inspect and realized the white spots weren't pebbles. They were mushrooms. The littlest mushrooms ever. Dotting the gravel path all the way back up to the parking lot. 

Now, if I were a mushroom, I'm pretty sure my first choice for habitat would not be a hard gravel pathway. I'd probably want something softer and more shaded and more protected from giant clomping feet. But I guess you don't always get a choice in where you get to grow. You grow where you planted. You create your life where you are, as you are. Like the itty-bitty ecosystem I found growing in a hole on a neighborhood sidewalk. Or the moss gripping the crevices of a rock. You can't wait for the right conditions to be the person you want to be. You just have to start doing it on the gravel path or in the sidewalk hole. In the midst of your small, messy life as a suburban stay-at-home mom. 

I think when you do that, that's when you really start seeing. You're not just looking at your life– you're seeing it. Really seeing it.

***

The girls start school on Monday. Lily in first grade, Jovie in kindergarten. Just like that the past five years at home with both are over. I haven't quite processed what that means yet. Only that I'm not ready for the little years to be over. That my time in this intense phase of all-hands-on-deck motherhood feels too fleeting. I don't know how to do mother of two school-aged kids.I know I'll figure it out, just like I figured the other parts out. 

I also know that come Monday, I'll be wearing giant sunglasses and carrying a large box of tissue with me wherever I go. 

Everything passes. Everything changes.

I'm so grateful for the chance to be their mother. To have had these years at home to watch them grow. And I'm also grateful to be a writer, which encourages me to look at my girls and see them (well, OK, except for sometimes when whatever they're doing isn't all that impressive).

I'm grateful for this space, too. Which has helped me sort through so many moments of pain, fear, sadness, joy and love. So much love. And grateful for everyone whose walked by my side, reading all my long-winded rantings and musings and whatevers and offering kind words and support. I feel as if we've created our own ecosystem in a sidewalk crack for the things that break us and build us back up. 

It's true everything passes. Everything changes. I think what I should do is keep writing. 

How lucky I am to be able to see the journey. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

It's time to start listening

Lily and Jovie. By Lily.

A couple weeks ago, Jovie broke my heart.

She looked at me with her giant blueberry eyes, tears waiting in the wings, "Mom, Lily was born first."

"That's true," I said.

"Well that means she's had more time with you."

"She has."

"So you love her more than me. Because you've had more time together." Jovie buried her head into my abdomen both to hide her face and use my shirt to staunch her tears and snot.

"Oh Jovie! That's not true," I said, holding her close. "I love you both so, so much."

And because I know that explanation isn't really sufficient for a down-trodden second born (I know this because I was the fifth born) I went on.

I told her that I loved her the second I knew she existed in this world. That a mother's heart isn't just one size for life. That it expands with each child. And that her love for her children is limitless. It extends infinitely back into time and stretches infinitely forward. That, as a mother, I was created to share exactly the right amount of love my children, my family and my community needed at any given moment. 

I finished my little pep talk feeling pretty good about myself. Like I'd shown Jovie an MRI of my heart so she could see the scales between her and Lily were perfectly balanced. Exactly equal amounts of rainbows, glitter, unicorns, bedtime stories, cookies, special songs, hugs and kisses. 

Jovie finished listening to my little pep talk and looked ... skeptical. I mean, she wasn't crying anymore. But she was doubtful of my claims. Which I get. Latter borns I think always suspect their parents gave it all away to first borns. 

Lily didn't help matters by taunting her in the background, "I was born first! Mom loves me more!"

As much as I wanted to, I didn't tell Lily who was my favorite child in that moment. Why? Because I didn't need two children bawling at me for failing to love them sufficiently. That would've made me just hole up in my room, probably with the dog. Who I'd snuzzle while whispering sweet nothings in his (slightly) stinky, silky ears. Because he'd accept my affection without whining or gloating.

Unless he gets smug with the cats when my back is turned. There's always a pecking order, right?

I remembered this conversation with Jovie today while thinking about ... well the elephant in our nation's living room this week (which is probably a separate elephant than the one in the room last week. Or the one that stopped by last month or last year. Or the ones that have shown up probably billions of times over the course of our human history. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe it's all just the same elephant (maybe wearing different clothes or something) that we haven't properly cared for. (Wait. What? Elephants don't wear clothes! This metaphor is falling apart! Abort! Abort!). 

