On a sunny day, not unlike some of the ones we’ve enjoyed this week, my water broke and labor began for my second child. Neither of these occurred with any haste – it was more a leak than a gush and the progress of my contractions was painfully (literally) slow. When my red-faced, bald-headed baby boy finally made his debut it was a new day and I was in awe – of both his perfection and the strength of my body. Birthing him was, most definitely, my proudest physical accomplishment.
Sixteen years later this child continues to amaze and exhaust me. I do, however, find myself worrying about him more than I do either of his brothers. His humor, intelligence and charm have provided him with wonderful life experiences. Unfortunately, though, his gifts have also given him the opportunity to avoid truly exerting himself. Ever. Everything has come so easily to this guy…it kind of scares me.
During my run yesterday I was thinking about him and life and challenges to be met and conquered. I thought about all the things I want him to know – about himself and life. Of course, being a teenager, he only ingests my motherly wisdom in small doses and on an as needed basis. Hopefully one day he will come to know all of the following…
- Nothing in life is more important than health and happiness.
- There is satisfaction in doing your best and working hard.
- You have been blessed with many talents.
- Be where you are.
- Don’t ever lose your sense of right and wrong.
- Responsibilities will make you a grownup far more than a driver’s permit.
- You can do anything.
- Take your time figuring out what you want to do career wise. There’s no rush.
- That being said, finding yourself is a self-sponsored trip.
- You may look like your father, but so much of your behavior mirrors my own. I get you.
- Travel and see as much of the world as you can.
- Be honest. In the long run, it’s easier. I promise.
- Keep carrying groceries for old women.
- Never stop giving good hugs.
- Going to concerts with you has been one of the best rewards of parenthood.
- You are loved.
You know how they say “travel is broadening?” Well, when it comes to the size of my ass, I’d definitely have to agree. Seriously, I’ve taken to referring to my hips as “croissant” and “pain au chocolat.” Whatever. I don’t regret eating a single slab of pâté or hunk of Camembert. It was vacation.
Now that I’m home, though, I’m actually feeling the need to downsize a bit. And I’m not just talking about the size of my hips. You see, one of the things that struck me during my travels was the simplicity of how Europeans live. Both apartments where we stayed, one modern and one in a more aged building, were built on a much small-scale than their American counterparts. Honestly, it made our American tendency to accumulate seem downright vulgar.
Let me give you a couple of examples…
The bedroom closets are really compact to accommodate much smaller wardrobes than those of the typical American. I’m talking maybe 2 ½ feet of hanging rod space and a handful of drawers. Coming home to my
walk-in step-in closet and double-sided rolling clothing rack embarrassed me. Why do I have so much frigging clothing?
Both flats had lovely, updated kitchens. If these kitchens are any indication, Ikea seems to dominate the market and I am definitely going to consider going that route myself when I address my tired kitchen cabinets. Both kitchens were well laid out and contained more than adequate storage for the limited number of necessary items. That being said, neither kitchen had extraneous space, merely enough cupboards for cookware, dishes, glassware and some pantry items. Why do American kitchens require so much space?
One of the apartments we rented had 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a combined kitchen, dining and living room. The other had 2 bedrooms, a large loft sleeping area, kitchen and combined living/dining room. There was one bathroom. I don’t think either of these apartments exceeded 800 or 900 square feet. Why do new American homes need to be nearly three times that size? Who convinced us that we should aspire to maintain, heat and clean such large residences?
Time for me to minimize.
As an undergraduate, I fell in love with Ernest Hemingway. My major in English trumped my minor in Women’s Studies when it came to his mysogynistic ways. After reading a number of biographical works about him I forgave him. He was damaged goods.
His writing impressed me and I have repeatedly heard his voice in my head when I struggle to express myself. “All you have to do is write one true sentence,” he said. Seems simple enough in theory, right? In practice it can be more challenging than you’d expect, but it is a good place to start.
Last year, I reread A Moveable Feast for the first time in many years. I was so taken by his voice and the stories he told of his time in Paris, and other parts of Europe, during the years between the two wars. His love for life – his Hadley, his child, his adopted home, his friends and his writing, radiated from the pages.
There was something else present though, a current of sadness and dissatisfaction. All that he loved was not enough and he took risks and sought out new experiences and stimulations. He was not content.
In many ways Ernest and I are alike. He and I each needed to write. We both loved to be in Europe, to sit in a cafe with a bottle of wine and observe all around us. Perhaps if I had written a book such as A Moveable Feast during my marriage, I would have revealed a discontent similar to Ernest’s.
