Sweet, sweet summer. Not the same as the last. But sweet. Not working wardrobe-pajamas, but hanging out and gardening pjs. Purposeful, summer-tossed bleached hair. Nonchalant late teeth-brushing. Patience of a naturalist’s eagerness to identify squirrel A (big Mama) from wiry squirrel B (Terrorizing Ted). Living in the tree-shrouded, pond-perculating backyard. Strolling along the beach path with two panting, grinning pups. Drum roll…
and spending the last six days with my NYC daughter and sweet Millie Pie!
We don’t do anything but hang out, drink fizzy drinks, eat just-harvested sweet strawberries and cuddly The Baby. There’s no place else to go except our abode–Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea, morning walks along the beach. No vacation. No getting in the car and traveling. Just buying yummy food—cheese, French bread and olives—occasionally we watch a movie, read the newspaper, try to dive into a book (with 3.5 month Millie, it’s a challenge) and enjoy the process of setting in and catching up.
Right now, it seems like we have the sweet bliss--the luxury–of time. We are are both teachers so we basically share the same summer schedule. We are both nervous about what’s happening in the Fall, but as my daughter has declared several times, “I don’t want to ruin the summer thinking about what may or may not happen. We have no control.”
Being in the moment is what we CAN control.
Yesterday, we walked down to the beach and dropped by the Thursday Farmer’s Market. I was walking the dogs, so my daughteR and 8-year-old grandson picked up two pumpkin, two watermelon and some precious strawberries plants, which had been scarce and out of production. Everyone, it seems, has the Victory Garden bug. Not surprising. As I’ve said before, gardening is all about hope and these plants mean that we’ll have something to nurture and look forward to when life might possibly get even more dicey. I can already imagine the watermelons and pumpkin vines crawling along the stone front yard pathway, weaving in an out of our Poetry Garden, providing neighbors with a smile!
I don’t think I mentioned that in working on the garden immediately after returning from NYC in May, I was inspired by the Black Lives Matters protests and decided (since I was afraid of joining the protests due to virus spread) to create a neighborhood corner of Love, Faith and Hope. I’m using the garden as a canvas to connect with souls who may need a little encouragement. I’ve been noticing people seem to slow down when they walk past: they take photos and talk to their children about the garden’s magic. When I’m outside, we have a nice little chat. People seem more friendly and genuinely appreciative of our patch of TLC. The idea of The Poetry Garden came to me when I was sitting under the stars and thinking about what I could do right now to effect positive change. Admittedly, a garden isn’t institutionally impactful, but I figured if I could use what I have to get people to think about the ties that bind us–love, faith, hope–perhaps we could treat each other with more kindness and respect.
You see, like other ”natural selection” COVID-extraneous people like myself, I know I have a mission, a purpose in life I have yet to tap into. Such beauty to discover and produce. Such fun yet to be had. So much Boisset Collection wine yet to drink!!!! https://my.boissetcollection.com (Seriously, it is The Best wine.)
I have my wonderful three grandchildren to dote on and enjoy watching them grow up and places I want to visit and stories yet to write.
Today, I’m not going to think about the future’s dire possibilities. Today, this moment, is happy. I have everything I need to fill my heart and soul. My family is close by. Food is an online order away. I am healthy. And excited about the unfolding of the predictable day ahead: diaper, feed baby, engage and love, Friday night pizza and wine, a movie and the ocean breeze to coo those dwelling within my Little House on the Corner to sleep. Blessings come in the form of dancing Monarchs and cooing, Jedi babies who saber their grandparents’ hearts into melting hot fudge sundaes. Ridiculous this love thing.
Look at me:
Entering a new chapter of life.
Periods separate the letters. If only things were that clear.
Like so many of us, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the Fall. I suspect we’ll do some remote teaching/learning and clusters of students will be in the classroom. That we’ll have hand sanitizers and wear masks and I’ll have facial breakouts from the steamy, sweaty September classroom, but will no longer have to wear lipstick and I can continue to talk to myself out loud and no one will know. (Yes, I’m aware that’s a major run-on sentence and that such Sins of the Stylebook will drop my grade to a C and will lower my GPA.) But as a person over 60, cut me a break; I’m feeling extra vulnerable these days. Maybe I’ll have to sign a return-to-work “at your own risk” contract. Maybe by being in the petri dish of an 8th grade classroom for nine hours, I’ll get COVID-19. Maybe I’ll get very sick. Maybe I’ll die. Maybe I’ll unwittingly give it to a child in my class or diabetic ex-husband or baby Millie. Maybe the school district will offer an early retirement buyout to rid taxpayers of medical liabilities, like me. Maybe my daughter’s mother-in-law can’t travel from Hong Kong to help care for the baby and maybe my daughter will end up on welfare–if it even exists any more. Maybe I can’t afford to pay the mortgage and I’ll have to sell my beloved Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. Maybe California will be cursed with summer fires that will turn our lungs into COVID-19 sponges.
