memories


I’ve been feeling very introverted these days, and it’s so nice.

It’s kind of a reverse of the almost manic (to me) extroversion that I’ve experienced for the past few years, which in retrospect was probably related to the intense discomfort I felt as a stay-at-home mom. The lifestyle — and identity — shift was so profound that it was hard for me to feel like I knew who I was, and very hard for me to not internalize the conflicting messages about motherhood put out in our media. Without realizing it, I became unable to just sit with the discomfort or work through it (despite all the yoga! despite my testimony!) and used getting out of the house as a way to pass the time, occupy my mind without having to think about the things that were troubling me, and to avoid having to be alone with my thoughts.

That has all changed.

For much of my pregnancy with Anna I was actually really afraid of having another child. I didn’t feel like a very good mom, and I didn’t feel like I was cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. I worried that I wouldn’t be a good mom to two. And for the first eight or nine weeks of Anna’s life, that all became true. I wasn’t a very good mom of two and I felt like such a failure as a stay-at-home mom. I couldn’t keep it together anymore. I hated everything, I felt trapped, and I wanted to hide under a blanket until the kids grew up.

Thankfully, I got help (if you ever feel as desperate as I did after having a baby, go get help!). And after I did it felt like someone turned the lights on. Finally I could feel like myself again, and I realized that it had been a really, really long time since I had. (Like, probably almost two years — since my thyroid went out of whack and I was training for the ten-miler two years ago.) And since then I have been so thankful to have myself back — especially since I didn’t even realize I was gone. That’s the weirdest thing. I think my depression was subtle enough, and certainly not severe enough, for me to overlook it and think that my life was the problem, and not my outlook.

This shift in thinking is part of why I want to write again (perhaps I stopped blogging and writing because I wasn’t able to work through what I was really thinking and feeling). It’s also why I never want to leave the house anymore — in a good way. This winter has been hard in a lot of ways, but it’s a good hard, and I am taking a lot of familiar solace in being cocooned at home.

will on the couch

This morning Will woke up extra late (he is no longer a late riser, sadly) and we were going to be late for preschool regardless of how much we hurried. Neither of us is good at hurrying, so I asked him if he wanted to go to preschool at all today. “No thank you,” he said, “I want to stay home.”

He’s a boy after my own heart. How could I say no?

I haven’t felt like running much this last week. Usually I love being alone with my thoughts, but some days you just prefer company. Still, I’ve managed to make it out the door on the strength of the cupcake awaiting me back at home, or on the feeling of satisfaction with which  a completed run leaves me. We were up in Pennsylvania this past weekend so I had outdoor runs and new scenery to take in, but I just wasn’t really feeling it.

So I started Tuesday morning’s run feeling pretty unenthusiastic; my main motivator was knowing that I was going to spend all afternoon sitting in a car and eating Chick-Fil-A for dinner. I headed out the door promising myself that four miles would be a piece of cake.

I did a two-mile loop twice (it’s a small town!), and during those four miles my thoughts were filled with memories. What is it about this time of year? The chilly air, the cloudy skies, the brick buildings flanked by brilliant orange trees all reminded me of Elmira, where I went to college. I am rarely ever further north than Philadelphia these days and I miss the northeast a lot. The smell of exhaust as I ran past a truck reminded me of the three weeks I spent in Russia when I was seventeen — three weeks fifteen years ago, and yet the smell still brings me back. I was even brought all the way back to summer camp as the aroma of sausages and maple syrup came wafting out to meet me as I made my way down King Street. I remembered waiting for the bus during late winter afternoons at Academy; my mind sifted through some of the poems we studied while I was there (the world revolves like ancient women/gathering fuel in vacant lots). I remembered Gertrude Stein and the smell of the upstairs classrooms and the experimental hairstyles favored by my friends.

No experimental hairstyles here, but it was graduation so we had to be classy.

And thinking about my friends brought me back to my public school days, where my thoughts have lingered a lot this past week. I found out on Friday morning that a much-loved friend of mine — the guy who took me to the prom, in fact — passed away unexpectedly last week. We hadn’t kept in touch and our lives went different places, but I miss him. He was a good and kind man who leaves a lot of people behind who miss him a lot more than I ever could.

