thoughts from the other side of the world

the main event on our trip to new york in august was my beloved older brother’s wedding to my beloved sister in law. she’s been in the family since she was still in high school, so it’s not like it was a big surprise or really changed anything, not really. and yet, it was such a wonderful time of celebration, of acknowledging how far the two of them have come on their journey together. weddings make me think, and theirs in particular was a great example, of how wendell berry conceptualizes marriage as an act of community:

“Lovers must not, like usurers, live for themselves alone. They must finally turn from their gaze at one another back toward the community. If they had only themselves to consider, lovers would not need to marry, but they must think of others and of other things. They say their vows to the community as much as to one another, and the community gathers around them to hear and to wish them well, on their behalf and its own. It gathers around them because it understands how necessary, how joyful, and how fearful this joining is. These lovers, pledging themselves to one another “until death,” are giving themselves away, and they are joined by this as no law or contract could join them. Lovers, then, “die” into their union with one another as a soul “dies” into its union with God. And so here, at the very heart of community life, we find not something to sell as in the public market but this momentous giving. If the community cannot protect this giving, it can protect nothing…”

~ Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community: Eight Essays

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bro serving cookies to his guests; loved the symbolism of this.

the community that gathered around them on their day was so inspiring, the overwhelming majority of whom were the “chosen family” kind of friends. i just love them and all the amazing things they do, and have yet to embark on in their new married lives. i love my brother’s tenderness and his raw emotion, which i felt so keenly. there was no stopping the tears from flowing.

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if we lived closer, quinn would take drumming lessons from my bro.

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there are so many other things i’d love to say about them and i would love to post every picture i took at their wedding, but it is their story to tell.

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(and bandit’s story, too.)

“can i sail through the changing ocean tides, can i handle the seasons of my life?” ~stevie nicks

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i wish that by letting this little stone of a post roll around in the tides of my mind for several months, that it would have become polished and smooth and well-articulated by now, but that is not the case.

i know that one of the things keeping me from posting about our trip was that i really struggled with myself a bit during the trip, and i’ve been trying to understand that better as i type and delete, type and delete. i kept feeling like i was the mean girl from out of town who swooped in, laid down the law, and left just as quickly as she came. i felt like i was bossy with my mom, preachy with my sister in law, and flaunted my way of parenting with my nephews. but i also think my self-judgment is partly a cover-up for my concern for my mom and her health.

if i write about that, i kind of have no choice but to face it.

so maybe if i didn’t write about it for a while….

mom’s health issues are not new, and reach back at least as far as when i was in high school, when i remember her seeing many doctors who took years to figure out just which panel of auto-immune disorders she suffers from – again, someone else’s story to tell. but i will say a few things, because i think she won’t mind. one is that the list has grown over the years, until last year they officially declared multiple sclerosis to have made her list. this past spring, she spent a few nights in the hospital during a flare up of her symptoms, and she has fallen a couple of times in 2015. she and dad have moved out of the second floor of the house, so their bedroom is where the living room used to be, and things have shifted around a bit. in addition, my younger brother and sister-in-law, and luigi and mario  and their four cats have moved into the upstairs, in a mutually beneficial multi-generational household arrangement, where the middle generation gets to clean the litter boxes and the elder generation gets to have kitties sleeping on their laps without any added pet chores.

leave it to me to waltz in and point out all the things that still have not been done to make my mom safer in her own home. partly, i think i was simply a fresh pair of eyes seeing what was already on some of their radars. since i’m not living there anymore, i noticed things like overly nested pie plates and salad bowls that put a tax on my own hands, much less my mom’s hands, which are known to suffer from weakness and fatigue. after a close call on the cellar stairs, the site of one of her earlier falls this year, some of the “advice” i felt i needed to give was even more direct, including telling my mom that NOTHING out the cellar door and down those stairs is worth throwing all the independence away that she still does have. she was a good sport, confessing the areas that stress her out (not being able to finish making dinner if an ingredient she needs is downstairs) and hearing me out on every wacky solution i proposed (keeping a backup frozen casserole in the upstairs freezer). when i enforced her using her cane for the wedding, i tried to do it in an appealing way… i added flowers and ribbon to coordinate with her dress. she put up with me really, really well, considering how overbearing i was.

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my bff came up with the idea of reinforcing “good behavior” on my mom’s part, i.e. lack of risk-taking behavior, and she offered to buy a bar of my mom’s handmade soap each time; then we got really crazy and envisioned a crowd-funding campaign: remodel ma rew’s kitchen for accessibility to every pie plate and mixing bowl and cast iron pan and soap-making supply she needs without excessive nesting. you get a bar of soap for every 10 bucks you donate. i am still thinking about implementing this.

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mom said one of the best changes was placing a small trash can in the kitchen (for a long time, the trash has been out that door on the cellar landing. one of my rants was to bring it to everyone’s attention that trash outside the door is no longer needed because, for years now, we no longer have a dog who gets into it. see? i was no fun to be around at all.

