Archive for the ‘Five for Ten’ Category

Three Little Letters

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

It is the word of chances and risks.  It is the word of new and different.  It is a word that is both affirming and terrifying.


Yes is the frightening answer to so many questions:

Do I want to learn a new language?
Do I want to live overseas again?
Do I want to have more children?
Do I want to work for myself someday?
Do I want to travel extensively? 

Yes is also the comforting answer to many other questions:

Do I have a family I love and adore?
Am I happy in my life?
Do I have hobbies I enjoy?
Am I in good health?
Is my marriage sturdy? 

Yes is a word that simultaneously feels like a warm blanket and a cold breeze.  I wrap myself in it, and brace myself against it.  I fear it and yearn for it in the same moment.  It takes me to new places in my life, some of which are beloved, and some of which are mistakes.  It teaches me to embrace my fumbles and falters.  It rewards me with unexpected blessings.  It hovers over me like a guardian and haunts me like a ghost. 

I answer yes in my life because I am better for it.

This post was inspired by the topic of Yes and is a part of Momalom’s Five for TenFor more great posts on Yes click on over and check out the links.

New York State of Mind

Monday, May 17th, 2010

There is the life I have.  And there is the life I want.  Much of the time they look a lot alike.  But there are times when real life takes a back seat to dream life and I spend a handful of days contemplating something I wish I had.  This happens every time I go to New York. 

On Thursday morning GAP and I loaded up into a cab, said goodbye to IEP (who was much more interested in the presence of said cab than in the fact that Mama and Dada were leaving in it), and motored to the airport.  Leaving my baby behind was difficult, but was eased by thoughts of a weekend of sleeping in, dinners with friends, shows, baseball games, and drooling over my favorite city in the world. 

It’s not the bright lights that get to me.  It’s the aggregated experience of a thousand little things that I love: The smell of street food, the brownstones, the pre-theatre menus, the way the park fills up on a sunny afternoon, the strollers everywhere, hearing more foreign languages than English being spoken around me, and the normalizing effects in being in a place where you are almost always in the middle of any demographic continuum. 

When I’m in New York I feel like a child with her face pressed up against the glass of a beautiful window display.  I want what I see, but it doesn’t (at least right now) belong to me.  I imagine myself there, not as a vacationer, but as a resident.  I dream up scenarios about what kind of life I would have.  And I contemplate how serious I am about all of these daydreams.

And then I come home.  I come home to my sturdy house, my affectionate dogs, and my perfect son.  I come home to a city that is comfortable and familiar.  I come home to a place that knows me as well as I know it.  I come home to a life that is good and happy and satisfying.  And I wonder if I’m being unreasonable.  All this lusting after a life I’ve invented in my head, is it innocent or not?  Living a life that wants for nothing, am I an utter ingrate to think about a life that might offer more? 

I’d like to find some tidy conclusion to these questions.  I’d like to say that I’ve thought them through, arrived and an answer and say The End.  But I haven’t, and so I will end this post honestly by saying that I don’t know.  I know what I think I want.  I don’t know if it will meet my expectations if I someday have it.  And I don’t know if I have any business wanting anything more than the life I already have.  Wanting more is a tricky thing.  It helps us strive.  But it also suggests that the here and now aren’t good enough.  And, at least for me, that isn’t completely true. 

This post was inspired by the topic of “lust” as a part of Momalom’s Five for Ten week.  I was a little late in getting my link for Friday’s topic of “Memory” posted, so if you missed it, scroll down or click here.

The Very Beginning

Friday, May 14th, 2010

I was almost two-and-a-half years old.  Daddy came home and picked me up to take me to the hospital.  As we walked down the hallway we had to stop and wash my hands.  We washed them in a water fountain.  Why in a water fountain, I’m not sure.

The soap was pink and antibacterial.  The water was cool and dripped down my wrists.  After we washed my hands I had to put on a tiny gown over my clothes.  I noticed that the pattern on the gown was the same as the pattern on my blanky at home.  That made the gown not so scary.

