Home Ec.

“Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don’t unravel”

Good advice, though I can’t sew.  I can’t even loosely baste a seam.  I failed sewing in the seventh grade, for the teacher didn’t consider it fashion forward to have the armhole of my jumper positioned at the hip.  I didn’t do much better at home economics (yes, they had courses such as this – let’s save the shock and awe for another day, shall we?), though I excelled at pudding.  And passing notes.

Which retrospectively suggests that I had my priorities straight even then – as long as you had good people around you, everything else would follow.  Take care of the ones you love.  Pass the notes, hold the secret, righteously defend (“Mimi would be an exemplary student if she were a bit less social”).  Ah well.  It is with this limited skill set that I have built my house.  Ultimately I bought the drapes and learned how to cook.  And though no one would mistake me for Martha Stewart, I’d say this is a pretty awesome home.  People curl up when they get here, they nestle in.  Shoes come off, defenses are shed, talk is uncensored, silence is religious.  There is nothing more transcendent than this.

Our Thanksgiving plans got derailed by my little surgery a few days back and we’re staying here instead of heading up to New Jersey.  The kids will be with their in-laws.  And as much as I will miss the noise, the laughter, the hugs – I am fortunate enough to have all this love around me every day.  The air is filled with “I love you’s”,  each room holds secrets told in whispers that repeat as favorite lyrics co-written once upon a time, and there is comfort in the sighs of the couch as I settle in to listen to the stories of home.  When I feel the sun on my back and I find magic in this very moment, I know that my bounty is as massive as my gratitude.

So as many of you head points north, east, west or south – travel safe.  Eat a lot, laugh more, grab a nap.  Take a walk, give out hugs.  Share your love.   Enfold these moments in your heart, for they will become the most gorgeous aspects of your home.  They become the most treasured parts of you.

So Much Love

My in-laws celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary yesterday.  What do you say about two people who have successfully navigated the tricky waters of marriage and have spent  far more time together in their union than as single people alone?  My mom used to say you never really understood another couple’s relationship unless you slept under their bed.  I have no intention of crawling under anybody’s bed –  least of all my in-laws.  So, I can tell you what I see.  I see two people with a profound abiding love, who memorized the steps to their dance and have never tired of the music.  I see a man who will go to the ends of the earth for the girl he fell for only yesterday, who protects her with a stoic dignity that requires no bluster or bellow.  You don’t cross Pop when it comes to his wife.  And why would you – seeing and celebrating their love teaches more than most life lessons – and without the pain it usually takes to learn something once and for all.  I’m not going to pretend to understand the chapters of their story, the private moments that define their relationship, the challenges they have faced.  I can marvel and applaud their love, their devotion and their unity.

Next Wednesday I go into the hospital so the surgeon can remove one of these little gremlins that has taken up residence in my jaw.  Though we know it’s benign, we still don’t know what they are, or frankly why the hell they’re there.  All will be well.  I know this – it’s not a Pollyanna thing.  I’m not saying that I have no anxiety – that’s just disingenuous.  But as long as we can keep this to one procedure, I’m good.   I’m good because of my small constellation of friends who have been circling me like the angels that they are.  My friends who don’t ask me to let them know what they can do, they just somehow know what to do.  My daughter-in-law who just checks in with a  concern that leaves me weepy (there’s nothing that can make me weepier than my children).  I’m good because of Andy, though sometimes his sensitivity chip is disengaged.  Because even when he misses the cue, or waits for guidance I can’t provide because I’m groping around in the dark, he really loves me very hard.  And in that way, he’s like his dad.  And in that way, I’m a very lucky woman.

In these chilling days with winds that blow in personal moments of uncertainty, we gravitate to those elements that warm us, anchor us to the ground so that we don’t fly away on the breeze.  I look at my in-laws and know that together they are in the most loving of hands.  I look at my husband and I know I am home.

[youtube.com/watch?v=c4D40r-E7yk]

Coming Home

We pulled into the driveway last night, and I exhaled.  Home.  We could hear the Sirs barking – they knew we were here.  Everything was just as we had left it on Wednesday, nothing had changed.  That craving for the familiar finally satisfied.  My anchor, my protection, my comfort.  Home.  I need to be here right now.

I submit that in the medical lexicon, there is no more magnificent adjective than ‘benign’.  The pathologist called me while we were in Hilton Head and said “benign”.  I remember saying “Thank God and thank you so, so much for calling me.”  She liked my hair – I gave her the name of the woman who turns my gray hair into some credible fictional derivative.  I love horses – she told me about an organization where I can volunteer by helping children with disabilities experience the confidence-boosting experience of riding.  Then she added that word I abhor – “but”.   “But, I have never seen anything like this before…sending the sample to a colleague at Georgetown…probably should be removed.”  Do I tell her that I feel a third little coffee klatch of ‘rogue’ cells getting together for a little chat?  Does it matter?  “Benign”, I tell myself and take long deep breaths.  I really should learn how to meditate.  Andy tried to teach me once, suggesting I select a word that I could repeat in my head to help eliminate extraneous thoughts from interrupting my concentration.  I came up with ‘Pepsi Cola’ because I liked the rhythm of the two words together and started to laugh so hard that I ended up rolling on the bed, clutching my stomach and snorting.  Pepsi Cola – really?

At the end of the day, all will be well – I know this – I have no doubts.  It is just that time between now and getting-to-fine that makes me want to cocoon, and feel the safety of my familiar.  Knowing how perfect the coffee will be each morning, which way to turn the kitchen faucet so it doesn’t drip, sharing my kitchen chair with Teddy and rubbing Archie’s tummy with my foot.  Sunday crossword puzzles and fuzzy socks.  Football.  A storm coming in (actually a storm coming in wherever you may live on the East Coast of the U.S.) and power outages expected.  I am ever hopeful that our lights will stay on this time, even though our history this year suggests otherwise.