I picked up a new copy of my favorite Hemingway book the other afternoon from the store where he would go for a drink and a few francs when he was in need. The book of my life I’m writing right now has a much happier ending than Ernest ever could have imagined for himself.
Yesterday’s tragic plane crash in the French Alps has really rocked me. I’ve never been an enthusiastic flyer and horrific incidents like this amp up my anxiety about getting on a plane in the next couple of weeks. In the big picture, I don’t think it really makes a difference why the plane went down, be it equipment failure, pilot error or some other more dastardly reason like terrorism. All I know is that I’m going to France next month and I’m not feeling too psyched about flying.
Many years ago I flew to London a couple of days after the Lockerbie crash and I don’t recall considering canceling my trip for even an instant – youthful ignorance was my probably my saving grace. The security at both JFK and Heathrow was incredibly intense that December, but there wasn’t anything getting between me and my New Year’s Eve in London plans. I boarded that plane without a moment’s hesitation.
Over the years, though, I’ve become increasingly less comfortable flying. I get motion sickness and find the stale cabin air to be a petri dish of nastiness and potential sickness. Finding balance between staying hydrated and using the airplane’s bathroom facilities as infrequently as possible, is tough to manage.
There was a time when I would have had a couple of drinks before boarding in the hopes that I would
pass out fall asleep but, I think the potential for a hangover is too great and I don’t want to waste prime vacation time feeling like merde. I’ve learned to take a prescription medication to help to avoid the travel sickness and yesterday afternoon I took what seems like the next logical – I phoned my doctor and requested something for air travel anxiety. Hello, Valium prescription.
I’m not taking this step lightly, I don’t really like taking drugs, but I know I will be uncomfortable flying. Uncomfortable in so many different ways – emotionally, mentally, physically (my hips don’t appreciate sitting for 6+ hours), too. I can deal with physical pain or emotional or mental discomfort, but the triple whammy of all three simultaneously is a bit much. Sleeping through some of that sounds like a bonne idée.
On our 15th wedding anniversary, my husband and I had a special dinner at a restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard. The meal was a bit of a disappointment, but the company was good.
After we had finished our meals and were somewhere between entrée and dessert, our wedding song came on over the restaurant’s speakers. I was touched and felt my eyes well with emotion. I thought to myself “we should dance.” There wasn’t a dance floor (it was a restaurant), but we could have managed a twirl or two. It was our 15th wedding anniversary.
I’ve thought back to that night a few times and wonder what might have been different if I had forced the words “we should dance” out of my mouth or if he had said “I arranged for this song to play.” If either of us had done something to demonstrate our love for the other. Would it have been enough to have prompted us to steer our ships once again to be side by side and in the same direction? I’ll never know.
By our next anniversary dinner, we were, in retrospect, clearly sailing in different directions. It was a fancy meal, perfectly executed and filled with laughter. We met the chef-owner and there were many bottles of wine uncorked. My feet hurt in their new shoes. It was good to feel something.
It’s almost 5 years later now and I never dreamed this life that I’m living. I write and run and work and eat and take pictures and I love, love, love. I feel more alive than I’ve ever felt and am equally inspired by today and the thought of tomorrow. Things may not have gone the way I imagined they would, but as an inherently grounded person, my imagination is sometimes too timid.
I never imagined I’d quote Hugh Hefner but he said it perfectly:
“In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined a sweeter life.”
Don’t even approach my body unless you’ve first been between my ears. I’m 48, not 18.
True love isn’t roses and chocolate. It’s starting my car on a winter’s morning or bringing home pizza on a Friday night.
Love is buying me the Sunday paper on Saturday so I don’t have to go outside on a cold morning.
Love means being able to continue to believe.
Many years ago a friend in the midst of the disintegration of her marriage, told me she didn’t want to be responsible for her husband’s happiness. Since that time, I’ve learned what that felt like and I’ve heard other women say the same thing, although not always using the same words. Who are you responsible for making happy?
I’ve learned that I can contribute to someone’s happiness. I may on occasion even inspire another’s happiness. But, when it comes to making someone happy, I don’t think it is possible for me to make it so. The only person I have the ability to make happy is myself.
I may at times be self-indulgent, but I don’t believe I can accurately be described as selfish. When I think about making myself happy, it isn’t at another’s expense. In fact, if I don’t take the time to ensure my own pleasure with life, the only one who pays is me.
So? What made me happy today? A morning yoga class (more about that tomorrow), errands and chores, a long walk with my celebrity dog,* watching a hawk swoop across the road in front of me, cooking some simple and delicious food and the anticipation of a half-time bubble bath.
What did you do today to make yourself happy?
*Did you see Jeter in Thursday’s Times Union? He’s been recognized each day since his photo was published.