Maybe the maybes are–God Forbid Me for Saying This–me having too much time on my hands!
The would-haves, should-haves, could-haves, what’s up? what’s next? what ifs? are me wasting my precious time the way I do when browsing Next Up “America’s Got Talent” and “American Idol” singers and never sharing them on Facebook because it’s too embarrassing.
That’s why I historically get away at the start of summer vacation, go camping, be in Nature, drink my share of lovely Boisset wines https://my.boissetcollection.com .
Away, I can clear my head, sort out my priorities, discard the household To-Do List.
But not this year.
Seriously, I have too much time on my hands.
If only I knew what was coming up.
Get over it.
I haven’t decided. I don’t know what’s next? And, from what I’ve heard, what I’ve read on those Quotes of the Day posts, if you aren’t certain, don’t make a decision.
“It’s not time to make a change,. Just relax, take it easy. You’re still young, that’s your fault.There’s so much you have to know.”
“Father and Son” newer version
Cat Steven’s “Father and Son” lyrics resonate and evolve in me like the disc bulging garage that NEVER–EVER–gets organized. I listen to Stevens’ music every week. Maybe it’s because I’m boring or maybe the soundtrack of my generation is just that good. Yeh, his words and music meant something to me then, and more so now. Because I feel like I’m that kid with a mortarboard on my head Frisbeeing it up into the limitless sky. I feel like I’m hang gliding and my age-freckled, tough-as-bricks right hand is skimming the edge of heaven. I can teach high school and college with my eyes closed because I’ve been downhill skiing my entire life. I get it. I’ve lived the rising action.
Act III: I need to go to Hawaii and get on a longboard and swim with dolphins and L.O.V.E. like it’s the 1970s and I don’t know anything about the future or the mistakes I’ll make. I just need to be. And believe. And ditch the maybes and replace them with, “What the hell? Give it a shot!”
That breeze that’s rustling the jacaranda tree out front, that wind that’s making my forearm hairs tremble, is my life and I’m on the swing in my backyard contemplating leaping into the blurry, mossy future. What will it take? A shove? Grazing my heels in the sand? The stakes are daunting. There’s no turning back.
Living in a cloud. Neither here nor there. Yes or no? Travel plans? Maybe not. Hustle and bustle. I make my own calamity. Engage? Alone? I have to change.
It doesn’t feel like school’s out. Today is my first Saturday post the 2019-20 anti-climatic finale. It just sort of happened, like traveling in one of the middle cars on an Amtrak train. This school year, there was definitely an engine. We worked hard and had a destination in mind. But without an in-person closure of the school year chapter, it’s like there’s no caboose to anchor, “What just happened?” We’re all just drifting, floating from hour to hour, day to day. No alarm clock. No schedule. Just my phone. The TV, which is rarely on these days, and my list of chores. And boy, is my list ever a whopper! Since I wasn’t home during our shelter-in-place heydays, like most other people who had a chance to sort out cupboards and closets galore, I am making up for lost time.
Yesterday, looking for my ex-husband’s passport–which I didn’t find–I noticed a pile of paper junk. I HATE sorting through paper stuff, but once I got a rhythm going and turned on Lenox Hill on Netflix, I was able to sit in the stuffy attic and shred all kinds of ridiculous papers.
I had my masters thesis in the file and tax records going all the way back to 2001. I had refinance papers from 10 years ago that I’m pretty sure I don’t need and Amazon receipts and a trash bag full of nonsense. “No,” I reassured myself throughout the process, “you don’t need it.” Today’s plan is to go back into the attic and toss more stuff I don’t need.
A clean slate.
