Transitions, Montana, and chocolate chip pancakes

A week after the kids got out of school, we went to Montana.  It was most of our first time out of Massachusetts and first time on an airplane since February 2020.  It was our first family vacation since March 2019.  It was really, really overdue and extremely, impossible-to-convey wonderful.

When we booked this trip in the winter, I wasn’t sure how covid would unfurl, and staying in the US seemed wise.

It. Was. Magic.  Wow.  The staff at E Bar L were remarkable, the other guests were warm and interesting, the day had the perfect mix of organization and downtime.  Matt and I have decided we have to be more proactive about getting away since it really does help with being in “real life.” We were not riders before, and they were patient with us.

The food was amazing.  The campfires were wonderful.  The night skies were breathtaking.  Whit shot a 20 (out of 25) one day on the skeet range.  Grace had a friend from high school working on the staff so hung out with her.  The weather was cool which was a lovely respite from the Boston heat.  We slept more soundly than we have in a long time.

This is a time of transition for us all.  Transition from school to summer, transition from high school to college, transition to children who are adults.  We are taking our masks off, getting back to the office and onto airplanes.  My mother is moving out of the home she and Dad lived in for 30 years.  This upcoming weekend I’ll mark 25 years since college graduation with my best friends (our ersatz reunion replaces an actual one, as the university cancelled reunions this year).  The endings come fast and furious, thought they are always paired with beginnings.  I find myself nostalgic and hopeful at the same time.

Our children are young adults now and I feel so fortunate that I so thoroughly enjoy their company.  They make me laugh, they make me think, they make me proud.  They are independent and resourceful and I love this stage of parenting.  Our week in Montana felt like a celebration of where we are right now, and if you know me at all you know I’m big on marking and honoring what is real.  Here we are.  I’m the shortest person in the family.  The days that we all live under one roof are over.  There is no question Matt and I are in midlife.  But I love it.  And wow, am I grateful.

Endings and beginnings

This time of year is always bittersweet for me, never more than right now as Grace prepares to leave for college.  I took 11 boxes of LEGOs to their nursery school yesterday, and being in the building brought back such vivid memories.  It was – and is – a truly magical place where Grace and Whit were privileged to begin their school days.  I cannot say enough wonderful things about Cambridge Ellis School and we were lucky to be parents there for 5 years (3 for Grace, 2 for Whit).

Being there yesterday thrust me right into the whitewater of memory, where then and now collapsed, where the past feels animate, where I can’t believe how much time has passed.  This happens to me a lot, and this time of year particularly.  I’ve written about it before – about the word commencement, about how as the world flowers we wind down school years, about the paradox that’s contained in the word “commencement.”  We end and begin, at the same time.  When children – or ourselves – graduate, yes.  But also every day.  The words I wrote years ago, which all still resonate, are below.

Perhaps I’m particularly oriented this way right now because of having spent weeks helping Mum pack up from the house she and my father shared for 30 years.  Walking into that house is like walking into the past and I’ve spent almost a month marinating in those memories, in old photos, laughing and crying.  Photo above is one I had never seen but I found in the last few weeks.  There’s an undeniable ending as Mum sells the house, but a beginning too: her new life, hopefully less encumbered, more comfortable, ready to move forward.  I’m happy for her.

Four years ago, both of our children graduated on the same day.  From 6th and 8th grade respectively, from the school where they had both started as 4 year olds.  All four of our parents were there.  It was an emotional day, one of farewell and celebration.  I can’t help but remember it now, as we careen towards Grace’s graduation from high school (which, thankfully, we can attend in person!).  Yesterday and a lifetime ago.  As all experiences in life seem to feel.  As I get older, the weight of memory is heavier, which is a blessing – so much joy – and a challenge – so many things to mourn – at the same time.

Endings and beginnings.  Here we go.

**

Years ago I described the fleeting nature of time as the black hole around which my whole life circles, the wound that is at the center of all my writing, all my feeling, all my living.  Certainly that seems to be borne out by what it is I writeover and over again.  At the very midpoint of the year, the sunniest, longest days, I find myself battling an encroaching sorrow, an irrefutable sense of farewell.  The proof is in my archives.

The world bursts into riotous bloom, almost as though it is showing off its fecundity.  The days are swollen and beautiful, the air soft, the flowering trees spectacular.  The children gleefully wear shorts to school, the sidewalks are dusted with pollen and petals, and we round the curve of another year.  We start counting down school days, we say goodbye to beloved babysitters who are graduating from college, and I find myself blinking back tears.

Every year, I’m pulled into the whitewater between beginnings and endings that defines this season.  I can barely breathe.

It’s all captured in the event that so many of us attend, year after year, at this time: commencement.  It was my own commencements that marked this season, for years: from grade school, high school, college, graduate school.  And then there was a time when, though I wasn’t personally attending commencements, I felt their presence, sensed the ebb and flow of the school year.  It seems that my spirit and the very blood in my veins will always throb to the cadence of the school year.  And now it is my children who commence, who close a year and begin another, wearing too-long hair and legs, vaguely tentative smiles, and white.

Commencement.  Isn’t this word simply a more elegant way of describing what might be the central preoccupation of my life?  You end and you begin, on the very same day.  You let go of something and while that I-am-falling feeling never goes away, you trust that you’ll land.  And you do, on the doorstep of another beginning, a new phase, the next thing.

