If I Grow Up

Last night, RR turned to me and said “If I grow up to be a chef, I will definitely not cook [things in squid ink].” I was charmed by her turn of phrase – if I grow up to be rather than when I grow up I’ll be. Really, this statement captures everything about her.

If I grow up to be. As if it’s pre-ordained. Or as if it could be anything, independent of her wishes or choices. Perhaps personhood will be bestowed on her at some point and she will become a fully-realized someone overnight. It’s a lottery, this growing up business.

I come from a when I grow up I’ll be world. I assure you that I sprang from the womb planning the next five steps to the current goal. So I think it’s curious that at almost eight she still hasn’t offered a when perspective, only an if. Perhaps this is why bike riding (and potty training previously) doesn’t inspire her. She expects that one day she’ll wake up and be able to ride, or not.

Judging by the way she handled speaking, walking, reading, and nearly everything else, she’s probably right.

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Technology, Man

Let me be upfront. I value the charm and convenience of technology more than I do the need to cautiously prevent my data from be sloppy all over the internet. Perhaps it’s a stint as a federal employee and knowing that my fingerprints and everything about me is in a file somewhere. At any rate, let’s all assume I know the dangers and woe and move ahead.

I love that I can keep up with my friends all over the world and that I can use facebook groups like Buy Nothing to keep things out of the landfill and meet my neighbors at the same time. I love that I can use Instagram to see pictures of food in Delhi and, right after it, your kid joyously conquering a new milestone. I love that I have exclusively online friends I’ve met here (yes, here!) and elsewhere who, on some days, are my closest friends who I happily text with regularly. I love that I have devices and apps to track my steps and tell me whether I’m getting a touch too lazy. I love that I barely need to check my email since I can use so many other more instant methods of communication. And I especially love Timehop which rolls out more than 13 years of “on this day” pictures. Just the other day there was this gem of my wife and I, three years ago:

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We look so young and so happy – it was a good reminder that we need to get away together more often and that our current states of neutral-unhappy shouldn’t be okay. There is a different standard.

And this sign from the same day, reminding me that my sister lived with us 13 years ago. On a day trip to a street fair she casually yodeled “hello prisoners” not truly believing the sign was still relevant. The voice on the loudspeaker scolding her has provided years of laughter.

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But my day died a year ago this Saturday and Timehop has been ruthless about pulling photos from shared google albums. Like today’s picture that my mother never should have shared of her propping my infant nephew on my father’s lap two days before he died. Maybe she thought the sentiment was important. My father looks worse than I remember. The tears got lodged so high up in my throat I haven’t made a sound in hours. I’m deleting the picture from my life.

I’m prepared for it to pull in the obit I shared to facebook with his smiling picture. I did a good job writing it and I think I captured him as well as anyone could. I’m prepared for pictures from the hospice waiting room of my sisters piecing together a puzzle. I was not prepared for that.

Facebook does something similar, recommending you reshare a picture you posted long ago. Many of my old friends are logging off for good and it’s bittersweet. I truly love knowing about their lives, when they have babies, where they are travelling, even when they die. But it’s true that I barely even glance at my newsfeed anymore, heading straight to the groups I belong to. I’m much more active on Instagram (that’s a hint, yes) and I appreciate the lack of “vaguebooking” and news infiltration. Also, it’s not going to remind me that one year ago I was falling apart at the seams and gently prods me to address that fact that I am not yet stitched back together.

It’s a double-edged sword isn’t it? Now go forth and follow @meridith_ann so I can follow you back.

 

Grief Beauty

Today as I was drying my hair, I noticed how unsatisfying my arms looked. I mean yes, at that angle, very few of us at this age have lovely tight upper arms. However, a year ago I remember looking in that same mirror and thinking that they weren’t bad arms. Not as terrible as I thought they were growing up. Certainly not bad enough that they deserved to be obscured by a cardigan even on the hottest summer days. Now, though. Now there’s no cardigan negotiation. These are not arms I want to be dragging around town where everyone can see.

Completely related, a year ago I was at the gym 5 days a week. I was cardio-ing away the intense sadness of watching my father die. I cried on every treadmill in the gym. I walked miles with tears streaming down my cheeks. I lifted weights I can’t imagine lifting today. I was at the gym during his final days, making an exception to my no-texting-at-the-gym rule so that I could make sure I wasn’t missing the Big Goodbye. By the time fall arrived I had stopped going entirely. I’m not even sure the gym is still there.

