and the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand it. -john 1, verse 5
To drive our family to the Midwest for Thanksgiving, we woke the girls up at 4:30AM. Rather than waiting for them to gain consciousness, we began sliding their shoes on their still-sleeping legs, tucking their limp arms into their jackets. We murmured what we were doing as they woke up mid-dress change. They walked outside in the cold moonlight with us. Once in car, they fell back asleep, which felt like a great success: to cross and recross the woken line so easily when typically this line is fixed: once woken, they are awake.
An eerie moment among Jesus’s healings in the Bible is when he tells a dead girl lying on the bed where she died, to wake up. It feels profoundly off-territory—-a man telling another man’s daughter, whom the father believes to be dead, to simply awaken instead. Perhaps the father wondered if he had seen her clearly in the first place. And yet it is a moment of glorious upsidedown: the line that should never be crossed–a child dying before the parent–had been crossed and recrossed.
One layer of the parenting shroud (and there are many) is that you do not see your season of life for what it is. Fondly looking backward and warily looking forward, it’s difficult to evaluate what a stage will mean to your being for the rest of your life. To awaken to your circumstances, your actual life, the decisions you’ve made and where they’ve brought you, the gifts you were given that you did not ask for, is truly a challenge. Often the awake! command is brought on by discomfort, discouragement, or interruption.
The idea behind a prayer journal is that you might reflect on the prayers you once had that were answered. Oddly, without documenting them, these prayers can flee your mind as soon as they are resolved, replaced by new ones. When I encounter a friend I haven’t seen for months, she asks me about something I was worried about last time I saw her, and I stare blankly back at her. Oh, I guess we figured it out, is often my response.
My aunt practices healing of various sorts–acupuncture, herbs, tapping. In that last method, you ask the patient to gauge their pain levels numerically between 1-10. This is important, because as the pain ebbs away, people will quickly forget how they felt moments ago. Or sometimes that pain will be solved, but a new one will speak up quickly, and the mind switches to anxiously centering on the next one.
In daily life, I’ll snap out of peaceful/absentminded parenting when the toddler cuts it too close to an intersection, or one of the girls pushes the other in impulsive frustration. Trotting along cheerfully until I suddenly find myself saying, “Hey! what is going on here???” then we all sigh and look at each other.
Anger is one of those emotions moms like to keep their distance from. Lots of confessions around anger amongst coffee cup chats. However, kids really don’t seem to mind anger. They embrace it whole heartedly themselves, screaming with fury from the youngest age when they are taken aback by something. Anger is the abundance of feeling. My children gaze at me frankly when I am angrily describing what I am angry about. Recently: “Why is everyone here acting like what they want is the most important? I am doing things for you all day, you can also do things for me, and for each other. That is important and it’s how this household works!” <shout, at the end there>
I am one of those who shyly comes up later in the day and whispers, sorry for yelling at you, i was frustrated. They shrug at me, usually smile, ask where their scissors are and if they can have a snack.
I encountered a list of Advent words proposed by Anglican/Episcopalians and I liked the idea of responding to a few of them throughout this month.
Decided to do this one in an impromptu, unedited seven minute video format. Click for the pop-up. All the links I mention are linked to below.
4 (with some editorial delays) Elisabeth Elliot’s program
We picked blackberries, dense like daisies, and ate too many, leaving with stomach aches and our two bins of inky tokens from the country to share at school pickup back in the city and mix into our cereal the next day when we could hear the trash trucks sweeping by outside the window. I never see them for sale around here, perhaps they are too fragile to ripen and transport, so their exotic nature and exaggerated size monopolized our attention until they were gone.
I love cooking up fruit <crumble, crisp, cobbler> but the girls have yet to like anything better than the taste of fresh raw fruit. When my older brother visited last week I made whipped cream to top off a morning-dessert peach crisp. Lux asked if she could use the extra whipped cream on bowls of fresh fruit. I was so impressed by how she peeled and cut up everything, layering it into individual bowls to enjoy with Joan.
*title a line from an autumn poem, Moon-Breath by Mary Jo Salter.
