Category Archives: adulthood

Things My Students Say

“When did you find out? Last week?”

I smile. I am standing in front of a room full of students just before the bell rings.

“July,” I say, evening out the stack of papers in front of me.

“What?!” There is consternation on their faces.

“Why did you wait so long to tell us?” one girl asks.

[this former two-year-old can’t wait to teach her two-year-old how to garden]

When I say the word “baby,” I’m not sure how they’ll react. I’ve taught some of these students for four years, off and on. Sometimes I feel like I’m a bad habit they can’t shake — I chase them from Latin to English and back again. Part of me thinks they won’t care. What does it matter to them, anyway? Apart from an eight-week substitute and perhaps a less-energetic Ms. Hawkins Knell, not much will change for them.

But this morning when I got dressed, I looked in the mirror and thought: It’s time.

There are things you wait for patiently, the time smoothly running as you go about life. I’m not quite sure I know what those things are; they’re few and far between for me.

I wait with anticipation. I wait with a leaning-forward.

Waiting for this baby is different from any other waiting I’ve ever done. On the one hand, I want the day to come tomorrow. On the other, I push it as far away as possible. This waiting is filled with curiosity (who will she look like? what will he enjoy? will she laugh like me? will he have Gabe’s eyes?), fear (WHAT AM I DOING? can I actually handle this? HELP.), excitement (I can’t wait to show the baby the world! share all the things I love! build our family and its culture and its ways!) and doubt (I am not the person to do this).

Along with my excitement, there is so much to process, think about, worry about, freak out about.

One thing I love about my students is they didn’t express any of these things.

They expressed joy.

[I originally bought this as a joke with a student I worked with over the summer. Now, it’s feeling like a not-joke to myself.]

Here were some other gems from the day:

“Can I hug you, Miss Hawkins?”

“Now you can’t drink coffee!!” (I assured him I could, indeed, have one caffeinated cup and some decaf.)

“You have to eat so healthy now.” (Later at lunch, this student walked by me with a twinkle in his eye, nodded at my red pepper dipped in hummus, and said, “Good job.”)

“You’ll have to go to the bathroom all the time!” (This one surprised me — must have experience with pregnancy.)

 

Dirt on My Kitchen Table

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I never had an indoor plant that survived longer than a month. I remember walking the aisles of Market Basket and gazing longingly at the tiny African Violets in their foiled pots. I’m not sure how many my parents bought me over the years — at least three or four — and their purpley-pink flowers looked soft and adorable on my bedside table. For about three weeks.

We are a family that gardens, yet we are embarrassingly bad at keeping indoor plants alive. I’d say I have a brown thumb, but I don’t. At least not with every green thing. Before I went to college, my herb garden flourished, twisting and vining around the small stone walls we built. In our big garden, there were always cucumbers and tomatoes, onions and swiss chard.

Just never plants in my cranberry-colored bedroom.

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Morning glories in my old herb garden.

When I lived in Somerville, an orchid a student gave me languished in my window: too much sun, too much water, too much attention. A succulent turned brown and squishy (who knew you could kill a succulent?!). I felt like a murderer; one born of neglect as much as over-care.

[You can imagine my fear when Gabe, on our third date, walked over the bridge towards me with a big white orchid plant in his hand. I’d been known to kill before, and I’d probably do it again. I tend to connect plants and trees with certain instances; would this, too, speak doom to our budding romance?]

[Said orchid has never flowered again, but it is not actually dead. Read into that what you will.]

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I’ve been waiting for my own farm since I was six years old and read Little House on the Prairie — held it like this rosy dream in front of me, like some sort of reminder that even if things aren’t as I’d imagined, someday they would be. Somehow I would find a way to weave writing and singing and family and farming and teaching and faith in a way that would bring me my deepest joy.

Sure, I had (have?) delusions about farm life. I thought staying home every day and tending to my gardens and animals would be this relaxing, idyllic life. Even after years of tending to chickens and working in my parents’ garden, I was able to maintain the misguided notion that farming would help me escape the fast-paced modern lifestyle. Now, I still long for a plot of land, a rolling meadow, goats and chickens and bees. I want a life that connects me with the earth so that my mind doesn’t float too far up in the clouds.

