the beat goes on

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 I like routines. Call them rituals, if you’re feeling fancy. Call them predictably mundane, if you’re feeling twenty-two. I love rituals and especially writing rituals. When my bloggy friends cover the same topic again and again, I find it as comforting as soup. Ordinary, yes, but still damn good. Besides, it is downright tradition to become boring with age—probably also to love soup more too, come to think of it.

Let’s all slow down and have a bowl of soup! I will someday happily exclaim to my eye-rolling grandtweens.

thirtysixWhether because of motherhood or just plain aging, I’ve grown increasingly fond of writing and reading about the commonplace. There are writers who have elevated this practice to a fine art. Take, for instance, David Sedaris’ New Yorker articles on topics such as: shopping trips to Tokyo with his sisters, the turtle he watched being fed pizza, and his adventures in fitbit-induced garbage clean-up [See also: Commonplace by Dina Relles]. I am not quite so clever in how I write about my experiences. I am always telling, rarely showing. But before you think I’m digging for compliments, you should know I’m okay with that truth about myself. I’ll get to that in a moment.

When I turned thirty-six, I felt an itch again to write about my age, an age that pulls me closer to forty than thirty. Though only a year had passed since I last wrote about age, I’d begun to feel a persistent shift that, imperceptible as it may have been to the outside, was monumental in my head. But it felt a little too indulgent to travel that road again so soon, even for a self-obsessed navel-gazer like me (I’m paraphrasing from one of my favorite blog comments of all time. Thanks for setting me straight, Anonymous Troll!).

Then again, screw it. Life is short. Let’s talk about me again.

Now seems like a good time because I just celebrated my half-birthday. Yes, I still mark the passage of these milestones, if only in my mind, but an Eeyore’s sigh has replaced an exclamation point at the end of the thought, “Closer to my next birthday than my last.” Timing is also good because Vivi just turned eight, and I have been wanting to write her a letter on her birthday.

When Vivi turned six, I stopped my tradition of writing the girls birthday letters on my blog to give them some privacy back. In this era of oversharing, I’m still glad I did that. But one thing I miss is being able to pull up the letters to reread at any time. Although I may have written the girls private letters for their recent birthdays, Lord knows where I put them. The greatest thing about blogging about my family, as I’ve often repeated, is that it keeps my memories in a place where I can find them later.

Inspired by my friend Kristen, who wrote a series of real and poignant letters to her daughter called “If you ask me…,” I’m sharing some changes I’ve experienced lately in the form of a letter to my daughter. I hope that by charting my growth, my girls might learn these lessons earlier than I did, but I don’t pin all my hopes on that possibility. I recognize people change throughout their lives as part of normal growth. As Auden pointed out:

“Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”

-W.H. Auden, found on an archive post on Gretchen Rubin’s blog

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Some references I make below will be way past their expiration date by the time Vivi reads this letter, but “you,” the Other Reader, might be interested in them, so here they are:

And as for the bomb I drop mid-letter about moving to Boston, I realize I’m burying that lede. But it’s a story for another day, and if you read on to the end, you’ll get the gist of why.

Dear Genevieve,

Eight is an age I recall well. You are so like me in so many ways: your tendency toward organization and planning, your passion for recording everyday life in a journal, your love of letter writing, and your desire to make everyone happy. These traits will serve you well; though your sensitivity and openness will certainly lead to being hurt, I do not worry about whether you’ll come out strong from those situations. Here’s where our likenesses diverge. I know you’ll stand up for yourself because a braver girl has never lived than you. Thanks to Glennon Doyle Melton, I have learned to tell you that your only jobs are to be brave and kind, and I hope you believe it. You already live up to the task.

Because I know it will please your organized heart, I tried to pool my thoughts below into categories. But enough explaining. Let the navel-gazing start!

1. acceptance

I don’t want to give you the impression that I obtained confidence suddenly in my mid-thirties and that, “you will too if you just hang in there long enough!” Rather, I had to make a conscious effort to build up the courage to accept my flaws, realize that I deserve love and support, and stop saying ‘I’m sorry’ unnecessarily. You say you’re sorry a lot right now. I try to undo that need for you, even though I realize I’m likely the person who put it in your mind to begin with, since it’s what I do. Call it a product of being raised in the genteel south.