I followed along as my mind traced the now well-worn path it’s followed a lot in the last year. He didn’t deserve this, said my mind. He should have gotten to marry, have a family, live a long life. It’s so unfair.

And then: Why? Why is it unfair?

I have thought about death a lot in the last year and a half, and not in the overemotional dramatic way I did when I was thirteen. My friend is free. My mother is free. Yes, it sucks for those of us left behind — we’re the ones who have to endure these endless days of grief. But I can no longer simply think he should have lived longer. Instead of mourning a life cut short, I want to rejoice. Rejoice that my friend can escape this broken world and experience peace. Rejoice that my mother has been healed. I want to rejoice — but left behind here in this mess, it’s so hard. It’s hard to look past my own sadness to see the very real joy that exists beyond, but I think if I could fully see it, I wouldn’t mourn at all. I’d just be impatient.

I find it hard to express these thoughts in my “real” life, though. I hope that what I’m trying to say here makes sense, because I don’t mean it in a callous way; I’m not saying that death doesn’t matter or that there is no place for grief or mourning, or that life isn’t really worth living in the end. I’m just saying that … this world is not our home. We are pilgrims. And getting to go Home? Well, that just doesn’t sound so bad to me.

It wasn’t a very long run, so my thoughts didn’t have all morning to follow along on that well-worn trail. Sometimes running alone isn’t such a bad thing, but I don’t know — this may be a familiar train of thought, but it isn’t one I want to visit on a regular basis right now. After all, we may be lonely pilgrims, but the world really is filled with beauty, wonder and joy. So instead of these disconsolate thoughts and memories, today I ran with Justin Timberlake and Ellie Goulding. And it wasn’t so bad.

Well, no, it’s not exactly my first race. I have been running the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler [almost] every year since 2005 — this will be my seventh year. So, counting the 10k I did in December 2010, this will actually be my eighth race.

At 2008’s race, which in my memory was very hot and humid …

The 2012 four-miler is next Saturday. Last year, we skipped the race because it benefits the UVA Breast Care Center, and thus has a tendency to be a sea of pink-shirted women squealing about how breast cancer is a sisterhood and if we all stick together we can “beat” cancer and all kinds of other crap like that. Not in the mood to spoil everyone’s fun by wearing shirts with MEMENTO MORI emblazoned on the back, my sisters and I opted not to attend. I don’t remember what I did instead that morning (I have very little memory from August until mid-October of last year), but I know Leah ran eight miles rather than four and then said, “Take that, breast cancer.”

So this year will be a little different. The reality of breast cancer has been hitting us for quite some time but now that we are on the “other side” of it (i.e. the side where the earnest “we can beat this, girls!” is something we just kind of snort at), I think the atmosphere around us next Saturday could be a little strange. I’m no longer in a place where I feel like everywhere I go I just suck all the hope and positivity out of the room, but at the same time, I feel like I know too much. I know that no matter how positive you are, no matter how upbeat you stay, no matter how much you keep insisting that if we just stick together we can “stand up” to cancer (like it’s a bully?) — those things aren’t enough. All the positive thinking in the world won’t cure cancer. If you’re a survivor, you didn’t “beat” cancer through your own strength and efforts. You were treated for it, and the cancer went away. Likewise, dying of cancer doesn’t mean someone “lost” her “battle”: she had a disease that couldn’t be cured. And as much as we want to believe otherwise, running four miles — or running any distance — ultimately means very little in the face of the kind of crippling destruction cancer can wreak on a family. Let’s be real; none of us is going to cure cancer by running a personal best.

But on September 1 I am going to line up at the start and run as hard as I can for four miles. I hope I can do it without running out of steam. I have a time goal in mind that’s way faster than any of my previous times for this race, because I’ve never actually raced it before, and in fact I’ve never raced, period. I don’t think it’s going to be easy and in a lot of ways I don’t even think it’ll be a lot of fun. But I do think it will be necessary. Because despite the fact that my running, no matter how fast or how far, means nothing to cancer, it means something to me.

Cancer makes you feel so helpless. And running makes me feel powerful. It’s as simple as that.

