it’s been nine years since we met face to face now. nine years since baggage claim at o’hare. nine years. it doesn’t sound like an eternity; it just feels like an eternity. and yet, not long enough.
because the moments i glance across the room and catch his gaze – well, it still takes my breath away. he drives me crazier than probably anybody else on earth, but he can make me well up in the turn of a second.
and the times we are inside, sitting and writing together, cooking in our old kitchen, happy-houring at the table in the sunroom, loving on our dogdog, mutually missing our babycat, planning trips…those times…are times that create a little bit of wonder.
and the times we are outside, on a mountain, on a trail, on the sidewalk in the ‘hood, by the side of the lake in the shadow of an aspen stand, in the new black adirondack chairs…those times…are times that create more than a little bit of wonder.
the wonder of finding, the wonder of reaching, the wonder of meeting, the wonder of walking this walk together.
sometimes asking a question is purely a matter of politeness. you want the other person to know you value their thoughts, but, since you’ve already decided, their answer blurs into the gusty winds inside your mind and you do what you want to do anyway.
i can’t say that all the lost turtles and frogs and hurt birds and chipmunks and leg-damaged preying mantises in the wild have come home with us. i can say that i wanted them to. he generally feels that nature should be left to carry on in the circle of life (i can hear elton john singing now) and so i already know his answer to my “what should we do?” question. we’ve come across kittens on trails and i’ve stared at him without a word as he sorts for something to say about wild cats. of course there is nothing to really say about a tiny tabby in the woods, except that we are not really all that far from civilization and, surely, this cat belongs somewhere, so taking it home would equate to, well, kidnapping it. that, for sure, stops any taking-it-home-ness from happening.
were it up to me, particularly in this empty-nest-time, all the sweet creatures we come across would be our little friends. and the circle of life – if need be – would include a stint at our house, in our nest.
a rock and a hard place. he is wedged between them and help-me-i’m-wedged-and-i-can’t-get-out he can’t escape. there is no choice but to say the wrong thing. go either way and he has sunk miserably to the levels of pond catfish, carp at best.
in these days of changing-changing-changing bodies and expectations of ourselves, we peer in the mirror and are astounded at what we see staring back. menopause and “men”opause (whatever on earth that is called) – in all its glory – has taken its toll on our metabolism and our hips and someone with a line-defining pen has carved on our faces while we sleep in the night. and those jowls. let’s not forget them.
so while i want him to understand – to really get it – to grok it at a cellular level – to feeeeeel my pain, he is thinking, “she’s beautiful” and tells me so. ohmyheavens, seriously? can he not share in my astonishment, couple with my what-do-i-do-now-ness, sympathize in a big-big way, help me pick out jeans in the next size?
there is no winning here.
it is the perpetual “does my butt look big in this?” question. over and over. forevermore.
he can “pretend” not to notice, which undermines his believability factor and, ultimately, leaves him stranded with no credibility when i am facing down the mirror. he can acknowledge and discuss the merits of aging with me, leaving me incredulous that he would suggest that i am aging. he can try to play long ball – riding the fence – acting like he can’t hear me – changing the subject.
no matter what, he will find himself in the rock garden.
eh. who am i kidding? it’s more like a deep, dark quarry.
clearly, he is an instigator. just the mere suggestion that he’d be ok with registering a complaint, asking for a refund, asking to speak to management sets me in motion. i am not afraid to speak up in these situations. it’s writing-a-letter (ala my sweet momma’s chutzpah) but in person. i’m the one who goes to the service desk. i’m the one who asks for the discount. i’m the one who returns stuff. i’m the one who will go back and let someone know that their product/service/pricing was not acceptable. he shudders. he set me in first gear and released the clutch; he knows there is no stopping. there have truly been times when he will linger at the sidelines of a store simply while i return something – like chicken that was spoiled when we purchased it or something even easier – like dog food when i meant to buy cat food but the dog food package was on the cat food shelf. i mean, c’mon…that is not a big deal nor is it fodder for embarrassment, but he just sort of wanders off, a little spacey, sometimes like a toddler in a department store playing hide-and-go-seek in the rounders of displays. ahhh.
