Of course a birthday celebration movie doesn’t contain all the sad and bad parts of one’s life in it. Who wants to watch images of all the things that hurt or were disappointing despite your best efforts? Who wants to rake through all the times you fell on your sword in the name of doing the right thing, or maybe doing the wrong thing because you didn’t know any better?
Someone I didn’t know very well said today that the movie seemed “idyllic” as though nobody’s life could or should look that good. It was a slightly cynical, somewhat sardonic way to describe it and it took me aback a little. I thought about it afterwards and decided that the many images of nature, food, flowers, the ocean, Christmas are at the center of my consciousness and what my life is really about, not merely decorations or extras: they are intrinsic and intentional to these moments that have made up my days for me and my family.
Someone else long ago had commented, also a little sardonically, that my home was like a “still life” and that there were many of them all around. While I might contend instead is that it’s a kind of messy still life as I pick up and move things around, trying to find a place for everything. What this illustrates to me also, is that I want to live the idyl every day that I have left. I’d also like to look a little trimmer as I have in earlier photos, keep growing my hair long and stay healthy.
That doesn’t mean that the areas of my life that have been disappointing are swept under the rug. They aren’t and God knows I have belabored most of them to death, second guessing myself, wondering if I could or should have done something different that would have resulted in a more positive outcome. I have sometimes reached out against my better judgment and thought of ways to gain closure for unresolved loose ends. I am satisfied that I have indeed beaten it to death, one way or another. And that those hurts are behind me, even better, they’re just not in the frame of my life anymore.
I hope that’s okay with the people who want me to know that my life is not an idyl but I’m afraid they might be disappointed that my life does happen to look a lot like the DVD. . . pretty much, I’d like to say.
Postscript: I was reading about a woman in South Hadley who was dying of pancreatic cancer and after a number of unsuccessful marriages, found “the one.” Her advice: “Don’t yell at each other unless the house is burning down!” She lived for six years after her first diagnosis and offered herself up to nursing students to visit and ask any questions they might have liked. Here’s a link to that article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/11/us/fatally-ill-and-making-herself-the-lesson.html?hp
My birthday comes a few days after Christmas every year. Because 2012 happened to be a milestone year for me, we found a place on the ocean in Truro on the Cape and our family gathered for a few days to visit, cook meals for each other and walk on the beach right outside our door.
M. put together snowflake garlands and C. helped her place paper red cardinals hopping around tiny white lights set in mason jars along the window sills making the place festive and elegant. Each took turns cooking for the rest of us; then another pair cleaned up afterwards. It worked out great with meals of shabu shabu, chap jae, ham and pea soup, ham sandwiches, delectable cheeses, huge salads with pears, pomegranate seeds and maple syrup laced dressing.
I took breakfast duty each day, making stacks of french toast, light oatmeal bread dipped in beaten eggs laced with vanilla, fragrant in a large electric skillet, mounds of tender, scrambled eggs with chopped scallions, crisp bacon on the side. And lots of hot coffee.
G. and M. went to pick up the lobsters and cape scallops for my birthday dinner. Afterwards, we had M.’s homemade coconut cupcakes with cream cheese frosting lit with candles. On the last day, after packing and loading the cars, we sat down to one last round of eggs benedict, made with warmed ham on toasted whole grain and cheese bread topped with tender poached eggs and generous dollops of hollandaise sauce made with Meyer lemon.
Sand, wind, water, salt. Lots of it everywhere. Thoughtful gifts abounded, the most touching of all was a DVD with voiceovers and music made by my daughters and granddaughters, including the littlest one at the end (Josie at 27 months old) saying “hap-py birth-day, gram-my”. The DVD movie did not come across like a “this is your life” kind of tribute which always seems to me like a valedictory farewell (okay, now you can go and sit somewhere.) Instead, it was a light-hearted celebration with lots of humor, flowers and food, good times shared together. I noticed a favorite suede jacket that I wore in college and wondered where it went to. There were comments from my blog too and a parade of the countries readers originate from, set to the “Star Wars” opening trumpet theme.
All in all, for an introverted, reclusive worrywart person and mother, the thoughtfulness and affection shared by everyone during this birthday holiday made us feel happy and content, especially me. And Josie’s innocent joyfulness at being near the ocean said it all: “O-cean! O-cean! SO Happy!” We are lucky to have such a wonderful family. And my thanks go to each and everyone who made this birthday holiday so meaningful and full of love.
The other day, I had a chance to visit with two sisters via Skype, that wonderful new technology that allows us to see each other and visit via the Internet. The younger sister, who lives in Massachusetts, was visiting the older one who lives in Minneapolis with her daughter, Josie–that charmer toddler that you might have seen on some earlier posts and who is looking at the aquarium in the photo below.
Anyway, M. the older sister, had an aquarium when she was young and the younger sister, C., had just provided a new one for her since M. had lived in Japan for almost a decade and had then settled in Minneapolis two years ago. Apparently things have changed a lot in the aquarium world since M. was a kid. For example, there’s a Japanese guy named Takashi Amano who developed a kind of sea plant imagery culture in aquariums that has grown alongside the more conventional tanks filled with lots of fish swimming around.