[“This is life,” she said as we walked on the boardwalk along the river. “This is it.” And I realized hours later — or maybe a day — that I can’t keep waiting for things to happen. When I get my farm. When I figure everything out. When I finally stop this yearning. This is life. This is it. What do you want it to look like?]

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Plants and art make sense. Gabe’s Mitza made this for us on our wedding day, and the pottery dish is a Christmas gift from my mother.

When we moved into our new home, a condo with no yard, one of the first things we did was buy plants. After potting them, watering them, and distributing them to various sunny windowsills, I was shocked at the amount of ease and beauty they brought to my life. What is it about green things? Suddenly our high-ceilinged home was brighter, cozier, more alive.

I wish I could say that I’ve turned over a new leaf (that was unintentional, but I’m keeping it), and that every plant we bought remains luscious and full and growing. That is not the case. We have a fussy plant that I’ve moved twice, but it still isn’t happy. I tried watering it. I tried not watering it. I would sing to it if I thought that would work. We have a big palm behind our bed that graces us with its browning tendrils upon waking. What is wrong with it? I cannot guess.

Last week, my parents gave me basil, thyme, mint, and oregano after our trip to California proved too long and too dry for the herbs I had (not pictured). I drove to Lowe’s to get terracotta pots, and I couldn’t resist the little succulents leaning ever-so-slightly in their mini-pots. I’m a sucker for spider plants with their babies dangling down, begging to hang from our tall shelf. I bought more than I’d planned.

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I spent my afternoon re-potting, watering, arranging, tending.

I spent my afternoon with my hands in dirt (on my kitchen table, not in my garden).

I’m excited for the day when we will be able to have our own farm. When the plants I grow will grow food for our bellies and deliciousness for our taste buds. But right now, I am grateful that I’ve somehow kept a few plants alive, that I am able to bring to life my girlhood dream (even if it’s in terracotta pots), and that dreaming is beautiful, but it is most life-giving when it connects with the world as you find it.

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Invisible

“I love wearing sunglasses,” my mother would say, flipping a large brown pair of shades on. “I feel so invisible!”

When I was little, I didn’t know what she meant. How did covering her eyes make her feel invisible? But even more importantly, why was that a good thing?

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I’m sitting in the middle of a seminar on using ancient writings in our own work. My friend, Kate, and I are intrigued by the premise, but neither of us is so sure it applies to what we write. Regardless, the dark-haired, dark-skinned man with the beautiful British accent has us listening attentively to his quiet words. He uses terms I don’t understand, he tries to get us to respond creatively to an upsetting image of a man sitting atop a wreckage that was presumably once his home, and suddenly I am feeling a little anxious. The words I’m choosing to describe the image are not strong. I don’t know Sanskrit or Middle English, or apparently English, as I have to cross-out and write again.

I have so many questions for this man, like how do we use beautiful, interesting words but not sound like intellectual pricks? or, how has this practice informed your own work?, but I am silenced by a young woman in the back. She is perhaps a few years younger than me (or older — at this point, I have no concept of age), and her hand is popping up every few minutes. She is clearly well-educated and articulate (two things we should value), but I bristle against her neediness. I have compassion for her neediness, but I do not want to be associated with it. Her neediness represents my own deep desire to be acknowledged by this writer-thinker man, and now it will never happen.

At the end of the seminar, he leans back in his chair and says he welcomes any questions. Kate and I get up to leave. The young woman from the back hurries forward, eager with even more thoughtful questions, comments. I hear her proclaim herself a Classicist, and I realize why I feel so uncomfortable: this jostling for teacher approval reminds me too much of college, of the constant push and shove of attention-needers and attention-givers. I had chosen not to participate then, and as I leave the tiny room with the loud fan and the thoughtful seminar-goers, my questions and ideas still locked up inside me, I wonder if I missed out, both then and now.