My weight held steady until last month when it seemed like a dam broke on the scale. I can see the extra pounds on my arms and my stomach and I am not at all happy. In fact, I think the only things I’ve done for my appearance in a year are to dye my eyelashes and cut my hair. I got tired of wiping off mascara smears every time I cried. I cut my hair because half of it fell out and it made me feel better not to be reminded every time I pulled my hair back…to go to the gym.

So now I have more weight, short hair, and brown lashes which I probably won’t dye again. My summer clothes don’t exactly flatter. I am slowly coming around to the idea of going back to the gym. If only because I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and not be unhappy. That makes sense, right? Why is it so hard to actually do it? And why does it feel like it won’t make a difference if I do?

 

Gracefully Aging

Look, that title makes it seem like I’m going to write thoughtfully about mid-life and we’ll all nod sagely and think kindly about our own mortality and tell each other we love each other.

This is not that post.

Last week a mole that was new, or at least incognito, arrived on my neck, started to bleed, and subsided into a small scabby thing that wasn’t that much different than the spot that turned out to be melanoma. That spot relieved me of a couple of lymph nodes and a good part of my upper right arm. In exchange, I got a startling scar that looks more like the aftermath of a shark bite and less like surgical precision. At my last appointment, I received a scolding about ignoring another similar spot that faded into nothing so I went in for reassurance that it was some post-ingrown hair irritation.

There were all sorts of people in the waiting room and more than a couple with white bandages on their faces or ears. The kind that I associate with my mother and grandmother. I imagine you know where this is going. At least I walked out with a beige, smallish, bandage, a hole in my neck where the spot used to be, and a promise that they’d get back to me on Monday.

I grew up in the sunbelt. My heritage is so very fair. Skin cancer was a thing we had in my family. My mom would show up with a giant bandage on her nose. The next month my grandmother would have one spanning across her shoulder and up her neck. We mostly pretended not to notice. The bandages came as gradually but as certainly as the wrinkles and age spots did and I came to associate them with getting older. And now that’s me. I’m the person that my child will look at and see as unimaginably old, bandaged, and sacrificed to the sun.

I want to handle this with laugh lines (check) and good humor (eh). It’s not so easy. I can’t ignore the fact that the skin of my hands and the capillaries on my face look like my father’s. That I have a belly like my grandmother’s who I knew, intellectually, wasn’t pregnant but who was surely shaped like someone who was. That nothing on my body is smooth or silky and that my eyes are fading to a lighter blue every year. I want to handle this gracefully. Perhaps with sheer determination I’ll succeed.

 

 

Red Sky At Morning

Sometimes I have to remind myself that nothing lasts forever. I think this when I’m in a dull meeting, yes, but also when my daughter so readily slips her hand into mine crossing the street. Sometimes I get reminded against my will, like when the neighbor behind me sends a mild message about getting my tree that’s in her yard inspected again (I know. Just know that’s the case in her eyes.) and I know that our friendly detente over tree removal might be coming to a close. Or when suddenly, midweek, with no warning whatsoever, my kid no longer asks for a lullaby before bed. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry today. Even wore the non-waterproof mascara, so that’s all I have to say about that.

It turns out that the four years of Sunday dinners we shared with my parents will be over once my mom moves away this summer. That is a welcome but hard change for our family in a few different ways. It felt hard and unsustainable many, many weeks, but there it is. Over just like that. RR suddenly has a new afterschool zookeeper teacher and the old one, the artist, is rarely there when I pick her up. I had a great boss. Now I have a new boss. You see, as comfortable as it is, nothing is permanent. And sometime there’s no warning whatsoever.

A month ago, or maybe last week, I was pretty sure we’d be in this house, in this community, at this workplace until we retired. And then some. But then I visited a different neighborhood in town with charming houses and many of the things we love about our own neighborhood (on the surface). Debra got a new job which also had many of the things she excels at (on the surface). Gradually, some of the things I had taken for granted (even while knowing things change) have evaporated. Flexible work schedules. good soil, a car that both runs and has four working windows, stable mental, physical, and financial health.

