the Sunday of summer

I’ve written before about the word “liminal” and about how it speaks to me.  Now we enter the most liminal of times, at least as far as I’m concerned: August.  We turn towards the fall, towards new school years and new beginnings, time marks another year past.  I have often thought it is not an accident that I’m born during this time, which I often experience with tears in my eyes, a faint sense of dread in my heart, and time’s drumbeat in my ears.

That’s truer than ever this year.  For some reason, summer’s impending close is hitting me harder than usual this year.  I think that’s probably because this is likely the last summer both kids will live with us, and we’ll luxuriate in slow mornings and dinners on the porch.  These days are painfully numbered.  I have been writing about – obsessing about, let’s be honest – time’s irrevocable forward march since Grace and Whit were small.  But this obsession has roared back into my mind in the last few days and weeks.

All of this is at it should be.  I love my young adult children.  I honestly adore them more with every passing year, and thus far there hasn’t been a year of parenthood that hasn’t been better than the last.  That said, it’s undeniable that something is ending, that the period of family life where we’re all together draws to a close.

My previous post was called “the ache and the beauty,” and if there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that those two things are inextricable from each other.  But all the knowing in the world doesn’t insulate me from the pain of that ache, from the echoing sorrow it brings.  Ahhhh … I know.  I’m so upbeat, on this summer August morning when it’s hot as hell on the Massachusetts coast, where I got Dunkin Donuts with Grace and can hear Whit’s alarm going off down the hall.

Be here now.

I got temporary tattoos that say that, and I look at those words on my wrist now, daily.  I’ve always said that if I get a real tattoo, ever, it will be those three words on the inside of my wrist.

Onward.  As the days grow shorter – I can definitely sense a different texture in the light, a sense of something gathering to its end – and the approach of Real Life grows more clamoring.  I don’t know how to handle the sadness that these developments bring, but I’m old enough now that I recognize its coming.  I try every year not to let my preemptive sadness about what’s ending occlude my last days inside its joy.  I will try, again, anew.

the ache and the beauty

On Mondays and Wednesdays I walk Phoebe to doggie daycare a mile from our house, which makes me think of why we live where we live. Reminder: Matt and I moved into our house 21 years ago expecting it to be a 2-3 year house before we moved to a suburb. We never did that. Our house is small and urban but it has worked for us, and mornings like today I recall why.

As I walked home from dropping Phoebe off, I glanced down a side street to where Whit played little league for many years. Suddenly those years – of long games as the June sun set, of Whit’s growing up into leadership positions and playing in the all-star game, of #14, of the mercy rule, felt so animate I almost couldn’t breathe. I moved around a lot as a kid and swore to give my own children a more settled childhood. And wow have I done that: same house from birth through high school and beyond.

That means that there are ghosts and memories everywhere, and wherever I look I’m reminded of both the ache and the beauty of this life. My children as they were exist in shadows around the edges of who they are, and I’m grateful and wistful in equal measure. Oh, life. Can’t have the joy without the loss, that I know. This is a bittersweet time, with graduations and endings coming fast and furious. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes the other day by my teacher @daniwriter, “…beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” – Annie Dillard. In my deepest core I know I was there. And I am thankful for that.

Captive on a carousel of time

Celebrated my 26th (belated 25th) reunion from college last weekend.  How is that possible?  We just graduated. Above is my favorite photo of hundreds from the weekend.  Arms around each other.  Walking away. The woman on my left is my roommate and was one of our bridesmaids.  The woman on my right is Whit’s godmother.  How lucky I am to still count as dear the women I met in the fall of 1992.

Saw a Harvard grad walking by our house this morning in cap and gown, on her way to commencement.

It reminded me of all the years I wrote about commencement, about this bittersweet season of endings and beginnings.  I wrote this in 2017, when both children graduated from the school they’d been at since pre-K.  They both left that year.  I remember sitting with all four grandparents in two different gyms for both kids on the same day.  Four months later both of our dad would be gone.  The breathtaking impact of the fall of 2017 is still sinking in.

But today I’m thinking of endings and beginnings, of how we say goodbye to years as the world bursts into bloom, of how my soul still functions on the school year calendar.  Grace is home from college, Whit has one more week, and then it’s summer.  Time is flying faster and faster, which is both the world’s tritest cliche and its deepest truth.

*** also, I am aware of what a huge privilege it is to write these words and to mourn time’s passage with my healthy, living children.***

Words from 2017 and 2013, still true now:

Tomorrow, both children graduate – Whit from sixth grade and Grace from eighth.  At the school they’ve both been at since they were four, sixth grade and eighth grade are inflection points (the other is twelfth grade), so they each have graduation ceremonies.  As you can probably imagine, I’m perpetually in tears these days and expecting an emotional day tomorrow.  I did my last pickup at the gym. I packed the last lunch of my career as a mother. Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  The lasts are coming thick and fast right now, and I’ll be honest, I’m trying to catch my breath and keep my balance.