and let me just say – the aarp discount is a thing, though. i will ask ANYwhere if they offer the aarp discount. you would be surprised how often the answer is yes. you should check it out. it’s a deal. the first day i purchased an aarp membership i booked hotel reservations and saved twice as much as i had just spent on the membership fee. a deal, yes?
a long time ago my sweet poppo was the regional president of the aarp chapter. my parents went to aarp conventions and conferences all over. they were avid aarp-ers. he would be happy with my dedication to his cause.
because i was the product of older parents, i read modern maturity magazine well before my time. even now, i thoroughly enjoy the revised, renamed aarp magazine. great articles. many that are empowering. particularly about speaking up. asking for better service. getting a discount. free cups of coffee. starting a ruckus.
the chasm between women and men widens post-menopause. i mean, it’s not exactly a divot before that. theyyy – meaning men – love to solve for things. everything. no matter what. weee – meaning women – sometimes just want to talk or vent or express how we feel. we are completely capable of solving-for when we want to be. and we are also completely capable of asking for help, asking for advice, asking for solutions…when we want them.
but, ahhh….that chasm. there are moments i start a conversation and announce, “i just want to vent.” it absolves me of guilt when i start growling if he starts to solve for the issue.
as we all know, many – and i won’t say “most” here, to avoid generalizing – many men can fall asleep at the drop of a hat. in mere seconds after placing his sweet problem-solving head on the pillow, d will be sleeping. down and out sleeping. meanwhile, my head is on my pillow, pondering life and all its idiosyncrasies. i find it flabbergasting how quickly time passes in the day and how slowly 2am – 5:30am crawls. or 12:30am – 3am. or 1am – 4am. it’s a goulash of wee-hour-clock-combinations.
so, while changing diet and exercise and patterns all seem like spiffy-doo-dah ideas, when one wants a little sympathy, one does not want spiffy-doo-dah suggestions. just sayin’.
not that i’m speaking from experience or anything. 😉
we are creatures of repetition. we will eat black-bean-burgers every single day for lunch until – one day – we cannot stand the idea of another black-bean-burger ever-again. and then, after some time – poof! the yen for a b-b-b comes back.
it’s like that with oatmeal too. oatmeal-oatmeal-oatmeal. oatmeal’s biggest fans. with walnuts and dates and raisins and dried cranberries and bananas. yum! oatmeal! until – ugh – we cannot stand to eat another bowl of oatmeal.
and then, in our latest obsession, there’s rye toast. now, keeping in mind that we have been eating gluten-free, rye toast is kinda out of the safety-loop. but….ohmygoodness…it’s rye toast! it makes me think of my sweet momma and her momma and long island and – this is really great – the day my daughter was born. they brought me scrambled eggs and rye toast in the hospital and now, forever, the association is sealed. so…rye toast, rye toast, rye toast!
for a while we would have midnight-pancakes. what is not to love about pancakes and maple syrup late at night when your tummy is kinda pokin’ at you?
we aren’t ihop people. i can’t tell you the last time i went to an ihop. denny’s too. the stand-out time i went to denny’s was the day we moved to wisconsin on thanksgiving day and ended up at denny’s for dinner. it was a pitiful scene, i’m sure. but it wasn’t for pancakes. my mom and dad always went for the grand-slam-breakfast, which, i think, includes pancakes. denny’s has never made it onto our list of places-to-go when we roadtrip.
there was this place – a diner – in hanover, new hampshire just on the other side of the state line from vermont. i was eighteen or maybe nineteen. a group of us had been to a drive-in movie (where the guy driving drove in the exit backwards while i worried about getting in trouble) and were properly starving at the end of the double feature. especially me. anxiety will do that. the diner served up piles of pancakes and lukewarm coffee. it’s hard to remember the details from back in the dark ages, but, somehow, i remember the pancakes.
these days we generally try to find hole-in-the-wall kinds of places. back-roads places. small-town places. and, truth be told, we never ever – and i really mean never ever – go to any thing or any where that is “all-you-can-eat”.
though all-you-can-eat-pancakes does have a certain ring to it.
kodiak cakes had an ever-present home in our cupboard for a long time. because, really, pancakes have a way of satiating all worries and bringing peace.
