last-ing

A diary-type entry to note for myself what’s happening: These are the final days, for sure, and the looming smaller finals are in my sights. For example, tonight is the last night I’ll sleep in this house; tomorrow night I’ll sleep at Katie’s, and the next night we won’t sleep much at all. Marc’s flight lands Friday night at 11:45pm, and then we’ll come by this house to pick up the truck and head out. We’re shooting for Balch Springs, a suburb on the far east side of Dallas that first night. The next night to Knoxville, 838 miles, and the following night to Kingston, 779 miles. OY. This time next week it’ll all be done and I’ll be waking up in our NY apartment, waiting to hear when we can head upstate.

It’s at this stage now, past the chaos of shit on the floor in every room. Now some closets, cabinets, and even rooms are completely packed, cleaned, and closed. This room had a couple of different incarnations during my time here: a guest bedroom/room I was saving for my son, and then with a broken heart it was abandoned and turned into a yoga room that never really worked because the ceiling fan right in the middle of the room meant no over-the-head arms. Now it’s clean and fresh, mopped and dusted and waiting for the next person who will make this little space her own cozy home.

It’s inevitable that I remember the day I moved in, as I pack the last things, and how fragile I was that day. It was a great mercy to me, and a tremendous burden to them, that I had Katie and Trey to help me, and right at a time they needed all the help. To close a circle, she and her two little kids are coming over today to spend some time here while I pack the kitchen, which is the last bit of packing I have to do. I have the fancy “kitchen packing” boxes from U-Haul so it’ll be about as easy as it can be, when you have to also deal with a heavy KitchenAid and various large, heavy things that never quite fit anywhere but also make the box so heavy you have to fill it with lighter things….none of which I have left. Whatev. I’ll figure it out.

Yesterday seemed to be the Day of Big Emotion, which is not to say there won’t be another but I was all over the place, walking and suddenly crying, packing and suddenly feeling the weight of everything, cleaning and suddenly getting a spasm of loss in my heart. None of it is really lost, but you know what I mean. I had a very real life here. At 4.5 years, this is the second-longest period I’ve ever lived in one place! I know every spot on the floor where the tile is a little uneven. I know every corner where dead pillbugs seem to collect. I know the trick with that one drawer, how you have to hold your mouth to get it to close correctly. And I’ll learn all those things about my new home, too.

Today is the Day of Getting it Finished. Better get busy. xoxoxox

stuff

I can never use that word ‘stuff’ without thinking of George Carlin’s brilliant monologue about stuff.

I’ve never been a huge fan of lots of stuff, if only because we moved all the time and I no sooner unpacked some stuff until it was time to pack it again (and sometimes just to flee and leave it behind). Stuff gets weeded out pretty quickly in that life. And what’s so funny to me is that when I moved here in October 2012, I did not have any  stuff at all, just my suitcase with clothing, and some boxes of books that arrived later. So everything that sits in my house right now has been acquired since then. Every fork. Every knickknack. Every coaster. Every doodad, every poetry magazine, every lamp. Everything. And of course 80% of it was bought with my daughter Katie — her in the immediacy of her terrible, terrible grief — her encouraging me to get the nicer thing, not to cheap-ass-plastic myself, for once to have a nice thing. And so all of my things have her soaked into them. Her tiny little smile (how did she even muster any of that, a month after losing her beloved daughter???). Her getting out of bed and going with me, her help making lists of things I’d need, tasks to do. She is so fully a part of almost everything in my house.

Just a very quick shot before the young couple took it away….

I bought a way too big dining table, chairs, and bench. Too big for the space, but in my mind I was buying a very nice set that my entire family would gather around, never mind that the space was too small to extend the leaf. I was buying a very nice set that I could pass down to one of my kids. I was buying a very nice set that I imagined would be the center of wonderful times with my precious family, and when I bought it, I imagined Katie and her husband and the children they would surely go on to have sitting around it.

