Can’t have one without the other


We had a spectacular spring break.  The trip to the Galapagos was more magical than our everyday life, of course, and Grace and Whit, sponges that they are, soaked it all up.  As we headed home, on the last morning, Grace was tearful. In the airport lounge (as we embarked on what would be a full 24 hours of travel) she looked at me with mournful eyes.  “I don’t want it to be over,” she said, hugging me hard.  I nodded, my own eyes filling with tears.

“Why does it have to end?  Why does it have to be so sad?” she asked me, her voice muffled against my shoulder.  A wry smile flitted across my face, though she couldn’t see it.  Why does it?  This is something I ask myself every single day.

“Oh, Gracie.  You can’t have one without the other,” I said.  She pulled away and looked me in the eye, a question in her face.  “You know, the amazing experience is part of it and then being sad it’s over is the other part.”  She nodded silently, chewing her lip.  We sat in silence, the huge ceiling fans in the Guayaquil airport spinning slowly overhead.  I watched Grace’s knee jiggle as I thought of the two edges of this world, of the joy and the sorrow, of the beauty and the pain, of how inextricably linked they are, of how ambivalent I feel that my daughter is learning this lesson already.


The last night of break, Whit came out of his room a few minutes after I had tucked him in.  I walked him back into his dark room and sat down on the edge of his bed.  “What’s on your mind?”  His cheeks were wet and he had clearly been crying.  He shook his head and I waited.

“I want to go back to the Galapagos, Mummy.  And I am just sad.  Sad about everything that’s over.”  I stroked his blond hair off his forehead.  “I’m sad we’re not going back to Legoland.”  I nodded.

“I know, Whit.  It’s always sad when things are over.”  I had a lump in my own throat as I spoke.  Over and over again, Grace and Whit seem to go straight to the heart of all the things I find the most difficult.  This is what they do: they drag me to confront the emotions with which I most struggle.

“So many things,” he hiccuped, “that didn’t seem that much fun at the time, like the hot slow bus to the turtle farm, or the long layover in Guayaquil, or the flight where we didn’t sleep…” his voice trailed off.

“Or that lunch in Puerto Ayora when you were so cranky,” I offered, and a small smile cracked his face.

“Yeah.  All of those things.  They didn’t seem that much fun when we were going them, but now I miss them all.”

Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember. – Oscar Levant

I read this quote the day after that bedtime conversation with Whit, and I think it’s saying what he was, too.  So often things take on the sheen of joy after the fact, their memory burnished with something that wasn’t necessarily there as we lived it.  I don’t think this is a bad or a sad thing, though it does make me more aware that the experiences that feel like a slog (and Whit is right, that long bus ride back and forth across Santa Cruz qualifies) often become cherished memories.

It’s all connected, all of it: the delight and the sorrow, the experience and the memory, the difficulty fading into the background as the joyful center of an experience moves to the front.  You can’t have one without the other, of any of these dualities, of that I’m sure.  It’s a bittersweet thing, to watch my children learn this, and they both did on our trip to the Galapagos and in its wake.  And it’s something I’m still learning, too.


Lightness visible

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“Mummy!” Whit spluttered as he came up, blowing water out of his mouth, his snorkel mask askew.  “Look!” He indicated below where he was treading water.  Simultaneously we ducked under.  I looked over and watched him gazing at the school of fish swarming along the bottom of the ocean.  The wonder was palpable in his eyes.

When I broke the surface I saw Matt and Grace floating on the surface a few feet off to my left.  We were in the Galapagos Islands. The clear, turquoise water was even more extraordinary than I had imagined.  We had just spent 20 minutes only feet away from four baby sea lions who tumbled over each other and themselves in the shallow water at the rocky shore of an island.  Grace had watched them, marveling at how close they were, gasping and exclaiming out loud over and over.  Finally they had swum away and so had we.

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My favorite part of this beautiful afternoon was the way the sunlight slanted through the water.  The tangible beams reminded me of the way you could see light coming through the windows of one of the big lecture halls at college, somehow solid, real, floating with dust motes and years and years of memories.  This light was similarly visible, and I watched Grace, Whit, and Matt kick their way through the slanting skeins.  The bubbles that our kicking created sparkled like tiny diamonds in the water.