No matter what, every year at this time of the year I go on an organizing frenzy. The end of one thing so I can clean the slate for something new. It’s sort of a cleansing ritual that divides my profession from my personal life. It’s a process of re-claiming. Most years, I leave immediately after the last day of school and go on a camping trip. The fresh air, the cool nights, the hikes, the stars remain me of who I really am. No make up. Frazzled hair, wrinkled clothes, fingernails framed with watercolor paint.
My ex-husband often accompanies me. We have a chance to be friends again on these trips, see the world, and each other, in a softer, more forgiving environment. Life is easy when we camp: Two plates, two forks, a camp stove, a couple of chairs, sleeping bags. Easy foods, a few bottles of Boisset wine (Happy National Rose Day), a thick book, some tunes and my journal.
If all goes well, I’ll be camping again in a couple of weeks. By myself. In my favorite place: Cambria, CA. The only time I will feel like a bit of a loser is when I go wine tasting in Paso Robles. But I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. I get to meet new people–six feet apart–and ask them questions and wonder about life and my next chapter, which is happening quicker than I can imagine: Retirement. This time next year, if all goes well, I’ll be retired. I’m planning on renting out Angel Cove Cottage and living in the remodeled back house/garage. Much has to be done to prepare. But it will be exciting. Stepping into my near future. Making a radical change. Becoming a Big Girl.
I never imagined being at this part of my life alone. I always figured I’d be with the love of my life, that we’d weathered the storm of raising children, concluded a fulfilling career, were enjoying our grandchildren, and now enjoying each other’s company. But it didn’t work out that way.
Now I get to lavish in my own company, which is challenging for a people-person-teacher/writer like me who just endured 12 weeks of remote teaching and now craves interesting conversations. More self-reflection time for me!
Not to worry: I have my two four-legged buddies to keep me company. They’re sleeping now; Monet on my right near my feet and Finn, curled up in the sun, sitting on the patio sofa. They are intense when they are together, but now the three of us are taking it all in–the cooing dove partners, the ocean breeze and the spinning, rainbow-colored windmill that reminds me it’s time to re-set my clock. School’s out. It’s time to push aside that list and take a much-needed nap.
I get all wrapped up. In teaching. In the News of the Day. In projects around the house. In family. In “What will I do?” and “How can I help?” In I want to solve The Problem. I want to make everything right. I want to say, “I’m sorry.” I’m white and empathetic and an advocate, but not an activist. I thought I understood, but I didn’t. And now I do. Sort of. I don’t know what it’s like to be beaten because of my gender, race or religion. I don’t know what it’s like to live in fear. I don’t know what it’s like to walk in a neighborhood and stand out, not because of my accomplishments, but because I’m black or brown and they are white. I don’t know what it’s like to have economic opportunities denied and a legacy of family members enslaved. Like a lot of other white people, I have always had great empathy and love for everyone. But that wasn’t–that isn’t–enough.
I used to get upset and say, “Well, that’s not me. Not all white people are bad.” And I, personally, have never to my knowledge said or done anything remotely reeking of racism. Nor have I tolerated it from anyone around me. Family members will attest to that. What I am guilty of is not being educated, not doing the research, reading the books, asking questions, hanging out with people beyond the confines of my own inner circle. In so many ways, I have segregated myself. I don’t hang out with anyone except my family and very few friends. I don’t reach out. I don’t socialize. It’s just me, my dogs, my home and my cousin and sister, ex-husband and once in a while, my grown kids and grandkids. I have created a comfortable, insular environment; I don’t hear the conversations. I don’t experience the joy and pain of those beyond my street address. And this bubble has created an unintended canyon where I can witness events and stories from afar, think I understand, but I really don’t.
And that has to do with segregation. Not legal segregation. Economic segregation. Education segregation. Grocery store segregation. And all the things we do, day-to-day to create a sense of comfort and security. If our neighborhoods and schools aren’t diverse, how in the world can we attempt to understand each other?
I haven’t blogged for a while because of “this”. Because I know the questions are profound and the answers are more complex than my pea-brain can fathom. But “this” is more profound than COVID-19 and even my sweet granddaughter, Millie’s birth. Because, even if we do somehow outwit the pandemic, what kind of world will my grandchildren inherit? An Us vs. Them or a Take What is Mine, to Hell with the Rest World?
When Gandhi spoke of being the change you wish to see in the world, he understood that we have to constantly re-examine what it means to be our highest selves. We have to be open to the notion that maybe, despite our best intentions, our perception has been wrong. In such moments, we need to meditate, pray about, then determine the next step to reverse our thoughts and action.
