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Archive for the ‘Comforting things’ Category

photo copyNew Englanders are a reserved bunch.  My sister-in-law down South moved to a new home at the same time I moved to where I live now.  Within a week, she had five pies on her doorstep.  Here, it took me three months to meet my first neighbor.

Which is why spring in New England is so important.  It’s the time of year when we get a little giddy, when we throw caution to the wind, when our faith through the dark winter days is rewarded. This morning I drove past a house I’ve gone by almost every single day since September, a tiny nondescript ranch a long way from better times.  But I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen it before today, when the front yard was a riot of color, brilliant sunshine yellow daffodils against the bright pink of cherry blossoms.

Someone had to plant each one of those bulbs, digging down into the hardening earth, had to imagine how the flowers would look against a tree decked in its finest.  I hope the thought gave them a quiet chuckle, hope it helped them get through what seemed like an endless winter. It’s a gray day here today, but I’m carrying that image with me as a promise that spring is really here, even if there’s not much evidence yet.

Because sometimes all you can do is hope for better, more brilliant times, for something lovely to awaken from the darkness.

What, you don't have a luna moth chrysalis and praying mantis egg sac hanging around your house, waiting to hatch?

What, you don’t have a luna moth chrysalis and praying mantis egg sac hanging around your house, waiting to hatch?

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I was going to link to this poem today — it is one of my favorites and I try to read it every spring. But it is gray and rainy here, so I thought we needed something more upbeat.

In my family, I am notorious for becoming infatuated with a song and playing it obsessively, until EVERYONE including the Slobbering Beast groans when they hear the first few notes.  (My son recently reminded my husband how lucky he was not to carpool with us in the morning because “You don’t have to hear about Jane and that dude wearing a corset all the time. Which is just weird.” Lou Reed, wherever you are, I salute you.)

But sometimes I hit on a winner, like this one. It has become our morning wake-up song, our roll down the windows and sing on the way home from school song, our dance around the kitchen after dinner song. Play it a few hundred times — it grows on you. (And read the ticker tape at the bottom if you need a laugh.)

Enjoy.

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So yesterday was a holiday here in the states. Which means my children had the day off. They are mostly very good at entertaining me — they build snowmen, they make up crazy dances, they try and explain their electronic games to me — the upshot of which is that I have a hard time doing any work in their presence. (I did hide in my study during the late-lamented football game on Sunday, because  I personally feel that if I am going to waste perfectly good brain cells there ought to be alcohol involved, and everyone else in my family HAD to watch it and it was too early for wine.)

And tomorrow they are saying may be a snow day, which at our house involves pajamas and popcorn and movies and reading and everything but WORK.  Because I only have my children and their childhood for a brief time and work is forever, ya know?  Except that I am only really working two days this week, because my daughter also has off FRIDAY.  Which means … I am screwed.

So, in lieu of a REAL blog post, I am leaving you a very pretty picture of what snow looks like near me. (Without the Slobbering Beast this time, because the day I took the picture he was curled up on his bed, completely over the white stuff. As am I, come to think of it.)  Enjoy, and if you want a longer blog post next time pray for school next week.

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I have news for you

(9th century Irish)

I have news for you:
The stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone
Wind high and cold, the sun low, short its course
The sea running high.
Deep red the bracken; its shape is lost;
The wild goose has raised its accustomed cry,
cold has seized the birds’ wings;
season of ice, this is my news

(More Celtic poetry here)

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When I was a little girl, it wasn’t Christmas until my mother dragged up the nativity music box from the basement.  It was a big plastic replica of the manger scene, complete with cow. When you wound the key in the back it played Silent Night, and it smelled like a cross between a new Barbie and the dank cool air of the cellar. I loved it dearly. My mother put up with it for probably 10 years, and then one day in a fit of purging it disappeared.

I was remembering that nativity scene as I looked around my house today. These days when I close my eyes and picture Christmas, I see white walls, a simple green tree with pine cones, maybe a burlap skirt. A few plain green wreaths scattered about. One or two starfish. Something like this:

When I open my eyes however, that is not what I see. I see holiday throws on every surface, a flurry of hand-cut snowflakes dangling from the balcony, an overabundance of nutcrackers dancing across my mantel and a talking chipmunk, a dragon/egg warmer and a mouse holding a holiday tete-a-tete.  This is not a harmonious mix.

The talking chipmunk and friends.

The talking chipmunk and friends.

Some days I long to open up that Pottery Barn catalog and disappear into that faux serenity, that magical lifestyle where toys stay in their tastefully monogrammed bins, champagne glasses are always full and sparkling,  and singing chipmunks cannot be found. But then my kids build a manger out of magnatiles, or hijack baby Jesus and leave a ransom note, or pore over the Christmas books, reading favorite lines aloud to each other, and I think those perfectly decorated rooms look just a little bit lonely.