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Saturday, I drove to our day-long choir rehearsal with the top down, a green Red Sox baseball cap on, and a pair of sunglasses. Suddenly, I knew what my mother was talking about. Invisibility, when undesired, can cause pain. Feeling unseen or unknown can pop up eight years later at a writers’ conference in an embarrassing and surprising way.

And yet, invisibility sought is power.

The ability to see but not be seen, to observe unobserved. After all, isn’t that what being a writer is all about? How could one observe the world from a stage? Or the same with artists: the artist observes the subject, not the other way around. As I drove in my unintended disguise along the highway, down the winding streets to rehearsal, I felt as though I saw everything but no one knew what I looked like. I was invisible, it was chosen, and it felt good.

It is strange to me that this same feeling can be so debilitating if not desired. In some ways, I think I imagined myself unnoticed in college, and from there, it became the case. Like I tell my students when they sigh, “No one likes me!”, there is no better way to make sure that is true than to think it. I see them separate themselves at lunch, hide away in their phones or their books, and the self-fulfilling prophecy unfolds before my eyes.

If you behave like no one likes you, no one will.

If you leave a seminar with your questions still bubbling up inside you, no one will be able to engage them.

Maybe your invisibility, then, is always a choice — sometimes desired, sometimes not, but always chosen.

Who’s your favorite?

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My students are constantly asking me who is my favorite. It reminds me of when I was little and I was convinced that my parents must have a favorite among the four of us siblings — how could they possibly love us all equally? We were so vastly different, bizarre, and needy in our young years that the idea that my mother and father could look us in the eye and say they loved us all with no holds barred seemed laughable.

Now, I tell my middle and high school students that I do not have a favorite. I mean this to the bottom of my soul, to the top of my heart, and all around. I mean it from my Monday to my Friday, from my happiness to my sorrow. I mean it from when I am angry at them to when I think there is no greater joy than hearing young people happy.

I mean it every time I say it.

Because I read these articles, hear these horrifying stories and think: that could be me.

I signed up to teach them, but really this means a lot more than I thought. It means I will help them navigate awkward social situations, I will engage their questions when I am exhausted from 18 hours of waking and walking and talking, and, I realize, it means that I would die for them. Each and every one. And that I wouldn’t regret it. And that this is what it means to love.

I love all of them, I would protect all of them, and I am sick reading these stories and praying that if this ever happens to me, I will not think twice before jumping between my curious, loving, thoughtful, funny, crazy, thoughtless, beautiful students and someone who wants to hurt them.

When I entered this field, I thought the most difficult questions I would need to grapple with were pedagogical and philosophical. I was very wrong.

Night Terrors

Before operating on a person’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end…Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight (Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air, 98).

I woke in the night, anxious. I was hot, so I threw the covers off. Then I was cold, so I put them back on. I kept rolling over, trying to find a comfortable position, but my brain would have none of this sleeping thing. At 2:50, I turned my light on (thank goodness even though Gabe wakes up, he can usually fall back asleep), took a small book from the pile by the bed, and started to read.

I haven’t read in the middle of the night since I was a little girl in my parents’ home. I used to love the feeling of rebellion (who was I rebelling against? certainly not my parents, who didn’t care if I slept or read or wrote or dreamed — whatever consequences came from lack of sleep were mine and mine only), and the sense that I had found a book so good, so tantalizing, that I couldn’t sleep until it was over. My sister was a deep sleeper, also, so I never had to live with the guilt of a light in the night or the sound of pages turning.

It’s been harder to sleep through the night lately, and I’ve taken to reading or sometimes watching The Office. The soothing voices of Jim and Pam, the irritating voices of Michael and Angela, somehow these help me transcend the nighttime anxieties of why did I say that? what was I thinking? what will I do for work this summer? why am I not writing? why do I still stink at doing laundry in a timely fashion?

Reading also helps me let go of these thoughts, but instead of easing me into the comedy of a group of employees who never work, it often tricks me into thinking not about the daily worries of a relational human but into questions far beyond the capacity of a tired woman who must get up at 6:00AM.

It might have something to do with the books I’m choosing.