While the protests have been impassioned and uplifting, they have also inspired venom. Hate. Mistrust. The perpetuation of lies, conspiracy theories. How do we change that?
Overt. Subtle. Draw them in. Don’t push them away. Tempting. I know. But change requires going to The Source. We have to be inspiring. We have to tell The Truth.
* * *
At this moment, the doves are cooing. The sun is rising and my evolving front yard Poetry Garden is beckoning me to weed her overgrown patches. Last week, when we were encouraged to go outside with our flashlights and illuminate the night sky, Mr. Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” repeated over and over in my head. George Floyd was a precious child of God. Like you. Like me. Like my children and grandchildren. My child can’t breathe.
I want to do something, I confess to God, but I am afraid of contracting COVID-19 if I protest.
I sit on the stoop and notice a few neighbors open their doors, and join me from afar as we silently beckon a Higher Power. It is quiet. Curfew. No rumblings of trucks or helicopters. Just a few neighbors in the shadowed darkness.
Love, a voice whispers.
Visually remind people, as they walk past Angel Cove Cottage and ponder Michael Weiss’ (of Wine Country Craftsman https://winecountrycraftsman.com ) sculptured sign–LOVE–what each of us can do–in this moment–to positively change the world.
Instead of wanting to be “right” and win the argument, shake out the junk, the hyperbole, and listen from the perspective of love. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
It’s all there, in the garden, in the songs, in the Bible, in your brother and sister’s eyes, in Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of the Morning”:
“Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
It’s quieter here. Not as many fences to hold up my days. I get up early, yet still can’t seem to get it all done. My morning walks have been exchanged for “grading” and providing students with extensive feedback that they probably aren’t paying attention to. Still, I can’t help it. I want to use this precious time before they move on to high school to help them become better writers. Crazy, I know, but I still think I am in control.
Our Webex class has about 10 regulars. They’re the kids who are doing well, but just want to check-in. Last week, we gave each other tours of our respective environments. On my way to showing them my backyard garden, I think I accidentally filmed my wine collection which I have, up until that uncensored moment, been so careful to keep off-camera.
Cracks are beginning to show.
My gray hair’s been masked by box dye. I used kitchen scissors, snip, snip, to cut a pinking sheers bob. My daughter says I look like Willie Wonka. And she’s right. Ordering groceries online has become troublingly routine. Students virtually drop by my oasis, my refuge, the place that bolsters my spirit. My home is now an open movie set.
As I’ve been trying to re-establish my footing back home at Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea, I find myself nesting. Armed with $100 gift card and $25 in-store credit, I secure my mask and head out the door in time to take advantage of senior hours. Surrounded by a smattering of older gardening enthusiasts like myself, I feel exhilarated embraced by a kaleidoscope of colors and a bounty of vegetational goodies at my local Armstrong.https://www.armstronggarden.com It’s like an all-you-can eat, mimosa-flowing Easter brunch buffet: I just can’t can’t get enough https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6FBfAQ-NDE and buy yellows and whites and pinks and purples and tomatoes and tomatoes and a whole mess of different kinds of tomatoes. And other vegetables like chili peppers and flat leaf parsley and dill and chocolate mint. I could have easily spent hundreds of dollars, that’s how lusty and greedy the greens made me feel. But that’s it about gardening: There’s always more designing and re-purposing and taking out and putting in. Every patch is a little story.
Gardening gives me time to contemplate and feel good about life. After a hour or two of weeding and re-planting, you know–you can literally see–that you have made a tiny patch of Planet Earth better. Neighbors feel good when they walk by…who knows what creative, inspired doors your gardening activity has unlocked for passersby? Maybe they have a sudden urge to be a better ukulele player or start composting kitchen scrapes!
If we all do something to make our world a little better–it could be as simple as saying “Hi” to the little kid who points at the swallowtail suckling on a patch of milkweed or doing something you’ve never done so before, like sharing e a glass of lovely wine my.boissetcollection.com/janet.barker over the backyard fence with a neighbor. In doing something, as opposed to complaining or worrying, you are bringing light to a person who may have been having a crappy day and now isn’t–because of your ACTION! See, I believe it doesn’t take much to proclaim to the world that we care about each other, that we can do better, that when it comes down to it, we all want the same thing: To be loved and valued for who we are irregardless of economic status, geography, race, religion, gender, age, weight, talents or political persuasion. We all feel stress; we’re all scared about the present and the future. But we also know that better days are ahead and each of us has something positive to contribute to the future.
