« July 2016 | Main | September 2016 »

Today, Chin Up

I did my best to make the place feel like home. Fluffed it up, added lamps, pillows, plants, a tea kettle, and baskets. It’s something. And honestly, as far as dorms go, she really did hit the jackpot. It’s pretty nice. Classes started this morning and because she spent yesterday avoiding the pep-rally-type-activities in favor of pre-reading course material, she was able to ask an “excellent question” inside the student-filled lecture hall, and answer another question, which prompted the professor to ask her name. After which, referring to “what Emily is talking about” for the remainder of the discussion. This kid. The Rory to my Lorelai.   

Each gathering in our family includes circling together with hands joined, for a blessing over the meal. We are a large group so “circle” isn’t exactly what happens, but whichever nebulous form appears after winding around furniture and through various rooms, it is made complete by the joining of hands. A simple connection that reminds us we’re in this together, that we are better together.  

Our first night without her found us lying in the dark, Scout’s body wedged between us making the few inches of space feel eternal. But our hands found each other, fingers interlaced, resting on Scout’s warm, soft fur. We are better together. There were no words for some time, until finally Adam said, “It’s so quiet." I had no reply. Then he leaned in and held my hand a little tighter, just as a few tears reached the pillow.

It's been hard. Doable and with plenty of perspective, but hard. It was suggested that I feel content and thankful because my daughter is alive and there are mothers who would give anything to be in my place. It was a well intended sentiment, and I get it. Believe me, I wish I didn't, but I do. But there is an entire span of human experience between birth and death, and emotion is not exclusive to these events alone. We can feel grief in the absence of death. Sometimes life hurts, and that doesn't make a person less thankful or content for all the good they enjoy. Maybe it just means no mud, no lotus. 

Today, chin up... look at the bright side and all that. I’m figuring out how to restructure my days, have taken knitting from hobby to sport, and am listening to a ton of music - particularly vocally driven tracks - because damn, it sure is quiet around here. 

Lucky to Have You

Emily canoe

This photo was taken on the evening of September 11, 2001. Her complete oblivion to the day’s gravity remains precious to me. I remember watching her float along, innocently blissed out by the late summer evening. The sound of her little kid voice. Belly laughs. Like every adult across the land, Adam and I were not sure what to do with ourselves that day. Living on a lake, we decided to do the only thing that made sense, we set the canoe on rippling water, pushed off from the shore, and paddled our way through the sorrow. 

For as long as any of us can remember, we’ve had a saying in this house: Ignore the negative, celebrate the positive. I have no idea how it originated, but a family mantra it’s become. Except now, looking at this photo, and looking ahead into the unknown (as opposed to the comfortable illusion of everyday predictability), I think we got it all wrong. Why would we ignore - silence - the hard times? No, no, no. You’ve got to feel it. Not forever, but set the timer, circle a few days on the calendar, and freaking wallow if need be. If necessary, bring in reinforcements. Feel it, work though it, release it, learn from it, carry on. Why did I always tell her to ignore the negative? Forget that. Listen, girl... don’t ignore the hard times, I’m sorry I told you to do so. Instead, set your canoe on rippling water, push off from the shore, and paddle your way through. If whatever you’re dealing with seems slow to resolve, it just means the ride isn't over; keep paddling. And if you're lost and can't find the north shore, call me, I'll do whatever I can to help you navigate. 

Pre-college week

This past week has been filled with so many good times. Bittersweet as she said goodbye to friends, but not before making excellent memories first. Hiking, picnics, brunch, fancy dinners, waterfront dinners, homemade dinners, coffee with her best friend’s parents who see her as their second daughter (and their daughter, to us), castles, Sherlock, ice cream, movies, Harry’s Place. Pretty sure even this not-so-nostalgic kid has noticed the entire week was one for the scrapbook. Now, there's nothing left to do but load up the truck and head out... 

Get out there and light it up, kid. The world is lucky to have you.  

Counting it Down


Part of me thinks it would be easier if she just left now. An abrupt departure sounds more tolerable than the slow drip of time we are currently experiencing. Can't we just pull the bandage quickly off the wound? As excited as we are for her, there is a cosmic cruelty to this sort of countdown; one that upon completion, finds us driving our heart five hours away to start a new life on her own. It feels like the opposite of giving birth. Where is my precious gift after this long and arduous labor? (I know, the gift is there, it's just not as easy to feel on the departure.) To bring a child into this world is to know love and loss in unimaginable, deeply intimate ways. We know what we've signed up for. And of course, a young adult starting life on their own is not a loss, but a beginning, it’s just that sometimes the lines between the two get blurred.

We’re making piles, getting organized, and injecting money into the economy for dorm room gear; ignoring most of the school provided list, but acknowledging it is probably bad form to not send your child off without cute bedding and one of those mini-fridges. Thankfully we pulled a mini-fridge out of Birdy so no purchase necessary there. She'll need a couple of lamps as well because humanity has yet to figure out that overhead lightening is visually abhorrent if not taxing to the nervous system. Baskets too. Every room needs a few baskets.

Other than that, it’s been a lot goodbyes. Not one for sentiment, or for big send off parties, her goodbyes have been mostly one on one. Lingering. Movies with Jeren, brunch with Emma, dinner with Arielle, and today, Gillette’s Castle with Ciara. There will be one more dinner out with Jeren because this summer they discovered the immense pleasure of a good farm to table restaurant and its perfectly prepared steak selection. Yeah, they wouldn’t mind one more go at that before leaving for two different states. Other than Jeren, these close friends of hers have been just that since they were all four years old. I’m not sure they appreciate how unique that is, and I guess it doesn’t matter, but it sure is nice.