My uncle recommended it to me over dinner with the proper warning: “Be sure you have tissues.” I didn’t have any tissues at hand, but I thought: I have read many sad things. Sometimes I cry. Usually I don’t. So I read it anyway in the middle of the night, this tiny book with a title scary enough to make me wonder if I was being wise.

When Breath Becomes Air — at three in the morning, I read the words of a dying man (he reminds me we’re all dying but he more imminently than most). Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon-in-training, a husband, a hardworking, depths-reaching, meaning-seeking 36-year-old is diagnosed with lung cancer, and suddenly, it seems the future he’d been working toward is completely altered.

Everyone succumbs to finitude…Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned: either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder towards the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed (198).

I felt a strange kinship with this man I would never meet. He was full of many loves, many gifts, and like me, he had studied English AND… although his AND was biology leading to medical school, not music. This foot-in-both-worlds accounts for his visceral descriptions of the brain, of the opened body, of tumors precisely removed with deft fingers. It also accounts for a question that he seemed to have wrestled with much of his life: “If the unexamined life is not worth living, is the unlived life worth examining?” (31). In college, this question leads him to take a job at a summer camp rather than an intern at a research center, and it isn’t the only time he will choose human relationship over his so-called “monastic, scholarly study of human meaning” (31).

I was reading because I felt anxious about something I could not name, and this reading led me into questions of meaning, truth, death and its inextricable connection with life. I knew he would die — my uncle had told me and I had read the “About the Author” to be sure — yet I kept thinking: maybe he won’t actually die — maybe they find a cure, maybe he dies, but years and years later, maybe my uncle was misjudging my ability to handle intensity.

And then he and his wife decide to have a baby. She is born. She lives eight months. And he dies. He dies in his hospital bed surrounded by family. He gives his unknowing daughter a last kiss, he takes a deep breath, his breath becomes air.

Neurosurgery requires a commitment to one’s own excellence and a commitment to another’s identity. The decision to operate at a all involves an appraisal of one’s own abilities, as well as a deep sense of who the patient is and what she holds dear (108).

Suddenly, I was holding this book with this ending that felt incomplete. His wife Lucy writes an epilogue — sweet, loving, rounding out Paul’s person with authenticity — and I wondered what it must have been like to be in love with a man who was dying and writing, writing and dying, and wanting a child with him even so you could have a daily reminder that he was real, you loved him, and he died.

I was reading to stop my worrying and I had replaced it with deep sadness. Death comes for everyone, of this I have been aware since I was 9 years old and my grandfather died despite my utter determination to pray him into life, and I still do not believe it.

I still think that somehow I will defy the ultimate leveler.

And in the same breath, death feels right around the corner, closer to me than I hope most 29-year-olds feel.

In some ways, I think the worries I have about living enough, doing enough, hurry hurry hurry, all stem from this belief that death really is close at hand, and I am unutterably lucky to have lived as long as I have.

Maybe it stems from my blood clot at 22, my reckoning with if this is the end, how do I want it to look?

Paul Kalanithi did what he had set out to do: he taught me how to die, and in so doing, really showed me how to live. As his wife Lucy wrote in the epilogue:

Paul’s decision to look death in the eye was a testament not just to who he was in the final hours of his life but who he had always been. For much of his life, Paul wondered about death — and whether he could face it with integrity. In the end, the answer was yes (225).

“To live is Christ, to die is gain” — even at my best, I find this hard to fully embody.

I closed the book, put it back on the floor, and wept into my pillow. I cried for Paul, for his dreams that had to die, for his wife and daughter, for his family and friends. I cried for myself, for the husband who slept next to me, who might leave this world at any moment like a puff of smoke. I cried for my grandma and her twenty years of living alone. I cried for my students who are just beginning to wrestle with these questions of meaning and truth, and I cried for any child I might have — for the sorrow that inevitably awaits her, the pain she will without doubt experience in this beautiful and terrifying world.

I was reading to forget my anxieties, and in a sense, I did. Instead of focusing on the minute, meaningless worries, I was forced to confront the root of fear and ask myself:

How do I want to die?

Then how do I need to live?