It’s not that we should never apologize, just that sometimes we do it so much that it becomes burdensome to other people, like a tic, a need to be reassured that everything is okay. Sometimes it is better to say thank you instead of apologizing. Like yesterday, when I was late picking you up. I looked your teacher in the eye and instead of apologizing profusely, I said, “Thank you for staying late with them. I appreciate it.” An apology would have required him to say something like, “No worries!” In this case, my thanks gave him recognition he deserved for the good deed without forcing him to make me feel better about myself.

Acceptance, to me, means acknowledging you aren’t perfect and forgiving yourself for those imperfections, even embracing them. Your quirks are what make you, you! I learned this lesson from Gretchen Rubin when reading The Happiness Project and Better than Before. A big part of her message is to accept your quirks as part of who you are.

Here’s a quirk of mine that I’m sure you’re all too familiar with. I talk and talk way past the point that the other person has understood my meaning, and then I keep on talking: I am a teller, not a shower. Gretchen calls her rule, “Be Gretchen,” because she realized that although she was odd about certain things, it made her happier to accept those things and be different than it did to try to fit in. It’s a simple concept, but a powerful one too.

Maybe the primary message to Sheryl Sandburg’s Lean In was for women to build up their confidence enough to accept their flaws and stop apologizing, although I didn’t take it that way when I was reading it. She seemed to be saying, “Everywhere I go, women are doing it all wrong!”, but I couldn’t glean any specific tips from her. It was like, “Get a mentor! But don’t ask anyone to be your mentor because that’s too needy!”

But luckily, Sheryl isn’t the only source of feminism; there are far better badasses in my generation. Cheryl Strayed is my (and everyone else’s) writing guru and all-around feminist badass. Her Dear Sugar essay, “Write like a Motherfucker,” is the stuff of legend. Recently she offered a great counterpoint to the challenge to “Stop Apologizing.” She noted there are two kinds of apologies, the one we give when we’ve done something wrong, and the other that acknowledges someone else’s pain. “I’m sorry you’re hurting,” we say. It took me a few sessions of marital counseling with your dad to acknowledge the merits of such a phrase, but I’ve grown to accept it, and the more willingly I offer it, the more natural it becomes.

Feminist comedians are doing a great job of moving the conversation forward. Amy Poehler is another example I look for in a public mentor. In fact, I recall back when I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants that my favorite story wasn’t even about Tina herself, although she too is a feminist badass. It was instead the anecdote regarding Jimmy Fallon having told Amy a joke of her’s wasn’t ‘cute,’ and Amy shouting at him, “I don’t fucking care if you like it!” This is 100% Boston Badass Woman (she’s from Burlington), and it’s the primary reason I’m excited to move you back up to that area this summer. Boston has its flaws, chiefly its latent and blatant racism, and it is as cold as well digger’s ass in January. But it is also a place that raises women who stand up for themselves. I have no doubt you’ll do just that.

Last September, on my lady-friend trip to Colorado, I devoured Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. It is a feminist manifesto. Read it. But first, brush up on some of the best of Amy’s comedy, like Parks & Recreation and clips she did on SNL, like her Sarah Palin rap from Weekend Update when she was a week away from delivering a baby. PURE comedy gold. Amy’s insistence on her point of view, and her unflinching ability to look straight into anyone’s eyes and say, “I deserve to be here!” inspires me.

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2. grace

I’ve been hearing this word more often in the context of describing my actions toward others (and by ‘more often,’ what I mean is: at all). Of course my first reaction is to mimic Elaine, “You think I have GRACE?!” I’ve never been described as graceful in the physical sense, for obvious reasons, i.e., several broken bones, countless bruises, etc. But on further thought, I truly believe when I’m described as having grace it’s because of #1 on my list, the self-esteem that comes from accepting ourselves. It’s like that old adage, “You can’t forgive others until you’ve forgiven yourself.” Or maybe that’s a brand new adage I just created, and if so, you should use it. It’s a good one. You could insert other words for forgive, like love, tolerate, admire. It works!

The older I get, the less black and white the world is becoming. I think it’s by seeing most situations as gray, by admitting I can’t see all sides and that there are plenty of mysteries and complexities to any situation, that I’m able to offer others grace. Whatever grace I have to offer always comes back to me again. I still fall short so often, but the good and bad news is we never stop having chances to offer and receive grace.