they all told me. they tell all of us. in those moments, when you think time is standing still, they tell you: time flies by. it is in retrospect – days, weeks, months, years down the road – you realize they are right.
i have awakened in this room for over thirty years.
the light has streamed in through the windows in that way i recognize and that gives me great comfort.
the radiator in the sitting room just outside the frosted-glass french door to the bedroom has clunked each cold morning as the boiler kicks on.
through the years multiple sweet dog-faces and one beloved cat-face have greeted me with breakfast and outdoor anticipation.
the smell of coffee manages to drift around the corner and waft its way toward my pillows.
i have had the good fortune of turning my head on the pillows and looking into the face of two very different men, husbands who have shared different times of life with me, one who drank nary a sip of coffee in the way-back-when and one who brings first coffee to the bedside table.
and my beloved children. i counted the months of pregnancy, reading “what to expect when you’re expecting” cover to cover perched in bed in this room. then suddenly, they lay in onesies in the crook of my arms, newborns nestled under the comforter with me. and suddenly, they wore footie pajamas and curled up after a dream. and suddenly, they were peeking their heads in the door to announce they were home so i could relax and sleep. and suddenly, they were home on college breaks and random weekends. and then, just as suddenly, they were no longer living here and the empty nest was a real thing.
and i awake every morning and they are the first thing i think of in the middle of familiar light rising and coffee brewing and dogdog’s gleeful greeting and d’s face on the other pillow.
our son cautioned us that we shouldn’t ask how he described us when he arrived at the restaurant and looked for our table, but of course, that was an open invitation and i couldn’t resist asking. “i asked where the older couple was sitting,” he said, watching me for my reaction. i poked him on the shoulder and rolled my eyes saying, “geez! we’re not THAT old!”. there was so much to talk about so the subject of us aging into ‘the older couple’ dropped, but i thought about it later.
when i was shy of 30 my parents were in their late 60s, a few years older than we are. i suppose it’s possible that i might have described them the same way. fair is fair, after all. and time probably flew for them too. even without them realizing it. as i think about it now, i bet they didn’t feel old either.
sometimes in the quiet moments of morning, as i sit with coffee perched against the pillows, i imagine the sounds of the house waking up thirty years ago, twenty-five years ago, twenty years ago, fifteen years ago, ten years ago.
and, although i would love to have those moments back – to live again, to embrace again – time has moved on and there is no time machine.
instead, i cherish the times that were – each and every slow-motion and flying-by-time – and look at my children, all grown-up and living life out on their own and celebrate them.
i look to each and every time i can see them with joy and excitement.
and at the end of the day as i lay my head on my pillow in this very-familiar-room, i thank my lucky stars to have had all of it, to have all of it.
i don’t think that i will ever be able to have a kitchen sink placed without a window above it. in all the homes i have lived as an adult – every single one – both houses in florida, in wisconsin, even on island – there has been a window over the sink. working at the sink, gazing out – a time for pondering, reviewing, sorting. it is the place to watch the world go by, the seasons, time.
the big plate glass window over the sink in our home has given me a view into the flow – filmy strands of babies growing, toddlers on swings, snowmen on the deck, cherished dogs romping, snacks in the fort, oversized plastic t-ball stands, basketball hoops, a bright yellow slide that attracted a bazillion tiny gnats at a certain time in the spring. i’ve watched trees grow and shed and bud and shed, plants planted, transplanted, re-planted, snow fall and cherry tomatoes flourish. there’s been grass and no grass and dirt and grass again. i imagined the patio – where people would gather, play ukulele, dance, laugh – before it was there. and the little pond has been a treasure, inviting birds and squirrels and chipmunks and frogs to its little rock bank. i’ve stared out that window with great appreciation. i’ve stared out that window, wondering.
in this time of covid, lots of our time in the winter is spent looking out. we are not really participating in gathering, trying to minimize risk to ourselves and others. even vaccinated and boosted, we know that so many around us have taken ill, have fallen to the highly contagious pandemic. so it has been rare to see even our neighbors. sightings of them, as we stroll the ‘hood or they walk by, past our front windows, have been about it.