I hung back, watching my family swim.  Sometimes, though rarely, I am aware even as I live a moment that it will be one that swells and takes on shape and solidity in memory, something I return to, a touchstone of a season in time.  I have come to think of this sensation as the closest thing I know to grace. It came over me then, in the empty Galapagos ocean. (note: this is different, though related to, the sensation that I’m living, alongside my children, a Life Lesson, like in the hockey rink)

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Grace looked like a long, lean mermaid as, her courage growing, she dove down below the surface, the silvery fish parting as she neared.  Whit’s seersucker swim trunks ballooned around his pale legs as he bicycled in the water.  I kept my head down, watching them swim, the only sound my own breathing through the snorkel.  Suddenly William Styron’s seminal, powerful book, Darkness Visible, came to mind and I thought: this is lightness visible.  In every sense of the word.  The light streaking through the water, the silver fish glinting as they glided over the ocean floor, the glittering bubbles, my children learning something new in a place so far from home I’d described it before we left as the dark side of the moon.

I kept watching, head down, my own breathing loud in my ears, for another long while.  And then we all swam back to the dinghy, climbed in, and headed home to the boat for the evening.

Photo credit: William Rice

Commensurate to our capacity for wonder


I’m still processing all the marvelous experiences that we had in the Galapagos last week.  It is going to take me more than one post to capture everything about the trip, what we saw, what we learned, what we remember.  The thing that struck me most of all, however, is clear already: the sky.  The sunsets and sunrises, both of which I watched each day, were outrageously glorious.  We had a full moon while we were at sea.  At night, because we were so close to the Equator, we could see the Southern Cross and the big dipper in the sky at the same time (something Matt and I last did while on Kilimanjaro).

Galapsblog2Related to how much I loved the sky was the emptiness.  Over and over again we could not see anyone in any direction from the boat.  We felt like the only people in the world.  One morning, after traveling overnight to Genovesa Island, we walked along the ridge of an island formed by a volcano.  As we walked carefully over black lava rocks, the view was breathtaking.  I could not stop thinking of the last lines of Gatsby:

… face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. 

Oh, yes.  This was commensurate to my capacity for wonder.  This island, so far from home, out in the Pacific Ocean, no land visible in any direction, was nothing short of magical.  I exhaled slowly, trying to capture everything about the moment and preserve it, remember the fullness of time, the glory of the physical place we were, the bigness of the emotion swelling in my chest.


I looked up to watch the birds wheeling in the sublimely blue sky.  I saw my children in front of me, tall, lanky, growing before my eyes, shedding the skins of early childhood and moving towards adolescence.  I watched the ocean lapping at this former volcano, traced the various shades of heartbreaking blue out toward the horizon.  There is no way to capture it all, this life: I can only grope around the edges of experience, fumbling clumsily as I try to express what it is to be in this world.  To watch.  To witness.

There’s no question that in the Galapagos all four of us felt wonder.


None of us will ever forget this trip.  The animals, the sky, the time together, the reminder that this world is enormous and can still take our breath away.

The bitter part of my life’s bittersweet core


I can close my eyes and be back in this afternoon, exactly 7 years ago, June 2005, with baby Whit, 2 year old Grace, and my grandfather, who is no longer with us

It’s not a secret that I struggled with my entry into motherhood.  Grace’s infancy was not my finest hour.  I remember large swaths of time as only a blur of tears and a wailing baby that occurred in a permanent twilight that wasn’t day and wasn’t night.  But, somehow, I remember with crystalline clarity one comment that I received over and over again from kindly, well-intentioned people, friends and strangers alike:

“Make sure to enjoy this moment.  It goes so fast!”

Just like everybody else I know, I heard this more times than I can possibly count.  And every single time, through the haze of my exhaustion and despair, I recognized a kernel of truth.  This sentence pierced my gloom over and over again.  But the truth is it made me want to scream; this is probably because the sentiment cut close to the bone.  As with all statements that are uncomfortably true, I did not like hearing it.  And I swore to myself I would never tell a mother with a newborn to enjoy this time.

And yet I have.  More than once, I’ve looked at a mother with a tiny baby, or a mother with a baby in a Bjorn and a two year old by the hand, dark valleys under her eyes and a slightly wild, exasperated expression, and longed to be back there.  The way I express this longing is to say: “Oh, those were the days.  They go fast. Enjoy them.”