After all sorts of discussion we decided to have Joan pass on her option for full day preschool this year. Parents! Sometimes I think we grow more relaxed by the year, and sometimes it feels like we’ve become psychoanalyst zombies who can’t help but minutely over-examine our children.
Joan is self-driven, often beginning her morning by piling up books for me to read her, filling whole sheets of paper with alphabet letters and doodles, and telling me things like “I want to get books about the human body.” So on the one hand, I feel she is teaching herself, but on the other, she can be a swift flowing river that doesn’t like to be redirected with my mossy sticks jutting out here and there. She is intensely imaginative, sometimes developing long narratives that she tells herself, barely noticing what her sisters are playing around her. After short social events, she likes to have plenty of time to play and read alone to decompress. These are all characteristics we mulled over when we decided to keep her home for another year.
My memories of Lux’s fourth year at home with me are some of my favorite. I have dozens of photos of our walks around town with her stuffed animals, making soft pink playdough together, the trays of paint she would pull out for the afternoon, the funny games she played with two-year-old Joan, like stacking spice jars in towers or packing snack-picnics.
I’m really looking forward to Joan’s and my year together. What a gift!
We are also joining a one-day-a-week homeschool community. This will give me a chance to experiment with curriculum (with no expectations on her, of course, just for fun and discussion) and give her the chance to have peers she sees every week and practice some public speaking. I found the national program, Classical Conversations, through my friend Jenny, my friend Kacia, and some of the online community that posts on instagram under the name wildandfree.co
I have to tell you, I don’t have high hopes for myself in managing a structure with much elegance. I will try to set about something of a morning schedule, but I’m sure it will take some plotting. In Lux’s first year of kindergarten last year, it took me a remarkable amount of time to figure out how to plan our days. It was practically April before I realized how nice it was to get Alma’s naps in earlier, in order to have her be rested by school pickup time. If you are entering a new schedule this fall, I encourage you to take it easy on yourself (of course!) but also to mix things up in all sorts of ways as soon as you can manage it. Change nap times, snack times, wake up times, all of it, until you can pinpoint a great rhythm for your family.
It’s September! I’m hoping to post soon about our new apartment and the move to a new neighborhood, what I’m working on in my alone time, some of my favorite fall things to do around here, and our travel photos from Maine.
August is delightfully quiet in the city. We’ll cross a street without a car in sight. Parking spots appears in places where you’ve never seen a free curb. All seems sleepy until you try to request Uber’s free ice cream truck and then you realize there are many other hungry citizens besides you.
Partial eclipse visible from every park & monument. Love your signs, Tyler Nordgren! Keep up the good work.
One of the few places you’ll find a line, though, is Boston’s only outdoor beer garden. It opens at 4 and has a line until it closes around ten. No harm done though, because you can wait in line with your friends. I love the gorgeous way they built the space out.
I was so happy to see lots of strollers in line. It’s a perfect place to bring kids, but alongside all the young professionals streaming tidily out in their work attire, it can feel intimidating. It’s always better if families show up in numbers!
I parked our stroller outside along the fence (it might sound unexpected, but I do this everywhere in Boston and I’ve never had anything stolen), and the kids walked in with us. Food trucks are always parked nearby, and the food can come right in with you, thank goodness.
There’s a big deck behind the Aquarium overlooking Boston’s harbor that I’ve very grown found of, and that’s what I wanted to frame our day around. It’s expansive, safely fenced in, and the kids can see so many boats coming and going. It’s free, but you feel like you’ve payed to be there. And on your way, you can see the free seals frolicking in the outside tank.
Because Bridget’s oldest has a cast right now–poor kid, mid summer!–we mostly avoided the fountains but they are one of the Greenway’s best assets. That’s another reason why the Aquarium’s back deck was such a great fit for us. And so was a detour into the IMAX theatre….
These popcorn heads after a not-scary imax movie about great white sharks. Is 40 mins the perfect time length for a kids theatre film? I think so.
Sweet Joan with her 3D glasses and nearly constant supplementary narration to the film. “Seals should NOT swim in oceans because sharks DO eat them.”
If I’m in the photo, Bridget took it!
You can’t rush August, though there is every temptation to do so. It is fully half the summer and the most glorious half, at that.