A mix — poetry folks AND book club women. Cheers, dear Anne! Hi Karyn, and Rebecca, and is that Ben? I always loved having you all gather around my table.

That didn’t happen, and it was really too big for the small space, but that doesn’t mean that the table wasn’t the center of a lot of wonderful times. It has been laden with food for poetry group parties, and book club dinners, and buffets for a cheese group I ran a few times. It held my sewing machine as I made a quilt for Oliver, and then for Ilan, and then for Lucy. It held a beautiful, large glass bowl — red, washed with vivid gold streaks — that I sometimes filled with glass balls, or a tall gold hurricane candle holder, or pine cones, or clementines (and let’s be real: sometimes it got filled with mail and assorted junk).

I’d been thinking about getting rid of the table anyway, and getting a small table that was much more suited to the space, and I would’ve felt the same things watching it go out the door for that reason as I feel today, watching it go out the door in preparation for my move.

just gone.

And now it’s gone, into the brand new home of a darling young couple who want it for the same reason I did, so that at least feels very good to me. It wasn’t my family heirloom table after all, but it will be theirs. That pleases me. The space is empty and swept, and the rug rolled, and I’ll use the space to stage loaded boxes and small furniture in preparation for the move. It’s nice to have an empty space large enough to move the packed boxes out of the way.

It’s inevitable that I’m thinking about Katie with every box assembled, every inch of tape applied, every precious object wrapped carefully. I haven’t even had time, yet, to bear thinking about living so far away from her that I can’t just swing by and see her or help her, or see precious Oliver and luscious Lucy. I can’t think about all that yet, and anyway right now it’s all I can do to manage thinking about her helping me buy all these things I’m taking with me. I honor my promise to myself to take them all with me, and I made that promise in large part to honor her sacrifices made for me, when I had nothing and she had just lost her most beloved dream and didn’t even know how to keep breathing. You’d think there would be tremendous comfort in a kind of “well, I’m taking Katie with me” kind of way — and of course when I place all these things into my new home, I will again think of her as I always do when I touch each thing, or sit on my couch or in my leather chair, or when I look at my beautiful bedroom furniture, or the chair in my bedroom that she encouraged me to get just because it pleased me. I’ll still and always remember her in that way. But at the moment, as I’m preparing to leave, the comfort isn’t there yet. I just touch the ways we both felt when we shopped for them.

Stuff. It’s just stuff and it isn’t at ALL just stuff. (I mean, some is. I don’t have to feel sentimental about the organizer for my silverware.)

being in this world

Trey and Oliver (aka mini-Trey) getting some one-on-one time. Lots of love there.
Trey and Oliver (aka mini-Trey) getting some one-on-one time. Lots of love there.

We’ll all be catching up on sleep and back-to-the-real-worldness for the next few days; for Katie and Trey, the catching-up will take a whole lot longer. I think a person could get more rest on the median strip of a busy highway than in a hospital. I know that nurses are doing their jobs and I’m glad for it, but every little bit throughout the night they burst in and turn on lights and just start talking as if it’s the middle of the day — and when there is a new mom and a new baby, twice as many reasons to check in. My sweet Katie and Trey are so exhausted, when they get home and get to sleep more than 20 minutes without interruption it will be a tremendous help. If ever there was a floor where the patients ought to be interrupted as little as possible, it would be the maternity floor for heaven’s sake. Poor exhausted kids. I want to go to their house the day after they get home and just be there to tend to Oliver while they sleep sleep sleep, and I can hand Oliver in for a feeding and bring him quickly out and let them sleep sleep sleep some more. That would do more for them than anything else.

I’ve gotten a couple nights of sleep and finally, yesterday mid-morning, I started feeling like a regular human being hallelujah. You walk around in the world not even noticing that it’s a thing to be grateful for, feeling like a regular human being, until you hit the wall and would give anything to feel like that. So yay, getting enough rest to feel baseline!