I'll stop stalling. 

I don't want to step in the land mine that is having any opinion on what happened in Charlottesville this weekend. Because somehow up is down and left is right and declaring yourself to be a Nazi or White Supremacist or a member of the KKK and then showing up by the glow of tiki torches or the glare of daylight doesn't necessarily mean you're universally reviled. I still think it's mostly reviled. But it's not reviled enough. Not when they feel comfortable enough to come out of hiding. It feels sinister and shocking. 

This week, somehow stating, unequivocally, that the worldview held by Nazis, White Supremacists and the KKK is repugnant opens you up to criticism and dissection that is equally weighted to the criticism levied at the Nazis, White Supremacists and the KKK. 

We're in a rabbit hole down to bizzaro world trapped in a fun house mirror in an alternate universe.

But, of course, we're not. 

We're here in 2017. In reality. 

Our reality.

This is what's in front of us.

This smoldering rage that has girded our nation since the arrival of the first ships carrying human cargo is catching fire. In Charlottesville and Baltimore and Ferguson and Charleston and Chicago and. And. And. And. And. On it goes. The Ands could go on forever, I fear. 

And that's the problem. Fear. Fear is the emotion we need to address. Fear is the elephant we need to tend to. It's Fear at the root of our fire. Fear, I think. Not hatred. There's hatred to be sure. In massive volumes. But dig into that hatred and you'll find fear at the core. 

I see fear when I see my children battling each other. It looks like hatred. In fact, they'll tell me outright it's hatred. "I hate Jovie," Lily screams, swatting at her sister. "I wish she was never born." And Jovie wails in anguish that her sister and sometimes best friend could say something so terrible. But I know Lily doesn't mean it. I mean, she means it in that moment. But these outbursts always, always, always come when she's spent too many hours with her sister and not enough one-on-one time with Brad or me. It's insecurity screaming. It's fear screaming. Fear that she's not loved. That's she's somehow less than.

I don't tolerate physical violence in my house. And I don't tolerate them speaking so unkindly to one another. I tell them they can complain about each other's existence to me, but not in earshot of each other. They can get all those ugly thoughts they store up in their heads to me. We all have hurtful, hateful thoughts that pop up in our brains that are mostly temporary. Things that creep in one moment and disappear the next.I think that's human and normal. Sometimes we need to air out the ugly.

I know my girls' relationship with each other will last much longer than their relationship with me. A lifetime, hopefully. They'll need each other. I don't want all the ugly moments of their childhood to disrupt the potential for beautiful moments of the rest of their lives together.

I think about this as I think about our country.

I worry that we're so polarized we're less able to hear each other. We're entrenched. Or, we're nearing entrenchment. Images of World War I come to mind. Which is pretty dismal. I worry we're assuming the only possible way to be heard is to yell louder. Attack our brothers and sisters. Throw things. Light fires. Fight. Destroy.

All because of fear. 

Fear that as the makeup of our country evolves, they'll be no seat at the table for us. Fear that we never had a seat at the table to begin with. Fear that we won't belong.

But this is a country made up of us. All of us. And we all belong. We all belong. 

The creation of a nation is an enormous task. Our Founding Fathers had the right instincts. But like any parents, they're left with unruly children squabbling for the most and the best. Not only that, but they were imperfect, too. Just like the rest of us. They were smart enough to recognize their imperfection and left plenty of flexibility in the Constitution to evolve with its people. 

And that was the most brilliant part of their design. Their willingness to see past their own beliefs and values and self-righteousness to allow for changing ideas and societies – that was an act of humility, I think. And love. Even if they wouldn't have used such sentimental language to describe it.

We need both humility and love right now. Like, to wake up in the morning and be humble about the life we were given. And to enter our day with love. Even when it's really, super, super hard. Which it often is. Because fighting siblings and White Supremacists.

