Nine

Years of marriage.

And as the cries arise—“So young!” “Spring chickens!”—let me just say that yes, we are fairly new travellers on the highway of love, but we’ve navigated our share of forks in the road, blind corners, and breakdowns (usually managing to get to the side of the road but sometimes stalling unsurprisingly at conspicuous intersections).

Driving through rush hour Akron traffic to make our six o’clock dinner reservation in Cleveland,

momocho

John asked if I felt nine years older. I wonder, do marriage years work like childhood years? My answer to the question spoke of stages: clueless newness, colic survival (for want, or sheer laziness, of a better term), massive transition (new job, new baby, big move, autism diagnosis), heartbreaking honesty accompanied by painful recognitions and uncertainties, renegotiation, and finally, a kind of interpersonal exploration nouveau.

Granted, if we were still in the “heartbreaking honesty accompanied by painful recognitions and uncertainties” stage, I certainly wouldn’t be writing about it now; and I’m not going into specifics on any of these fronts. But in summation, I’ll offer up a generally accurate characterization of our nine nuptial years:    

“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”  —Emily Dickinson

But it’s also familiar. We rented a tent for our mostly outdoor reception in the July heat of Kansas to protect our guests from the sun. The day ended up grey and one of the coldest on record: maybe 65 degrees. People were asking for coffee and huddling in a very crowded downstairs living room to warm up from a chilly north wind. Of course 65 sounds ideal, but considering Kansas summer highs hardly ever dip down to even the mid-80s (and have been known to remain in the 100s for weeks at a time), it was downright frigid.

The weather today in Canton is remarkably similar, only sunnier. The boys and I wore sweaters while waiting for the trash truck on the front stoop this morning. Not as rare in Ohio, but still to be relished, and remarkable in its way.

john-jennifer-2004-bw [Photo credit: Dwayne Adamson]

 

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Summer Vacation

Here’s the thing about summer vacation: it’s not. Okay, you might take a week (or two if you’re lucky) and travel or do nothing in your own home but read and drink and write and sleep and eat, hopefully with relish, but (I’ve always got a but, don’t I?) gone are the days of our youth.

But summer still feels bright and open to me. I have this theory that the season you’re born into makes you a bit. Summer on a farm means work. You work more then than you do all year. Our farm was small, but I knew about the work. When I was old enough I left for a bigger farm and did some of the things they didn’t need me for at home: truck driving, fence mending, milking, plowing. It occurs to me now that summer’s openness connects me to work in a way that makes me relish it.

So if the days of our youth are gone, at least there’s the possibility that we might gain enough wisdom—really, just a smattering will do—to recognize just what it is we’ve got. Because here’s where I’m at right now: my kids are driving me a little nuts. They need far too much entertaining; or is it just that I’ve supplied them with too much screen time, too many “special” trips and surprises? Or is it that I’m weary of mollifying their every agitation? That hits closer.

Granted, my eldest has spells of (what are to him—and I understand, because I felt those feelings as a child) terrifying anxiety. And summer is great—Swimming! Swinging! Trips to see grandparents! Visitors from Kansas! Visitors from Texas! Saturday every day for three months!—but the lack of a more structured schedule takes a toll. More meltdowns. Behaviors bordering on the obsessive. And regression, I’m starting to see, is always an issue. All kids lose some skills over the summer. Jonah’s loss moves twice as fast. More days than not I recognize that certain areas of his life will be uphill all the way.

And the other one. The other one. Stubborn he is. Recalcitrant. A brilliant player and escape artist and nabber of inappropriate tools. He still puts everything in his mouth. I found him chewing on the DVD player cord the other day. He wants what Jonah has, always. Nothing less will do, and his incessancy can surpass that of his brother. Some days he hardly eats. He lives on limey juice and fruit.

John spoke what I have been feeling, but not consciously acknowledging, for the last week or so—right before Gabriel slipped out the gate and made his way around the block before we found him coming back ’round (Thanks to his archangel, once again. I mean it.):  “I just want to neglect them sometimes.” How’s that for a parental confession?