Here at home, in part due to the confining nature of the 95º in the shade type heat we've been having, and in part because good movies have played a significant role in our family story, we’re spinning a few favorites one more time: Inglorious Basterds, Shawshank Redemption, The Big Short, The Godfather Trilogy... you know, nice feel-good wholesome stuff. As for that photo up there? You don’t pay tribute to a beloved female protagonist on birthday morning pancakes unless movies are your thing. They are most definitely her thing. (Well, one of her things.) It’s been a pleasure to connect and make memories through hundreds of movie nights over the years; I greedily hope that life has many more in store.

Anyway. With only nine days to go, we're counting it down and soaking it in. All the while doing a bang up job of ignoring most of the “recommended checklist” for dorm living.

Precious Glimpse


We drove up to his residence cottage at the boarding school he attended and waited. Once outside, he walked toward our truck with a book carefully tucked under one arm, I couldn’t make out the title. He wore a crisp plaid shirt and khaki shorts. I can’t remember his shoes, but I imagine a slip-on loafer; the kind one would wear on a sailboat. He looked casual, but not too casual. Confident without pretension. I noticed there was no cell phone in his hand. I’m sure he had one, but it was not affixed to his palm as is so often the norm. He climbed in and we exchanged greetings; this being my first time meeting him, introductory small talk ensued. He spoke with a certain clarity and graciousness that made me think it was not by happenstance, that it mattered to him, and perhaps to his people, that he was a comfortable conversationalist. Some of us are bred into life with great priority placed on refinement, then, as they say... then there’s the rest of us. He was not the rest of us. Within a minute or two he asked Emily what she was currently reading, and she to him. They exchanged book titles, as well as a few they had each recently finished that the other might like. He brought up travel, asking Emily if she had such plans for the summer. Not one for wanderlust, and not one who enjoys talking about herself, she briefly responded then pulled a card from her father’s deck, effortlessly turning the conversation toward her friend. Tell me about your summer plans... oh, wow that’s really interesting... where else have you traveled to recently?

After listening to a lengthy list of destinations around the globe, it became clear that this young man had seen far beyond the Jersey Shore. So I bit. What is your favorite place that you’ve traveled to? “Mongolia,” he tells me. Now, you and I could sit here and make a list of places we thought he’d claim as his favorite, and I’m pretty sure neither of us would guess Mongolia. Really? Mongolia? What brought you there? What did you love so much about it? “Well, as an amateur historian, I was interested in spending time with one of the last remaining nomadic cultures on the planet. My mother is friends with the Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia, so I first stayed with her for a while to get acclimated, then she connected me with a tribe and I spent a couple of months with them. We traveled by horse and on foot, with thousands of goats under our care (turns out he did have a phone, on which he showed me photos; there were literally thousands of goats). Yurts were set up and disassembled according to our location. I learned the language within a few weeks so I was able to communicate well enough. It was the best time of my life.”


You don't say.
A couple of months prior to this, he shared with Emily and Adam a story about meeting Bill Clinton at Starbucks (when not at boarding school in CT, he shares a hometown with the Clintons in NY), and asked Mr. Clinton if he could have a few minutes of his time, to discuss politics over coffee. “You’ve got balls, kid,” declared our former president, as he obliged. I love this detail because if it had crossed my mind that the story was exaggerated or fabricated, this statement erases any doubt.

Back to this car ride. At some point the conversation switched to him asking me “what I do.” At first I was a little surprised, what with his previous questions relating to literature, travel and history. And being the kind of young person who invites a former president to share conversation over a cup of jo. I don’t know, the question seemed almost pedestrian. Ironically, as the universe so loves to demonstrate, this particular day happened to be within a week of my writing about a new declaration I’d offer up when asked, what do I do. Remember? I promised to respond with, I'm useful. In the moment however, I floundered. Such a disappointment. Flooded with decades of influence suggesting I must claim a professional identity, I delivered my standard reply to the question: “I teach nutrition and cooking classes.” Even though this does not accurately describe what I do for paid work, and even though I kind of loathe hearing the words as they leave my lips, it remains an answer that is easily understood by most, so I’ve used it for years. Besides, the "what do you do" question always seems more like a polite point of conversation than a genuine inquiry; a little creative license with my reply isn’t going to hurt anyone.

So I gave my response and watched as his young face brightened with an excitement more generous than necessary. It surprised me. He talked about how “cool” it was that I did this for a living, and that he recently made a profound discovery about the importance of good health and appreciating life. I asked what inspired such an epiphany, and he told me it was found while listening to Time, by Pink Floyd. Seriously. If this eighteen year old world traveling coffee drinking with a president young man did not have my attention before, he had it now. Because to be equally impassioned about traveling nomadically with thousands of goats and tribal people through Mongolia, to Bill Clinton capitulating into a discussion of foreign policy over coffee at a local Starbucks, to unlocking the value of good health and a good life by way of a Pink Floyd tune... well, it seems this kid is doing alright.

We arrived at our destination and said our goodbyes as he and Emily walked into their class. The entirety of our time together spanned about ten minutes, and it is likely I will never see him again given the countless directions Emily's friends and acquaintances are dispersing to these days. Nonetheless, it was a memorable ten minutes. Even better, it was a precious glimpse into another person's story, which is just about my favorite thing in the world.