and in the way that getaways slip into the wind, i know that this one will as well. time spent in the snowy up-north will slowly peel off and fly, seeds for the next time, the next few-days-away, the next memories.
this weekend we’ll have dinner with our son. he owns a new home – his first – and this will be our first actual viewing of it. i can’t wait! time spent with our adult children flies all too fast. already it’s been six months since i have seen our daughter; already it will be three months since we saw our son. their lives are busy and active and they are not in the same town. their homes have been anywhere from an-hour-and-a-half to twenty-seven hours away. it takes time and planning. and life is full of things – many things, for all of us – that take time and planning.
in what will feel waytoofast, our time spent together will zoom by. visiting and catching up and doing the yes-of-course-i’m-staring-at-you-i’m-your-mother will be followed quickly by goodbyes at the door and me, as ever, wiping happy (and wistful) tears as we drive away. and the tiny layers that comprise this time will feather, drifting into air streams where our mind searches for details and they are just a little further out than we can reach.
the wind brushes past us and time passes in its grasp. we – as ever – attempt to hold its filmy contrails, but time and vapor cannot be held. they are part of the wind that swirls and we simply are witnesses to its magic. we experience, we create memories, we stand next to those memories and gaze back as time’s half-life multiplies before our eyes. on friday, we are astounded by a long week’s end. on our 60th birthday, we are astounded by the six decades. as we sit at our child’s table, we are astounded by their maturity and place in the world, their mark.
we – and the stars – float in the basket of the hot air balloon of the universe and – if we are wise enough – glory that we are part of it.
it’s a little foggy. childbirth is like that. cloudy memories.
in the stunning way of time – and how it flies – it has now been thirty years. today.
my baby boy was placed in my arms thirty years ago. it’s astonishing. i remember everything and i remember practically none of it – it is all blurry.
what i do know – just as i knew in 2020 on the thirtieth birthday of my daughter and the thing that i knew in 1990 my very first day of motherhood – is that it changed my life.
and every day since.
there is little that can color all your days, for most things are fluid and we roll with it all, hoping there is a next day – to right things, to stand back up, to move on. but motherhood doesn’t play by these rules. if you are worried about your child – regardless of their age or stage – it stays with you. it is – for me – one of the first things i think about when i wake and one of the last things i think about before sleep. it is that which will keep me pondering in the night. it is that which will find me deep in thought in the day. there is really no stopping it.
so, my sweet momma, now i get it.
all that worrying you did, all that championing, all that abiding silently by and waiting, all those pompoms – i get it.
the last time i saw my own sweet momma she was sitting on the edge of her bed, a little later in the morning than usual, still in her nightgown, going slowly, but – mostly – concerned we were not yet on the road, driving I75 and I65 and I94 back home. i don’t know if she knew that 18 days later she would be on a different plane of existence. she just worried about me…all grown up and, yet, her little girl.
i get it.
these amazing children – now both in their thirties – are still the same people about whom i have always wondered – about everything – from the tiny to the gigantic – if they need snacks, if they are healthy, if they are happy, if they are feeling valued, if their work feeds them, if they feel reciprocal love and care in their relationships. they are forging their way in the world – making a difference that only they could make – shining their own stars – with their own brilliance and their own wit and creativity and humor. life is fluid clay in their hands, fresh silly putty out of the container, playdoh with the most extraordinary cutters and fun factory presses. they are right close to the ages i was when i became their mother. in a foggy blur of time. how does that happen?
the tree seemed to be alone in the field, nothing beyond it. but because we pass that field and that tree often, we know that is not the case. it is just very, very foggy and so we cannot see.
i look back and back and back. i can’t see it all; it is foggy and very foggy and very, very foggy.
the old boards creak. and, at night – when it is bitter cold out – they pop, like the sound ice makes under your feet on a frozen lake, only not as treacherous.
in the summer he replaces the deck screws that have risen, stubbed-toe-tripping-hazards, worry about dogga’s paws. in the winter it is clear of all summer amenities. with just the old wooden glider and chair left, it is sans wrought iron, sans outdoor rugs that define its space, sans umbrella shielding our eyes from the sun while we dine, sans old door and happy-hour two-step ladders that hold wine glasses, sans fire column, sans record player, sans lavender and lemongrass. to look outside at the deck – even without snow – it is obvious that winter is approaching, the starkness is blatant and a little sad. we speak of a tree for out there and, if we go to the forest to cut one down we may cut down two and place one outside so that we can see it – lit – from the window.
