Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Friday, April 16, 2021

Act of Radical Hope

 "In a time of Covid-19, climate change and catastrophe, having a baby is an act of radical hope." - Tom Whyman, "Why, Despite Everything, You Should Have Kids (if You Want Them)", New York Times, April 13, 2021

I work with a lovely young woman who has two young girls, one only four months old. We met yesterday to discuss changes in the onboarding process, and she confessed that though she knew the world was a mess, she couldn't look at the news. My co-worker's biggest goal is to get her baby to transition from breastfeeding to a bottle before she can come back to work full-time.  Having faced this same issue with my oldest (twenty years ago), I could sympathize. What are headlines when your child won't eat?

In a rare moment of frustration she asked, "What are we even doing, having children, when the world is like this?" A profound question, not only in the time of COVID. Those of us in mid-life who were following the climate crisis twenty or thirty years ago asked the same question before we had our children, and the situation has not gotten better.

In 2000, before we conceived our oldest child, I asked my mentor in Environmental Studies if I should follow the dictates of my biological clock (loudly ticking), given what we knew then about global warming and its devastating potential effects.  He pondered the question, a single man with a step-daughter whom he loved. I'll never forget what Frank told me: "It's an act of hope, it forces you to work hard for a better society, a better world. When you have children, you have skin in the game."

Parents do have skin in the game, as we fight for a more just society, a functioning democracy, an environment that will continue to support life in future generations. I only have twenty-five or thirty years left on the planet if I'm lucky, and I confess that if I didn't have children, I might be tempted to give up the fight. Certainly I would have spent a lot more time in bed during the past pandemic year. 

This mindset, a personal failing, not a global truth, helps me to understand Tom Whyman's position that having a baby continues to be an act of radical hope. It's not for everyone and I applaud those who can fight for a more just world on the basis of their own moral imperatives. Personally, the three young faces at my kitchen table provide deep motivation for my work on climate change, for our personal choices in terms of solar panels and food, and for getting up out of bed each day with a positive attitude. We do not know the future, and something - someone - great may lead us into a better place that, for now, we can't yet see. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Next Stop: CU Boulder

My senior has committed to attend CU Boulder in the fall. This involves the completion of forms, including a housing application, and payment of (large sums of) money. Less formally, it includes changing his Instagram bio to read CU '25 and telling his circle of friends where he will be come August. He's excited to take classes in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, though he's never been inside it or in one of the dorm rooms on the Engineering Quad.

William told me this morning that his decision felt anticlimactic. Boulder is not an exotic out-of-state location, far away from parents (it's only forty minutes from our house), and his sister will be a junior on the same campus. I think the real difficulty in embracing the future comes not from these variables but from the strange pandemic year which prevented us from doing a tour with William, from meeting professors and potential advisors, and from seeing the University through his eyes, instead of the eyes of his older sister.

How to embrace future possibilities when you have not seen them? It brings to mind my small black cat, Jack, trying to bait his bigger "older brother," Rex. Jack sat on my desk just now, waving his dark paw at Rex's big tawny side, swiping at the air with misguided determination until he finally connected with fur. Jack got bare teeth and a hiss for his efforts, which must have been the goal. Many college seniors have felt they were 'swiping at the air' with applications this year, and were unsure of the reaction when their applications did connect with admissions staff.

But the cats are peacefully watching me now, united in their hope for an early lunch, and I hope our high school senior will move smoothly into his new role of young adult on campus, embracing the new possibilities  and realizing this new dream is even bigger and more beautiful than the last.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

No Return to Normal

Easter surprised me this year with it's sudden arrival. Coming close on the heels of my trip to Montana, I was completely unprepared. The winter wreaths were still on the doors when I came home, the Easter baskets buried under layers of gift bags in the storage room. I scrambled to do the minimum of decorating (change wreaths to spring / Easter egg theme) and purchased candy for Rob and the kids.

On Easter morning I got up at 5:15 am to drive Daniel to the youth sunrise service. He and I were tired and grouchy afterward, as I made coffee cake and prepped bacon for brunch. The older kids arrived at 9am, Aden from Boulder and William from bed, where he had only had a few hours of sleep. So much for excited kids searching for the Easter bunny's hidden eggs! No one really likes hard-boiled eggs, so I skipped them.

William and Daniel both fell asleep as we watched the 9am service online, and I jumped up to start the eggs after the sermon. A convenient service, but lacking the emotion of the soaring sopranos and horns that always move me to tears when we are in-person.

After brunch, Aden and I chatted while the boys dispersed to batting cages or bed, and I quickly cleaned up the Easter baskets so the cat wouldn't eat the green plastic "grass." The briefest Easter basket appearance in the history of our family, cut short because we didn't want to kill our cat!

Nothing is the same, do you feel that? Not only because the kids are growing up but because we have all changed, are still changing. My trip to Montana was a giant step toward joy, but not really toward normal. As my sister says, "there is no more normal. We never have any idea what the next day will hold, we just meet it as best we can." True, and disorienting.