Walking to Know a Place

This morning, I put on my cheap white Old Navy sneakers and headed out the door of our new home.

When I moved to Somerville, it was the beginning of a beautiful summery September. I walked everywhere. I quickly learned that the bike path, while not faster than College Ave, at least offered more beauty and quiet. I peered into shop windows. I wandered into a vegan taco shop (accidently) and was sorely disappointed by my cheeseless/meatless taco. I discovered I didn’t have to go to the artsy, hipster (and, ultimately, quite depressing) coffee shop in Davis, but that delicious coffee was around every corner. I learned that cutting through Nathan Tufts park was the best way to prolong a good phone call or enjoy the last rays of a setting sun.

When I moved to this new town, with its rich history and fascinating blend of socio-economic statuses and educations, it was the cold, snowy month of November. Gabe and I got married Thanksgiving weekend, and even though it was a beautiful and fun celebration (there were points in the evening when he would lean over to me at our little table for two and whisper: I wish we could live this over and over again), it didn’t leave much time for settling in. Christmas flew upon us in a whirlwind, and I was suddenly asked to split holidays and change my ideas of how things go. By the time the New Year started, I had only tried two restaurants in our new hometown, and for this pretend-Bostonian, that is shocking.

I didn’t take a single walk.

I drove to the post office, the town hall. I drove to the famed sports bar/restaurant for a buffalo chicken calzone (not even close to Mike’s). I drove to the YMCA, worked out, and drove home. I drove to the DMV and sat groaning for over an hour, only to be told that I needed to change my name with Social Security first. I gripped the edge of the counter, leaned backward and said through my teeth: “I am not mad at you, but I am very mad.”

Not only had I moved to a new state, but that state was not so sure it wanted me.

It’s taking me awhile to settle in because I’ve been confined to my car. Or I’ve been in our condo, trying to set up our home in such a way that we want to spend time here. We’ve arranged furniture, cooked new meals, cleaned the bathrooms. I’ve been so consumed with teaching and life changes, that I haven’t actually settled in.

So today, I emptied the dishwasher. I prayed. I walked downtown. I looked at the buildings I passed. I smiled at the runners (I am still in awe). I met a high school friend for coffee, and she connected me with a friend who is involved with a local church Gabe and I are considering. I drank a hot coffee and tried to explain my experience with the Church, with church, with God, in a few sentences. It felt new and interesting to do this, partly because so many times I talk to the same people who have known my my whole life, or at least my whole adult life.

I walked over the river to the library and got my library card. That’s how I know it’s official. I checked out two books, partly to show the librarian I mean business.

—     —     —

As you can see, I’ve decided not to stop blogging. I seriously, seriously considered it. I went over all the reasons it may be time to move on. I had a few good ones.

But then I set up my desk.

[the imperfection of the creative process — I couldn’t resist a little filter action, though]

It is the largest desk I’ve ever had. Gabe and I found it at a thrift shop and picked it up with my father’s truck two days later. I am still not using it to its fullest potential, but I have a lamp. I have plants. I have a candle.

There’s something about this desk that begs me to write at it, just like this new town begs me to walk its sidewalks.

Discover it for who it is. Bring to it who I am.

That’s what I plan to do here, as well.

The Measure of a Place

Today, I walked into a gift shop and cried.

No, let me try that again:

Today, I walked into a gift shop and teared up.

The woman behind the counter cocked her head a bit in sympathy — she’d only asked if she could help me find anything. I’d spent a good ten minutes picking something up, putting it down, and picking it up again.

“I’m moving away,” I explained, blinking.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “Where are you moving to?”

“It’s not even that far!” I laughed a little, swiped at my eyes. Ugh, internal eye-roll. “I’m just looking for something from Somerville, you know.”

“Sounds like you need something from over here.” She gestured to a box on the floor filled with artwork. I knelt down and thumbed through them. I was only sort of looking; I’m picky about art, and I don’t usually drop $35 on something unless it speaks to my soul.

But there it was, about eight or nine pictures in, a framed painting of Mike’s in Davis Square.

