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.

 

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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.

 

 

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.

Nearly a Year

My dad passed away in April. It seems like it has been years since he died. I think that might be the opposite of what I’m supposed to say – things like, “It feels like it was yesterday” and “Has it really been a year?” and “It feels like he was just here”. Instead it’s almost like I never had him. I have good, happy memories. They are warm and comforting but they are faded and crispy on the edges. They are also very far away.

I know there isn’t a right way to grieve. It was a harder lesson to learn than I thought it would be. People really don’t like it when you say things like, “Well now that my dad’s not dying anymore, I should be able to commit to that project more fully.” I reread that sentence and almost changed it for you because maybe it sounds glib. But to me, last year was a year when he was very busy. Just like he spent the first year of his diagnosis, fighting to hold on to normalcy, he spend the second year giving in to the inevitable. I wish some of that had taken the form of getting his affairs in order. But he didn’t and he’s dead now. People also don’t like it when you say that. No, they do not.

My sisters are still struggling while my mom seems to have taken back her life. She has friends and she goes places. She’s taking a class. She’s almost making plans for the future but doesn’t because then she probably would be someone else’s mother. She cleans out the storage unit and hugs me when I cry while I put my dad’s cowboy boots and hat into the box marked Goodwill. Of course I still cry now and again. That comforts people, I think, as long as you don’t do it too often.

It’s too quiet when we have Sunday dinner with my mom. My dad was a still man though. He wasn’t restless, wasn’t loud, didn’t bustle, or hurry, or make small talk. His absence is noisy and that’s when I notice how gone he really is. My mom forgets to turn the lights on, leaves the TV on mute (if it’s on at all), and has trouble thinking through the components of a full meal. Often I’ll get a text around 2pm on Sunday letting me know that all she has is roast chicken. She isn’t kidding. It’s as if my dad’s presence closed a few gaps for her and now the holes are wide open. Best not to tell anyone, or they begin to feel sorry for her, for you, for the way she is grieving.

I don’t feel like he’s here watching over me or that he’s close at all. At times, like right now, he’s certainly not shoving away the boulder pressing down on my heart. The rest of the time, he’s a fond memory that occasionally flits past. Are you uncomfortable? It’s okay if you are. Us greivers, we can’t actively grieve forever as much as in the moment it feels like we could or should. Then again, that’s just my brand of grief as handled by the person I am for the person he was and that particular combination couldn’t exist for any other person.

No wonder it’s so hard to say and do the right thing for ourselves or for others. But just in case, and this is for my wife, please don’t commemorate the day he died. I don’t want to know. I’m not that kind of griever.

 

And Now Thanksgiving

Grief kicks everyone’s ass, right? Oh the holidays are the worst, they say. That first anniversary…the favorite moments…birthdays… Fuck them. Also, why do they have to be right?

I got through Halloween, his favorite holiday. I am hoping that’s the worst of it. It’s not though, is it? It’s equally as bad as the rest. Take Thanksgiving, for example. I don’t have many dad-specific memories locked up in this one. Sure, I can see him carving the turkey (Badly. He insisted on carving the breast in long slices rather than crosswise) but I can also see my grandfather (also badly) and my wife (beautifully). I can see him raking leaves but also insisting on inefficiently blowing them into the wind. I can see him kicking back in an arm chair with a martini, football on, and a fire blazing while we wiped away sweat, splattered gravy, and otherwise created a Thanksgiving Masterpiece while making it look easy. I can imagine what RR would say when he started puffing his pipe. She would be HORRIFIED.

But here I am anyway. I can’t decide how many to invite or even what to cook. And I’d argue that deciding what to cook on Thanksgiving is pretty much the easiest thing you can actually do. I love having huge Thanksgiving parties. Last year we numbered 23 and 2 turkeys. I remember gazing down the long table (yes, one long table for the grown-ups) and thinking, “A few more could fit, couldn’t they? And wouldn’t that be fun?” I do most of the cooking and I love that, too. I love hearing my friends and family laugh as they get to see new people and meet up with old friends that were new just the year before. I love getting out the punch bowl and filling it with homemade eggnog that is, let’s be honest, mostly cream and alcohol. I love putting our 1950s house to the hospitality test and finding that it’s down for a good time, every. single. time.

I’ve been agonizing over a guest list. Do we invite everyone? I cry. Do we keep it family (chosen) only? I cry. You, know, that’s still a party of 13. I cry. Should my mom come? We cry. Should she go to my sisters? I cry. How many pounds of potatoes for an unknown party of people? I cry. Should we cancel the whole thing? I cry. Do we go on vacation? I cry. My wife is probably crying in frustration, even though she politely does it out of sight.

Someone decided we would stay home and invite our chosen family. My mom has gone to my sisters. She asked me if I’ve ironed the tablecloth (that is so long it’s meant for a table of 16). I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we might be eating from paper plates standing in the kitchen. I didn’t tell it because that was ripping a small part of me into pieces. I like these traditions. Not everyone gets that. I like having to hand wash the china and silver. I like wondering if that gravy stain will ever come out of the linens. I like saving our money so we can afford to entertain everyone.

I’m going to cry. Hell, I’m crying right now just thinking about it and I’m sitting in a coffee shop. This is only a tiny bit better than last week when I cried in my office, got my sandwich wet, and had to go to a meeting with no mascara and a red nose.

