Marriage, Thirteen Years Later

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July 20, 2002, 8 AM

I spent the night with my mother at The Colony Club on Park Avenue in New York City, where the wedding reception will take place.

I didn’t sleep much; I was too excited. Instead, I finished reading The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s masterful novel about the Vietnam War: an odd reading choice for a bride-to-be, perhaps, but it definitely takes my mind off of the wedding.

Click here to continue reading my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

A Midsummer Sampler (With Kids)

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“I am so bored. I’m bored to death!” moans my 7-year-old daughter.

We are three weeks into summer vacation. For one of those weeks, she attended a day camp at Lake Dunmore. For two and a half of those weeks, her grandparents visited from California; this visit included a trip to the Six Flags Great Escape water and amusement parks, a day at Shelburne Farms, the Ilsley Library summer reading truck touch, and a strawberry picking outing. For two weeks, she took daily swimming lessons at the Middlebury Town Pool.

She has three younger sisters, a house full of books and toys, and 1¼ acres at her disposal.

She is bored to death.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Changing My Mind

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It can be humbling to write a bi-weekly newspaper column: Few things more effectively highlight one’s capacity for change – or inconsistency, denial, and flip-flopping. I’m not convinced that this is a bad thing; isn’t the point of individual human existence to grow and change? Isn’t it natural that the ideas expressed in a column should evolve along with the human writing that column?

For some reason, though, we expect writers – particularly writers of regular columns – to emerge with a fully formed set of ideas that remain consistent for the life of their column. Writing, it seems, sets one’s opinions in cement, and to deviate from a previously written opinion is to reveal a weak character.

If that seems extreme, imagine Ann Coulter suddenly begging our forgiveness and espousing the ideology of the liberal left, or Nicholas Kristof announcing that he’s been wrong and human trafficking is really just a natural extension of free market capitalism. One scenario might be wonderful, one might be awful, but each would call into question the journalistic integrity of the writer.

It has been nearly three years since I began writing “Faith in Vermont.” In terms of genre, “Faith in Vermont” is best described as a “lifestyle” rather than a “political” or “opinion” column. But lifestyles, politics, and opinions are all subject to change, and such change has happened in our household:

Last month, we joined the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op.

Click here to continue reading my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

The Moms Are All Right

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This column will be published immediately following the last day of Addison County’s 2014-15 school year.

But I’m not going to write about the complex bundle of emotions that summer vacation inspires in parents: the relief of no longer having to get up before dawn to pack lunches and sign reading logs, versus the dread of 71 long days filled with sibling squabbles, sunscreen and bug spray, and the logistical gymnastics of camps and classes and vacations.

I’m not going to write about that, because now I know that the moms are all right. I’m sure that the dads are all right, too, but I haven’t had coffee with them.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Take It Easy

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My daughter stepped off of the school bus the other day, handed me her heavy backpack, and – as is her custom – made her way slowly up towards our house by walking on top of the rock wall alongside the driveway. As she neared her destination she stopped, dropped into a squat, and called the rest of us – her sisters and me – over. She’d discovered two inchworms hanging from their invisible filaments over the edge of a large rock. For the next ten minutes, two of my daughters remained there, transfixed, watching the two inchworms “race” up and down their threads.

Yes, I am still taking a summer vacation from The Pickle Patch, but as promised, here is the link to this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Wake Me Up When September Starts

 

I just feel like nothing’s going right.

I said this to my husband, standing in our living room one recent Sunday evening.

The night before, I had said: I feel like I have nothing to look forward to for at least the next year.

The four weeks between mid-April and mid-May were hard; some of the hardest weeks I’ve ever lived. During those four weeks, a nasty stomach virus ripped through our family. By the time it had finished, all of our children had gotten it: two of our girls were struck twice, and one had three distinct bouts of vomiting. Multiple days of school were missed. I didn’t keep track of how many loads of laundry I did, although I did count 7 in one day; the total was well into the double digits. Even my husband succumbed, spending two days in bed and canceling his classes.

Somehow I was spared, which — if you’ve spent any amount of time caring for vomiting children and spouses — can feel like a mixed blessing. More than once I thought: If I got sick, at least I could spend a day in bed. 

But I was dealing with emotional struggles, instead.

Because during this same time, a house came on the market that I wanted. You can read more  details here; suffice it to say that I longed for this house. Against all reason — even against my better judgment — I really thought that this was our house.

My husband was less convinced, which launched us into one of those times when it feels like your marriage is a neglected closet that needs to be cleaned out: We had faith that the outcome would be good, but the work wasn’t going to be much fun. We weren’t fighting, exactly: We were pondering our family’s mission and vision and goals, and how to best live those things out. That might sound noble, but it felt mostly hard. We both spent the better part of two weeks feeling sad and confused.

And then, just when it looked like we might be gaining some clarity, the house sold. Not to us.

[Note: After I wrote this post, a second house on my “interest list” went on the market — and believe me, that this would happen in the current Vermont real estate climate is highly improbable. It was gorgeous, move-in ready, 12 acres with a barn; almost too nice. Also, it was waaaaaaay out of our price range. Another loss, which felt like a cruel joke.]