3. slay

Around my birthday, my neighbor begged me to come work at the public health non-profit organization where she had just started a job because they needed so much help. I didn’t exactly saunter into that room, but I will admit I was the most nonchalant I’ve ever been in a job interview. I have to imagine it’s how many men probably approach their everyday lives, but for me it was highly unusual. The thing was, they loved me! They wanted me even though I was up front with them that I didn’t want to work full time and that I probably wouldn’t take the job for more than six months. I got the job!

I came home from that day feeling I could do anything

“The perception of meaning, as I see it, more specifically boils down to becoming aware of a possibility against the background of reality or, to express it in plain words, to becoming aware of what can be done about a given situation.” -Viktor Frankl

The hurdles that had kept me from pursuing my dream of nursing school were still there, but I decided that day to stop telling myself it was impossible and just DO IT. I sat down at my computer and immediately got to work doing the last few things I needed to apply. I registered for a microbiology class at the local community college and modified my new work schedule to allow me to attend the lab on Friday mornings. I asked my old faculty from graduate school to write me recommendation letters, again. Then I wrote a damn good essay, closed my eyes, said what the hell, and sent my applications to Northeastern and Columbia.

When the holidays came, I stuffed my face too full of food to do any real pondering, as usual, except for the time spent preparing for my annual “I need to cleanse my body of all this sugar!” elimination diet/eating disorder. When I was still emerging from that yo-yo, I got the word. It seems that Columbia could use a gal like Justine. And I was all:

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I’ll admit my reaction after elation was to wonder: why me. I mean really, why me??

A week later, I witnessed Beyoncé’s incredible Formation video and Super Bowl performance. The confidence it must have taken to dream up and enact a sea of female dancers dressed as Black Panthers, and the courage and power she demonstrated on that stage in front of thousands of white male football lovers and millions more on TV…well, it awed me. Then the negative reactions that followed such a wonderful display of powerful female art dismayed me. But in another way, I felt boosted up by the positive reactions from the girls and women between your generation and mine, whose voices rose up above the hate to say that we will not suffer the disregarded and diminished fate of the women who came before us.

Then a fog lifted from my brain, and I immediately thought, I KNOW WHY ME. Me because I worked my ass off to become a birth doula even while damn near every person within earshot of this decision would offer their unsolicited opinion of why this idea was no good. I did it anyway, not because I knew it would help my career, but just for its own sake. In discussing the success of his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl said, 

“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

Me because I’m the one who had to schedule middle-of-the-night sitters so I could kiss you tiny toddlers on your sleeping cheeks after I dragged my ass out of bed to attend 30-hour births. Me because I’m the one who stood by the side of fifteen brave laboring women, three of whom were LGBTQ, while they attempted to navigate a health system not always committed to giving them the evidence-based births they wanted and needed, and did not even necessarily recognize their right to be mothers. Me because I am the hen who ground every last grain to make bread. 

Even though you know by now that I turned down Columbia to go to Northeastern in Boston instead so I could bring you girls home again, I will always be able to say I AM the reason I got into Columbia.
Because I slay. We slay. You slay.

Love, Mama

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leafing

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Boxelder, which is often confused for poison ivy when small, but never by us campers, who know both very well. At camp we adored a boxelder for housing our beloved tire swing.

I would say I was compelled to come back here to tell you something deeply moving, but what actually happened is I finally took some pictures with a camera that wasn’t my phone and then in the same day downloaded them to my computer, and I felt this extraordinary yet ordinary moment required chronicling.

This is not to say it’s necessarily a problem that I never plug in my ancient digital SLR to the computer any more. I’m well aware the clear victor in our times is the digital image that doesn’t even require downloading, let alone printing. Notice we call them images now instead of photos? But even so. Add me to the list of dinosaurs who misses flipping through a stack of just developed photos.

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Eastern Redcedar (“Red Juniper”), for which one of my favorite birds, the Cedar Waxwing, is named

In case you’re keeping track of the tally of unusual behaviors of the day, you can put one more: that I took the time to try to remember my password to this blog, which is even more atypical of me lately. A month or so back, my Chrome browser decided to forget all my passwords, which has become a decided– albeit accidental– indicator of how much I care about certain parts of the Internet. I can tell you, for example, that I haven’t returned to Facebook since the fateful day of lost passwords. But on the other hand, I have come back to Instagram, Twitter, and somewhat reluctantly, the homepage of my online microbiology class, which I am happy to report I will no longer have to visit after this month.