In it, two men in hats are sitting outside under an umbrella. A young man with his hands in his pockets saunters out (probably a Tufts student), and there is just enough hidden for me to imagine me and Sally sitting at a table over a beer and buffalo chicken calzone.

I have found this extremely hard to write about. It has something to do with the mixed emotions, the excitement, the sadness, the change. When Gabe talks about all the things he won’t miss about this place (and there are definitely some I’ll be saying sayonara to), I mostly think of things I love:

On my way to work, how the door opens to the world and I actually feel like the female lead in some romantic sitcom.

The way the light pours into my bedroom and wakes me up (sometimes against my will).

The sunset from my bedroom window, how it makes me want to write bad poetry.

The green couch on the porch surrounded by a string of globed lights, red wine, and long conversations that leave us lighter, happier, no matter how heavy the talk was.

The bike trail.

So many delicious restaurants.

Nathan Tufts park and the bench on the slope where I sat and read and talked to my mom on the phone.

Waving to the gas station owner as I walk by, his big smile. “We should respect teachers more,” he says in his Middle Eastern accent. “They are teaching our children how to be good citizens!”

Sitting at True Grounds, trying to write but mostly watching, sipping iced coffee, anonymous.

But mostly I think I am saying goodbye to the woman I was when I came here.

As I handed the woman my credit card, she asked: “How long have you lived in Somerville?”

“Two years,” I said. She looked surprised.

“But that’s enough,” she said. “I would never want to leave.”

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Adventure

Adventure is a loaded word. I hear it tossed around by high school students who long for an absence of parents and a presence of new. I hear it dreamed about by people my age, seeking change, purpose. I hear it whispering in my own mind: Find an adventure before you get stuck.

The adjectival form of adventure is adventurous, and there are two definitions:

1. inclined or willing to engage in adventures.

2. full of risk; requiring courage; hazardous.

Of course, we’d prefer the former rather than the latter; to be considered one who were “hazardous” would hardly lend itself to warm feelings of comfort or trust.

But to be thought of as “willing to engage in adventures”? This may be the tallest idol of modern humanity.

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I spent hours writing the script to “Little House in the Big Woods,” the first play I ever wrote. I learned to type on my family’s first computer — a huge Gateway that arrived in multiple boxes with black and white splotches like a Holstein cow that were so large my little brother used them to build forts  — and I agonized over every detail. What would Laura have actually said? What was that thing called they used to make butter again?

I agonized because I was obsessed. I dreamed of the prairie with its sea of gold and the endless sky, the idea of which both scared me and filled me with a deep tingle of excitement. Because I was only seven and too young to embark on a journey cross country on my own, I collected books. Every birthday, every Christmas, I would ask for the next book in the “Little House” series, hoping somehow to absorb Laura’s gumption, Mary’s kindness, and Pa’s fearlessness.

Instead of traipsing across Kansas, I learned to knit socks and sew dresses.

Instead of going to school in a one-room schoolhouse, I canned tomatoes and made a terrible ginger/brown sugar/vinegar drink.

Instead of breaking through the ice of the water bucket every morning to wash my face, I raised a flock of chickens and planted an herb garden outside our kitchen window.

I never did see the prairie, but I can make a mean cabled sweater.

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Sometimes, when people try to describe you, they find a word that, on the surface, might be benign, but when applied with just the right pressure makes you feel worthless.

You’re just not adventurous enough.

No one had ever said that to me before, and I shot back with all the reasons I was, indeed, adventurous:

  1. I studied abroad!
  2. I took a job I never expected to take, I put my heart and soul into it, and I’m good at it!
  3. I got my master’s while I worked, juggling both with slightly less agility than a hippopotamus!
  4. I routinely took a risk to trust others and love them, to fight back my fear of being open!

And as I said these things, the biggest one was this:

5. I stayed home. (This one did not seem to have the exclamation point.)

Because here was the crux of the issue: while so many had moved to Italy or California or D.C., I had moved home.

My risk was trusting that this new and un-sought-for path was the right one.

My risk was trusting that the work that needed to be done in me could be done from the comfort (and challenge) of living with my own parents.