M. has been very patient since she first received this new aquarium, setting up the water filtering system, waiting to study what plants might go together, hand-tying bits of moss cuttings that will eventually grow along the back of the aquarium. She has been waiting for C. to visit before going out together to buy a knife-ruffle fish last week, a nocturnal vision (youtube clip) that is amazingly graceful to behold. This week, they were excited about going out together to buy the first neons, nine of them and some shrimp to add to the acclimating tank.
Yesterday, they skyped me when they returned from the aquarium shop. Holding a bag of tiny tetras, M. gently scooped them up and deposited them into the aquarium, instant tiny schools of fish darted around. Today, M. told me the names of the shrimp and the neons. She said that she removes 60% of the water once a week in order to keep the water clear as a crystal. I asked her how she managed to siphon off that much water off the top without accidentally sucking up the tiny fish as well. She laughed and said she was careful.
Earlier in the day, we had visited on Skype when they had just finished doing workouts in the basement, taking showers and then settling down to make scrambled eggs for Josie and fruit smoothies for them all. It was fun to see them so happy just being together. They laughed when they told me about how they were going to watch a DVD on their new cable service the night before, but decided instead to lie on the bed and watch the aquarium instead.
And how do I know this and why am I so touched? Because these lovely sisters are my daughters, that’s why.
(These photos were taken by C. If you click on them, they will enlarge so that you can view them close-up.)
P.S. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the last photo, you’ll be able to see the knife-ruffle fish there too.
What did we expect with our lives? Are you one of those who had no idea what you wanted to be or do when you were little? I’ll bet most people didn’t. Many of us are still trying things out and figuring out who we want to be. It doesn’t end.
Or maybe if we didn’t know what we wanted to do, we at least had an idea of how we wanted to live later in life after working hard at doing either what we wanted or what we had to do to get our kids grown up, educated, married and settled in their own places, with or without mortgages of their own. Or, if we didn’t have kids or didn’t have a career, we still wanted something in the end, didn’t we? Our own house Read the rest of this entry »
So on the day after Christmas and celebration of Hanukkah, what seems most important to me in hindsight is being present. Not presents, although they are wonderfully thoughtful, fun and touching. But being together. In the moment. Sharing our company. Watching a 15-month year old baby understand what is going on around her. And enjoying every moment of her reactions to bubbles being blown or a small quilt being unwrapped. Beside me on the couch, our other granddaughter, who will be sixteen next month put on her new pearl earrings. . . now that she has just had her ears pierced, we are all delighted with a new category in which we can find little treasures. Tonight, the little one offered a plastic block in trade for the older one’s I-Phone. . . and then didn’t want to give it back!
Being present everyday is what I think we eventually learn to do, especially when our children are not that anymore, but who are living their own adult lives with all the ups and downs that life entails. Choosing to be with people that you love means everything. Because our presence is what we have to give of ourselves in the end.
It’s amazing how having a meltdown this early in December clears away stuff. For example, all of the “have-tos” that I drag around with me for the holidays: the magical, quintessentially decorated Christmas tree that has to be a balsam and freshly cut so that it fills the room with its fragrance. This is no mean feat because trees are cut and shipped down here from Canada weeks before Thanksgiving even–and finding a balsam tree that is still alive enough to grace us with its fragrance is not an easy thing.
Then, there is the multitude of ornaments that I have collected and culled after forty-some years of Christmas tree-decorating. Antique mercury and glass ornaments, tissue paper animals, birds cut out of paper, bead garlands, glistening snowflakes from Germany when I travelled there on business years ago. A choice of different angels for the top. Or a felted red cardinal. Maybe these can be reduced to a half or a quarter.
Then, there’s the present-giving. I have been criticized for years by one person for giving too much at Christmas: “Just sit back and let her do it,” was the admonition, if memory serves me. As though receiving things that I have gathered is a burden for people. So, that’s something to reconsider, don’t you think?
Then, there’s the food. It turns out that I have not really bought into the idea that everyone should have a say-so in what the menu is going to be over the holidays. To me, it’s not a “team decision,” since it’s not really a “team effort,” is it to shop for it, prepare it and serve it? This yearning to create a true Christmas meal has been further enhanced by my correspondence with an old friend who lives in London. She has ordered two pheasants for their Christmas dinner. And I have been sending her recipes from Roald Dahl’s wonderful book, “Memories from Gipsy House,” like “Oeufs en gelee” and reading recipes for partridges stuffed with juniper, herbs and fresh bread. It’s a sharp contrast to the current ethos of “just making something quick and simple,” isn’t it? I’m a pretty good cook and part of the fun of Christmas is making really wonderful food for our meals.
Nor, for that matter, have I ever bought into the concept of exchanging “lists” of things that people want. If someone wants something on their list, then why don’t they just buy it for themselves anyway? What is Christmas anyhow, if you just order something at LL Bean or Amazon.com that somebody else wanted but didn’t want to spend the money? Then you wrap up the gift that somebody already asked for and they open it on Christmas day? Yippee? What happened to the days of Guy de Maupassant and the thoughtfulness that’s described in his short story, “The Gift”? although you wouldn’t want to be ships passing in the night either about gift-giving.
So that’s about it:
a real tree
Oh, and being present. That’s a big one. Not wandering off willy nilly. Really helping out to clean things up and to wash the dishes rather than making a stab at it and letting others do all the tidying up. Not just going through the motions. Being joyful and thankful together.
Being present. That’s better than giving or receiving presents, don’t you think?
Well, thanks for listening to me today.
I’ll figure it out. Because I always do.