Our Founding Fathers get all the credit for the creation of our nation.I have to assume that beside them were an equal number of Founding Mothers politely (maybe impolitely) making suggestions for a better Constitution (obviously, some of their best suggestions were vetoed) and I'm grateful for them. Because one thing I know about a mother, is her heart has an infinite capacity to love all her children. I think our nation is imbued with this quality. We have an ever-expanding table that can fit all who want to sit at it. 

But this doesn't happen by magic. It happens by us. By us being willing to listen. By us being the parent who hears out all the ranting and whining. All that fleeting ugly stuff, because if we listen hard enough, we'll hear about the fear at its root. We listen because it gives us the opportunity to build deeper, more meaningful, more profound relationships with every new generation.  

We have to do this now. 

Because a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Finding meaning in patterns big and small

Close up of petrified tree, which kind of looks like nebula.
Photo courtesy of T. Scott Williams NPS Ranger/Flickr

I'm feeling a bit foggy these past couple days. We just returned from a week in Colorado visiting my parents so it's probably jet lag. But it's left me feeling quiet and closed off. Like I'm going dormant or something.

It was rainy yesterday, so I took the girls to this big indoor playground today so they could bicker with each other in public rather than in the privacy of our home. I found a couch to hole up on with a book – because I can do that now. 

There were tons of crawling and toddling babies with tons of parents trailing them. I'd smile at every baby that wandered by– because how can you not smile at a wandering baby? But when it came to striking up conversation with their weary-looking parents– parents I could see needed someone to tell them that it would get better, that they were doing just fine, that their children looked healthy and happy, that they didn't need to worry so much about the nap schedules or the fact that their kid refused to eat fish– I had nothing. It was if I'd forgotten how to speak.

My awkwardness was all the more surprising because in the wake of two children and momming it up mom's group style, I used to own this sort conversation. Trying to potty train a reluctant 3 year old? I got you. Worried that your 2 year old isn't speaking in full sentences yet? Don't stress! Can't get your 4 year old to put on their own socks? Neither can I!  

But today I had nothing. Nothing! Except for, "she's cute!" Which is not only generic, it's obvious. I mean, what pony-tail-sporting baby with a dimple wearing an adorable dress navigating with some sort of hybrid crawl-scoot isn't cute? Answer: None. They're all cute. No exceptions. 

I had this realization that I'm in a new phase. That which I'd once taken for granted, had changed somehow, without me even realizing it. 

It's painful to realize this person you thought you would always be (casual mom-versationalist) has become something else. It feels unsettling. Because it's not like you're conscious of the person you've become. Not like you can put a label on it. I guess you probably don't need to put a label on it. 

You know how many times I've told myself that it's OK that I'm not the person I thought I should be on any given day? Like, a lot. You know how many times I've actually listened to myself? Rarely. 

And to you, gentle reader, let it be known that it's absolutely fine and normal (I think) if you wake up one day and decide that you're just not yourself. Because chances are, it's true. We're allowed to change in the course of a lifetime. In the course of a year or month or week or day even.

***

While we were in Colorado, I got the chance to visit one of my cousins, Brian, who I only get to see, like, every five years. Not that those five years even matter because Brian is like me and my siblings in these really strange, intuitive ways. The best parts of being friends with your family. Brian is a high school English teacher and I asked what he'd read lately and he said he struggled with that question, because, while he loved books, he most read the same books over and over again as part of his job. 

We got to talking about how what you read a book changes over the course of a lifetime. How the characters you thought were awful when you were younger suddenly become people you understand as your life evolves. You know, things like getting married, having children. They change you. And even beyond that, just paying attention changes you.

I was thinking about all this while driving around Colorado. How time passes. How things evolve. It's obvious there. I mean, you can see it in the layers of rock that thrust themselves up through tectonic shifts. The rocks are red, then beige, then gray, then brown. One piled onto of the other. One epoch on top of the other. 

We stopped by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science one day. There you can see what's buried in all those layers: Trilobites, sea lilies, fish, dinosaurs. Evidence of how Earth has changed, set in stone (funny how we use the phrase "set in stone" to suggest a permanence that doesn't really exist). In these fossils and in these cross-sections of rock we'd drive through to get to my parent's house, you can see this. All the things that have come and gone and the things that have stuck around balanced precariously on the top layer.