Over the last couple of days I’ve had reason to think about one of my favorite subjects. There are different ways of seeing the world, of being in the world, on any topic. Unless it makes you utterly miserable or hurts others, it doesn’t matter one bit which way you go — you do what makes sense to you, what works for you. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just a different way of looking at or understanding the exact same thing. Different ways of being.

katie and oliver
sweet Katie and sweet Oliver (how could he be anything but sweet with those parents?)

The first thing that made me think about this came about — as it often does — when I watched my daughter Katie. This has been true for an incredibly long time with her. I remember thinking about this throughout our (her) year-long period of grief, through both her pregnancies, through both deliveries, and now through her post-partum period with Oliver. It didn’t just start then, but all these experiences left me in a kind of awe of her strength and solid power. Katie just does not complain. Through her pregnancies she had the normal troubles, sometimes to a great degree. Extraordinarily long morning sickness with Gracie (all 9 months, more or less); excruciating pelvic pain for months with Oliver. But you know, she just manages it and doesn’t complain. During her long labor and her recovery, no complaining. Not once. There’s something about Katie that blows me away, she endures what she needs to endure because she does, and she may mention it briefly in passing, or if asked, but that’s it. It’s just what she needs to do. I said this to her in the hospital and she kind of laughed and said Trey would disagree, but I’m right. Maybe she complains about little this or that, inconsequential things, but when it gets hard she goes quiet and does what she needs to do. She is deeply emotional, and in a complex way; it’s just that when the going gets tough, she pulls in, hunkers down, and does what she needs to do without any fanfare.

OR there’s my way, which is to pull the curtain aside and show the machinery. I talk about it, write about it, explore it and share it, and I have well thought-out reasons for that stance but I think it’s also just more my way, who I am. Still, I admire Katie’s way a lot, and find myself wanting to be more like her. Her way feels like strength and courage and solidity, to me. It isn’t that I think I whine, I don’t think I’m a whiny complainer, but it’s a different way of being, a different way of thinking about suffering and how to respond, and I admire her. Of course there are good and bad aspects to both — if you just suffer in silence and keep it all in, you might suffer more than you need to, you might get into a kind of trouble that would be avoided if others knew more about how you were feeling during difficult times. On the other side, if you talk or write a lot about the hard stuff, it might make it larger and more real in your mind and heart and become a greater concern than it would be if you just quietly let it ride. I share my troubles because they are true and real and I think we all have troubles and sometimes feel all alone with them, so perhaps my experience can help someone feel less alone. But gee, I admire Katie so much.

The second experience that made me think about it came on Saturday night when I had dinner with a friend and we were talking about the general subject of generosity of spirit. She is extraordinarily generous in spirit, and I believe I am, too. We both know people who keep mental balance sheets, people who [for whatever reason] are small in that way, as we see it. She and I give of ourselves because we just want to, it flowers out of who we are, and then we move on. You’ll never get a listing of What All I Have Done For You from either one of us. It’s no big deal, it is just who we are, like she has blond hair and I have brown hair, she is tiny and I am tall. Just who we are. We’ve both been in relationships with friends and family and lovers who were not like that at all. When a relationship is ending, that way of being in the world can really show itself. So we were talking about that contrast, and how hard it can eventually become to remain generous of spirit when the other person is clinging and taking taking taking. She and I might respond in kind, but not for long because it just feels so bad, it makes us feel worse. We’re human (boy are we) so we will lash out or whatever, but ick. Being that way feels awful to us.

Our conversation turned to how to interact with people who have that other kind of response. To keep being generous of spirit and letting go can make you feel like a chump, taken advantage of, even perhaps stupid. But what do you do? Do you behave for the world you want to live in, or the actual world? Her ongoing generosity is not at all going to modify (even a bit) the behavior of the one she’s dealing with. Nor would it for people who were in my life. It’s easy enough — and maybe a valid response — to withhold when dealing with tight-hearted people, and be generous otherwise. Maybe that’s smart. That’s living in the actual world. Or do you blossom yourself into the world in the belief that it does change things, it’s the only way things can change, even if you don’t see it in each and every person? This is a big question, applicable to all kinds of behaviors and ethics beyond generosity, though all kinds of things fall under the umbrella of ‘generosity’ if you think about it. Of course I fail much more often than I succeed, but I think I throw my chit in the “behave for the world I want to live in” bowl. I may get punked/chumped/lose on occasion and that will feel pretty crappy, but whatever, right? Those things happen anyway.