We found a new apartment to live in, in the North End! The North End is an incredibly historic neighborhood in Boston, full of Italian businesses, Italian churches and Italian people! The streets are residential, peppered with commercial properties, like all city neighborhoods used to be. It’s a few minutes walk from Lux’s school and offers amenities we’ve never had before: a washer & dryer, a patio, air conditioning, first floor living!
Because it has things like more than one bathroom, the actual living space is smaller than what we currently have. We will need to lend a few of our chairs away for a season to make it work. But I’m not worried about that because we’ll (eventually) have a table big enough to share meals with friends on! And the patio! And the same short bicycle commute for Joe. Wow. So much to be thankful for.
We’ve been pruning our possessions a bit before packing things up. For example, I just went through my kitchen utility drawer. I lined everything up and pulled about 20% of it that I wasn’t using. Next up are a few drawers in my closest where things like scarves, hair dryers (as if!), and sewing supplies hide out for far too long.
I’m also studiously emptying ridiculous things; I just used up the last of our hot sauce, and I haven’t replaced the soy sauce. I’m trying to use up all our frozen venison before the end of the month. These are tiny things that no doubt have absolutely no affect on packing–but, it’s a mindset!
We are keeping less adult books now as the girls’ collection grows and becomes more useful. I like staring at the edges of our books, lined up and reminding me of who I once was, but the girls’ books are read more regularly and used for all sorts of things like making towers, and going to sleep at night.
Meanwhile, my friend just sent me something that’s been on my want-list for awhile: a small, countertop ice cream maker!! So, things aren’t getting too pared down around here.
I’m really beginning to regret our decision to go to Maine instead of chase the totality of the eclipse. Planning a vacation around three minutes sounded crazy at the time, but then again, I didn’t consider the fact that there’s really nothing like the totality, versus a partial eclipse. If you are getting your kids ready to discuss it, I highly recommend TinyBop’s Eclipse Primer and the vox video linked to therein. We love TinyBop’s Planets app too, especially the part that lets you compare the planet sizes.
Grace Farms in New Canaan Connecticut is on the way, or very close to the way, from Boston to New York. It is 3.5hrs from Boston, and 1.5hrs from New York. It is completely unmarked up until you find the driveway, then you will see a sign that you’ve found it. Parking is free, there is a cafe that is open until 3pm serving easy dishes, like one delicious huge house salad, a bookstore/library with just a few quixotic concentrations (art & beauty, justice & ethics), and a tea room where pots of tea are served for $5-$10.
The property grounds have trails are open for wandering but the building is hard to wander away from. Its elegant river shape somehow evokes a mother guiding her hens, you don’t want to walk out from under from her wing.
The Japanese male & female partner architects Sanaa also designed almost all the chairs that you’ll see on the property, like the lovely drop chairs that look like floating mercury thumbprints (your children will ask to get one for home, its better not to google the price).
Stopping by for a couple hours is a chance to luxuriate in beautiful thoughtful design, for free! We had a hard time leaving and ended up coming once more on our way back from Philadelphia. The cafeteria, in particular, is a joy to sit in. Closed on Mondays. And, it’s Connecticut, so do check for ticks before you get back in the car.
Dear New Hampshire, we barely delved into your beauty and depth! Booking this trip a few weeks before, we intended to drive to the White Mountains to smell alpine air, let the girls stretch out with more room, and hike a bit. But we were surprised to find ourselves surrounded by the most pleasant vacation atmosphere everywhere we went. We are stalwarts of Maine trips, accustomed to claims of “Vacationland!” on every roadside sign. So humble, gorgeous New Hampshire with cheerful Hi-Way roadside diners and 40s of beer for sale at gas stations, surprised us.
There were adorable clusters of cottages (1/2) with stone chimneys and miniature yards draped around kettle ponds. The ponds were stocked with paddle boats and lazy canoes. The restaurants had a view of the mountains and the trip advisor reviews, scanned quickly on my phone, said things like “dated, but the pool is heated year round and the food is excellent.”
I was further entranced by the boy howdy tourist attractions sprinkled about the White Mountains. There are railroads everywhere. Some of them serve lunch and ice cream. Others’ climb steep mountains. There is a place called Storyland, a land celebrating stories of the untrademarked variety.