Rex, the same cat who would binge on a diet of plastic grass if we let him, escaped last night when Daniel was taking out the trash. Of course we didn't realize it until three hours later, when I noticed his absence from the couch in our TV room, where he always dozes at night. We combed the house, and the boys hit the streets near us, shouting his name and waving flashlights. Daniel found Rex crouched in the bushes of our neighbor two doors down, and chased him back up the street and right through our front door.

The cat was spooked by his adventure, his eyes the size of dessert plates and his fur puffed out to five times it's normal volume. He immediately ran upstairs to hide under our bed, only to emerge some time later to drink as if he hadn't seen water in years.  Which reminded me of me, as I now venture back out into the world of in-person work and travel, letting my boys go back to school five days per week.  My eyes wide and my metaphysical fur on fire, excited for old routines but tearing back into the house later as if I hadn't sought refuge in years. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Laugh Until You Cry

My brother introduced us to pickleball while we were in Montana. Pickleball, a cross between ping-pong and tennis, involves hard plastic balls that take weird spins and hard paddles too short to actually reach the hard plastic balls. I only played after stipulating that I would not run to the ball or move laterally in either direction. So Karen and I were a team and John played solo. John and I shuffle when we run, and I staggered when reaching low for the ball, which spun out of reach before my bifocally befuddled eyes. Karen had a wicked backhand and moved more elegantly.

That is, she moved more elegantly until she decided to imitate my stagger, shrieking with laughter as she stumbled forward, blindly stabbing her paddle into the air in front of her knees. I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants, illustrating a different mode of cross-legged stagger as I clutched my stomach. Mom joined our laughter from the sidelines, her gleeful chuckles punctuating our game. John shouted, too, as he "ran" to pick up the loose balls.

It's been fifteen months since I laughed that hard, smiled until my cheeks hurt, wiped laughing tears from my eyes. Over a year of seriousness, of trying to smile and brace my family but struggling to find bottomless joy. My friends and I would chuckle ironically or throat-laugh at memes, but we all need to laugh until we cry, to be doubled by merriment. That pickleball game erased part of the traumatic COVID  year from my psyche.

A good thing I found my laughter, since I came home to a doctor's text asking me to schedule my first colonoscopy. That text is the strangest happy birthday message I've ever received. And on the counter with my mail, a registration form courtesy of the AARP, listing the many benefits of membership. If those include uproarious laughter, I'm all in.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A Half-Century

I was greeted with posters, potted plants and balloons around every bend. Beaming faces, banners and birthday music dotted the trail as friends and family members conspired to surprise me with an outdoor fiesta for my fiftieth birthday. Rob gave me a beautiful ring in a Tiffany box, following in the footsteps of my father, whose ritual present to Mom extended to me and my sister when we became adults. So Dad was there, too, in Rob's thoughtful gesture.

After more than a half-mile of gathering partygoers like pied pipers, we stopped at a colorful picnic table to toast and elbow-bump. The vaccinated among us even hugged. My family presented me with a priceless treasure, a book compiled from scores of letters, poems, and notes, embellished with photos of loved ones over the decades. A half-century of memories, backlit in bright pastels.

Fifty years may be short on the geologic time scale but it's lengthy for a human, for me. The breadth of my life now includes almost twenty-five years with my husband, almost twenty years of child-rearing, sixteen years with my friends in Colorado. I can look back over the landscape of my life and see the valleys that began with my mistakes, the torturous routes to climb back up to the heights, and the amazing individuals that stood with me along the way. 

As I attempted to tell my friends on Saturday, I have never spent so many years in one place, never been so vulnerable, so grateful for friendship that stood firm in the face of trauma, of near-tragedy. In joyful, yet heavy, gratitude for their support, I broke down in ugly tears that seemed at once out of place and yet totally fitting. 

The birthday miracles continued this week as I was able to fly to Montana to meet my mother and sister. They stood outside in the airport parking lot and I heard them shouting, saw them waiting, as soon as I burst out the doors into the wintry weather. After barely pausing to avoid a passing SUV, I threw myself into their arms and we stood blocking the path in a three-way hug where tears and joy once more danced a lopsided jig. Thank God for science, for doctors and nurses, as the vaccine made or reunion possible after fifteen months of absence.

My oldest younger brother surprised us that night, my sister mistaking him for an extremely late deliveryman and refusing to open the door. My Mom calmly walked to the door and unlocked it over Karen's protests, revealing John with a pink birthday card envelope in hand. Our collective amazement extended to the family zoom call yesterday, when John revealed himself in the background of our screen, to the shock and awe of remaining family members.

I can't help but compare this milestone birthday to others. I hope that I'm less selfish now, more loving, humble and aware of my own frailties, more forgiving of others'. I hope to regain some of the childhood confidence that I've lost over the past two decades of raising kids, to cultivate the creativity that's been subsumed by planning and list-making. Mostly, I hope to continue building friendships, spending time with loved ones, and holding gratitude for the ties the bind.