A sweet little family of three is supposed to go home today, and I’d give anything to watch from afar as they put their little boy in the car seat and drive him — carefully, so carefully — home. As they walk through their front door with their long-awaited child, as they greet their dogs who will surely be bewildered by the new member of the house. As they relax and feel so glad to be home, as they walk into their bedroom and place their little boy gently, so gently, into his bed. As they look at each other and feel the way their home has just changed. I’d love to see that, and I can easily remember every single one of those feelings (except the dogs, we had a sweet stray cat that Katie soon named “The Old Bad Kitty”), and the memory is the sweetest sweetest thing. Happy Monday, everyone, the last day of March. The first quarter of this year is ending, how fast it’s going. xo

grand mothering

Soon my grandson Oliver will be here, and of course I’m thinking about him — thinking about his chubby little cheeks we’ve watched in all the ultrasounds, thinking about how much we’ve watched and worried as we’ve waited, and thinking about what it will be like to be Pete to a little boy, whose hand I will hold, whose heart I will cherish, and whose parents I will be so glad to support.

I could NOT take my eyes or my heart off of her. My first little girl, so dazzling.
I could NOT take my eyes or my heart off of her. My first little girl, so dazzling.

But more, I’m thinking about my daughter, and what it’s like to be her mother at this momentous transition. I have to tell you, I’ve been crying a lot. I know the myriad ways her life is about to change, she is about to change — at every level, cellular, intellectual, emotional, moral, spiritual, hopes, dreams, self. It’s all about to change, and she knows a lot of it already after her love for her daughter Grace, but she hasn’t yet had the chance to hold a baby in her arms and watch it watch her. She hasn’t yet watched her baby move around in the world, become who s/he is going to become. She has made the kind of heart-wrenching decisions for her child that mothers have to make; she has born the pain, but she has not yet born the wonder, and I know that is about to happen for her and it makes me feel so tender toward her, mothers, it does. It cracks my heart open and I just want to pause this moment and live in it for just a little while.

I know lots of women who long to be grandmothers. I was never one of those, except as it related to my children’s wishes. If my children wished to have children, I wanted that for them. If they didn’t, I wanted that for them. Their lives are theirs to live, as I have lived mine, and their choices are theirs to make and live with, as I have made and lived with mine. All I want of my life — all I’ve wanted since 1982 — is that the lives that come through and after mine are different, better, more whole. And that continues now.

I want my daughters to have a mother around who will be thrilled with them, mourn with them, come help through those hard 5pm hours; a mother who will come over and babysit so she and her husband can have time out — even if they just go out and talk about the baby. A mother who brings a pan of lasagna, a big salad, a cake when she is just exhausted. A mother who comes over when everyone is sick and rolls up her sleeves to help. I didn’t have that, and wished I did. I wished I had a mother to share it all with, a mother who could help me now and then when I felt I couldn’t do it another day, a mother who knew what I was going through, a mother who was excited for and with me. I want my children to have a grandmother for their kids, something I was not able to give my own children — a grandmother they know adores them, who takes them away on little excursions, who always has treats for them [secretly], who has a very simple and whole love for them, uncomplicated and constant. O I want that for my dear children so much.