the old deck has gone through many iterations, first built – by a dad and a grandpa – to help keep tiny toddlers safely playing – a railing all around and gates. a bright plastic little tikes picnic table anchored one end, with a round wrought iron table and chairs on the other end. back then, it was a place for snacks and bubbles, matchbox cars and babydolls, a turtle sandbox, and children dancing to a fisher-price cassette player.
the toddlers, past toddling, grew fast and, eventually, the railing and the gates were removed and the deck, still with the same wrought iron table, was open to the backyard, easy access to the swingset and the fort and, then, the basketball hoop.
years later, with the addition of the stone patio, it would be the place people would gather – for fourth of july barbecues, for the-big-dig day of the pond, for slow dance parties, for pre-wedding gatherings, gatherings for any reason. the old wrought iron table, another coat of rustoleum black paint, still holding vigil for food and gaiety.
and then, since it had no railings, it became the perfect place for ukulele band. folding metal music stands and bag-chairs, edge-of-deck-sitting, clothespins and laughter, there was no stopping the fun, the music-making and community, and, after, all would gather around the old wrought iron table and gnosh on schnibbles everyone brought along, to prolong time together.
during covid the deck became a place of comfort, a necessity for peace of mind. we slowly researched and watched for sales and added pillows and rugs and an umbrella-that-made-all-the-difference for dinners around that old wrought iron table, a little decor and some clay pots and plants for our outside sanctuary. we took refuge there, from cold days to the return of cold days – outside as much as possible.
and now, the deck is blank again, save for the snowflakes. the old wrought iron table and chairs are carefully stored in the garage and we can hear the boards pop and crackle from inside the sunroom and from here, sitting on the bed, writing this – the grey day outside begging for sun, the old deck waiting to see just how we might holiday-it-up.
out of the corner of my eye i caught a glimpse of him leading her over to the edge of the garden. something about his tenderness made me stop and linger. he had his hands on her shoulders and was looking right into her face. and suddenly, he got down on one knee.
they were strangers – and remain strangers – but i had goosebumps of excitement as i watched him on his knee. we couldn’t hear anything, really, but when she threw her arms around him and he was beaming, it was pretty obvious. family and friends spilled out of the places they had hidden in the botanic garden and surrounded them, celebrating.
it was a moment in time. and we were witnesses to it.
we walk along the shoreline and marvel at the expanse of lake michigan. often – after the work day is over – the sun is lower in the sky to our west, so the sky over the lake is starting to turn all crayola-like as we walk. our shadows get longer, longer. it would seem we are on stilts. we stop for a minute to appreciate it all, take a picture, hug. witnesses to the end of day, one that we cannot recreate no matter how hard we try.
we walk on, sometimes entirely quiet, sometimes reviewing our day. we marvel that it is mid-october. already. witnesses to time flying, warp-speed, flimsy tendrils floating you cannot harness.
our trail was mostly empty on saturday. hiking there – in the woods – is like wrapping in a comforter. the turns and twists, the meadows, the fallen logs…they are known to us, familiar. it had been a couple weeks. many leaves had fallen. the ones that remained were yellow, some red, some orange. some of the trees were hanging on – their leaves were still green, but i imagine the color changing tiny bit by tiny bit even as we passed by. witnesses to autumn.
we often photograph our shadows. there is no worry about smiling in a photograph of your shadow. funny thing, though…we almost always smile anyway. the capture in time we got to be in a place, together, passing through, witnesses to a moment.
the table is staged, ready for diners. linen napkins rolled, silverware inside. water glasses turned over and candles unlit. waiting.
block 37 on state street in chicago has at least a dozen eateries, a highrise group built post-2005 of dining restaurants with napkin rolls, bakeries with cupcakes and sticky donuts, coffeehouses and grilled cheese spots. all waiting for eaters. there are shops and there is a residential development, multi-use skyscrapers.
eighteen years ago today. block 37. the yamaha concert grand was on an outdoor stage in the sun in a tree-canopied park when we arrived. boom mics. monitors. staged. ready. waiting.
it was the tour of hope, a giant oncology event sponsored by bristol-meyers squibb. lance armstrong, a cancer survivor and chosen sports hero for those moments, was biking – with an entourage – across the country to raise awareness about cancer and survivorship and hope. and we were there to be part of the rally. the piano and boom were waiting for me.
in the way of not-knowing-when-important-stuff-is-happening, we meandered through the people getting ready for the arrival of the posse of bikers. we sound-checked, we did early photo shoots, we sipped water on a perfectly-perfect early fall day.