Fuck this. And, Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

In the Weeds

So you guys, I’m struggling every day over here. Struggling with inner guilt and pressure, the physical and mental health of my parents, a constant longing for my sisters to help with this terrible cancer, money, my relationship, my professional success. It manifests in the weirdest ways. For instance, I spent a good five minutes this morning worrying about the amount I’m contributing to retirement which may sound reasonable but, given that it is not even remotely an issue, was five minutes too much. In the five hours I’ve been awake, I have also had to haul myself away from the traps of:

Whether RR will ever ride a bike
How I have failed as a parent for not knowing how to teach her to ride a bike or swim
Whether my blood pressure was too high
Why that guy at the gym just can’t follow the rules
How to write reference letters for three people for the same job
Why I want to eat sweet things for breakfast or whether I would kill my wife if I didn’t
Why the school board meeting is tonight and not on the regular fourth Monday
If someone broke into the car
If I would get arrested for not having my license (this, after confirming I did have it)
How warm it is and what that is doing to iceburgs, seals, and polar bears
And New York and Miami
Why I am tired of eating
Whether I would cry at my therapy appointment on Thursday
Whether I cry enough or too much
Why my wife and I don’t take advantage of our alone time
Whether we would ever have alone time when we didn’t feel like just being still
How much I miss childless Saturday afternoons
If my new boss will want me to keep more regular hours
Why I am worrying about that when the position hasn’t been posted or even written
How we will ever get our grass to regrow
Whether I am going insane

It certainly doesn’t help that we’ve been through the wringer with my parents in the last two weeks. My father asked me if I couldn’t just pray away the gay. My mother ignored me when I told her. She spent the week not speaking to us and denied it ever happened while also complaining about her entire life to my sisters and copying me. Which only reminds me how much help she needs help. And also of my dad’s cancer which has visibly taken its toll in the last two months. This leaves me thinking hateful thoughts, like how it would be better if he just passed away in his sleep which is no one’s fault but my own.

I started getting daily texts from Shine which have a pithy saying (Today: “Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.”), then suggest a general plan of attack (Today:”Give yourself positive motivation through action. Take one small action to help you feel present.”) and sum it all up with some strategy (Today: “Stop waiting for the perfect time to write that short story, your dissertation, or a thank you card. Just do it.”) And so, while what I suspect I need is to resume a meditation practice, instead I’m spending 10 minutes writing to you, which is often just as good.

Where We Are Now

Remember that time we agonized over daycare? Then moving to a Montessori pre-school? Then public vs private grade school?*

Also, you know those moments when you have to make a really difficult decision and you have no way to know how it will shake out and then it turns out that, even though it was impossible in the moment, it was still the best decision you could have made?

RR’s Montessori grade school costs us an arm, leg, and very nearly the entirety of our bank account. We are tremendously lucky to be in the position to even make this choice. I think that at least once a day. But it wasn’t easy to decide. I love our public school system, for all its flaws. In the end, it came down to knowing RR well enough to make the decision that would best accommodate her style of learning and, let’s be honest here, her enormous personal space. And also? I’m pretty sure this whole business OF STILL NOT BEING POTTY TRAINED IN AUGUST wouldn’t have been great in public school. Regardless, she is, as her teachers have often described her, a true Montessori learner and so she’s happy as a pig in mud.

I can’t talk about how happy I am with the guides and students and school and lessons without crying all over the place so I won’t. I can’t sum it up all that well anyway. So here’s the bright spot in my week this week, coming directly from her teacher about their classwork for the week:

We began a study of the Montessori work called Interdependencies. In this study of economics, we have a set of cards that is used in several ways. One is to discuss a particular food we eat. The cards show people and a small emblem signifying the work they do to produce a particular food. These cards are used to illustrate just how many people are required to produce one item we use on a daily basis. We start with our own breakfasts, discussing what we eat. Most people’s breakfasts include a form of bread or cereal. From there, we ask where the bread comes from. The baker is the usual reply. From there, we add the shopkeeper, the transporter, the miller, the farmer, etc. One student remarked, as if on cue, “Look how many people it takes to give us our bread!” Your child may come home with their own colored pages or booklets of people and their jobs. Some chose to make cards of their own parents’ jobs, which was interesting and fun. 
Later, we will use the cards as we discuss how each person needs all the others to live, and we’ll also discuss things like taxes and services our cities and country provide. The goal here is to show children how everyone places a role, and everyone is needed.
One of the beauties of the elementary Montessori curriculum is that it emphasizes both the interconnectedness of human beings and the fundamental needs that we all have in common.”

This is a typical missive and sometimes they are so lofty I’m not sure I even get the concept but RR does, without fail. What she learns shows up everyday in the form of remarkable empathy, courtesy, patience, and respect. Interdependencies have been a big part of how we have framed her questions about the election and current fallout and again I think, I am so fortunate to have this child, this family, this school, this community.

I just had to tell someone and I picked you.

 

**There are posts on these and I’d have linked them expect that we had started trying to have a second while moving to the Montessori pre-school and so those posts are littered with this IUI and that IUI and obviously no actual babies. So you’ll have to take my word for it – those posts exist and those moments were agonizing.