I seem to always end my blogs in the same place: Hope and compassion. That’s how I was raised. By working class parents who survived World War II and came to America from England to give their children–my brother, sister and myself–a better life. They worked hard and shared what little they had with friends and extended family. They never asked for a lot. They were patient, frugal, and saved for a rainy day. And they never said, “No.” They knew their children would likewise pay it forward: It’s an expectation woven into our soul.
I know there are the greedy and the self-centered. But there are more of us: the generous and the kind. It may not always seem like it, especially if you watch “the news”, but if you get out into the garden or your balcony or houseplant terrarium zone, you will start to feel better and become a source of delight for others. Work the soil. Pinch off the dead leaves. Start over. In the garden, there’s no time for nonsense.
First, it’s my birthday. I’ve been on Planet Earth 64 years. I’m in the age bracket that some people think is OK if I die from Covid19. “You’ve lived your life,” they say, “let us live ours.” Yes, it is true I’ve lived more than six chapters. But the deal is, I love my life. I love my grown children and grandchildren. I love working in my garden. I love teaching, writing and creating, music, art, people and traveling. My gawd, this sounds like a Match.com classified ad. The point is, I feel pretty vital. I feel pretty excited. I feel like I have much yet to learn and discover. I mean look at me, I’m blogging! I’m creating a podcast without help from the tech-savvy.
I understand that if you are in your teens or twenties or even your forties, a person who is 64 may seem like a hunched back, decrepit, ready-for-the-grave very old person. But let me tell you about us old people: We want to live as much as you do. The man who looks exactly like Mr. Burns who refuses–out of sheer defiance–not to give me eye contact on my daily walk along the bike path, this man who is battling who-knows-what and can barely walk, he also wants to live or he wouldn’t be out there making his body move. He has something to say. He has something to offer. He has wisdom. He has humor. Just like my friend who is doing her damndest to deal with a dreadful, unwanted heart condition; she has so many adventures yet to experience with her husband and family. What kind of society discounts vital people who may not appear outwardly vital?
It hurts me and other AARP “Modern Maturity” subscribers to think that after all we’ve done and continue to do, that we are expendable in the minds of some members of American society. It feels really crappy, like you want to smash their car windows, yank them them out of their diesel pickups and beat some sense into them. “You little ungrateful monster! I paid for your college!” WHACK! “Your wedding!” WHACK! “Food, shelter and clothing for 24 years!” WHACK! WHACK! How’s that for Rambo Granny, the Movie?
That just took a violent turn.
The point is, it’s my birthday and the birthday of many other people entering a vulnerable era, a time when people are relaxing shelter-in-place rules and decorum. We are happy to be alive. We want to hug. We want to celebrate. We want the protesters and complainers to know that, just like them, we all lust for normalcy. But very smart people who care about the economy and want us to be great for all Americans say we need to go slow. We need to be cautious. We need to listen to science.
I am as suspicious of Big Brother Government as much as anyone. But this is different. The medical experts, the governors who have the impossible job of doing the right thing on behalf of all citizens, have nothing to gain from being overly cautious. Being patient isn’t politically popular. I know I have a newfound respect for the politicians, both Democrat and Republican, who do the right thing when it isn’t popular. That is real leadership.
Back to my birthday. This year I am wiser and more grateful than ever. I have so much to look forward to: retirement, my grandkiddos, travel and all the cliches that this chapter of life has to offer—if I am healthy. God willing, I plan on making this next chapter the best in my life. Because life is a gift that I cherish, even if others don’t.
Yesterday, I had an omen.
Tangled on my kitchen table since January was a favorite necklace I bought right before my birthday last year. It’s a tilted sliver heart threaded on a waxy black string. For the life of me, I couldn’t get it untangled. Today, I looked at it again, sparkling in the morning sun, and decided to give it another shot. And you know what happened? I unraveled the mess. I had a weird feeling that I would, but it took the bright, morning light to illuminate the twists and turns.
I know it goes against all predictions and everything that’s happened so far in 2020, but I have a good feeling about turning 64. Something inside has been unleashed. I think it’s called hope.
This is me on Jet Blue flying over the Grand Canyon. It doesn’t look like it did three years ago on our Spring Break camping trip. It’s magnificent in a different, far-off way. To really appreciate the Canyon’s vast glory, you have to had actually been there, standing along the treacherous edge, breathing the warm blanket air. That’s it, isn’t it? Being there.