Everyone we met was boisterously friendly, each practically shouting “Hi!” when we passed them on the trails. A restaurant had taped up a sign that read “30 minute wait for food.” This sign was visible the moment you walked in. Were Boston to follow this trend you would see “30 minute wait for water,” and “30 minute wait for acknowledgement” signs tacked up everywhere. Because we’d fallen for the faux-treehouse vibe and this endearing sign upon crossing the threshold of the building, we ordered anyway and had a delicious meal 30 minutes later. As we left, I noted that a new sign had replaced the old one: “40 minute wait for food.”
hiking a 3.5 mile Mount Pemigewasset round trip.
The three-year-old found an 1000 piece puzzle of a Victorian Christmas scene involving unfurled red ribbons with messages written in a German-style font, framed above and below by a sky and snowy field that were exactly the same color. She spread this across the table and spent thirty minutes twice a day furrowing over the pieces, perhaps matching one or two together by the end the hour. “Who can help me with the puzzle,” she asked us many times. “Mom, will you help me?” Our Little Red Hen, except she never did get her vindictive loaf to have for herself. We would take turns sitting with her, managing to piece a few more bits together before the toddler climbed up to sit on our lap and swept them to the floor like dead flies.
“Maybe we’ll get one for home” I said when we had to put the fragments away at the end of the weekend, “only with a more fun picture.”
“No, I want a Christmas one just like this,” she said.
The road up Mount Washington is privately owned and not managed by the National Parks system. This was very curious, and it was not well run. The line to get in was slow, though once you got to the front you realized that genial grandfatherly types were running it, and forgave them the wait instantly. Gravel had washed off the edges of the already narrow road, and the observation center at the top was rundown and clearly over-stretched. There is an option to send a postcard from their post office, a charming idea, but all the postcards for sale are ugly with almost no photos of the mountain itself. The design of the observation deck felt like a soviet-90s buildout. After sharing two toasted hot chocolates (the weird way industrial chocolate powder burns to taste like peanut butter), we sat outside where there was one weary sign about the scenery.
There is one thing they do that is perfectly done: the red and blue bumper sticker that is included with every single price of admittance: This Car Climbed Mount Washington.
Driving back to the rental, we noted that savvy New Hampshirites had flocked to places named things like The Basin and Land of Many Uses. We resolved to do the same next time. As we drove through the trees I could see merry babbling creeks through the trees. To be there on an 80 degree day and poke creek pebbles around with your toes must be heaven. Hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail would also be amazing. And maybe someday seeing one of the huts! (if you want to fall deeply in love with the White Mountains from afar, follow btonevibes.)
Lux is beginning to read on her own. I’d brought up an early reader with a silly plot that we love, Moose Goes to School, and it was special passing moment to get to watch her read it over and over again to herself on the couch. Vacation at its best!
We watched Hello, Dolly twice. I memorized most of the songs as a kid, unbeknownst to the girls and Joe until the movie started, and I did not hesitate to sing along. I had totally forgotten this connection, but the five-year-old immediately recognized the music from the movie Wall-E replays in the evenings on his makeshift projector. The girls fell hard for Dolly. “Everyone knows Dolly,” they whispered as Barbra Streisand danced around the restaurant. “That looks terrible on him and really good on her,” speaking of the feather boa Dolly wickedly drapes on her distracted love interest. “That looks like something Dolly would wear,” they remarked once back in Boston as we walked past a hat shop.
Everyone got spider bites and there were ticks of course and strange hiking blisters. Buoyed with vacation spirit beforehand, I bought delicious strawberry artisan marshmallows that melted right off the sticks at the first sign of toasting and thus had to be plied carefully onto the graham cracker, at which point the girls declared them “too sticky,” and asked for the “the normal ones.”
I’ve been meaning to link to this superb writing on postpartum depression on Katrina’s blog. I have experienced moments like she describes and I think she nails the elements exactly. The buzzing thoughts, the way the dark moments can tip the scale, the physical notes that come into play–eye contact, smiles. An excellent read, particularly if you’ve had friends go through this, or brushed against it yourself.