I think we're like that, too. Made up of all the things that have come and gone and the things that have stuck around. The same and ever changing.

And it's not just about who we are in a lifetime. It's about what we've taken from other lifetimes.

The last night at my parent's house, my dad pulled out a box of photos, letters and clippings my grandmother had saved throughout her long life. 

At one point, I found myself staring at myself. It was my grandmother long before I knew her. But it was also me. The same eyes and smile. 

Nanny.

Small, pixelated
version of me for context.
There was a photocopied letter she'd typed to some cousins in the late 70s. In it, she writes about the weather and her cat. There had been some bad storms, she'd hoped her cousins hadn't experienced any blackouts. She writes about how she always made sure she had provisions on hand in case of an emergency (maybe a product of coming of age during the Depression). "I am always stocked with lots of canned things and a ham and rice and noodles for filling as well as lots of booze (the cup that cheers)." This last part made me laugh out loud. Nanny was seldom without a gin and tonic. At the hospital on her final days she asked my sister and I to sneak in some beer for her. Like I said, we change and don't change.

"I love Washington, D.C., with so many museums where I can have a 'mini-vacation' on my lunch hour looking at pretty things. Have twice seen the Faberge Russian egg collection at the National Geographic. Also take courses at the Smithsonian Inst. as a resident member ... It is fun and one always meets new people," she writes.

It was Nanny who helped inspire my love of art and music. We'd go to the National Gallery with her and my mom. She'd admire all the "pretty things" – both the art and the occasional "hunk" who wandered by (she also had a wandering eye.)

My good friend Becky invited me to see "The King and I" at the Kennedy Center with her family a couple weeks ago. Nanny was the first one to take me to the Kennedy Center. We saw "The Phantom of the Opera" together there when I was in fourth grade. She shared her opera glasses inlayed with mother of pearl so I could get a closer look at the performers. She was also the one who introduced my sister and I to "The King and I." We loved the opulent gowns Deborah Kerr wore in the movie. The stuff of little girl's dreams. She loved Yul Brynner. 

While neither Deborah or Yul were on stage in the Opera House last month– their modern counterparts were wonderful substitutes– I could feel Nanny as I peeked through her opera glasses. She was right there with me– swinging from the chandelier I think soaking in the music, the costumes and the sets. Getting whisked away from our world into another. 

Chandelier in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center.

***

I have this tremendous sense of searching lately. For what, I'm not exactly sure. My life's purpose? Maybe. A better understanding of my place here in this world? More likely. A desire to understand at a sub-cellular level how we are all connected to one another. The the ground we stand on. The air we breathe. The living and non-living things that surround us. The patterns among us. How we can commune with all these parts for a fuller life. It's the mystery of a lifetime, right? 

There's a feeling of melancholy that I think can be associated with searching. Like somehow if you're searching you're dissatisfied. But I'm not sure I see it that way. I feel like when I stop searching, I stop living. Not literally of course, but internally somehow. That's not to say that I'm landing on any life-altering, universe-shaking truths about our existence or my place in it. I'm not sure I'm wise enough. But the searching part– that's joy, I think. The opening the door to the possibilities of nature and design– all the sudden the world is your museum. A place of learning and discovery. A place full of pretty things.

And this is why I write. It's a place to sort out the searching.

Listening to the On Being interview with author and anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson last night while I was out for a walk offered some affirmation. 

“I like to think of men and women as artists of their own lives, working with what comes to hand through accident or talent to compose and recompose a pattern in time that expresses who they are and what they believe in, making meaning even as they are studying and working and raising children, creating and recreating themselves.”

There's relief in the idea that what we do in life can be improvised. That we allow currents to take us where we need to go rather than requiring an exact plan to follow from our first day to our last. That it's OK that one day you're neck deep in diapers and teething and then just like that, you're not. Your children have been potty trained for years and they're losing those teeth that kept you awake at night. 

There's comfort too in the knowledge that we've done this before. That the rhythms of our lives are tied the rhythms of our ancestors. That we're a part of these magnificent patterns repeating themselves at large scales and small scales.

How lucky we are to be observers in this beautiful universe.


Crab Nebula, which kinda looks like a petrified tree.
Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr