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Archive for April, 2013

Hope

IMG_4553It is spring in New England, that brief heart beat of a season that lives between freezing cold and scorching heat.

When pink petals fall from the sky like snow.

Miracles pop up from what was frozen ground only weeks ago.

And for a single shining moment, anything is possible.

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Last Wednesday, halfway through that terrible week, I took my son and his friend hiking. I needed to be outside, to disconnect from the news, to work my muscles and remind myself that this grief, although it felt as though it had landed on my doorstep, didn’t belong to me.

Because it feels as if it does. It feels as if these tragedies that keep happening, keep popping up on the internet, are just a breath away from those that I love. Boston especially — I’ve walked down that street, I know people who were at the Marathon, friends of friends were injured. The muscles of my heart feel as if they’ve been working too hard these days, as if they’re damaged. I understand the definition of heartsick.

Today I went back to the hill where I hike. I went alone, but it was raining and cold, not weather for cheering up. So I stopped in at the preschool at the base of the hill, where my children went to school, and I sat on the floor and I watched the teachers. I watched as they mediated an argument between two children who wanted to play with the same toy. I watched as they explained, over and over and over again, why the blocks couldn’t be stacked past a certain point. The teachers wiped noses. They passed out snacks. They praised the children when they used kind words, and reminded them of those words when they didn’t. They did all these things with patience and grace, in the hopes of making the world a better place one small child at a time.

There was a sign at the door when I came in, a reminder to parents that the school is a safe place for little ones, as much as any place can be these days. It was a reminder for me, as well.

Advice

Advice

So here’s what I have for you this week. My family is going through a retro phase for our weekend movie nights. We’ve been watching Leave It To Beaver, a few episodes every time. I thought my children might find it hokey, but they’re fascinated  by the trouble Wally and Beaver find themselves in. And despite the stereotypes on the show, there’s something comforting about a world where parental authority and confidence is so absolute, where no one ever gets hurt and adults know the right answer to every question.

In last week’s episode, Beaver and Wally had a run in with Lumpy, a mean bully of a boy.  Beaver and Wally try to thwart him, to no avail. At the end of the episode, Beaver asks his dad: “So you just can’t beat a guy like Lumpy?”

“Sure you can, Beaver,” the father replies. “Sure you can. You beat him simply by not being like him.”

On this rainy day, it helps to remember that.

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My dad grew up in Southie. If you aren’t from Boston, aren’t from Massachusetts, that has different meaning for you. To me, it means afternoons spent at my grandmother’s house, listening to white boys wearing gold chains pass on the sidewalk outside, trying to understand what they said. It means going to the playground with your grandmother as a ten-year-old, looking at the five-year-olds playing there, and realizing that any one of them could take you.

It means being young and far away from home  and homesick. Not for any one person or place, exactly, but for a sense of the familiar. And then hearing that accent — that godawful, wonderful accent — spoken on the Tube by some punk, loud-mouthed Boston kid in jeans and a Celtics t-shirt — and smiling for the rest of the day.

It means having absolutely no interest in sports, not even in the Red Sox (okay, maybe the Red Sox) but hating New York on principle.

It means taking the train into Boston as a teen with your friends and realizing that all the stuff you read about in history books, the stuff that made your country, happened HERE, and that the founding fathers were pretty bad-assed after all.

It means that your husband — who can navigate anywhere in the world — will sometimes turn to you, the geographically impaired, after following a maze of one way streets to say in frustration “Where the hell ARE we?” and you can actually tell him.

It means driving through a blizzard at 65 mph with cars passing you on both sides. It means drinking Dunkin Donuts iced coffee instead of Starbucks in the summer. It means understanding that when Paul Revere did his midnight ride, he wasn’t shouting “The British are coming” so that people could hide. He was doing it so that they would stand up and  fight.

It means that you swear allegiance at an early age to a city that pretends not to give a damn about so many things, but really cares so much. A city whose heart is big enough, open enough to break for those who are grieving. And tough enough to move forward, to give the finger to whoever did this. Tough enough to say,  in that awful accent,  ‘We ain’t done here. You haven’t beaten us, asshole. You never will.”

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Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandolf:  So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

Boston. I love you. You wicked tough, wicked cool, wickedly awesome city. To the people running toward the explosion to help instead of away, to the first responders, the doctors, nurses, police, to the residents offering cell phones and clothing and food and shelter to strangers, you give me hope.  Because of you, when I talk to my children I can say “Look at the heroic deeds of so many!” instead of focussing on the evil actions of so few.