Every time I kick myself: Ugh, Lindsey, you swore you’d never say that.  I can remember vividly my own negative reaction to those comments.  But I realize now that the people who said that were just sharing their own nostalgia the only way they knew how.

Even now, aware as I am of not wanting to squander these moments with my children at home, I find myself – daily! – wishing time away.  I am sore from the cold bleachers under my legs at soccer try-outs, I am listening to a detailed story about a 2nd grade bus ride that is being told in real time, I am tired myself, just want to get into bed with my own book, and this third glass of water is going to put me over the edge.  I have realized this is simply the nature of parenting; the adage that the days are long but the years are short is so powerful precisely because it is true.

I am much better at appreciating my experience than I used to be.  There’s no question about that.  But even when I really AM there, even when I’m fully open and appreciating all the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of my particular life with my particular children at this particular moment, it still goes by too fast.  And this is the bitter part of my life’s bittersweet core: nothing I do, no paying attention and being here now can slow the drumbeat march of time.  No matter how present I am I cannot alter the hasty onrush of this life.

Sometimes that truth feels unbearably bitter.  Of course, yes, I do know that it’s bitter in direct proportion to the sweetness.  The presence I have worked hard to cultivate over many years has left me with very rich memories of this season of my life.  I’m grateful beyond expression for the way this blog has chronicled much of my life with my children.  I have thousands of photographs and dozens of letters.  But nothing I can do, neither white-knuckled hanging on nor meditative letting go, will make these days and years last longer.  I guess when I say the thing I swore I’d never say to new mothers, I’m trying to communicate that.  But I should stop, because I know it doesn’t help.

I’m pretty sure that my grandfather, in the photograph above, told me with a sigh that these days would go fast.  I know he handed me some notes that my grandmother had written about observing the development of boys (she should know: she had four).  But I also know that I probably shook my head, worrying about getting Whit down for a nap and making pasta for Grace, grimaced at the ugly plastic toys in my kitchen, and told him in a way that was both heartfelt and dismissive: I know, I know.

I thought I knew what he meant.  But I didn’t.  I do now.

Huge hands


I grew up in the embrace of several extended families.  One of these was my godfamily.  And one of these godsisters, who lives nearby, had a baby this winter.  One February afternoon after school Grace, Whit and I stopped by.  I parked too far away so we walked several blocks in the cold, our shadows already growing long in the golden, quick-to-fall February light.  Impatient, Grace and Whit galloped away in front of me.

We tiptoed into the living room and took off our shoes.  My godmother handed the baby to me and I instinctively cradled her and looked down at her closed eyes, wrinkly skin, rosy, pouty lips.  She wore a pink knit cap, and my mind immediately pinwheeled to the cream cotton cap with curls of ribbon tied around the top that a nurse at the hospital had given Grace to wear home .

“May I hold her, Mummy?”  Out of the corner of my eye I could see Grace bouncing up and down on her toes next to me.  I remembered a Saturday walk a year ago during which I carried my friend’s two year old most of the way.  That night Grace had fallen apart, weeping inconsolably that “she wanted to be my little girl.”  Grace explained that she was sad about a time in her life that she couldn’t get back, as well as a little jealous.  I worried, as I do so often, about the sensitivity my children have inherited from me.  Whit has this tendency too.  It is perilous having a mother who is more shadow than sun.

“Sure.  Sit down here on the couch.” my godmother sat next to Grace, helped position her arms, and I slowly lowered baby C into Grace’s lap.  I stood back and looked at them, Grace and the two-day-old baby of a woman I met when she was two days old.  I took pictures of both Grace and Whit holding the newest addition to our godfamily, and then, anxious not to overstay during what I know first-hand is a raw, precious time, we left.

That night, I uploaded the three pictures I’d taken of the afternoon.  I couldn’t stop staring at the picture above.  Look at Grace’s hands: they are enormous.  They engulf the baby; she is closer to the size of an adult now than to the baby I still sometimes think of her as.  I remember our pediatrician’s words that adolescence’s growth spurts often start with feet getting rapidly bigger.  Is this true of hands, too?  Has Grace stepped into the tunnel that will spirit her, faster than I can blink, to young womanhood?

When I look at her holding the brand-new member of our godfamily, I can’t deny that the answer must be yes.