but monday afternoon they all gathered in our driveway. just before 4:30 there were two loud bangs outside. directly across the street, in the driveway, tucked up by the garage and right next to the house, the neighbor’s jeep exploded. the firetrucks were here seemingly instantly and the road was closed off by police cars that came from all directions. and all the neighbors stood together on the apron of our driveway. for the while that it took to extinguish the flames, we had time together. we could see each other’s faces, exchange a few words, exclaim about how scary it was and express relief that our neighbors-across-the-street were safe and unharmed.
a police car or two began to leave. one of the fire trucks left. the neighbors began to disperse. after some time the tow truck came. the tiny bit of time that we were all out there, mostly coatless in the cold, was over. but i could feel something else…the reminder that we are all here.
someone spoke the words: “i hardly ever see or talk to anyone in the neighborhood, but do you remember after the derecho that came through? everyone was out, walking around. eight hundred or so trees down, sidewalks heaved, power out…all in the matter of less than five minutes. and we were all walking around. together. and now…here we are.”
out the big kitchen picture window looking over the backyard are reminiscings, fallowed and growing plants, a bubbling pond fountain, massive trees, tiny creatures, dreamy summer nights, barney, bonfires, grilled eggplant, snowfall.
you know you have a nutella-reputation when more than one person sends you nutella in the mail, via ups, on the fedex truck, in packages at your front door. i went a little crazy when i discovered it. it had been around; i was not an early adopter, but when i fell, i fell fast.
johnathon and i walked around amsterdam, eating, sipping espresso, laughing. when we came upon him, i could not help myself. i don’t usually do this with strangers, but i kissed him – the nutella man. he was coy, slightly unnerved, but mostly unmoved by my ardent display. it was sheer bliss for me. and he had the biggest jar of nutella i had seen to date. so, yes, in this case, size matters.
all over paris you can get waffles with nutella and nutella on crepes or croissants or toast, nutella on fruit, nutella in coffee. it’s omnipresent. the nutella carts are everywhere. there could possibly be nothing more enticing than a bench in jardin des tuileries with espresso and nutella and your beloved.
we recently introduced david’s momma to it. she has found it to be a staple – apples with nutella are pretty amazing. for us, it used to be animal crackers and nutella. ohmy! if you haven’t tried that, you must. it is a worthy dessert!
we haven’t eaten a whole lot of nutella in recent times. the whole30 diet knocked it out of the rotation. costco wrote us a letter asking if we were ok; their sales of hazelnut cocoa spread were plummeting.
in truth, i miss it. the nutella chip in my brain is quivering.
while she explained to me the presence of the cross on the back of the donkey, he explained to david how he installed the sun-seeking solar panel in the barnyard. both exist here. the old world donkey and the twenty-first century solar panel. together.
he told us that they were about our age when they started to make plans for next steps. they sorted and listed and researched and made decisions for their next phase, moving to acreage further south – in a bit more temperate clime – closer to some family, out in the woods with ridges and ravines, living their dreams for the next of life. “you should start thinking about that now,” he encouraged us. he’s right. we think about it all the time.
“the world never comes at you all at once,” john o’donohue wrote. “you are not simply here. neither are you definitively and forever ‘you’.” … “no person is a finished thing.”
things you can count on. change and change and change.
we know change is imminent. and change has already arrived. and we have exited change, taken the doorway that reads “next”. and we can see more doors and more doors. they are a little further away, like trail markers, choices to be mapped, routes to follow, narratives with gaps to fill in.
maybe a coupla donkeys, a coupla horses, dogdog, mountains, cherry tomato plants, and trees. our lives will evolve.
in our mind’s eye, we paint ourselves older – hopefully wiser, but i know there’s no guarantee of that. we paint the hue of early morning sunrises over peaks near and far. we paint old porches and adirondack chairs. less stuff and more time. old world and new world. much like now, we paint in mugs of coffee and glasses of wine bookending the day. we paint in people we love. we paint in hiking and writing and new recipes and doing the art we do. it’s unfinished, this canvas.
life is not a paint-by-number. and solar panels and donkeys co-exist in barnyards. and we are not definitively any particular colors in any particular place doing any particular thing. we are made of dreams and change.