Well I’m not. In New York. Any more. I’m here. Southern California. Sitting at my kitchen table, windows open, admiring the translucent blue sky and that non-producing plum tree that I intended to chop down two months ago, that is now laced with miniature Christmas bulb plums etched in the promise of summer.
So much needs my attention: The weeds. The cobwebs. The grand boys’ dusty play kitchen. Piles of dog hair framing every room. The junk I thought would disappear–old bills, piles of fallen leaves, the Tower of Babel garage. The roommate, who fell into a deep and dark depression while I was gone. My pups, who survived, albeit in desperate need of baths and walks to the beach. Which I did this morning. Check.
We walked along the blue ocean that was hushed in the rising sun. A few masked and mask-less runners. A grandpa shuffling with a cane. Doggies and their parents. The absence of that homeless man who sleeps at the side of the Elks Club. Veteran Park’s glorious green, untouched, trash-less carpet grass. The ghost town playground and more surfers than I’ve ever seen along the breakwall less than a mile from where I live.
I wondered if the people I passed were aware that they lived in such beauty? Were they thrilled to stretch their legs, feel the salty breeze and sink their toes in the CLEAN sand and warmish sea? I expected to hear emerging giggles, like my granddaughter’s, and applause, like New Yorkers do for health care workers every evening at 7 p.m. Yeh for Nature! Yeh for us!
I picked up a barnacled muscle shell which, in ordinary times, is ordinary. But to me, the blueish shell reminded me of my own version of a divining rod, that fork stick determiner of Source, which consists of burrowing into familiar sounds, smells and that Tribe I mentioned a couple of blog posts ago.
It is clear from my absence, I was missed. And now, I need to do what I must do: Get the place in order. Help a pour soul outsource his debilitating depression. Open the curtains. Scrub away the bath ring. And be open to the Great Next. A new chapter: The Shift.
Disclaimer: I’m sorry, but I won’t be posting baby photos for a while. It’s just like viewing the Grand Canyon from afar; with no caked-on baby vomit on the shoulder and appreciator of Gma’s off-key Disney musical to muse about, it’s just not the same. It’s missing the narrative.
But I am figuring things out that I will continue to share with you, with your indulgence.
When I descended the staircase to the beach this morning, I thought about the history our shoreline has endured: Fear of possible Japanese attacks during World War II. The old hotel and bathhouse bulldozed due to neglect and disinterest. Food lines that wrapped around distribution centers during the height of the Great Depression. The tall ships that lined the Pier and carried redwood lumber, the bones of Craftsmen bungalows like mine. A little girl in braids and a seersucker bathing suit charging into the waves and into her daddy’s arms while her bundled up, L&M-smoking mom waved adoringly at her chubby, rubber-capped daughter. It is here, at this beach in this exact spot, where love was born. The ghosts are keenly present this new morn of California beach openings. All the worry. All the fretting. Gone. The waves still break and the sun still rises and falls every day.
We are going through all this turmoil for a reason. Maybe it’s so we can all get closer, be real, let go of the crap, and exchange the non-essential for the essential. Hold tight to the core.
Somehow, I don’t know about you, but I got off track. I need to get back to daily prayer and meditation. Stretching. Breathing. Dancing and singing Broadway tunes for no reason other than–it’s fun. I have to stop eating unhealthy stuff and read more. And create art.
Anne Morrow Lindberg’s “Gift From the Sea”, a book that’s inspired me at key points throughout my life, is a beautiful reminder of the importance of stepping off the beaten path to re-discover one’s self. She writes, “When we start at the center of ourselves, we discover something worthwhile extending toward the periphery of the circle. We find again some of the joy in the now, some of the peace in the here, some of the love in me and thee which go to make up the kingdom of heaven on earth. The waves echo behind me…this is only the beginning.”
I am in an adjustment phase. Not good. Not bad. I miss…but not going there. It’s time to light the fire pit, schedule a social distancing wine tasting and celebrate What IZ.
Two months ago tomorrow, I jumped on the red eye from LAX and arrived in the early hours hoping and praying I made it in time to witness the birth of my granddaughter. Fortunately, I arrived in plenty of time–a week before my daughter gave birth to Millie–but wasn’t allowed in the delivery room due to severe restrictions caused by Covid19. My son-in-law gave me the birthing blow by blow details and, as sad as I was that I couldn’t be there to meet Millie in person, I was gratified that all went according to plan and my daughter delivered a healthy 9 pound 4 oz, 22 inches long baby girl.
