Thoughts on a daughter going to college

Oh, Grace.  Next week we drive to Washington to drop you at college.  In some ways, you “left” already, so I am not in the same skinless-crying-unable-to-cope place I was 4 years ago.  But this is still a transition, and an almighty one.

My father wrote me a long letter when I started college.  I treasure it.  He also drove me there, and I will never forget weeping in the parking lot of my dorm and begging him not to leave me.

Rather than a long missive of paragraphs, I have a few bullet point reminders of what I hope you will remember next year and beyond.  I am sure most of this will go in one ear and out the other, but I mean it, and I hope some of it floats to your mind now and then.

  • Get enough sleep.  I know, I know, I’m SUCH A MOM.  But it’s true.
  • Also enough water and exercise, and some vegetables now and then.  I know you know this stuff matters.
  • Stop drinking before you think you should.  There is so much to live and experience, and you don’t want to waste it either blacked out or hung over.  I’m not saying don’t drink.  I’m just saying learn when to stop and it’s probably before you think you should.
  • Write stuff down.  Take pictures.  The latter I know you’ll do.  The former, I suggest you try to.  Some memories and moments can’t be captured in photos or videos.
  • Call and text me.  Pretty sure you will, but I am always interested in what’s going on.
  • Figure out what calms you down – a walk, a run, a book (that’s mine), a nap, some deep breathing.  Use as required.
  • Proceed with caution in matters of the heart.  It’s easy to get hurt.  On the other hand, trusting and loving is the path to a full life. But go slow.  Be careful.
  • Stay open to the boys who aren’t immediately obvious as the cool ones.  Remember what Poppy always told me: “the nerds shall inherit the earth.”
  • Try to stay flexible.  I know this trait since you got it from me, but so much of what I see making you sad has to do with when things don’t go according to plan.  Try to remember things can be not what you expected and still great.  Sometimes plans change.  It’s not always bad.
  • Look after each other.  Have a wingwoman when you go out and don’t leave without each other.  This is important.
  • Live it.  I know you know I love that Blake Shelton song, and I also know you know the tattoo I might get somedays says “be here now.”  These years fly by.  Try to be there.

Time has flown.

You are launched.

I am so proud of you I can’t stand it.

I adore you.

On Grace’s graduation

On Saturday night we celebrated Grace’s high school graduation.  This is the toast I gave.

 

When you were a small child, I used to talk about your being “smart and brave.” My dear friend Gloria, Whit’s godmother, reminded me of this a few years ago when she had a daughter. I’ve thought a lot about that exhortation over the years and I don’t know that it really captures my goals. The smart, I believe, is innate and therefore less a goal than something we just have and deal with. The brave is not inconsequential. The brave is the key.

Bravery is correlated with grit and determination and resilience and hard work.  All the buzz words of parenting these days, all things I hope for you and, more germane to this toast, all things I observe in you.  Bravery is about looking forward with optimism, about believing that the world will respond to a positive
attitude and hard work. It’s about assuming the best of people. It’s about giving things a second try, which you wrote your college essay about.

The story that I think encapsulates you the best over the last few years is one I think you’re tired of, but I’m going to tell it anyway. It was cross-country New Englands of your sophomore year at Deerfield. You guys were the returning champions, having won the year before. There was a lot of attention on your team and a heavy load of expectation. A couple of hundred meters after the start, another runner accidentally flat-tired you and your shoe came off. You stumbled, fixed your shoe, and got back up again. You were in dead last of the competitive group and you never one time, as far as I can tell, thought about quitting. Instead you gritted your teeth and took over a lot of runners over the next 3 miles. It wasn’t the race or finish you wanted, but I believe it showed who you are.

You’re made of grit, my girl, brave through and through, and performances like that one show you a lot more about how to build a life than when things go smoothly. The road ahead is dazzling, and I can’t wait to watch you walk – or run – it. But I know there will be other stumbles and bumps, and I also know you’ll greet them with your characteristic determination, good humor, and hard work.  I’ve seen you do it before – your Deerfield years were replete with opportunities to show your grit, from losing both of you grandfathers in your first 2 months there to the receiving of all your college decisions while alone in a house with covid.  And a million episodes in between.  This is how you make a path, how you greet the day, how you move forward, how you surround yourself with joy.

It is literally impossible for me to be prouder of you. Thank you for making me a mother. You’ll always be the person who did that, my Amazing Grace who arrived after 40+ hours of labor in the driving downpour. It was the last time, as I’ve often joked, that you were late.  I have loved you every day since then, and I will every day to come.

Congratulations.

Best books of the half-year 2021

For the last many years I’ve published posts at the end of June noting my favorite books of that year so far (it seems I did not do this in 2020 – chalk that up to a lost year).  The previous posts are here: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.  I stand absolutely by all of those recommendations!

I’ve been reading a lot.  I hope people never stop asking me what I’m reading or what I recommend.  It’s one of my favorite conversations and I love to ask others that, too.

Fiction:

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead.  Wow.  My favorite book so far this year. This is a tour de force and I absolutely loved it.  About ambition and feminism and identity and family and the restless, eternal dialog between where we came from and where we are going.  Read this book if you have not!

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet.  This book is disturbing and compelling and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  It reminded me of both Lord of the Flies and of futuristic, dystopian novels about the world in the future.  Powerful and lyrical.

Monogamy by Sue Miller.  I love that this book is set not only in my town but in my actual neighborhood. A wonderful story of long marriage, of the things we forgive and those we struggle to, of the ways our selves wind around those we live with in ways that are both comforting and sometimes, restrictive.  I can’t wait to see the movie! (Dani Shapiro is adapting it).

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.  My sister pointed out that this is an unusual like for me, and it is (I don’t gravitate towards historical novels).  I just loved it, perhaps because Hamlet is one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing.  I found it engaging and both whimsical and wistful.  The writing is poetic, spectacular also.

Memoir:

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad. This story made me want to cheer and made me want to cry.  Jaouad writes unflinchingly about her years-long struggle with serious cancer as a young adult, and in so doing reminds us that all we have is right now.  I closed the book and my life shimmered in a new way.  The best books do that, I find.

Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas by Alexi Pappas.  Pappas tells her own story of hard work and determination in her pursuit of a professional running career.  The book is inspiring and funny, and it reminded me that though I’m VERY far from an athlete I can always try a little harder, believe in myself more, and that most pain passes.

Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life by Christie Tate.  Oh, I love Tate’s voice.  She is so honest, so unafraid to reveal the depths of herself, and this book is nothing less than the telling of her transforming her own life.  Her bravery and her candor stayed with me after I finished the book and left the room.

What are you reading and what have you loved this year?  I’d love to know.

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”