This time of year always feels this way to me, limned with endings and loss despite its perch at the moment that my favorite season, summer, bursts into reality.  I have written a lot about how this season of ends and beginnings feels for me.  This year the complicated emotions are stronger than ever, with both children moving on (and in particular with Grace leaving for boarding school).

There’s something about the word, commencement, that captures all the conflicting emotions that are bound up in this moment. This moment every year, but perhaps, most of all, this moment in my life right now.  Grace and Whit are, as I’ve written before, taking flight.  I’m so proud I ache, but I’m also keenly aware of something big coming to an end.

So much radiance.  So much sorrow.  Inextricably wound together, twisted through every hour. Tomorrow, we commence.  Onto the next thing, into the onrush of time, keenly aware of all that’s glorious and all that’s lost, always, at the same time.

***

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.

 

Dad

My father has been on my mind this weekend.  He’s always on my mind, truth be told, but in particular this weekend.  For two discrete reasons.

The first is George Strait’s song “Love Without End, Amen.”  I have been listening to a new playlist of music and this is on it.  The song reminds me powerfully of my dad.  Not because he listened to country.  He didn’t (his tastes ran to sea shanties and Kings College Choir Christmas carols).  But because of the line about a father’s love being a love without end.  Amen.  And I feel so overwhelmingly grateful to have been parented by a father so steadfast, so loyal.  A father whose love was truly without end.  The part that is remarkable is that my father’s own parenting was, I think it’s fair to say, iffy.  And he was one of four boys who grew up in a deeply masculine environment.  My grandparents weren’t sexist at all – in fact my grandmother was one of the original feminist influences on me – but they were traditional. And Dad turned it around.  He raised two girls to be anything they wanted to be, with the firm conviction they could.  The only time I remember him doubting me, ever, is when I said I wanted to be on the Supreme Court but thought I might skip law school.  He looked at me with a bemused expression and averred that “that one might be tricky.”

I also keep thinking about something I have heard – I can’t recall the source or the exact attribution, but the gist is the same – that an adult woman’s self esteem has a lot to do with her father.  If that’s true, then damn my sister and I were lucky to have had this man at our back.  He had high expectations – recall his first words to me upon learning I graduated magna cum laude: “what happened to summa?” – but man, he was there.

The second reason is a quote I read on Instagram from Roald Dahl.  “The more risks you allow your children to take, the better they learn to look after themselves.”  The quote is by Roald Dahl and it was Alexandra Purdy who shared it.  The story this quote makes me think about is one I know I’ve told before.  In sixth grade, I had to bring in a note from home saying I did not need to wear a helmet when the class went ice skating.   Mum was busy so I had to ask Dad to write the note.  He looked at me with a gleam in his eye and proceeded to uncap the fountain pen he always used.  “Recognizing that risk is an inherent part of life …” the note began.  He refused to write me a regular permission note.  I was horrified for weeks.  And now the adult me thinks about that moment all the time.

I have the sense that sometimes people think we are a little comfortable with and honest about risk with our children.  I’ll never forget the other parents who told me I was wrong when, holding a 4 year old Whit on my lap to have blood drawn, I said “yes” when he asked me if it was going to hurt.  I know there were some who could not believe we took Grace and Whit to Israel (and to Palestine) when they were 8 and 10.  Others who thought it was insane that 2 days after getting his driver’s license, we let Whit drive to the Cape.  The story with my Dad that I recall is hoisting Whit up the mast on our sailboat to fix a broken masthead light.  I remember that Whit was nervous, and asked me if this would be scary.  I looked him right in the eye and said, “Yes.  But I’ll be right here and you’re safe.”

I told someone recently that the most instrumental influence on the way I parent is my father’s belief that the whole enterprise is 95% nature.  I could not agree more.  But reading Dahl’s quote made me feel comforted, and seen.  In closing, a picture of Dad at 18 in which I see so much of Whit.  Fitting that both of the photos of him are driving sailboats, which is where he was happiest.

 

…the hard roads are the ones worth choosing

Been thinking about my father lately.  Even more than usual.  Been listening to Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over, where this line jumps out …

…the hard roads are the ones worth choosing
Some day we’ll look back and smile
And know it was worth every mile.

These lines remind me so much of Dad.  He felt firmly that value was correlated with difficulty.  I remember a conversation with him about this and I made the argument that just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s the best.  He looked at me quizzically and clearly disagreed.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because I think in my heart of hearts I do agree with him.

Just thinking about Dad, and hearing those words, and remembering this beautiful view from my wonderful visit with Grace this weekend.