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

Dear Grace and Whit

Dear Grace and Whit,

For the last week or two I’ve been thinking about the things I hope you’ll remember from this time.  About what I hope you’ve learned, or had reinforced, during these surprising and disorienting months at home.

Family is everything.  Your roots are deep.  We have sat down for family dinner for 60 plus days in a row.  Without fail.  We ordered in once, but have cooked every single other night.  Family dinner is sacrosanct to us now.  We laugh, we talk, we give each other “compliments,” sometimes we’re snippy.  I have never been unclear about the fact that the three of you, you and your father, are my absolute priority in this world.  There’s something holy about the four of us being together, just us, and that’s always been how I feel.  In a very real way this time has been a tremendous gift to me, found time together, and I hope you have been reminded of how strong our bonds are and of how firmly you are supported here.  I know we are all sick of each other.  But we’re also so outrageously fortunate to have each other, and I hope that rises to the top of your memories from this time.

Do the right thing.  It hasn’t been easy, staying at home, but here we are.  Putting the greater good ahead of our individual needs is without question the right move (frankly, always) and in this case that’s what we’ve done.  I know it’s sometimes frustrating particularly because you see other people making different choices.  But that’s our family’s priority.  As things shift, so will our willingness to tolerate risk – that’s already beginning.  I know you’re excited. But it’s important to note that for the duration of the Stay at Home order that’s what we did.  Period. We aren’t above the rules, and neither are you.

As I’ve said a million times, how you act is more important than what you say.  That’s been clear in this pandemic.

Find something to laugh about.  The humor that has come up during this time has saved me, honestly.  I love the memes, the videos, the skits.  It is possible to find humor even in a dark situation, and to do it in a respectful way.  I firmly believe that.

Keep your loved ones close.  I think you’ve seen me connecting in a renewed way with those I love most. It has been very clarifying, actually, to see who I’m drawn to in this time.  It is possible to be in close touch with people even when you don’t see them every day. Make the effort. It’s worth it.

Pay attention. The world is so beautiful. I know you get sick of my rhapsodizing about the spring blossoms and the bird song, but I swear, there’s something so uplifting about going outside and witnessing it for yourself.  And yes, you can pull your mask down to smell the lilacs.

Do your work.  Dad and I are both still working.  Hard.  So are you both.  I’m proud to see how you have both engaged in this new model of education.  I know it’s not always comfortable, and it’s far from ideal, but you’ve both impressed me with your resilience and willingness to leap in.  Thank you.

I adore you both.  I hope you knew that before, and I really hope you know it now.


Thoughts on risk

I know I’ve shared the story before of when, as a sixth grader, I needed a parental note to ice skate at school without a helmet.  My father wrote a long, fountain-penned note that began, “recognizing that risk is an inherent part of life.”  I wrote a whole piece about this once.  I was absolutely horrified and that clause became one we tossed around jokingly in our family often.

I think it in my head a lot these days.  I also went looking this morning for an essay by an English professor who died this weekend, and I stumbled onto the document that Dad gave me when I left for college.  I haven’t read through these 14 pages in many years.  I did so with tears in my eyes, hearing Dad’s voice in my head.  What a gift: I feel like he’s in these pages, animate.  There are many sections that made me gasp and try to photograph them.  But there’s one that I want to share today.

Be at risk

Life is risky; but in the risk also lies most of the interest.  Our dearest desire in life is to feel fully alive and engaged. To risk, to strive, is to be alive in the fullest sense. We are drawn to people who are trying to do difficult things, who are, within reason, willing to tempt fate, to gamble on the future. By contrast, people who play totally safe are really unplugging, deciding not to play at life any more.

Being at risk is going sailing whatever the weather, going skiing even when it is foggy, as we did at Zermatt. Being at risk is moving to Paris with two small children and living over a Russian restaurant on Rue Brea. How much less meaningful the Paris years would have been if we had been living in luxury in the 16eme?  Being at risk means that we are more willing to try the new, rather than persist in the old, more willing to gamble on a new experience. As a result we will see more things sooner and have a broader pallette of options to choose from. 

So much of life right now feels risky, and it also feels suffused with the weighing of risks. I ache to talk about what’s going on with Dad, but I also know he’d have felt hamstrung and frustrated and probably as a man in his late 70s (by now) pretty nervous.  There’s not much I can add to Dad’s own words, but I wanted to share them.  I will read and re-read this treatise and ask both Grace and Whit to do so (I was just turning 18 when Dad wrote this for me, and she’s less than 6 months away from 18 now – a dizzying fact to realize).

As I wrote yesterday, I feel both of my parents alongside me right now (Mum often literally, on our daily walks).  Finding this piece that Dad had written to me just reinforces my sense that his example, his leadership, his voice remain loud and strong for me.  How grateful I am for that.

Happiest holidays 2019


Thank you for still being here and reading.  It means more than you know.  See you in 2020!