Because hey, it’s our summer too. And let’s face it, summer’s a whole ‘nother story when you’re a parent. Come mid-July the thought of the coming school year brings coinciding feelings of dread and relief. I love these boys just as they are, right now. I try every day to enjoy their little boys’ bodies and affections, but I wish sometimes they could pee without telling me, or poop without needing a wipe. Or fix their own food and keep themselves occupied (without a screen) for more than five minutes.

I initially titled this post, “Blame the Meds.” But as the day progressed—and it did so for me in a hazy, grouchy, short-tempered kind of way, due in part to two strong margaritas John made me last night, which I’m learning don’t at all mix with my sort of antidepressant (Celexa)—I came to see by simply living through my own dark mood that while the drinks affected the meds, which affected me, it’s still me in here. I’m the one learning and failing to learn how to live with myself, as myself. Personhood is tough, don’t let anyone tell you different. I’m sure I’ve written on this blog more than once that being a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but right now, I don’t think that’s right.

I think being a real person is harder. Which is why summer will always be my favorite. I need bright days to rest in, to turn myself inside out in—whether it be through work or leisure. I have a decent understanding of work, but leisure… Sitting still with yourself, letting be (sometimes in the dark) requires not only courage, but also wisdom. I gotta know when to walk away.

Today Jonah asked me (in his attempt to get me to concede that light sabers actually are real and can be made—because hey, if a DK book shows it so, it must be): “Mom, are you thinking wiser yet?” Not quite yet. But thanks for reminding me to work on it.

saber 1 saber 2saber 3 saber 4saber 5 saber 6[Jonah’s new light saber, made from scrapped shower parts. We call this his Saber Dance. The pursed lips denote the making of light saber sounds.]

 

Remembrance

These are lazy, hazy days. Literally. I find it difficult to do anything quickly. So when John asked me yesterday what I wanted for my birthday, I settled on hours alone in my house. He took the boys swimming in Cleveland, and I had six quietly blissful hours alone with my slow thoughts and sleeping dogs.

I did a little online shopping, indulging myself for the day with a new dress. I got opinions from my sisters and mother, who I would have liked to have brunched with, drinking Bloody Mary Dirty martinis. Okay, I might have been the only one drinking, but it would have been fun. My sisters and mother make me laugh. I remembered on my birthday how much I like to laugh. I want to laugh more. Anyway, they unanimously picked the punchy Boden number, while I clinged to the idea of the gauzy-white Gap sundress. So I got them both! We’ll see which one works, if any. Sticky-still Ohio summers scream for breeze; the right dress can do the trick.

Jonah and I finished Return of the Jedi while John attended a morning meeting, Jonah fetching G from outside whenever Darth Vader, light sabers, or the Emperor appeared. We danced with the Republic (and especially the Ewoks) after the Death Star, Vader, and the “electricity guy” (the Dark Lord Sidious with lightening flashing from his fingers) were all dramatically defeated.

The trash guys came and went. We saw it all. I made things—flourless chocolate cupcakes, collages, delinquent birthday/Father’s day cards—all while watching a BBC adaption of Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers. My sister (in-law) Beth sent me a gauzy grey scarf I wore the whole while until the dogs and I took a hot walk. Just as I was sitting down to soak my feet in G’s kiddie pool (aka, water cannon reloading station), a book and almost a beer in hand, the Forester pulled up with three very tired boys. Alas, the second novella in Jane Smiley’s Ordinary Love and Good Will remains unbegun.

But first thing yesterday, I received texts from my mother (1:11 a.m.) and friend Caro remembering my day. My sisters both and my father later in the day. I saved his message for when I laid down to sleep. He always sings to me, to us. He has a rich baritone-bass I love to hear. I hear his voice in my voice sometimes when I sing. In the afternoon my mom face phoned (as the boys like to call it), and my friend Kevin called after his airport shift in Colorado.

