Daring, dreaming, doing — words to guide & inspire

TessI do have a dog story to tell here, but that will have to wait until I can do justice to Tess, the newest member of our family, a sweet border collie rescue girl who’s as happy to have a home as we are to give her one. At the moment, there isn’t much time for writing. We’re all pretty consumed with getting to know each other, mastering the basics on both sides. There are hikes to take, new lessons to learn, trust to earn, routines to work out. More on Tess soon.

Meanwhile, both our sons have been home this month, all of us here together for the first time since Christmas. Over the next week, Jack will return to Atlanta and Henry will leave for his summer job directing musicals at a theatre in the Catskills. For now, though, I’m grateful for every family dinner, walks and talks, the fullness of our days, the peace of nights when everyone I love is safely gathered under one roof. Soon, the house will be quieter, the refrigerator easier to keep filled, my days at home my own again. Plenty of time then for reflections and blog posts.

Still, I can’t resist sharing a few of the things we’ve been watching and reading and discussing around here, while hanging out in the kitchen and in between basketball playoff games and Red Sox losses.

Being in one’s early twenties isn’t easy – not quite launched into full-scale independent adulthood but no longer an adolescent; so much to figure out and no road map to point the way forward; so many choices while already a few doors are closing for good, the “right” path rarely if ever easy to discern.

Pursue a dream at all costs or take the first job that offers a modicum of security? What’s the real definition of success? What constitutes a good life? Is “good” synonymous with meaningful? How does anyone summon the vision to dream, the courage to dare, the will to do, especially when the doing isn’t part of the plan or involves some precipitous twists in the road? When, as a parent, should I speak up and when should I quietly reserve judgment and opinion? [continue...]

Dear Older, about these cars. . .

sport-fury-brougham“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.” ~Goethe

This is the second in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 55) and she’s Older (facing 60 this year). And since we’re surely not the only ones buying wrinkle creams, we decided to share our exchange with you, too.  Be sure to read Margaret’s letter to me here.   

Dear Older,

Oh Margaret! You would have to bring up our cars.

Well, I’m not going to lie about age here.  Yes, my Acura is ten years old.  And she’s about to roll over 170,000 miles – that’s a lot of trips taken, a great deal of life lived, many bridges crossed.

Buying this car was the first thing Steve and I did in 2003 when we left the suburbs of Boston and moved back to my country roots.  If we were going to make our home in a place where the last snow might not melt til mid-April, I wanted a car that would carry me through our Northern winters without too much anxiety on my part.  “Good in snow” was my top priority when we went out shopping for new wheels.

It’s worth remembering that gas cost $1.54 a gallon when we arrived in New Hampshire to embark on this new life.  “Good mileage” was on my list, but it was somewhere below good visibility, comfort, and safety.

Jack was eleven and Henry was just starting high school when I began driving the kids around rural New Hampshire in my brand new silver MDX. (Family trips we took in our Toyota Sienna minivan – plenty of room for two parents, two boys, one dog and gear for all, and already showing the wear and tear of four years of hard daily use.) The Acura was the nice car.  My car.  And, I’ll admit: it was and is the only car I’ve ever loved.

A little back story:  I’m not a natural behind the wheel.  I shudder to recall my first solo forays on our rural roads after I got my driver’s license in 1974.  The car: my parents’ 1970 red Plymouth Fury sedan, graciously bequeathed to me.  The most notable feature of that car was its size.  Huge. I have vague, unsettling memories even now of drifting around curves in the road, wondering if I was going a little too fast, fighting to hold the car on the pavement, straining to sit tall enough in the broad, slippery seat to see out the windshield.  [continue...]

Ready for Air–and a give-away

RFA-Cover-194x300It wasn’t lost on me that I read Kate Hopper’s lovely memoir, Ready for Air, earlier this month, while in the air myself.