My risk was hoping someone would love me and see me for the adventurous young woman I am.

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As I enjoy the days of summer with all the planning for fall they bring, I have already become more contemplative. I’m awaiting (or moving toward? or eagerly looking forward to? or unbelievably scared of and excited for?) marriage to a man whose very calmness is shocking to me. He does not worry about being adventurousinstead, he sees all of life as something to challenge and grow and shape him.

I’m entering into a family that embraces forms of newness and oldness and all that’s in-between. I have a lot to learn about what it means to be one of them, and they have things to learn about me. So far, we’ve done so over a shared love of Mary Oliver, the ocean, God, and music.

Marriage is no more an adventure than singleness.

Working through life with your blood family is no less of an adventure than gaining a new family, and crossing the prairie in a covered wagon is no more of an adventure than staying home and breaking your back to make this life work.

You can cross the world with a trembling soul.

You can climb a mountain just to prove someone wrong.

You can drop everything and start over, but instead of running towards something, find that you’re just running away.

But you can also stay with the familiar out of fear, and that’s no better.

It isn’t what you do that makes you adventurous, it’s the spirit with which you live every moment.

[Photo #2 credit: Gabriel Knell]

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Sneaky Three-Year-Olds and Naptime

FullSizeRenderWhen I was little, my mother would send us up for a nap every afternoon. This didn’t last long, given our persuasive personalities and Mom’s fairly chill parenting style, but there were a few years there where I loathed what seemed like the three hours I’d be trapped in my bedroom. What was the point of “trying” to sleep if I wasn’t tired? Because I certainly wasn’t. I don’t care that I’m acting out, whining, slapping my sister, what-have-you. It isn’t because I’m tired, it’s just because I’m awful.

So there I would lie, my door closed, and it wasn’t long before I’d take a deep breath, scurry across the room, and grab the Barbie dolls. Or maybe the little notebook and pencil with which I would write extremely redundant letters to various family members (“Dear Daddy, I love you. God loves you, too. Love, Catherine”  — those were about all the words I could spell at three or four years old). I’d grab that dog-chewed, often-footless Barbie doll, write those letters, and sit up in bed with one ear to the doorway.

One ear to the doorway because there was a tell-tale sign that my mother was coming and I had to slip whatever toy I was playing with under the covers, close my eyes, and curl up facing the wall.

That sign was my mother’s creaky knees.

I still remember the thrill of hearing it – crack, crack, crack – coming up the stairs, shoving the Barbie doll under the comforter, breathing heavily because I was afraid I’d get caught.

Then the words of liberation, “You can get up now, honey,” and away with the toys and the bed and downstairs I’d bound, free from the minimal guilt I felt about disobeying.

And what would’ve happened had I been caught?

Nothing, most likely, but Mom never did catch me. Or, she never let on, anyway.

I teased Mom for years about her loud knees, her bad joints, and she took it like a champ.

“Thank God for those knees!” I’d say. “They kept me out of loads of trouble.”

~     ~     ~

The thing is: creaky knees seem to be genetic. I was walking up the three flights of stairs to my apartment, and I heard it — crack, crack, crack — only, instead of just one knee like my mother, it was BOTH. They were beacons of announcement: Catherine’s coming! She’s on her way! Any minute now! And I realized that my mother of the naptimes and sliced apples with peanut butter and tea with milk in the afternoon was a young woman of 28.

She wasn’t old or wrinkled or graying. She wasn’t wizened or aged like good wine. She was my age, and her knees cracked. She had long dark hair and perfect eye sight. She got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the kitchen floor. She had three babies under the age of four, and she sent us upstairs for naps not because we needed them, but because she did.

When I was in high school, I asked her what she did while we were up there. I pictured her reading a book, watching a television show, napping herself.

“I usually did laundry,” she said. “Or dishes.”

Age is a funny thing. It means less and less as I get older. I wonder if this lovely change is reversed at some point. If, at the ripe old age of 70, the years mean a whole lot more. If you wish all you had to complain about were creaky knees or a compulsory naptime.