The Orthodox Church I attend has a lovely custom of remembering those “celebrating another year” in their liturgical prayers and even sings them a “Many Years” at the conclusion of the service. Somehow, my name was left off last week, and my feeling of being forgotten was strong enough that I wrote a quick email to the parishioner in charge of supplying the priest with the list. I hesitated because I felt like a little kid shouting, “What about me? What about me?!” In the end I hit Send because I need those prayers. In itself, being remembered is like a prayer. Is a prayer.

Abraham Lincoln famously said, among other things, “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” I can say the same about my own mother. It’s a running joke between John and me—if your need is desperate, ask Debbe to pray for you. She’ll take that request to her Bible study, and you can expect results. Really. Every time.

Of course, it’s not an economics equation: Jennifer’s need + Debbe’s prayers = Jennifer gets what she wants. Though let’s be honest—mothers are generally known for their sacrificial love, and mine sometimes gives until she breaks. It’s the love in my mother’s prayers, that deep remembering she carries within her, for me. Like I carry for Jonah and Gabriel. In the same way that remembering is prayer, prayer is love, because all good is love.

In the Liturgy, we call to remembrance “our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, with all the Saints,” Jesus’ mother being the paramount embodiment of mother-love. The sacrament of communion itself is the consumption of love: “This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” The word consumption breaks down here. It’s implication assumes that the thing being consumed is used up. Remembering involves transformation, as short-lived or two-steps-forward-one-step-back as it may be.

Which of course brings us to Horace: “Remember when life’s path is steep to keep your mind even.” Thank you Celexa, for that.

lazy hazy“Lazy Hazy”

entirely pleased“Entirely Pleased”

Talkings

A few weeks ago on our way to “summer camp” (i.e. ESY summer school), Jonah was lamenting the lack of “talkings” in the book he had just written.

I find his books in various places throughout the house. Most consist of four to five pieces of computer paper stapled into a spine, cover and title finished, always with the attribution: “By Jonah. Illustrations by Jonah”. Sometimes a few pages of story have been written out in his scrawling—but improving—phonetically masterful spelling. I’ve collected more than half a dozen “Christmas Carol”s; most all other stories involve some kind of battle (the most recent spelling of which was “bido”—no clue). My favorite (cover) to date is an Up rendering with smiley-face-stamped-stick-men riding a balloon-hitched house to the sky.

Anyway, “talkings” are those comic strip type balloons filled with words. Of course! Talkings!

And so, to honor the goal I shared with my personal health coach Cora (our insurance company somehow roped me into a thirty minute phone conversation that led to enrolling me in a new preventative mental health program—all because I’ve been prescribed Celexa and may exhibit some symptoms of depression), I thought I’d share some interesting snippets from my morning New York Times readings.

O yes. My goal. It’s pretty half-ass, since I was mostly just trying to get off the phone: “Set aside time for myself for restoration.” Something like that. I’m sure I used about twenty words trying to describe what I meant, because I know the word restoration did not, just then, come to mind.

LAST night I dreamed about mercury — huge, shining globules of quicksilver rising and falling. Mercury is element number 80, and my dream is a reminder that on Tuesday, I will be 80 myself.  — Oliver Sack in Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)

My birthday is next week, and I love weird connections like this. Last night, my reoccurring dream of skipping half a semester of math and history classes revisited me. In an effort to remedy the situation without receiving a failing grade, I visited the math professor, who didn’t say a word about the work I had missed but just invited me to become her lunch buddy.

