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.


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.


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.

Happy birthday, MTR

Matt’s birthday is Sunday.  This hasn’t been our best year, I’m not going to lie.  Lots of moving pieces.  Lots of time together.  But we are still here.  We are mostly still laughing.  We have a new dog.  We have two teenagers, one of whom is going to college.  We are talking about a large renovation (rather than a move).  Our lives seem to prove, over and over again, that the only constant is change.  It’s not easy, but it’s not dull, and I think that’s the goal, ultimately.

Matt, you know I like to read poetry (you learned the hard way that I don’t love Emily Dickinson) and Wendell Berry is one of my favorites.  This poem makes me think of us and the frontier ahead.  There is darkness and change, but there is also joy and light, I know it, I know it, I know it.

Here are photos of you with our beloveds.  And the last photo, which is messy and blurry, kind of represents what things feel like right now.

Happy birthday.  I love you.

They sit together on the porch, the dark
Almost fallen, the house behind them dark.
Their supper done with, they have washed and dried
The dishes–only two plates now, two glasses,
Two knives, two forks, two spoons–small work for two.
She sits with her hands folded in her lap,
At rest. He smokes his pipe. They do not speak,
And when they speak at last it is to say
What each one knows the other knows. They have
One mind between them, now, that finally
For all its knowing will not exactly know
Which one goes first through the dark doorway, bidding
Goodnight, and which sits on a while alone.
~Wendell Berry “They Sit Together on the Porch”

Happy birthday

Dear Matt,

Saturday is your birthday.  It’s a big one.  50.  We didn’t know we’d be spending it in quarantine, but here we are.  One thing we’ve established is you love data, so a few numbers:

We met when you were 27.  That means that we’ve known each other almost half of your life.  More than half of mine.  We have celebrated your 30th, your 40th, and now your 50th together.  Also, the years in between :).  In our almost 20 years of marriage (9/9, baby, another celebration that likely will be a little more home-bound than we anticipated) I feel confident saying we have not spent as much time together as we have in the last 2.5 months.  I don’t mean in a 2.5 month period.  I mean AT ALL.

It has been a lot.  It’s been occasionally totally heinous.  And it’s been often really wonderful.

I thought I’d just write down some reflections and memories of this time, which are already turning into a brightly colored slurry in my mind.

We go for morning walks a lot, earlier and earlier as I return to my crack-of-dawn wake-up time (I went through about 6 weeks of sleeping until 7/730 which was frankly heavenly but I think my body is now well and fully rested and I get up at 4 or 5 something most days).  You, I now know, wake up at 5 something no matter what.  You are just an early bird.  And you’re wiped out by 9:30 or 10:00 most nights.  We also walk most nights after dinner.  It’s a mark of how long this has been going on that just last night I realized early in quarantine our after-dinner walks were in the dark.  Now they’re in full sunshine.  I need sunglasses.  We admire the turkeys and the bird song and the calls of geese (more in March and April than now) remind you of growing up in Vermont.  Whit asked me last night if I was going to continue my “avid walking” once quarantine wound down and I admit I sort of hope so.  It’s nice to get out.  It’s also not going to be long til we are home alone (the empty next is certainly on the horizon) and walking is a nice thing to do together that we both enjoy.

You are really good at cards.  When we play family Hearts you inevitably shoot the moon at least once and almost always do it successfully.  You also dominated our first family Monopoly game, though as you know I think that one is more about luck than skill.

You have returned with gusto to running, which I love seeing.  You take great joy from morning runs along the river and it makes me happy to see that.  Bravo.

You can be a dog with a bone when you have a point in mind, returning again and again to talking about it.  But I admire your willingness to listen to points of view other than your own, and have always appreciated your interest in an open conversation and debate.  This reminds me of my father.  In this pandemic your propensity for the data behind a situation has come to the fore and I have learned so much from you.  Digging into the details of a situation is a way to understand it, often to demystify it, and you insist, always, that perspectives be backed with data and not merely emotion.  I love that about you.

You have started reading Russian literature.  This one I didn’t foresee, honestly.  You read The Master and Margarita and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.  You’re now reading Crime and Punishment.  Your reading list puts mine (heavy on Grisham and Baldacci) to shame these days.

Your favorite joke, when you are late to a zoom, is “I’m sorry!  My plane landed late.”  Was funny the first time I heard it through our thin walls.  The tenth time, still funny but … less so.  Once again: we are spending a LOT of time together.  We have lunch together most days, dinner together always, and I can hear you in your “office” (the family room, where you’ve set up a card table with a nice view out the window) from mine.  It. Is. A. Lot. Of. Time. Together.

The beard.  I’ll just leave that here.

You zoom with your mother in Florida and walk with mine in Cambridge and I have never felt more fully that we are family.  Our fathers are both animate in our lives, and we talk about them and remember them often. The experience of going through the fall of 2017 together has bound us in ways I’m still understanding. I feel the sturdiness of our family underneath me and around me and while it occasionally makes me want to scream it is mostly a source of support and comfort.  Thank you.

I’ve always admired and esteemed your bond with our children, and that’s only more true these days.  Whit cuts your hair and you guys call each other “homeslice.”  You and Grace have a close relationship and I hope you’ll go running together soon.  As has always been true, in our family teasing = love, but we laugh together and often.  I hope we never stop.

I love you,


PS all photos from quarantine