As we walked down the hallway I noticed a yellow chair rail and a banister.  I reached up over my head and dragged my fingers along the banister, which probably made the thorough hand washing pointless.  It didn’t matter at the time. 

Eventually we turned left and walked into a room.  I saw a little crib, but it was empty.  Then I heard my mother’s voice from the other direction.  She was sitting in a rocking chair and holding a baby. 

It was my sister, Anne

There are other stories from that day.  Candidly, my parents’ memories make better stories.  I’ve been told countless times about how I looked at my sister and said in a squeaky voice, “little bitty fingers.”  I think I remember it, but I don’t.  It is a memory I have created from having heard the story so many times.

But the hallway, the fountain, the soap, and the gown – those memories are real.

About twelve years later I told this story to my dad.  He confirmed the particulars of my story, but confessed that he hadn’t thought about those things since the day they happened.  These things register differently in the mind of a toddler. 

It is my earliest memory.  I remember nothing else from my life until the age of five.  Apparently I understood, even then, that it was something worth remembering.

Perhaps it is contrived significance.  But I’ve always enjoyed knowing that my life – at least as I can remember it – began on the day I met my sister.

Gale (six months pregnant with IEP) and Anne, before her wedding

This theme of this post is “Memory”, as part of Momalom’s “Five for Ten”.

Happiness: I May Be Small, But I’m Scrappy

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

In case you missed it, I wrote an extra post yesterday to get me back on schedule with Momalom’s Five for Ten week.  Every now and then I like to post on days other than MWF just to keep you on your toes.  Or because I forgot my homework assignment and had to turn it in late.  Take your pick.

Lately my attention span in church is comparable to that of an 18-month-old.  This is probably because I spend about half of each service entertaining an 18-month-old.  This past Sunday in between Cheerios, sippy cups, and Dr. Seuss books I managed to catch a few bits and pieces of the actual sermon.  Victory!

Our priest spoke about peace.  He spoke about how Christ’s peace differs so completely from the way we refer to peace today.  He explained that to Jesus, peace was something comprehensive.  We, on the other hand tend to think of peace as something momentary and fleeting.  Peace is what we have when all the housework is done, or after the kids have gone to bed, or after the holidays are over.  Peace, for us, is highly circumstantial.  Peace, for Jesus, was all-encompassing, despite His external circumstances.

I bring this up not to get all up in your face about Christianity.  (I absolutely do not care what your faith life looks like.  That’s your business.  In fact I hardly ever talk about my faith, but I figure since this is Five for Ten week, maybe you’re still with me…)  I bring this up because I’m curious about how the same theory would apply to happiness.

When we say that we’re happy, what does it mean?  Does it mean something different when spoken from the lounge chair of a beach vacation than it does when spoken from the sofa of your cluttered living room at the end of a chaotic weekend?  If I take a bite of the most delicious thing ever and say, “I’m so happy,” does that cheapen the sentiment?  Should the bar for happiness be set higher?  Should it be reserved for statements that reflect a life that is harmoniously balanced?

I didn’t have to think about it very long to decide that this theory (which I’m still struggling with as it relates to peace – I disagree with our priest a lot…) makes a mockery of the very essence of happiness.  Happiness is entitled to be fleeting.  Happiness can be momentary and temporary and finite.  And quite frankly, maybe it should be.

For starters, my life will never be harmoniously balanced – partly because that’s unrealistic, and partly because it would be fantastically boring.  My life is busy.  I have a husband to love, a son to raise, a career to manage, friends to see, hobbies to do, books to read, recipes to try, trips to take, and Bravo’s West Wing marathons to watch.  If I’m shooting for harmonious balance some of those things will almost certainly get chucked.  And that would make me decidedly unhappy. 

Its ability to sneak into small moments is what makes happiness so powerful.  It can be small.  It is changeable.  It can find you wherever you are.  It doesn’t need to be big or sweeping.  It doesn’t need for everything around it to fit inside its structure.  It is wily and scrappy and creative.  Like a droplet of water it can seep into a tiny crack and soften you when you most need it. 