And here I sit in the dark, in bed, my real red eyes filled with tears knowing that at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning I will leave this world, this chapter, this little person and her parents and I can never, ever replace this magical time.
Magical because I watched the birth of parents, the first smile of a little person, fretting over constipation and colicky throw-ups, lack of sleep, never-ending laundry, shortage of food, toilet paper, sanitizing wipes, adjustment to new schedules, teaching remotely, swapping Millie, swaddling in the dark, singing Disney lullabies and gazing into those eyes that melt away all the sad, all the bad.
It’s time to go home and do the things I need to do. But the world isn’t the same. I’m not the same. I know my way around Katie’s NYC neighborhood now. I walk like a New Yorker with my head down, like I mean business. I’ve learned to adapt to the hot apartment and snow in May. Turns out I don’t need to exclusively eat organic and that off-brand frozen vegetables are actually pretty good. Turns out, after a lot of hemming and hawing, I can focus on what’s important. And let me tell you, it’s not my job. It’s not the guy who’s president. It has nothing to do with anything on TV. My priority? It’s my tribe. It’s my people. It’s those of us with a heartbeat, the ones who care so much about others that they push aside their needs for the sake of others. To be of service.
I remember my mom saying I’d be lucky to have “as many friends as you have fingers on your hand.” I used to get so mad at her for saying that because I thought it was about volume. “I have so many friends, Mom,” I’d say to her, thinking she doesn’t understand. But she was right. Deep, pure relationships are rare. Like the one I have with my youngest daughter. Like the sweet, joyful relationship I have with my grandsons and now, granddaughter. To be loved for just who you are. To hold no grudges. To forgive. Forget. To want nothing but love inspires more love.
I know you get this. You don’t want to leave, but you have to. You don’t want them to ever die, but they have to. You are grateful for your time with them. But it’s never enough. Not 90 years. Not two months. My God, you know how much you’ve been blessed, but you don’t want it to end. You don’t want her to grow up too fast. You want sew a coat with her smell laced in the fabric. You want to feel her heartbeat next to yours and know that, really, you are the only person on the Planet who can stop her crying because, because, you are her grandma. And she knows that. And you know that.
Millie won’t remember these months, being shut in as her adults sleuthed for toilet paper, read the latest death toil and Googled, “When is it safe to travel?” But I will . I will remember that these were the days I fell in love with a little girl who didn’t care how old or fat or poor or Democratic or Republican I was, but how my gushy arms comforted her when her tummy hurt. I will remember that when the world felt like it was going to hell, in a tiny apartment near a roaring train, it rained and snowed and it was Spring.
I was supposed to be gone, but I stayed. JetBlue, like other airlines flying out of JFK, cut flights to once a day. That’s about 40 flights in total leaving New York City. JetBlue contacted me with the bad news that my original flight was changed, so I made some date adjustments and will remain in NYC through Mother’s Day weekend. How wonderful that I can be with my daughter to celebrate her first M.D. with her daughter!
Naturally, I bought some matching T-shirts for the three generation females; they have pastel rainbows across the chest that read, “Once Upon a Time” and for Baby Millie, “And they lived happily ever after.” I think those classic story phrases pretty much sums up everything.
Once upon a Saturday two months ago I landed in New York to share the experience of birth. To meet my granddaughter. To help. To celebrate. To roll up my sleeves and do whatever needed to be done to make this transition to parenting less scary. Accomplished: Check. Above and beyond: Double check. When I leave on Wednesday with my shiny red Mary Poppins bag, I know that I did something earthquake-esque. But still being in the midst of the rumbling, it’s hard to explain. Let me try:
You see, I came here to help. I came here as a worker. I came here knowing I was needed. And wanted. By my daughter. By my son-in-law. By Millie. To have purpose is profound.
As a teacher, I have a purpose.
As the mother of two puppies being cared for by my ex-husband who’s holding down the fort at home, I have purpose.
As a sister and cousin, as a friend, I have purpose.
As a writer, as a former journalist, as a mess-around artist, I have purpose.