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my beautiful mom <3

i also felt like mean aunt mary beth some of the time with my nephews, though they were very forgiving, and kept coming back for more.

the quote of the week award would have to go to my nephew luigi:

“aunt mary beth, why didn’t you ever grow any boobies?”

i had to laugh, and answer politely about how everyone’s body is different, but part of me always hears princess bride quotes in my head and wants to answer, “there’s is a shortage of perfect breasts in this world.” another quote from the best movie ever has been on repeat as i’ve been tending fish in the lab, and once in a while scooping dead fish out of the tanks; though some of them turn out to be only mostly dead and upon scooping, they swim away. “turns out your friend here is only mostly dead. there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.” and anyway, i have a pretty good sense of humor about my very small breasts (and dead fish). one farmer’s market morning, i was tasked with setting up “melon island” in the middle of our farm booth and had several pallets of melons to transform into a manageable display before the market opened. the rest of the crew kept having to step around these bulky totes and at one point i commented, “oh yeah, you know, my melons are always getting in peoples’ way. story of my life.”

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i had some nice moments with each of my nephews, making them double decker sandwiches, personal peach pies, and banana pancakes, as well as administering several peace bench arbitrations. even though they were yucky pancakes (“i don’t like them with bananas; i only like big pancakes, not little ones; that one is burned”) the first few times i tried to serve them, they eventually got gobbled up. and even though the peace bench was needed because there were cousin squabbles over legos and game rules, i encouraged the boys by telling them i could tell they were so committed to solving their conflicts because they were spending so much time on the peace bench finding a solution, and that could only mean they love each other a lot.

quinn has had a couple of years of peace bench practice at ols, and he really impressed me with his calm, cool, collected approach. he calmly sat down, stayed quiet while his cousin told me “what happened” from his side (that’s step one; state the facts – no blame or judgment, just what actually happened from your perspective) and then rattled off possible solutions, “share, trade, or take turns!” with a smile. we worked on steps 2 through 4 as well, for those keeping score at home and wanting to use a similar method, it’s directly from the non-violent communication approach of marshall rosenberg. step one: observations, step 2: feelings, step 3: needs, and step 4: requests.

it was striking, once again, to see how distance-defyingly close the cousins could be, my sibling’s children and my own child. it brought back my childhood in certain ways, and quinn’s younger childhood in others (such as mario’s cheeks that you can still see from behind, like when quinn was a bit younger-so squishable). this does not mean they are clones, their personalities couldn’t be more different and complementary, as evidenced by the personality test of ice cream sprinkles:

quinn: ever careful, he wants sprinkles, and it is important to him to pour them himself painstakingly, keeping the next customer waiting as long as it takes.

mario: wants a lot of sprinkles!!! and wants someone to pour for him so he doesn’t spill them.

luigi: dump!

mario had gotten all dirty playing in a giant dirt pile (as you do on the farm…) and had taken off his dirt-covered overalls and then he didn’t want to put pants on because he was hot. then he and luigi got into a battle of trying to fart on each other…. and quinn was kind of stuck in the middle of it and was laughing but i could also see a look on his face of “ew stop!” so i stepped in and just as i did it was escalating to “i’m gonna take off your underwear!” threats and i felt my limit reached. i broke it down: “who can tell me who is allowed to take off your underwear?” and quinn, as if on cue, said, “me!”

as i was providing this information to the boys, luigi covered his ears and chanted “i can’t hear you!” mario turned to me and said, “it’s not true, he really can hear you.” then he sighed and turned to his brother: “the fact that you’re saying you can’t hear her just proves that you can hear her!”

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quinn was so sad on the last night before we left new york. he was also overtired because we let him stay up late, but then while putting him to bed, he was inconsolable. he moaned about norman the worm and how it wasn’t fair that he would have to never see him again, and was norman going to stand any sort of chance at a happy life? and then he switched to downright angry and told me if i didn’t find a way to take him to new york once every month, or stood in his way of doing that on his own, then he was going to come to new york two times every month. “that’s 24 times in one year!” he informed me, not one to sacrifice math accuracy in times of distress. it was hard to take this as a threat, with my own inner process over leaving right there with his in the denial/anger/bargaining stages, and finally he let me help give a name to the sadness he was feeling, the raging ocean settled into the container i provided, and he calmed down and went to sleep.

he is growing more and more of a sense of self, which is hard to describe in concrete terms, but he has his own way of walking through the world, and when i look at him i can see that he’s confident. he’s not concerned if he is cool by others’ standards, but he wants to be quull (the word he created for the coolness of quinn; which he likes because it starts with q and has two pairs double letters). he is 8 quintillion different things (a number he particularly likes). he is full of surprises, and full of things so unique to him, all rolled into one huggable boy.

he lets me, no, wants me to, walk him straight up to the door of the school building, hand in hand, then gives me a big hug before he goes in. i remember reading the book hold on to your kids when he was much younger, which emphasized the importance of parents mattering more than peers, and i find little things from that book coming back to mind as our time together becomes more fleeting.i soak up those extra minutes just before i release him into the wide world of school, and even though he doesn’t get to finish the whole conversation about the science experiment they did yesterday in class with paper towel strips and blue and yellow water, i try to savor those seconds, and the air we breathe together on our one minute walks, hand in hand, up to the door. he is still so young, but i feel like i have had a pretty good amount of influence in the years leading up to this one. i compare right now to two years ago, and imagine if i had not fought for an alternative to public school for him. he would have been so much more likely to flounder, be labeled, be bullied, not speak up for himself. a fledgling pushed out of the nest too soon.