Over the last couple of days I have been so thick with some kind of feelings I can’t quite articulate, I can’t get near the center of it, but I know it has to do with the enormity of my love for this girl, who is now a woman about to become a mother.

she was ten years old then, and just so sweet
she was ten years old then, and just so sweet

I’ve had to bear the incredible and unbearable pain of witnessing her pain and being unable to do one damn thing about it, my own pain paling in comparison. I’ve watched her off in the distance, on an island I knew nothing about, me waving and jumping from the shore. And now I get to bear the incredible and almost unbearable joy of witnessing her transitioning to this new stage of her life, the stage she has longed for and dreamed of, and again I can only stand on the shore and wave and jump. I am so damn glad I am here to do that.

I can’t wait to tell you when Oliver gets here. It should be any day now. I hope I can bear all this love without my heart exploding. xo

what to do

One friend is having a medical procedure today and we are all hoping hoping hoping for answers. One loved one is very blue. One loved one is having to work all night this whole week, completely upending his and his wife’s lives and routines. After I read a collection of stories, I have no more work. Nothing waiting, nothing coming. Still no frogs or locusts, at least.

numnumAnd so today I will go up to Katie’s house for a while to be with her — a reliable spirit-lifter. We plan to watch The Party, that great old 1960s Peter Sellers movie (“num-num? Birdie num-num?”). It’s a movie that my kids’ dad introduced them to, at just the right age (though my kids were well-trained and got a love of jug band music, Betty Boop cartoons, and old music from the 1960s).

Now that Oliver’s name has been decided, I can start work on his stocking, but today my plan is to cut out the pieces for his quilt — I’ll hand piece the blocks, and then machine piece them together:

cool use of drunkard's path blocks!
cool use of drunkard’s path blocks!

I could machine piece the curves, but it’s quick and easy to handstitch them, and they’re portable. A week from Friday I’m back to NYC so I’ll stitch on the plane. And then I’ll show you the blocks when I get them done. It’s a really cute little quilt, and Oliver’s daddy came along to help us pick the fabrics so he’s right there in the quilt too — especially in what we’re calling the fox block at the top right. With such stylized animals, we’re imposing our own thoughts about some of them. The one in the middle of the bottom row, for instance. What do you think it’s meant to be? I have my own ideas…….

Happy Tuesday, y’all — I hope it brings a nice surprise to us all.

an easy test

Granted: It was a wonderful day yesterday because I spent the day with my daughter Katie, planning a baby shower and making baby things and having lunch. Who couldn’t have a wonderful day under those circumstances?

Well, I could’ve failed to have a wonderful day. I’m worried about my work, I’m worried about a lot of things, I’m anxious about how to get more business, I’m scared because I haven’t made any money in an ongoing period of time and there’s no work on the horizon to speak of. I’m distracted, frightened, scattered. The situation is not desperate, and I can help myself with the emotional aspects and there are things I can do, a variety of things. So it isn’t that any of this is huge and FRIGHTENING, it’s just that it’s there, swirling around underneath. And it could’ve kept me distracted from my day with my sweet daughter.

But yesterday morning I did my new morning ritual. My alarm woke me up softly at 6:30, and I stretched. Before I opened my eyes, I took some deep, slow breaths. I thought about how grateful I was to have another day of my life ahead of me, and I thought about getting to spend it with Katie. The best part of the ritual, the part that made a difference for me, was thinking about what I wanted from the day, which was this: I wanted to be present with Katie. I wanted to really be with her, and be engaged with our baby shower planning. I wanted to really be with her and not turning my mind away swirling with work and money worries. Since I had this opportunity to have a whole day alone with her, I wanted to truly have the day. And so that’s what I thought about before I got out of bed.

Then I took some more slow deep breaths and smiled, and got out of bed. Mindfully made my coffee and green smoothie, breathing in the smells, watching. Sat in my living room in front of the fire, in the quiet, and drank my coffee and smoothie. Several minutes later, I read my folder of pages, closing them as I moved through them, then did some personal writing. At the end, I stood up and stretched my arms straight up, and then out, and as I knew I would, I cried. My heart felt open and I was ready for my day.

fairies
bibbidy bobbidy boo!