By the way, I read somewhere that the people who are most intellectually creative in later life are experimentalists rather than conceptualists. Some people start with a clear conception of what they want to do and then execute their plan. They tend to be most intellectually creative young. Others don’t start with clear conceptions, they just go through trial and error. They peak late. — David Brooks and Gail Collins in How to Be Old

Very, very encouraging. And finally:

Nothing seems more American than this forced choice between cynicism and naïve belief. Or rather, as Herman Melville put it in his 1857 novel “The Confidence Man,” it seems the choice is between being a fool (having to believe what one says) or being a knave (saying things one does not believe). For Melville, who was writing on the cusp of modern capitalism, the search for authenticity is a white whale.  — Simon Critchley in The Gospel According to ‘Me’

And with that, I’ll leave you with two examples of authenticity unfeigned, uncalculated and pretty damn near pure.

fli book[The Fly Book: Fiction]

cement mixer[Cement mixer design by John and G]

Cousins, Part 2

We are done in. And strangely filled up.

Our second set of cousins just set off for their return to Kansas. Jonah was edgy and in tears. It took an hour to get him in a place where he would consent to lunch. Having had to share his toys (which mostly amounted to not sharing his toys unless coerced with the timer on the stove), Gabriel grabbed the iPad and headed for the blue-grey couch. Haven’t heard a peep in almost an hour.

Before they left, we took a (freezing cold) farewell swim in the hotel swimming pool. Thankfully, I can feel my big toes again, and the tingling in my fingers has ceased. On the way down from my sister’s room, I almost lost G. A woman in the elevator yelled down the  hall, “I have one of your children here!” I was the caboose at the end of the luggage train, unable to pass, afraid to yell, and thankful again for the kindness of strangers.

Over the course of the few days Beth and her family visited (husband Brandon, Charlotte [6], Isaiah [3], and Silas [14 months]), Charlotte was several times called Jonah’s sister. They are good friends. Jonah explained the intricacies of Star Wars as they held hands and watched Revenge of the Sith on the aforementioned blue-grey couch. They held a corn snake and a ball python together at Malone’s zoology headquarters (thanks to Brandon for being the extrovert he is and making it happen). G and Isaiah didn’t really hit it off until we were saying our hotel farewell. They started playing elevator in the mirrored hotel closet with sliding doors. With no turf to defend, they found their groove. I’m all for neutral territory.

A General Two-Day Recap:

Muggswigsz smoothies were enjoyed after a short run through the downtown fountains. Parsley gin juleps, lavender brownies, popsicles aplenty, and numerous tofu dishes were consumed (just doing my part to educate my burgeoning Buerge veg-heads). Pipes smoked. Silas said “Yo-da”—clear as day. Charlotte researched hermit crabs, inspired by her Maine encounter and touching/cooking/eating her first lobster. Isaiah turned our garden hose into Niagra (O Canada!). The girls had a morning out—much to my delight. We did Starbucks, discovered that hermit crabs eat poop and lose limbs, visited the pet store (C nearly pocketed a tiny “I’m Crabby!” fish tank accessory), tried on clothes for each other at Gap  (Charlotte acquired an inspired French tee in kelly green, Beth a poppin’ bright retro sleeveless shirtwaist), and touched but did not tempt ourselves by looking too closely at the pricetags of JCrew sale rack dresses, tanks, and pencil pants. It rained, and rained some more, with intervals of sunny mugginess.

The Texas Single Malt Whiskey I bought John for his birthday (March 16) arrived today. I may just be a convert, but I’m going to have to learn to handle my liquor better. The gin I enjoyed last night (cocktailed with my Celexa and a taste of Brandon’s Chartruese) still has me feeling fuzzy in the head. I want more coffee, or maybe just a nap. I should go for the former, considering I hear the boys full of it in the next room over.

The latest downpour having past, we ought to pack up and go the library way. I want to read. I want an iced cappuccino. I want the watermelon in my fridge to cut itself up into perfect pink chunks I can eat while I read. I want to spend the rest of the afternoon meditating on Philip Gröning’s Into Great Silence. But G just informed me it’s stopped raining, that it’s a beautiful day, and we better go out. Library here we come. Happy Summer!

hello iguana 2ball snake  isaiah in the blue roomcorn snakeC & G  hello iguanafountain ballhello iguana 3girls do starbucks color  vader nap