Here’s another thing I can report. It has been 76 days since my last post. I realize that no one, apart from me, cares to know this precise length of time between posts, but like any good (recovering) Catholic, I can’t seem to allow this passage of time to go unmarked or unfretted. So now we’ve got that out of the way.

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Speaking of Catholicism…

A friend texted tonight to find out what I am doing, and the first word that popped into my head was leafing. I’ve mentioned before here that I am a lover of gerunds (go make the black bean soup from that old post if you haven’t yet). I am also an unapologetic lover of puns. At the time I received my friend’s text, I was scrolling through photos of leaves I took today. Literally leafing, get it?

I never told you I was good at puns.

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Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum, perhaps? Help! What is it?

I took pictures of leaves today as part of a project I’m taking on to label my favorite trees at my summer camp. Because we’ll be gearing up to move again [sadly, I still can’t tell you yet whether that will be to NYC or Boston], I can’t work as a counselor this summer. But the tree identification project is one that I can tackle in the few months I have left in Georgia, and the satisfaction of completing a project from start to finish has quite the pleasing ring to it right about now.

What kind of projects are you excited about?

the fear of falling

Three college friends and I recently went to Colorado on vacation. What a glorious four-day adventure it was. It seems we’re forming a pattern of vacationing together every five years; although I’d love to go more often, every five years seems like a realistic plan.
 It’s tough to pick a favorite part of the trip—laughing until I peed my pants (twice!) ranks up there—but I think I liked the camaraderie of physical exertion best. I met these friends on my college rowing team (Go Dawgs!), so our initial bonding had been over sweat, blisters, and bookoo spandex. Nearly two decades after first befriending these gals, it was a blast to experience together the discomfort of sun-burned lips, labored thin-air breathing, the excitement and trepidation of free-climbing down rocky ledges, and even the indignity of peeing in one’s pants.

Hiking gave us time to tell stories. A highlight among them was my friend Sherry’s story within a story: a few months ago her StoryCorps story  about her parents attending a regatta aired on Atlanta NPR. [And remember that time my family was in a Cheerios commercial? I guess I didn’t talk much about it because none of them knew.]

Fear is a curious thing. Facing our fears on the trip got us discussing fight v. flight. I told the story about the time I jumped off 27 waterfalls when I was in the Dominican Republic a few years ago. That story begins, as my stories so often do, with my blissful ignorance about what was to come. Indeed, I count that drive to the falls and walk up the falls to be the single best part of the trip. What came next, however, was not. After being handed a helmet and then hiking two hours up a steep slope, you’d think I would have fully taken in what was coming next, but it took standing at the first precipice to acknowledge and then panic about my impending demise. Oh yes, we were jumping DOWN TWENTY-SEVEN WATERFALLS.

Everyone in our travel party (except Nate, who knew my secret because I kept begging him to save me through pursed lips) thought I had the best time. And how did I achieve this facade? I’ll tell you it is not because I’m the best fibber ever. Rather, it is because I kept sprinting ahead of the group—knocking people over if necessary—so I could jump first. After I stood at the first edge, I realized going first was the only way in the world I could get the gumption to jump!

I never did really enjoy the thrill of falling and getting water up my nose, but despite my protestations, I did survive. I can’t quite explain what came next, but ever since that trip, I’ve taken any opportunity I can to jump off of or climb down the edge of high places. It’s like I’ve unleashed some deeply hidden badass who steps up and takes over my body when presented an opportunity to experience heights.

[I hope I am expressing the extent to which my acrophobia had ruled me prior to this point in my life. When I was a kid, my dad would take me to houses he was building, and if there was a second floor landing, I would skim across the wall opposite it like one of those fish suckers on an aquarium. Even as an adult, if I climb to the top of a large escalator, I make a weird shiver sound and motion at the thought of falling down the escalator. Not that I ever have, mind you, but what iffffffff?!???]

Here’s where it gets really weird. Over time, these exposures to heights have put an end to my fear. I’d heard of exposure therapy, but before my personal experience, I never quite bought it. Fear of heights, like any phobia, seemed like such a visceral reaction that I couldn’t imagine ever getting past the shaking, sweating, and racing pulse. And yet.