I am happy every time I kiss IEP.  I am happy every time I make GAP laugh.  I am happy every time I eat an oyster grinder at my favorite Cajun dive bar.  I am happy when Albert Pujols hits a home run.  I am happy when I get to sleep past 7:00.  And I am happy when the Bradford Pear trees bloom every spring.

I am happy in bigger, broader, ways too.  But isn’t it ultimately the accumulation of tiny happy moments that make a happy life?  Balance and harmony are all well and good.  But if all the little things in my life bring me happiness, if haphazardly, then that’s enough for me.

This post was written as part of Momalom’s Five for Ten week.  For more great posts on Happiness check out all of the other links here.

The Redeeming Elements of Stupidity

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Sometimes we are brave.  Other times we are stupid.  And other times still the latter is redeemed by a shot at the former.

In the fall of 1997 I was 20 years old and a sophomore in college.  I had a fun roommate, a good group of girlfriends, and a boyfriend who made my post-adolescent heart go pitter-patter.  I also had the hair-brained idea of spending the spring semester of that year abroad in Spain.  I had no idea what I was doing.  It was the best mistake I ever made.

If I could talk with my twenty-year-old self today I would tell her that going abroad will unequivocally wreck everything in her life that she thinks matters.  I would tell her:  While you are gone your friends will bond in meaningful ways without you, and when you return you will be decidedly out of the loop.  While you are gone the boyfriend that you’re so in love with will decide that he doesn’t really miss you all that much, and he will break up with you after you get back (while you’re in the middle of a solo cross-country road trip to Wyoming, no less).  While you are away you will be mind-numbingly and heart-breakingly lonely.  You will feel isolated and alienated and sad.  You will call your friends’ dorm rooms when you know they’re in class, just to hear the bubbly voices on their answering machines without having to talk about how you wish you were back there.  You will have moments when you won’t admit even to yourself how unhappy you are. 

And… you should absolutely go!

The caveat to all of those statements is that they will only be true for the first half of the semester.  Here are the other things that are true:  You will rediscover your love of reading and devour some of the best fiction of your life.  You will master another language and feel a kinship to it that you never expected.  You will learn how to be alone, in moments that are lonely and moments that are not.  You will find the joys of traveling on your own.  You will eventually make friends who enrich your experiences and make you laugh.  You will spend a weekend on the beaches at Nerja and sunbathe topless.  You will stop caring about what the cool kids think.  You will spend three days in Barcelona chatting up waiters and eating dinner at bar tables while reading.  You will find out-of-the-way restaurants and order local specialties.  You will drink red wine from a glass bong and ask your waiter to take a photo of you doing it.  You will take hold of this experience and mold it into something you want it to be.

Because you have no other option, you will be brave.

Courage is a funny thing.  Sometimes we look for it and we know just what we’re doing when we step toward it.  Other times we aren’t looking for it, but it taps us on the shoulder and calls on us, and we answer with the understanding that what we are about to do may be hard.  And other times still we are stupid.  We don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into.  We have no foresight, no inkling, no foggy idea that we’re walking blindly into something big and hairy. 

But those are the moments, I think, when courage can be the most transforming; when we are caught unawares and must call up something from within ourselves that we didn’t expect to need. 

My semester abroad was perhaps the single biggest transformational experience of my life.  It was that semester that saw me evolve from a vulnerable and insecure girl into a confident and savvy young woman.  Were it not for those six months (the first three in particular) I would not be the person I am today. 

Sometimes we know that we must be brave.  Other times we are just stupid and back ourselves into corners that call for courage.  Nevertheless, it is courage that emerges.  And the fact that we arrived at a place of courage via a place of stupidity does nothing to dilute the courage itself.

This post is a part of Momalom’s Five for Ten week.  For the rest of this week, and part of next, I will be following along with their suggested topics.  For some great reads on the topics of Courage, Happiness, Memory, Lust, and Yes, be sure to check out the links to other participating bloggers’ sites on their home page.