For the last few years, Steve and I have been listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks while we travel. It’s really, really fun — especially since even though we pause it about every thirty seconds to provide our own commentary and discuss the plot and characters. I try not to reveal this in company very often, but my knowledge of Harry Potter trivia is enormously vast and highly detailed (it’s almost kind of embarrassing how much of these books my mind has retained), and I could probably talk about the characters endlessly, so it’s a lot of fun for me to experience the stories in a new way. It’s like getting to play Mystery Science Theater* along with the books.

Anyway, as we made our way home on Friday night, we got to the end of the sixth book.

(source)

As in most things**, the Dutch achieved superiority when it came to the cover of this book. I just love it.

Apart from the glorious scene in the hospital in which Fleur finally tells off Mrs. Weasley, the end of the book leaves me with some unsatisfied thoughts. For example:

  • Why on earth does Lupin not seem to know Snape and Lily*** were friends? He HAD to have known this. When Harry declares that Snape’s big apology to Dumbledore had to do with Harry’s “mum and dad”, Lupin completely disregards the “mum” part and zeroes in, again, on “Snape hated James”, which … gets old. Lupin, are you fifteen? Regardless of the Lily connection, have you ever heard of gray areas and the idea that disliking someone, however strongly, does not have to mean not minding that they’re going to be killed? But mostly, why doesn’t he know about Lily? This is a serious question.
  • It seems highly, highly irresponsible for Dumbledore, knowing he is dying, to not only leave the Order of the Phoenix without a new leader and some sort of game plan, but to NOT EVEN TELL THEM WHAT IS GOING ON, leaving them instead completely shocked and totally unprepared when it finally happens. Greatest wizard of his age indeed.
  • Speaking of Dumbledore knowing he’s dying, it is (to me) incredibly cruel for him to leave Snape hanging like that. He couldn’t even have told Aberforth about the plan? Aberforth wouldn’t have stopped them. This last act of manipulation and control toward Snape is so harsh and mean, and at the same time so fascinating. (I majored in psychology.) No wonder Snape was angry enough to successfully avada kedavra him.
  • I’m still sad that Draco doesn’t get the chance to take Dumbledore up on his offer.

Next we are on to the seventh book, which leaves me with even more unsatisfied thoughts, so … I am going to have to keep repeating serenity now, serenity now when things just stop making sense, and stop composing imaginary letters to J.K. Rowling pleading with her to write a whole book about Regulus Black. (One that makes sense, please.)

Other not-so-deep thoughts, non-Harry Potter related:

  • Somehow when we were gone a party of tiny ants took up residence in our dishwasher and I have no idea why or how. But I am not okay with this.
  • I haven’t been able to stop thinking about green Thai curry. It’s on my to-cook list for this weekend.
  • Also on my to-cook list: granola. I haven’t had granola since Thursday, I think, and it’s just not the way I want to live my life.
  • Somehow I made it out of Whole Foods today having spent only $33 and having bought only the items on my list.

That’s all for now. Officially back in the regular routine!

* One of my all-time favorite TV shows, which I discovered when I was 13 and which I think really shaped my sense of humor growing up.

** My mother was born in Holland and moved to the US when she was eight, so I’m a little biased here. Hup Holland!

*** One of my favorite things about the last third of the sixth book is the subtle hints about Snape and Lily. I felt so smart at the time for figuring it out, but in retrospect it is SO OBVIOUS. I really love it.

Whew! Another one of our waning pre-baby weekends done …

Saturday was work. Sunday was play! Work included more nursery organization …

Before:

After:

On the right is his little swimsuit his Grandma got him to take to the beach this summer! The green striped lump in the middle is his legwarmers. The basket on the left holds all his newborn clothes. He has more than enough, which makes me a little sad because they are so cute and I wish he would be able to wear them for longer than 2-3 weeks.

Buddy also helped us get organized:

It’s nice to have a cat on safety patrol.

I was disappointed to miss my usual Saturday morning yoga class — I really love starting my weekend with a workout (or, if you’re me the last month or so, a “workout”) because it helps me get a momentum going for the day and kind of sets the tone for the weekend. Instead I had to rely on my own motivation to get a start on my chores … not quite the same and not nearly as easy! I guess I can make myself feel better about my latent desire to lounge around in my bathrobe by reminding myself that my lounging days are very limited now.