Let’s be clear: I’m not going sky diving any time soon. But I’m still happy about how far I’ve come. Next stop, public speaking? I’ve been telling people for nearly a year that I want to conquer my fear of speaking to a large group, but I have yet to pull the trigger. Yes, I tried out for Listen to Your Mother, but I also had other chances to step up on other stages and didn’t. But now that I’ve seen that I actually can nearly annihilate a fear, what’s stopping me from tackling another?

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

That lovely quote is by Brené Brown, of vulnerability research fame (aka The Best Ted Talk Ever). I pulled my head out from under a rock to learn about her via an interview with Liz Gilbert on the Big Magic podcast, which I just looked up again and is actually called “Magic Lessons.” So that’s what I plan to do: I will put myself out there and {gulp} let myself be seen, even though just typing that sentence scares me. For me, figurative falling is even more frightening than the literal kind. Unless I’m wearing bright pink knee-high socks, then I’m good.

too soon

Yesterday I listened to the most recent This American Life. Titled “Too Soon,” the episode covered the topic of how, when reviewing our past, we must decide whether we are ready—or may ever be ready—to evaluate who we once were. The topic rang very true for me, as I was at that time digging through my old hope chest full of clippings, photos, journals, and accomplishments.

This trunk is an inadvertent time capsule; I know the age and provenance of the material contained within because when Nate and I moved to DC a decade ago, my dad stored this trunk in his attic for the day in the future I’d have the space for it. At the time, I had no idea we would live in DC then Boston for five years each, with a short jaunt across the pond wedged in the middle of that journey. All the while we were unable to transport this heavy chest. Now that we’ve moved south again, I am finally reunited with this relic of the past, which affords me the rare glory and horror of reviewing the treasures all at once rather than after gradual edits and inclusions.

One pile was particularly cringeworthy. Glancing at the essay at the top of the stack, I sat down, or rather crumpled, at the sight of it. Perched on a pile of shoes in the corner of a crowded room that I was supposed to be unpacking, I began reading the essay with a mixture of trepidation and disgust. It was from a series of mass emails—remember those?—I’d sent to friends just prior to the discovery of blogging.

 This particular essay was titled, “Life is a Journey…blah, blah, blah.” What we always hear these days about the Internet is that it makes what we say permanent. But what I find interesting is it also renders it ever more erasable as well. Long ago I deleted any blog post written in the vein of this shitty material, yet there are steaming piles of it in my hope chest, printed or scribbled in the pre-Internet days.

All I could think as my eyes scanned the paper was, I am an asshole. [Or at least, I was at one time. I might still be, but it’s much harder to judge current assholery than it is to scorn the past.] It’s not all bad; there are glimmers of sincerity, such as this golden nugget: “I am thankful beyond belief that Nathan and I have the same goals and are enthusiastic about living and visiting the same places.” Aww. I am so glad to be able to report the same gratitude a decade later.

Buried in this trunk are snippets of adoration and humiliation courtesy of friends and boyfriends I can barely remember the names of. These events I can easily laugh at now because I’m so distant from the girl I was that I gaze back at her with only love and empathy. So maybe there is something to the notion that it is too soon to judge or make sense of the recent past. If I bury these artifacts again, it is with the kind of cautious optimism that comes with saving any piece of ourselves for review later—it’s the hope that some day, we will be nicer to ourselves than we are now.

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Look at those babies. Oh! Sweet nuthin’.

you do not have to be good

I miss you. I just had to come here to tell you that.

I am also going to share a poem, which is typically more Lindsey’s thing than mine (and I am grateful to her for all the poetry she shares). I am posting this poem because I have read it every day since hearing Mary Oliver read it in an episode of On Being. You should listen to that interview right now, as a matter of fact. But before you do that, let me tell you why I’m reading it every day. Moving—perhaps especially, moving at the end of the school year—has a way of bringing up many emotions. The two most prominent, and least helpful, are rage and anxiety (or in terms of the five emotions of Inside Out, anger and fear), but nostalgia, joy, and sadness bubble up too now and again. This poem, tho.

 

 

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

(Author’s note: photo is by my cousin Alice, the farmer in Portugal whose photos I am always sharing, especially the birds)

cutting teeth

When life gets busy, I decide to do things that are unimportant. I’m sure my behavior proves something that Gretchen Rubin would love to analyze, but let’s get back to that later (and I still want to talk to you eventually about her new book!).

