Tag Archives: family
Twenty-five years ago today I got married. It was a beautiful day filled with special moments and memories I will never forget. The photographer complained that the skies were too blue and lacking clouds, yet he still managed to capture images that illustrate what a great day it truly was.
I was 27, nearly 28, on that Labor Day weekend Sunday. I thought of myself as an “older bride.” Friends and family came from miles and miles away to join my groom and me in Washington Park where it seemed that the flower beds had conspired to fit our color scheme, It was everything I had ever imagined my wedding day to be.
The reception was held in a historic Shaker meeting house where guests enjoyed a delicious meal catered by the only restaurant to say “We’re caterers. Tell us what you want and if it’s possible, we’ll do it” instead of “You must have three hot h’or d’oeuvres and three cold h’or d’oeuvres and 2 salads and…” People talked about the food for years. We had so much fun.
But, as you know, a wedding day does not make a marriage. A marriage is hard work under skies that are not always blindingly blue. Learning and growing together takes effort and sacrifice and communication and maybe I wasn’t really as old as I thought I was on that gorgeous summer day.
Somewhere along the way we got lost. Our marriage ended and, while I take no joy in that, I am so very proud of how we’ve together parented the children our love created. We have always been able to put our children and their well being first and avoid the ugliness I’ve seen in far too many divorces.
While I may no longer be in love with the father of my children, I’ll always love the years we shared and that part of my life. It was a really good chapter.
I’m first generation American, a position that gives me, I think, an interesting perspective on this country. I was bilingual until kindergarten when I came home from my half day of school and informed my mother that “this is America and we speak English here.” After that, I no longer was willing to speak German, a genuine loss when I visit my family in the Black Forest where most of them still reside.
Speaking a second language was not considered an asset in this country which arrogantly calls itself “America,” despite the fact that that is the name of two entire continents of which we are only one single country. In contrast, my mother spoke 3 languages while living in Europe, learning her fourth, English, upon arriving here in the mid-60s.
Growing up, we were encouraged to work hard in school because my mother saw education as the only means available to create a life better than the one into which we were born. My brother is a doctor and I hold an advanced degree. We own homes, have retirement accounts, travel, and generally have comfortable lives. In spite of childhoods consisting of a single parent home, Medicaid, and the shame of food stamps and free lunch, we made it.
Through hard work and social programs, my brother and I achieved what in many regards is considered the American Dream. So, why aren’t I more of a believer in the claim that America is the greatest country in the world? Well, it seems like there are quite a few reasons.
The income gap in the United States is outrageous. I don’t know about you, but I will never be convinced that a CEO is entitled to receive a salary that is on average 361 times the salary of the average worker. I’m not suggesting that the rest of the world is perfect, but America really excels in compensating executives at a more outrageous level than any where else in the world.
Do you have any idea how much our country spends on the military? How does the number $649 BILLION sound to you? It’s an amount comparable to the spending of the next eight countries – combined. Granted, this amount is less than what is budgeted for K-12 education, but it remains an incredibly large number.
Speaking of education, when I was in Greece last month, I spoke with a couple from Scotland and asked them how college “worked” in their country. How much does it cost? Who pays for it? Their response – tuition is free and students are only responsible for related expenses such as room, board and books. The cost of those items can be met with loans, which essentially have an interest rate close to zero with repayment of the loans not beginning until the borrower reaches a certain level of income. Doesn’t that sound a lot more fair and reasonable than our government, which is the largest lender to students, earning interest off citizens trying to improve their lives?
During my travels I’ve been struck by the price of groceries (low) and the quality of public transportation (high) in the European countries which I’ve visited. Access to health care, while not perfect, does not seem to bankrupt families in the way I’ve observed it occurring in this country.
Solar and wind energy seem much more common in Europe and vehicles are more compact and fuel efficient than those found in America. Homes are smaller, not requiring the same resources to maintain, heat and cool. Vacation time is more generous, as are family leave policies when it comes to child rearing, with tax incentives available to soften the blow of losing an income while a parent stays home to raise a child.
America has been good to my family, but it is not the greatest country in the world and we need to recognize that. While it once may have been a true beacon of freedom and opportunity for all, that time has passed. A country which separates families seeking asylum, fails to provide preventative healthcare to the poor and the underemployed and has different justice and education systems for people depending upon the color of their skin really doesn’t sound all that great to me.