I dropped into an ugly pit of depression and self-pity: I had thought something, and I’d been wrong. I had wanted something, and I hadn’t gotten it. I had to be patient, but I didn’t feel any hope. And I still had vomiting children home from school.

This is not the first time I’ve found myself in the pit; nor, I’m sure, will it be the last. And as awful as I felt, I knew that I would claw my way out eventually.

What was different this time was my foreboding that, once I clawed my way out of the pit, I was going to have a climb a mountain. That mountain involved a summer at home with all of our children (We don’t do much by way of summer camps or vacations, so there’s a lot of unscheduled togetherness. It’s both lovely and crushingly exhausting.) Following the summer, we faced a year of change and logistical challenges, as we welcomed a young woman who’d be living with us for the year and also prepared to move our family to California for five months — where I would homeschool our children for the first time.

On top of this, I received news that a friend had been diagnosed with cancer — the fourth friend with this diagnosis in a year.

Finally — and least importantly, as it was neither uncommon nor unexpected — an essay I’d sent to a literary journal was rejected.

It was that whole snowball of a month that caused me to say: I just feel like nothing’s going right. I feel like I have nothing to look forward to for at least the next year.

I realized it was ridiculous as soon as I’d said it. There I was, standing in my large, cozy house with a belly full of dinner, complaining to my compassionate husband while our four (mostly) healthy children slept upstairs.

It was a sign that I needed to step back and give myself room to regain perspective. To rest. To recover my mental and emotional and physical and spiritual health.

“There’s nothing in life that you can’t get out of,” my mother used to say when I was growing up. She meant this as reassurance for an overanxious child, and she meant it in reference to things like boyfriends, college, jobs, and drug parties. At that time, she was right. But I’ve realized recently that her saying stops being true once one reaches a certain age: Now, there really are things that one can’t get out of — or rather, there are things which, in order to get out of them, would involve so much ugly collateral damage as to render that option horribly selfish. Things like children, marriage, a whole host of decisions and relationships. Just at the point when one’s bone density decreases, one’s life choices begin to harden and calcify.

But I can get out of blogging.

So I am going to take a break from blogging until sometime in September.

Blogging is a wonderful thing. It enables writers to share their work, build a readership, and receive comments in what can be an isolating and discouraging field. On the other hand, it can start feeling a little bit like a non-stop treadmill: There is self-imposed pressure to keep producing blog posts, there is the fear that one is spending too much time writing 900-word essays instead of focusing on bigger projects, and there is the unhealthy habit of looking for validation in one’s site visit statistics.

Blogging did not put me in the pit, but taking a break is one small step towards getting out of that pit.

I will continue writing for The Addison Independent (and posting those links.) I will also take the time to focus on some book-length projects.

I’m not arrogant enough to assume that my blogging break will be a big loss to anybody. Okay, then, you think, So WHY did you bother telling us all of this? Why not just say: “I’m taking a break from this blog for the summer?” We didn’t need to know about the vomiting kids and lost real estate.

I told you all this because, on several occasions over the past year, it has come to my attention that some people (who may not be paying much attention to this blog) perceive me as “having it all together.”

When someone tells me that, my heart sinks. I used to try so hard to make people think that I had it all together; now, I think that if I’m giving the impression of having it all together, then I am failing to do my human duty.

If I had it all together, I would have no stories left to tell. If I had it all together, I would have no ability to form meaningful relationships; relationships depend on being relate-able, which someone who wears the armor of perfection is not.

Recently, I read an old Asian proverb: “Man finish house, man die.” I think people are like that, too, not just houses. I hope that I am never finished in this lifetime — there’s too much work to do.

On the other hand, I don’t revel in my imperfection. I get the sense from some writers out there — various “mommy blogs” come to mind — that it’s become a point of pride to say “I finish a bottle of Scotch every day during nap time and never clean my house and send my kids to school without their shoes on.”

I’m not saying that. I try. Like most people. I try my best. I get out of bed early each morning, I ask God for help, I do my chores.

And every so often, I fall into a deep pit and have to claw my way out.

You might not know this if you met me in person. I’m a little shy, and I write better than I speak. (Whenever someone introduces themselves to me, saying that they’ve read and enjoyed my writing, I want to apologize because I’m probably a little bit disappointing in person; I can’t edit myself in real life.)

So I suppose that I’m writing all this as a kind of public service announcement, because it never hurts to be reminded that everybody is human. And it never hurts to be reminded that there are times when it is good, appropriate, necessary to take a break.

I wish you all a peaceful summer. See you in September!

Lessons from the Garden

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The older I get, the more I love gardening.

I have commented previously in this column about my ambivalence towards gardening — the result of a childhood spent watching my parents slave away each weekend in their garden — and the unfavorable gardening conditions in my own rock-infested, tree-shaded yard. One could quite rightly characterize my current relationship with my garden as “rocky.”

But perhaps in the same way that women are said to always come to resemble their mothers, I find that my gardening behavior is increasingly coming to resemble that of my parents. I attribute most of this change to age; while young gardeners do exist, I consider them a special breed, prodigies, the Mozarts of the soil. For the rest of us, it takes age to teach us the particular blend of passion and patience required for gardening.

Click here to continue reading my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in the Addison Independent.