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it seems he was ready to fledge this year. i still don’t have a lot of love for the public education option in general, nor am i convinced it is the best option for him, nor do i feel great about being so uninvolved in his education. maybe love will grow in time. i am volunteering in his classroom as the “science fair mentor” so i can even have an idea what is going on there in the institution, and we are keeping up on things at home that he is no longer learning at school, like cursive. but i do see evidence, from the boy who comes home to me 50 % of the school afternoons of his life, that he is soaring, he took off right at the right time for his needs for a wider sky to fly around in.

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two years ago, i can’t picture feeling this much at ease (him or me), as he went off to school. i think he would have had a death grip on my hand, with a serious battle each day to convince him to let go. i remember him early on at ols telling his teacher he was “hungry to play”; and now, although he hasn’t said it in so many words, he is seemingly hungry to learn. he was relieved when “walk to reading” and “walk to math” began, and he got to go off with fourth and fifth graders to learn things at his level (”i don’t really like being taught things i already know,” he told me). he came home one weekend and spent the weekend deeply engrossed in learning computer programming on khan academy. you know, a little basic animation using variables in javascript, no biggie. the better to design new games with, my dear.

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the next weekend that he was with me, we played dungeons and dragons all weekend; and when i say all weekend, i think i put in about 12 hours of time on the game, all told. i don’t often have such days where i can really give him my undivided attention, so i took advantage of it when i did. it was well worth it, because i got to meet a 189 year old man dungeon master alter ego of quinn inside the story/adventure/quest; his british accent is impeccable, and he has the old man mannerisms down perfectly. i can’t wait to enroll him in theater camp next summer. in the meantime, he is pretty fun to slay goblins with on a faraway island with a hidden cave under the sea lion rocks.

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my elf alter ego, oceanika, and her dragon friend opalonyx.

the next monday morning i pull bits of faintly bluish paper towel out of my sweater sleeve that have snuck into his pocket at school because of wanting to show me the results of the science experiment, and then snuck out of the pocket to mingle with other laundry. he is not at home, and seeing this parenting glass as 50% full is back to being a serious discipline of focusing on gratitude for the time i do have with him, instead of focusing on just how empty it is without him around as i’m not driving him to school or waking him up to eat pancakes.

i had a teensy breakdown on the last full day we were in new york. i was trying to pack up some things to ship out, and kept hitting stupid snags, and it took me so much longer than i wanted it to, which was so frustrating because i wanted to spend quality time with everyone on our last day, but also because i was judging myself for how i behaved the whole week. i was crying by the end of the morning, and just sort of falling apart. then rich drove me to the post office and i got calmed down again. just like i would do later that night for quinn, he handed me a container for all i was feeling, and it stopped being quite so overwhelming.

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i have the ultimate luck of getting to spend my days with this guy. it makes it pretty hard to mope for very long, even when i am missing my kid.

we thank our stars all the time that we have not known each other since i was in high school. to everything there is a season, and we met at just the right season in both our lives. some of the times would have been completely wrong (his extreme party phase coincided with my extremely conservative good girl phase) and others would have been downright criminal (i was 12 when he was 20…) so we laugh hysterically about those whenever someone names a year (1983; haha you could have been my babysitter, honey! or better yet, 1985, given all of the current back-to-the-future-day hype: me in second grade, him about to have a son!) and move on with our present-day bliss.

he’s one reason i think maybe, impossible as it seems, i may be able to “handle the seasons” of this stage, and the next 99 years of stages, of my life.

we recently dined at one of our favorite local spots, and when we walked in and sat at the bar, our friend/bartender told us the happy hour specials, and my brain thought, “margarita,” but i didn’t say it out loud. then rich said, “i’m thinking about a margarita.” i don’t think we have ever even had margaritas together besides one time with his sister and niece in oklahoma. it’s not only on superficial things like fun adult beverages that we are this in synch, it’s like a really common experience while spending my life beside this wonderful man, but i still get the good chills every time it happens.

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it’s the infinitesimally small likelihood of two swallowtail butterflies finding each other before they are shredded by the elements, or the journey, or both, in this wide world of pesticide-drenched field-deserts and treacherous 4-lane highways and walmart parking lots to cross. then multiply that by 8 quintillion times less likely, and you would be describing the statistical luck of the two of us.

we get to be together, against all odds. and i like that.

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1 comment to thoughts from the other side of the world

  • sister camp boss

    I love that you two love birds found each other, and that I get to share some love with both of you. Agree too of the timing for quinn to head out into the world of “real school”. To everything there is a season under heaven.

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