When I awoke from my afternoon nap to the sound of the wind in the trees, for a moment, I did not know where I was. I smiled that my response to that temporary state of being was excitement and not fear. Good. I prefer the unknown to be interesting instead of scary. I took a breath and, before opening my eyes, recalled where I was…the Cape, in the most perfect house I’ve ever stayed in the two decades since I began visiting this lovely area.
I’ve lost count of the number of other houses there have been over the years. The first few trips to Cape Cod were short getaways of just a couple of nights. My older boys were little guys and we were in the depths of daycare expenses hell which didn’t leave much of a vacation budget. We stayed in an adorable bed and breakfast/inn in Harwich Port and I fell in love with the adorable town and watching my babies enjoy the waves and sand. I was hooked.
We moved on to renting a tiny cottage for an entire week – a big leap forward. The lack of a dishwasher was a drag, but what really propelled us into getting a different house the following year was the need for a washing machine. Beaches + boys = laundry, and lots of it.
Our criteria for a rental now included the following: dishwasher, laundry facilities, dog friendly and an outdoor shower. We found a house a bit further out on the Cape that met each of these demands and rented the same place for the next few years, happily. I learned to immediately remove all the little throw rugs for the duration of our stay, thus avoiding the game of slide-around-the-oversized-kitchen, and somehow managed to sidestep any medical emergencies other than swimmer’s ear and the chicken pox.
During some exploratory drives beyond Chatham, I fell hard for Wellfleet and directed my attention to finding a rental there for the following summer. Fifteen or so years later, this remains my favorite spot on the Cape. The houses we’ve had have mostly been winners, but there were a couple of exceptions.
At this point a week on the Cape had become two weeks, sometimes divided between the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. For a number of years there was an awesome “upside-down” house that featured a second story kitchen, dining and living room which gave the place a tree house feel. The deck wrapped around two sides of the place and there were turkeys in the back yard and a hammock the boys would swing in until someone reliably got unceremoniously dumped.
We switched things up the next year for a house with newer furniture and a better yard for the kids to play in, but these perks came with unexpected consequences – ants and mice. After a week of storing all of our food in Rubbermaid containers, we knew it was a one and done kind of situation. There was no looking back.
Honing in on our happiness took us closer to the water, near Lieutenant’s Island. The first year was a fail in a house that failed to indicate that going from the upstairs to the downstairs required walking outdoors and down an external staircase, not great with still smallish children. The stone fireplace on the deck wasn’t enough to get us back the next year.
We made the leap over the bridge, (which is inaccessible during high tides), to a decent house within a 10 minute walk to a calm bay beach. During our stay that first year, the kids made friends with a boy in a nearby house and I took the chance to take a peek inside. It looked perfect for us and was in fact an ideal set up with bedrooms and baths scattered over three stories with awesome decks, including one outside of my bedroom that attracted hummingbirds from early morning through dusk. Despite the tight galley kitchen, I really loved that place and we returned to it for the next 3 or 4 years.
As the kids got older, though, the bay didn’t appeal to wave seekers and we shifted our eyes to the other side of Route 6 where we found what is now my ideal house. Hidden in the woods with a semi-private pond directly across the rutted dirt road, the place I’ve visited the past three years is as close to perfect as I can imagine. A 15 minute walk gets us to the ocean and Wellfleet Center is a drive just slightly longer.
The house itself is ideal with a small footprint, but three stories tall. The kitchen and dining area are spacious and open directly onto a large screened porch with a view of the gardens and “our” pond. The separate cabin was perfect as a “crib” for the boys and avoided a whole lot of arguing about wet towels and swim suits on the floor, because I just didn’t have to see it.
The “boys” are older now, though, and no longer interested, or able, to spend a week away from friends or jobs. Last year, for the first time ever I spent a week away from my children at the Cape and filled the house instead with friends. The small cabin became an oasis for a couple and the bedrooms on the second and third floors were occupied with a fluid array of grown ups.
We never ran out of milk. I didn’t drive for five days. We ate when we were hungry and drank when we were thirsty. There was a rager of a party, which we celebrated by taking a swim in the dark in the pond. It was dreamy.
This second year without my sons feels even more indulgent. I’m as infatuated with this house as ever, but I’m looking forward and thinking I’d like to explore some new beaches, maybe in Greece again. The price of the beautiful home I rent is about equal to the cost, I believe, of what I can instead spend putting together two weeks in Greece. It’s time to make a new tradition.
I’m really enjoying being a part of CivMix! The site is still being developed, but I think you will find there to be some cool features, both in terms of content and interface, once the website is fully fleshed out.
