Reflections from a Sugar Bowl

A little over a year ago, I inadvertently created a Saturday morning tradition of making pancakes with our daughter. It has become something that she looks forward to eagerly each weekend, despite my zombie-like state (which doesn’t break until at least after my first cup of coffee) in which I attempt to assemble what is needed for such an endeavor in the kitchen. I am not a morning person, and I have no business making food. Yet, our daughter loves this time together. So, pancakes it is.

At some point in the last year, we acquired a kitchen cart…sort of a mobile counter space on wheels that can be positioned wherever you need the extra space while cooking. On my rare adventure into the kitchen, I find it extremely useful. As our move back to New England was abrupt, we’re apartment-dwellers again for a while, and this particular piece of furniture is being used for more storage than it had previously in its lower cabinets. The end result of this is that it rolls much more sluggishly. Its wheels also tend to grind to a halt as you’re pushing it, which can result in it tipping forward if you’re not careful.

“Not careful” being synonymous with “not nearly caffeinated enough to function.”

You see where this is going, right?

Just before the crash, there was this sort of slow-motion, surreal moment in which Karen screamed and I lurched forward in an attempt to catch at least one piece of the various items that flew from their now-unstable resting place. Miraculously, we only lost one as it burst into small shards upon contact with the floor. Sadly, it was a sugar bowl that had been given to Karen by my grandmother before her death.

There are times when you feel clumsy, and times when you feel much, much more self-deprecating. Sadness doesn’t quite describe the loss of this item, now irreplaceable.

After a moment of quiet, we attended to the business of sweeping the floor and making certain that small, sharp slivers were not left lying around for children to step on, and our daughter, in her uncertain but beautifully kind-hearted way, was trying to console Karen.

“Dont’worry, Mommy.” she stated matter-of-factly. “We can always get another one on Amazon.”

Besides being disturbed by the commonplace consumerism that is already edging its way into my daughter’s mind, I’m torn a bit here, because, while I want to impress upon her the concept of an irreplaceable, valuable object, I don’t want to encourage more materialism. We are, after all, trying to trim down the toy collection, not embrace a philosophy that would add to it. I want her to appreciate things that she will be given, that she will inherit, things that may serve to remind her of us when we’re gone, as that sugar bowl reminded us of my grandmother. Not the most poignant reminder, but it made a connection. I want her to do this, though, without idealizing the item itself. In short, I want to impress the differentiation between a sign and a symbol, which is likely a bit too ambitious for a five-year-old.

You can’t blame me for trying, though.


Earlier this year, while we still lived in North Carolina, we had the adventure of a weekend power outage caused by an ice storm. While we stayed with friends who had warm living rooms for two nights, I went back home to check in on things during the day.

Our daughter has a beta fish named Charlie (For the record, I thought it was a bad idea). We tried our best to wrap his tank in towels and insulate him against the cold, but on the second day of the house hovering in the low 40’s, Charlie succumbed to the temperature. I found him floating that morning. After discussing this with Karen, we decided that we were in no way prepared to have that conversation with our daughter. So, on our first night with restored power, after we had brought in our overnight bags and the kids were in bed, I went back out to a local pet store. With much searching and assistance from the kind (but slightly bemused) girl minding the store that evening, I located a red beta that looked almost identical to Charlie, and to which Karen and I jokingly referred as “Charlie Mark II.”

Our daughter never knew the difference, and I’m content with that.

As we settled into this new apartment which will be home for a few months, I fed Charlie one night while Karen and the kids were out of town. I talked to him just as I had the first beta named Charlie, and realized that I had just connected to two, that the replacement for that tiny little creature had merged with the original in my head as though it was nothing more than a replacement phone after you’ve dropped and cracked the glass on the first.

A tiny little life, so easily replaced by a simple drive to a place of retail.

And I suddenly wonder if I’ve any place to discuss the merits of a lost sugar bowl at all.

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Retrospective of the Purple Wall

The Purple WallOne Saturday morning around three weeks ago, I woke up in my daughter’s room.

The movers had come and gone, I had been through a crazy week of flights and orienting to a new job, and all that was left in our house were a handful of things that we needed to last a few days: an air mattress and similar sleeping gear for the children, luggage for a week, and the handful of small items that you don’t trust the movers to handle. We had moved all of these into our daughter’s room to compartmentalize the process of packing and loading of the house, and so that is where our entire family slept that night.