A bit of back story, so you catch the details: Katrina, a calligrapher, painter, and devoted Catholic, gave birth to her baby girl with two young boys already tumbling about her in a tiny space on campus with her husband deeply into graduate school.
We are apartment hunting which has me deeply nostalgic for our current apartment even as we live here for a few more months. Reminiscing the present is like writing a greeting card to yourself every morning when you wake up. Things become overwrought with significance.
It was originally our landlord’s idea, but once he suggested it, it felt right to us too. Comparing us to us back at our apartment tour, we now feel just a percentage too big, maybe 15%.
Four years, two infancies in our bedroom, a few rooftop drinks, lots of sleeping-in with light blazing onto our pillows (the eastern reach of the eastern time zone), watching rain fall over the park from the windows, watching the tops of the trees change from flowers to leaves. Actually, much of life lived through the windows, often open on both sides like a railroad car, like a porch you happened to enclose with brick walls and place sixty feet in the air.
Joan helping me in the kitchen, Lux in the bathtub, listening to The Last Battle, the sound of the narrator’s British accent coming through the door over her light splashing.
Lux watching the Hancock Tower’s weather beacon visible from her window and reciting the code to us as if it contained predictive magical powers: “Steady blue, clear view. Flashing blue, clouds due. Steady red, rain ahead. Flashing red, snow instead.”
The mice, a revolving chain of them, heedless of the abrupt disappearance of their elders.”I just saw something scamper in the kitchen, it looked like a bird, but I think it was a mouse.”
Four years with just a bathtub for bathing (such a lovely old fashioned word), fun years where I mentally added shower to the amenities I would enjoy on vacation, even when we were just staying over at a friend’s house for the night.
It’s hard to leave a stage you still love.
Because we still love it, we have become persnickety rental hunters. We have no interest in replicating our space, we want everything we’ve loved so far, but more! Small, quirky, south facing windows, wood burning fireplace, pets welcome, heat & hot water included, washer & dryer, quiet at night, a real patio, wood floors, same fifteen minute commute for Joe. Because this Christmas list continues to be a hopeful prayer of mine I will avoid blasé language, but suffice to say Boston’s rental market is not in the business of making dreams come true.
Around this time of year I often visit friends with yards, kiddie pools, sidewalks, climbing trees, front porches, and extra bedrooms, and I have to stifle my awe of it all. Act natural like them. They shrug at the grandeur, “well, we’re thinking of re-doing the kitchen.” Their children totter from thing to thing, express boredom, ask for snacks. I become overwhelmed by the probability that my children would act the very same way in such circumstances, instead of turning into joyful competitive cyclists or champion swimmers like I secretly imagine.
(that said, I affirm any dissatisfactions with space, no matter how much of it. Having looked at approximately two hundred real estate listings, I believe we can say that space does not equal human comfort–comfort typically found in things like light that pools on the floor, windows that open, hearing your family while you cook, a room looking clean after you’ve cleaned it, the way a wall can expand a room instead of dividing it.
Is it odd or totally natural to experience deep identity crisis with a new home? Why are we as humans always leaning into things to make them who we are. Must your clothes, job, children, home, aspirations, facebook profile remind you of your value?
Naturally the girls hate the idea of moving. Like a loyal friend, they sing the praises of our current space (“Isn’t it so quiet on this street Mom?”), brush over the negatives or simply don’t see them (“I don’t want to say this out loud around anyone because I might hurt their feelings, but we live on the top floor.”)
You could make the argument that fertility is arranging this need for a new apartment. We have outgrown it. It worked for the 3rd infancy, but with all five of us walking now, it feels clumsy; the enforced minimalism more insistent than we want it to be.
Fertility can seem like a moving walkway that keeps turning me into new things and handing me things–infancy, baby, kindergarten, drop off and pick up, doctors appointments, feeling late a lot, nights on zappos analyzing miniature sandal straps, grocery lists peppered with apples and peanut butter jars, afternoons that begin when I pack the snacks and end with a bowl of tuna fish between us on the floor, me scooping spoonfuls into their mouths.
To some extent I feel like an active participant, in others, like leaving this apartment, I feel like decisions were made by some other creature.