It looks like I’m far more open to a significant life change than I thought I’d be once the conditions that enabled the current state started to melt away. I had been so busy reminding myself about the small things (don’t forget to pet the dog! he won’t be here forever!), I totally forget to remind myself that the big things can change on a dime. I missed the warning signs because I’ve been trying hard not to try to read the future. Now I’m back to soothsaying again, looking for the signals, trying to see where to put the cushion before there’s a fall. Wish me luck.

 

 

Fairy Doors

The other day my child, who is seven and many, told me that she urgently needed help moving her new bedside table away from the wall.

Why, I wondered. After all, moving it means that it would be harder to reconstruct her tower of books which routinely collapses into a heap at bedtime.

The fairy, she urged. Her door is trapped behind the table and she can’t get out.

Well, you know I’m not going to shrug off a fairy, so off we went to investigate and after an appropriate amount of hemming and hawing, I suggested she might make the fairy a new door.

RR finished but her soul was not at peace. We couldn’t keep the table against the wall because the fairy would not know to use the new door until she came out and saw it.

A sign perhaps? Yes, she agreed, that would do.

She is seven and perfect.

 

Community

We moved to Charlottesville almost ten years ago. Before coming here I thought that the concept of “a village” was something that happened in queer collectives and groups of suburban moms who had lived in the same town with the same people since they were babies themselves. How lucky those villagers were to have carpools and potlucks and emergency sitters. Surely you had to live in some sort of neighborhood of brownstones or quirky farmhouses or anywhere in the midwest. I was nearly certain I’m not the kind of person who would be welcomed into the kind of village people praise. Too independent and private. Not bohemian or suburban enough. An impractical pipe dream.

A borrowed egg here gives way to a loaned jar of pins. Changed light bulbs and warm cookies turned into bedroom dressers and garden transplants. Sometimes it was a request without anything in return (would you help me scoop up this dead animal, please?) and sometimes it was a gift unasked for (I didn’t mind shoveling your walk, I was here anyway!). It didn’t take long to realize we had great neighbors. And then they moved and we got more great neighbors. And realized we’re pretty good neighbors, too. We’re woven tightly into the people in the village.

Debra went out of town recently and I got a direct glimpse of the strong scaffolding around us. First there was a committee of vultures in the backyard.* I put on my boots and grabbed a shovel. You guys KNOW I am in a fragile place with dead things. Fortunately, this possum was fresh. Unfortunately, there were possum pieces all over the yard. I flung the possum bits into the trashcan while the vultures sat in the trees above me considering whether I was feeling poorly enough to wait for.

Two days til trash day and I somehow came home without the requisite sticker that signals to the collection crew that we paid for pick-up. RR does not like to go back out once she’s in and so it was either deal with rageface or live with the possum (and vultures) another week. My neighbors came through with a spare sticker. Then it snowed and it appears our shovel, which had been holding up the house all winter, was nowhere to be found. Another neighbor happily provided a shovel so that I could dig out to get my wife from an airport two hours away. My wife was delayed (no drive a plus) but school was delayed the following day (not a plus). My sister-in-law agreed to take RR to school so that I could get to work on time.

I’m one of those lucky people.** Things work out for me. Debra was bumped but the airline made up for it and then some. The snow day meant I got a break from making lunches and running RR hither and yon. The delay also meant Debra arrived at the airport the same evening as my mom so that I could pick them both up at the same time and I didn’t have to make small talk with the other girl scout moms at the event RR was supposed to go to. The fence guy is giving us a discount because my wife and I are still married. Most couples, he said, don’t make it the ten years til a fence needs fixing. I left my wallet on top of the car, did a couple of errands and found it there at the third stop, snugly wedged in the roof rack. There was just enough peanut butter left in the jar and just enough milk.

It’s more than luck though. It’s the people around us. The folks that lent a hand this week were a tiny fraction of the people we’re tangled up with. If I wasn’t able to give the cat his medicine, I would have had help. If my sister-in-law wasn’t able to take RR, I could have called three different families for help. If the vultures had been more menacing, I could have called on two other healthy friends with shovels. It’s a community of the heart and I’m truly lucky to have it.

*Did you know that a group of vultures in the air is kettle, a group of feeding vultures is a wake (shudder), and a group of vultures hanging out on the ground in your not-at-all-rural yard is a committee?

**It’s a matter of perspective though. 3:33-3:47 And if you think the science of luck is as interesting as I do, this.