it was the day i met him. a dear friend who i’ve only seen in person once in my lifetime. scordskiii became the rock in my world as the years went by and, were we to sit and visit over coffee or sushi or a glass of wine, i suspect the conversation would be easy and constant, filled with reminiscing and laughter, not just a little wonder, and hushed moments in awe of it all. this would be a good thing. eighteen years is a long time.
we are slowly coming out of the cave. slowly. ever-so-slowly. we have actually been to a couple restaurants now. and this day – last week – was one of those times.
the tables at the restaurant were ready and we walked in to find david’s dear friend waiting. they have known each other for decades, though – since they live far apart – they haven’t had opportunity to see each other much. no matter. it is the gift of true friendship. the moments when all time sloughs off and, in awe of this magic, you return to the organic core of your relationship.
we had fried wisconsin cheese curds. it was a farm-to-table restaurant. we were surrounded by relics from farms and warehouses, all dating back, maybe even a century. we sat and sat, talking, sharing. people came and went around us, though no one was seated close.
i glanced at the other tables when we stood to leave. the napkins were rolled and the water glasses were turned upside down. and the dining tables were waiting for the next time people would sit and ponder life, its questions, its challenges and joys, the next time people would share a little space together. the next time people would look at the face of a dear friend before it was time to go.
somehow breck knows. nature, in all its wisdom, whispers “it’s approaching” and breck’s gorgeous aspen leaves begin to turn.
we sat against our pillows with coffee this morning, a cool breeze through the bedroom windows. the crows were cawing and i could hear the lake pound the rocky shore. there is a beach hazards alert today calling for rip currents and higher waves. it’s a little grey out – the day i am writing this – and you can feel fall in the air. the wistfuls are at bay, waiting just a little longer to kick in.
but the grasses are evidence, as plumes of gold and maroon shoot up toward the sky. the cherry tomato leaves are beginning to yellow. the long stems of daylily flowers – sans blooms – are drying. the chippies are amping things up. there are just a few less birds in the morning and we hear geese overhead. up-north, along the side of the lake as we paddled, there were pockets of color. maples turning just a bit, reds and yellows, catching the sunlight. the mornings were cool, sweatshirt-worthy. playing bags in the garage invited a few yellowjackets, their quest to stay alive in september always pre-empting my ease outside as i try to avoid getting stung. it is quieter here at home during the day; school has started. it’s dark now when we wake up and the sun is setting earlier in the evening. autumn is arriving. we are standing at the edges.
we sat on the deck late saturday afternoon after a day of chores around the house. we talked about how it is already september. we tried to remember june. i opened the photo gallery on my phone and went back to the end of may so we could track the events these months. dates and happenings blurred as we strolled through pictures and not-too-distant memories. how does this happen? time flying by.
at the end of a week fraught with sudden worry, we were grateful. we had ridden the roller coaster of fear and intense concern, we had been lingering for days in not-knowing. we reached the end of the week with a few answers, the best of the possible worrisome scenarios. and we were grateful.
breck’s leaves quaked in the breeze that picked up that evening. a few raindrops fell on us. we stayed in our adirondack chairs on the deck and turned our faces to the sky. autumn is coming – in the way seasons roll round and round – and we are happy to greet it.
there are days that go by that we don’t notice. we hear the waves crashing or the wail of the foghorn, we feel the wind shift over the cool water surface, we listen to seagulls over our house or boats racing the shore. and, though those are all familiar to us, we don’t notice.
we walk the sunset along the lake, night dropping in around us. it’s quiet but we hear faint strains of music from the harbor and the festival on the channel. the lights to our left balance out the ever-diminishing clarity of view to our right. it is pretty exquisite. we are lucky, we repeat.
we live in an old house with an old garage and an old yard in an old neighborhood. we are steps from lake michigan and its glorious power, its ferocity, its smooth-as-glass silk, its wide spectrum of personality. and, sometimes, we don’t notice.
because sometimes, like you, we get caught up in the stuff of life, the challenges of life, the confusing relationships of life, the weariness.
those are the days we should walk the sunset.
for there is not much that reminds you of time passing like watching the giant eastern sky answer the western setting sun. there is not much that reminds you of your absolute tiny-ness in the overall scheme of things. just shy of eight billion people on this good earth and everyone shares this one sun, able to watch colors over lakes, deserts, meadows, cityscapes, neighborhoods, ballfields, cornfields, highways, bayous, mountains.
to sometimes notice, sometimes pay attention, gives us petite pause, like the air you feel staring at a richard diebenkorn ocean park painting, the all-over softened loll of arvo pärt’s music unwinding you, slower-than-slow-dancing on the patio, the hush of a hammock.