Last week’s unimportant thing was actually quite delicious—read: smitten kitchen’s key lime pie—which I happily discovered was extra delicious when atop yogurt and granola for breakfast. My discovery got me thinking—when we open our bed and breakfast some day, we should definitely serve key lime pie with yogurt and granola. So in this case, I suppose you could say my unimportant project turned out to be more important than I originally thought. Redeemed! Plus, pie.

But this week, oh, this week. Let me tell you the very unimportant things I elected to do with my time. First, I organized all the Twitter accounts I follow into lists. In case you don’t use Twitter, you should know that no one is ever going to note or appreciate I did this, nor will I probably ever use the lists I made. But then, THEN, I decided to go back to my old blog and delete some posts that were boring or otherwise not worthy of saving for posterity. I don’t know what to tell you about these activities except getting ready to move brings out odd parts of my personality.

What I can tell you is that while I was on my old blog, I came across a photo of myself that made my eyes go cartoon-buggy. It was of Nate and me, taken in Sweden in 2006, and what I could not stop looking at was my face. It was so different! Now, I would have told you I knew I had aged in the past ten years, but damn. I suppose what future me would probably say to present me about past me to make me feel better is that over the last decade, I have learned useful life skills, am more at peace with myself than I was then, am more productive as a human being, and have stronger relationships and all that. Which is true. But still, my face!

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Not that it will mean as much to you to see it, but if I were you, I would probably want to see the picture. We were babies!

Pondering my face changing over time reminds me of something else that’s been on my mind lately. Right before Vivi turned five, she lost her first tooth. Granted, it was a long time coming and happened earlier than usual because of an injury to it, but that experience must have burned in my brain that turning five equals teeth falling out. Charlie will turn five this summer, and of all the changes that have happened lately or I am anticipating will happen soon (the haircuts, kindergarten, gigantic puppy-sized feet, etc.), the change I’m looking forward to least in Charlie is the arrival of big teeth. Perhaps it’s because she’s had these cute little teeth since she was a baby, but losing teeth is the most literal shedding of babyhood I can imagine.

Putting aside my truly awful childhood haircuts for a second (but really, let’s also get back to those at a later date), have a look at the two photos below so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about.

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c. 1984. Dimple!
Me_1987
c. 1987. I look like I am wearing chiclets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know, I know. We don’t have to say any more on this topic. But if you see me posting more pictures than a sane human should of their daughter’s mouth, now you’ll at least know why.

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It was after I typed the above title for this post that I recalled a few friends recommending a book with the same title, which I must have stowed away for safe keeping in my brain until now. Here’s part of the synopsis from Amazon:

Cutting Teeth is about the complex dilemmas of early midlife—the vicissitudes of friendship, of romantic and familial love, and of sex. It’s about class tension, status hunger, and the unease of being in possession of life’s greatest bounty while still wondering, is this as good as it gets?

Oh boy. I plan to buy that book soon because that just about says it all, and so much better than I could if I continued rambling on. I don’t wonder if this is as good as it gets because I know it is, and it’s always been enough for me, but I do think moving to a new city sparks a sense of unease. Or maybe unease sparks a move to a new city. Hmm. I wish I had a way to wrap this post up with a tidy ending, but the best I can do for you is say that if you’re going through complex dilemmas of early midlife, why don’t you come sit over here by me and soothe your gums with a glass of whiskey? Cutting teeth is a bitch.

a good woman is easy to find

I forgot what day it was again today, not once but about seventeen times. Selling your house is like that period of time when you’ve just arrived home with your newborn. Stuff is happening all around you, and you’re still getting just as many loving calls and emails as usual, if not more, but suddenly you can’t remember when and how you used to interact with the outside world—or fold laundry or take a shower, for that matter. Oh, and also, a lot of shit is involved.

Last night I took a long bath, and it was the best decision of my life. Really, I think a long bath will solve most of my problems, if only because I realize in the taking of the bath that I have none. Not any REAL problems, anyway. I lay there in the scalding water until my fingers were way past prunes, and I poked at my scars and softening belly, and eventually I sort of forgot that I am a human with worries and relished in the luxury of the present.

This time, I even cut my toenails in the tub—now you know it all! as my family says—and then went rummaging in my pedicure bag and discovered an unopened sample of Burt’s Bees foot cream with coconut oil. I squirted half the tube onto my palm and slathered that goo all over my feet, then stuffed them into cotton socks. Afterward, I announced to Nate that I will take a bath each night this entire week. “Like an old lady,” he quipped. Damn straight.