No matter how many times I’m caught from the freefall of farewell by a new beginning, though, I still feel the loss.  As much as my head understands that endings are required for them to be beginnings, my heart mourns what is ending.  That a seam of sorrow runs through my every experience is undeniable; it may sound depressing, but I genuinely don’t experience it that way.  It is just part of how I’m wired, and it’s never closer to the surface than right now, as this school year winds down, as we celebrate the beginning that’s wrapped in the end, as we commence.

These are the days of miracle and wonder

These are the days of miracle and wonder.

So much is changing.  Big and small.  Grace is getting ready to go to college.  Mum is moving out of the house she and Dad lived in for 30 years.  Whit is going to have his driver’s license soon.  We are thinking of moving a few towns over.  Matt and I are hanging on, holding hands as we navigate these transitions.  And I am so, so grateful for that hand-holding, much as I sometimes demonstrate irritation more than thankfulness.

A few things have spoken to me lately, amid the swirl of life right now.

Old photos of Dad as we unclutter at Mum’s.  In the photo above I feel like I’m looking at Whit.  I never saw it before!

So many wonderful old photos of Hilary and me as children, often with Mum and Dad.  I’m sharing them from time to time on Instagram, and one of my favorites is below.

Thank God for the Poets – Margaret Renkl’s beautiful op-ed in the New York Times made me both cry and feel like singing.  Her book, Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, is among my favorites of recent years.  This piece, like a few others before it, was sent to me by no fewer than 10 different people in my life, which made me so glad.  It’s like when people send me photos of the sunsets from where they are.  Small gestures like that make me feel both seen and connected, part of the grand human experiment, the pageant of this life.

Which is so full of both suffering and glory, of loss and love.  I wrote a text to a few friends recently that parenting was one long series of goodbyes, suffused with love.  And it is.  I think always of my friend Elizabeth’s annual Christmas card tag line: “an endless alleluia.”

Life is.  Now. Then. Always.  How lucky we are.

One year in: lamentation and hope

Just revisited this post which was almost exactly a year ago.  The longest and shortest year of my life.  Time is flying and crawling.  Was then and still is.  I find it remarkable that at the end of March 2020 I described hope.  I feel hope now and it feels new.  I do feel like I’m hitting the wall these last few weeks – I don’t know precisely why, but probably the accumulation of these fast-and-slow weeks.  Anyway.  No neat message. Nothing specific to say. All of that is still true.  But, also, still here.  And hoping you are too.

***

I am still here.  I hope you are too.  This is a strange, echoing, eerie time, one of lamentation and hope, one of fear and frustration, one that is, for me, about most of all a profound confrontation with the unknown.  I really don’t have anything to say.  But I want to be here.  I’m hungrily devouring anything anyone’s sharing about their experience of this time out of time. I’m curious about what you’re feeling, thinking, reading, eating.  We are all at home, and I am certain that in the future one of the themes of writing about this time will be empty nesters suddenly finding themselves with full nests again.

That is surely the silver lining of this, if there is one: prodigious amounts of family time.  Both Grace and Whit have classes most days (but not all) and they are doing a good job managing their schedules.  I am adamantly not a homeschooler and I feel grateful that they are old enough to handle this themselves.  Both Matt and I are working at home.  I quipped in the first week that I must be one of the only people experiencing this quarantine as MORE people in their office.  I have three other people in my office all day, every day.  It’s noisier and messier than I’m used to.  We are going through food and laundry at a record pace.

And we are so replete with blessings, I know that.  There are more ways than I can possibly count that this could be worse.  So far the four of us, and my mother, who lives nearby and with whom we are practicing social distancing but still in close touch, are all safe.  We are able to work from here.  I am so, so lucky.  We all know it.  I even had a moment last week of knowledge that there will come a time when I miss these days.  I told Matt and about it and he laughed at me because it was such a classic thing to say.  That’s just how I live in this world: shadowed always by the anticipation of loss and of missing.  But I tried to channel that into being here now.

It’s not easy.  I feel a huge amount of fear.  What does this mean, in every way?  What will the world look like “after”?  Will there even BE an after?  I am buoyed by my close friends and family and actually feel MORE in touch with a lot of people than I have in a long time.  But every day, multiple times a day, the questions start to come.  They wake me up in the middle of the night.  There is so much that is unknown, and that’s always been the hardest thing for me.

So I don’t have a neat message here.  I don’t have anything specific I want to say.  I would love to hear what’s on your mind, your kindle, your TV, your heart, your table.  I really would.  Stay safe.  Stay home.

Around here lately

Update from this part of the woods.

These are long dark days, there’s no question about that. But I can see the light staying longer every afternoon and vaccines are happening and I can’t help feeling some measure of optimism mixed in with my exhaustion. Photo by Crate Escape, where Phoebe is currently enjoying her second day. She LOVES it and we are grateful to have such a wonderful place in our neighborhood.

Grace is going to class with the windows open and Whit is doing drivers Ed with the car windows down. It had been very cold the last few days. These feel like such 2021 details and I’m hugely conscious of our good fortune that she’s in class and he’s taking driving lessons at all!

I’m dealing with a creaky hip and seized-up back (middle age is so glamorous) and Matt is doing great. Time is flying even as it inches forward, groundhog-day-like. Phoebe brings us all so much joy and I can barely remember life before her.

How is your February going? #everydaylife #february