“we think we have about twenty good summers now,” the wander women talk about choosing their adventures. we are the same age, so it’s a little bit bracing.
but a good reminder. even from the very start. if we only have about 70 or 80 good summers in all, if we are fortunate, it would seem each one really, truly counts. and, if the height of summer is – in most parts – about three months long, then that’s about ninety days. that means somewhere between 6300 and 7200 good summer sunsets in all, possibly more, possibly less.
it makes me wonder how much i noticed in the first 5670 summer nights to date.
i’ve got some work to do.
i’ve got some walking sunsets to pay attention to.
in junior high i wrote a piece which i titled “old age is not a disease”. i was the child of older parents; most of my friends’ parents were at least ten years younger than mine, some fifteen. many of my parent’s friends were also their age and my grandparents were significantly older, so i was surrounded by elders.
i’m not quite sure what compelled me to write this piece, but it was written with fervor and i was passionate about my assertion. though i’m certain it’s somewhere in a bin downstairs, i’ll rely on my tenuous memory when i say i backed it up with facts and a great deal of emotion. always thready and emotional. from the beginning, i suspect.
so i guess it should come as no surprise that i am drawn to things waning. i find the flower on trail past its prime, bowing to the forest floor, petals wrinkling. i find the fallen tree, nurselog to a little community of new trees, striving. i find the dried grasses, glowing in late autumn. my photo library is full of these older-agers.
i keep the daisies until it no longer makes sense. but it seems that is way past when others would keep them. their curling petals no longer crisply open, instead shrinking and closing. they are beautiful. all stages.
daisies are kind of important to us. i was holding a daisy when i met david in baggage claim nine years ago. the second time i met him with a whole armful of daisies. and then, daisies walked with us down the aisle. i suspect they will be with us all along.
so, like us, i recognize their allure in every stage. even in waning.
this past weekend the father of my beloved children, my first husband, turned 65. i wished him a happy birthday and texted that i was astonished that we are the ages we are.
the time between back then and now has flown by and, were i to be defined as a daisy, i am grateful the petals and that yellow center of joy are still present, though a little crumply and a spectrum of many flaxen shades.
i know i don’t look like the daisy of yore. but every stage of a daisy counts.
“may the light of your soul mind you,
may all your worry and anxiousness about becoming old be transfigured,
may you be given a wisdom with the eye of your soul, to see this beautiful time of harvesting.
may you have the commitment to harvest your life, to heal what has hurt you, to allow it to come closer to you and become one with you.
may you have great dignity, may you have a sense of how free you are,
and above all may you be given the wonderful gift of meeting the eternal light and beauty that is within you.
may you be blessed, and may you find a wonderful love in yourself for yourself.”
(john o’donohue – “a blessing for old age” from anam cara)
they are a mystery. vhs tapes with no labels. now, how on earth can you send them to the vhs recycle place if you don’t know what they are? there could be priceless memories on that magnetic tape, mylar possibilities gone missing.
fortunately for us we still have a vcr machine. i’m not quite sure if it will just simply connect to our tv, but there is a gigantic plastic bag in the basement workroom with all kinds of cords and cables and such, so maybe we will find something in there that will help. or maybe we will have to get some kind of converter. nevertheless, we have hours of viewing fun in front of us for some rainy evenings and we can find out what’s on those unlabeled tapes.
there are plenty labeled as well, which makes it infinitely harder to dispose of them. movies of my girl and my boy as tiny babies, ballet recitals and soccer games, birthday parties and christmas mornings, movies my sweet poppo recorded off the tv, shots of family times, recordings of cantatas i directed, footage of some of my concerts and of me performing on qvc. they all demand a viewing and i’ll set them aside in a bin and someday, well, many somedays, serve them up with popcorn and m&ms.
the pre-recorded vhs tapes are no less sentimental. the million times we watched under the sea singalong songs, the ridiculously infinite numbers of times barney made an appearance at our house, disney movies, the nutcracker. it goes on and on. not just in the basement, these movies are in the chimney cabinets, waiting.
and then there’s the 8mm tapes, which were converted to dvds and carefully labeled a few years back. goodness! memories à gogo.
i guess someday someone will find our fuzzy purple cd case with the zipper and our daughter’s marker drawings all over it, the one we even take on trips. they’ll unzip it to find all our favorite dvds…the ones we default to, over and over and over, for we are those people who love to watch movies we love to watch again and again.
and they’ll wonder how to watch those dvds; they’ll seek out a dvd player, ponder what cords or cables they need, if they need some sort of converter. they’ll pick a movie out of the fuzzy purple case or maybe one home-recorded and labeled. they’ll load it up and push play.
then they’ll settle in with some popcorn and m&ms.
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.