But truly, there are some things women over 50 have figured out, and baths are probably on the list. Let’s add foot cream while we’re at it. I am friends with several older women, and I have benefitted from their wisdom countless times, particularly in moments like these when the contents of all my drawers are literally and figuratively being dumped out on the floor.

One of my friends is a professional home stager whom I befriended when she led our church’s auction and I was a volunteer. She was the first person I called when we decided to sell our house, and next to that bath last night, it was my best decision in a long while. She introduced us to our realtor, a gem of a gal, and now these two ladies are doing the heavy lifting of helping us prepare our house for sale. They know all about things I shy away from, like buying things and painting things and moving things from one room to another. You just would not believe the work that can be done with two extra women around. I have WIVES, y’all!

And if that weren’t enough, I got four phone calls and two emails today from friends and family offering support and encouragement to get through what lies ahead. So what I came here to tell you is that just as a good rug really ties a room together, a couple of good women tie your life together. I used to be one of those girls who claimed to find it easier to be friends with men; now that I’m in my mid-thirties, many of those fun but shallow male relationships have faded away to reveal an ocean of female love and support. Women friends are where it’s at. I wish you all the riches their endearment offers. Amen and happy Mother’s Day. xoxo

a good woman is easy to find - heirloom mothering
I love this picture of my grandmother with her eighth baby. Eight children and yet she still managed a fur collar and lipstick and lovely hair. At almost 90, she is still a class act who is full of fantastic advice.

Medium & red lipstick, inception-style

Did you read Robinson Meyer’s article about Medium in the Atlantic? I liked it, especially this paragraph:

“What is web writing in 2015?…Does its writer work for a big website like BuzzFeed...? It’s worth asking the question, because of course — of course — they don’t blog. Blogging — I mean, honey, don’t even say the word. No one actually blogs anymore, except maybe undergrads on their first week of study abroad. 2015 has been, so far, dismal for the art.”

I’ve been feeling this way about blogging as an art form for a while. When I stopped posting on The Lone Home Ranger and started posting here, I chafed against the idea that it was a new blog. In fact, I didn’t even call it a blog and still use the more generic ‘website,’ even though — minus the lack of advertising and side-bar buttons — it perfectly fits the blog definition. I can’t tell you why exactly. It’s not that I’ve stopped following blogs; I haven’t, and I love the blogs I follow now more than ever (with the exception of my all-time favorite, Becky’s terrific blog, which she stopped writing and which I still pine for often). It might just be that I’ve noticed free blogs are lagging when it comes to looking artistic.

I had heard about Medium a few times and seen Lindsey’s post last summer, but I’m not an early adopter so I tucked it away for later. After reading that Atlantic article a few weeks ago, I decided to play with Medium’s tools. For my first try, I revamped the look of my snow essay (n.b.: I’ll save you some reading time if you’ve read it before; the words are the same). I loved how intuitive it was to use, but what really sold me was how much BIGGER and easier the font is to read. Believe me, if I could figure out how to make my font bigger on the free WordPress platform, I would (so far, no dice).

When I found myself headed to my ‘website’ to dish girly details about my experience with red lipstick, I gravitated to Medium again instead. I had some pictures to share, and I love the way pictures can be embedded in new ways there. I’m not sure yet what that means. I like sharing the “what I like” lists, and you seem to like reading them; maybe what I’ll do is keep posting those here and the “story-like” posts will go on Medium. Maybe.

What I’ve got for you today is a sort of mise en abyme: I’m using this post to tell you about the post on Medium, where I tell you about yet a THIRD post that’s up today on Literary Mama. If this confuses you, just head on over to LM to read my After Page One submission. But if you’re as intrigued about Medium as I am and/or are interested in finding out more about how I learned to apply red lipstick, head to Medium as well. And if you’re feeling up to it after all that, let me know what you think of Medium!

Hand-me-down Vera Wang and red lips. Who is that lady?
Hand-me-down Vera Wang and red lips. Who is that lady?

being here

being here - heirloom mothering
You’ve got mail.