Beside me, squeezed into the too-small middle seat, my 6’1″ son Jack was reading his own book.  I kept glancing over at him, aware that this was the last trip the two of us would take together for quite a while.  Aware, too, that I was already preparing myself for the moment when I would bid him goodbye in Atlanta, leave him to his new life as a student there, and fly home without him.

Kate’s subtitle is “A Journey through Premature Motherhood.”  It sounds specific, and it is.  This is a story about a baby girl born too soon, about a young woman’s struggle to be strong and brave in the face of one terrifying complication after another, of a marriage that is tested and ultimately strengthened by adversity, of a baby whose struggle to survive offers both a compelling read and something better: a reminder that, in the largest sense, our human stories are all variations on a theme.  For isn’t the real journey — through motherhood, through every relationship we ever have, through life itself  — really about learning to work with things as they are rather than as we wish they could be? [continue...]

September afternoon

nestA Saturday afternoon in September, the last of them.  Where the air leaves off and my skin begins, I can’t tell. They are the same temperature, the same softness, the same.  There is no need for a sweater or shoes. I sit in the lawn chair by the garden, eyes half closed, listening to the low, incessant churring of crickets, the intermittent hammer taps of a woodpecker in the maple tree overhead, the chatter of birds, their wing beats as they come and go from the feeder, the acoustic hum of bees burrowing into the jeweled nasturtiums.

It is that gentle, golden, in-between moment, no longer summer but not fully fall, either.  The sun, already sliding down the sky, casts long purple shadows across the grass and, elsewhere, creates translucent pools of light. It feels nearly holy, this luminous glimmer shafting through the trees. Everything is softening, crumpling, fading.  And yet, on this mild, sun-kissed afternoon it isn’t an ending I feel, but a thrumming continuum of energy, an urgent, insistent turning toward life and change. [continue...]

Time in a bottle

photospent most of yesterday morning in the kitchen with my son Jack, windows open to the September air.  In ten days he will move to Atlanta to begin his new life there as a student.  But for now, the two of us find ourselves home alone together.  (Henry left last week to return to his alma mater, St. Olaf, where he’s helping out with the fall musical; Steve has been away for a few days on business. And so, it’s just two of us here, a rare mother-son combination that hasn’t happened for years and may not recur any time soon.)

All summer, I have mourned the end of summer.  Back in June, my family laughed at me for regretting the passing of time before the time I’d been anticipating had even arrived.  (Yes, I know, it’s crazy.) The days were still getting longer, they pointed out, and already I was imagining how I would feel when they began to grow shorter.  The lake water was perfect for swimming, and I was wondering how many more swims we would have. A piercing awareness of the preciousness, the transience, of everything is, I suppose, both the blessing and the burden of my temperament. It is also the price my family has to pay for living with me.  I am always reminding them (myself!) to notice, to appreciate, to be aware of all that is and of all we have.

The truth is, I write so much about inhabiting the moment largely to help myself remember that it’s where I want to be: simply present.  My tendency, always, is to live with a lump in my throat.  I experience the pain of endings even as I cherish the tenderness of beginnings.  I allow every joy to be shot through with a thread of sadness.  And I see in all that lives, all that has passed;  in all that is, all that one day will no longer be.

And so  I sit in my garden amidst the wildly blooming nasturtiums and feel the fleetingness of their splendor.  I adore our thirteen-year-old dog all the more for knowing her days are numbered.  (When she placed her head on the bed this morning at 6 am and pleaded for a walk, I swung right into action – because, of course, I can so easily imagine the future, when there will be no need to be out taking a hike at dawn.)  I fill our basement freezer with strawberries and blueberries and raspberries picked at the height of the season because I am always conscious of the season’s inexorable turning.

Hanging out with my soon to be 21-year-old son yesterday, I reminded myself to simply enjoy the moment, without layering on the fact that in a few weeks he’ll be in his own new kitchen a few thousand miles away and we’ll be texting instead of talking. [continue...]