Did it work? You know, it really did! It worked on so many levels, even though it wasn’t a magic wand. I felt ready to live this day of my life. It felt sacred, not to make too big a deal out of that. And it helped me be very clear about my day with Katie, and what matters to me. It didn’t magically delete my worries, it didn’t wipe out those things I know and am concerned about, but it gave me what I needed to deal with them when they arose throughout the day. I just smiled and remembered that this was my day to be with my oldest daughter, a day in both our lives, a day shared, preparing for her son, my grandson, a precious day. That’s what yesterday was set aside for, and if I was distracted by other things I would not be there with her, and I would have missed it. Starting my day with that quiet thought and clarity about what I wanted from the day was key.

I’m sure if my worries were greater, more frightening, more consuming, it would be much harder. I’m sure if my alternative was not as wonderful as a day with my daughter it would be much easier to give in to the worry and fear. Maybe by the time I’m facing that situation again — and I will, because that’s the rhythm of life — maybe by then I’ll be stronger from having practiced this lovely morning ritual.

Like everything, the challenge is not allowing the ritual to slip into mindless rote actions. By the 43rd time I start my day like this, I’ll just go through the motions (even though that’s the exact opposite of what the ritual is), unless I take care with it. Even on those days I’m less mindful than others, it’s still a lovely way to start a day — stretching, pausing, smiling, breathing and smelling coffee, reading a bit in the quiet, stretching and opening my arms.

All throughout the day I want to say little things, tell you funny things, or interesting things, or amazing things I hear about or see. Facebook tickles my fingers, then. I’m thinking about a way to integrate some of that here, we’ll see. For now, the quiet is just so wonderful, and my days have felt more whole in some way, less zigging around. Happy Thursday, everyone, I hope it’s a good day in your life today.

birth and rebirth

Finally, we are sharing our long-held secret. My oldest daughter Katie is pregnant again, and with a little boy. He will be born at the end of March, and as you can only begin to imagine, we are over the moon with joy. Here is his tiny little foot, a picture I’ve looked at so much I’m surprised the pixels themselves aren’t bleached:

see that tiny little foot? those tiny little toes? he kicks his mommy with that foot.
see that tiny little foot? those tiny little toes? he kicks his mommy with that foot.

For now we are calling him Oblio, some of us, because one name Katie and Trey are considering is Oliver — that beginning O made Marnie think of the main character from the movie The Point: Oblio, the little round-headed boy in a kingdom of pointy-headed people. The most perfectly wonderful boy in all the land. My kids loved that movie when they were growing up, and we still reference it all the time. So we call him Oblio as a placeholder name, and out of so much love and family history. His existence is the rebirth of our hopes, the rebirth of Katie’s and Trey’s roles as parents, the fulfillment of thousands and thousands of hopes and wishes and prayers and secret thoughts and murmurings. His existence is the rebirth of my forthcoming existence as Pete to someone in the world, someone I will love all my heart, and someone who will love me. His birth will be even more momentous than other births, because we will inevitably be thinking about our little lost Gracie, who many people believe will be watching over him, and his parents, and aunts and uncles, and grandparents, and extended family and friends forever more. His life will be surrounded by love and guidance and friendship and care and possibility. His heart will be held softly by all of us who will love him forever. His little feet will be held in our hands in wonder as we fight to keep from nibbling those little toes. His little face will be held in our hands as we kiss his soft little cheeks. He will be lovingly diapered and held and rocked, and then one day his little hand will be lovingly held as his mommy walks him to school. As his daddy walks him here and there. As his Pete walks with him wherever he wants to go. And we hope one day we get to watch him be the big brother to a little brother or sister. We expect he might have curly hair like his daddy. We expect he will be adorable. We know he will be adored and cherished, always, and by so very many people. And so with this, the cat is out of the bag. Secret knitting can come out into the light. Secret plans can be spoken of. Hallelujah! Once again, Katie will be a mommy, Trey will be a daddy, and I will be Pete. Hallelujah!