When I walked the Sirs early this morning, the silence was too loud not to notice.  A few crickets insisted on continuing their conversation; other than that –  not even a whisper on the wind.  A leaf fell on the asphalt.  I heard everything acutely, having so few sounds to identify.  An hour and a half later and the wind is beginning to wake, each bend of the trees an acknowledgement perhaps of what is about to come.  ‘Get ready’, the air muses,  ‘for change is always on the wing’.  And despite the uncertainty, I challenge the breeze – for it is benign.

Navemar – Nevermore

“…here is the deepest secret nobody  knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life, which grows

higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)”

—e.e. cummings – i carry your heart with me

My mom would have been eighty-five years old today.  Seven years of not calling her first thing in her morning to sing “Happy Birthday”, seven years without celebration, seven years since I chose a gift for her.  Seven years and I can still hear her voice.  No one calls me ‘schatzi’ anymore.

Make no mistake, mom was a complicated woman with more reasons than most for some of her challenging qualities.  She was beautiful for sure and  incredibly talented artistically, able to make a slab of marble breathe, mold clay that came to life in a kiln.  She sketched and painted and studied – movement and the human form, meadows caught in play with the wind.  And when she lost interest in the delight of pencil and sketch pad, something bigger than any result got lost.  She was a haunted soul.  Haunted by the impact of having life, when so many of her family were lost during the war.  Part of the ever-diminishing segment of the population who bore witness to the unimaginable horror of the Nazi occupation.  Plagued with trauma I can’t begin to imagine, nor really took the time to understand as completely as I should have.

My former brother-in-law wrote her obit for the New  York Times which made the brief tribute all the more personal.  Her parents took the family out of Austria shortly before the Anschluss, “..making their way first to Belgium and then through occupied France.  the family made its way to Portugal, where on August 6, 1941, they found passage among 765 other refugees on the Spanish freighter Navemar – one of the last voyages of escapees from Europe.  [Her] children and grandchildren bear in their hearts eternal, existential gratitude for her family’s valor and persistence…Our family is particularly gladdened that [she] lived long enough to know of the safe return..of her eldest grandson…from Iraq, where for the past year he has served in harm’s way the country that gave his grandmother safe haven.”

The stories of the Navemar’s voyage are beyond the pale.  A freighter that was never intended to hold more than 30 people.  The horror was unspeakable and a subject of articles written by those far more knowledgeable than me.  My mom was fourteen when she arrived at Ellis Island.

I don’t know about why one journey ends and another begins.  Maybe dad left to make sure that my son would come home.  Perhaps mom left once she knew he was here and that all her grandchildren were present and accounted for.  All I know is that some days are far harder than others, and I suppose they should be.  It is the movement of the human form – the bend in the head, the tear rolling to the chin, the beating of the heart that carries so, so much.

I Am SO Hating Hallmark

Each year I swear this  isn’t going to happen…as the days tick down I steel myself.   At this point my emotional armor is ostensibly secure and unyielding.  I am prepared for battle and I will emerge victorious.  Hallmark – you’re going down.

And I see the commercial where all these ‘moms’ (in quotes for I don’t really know if they are moms) look into the camera and implore their kids to ‘just’ – “just tell me you’re proud of me”, “just tell me I’m doing this right”, “just tell me you love me”, “just tell me I matter to you”…and I dissolve into a weeping fool.  My steely protection melts, my waterproof mascara fails miserably (note to cosmetic companies – I would be a good tester for your waterproof eye makeup) and as I gulp, I curse the fact that yet again they got me.  Dammit.

I’m great in a crisis – if you need someone stoic, calm and focused, call me.  Give me a love story, a happy ending – no matter how predictable, expressions of affection and/or appreciation and I’m an embarrassment.  Although I realize this dates me,  I cried during the last five minutes of “The Trouble With Angels” when Hayley Mills decided to become a nun.  Let’s not even talk about “The Parent Trap”, “Dumbo”…

The Trouble with Angels (film)
The Trouble with Angels (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are other commercials airing here that press my emotional buttons too,  but Hallmark represents all of those advertisers that are thriving by making saps like me cry.  Shame on you.  I’m a mom – I don’t think you’re supposed to reduce me to tears and have me feel stupid for doing so simultaneously.  I don’t begrudge any holiday – prepackaged or otherwise – which encourages people to acknowledge their love for one another.  I’ve really been blessed with the relationships I have with my sons – and we have always been generously affectionate and articulate about our feelings for each other.  I’m completely crazy about them,  proud of the men they are, enthralled by their stories and thankful that they still want to share them with me.  I love the women they have chosen to share their journeys and relish the time I have with them too.

And if I’m going to cry thinking about Mother’s Day, that’s what I’d like to cry about.  This indescribable love that grabs me by the throat, the sensory memories I have of my babies after bath time, their giggles before their voices changed and their dirty jokes after their voices changed, their delight when they eclipsed me in height,  little hands hugging my neck, singing to them at night and sloppy kisses that would leave my cheeks smudged and wet…

There are thousands upon thousands of moments in a lifetime that I would rather cry over and a Hallmark commercial isn’t one of them.  Yet I have not figured out a way to steel myself from the trite advertisements for love, which in and of themselves somehow minimize what is in my heart.  So until we get past Sunday, I think I’ll leave the tv off, avoid the card store and just look forward to seeing the kids over the weekend.