If we must live in such times, there’s no place else I’d rather be.

MP900382916

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I have been a slacker this winter. Oh, I have run on the treadmill, and hiked with the dog, but in terms of logging good, heart-pumping, want to keel over and die miles? Not so much.

This is bad for so many reasons, the main one being that my mind, it goes like a hamster on a wheel. Being too tired to stay awake at night and worry about everything from the state of publishing to how I can fend off the inevitable shark attack at our sleepy beach on Long Island Sound this summer to whether tomatoes with fish genes will ever be approved (I do not jest — look it up) is an excellent thing. And of course, there’s the reason of health. But most importantly ….

there’s the vanity. My husband bought me a very fancy dress for a very fancy event this summer, and not fitting into it, or fitting into it and looking like an overstuffed kardashian, is truly not part of the game plan. And so I cast around and looked for an emergency solution, one that would work well with wine and chocolate.

I found a local gym that was running a health challenge, in which you promise to attend a certain number of classes, eat a certain number of calories, and commit to a certain number of minutes spent in cardiovascular exercise, and the gym promises you will get in shape. At first I thought “Ha — suckers! I will ROCK this cardiovascular exercise part.” But unfortunately, life gets in the way, and spending X number of hours a day running hasn’t been possible. So instead of setting aside big chunks of time every day for exercise, I’ve been trying to sneak it in — I get to the gym 15 minutes before my class starts and walk around the block. At night, I drag my son and the Slobbering Beast with me for a nightly jaunt. I’m still running and hiking a few days a week, but on the days I have other obligations — and there are many of them — 15 minutes a handful of times throughout the day is what happens.

And you know what? It’s working. Numbers that I wanted to go down are dropping, slowly but steadily. Maybe not as quickly as they would if I committed to running five miles a day again, every day, but dropping all the same.

Writing is like this too. I’d thought that this year, with both my children in school, I’d have hours of luxurious time to devote to writing. Most days, I don’t. Some of that is because of outside obligations, obligations I can’t control, but sometimes, it’s because the idea of sitting down and looking at a blank page for two hours is terrifying, and I will fill those two hours with almost anything else. (Except ironing. Even I have limits.)

So I’ve been taking my laptop with me lately. Fifteen minutes in the waiting room before a doctor’s appointment. Ten minutes in the car before the kids get out of school. It’s not a lot of time, it’s true, but the words add up. Because sometimes the freedom of knowing you can’t get it ALL done in the short time you have allows you to get SOMETHING done, which eventually adds up to all.

How’s your writing coming these days?Image

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the choose your adventure books that were popular when I was young. Remember those? You’d read a few pages, and then make a choice — turn to page 21 to search for the treasure in the mountain, skip to page 35 to search by the sea. Your choices determined whether the characters succeeded or failed.

The kids are growing up, and we’re facing choices these days. So much seems to hang in the balance. If we choose the ‘right’ school, pick the ‘right’ sport, steer them toward the  ‘right’ peer group — will their story end the ‘right’ way, with a healthy and happy life? That’s the question that keeps me up at night.

The truth is, I never cared much for those adventure books. Being able to control the plot might have been exciting the first time, but the story never captured my imagination the way other books did. They were billed as stories to read again and again, but I only read them once and then gave them away. The books I turned to — The Hobbit, The Dark is Rising, The Chronicles of Narnia — might not have had huge plot points I could control, but each sentence was crafted with exquisite care. Strung together, page after page, they required patience from my 10-year-old self to decipher, but the whole added up to such a wonderful story I couldn’t help but read them again and again.

I tell myself it’s not the big plot points in my children’s lives that make them who they are. It’s not the choice of schools, of sports, of activities. It’s not who they hang out with (even though their friends are all lovely). It’s the smaller moments — the time we spend in the car together, the family movie nights, the trips to the beach. It’s reading on the couch together, the chore of feeding the Slobbering Beast, the times my husband and I choose to be their  parents instead of their friends, no matter how often I wish it could be the other way. It’s a million tiny moments, strung together with as much care as we can muster, done as often as we can. Those are the moments that make up their story. Those are the moments upon which their ending depends.

Tree Lined Rural Road

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