And this purpose fills me. Every day I have something important to do. Something important to learn and discover. Like what this two months of isolation and the opposite of isolation as a member of this new family living in a 500 square foot NYC apartment, means. Really means. The Big Picture. The tight shot.
Let me try to untangle the daily tasks–diapering, rocking, burping, emailing students, grading, lesson planning, distant conferencing–from the guts of this story: Love. Every day I fall in love. With this little girl. With my big girl who knows what this forever love thing feels like. With my new role as the elder stateswoman. With the knowledge that every day is precious. And to love every moment. Because, just like Millie, just like this beautiful Spring day in NYC, it’s a new moment.
I realize I have been living in the past or the future. But when you look in a baby’s eyes, you are in The Moment. Nothing else matters. Only now. Babies don’t doubt your love. They trust. They know you are there for them, to love them, to guide them as they greet each milestone. Everything is new. Everything. And you have to help them. You want to help them because it’s the only thing that really matters. Love is the only thing that lasts.
Those intimate, unrehearsed smiles, they mirroring you. When I’m back home in a few days, I’ll take those moments in my pocket and throw them in a pot of soup, in the moist soil beneath the lemon tree, in the glass of LVE rose around the fire pit, and I will savor and rejoice this sauna of lavender love I have been privileged to experience.
Today, Saturday, not Sunday, I have purpose.
Mom used to joke with us (sort of) when she was about to lose it, that she had bats in the belfry. I can understand this expression because the guy upstairs, right above where I’m typing, is “playing” the bongo. He think’s he’s good. He’s not. He thinks it’s OK to torture us with his tinny, brain-slamming percussion. People, it’s not cool to play the bongos publicly when you don’t know how. I’m just sitting here, minding my own business, trying to get a tan, trying to chill out before the week ahead, and this fool-man is making me want to scream, “Shut the f— up!”
I am becoming a New Yorker.
By the time I leave, I will have been here–to the day–officially, two months. Dealing with the heat the building superintendent insists on never turning off, the stoned karaoke neighbors, the 13-year-old boy’s constant tantrums, the red cardinal that comes out each morning and sings for me, the full cycle of blooming tulips and van Gogh neon blue irises, barren trees now bikinied in jeweled green leaves, the 9 pound 4 oz, infant who morphed into size-three months sleepers, the new afternoons iced with butterscotch skies, the turquoise bistro table that holds a bottle of sparkling Boisset wine, my daughter who is healthy, my son-in-law who, God bless him, takes care of Millie at night while he crams for first-year med school exams while encouraging his wife to sleep.
I’ve order two cases of Boisset while shelter-in-place.
I’ve ordered bagels and cream cheese via a delivery service twice and pizza once and now, Thai food. I’ve been on a dozen walks around the block. I wash my hair ever other day. I put on make up twice a week for Zoom calls. I’ve ordered three new shift dresses and leggings because I only packed for a week. I’ve Venmoed grocery $$$ to my daughter three times and have about $12 cash.
I’m still not sleeping through the night. I wake up thinking I hear gun shots. But it’s the rattling vertical blinds shaking in welcomed wind. I’ve watched “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “Little Fires Everywhere”, the tiger guy, “Waco”, tons of late night talk shows and have yet to finish the giant book I brought or finished knitting even half of the blanket I naively thought I’d have plenty of time to work on while in New York City.
I’m listing. Yes, I’m aware this is not particularly interesting to read. But I’m trying to add up the equation, make sense of this boxed-in time. Days, weeks, months have passed and now I’m blogging, talking, sharing with strangers. Why? Why do I open the window and stand out on the balcony looking, listening, feeling the day’?
Because I’m alive. Thank God. I didn’t get ill. Because we did the right thing, the safe thing, the wise thing the protestors are now complaining about. Because we trusted the experts we have the luxury of craving fellowship. Our brothers and sisters who lost a loved one don’t have that option. We have been isolated from their grief. Maybe if the protesters got sick or had a loved one die they would be praising not complaining.
So I sit on the balcony and cite statistics and have another glass of wine knowing that I may now just be a real New Yorker. I’ve experienced New York’s seasonal transition from early to mid Spring. I’ve become a fan of these rugged people who “just deal with it” and endure. I think everyone here is Governor Cuomo: Empathetic. Factual. Personable. Do what you gotta do.
I’m not New York-salty like my daughter. But I’m a hell-of-a-lot more appreciative. I really do heart NYC, city of my first granddaughter’s birth, home to America’s true rock stars.