Here are my most recent posts over there. Why not give a read and some feedback – here or there!
I want to get away – Part I
…and Part II
Traveling with my 20 year-old son made for an interesting trip. Because of the time he spent in Thailand last year, he has some experience with having to navigate his way from destination to destination. He may not have the same intuition as my oldest son when it comes to transportation, but he has grown to be helpful and developed some useful skills.
I’ve jokingly remarked a couple of times (maybe even to you, specifically) that the best part of our recent vacation to Greece was having someone with whom to day drink. With some
sobering up reflection, I now recognize that what’s going to remain with me, even longer than the 5lbs of feta and dolmas I brought home, are the moments we spent talking, sharing thoughts, making decisions together (rosé or white?) and spending hours and hours outside together, under cloudless blue skies.
Over the years I’ve witnessed too many friends lose a child, most frequently, a son. I grew up in a town where a number of my peers died being physically reckless in a way different than today’s young people. Usually it was a car + alcohol + speed situation, not exactly the same kinds of substances to which our country is experiencing an epidemic of abuse and addiction to currently. Narcotics have always been way too scary to mess around with to me, which initially made overdoses so incredibly shocking. Now, though, it is my presumed cause of death when anyone between the ages of 17 and 30 dies suddenly.
A few former colleagues of mine have lost children suddenly and at least one was directly related to substance abuse. That mom told me something that will always stay with me. In my whole life, I might have experienced two other instances in which words have had the same profound impact on my heart and thoughts. What she said was revelatory:
All you can do is enjoy them while you’ve got them.
During times of frustration with my sons, I’ve reached for that truism frequently. It helped me to accept that I couldn’t make my sons do, or not do, really much of anything. Whether it was attending classes at the High, writing a thank you note or washing their hair, it was on them. No amount of time spent arguing or in disagreement could force any of my children to do what I wanted them to do, if it wasn’t what they wanted to do. They are their own people.
After my friend’s loss and the lesson she gave to me, I remember thinking “if something really horrible happened to my kid, I wouldn’t want his last interaction with me to have been a heated exchange about why he hadn’t handed in a required assignment for school.” I’d much rather it be a quick “love you” at the end of a call or text. I learned I needed to let some things go.
On Naxos Island, my son and I rented bikes for the day and rode about 20 miles to the beach and an abandoned hotel project that had become a destination for graffiti artists. After we were fitted for bikes and provided with helmets, my son clipped the strap on his together and hung it on his handlebars. I said, “you’re not wearing that?” And he said “No.” I bit my tongue, clipped my helmet on and told him to leave his helmet behind if he wasn’t going to wear it. My helmet remained firmly in place on my head for the duration of the ride.
Over the course of the day, I suggested once or twice that my son might want to hit the sunscreen. He declined. I rubbed on my second or third application of the #30 spf I had purchased in Athens without comment. His decision. His eventual sunburn.
There comes a point in a parent’s life when they have to let go in ways that may be frightening, especially when their child’s approach is completely contrary to what they themselves had spent years teaching their offspring was the right or best or appropriate or safe way to conduct the life they had been given. It’s part of the process of separating from one another, isn’t it?
I returned to Albany last week to hear of the death of the child of a neighbor I had when I was in high school. Again, a son. My assumption about the cause of the young man’s death was, unfortunately, correct. My heart hurt for those left behind.
Finding one’s way through life isn’t easy, despite the maps with which we are provided. We hope that our children make good choices, but when they don’t, we can only wish for the consequences to be negligible – a sunburn at worst, certainly not the loss of their young life.
Love and enjoy them when you have them.
Wait. Maybe that sounds harsher than I intended. It wasn’t actually a lie when I said it, more of an attempt to say the “right” thing. Because when we travel away from our family and friends and lover, we’re expected to tell them we miss them, aren’t we? It provides some sort of consolation in our absence and verbally demonstrates the importance one places on their presence in your life. It’s what people do.
The truth is, that when I’m away, I’m gone. I’m in some other place, hearing languages I don’t know, smelling scents that make me turn my head to locate the source, seeing things I’ve never before imagined and tasting foods that literally make me moan. I’m walking roads made of marble, swimming in remarkably warm and blue waters, and feeling the sun on my back and the wind in my face.
I’m absorbing as much as I can of the place where I am so I can carry it home. Where I will share it, with those that I love who were not with me for this most recent adventure. So, when I say “I miss you,” what I’m really saying is “I’m sorry you’re not physically part of this marvelous experience, but, I am. Completely.”