The Art of Dating

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There are definitely some things in life I never saw myself doing. Being a teacher is one (who has the patience?!). Living at home till I was twenty-six is another. Getting on the almond milk bandwagon is yet another (everybody’s doing it, it’s fewer calories, and now I can eat more cheese).

The one that really stands out, though? Online dating.

After dating a few guys in college, going on a handful of random dates with no seconds, getting set up on a blind date and fingers-crossed this was the last first date I’d ever go on, I find myself fully immersed in the bizarre culture that is ONLINE DATING. I don’t think anyone envisions themselves online, trolling through profiles, swiping right, swiping left, liking, what-have-you, but so many people my age are doing it.

Which is good, because that makes the pool just a tad bigger.

Which is bad, because it means that there are hundreds of people on here and each one of them has different expectations, different assumptions, and different ways of expressing this thing called attraction.

For the girl who thought she’d only ever date one guy and then marry him, I have certainly become the expert — at least at the beginning stages. I know basically how interested to appear, how often to text, what topics of conversation to avoid and what topics bring out the side of me that’s just a tad too intense, or how lightly I should graze an arm on that first date.

What I don’t know is how to choose.

I don’t know how to be discerning enough ahead of time. I find myself sitting in a bar with a man I would never go out with had we met in real life. And so, I fill an hour, hour-and-a-half, with questions, just enough information on my end not to be a jerk, and wondering why I didn’t make plans for afterwards so I could make a smooth exit.

I have never been on so many dates with so many men in my life. I fear I am perfecting an art I never wanted to pursue.

As for the array of assumptions, they are vast but they are becoming predictable. There are two ends of the spectrum: the first one is not so shocking, given our current society’s views of dating and sex — a good number of guys are barely able to veil their main reason for asking me out, and I’m learning to let go of my naiveté and accept that we have different sexual ethics and bid them adieu.

The second, though, has surprised me a bit more, and left me feeling a little less sure of my own motives. There is a loneliness in the world that I have rarely observed in the people in my life. It is meeting me head-on, here, in this virtual world, and the deep loneliness reaches out from these men and grasps at me, hoping that I am the one to relieve them of their darkness.

A few have texted me daily even before we’ve met. Once we’ve met, they assume I want to jump into a serious relationship, that I am dating only them, that I am doing my best to be single for as short a time as possible, and that I want to hear trite, romantic bullshit as a symbol of their affection. There is almost nothing that turns me off faster than language that doesn’t convey its truth, and anyone who’s only been on one date with me has no business pretending to know who I am. Isn’t that what this game is, anyway? It feels sometimes like they have a list of bullet points in chronological order: 1. Text incessantly, 2. Find her on Facebook, 3. Find out where she is every evening, 4. Convince her that you are sincere, and 5. Try to get her to see you again and again, even after she has clearly stated she is not interested.

The thing is, I am under no illusions that I can just sit back and wait for an amazing man to walk into my life. I, also, need to learn how to express myself, my feelings, and my admiration in a way that is received and desired by the individual man I am interested in. I have a lot of work to do — learn how to engage people as other, independent creations who have valuable things to offer even if I don’t share all the same values, philosophies, or sense of humor.

Just as much, though, I need to learn how to be straightforward in saying no. In saying, It was nice meeting you. Thank you, but no thank you. 

I wish they didn’t make it so difficult. I wish they didn’t make me actually say: “I am not interested in you.” I wish they could receive the truth in softer words, but sometimes (as I have experienced as well) it takes a blow to drive home the truth.

And the few I’ve liked, the few I’ve thought Huh, maybe…well, they haven’t felt the same way.

There’s got to be someone who falls somewhere between these two extremes. Someone whose pace falls in line with mine.

I hope to write a funnier post in the future, perhaps a list of Dos and Don’ts of online dating, or just a story or two (trust me, they’re hilarious…and a little terrifying). Right now, though, there isn’t much funny about the disconnection of human beings, the desire for love that doesn’t seem to get filled, or the fact that I am consistently bashing my head against a dark wooden bar because I had to go through the list of things I enjoy doing “in my free time” AGAIN.

[Photo: mrhayata]