After a Saturday of baby prep and housework and napping, today was much-anticipated because of this:

(source)

Karen and I saw our favorite movie on the big screen! Charlottesville’s Paramount Theater shows a classic movie one Sunday a month. For some reason, despite knowing about this tradition for years, I’ve never taken advantage, but when I saw the other day that this month’s movie involved this guy:

(source)

I was in, and Karen took absolutely no convincing to join me. And it did not disappoint (of course)! The Sound of Music was my mom’s favorite movie too and I know she would have loved to have been there — she used to talk fondly of how many times she saw it in the theater upon its original release in 1965.

I am getting too big, slow and tired now to really get a lot done on the weekends (that third trimester fatigue is setting in) but I’ll just keep tackling my to-do list one thing at a time. (First things first — maybe making a to-do list?) And now — to work! I also need to pick out my next baby knitting project — blanket or more legwarmers. Tough choices here …

What about you guys? What fun things did you do this weekend?

Friday is upon us! To be perfectly honest, this week was a little rough — overall I was tired and uncomfortable, unproductive and unmotivated, and another era in my family’s history came to a close.

But we’re choosing joy here, so there were some highs this week as well. Let’s start there!

First, at 31.5 weeks I’m still able to do regular yoga! Every week I attend the multi-level hatha yoga class wondering if this is it. Will I be able to keep up my practice much longer without having to stick to super-easy prenatal flows? But one thing I discovered yesterday is that I actually physically feel my best when I’m practicing yoga. Walking doesn’t feel good, lying down gets uncomfortable, sitting makes my ribs hurt — but downward dog always feels great. My instructor, a new mom herself, even complimented my endurance and said she wasn’t able to tolerate much yoga when she was pregnant. It goes to show that everyone is different, and made me feel a little better about feeling so uncomfortable with simple walking.

Next, this gingered applesauce cake with dark chocolate just came out of the oven.

I made it with the last of the last jar of applesauce that my friend Sarah and I canned a thousand years ago. (And yes, today’s baking adventure started just the way that canning adventure did — by cleaning the kitchen. Sigh.)

I didn’t pay enough attention to the recipe, though, and discovered too late that I had added a full cup of yogurt instead of half a cup. Oops. But they’re out of the oven now and hopefully I won’t pay too dearly for my inattention.

The aroma is tormenting me. Yum.

Another good thing about this week is that I finished Leah’s hand warmers!

I’m really happy with how they turned out and they were really easy and fun to knit. And now — at last — I can officially start knitting for baby!

So, the week wasn’t at all bad, and writing out all these good things gives me better perspective. It was just kind of tiring. While I still feel good practicing yoga, I am definitely slowing down (for instance, lunges during sun salutation are just way too awkward now). My stomach is squished into my lungs and I have been waking up a lot at night, then too uncomfortable to fall back asleep. These aren’t really bad things, but they just make life a little more challenging.

My family also is dealing with another loss this week: my 90-year-old grandmother passed away very early on Wednesday. This wasn’t unexpected, and we all feel so blessed to have enjoyed relationships with her for so long, but we will miss her! She lived close by my dad so we got to see her a lot — and in fact Steve and Karen and I just saw her this past Saturday. Tomorrow my family will be gathering in Warrenton to remember her and celebrate her long life. Here she is with my grandfather in 2001:

My grandmother and I were very different: where I am laid-back, she was gregarious; where I am reserved, she loved nothing more than to socialize. She always said she married my grandfather because he was a good dancer, and I don’t think she was kidding. I look forward to leafing through her nursing school yearbooks this weekend and reminiscing with my sisters and cousins about her adventures.

Lastly (and unrelated to any of the above), I started reading a new book yesterday and it’s starting to solidify a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately …

I’ve learned a lot so far and I’m barely into the first chapter!

The long-awaited day is finally here: It is New Year’s Eve, and tomorrow will be the first day of 2012.

I think it goes without saying, but 2011 was a year I do not ever want to come close to repeating. By far it was the most difficult and challenging year of my life, one in which I endured more loss, sadness and unbearable grief than I ever thought I could. But I don’t think I can say the year was a total wash; there were things like weddings:

and babies:

and joyful memories of my mom:

and despite how painful the year was, it doesn’t mean those happy things didn’t happen.