Nearly two years have gone by since I wrote on my old blog about not fitting in up in Beantown. Looking back on those words, I can happily report some things have changed, like this: “They way they chat with each other, their sociability, everything is slightly altered. I often feel as though I’m missing some kind of non-verbal cue during conversations with strangers. Interesting but exhausting too.”

being here - heirloom mothering
Digging a snow cave with Daddy

After living here four years, I am fluent in Mass-speak. I don’t quite think like a local but I at least get them, and I can even dish out the ‘tude on occasion. I can’t adequately express how comforting that can be. An intriguing side effect of this knowledge is that I now relate to my grandfather, who’s from up here, on another level. When I was visiting them in Florida last week, I made soup for my grandparents. Carrying the jars out to the garage freezer with me, he says, “What am I supposed to do with all this soup?” and without skipping a beat, I snap back, “Eat it,” in a way I never would have before. He laughed! Who knew?

being here - heirloom mothering
The forecast is snow. Forevah.

My tolerance for snow is remarkable, if I do say so myself, which is good because it appears we are getting MORE this weekend, Lawdy be. When the first big snow dump came two weeks ago, I took the kids sledding by myself, something I couldn’t have imagined doing three years ago. Back then I remember watching a dad at the top of the hill let his tiny kids go down on their own and thinking, I will never do that. But now I do it too, and I find myself cracking jokes with the other parents, laughing as we “bowl for teens” who are so busy chatting at the bottom that they can’t seem to be bothered to look up.

being here - heirloom mothering

On the other hand, I will never adjust to some aspects of life here, like this: “People are pugnacious in an almost laughable way—picture Mark Wahlberg talking to animals, and you get it. Sometimes I LOL at how it seems like they are all looking to have their next fight.”

I could have written that today, y’all. Here’s a story I am always telling. I encounter one stop sign five days a week; it’s at a busy intersection where I need to take a left and usually have to wait a bit. I’d say roughly a third of the time I get honked at, and I mean cars can be whizzing by in both directions, or traffic can be at a dead stop, but someone will still lay on the horn. It is all I can do, Reader, not to jump out of my car and say, “WHAT?!” Of course I won’t, but…

Back when Nate and I graduated college, we left behind the close-mindedness, zealotry, and stubborn clinging to the past that we thought were prevalent in the antiquated south. Together we fled for the progressive great beyond of anywhere but there. I missed my family but not my roots. I didn’t identify myself as a southerner, and I longed to find out whether I belonged somewhere else.

When I left town, a central conflict of my life melted away; the mortification I felt about southerners’ attitudes about race and class gradually lifted to reveal the warm and loving embrace of no-nonsense Midwestern ideals. Over the next decade, we moved to Washington, DC, to England and back, and on to Massachusetts. Rather than formulating a new identity, I discovered that by leaving the south, I became more southerner than ever. I hadn’t fit in down south, but I didn’t exactly blend in with the north either.

These days, while I’m not exactly the Prodigal Daughter, I can see myself returning home again. I surprise even myself by loving southern charms I had once forsaken: humility, patience, charity, preservation of history (& food!), and frugality. And somehow, even with the roughly 4 feet of packed snow out my back window, I can see myself staying here too. Maybe to get along anywhere, all I need to do is persevere with humor and (awkward) grace. What I’ve learned in this experience of attempted transfiguration is that I shouldn’t to try to make them love me. If I accept even the troubled parts of myself, I’ll love wherever I live.

being here: an unlikely love story - heirloom mothering

let’s hang out in 2015

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

My local friend and blogging guru Christine Koh posted a list of ways to keep in touch with her in 2015. Since my resolution this year is to have more deep connections (both on the interwebs and in person), I loved her post and decided to emulate it, as I often do with her creations. I am especially fond of the group of writers I’ve been conversing with lately, so I hope I continue to build relationships online this year.

Here are some ways we can interact:

Bloglovin: I’m new to this way of managing blogs. I used my old blogroll previously, but I like the idea of organizing and adding blogs in a more user-friendly way. So far I love it.

Instagram: I love photography. To me, Instagram is the best of Facebook. But I think you still need a smartphone or iPad to use it; I hope they’ll change that this year. I keep my account private because of a recent string of following attempts that seemed less than credible, but if you’re not a robot, you’re in!

Twitter: Like I said in my last post, I think great conversations and connections are possible there.

Pinterest: I love it for many reasons, like organizing writing-related inspiration and recipes.

Coffee?: If you’re local, maybe we can get together in person. Drop me a line so we can swap emails.