Christmas, at least here, is about the plastic managers. It’s about loving the imperfect items for what they represent. It’s about an electric current of joy so strong that it powers the whole holiday season, waking us all with the excitement of possibility, making the house shine more than any tinsel or lights ever could.  And that’s so much better than any catalog still-life.

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Sun and shadow

Sun and shadow

Today was the first day of school, and it’s tradition for me to drop off the kids and then bawl my eyes out. Three years ago, when my son transitioned from kindergarten to first grade, I didn’t even make it out of the parking lot. The second grade teacher on parent duty had to pat me on the shoulder and tell me to keep my sunglasses on so I wouldn’t upset the students.

But today I didn’t cry. Part of that is because the schedule is different this year: My son actually started school last week, and my daughter was with me when we dropped him off.  (At his specific request, I did not exit the vehicle.)

“You’re not going to CRY, are you?” my daughter asked from the back seat, a sweet combination of comfort and amusement. So I put my sunglasses on, swiped away an errant tear, and spent the day enjoying her company instead of my usual first day ritual, which is to take myself off to the hill where I hike.  That day, when her brother started school, the girl and I were talking about something in the future. And I said, without thinking “That will be six years. Right around the time you start college.”

“Six years,” she echoed, and we looked at each other, a bit aghast. More than two-thirds of my time with her is through — it was light years ago that she was a six-year-old, starting school herself, and light years beyond that a tiny newborn, when what seemed like unending time spooled before us.

But today it was her turn to start school, a new place where I know she will be happy, since I have researched it as only an over-protective, ex-reporter can do. And still it was more than bittersweet, dropping her off at the door where she’ll spend most of her waking days, in a sea of teachers and other students I may only ever come to know by name.

“You’re not going to CRY, are you?” she asked from the back seat, amused and a little panicked. “Because if YOU cry, I’ll cry.”  And so I put on my oversized sunglasses once more and assured her I would not cry. I offered to walk her in on this first day, and she was willing to let me, but the boy was bellowing “GO GO GO! She’ll be fine! I have to get to school too!  Don’t cry!” And so I let her go.  I drove off, watching in the rear view mirror as we moved away from each other, she growing smaller and smaller in the distance.

And then I took the boy to school, where we met up with one of his friends, and they played ball in the back seat until it was time to go in.  And then at last, in the sudden silence, I drove to my hill. There are other places that are more beautiful,  that offer a longer trail or a more scenic one, but this spot is so tightly wound into the fabric of my children’s childhood that there is no other place for me on days when I need peace or comfort. In my mind the hill is always the green of springtime, with short new grass and robins overhead. And today, my first time there in several months, that picture is what I was expecting.

But of course it was different. It’s September now, not May. The grass is high, almost to my chest, turning brown along the edges, ready for mowing.  The tall grass tunnels in, narrowing your options, making it more difficult to choose another way.   In past years I’ve run to the top, but today I took my time, winded by the humidity and a summer spent choosing beach walks over pounding along the sidewalks. It was supposed to rain, and half the hill was cast in shadow. When I reached the top, I sat and thought about all the times I’ve done this route, and how often I’ve had a baby or a toddler or small child along with me.  And I might have shed a tear or two then.

But it is hard to be melancholy with a dog, especially one who has had to be polite and on-leash for most of the summer and suddenly finds himself with room to run. The Slobbering Beast stretched out his legs and spronged through the tall grass like a rabbit, urging me on with friendly persistence until at last I got up and took the path toward the woods, the trail curving along ahead of us, dark and mysterious, with secrets of its own for us to discover just around the bend.

Happy Beast

Happy Beast

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ImageThere’s a saying I keep on my bulletin board, the place where all the schoolwork fit for display is hung.  It says “When you’re a parent, the days pass slowly, but the years fly by.”

I’m not a ‘quality time’ parent. I’m in it for the details, not the days at Disney World (although those days have been pretty fine too).  I’m in it for stolen minutes stretched across my daughter’s bed, listening to her talk; for playing catch at the pool or beach with my son and marveling at his reach; for long car rides and afternoon walks and any time I can get them alone and just be.

Summers are the best days for that. Summers are the breath between school and sports and work, the long slow exhalation as we throw off a schedule that’s too tight. I’m off to long hot days, to sticky Popsicles that stain tongues blue and green, to water gun fights and wiffle balls and hermit crabs and fireworks. To sunburns, to too much sand, to chlorine scented hair and water-wrinkled feet. To all the tiny moments that make up these days, to treasures I can hold on to when another year has flown. Because after all this time together, my kids are still some of the most interesting people I know.

See you in September.

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