I am not one who attempts to derive meaning from suffering by focusing on the lessons my sadness is “teaching” me; in fact, one of my pet peeves is this dumb assumption that suffering exists merely so that we can support one another through it (i.e. “I know now that I’m going through infertility so that I can encourage other couples going through infertility!” — really??). Suffering exists because we live in a fallen, broken world. But God uses all things — all things — for our good and His glory, and 2011 has been no exception. So again, the year wasn’t a total wash, because He did use my suffering as a means to allow me to grow in wisdom. I can’t in my limited human insight say it was worth it (because I had no choice in the matter and given the choice, I obviously wouldn’t go through it all again), but I did manage wrench a few lessons out of all of this. Here is some of what 2011 has taught me.

  • Basing your happiness on external circumstances is an easy thing to do, but it doesn’t produce the kind of happiness that will sustain you when those desirable circumstances vanish. This is something I have struggled with in the past — this feeling that when x is perfect, my life will be complete. When I have a better job. When I’m married. When I’m pregnant. When the weather clears up. When I have those cute boots. When I have more money. Along those same lines, I often found myself hanging my happiness on external circumstances and the fact that ostensibly I had everything I wanted — a good job, a loving marriage, a supportive family — but could I sustain that kind of happiness after two miscarriages? Weight gain that was outside my control? What about after my worst fear was realized and my mother passed away?  One thing I’m learning, thanks to 2011, is that the kind of happiness that relies merely on the external is cheap and false. I strive now not for this superficial “happy” feeling, but rather for the peace that passes understanding.
  • Endorphins are a powerful healer. I sometimes feel like an exercise evangelist, but it’s for good reason! The number one thing that helped me to feel better last winter and spring was exercise. I saw a counselor a few times back in February and March, and one of her first recommendations was that I get out and move again — and it made a huge, huge difference. (A healthy pregnancy isn’t the only reason I do so much yoga these days.)
  • You know what else heals? Distraction. There’s nothing wrong — and maybe a lot of things right — about escaping from a terrible situation by rereading your favorite book or watching a string of cheesy romantic comedies. Distracting yourself from grief is not at all the same thing as ignoring it.
  • Sometimes, just breathing needs to be your highest priority. Despite the fact that endorphins heal, and distraction helps, and God redeems, sometimes just breathing will be all you can manage. In those times, do just that. Trust that the rest will come at the right time. (It’s also worth mentioning that it’s good to be able to distinguish these times from times when you just don’t feel like getting up off the couch, which brings me to my next point …)
  • Don’t eat too many Oreos, and don’t spend too long on the couch, no matter how awful you feel. One peculiar challenge with which I was faced this year was knowing when to come out of survival mode. There comes an important moment in the grief process when self-medicating through cookies and sleep becomes less therapeutic than healing your spirit with nutritious food, exercise, and productivity. It’s not the most pleasant moment in the grief process because it can feel like you’re callously “moving on”, but — “moving on” doesn’t always exist. Sometimes, after losses of this magnitude, what you are actually doing is rebuilding a new life out of the pieces your loss left behind.
  • Spend time with your family. They are irreplaceable.
  • Keep fresh flowers in the house at all times, and look for more reasons to drink champagne. No further comments.
  • God does give us things we can’t handle. Was it Mother Teresa who first promoted that nonsense? What I have found is actually the opposite, that we can be overloaded with grief, hurt, and rage that is beyond our human frailty to manage. Relying on my own feeble strength will not get me anywhere; gritting my teeth and gripping the arms of my chair really hard isn’t going to change my circumstances or return to me what was lost. Instead, God carries me through it. In my weakness, He is strong, and trying to “stay strong” in this only sets me up for crushing defeat and the feeling that “hanging in there” is a task that is entirely up to me and for which I am totally unequipped.

    I called on your name, LORD,
       from the depths of the pit.
    You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
       to my cry for relief.”
    You came near when I called you,
       and you said, “Do not fear.”
    — Lamentations 3:55-57

Of course I wish that I either didn’t need to know these things, or that I could have come upon these lessons through other, much less painful, means. But worse than enduring so much loss would be enduring it only to emerge from it without having changed, without having learned anything — about myself, about the world around me, especially about God. Despite 2011’s best efforts, I have reached December 31 and am still whole, healthy, and at peace, and against all odds, it is well with my soul.

Be still, my soul, when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shalt thou better know His love – His heart,
who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.

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