Days before, I had sat in the same room, already devoid of furniture, and talked to my five-year-old about the house in which we had lived for two years, the exciting new adventure to come, and what she had liked best about living there. I had always liked the way that the hallway in that house and turned unexpectedly at the end, giving the corner room (our daughter’s) a sort of quizzical geometric shape. She explained that what she like best, and what she would miss, was her pink wall (its actually purple, but she insisted).

Two years before, some friends had come to help us begin the work of getting the house back into shape. Karen had chosen wonderful colors, and we painted both our daughter’s room and the master bedroom with an accent wall. Ours were beach colors. Our daughter’s was purple (she still insists its pink). She really liked that.

There were really great things about those two years. We caught up with life a bit. Our daughter grew, and even gained a sister. There were very positive aspects to our life there…I almost exclusively worked from home, which allowed me so much more time with the family. Our daughter still talks about how much she misses the back yard, and how she could run and run there with nothing to get in the way and slow her down. She misses that.

On our final day, as we loaded a small moving truck with that last handful of things from our daughter’s room, we were all tired, hungry, and irritable. We argued a bit about the logistics of the next two days (we had to be in New England in around 72 hours, and hadn’t firmly planned a route for the drive yet). Before locking the door, I walked down the hall, enjoying its quizzical and unexpected turn one last time. I looked into all the rooms, closed and locked the door behind me, and we drove away with the For Sale sign in the front lawn, a picture from a movie, almost. I hope that the atmosphere of that house wasn’t in any way tainted by arguing in our last hour there.

We’re excited to be back in New England. There are things that will be notably absent, some seemingly big things…I don’t work from home as often, and our apartment doesn’t have a spacious back yard in which our daughter can run…but we’ll find new things from which to make memories here. I remember that house fondly…I have always been an apartment-dweller, and had never lived in a house that was mine before…and sometimes the thought of someone purchasing it makes almost sad.

Almost.

Unexpectedly good things happened during our two-year adventure there, and now we are back home.

Although the concept of “home” begins to become somewhat more relative.

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Quote

Wisdom from Wonder Woman

“We have a saying, my people. Don’t kill if you can wound, don’t wound if you can subdue, don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.”

~Wonder Woman, written by Gail Simone

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Moving Forward

Moving forward. A Pods container used in our latest moving adventure.A few weeks ago, some of our family from New England came to visit. There were three children in our (small) house, as well as several adults, and it was noisy in the way that family visits are. For an introvert such as myself, it’s a bit nerve-wracking at times, but still…it was good being around family that we hadn’t seen in person since last summer.

The day that they left, they backed out of our driveway early in the morning, pulled slowly to the end of our cul-de-sac, and began their journey home. I walked to the end of our house and into our daughter’s room, which has the best view, and watched them drive away. I was thinking about how remarkably quiet the house was now. Too quiet at times. While it was soothing to my introverted nerves, I still missed our visitors.

That was three weeks ago. To say that things have taken an unexpected turn in those three weeks would be the definition of understatement.

Karen and I have been aching to return to New England for some time, especially now that the New Year’s addition to our family means that we have outgrown this house. We didn’t expect that to happen so…unexpectedly. An unexpected phone call resulted in an unexpected phone interview, which resulted in an unexpected trip to Boston to meet a team that resulted in an unexpected job offer. It felt so good being back in Boston, if even for a day, and now that will be a much more permanent state of affairs.

We’re moving in just three weeks.

With moving, of course, comes carefully orchestrated chaos as planning and organizing, phone calls and paperwork become interspersed with the day-to-day complexity of life. Things become progressively more…interesting…as more and more items become packed into boxes. No matter how well one plans, there will still always be that moment when you say of something that you need, “Where I did I put…oh, it’s packed.”

Karen and I have moved multiple times in the last few years. This will be our third major move up (or down) the East coast in just four years. While I am eagerly looking forward to this new part of our adventure, I find myself doing what I always do when we move.

I remember.

Now, this isn’t the overly nostalgic sort of remembrance to which I was (all too) prone for a bit, but rather a learned focus on recollecting the good things that happened during the phase of your journey that is ending.

When Karen and I moved (quite abruptly) to take care of this house, I felt as though I screeched to a halt. I had been moving at a breakneck pace since finishing school, and now found myself without a job to go to. This made time for unexpected things. We had been watching the Harry Potter movies before our move (I had never seen them, and Karen rightfully took it upon herself to remedy that tragic situation), and we had quiet evenings to finish them. I had time to pause and learn new technologies for my profession. Because we made several stops during that move and consolidated items that had been left behind at parents’ houses since we were married (or, in some cases, since we had left home for undergrad), we now had all of our stuff under one roof for the first time. I spent several evenings going through old comic books and novels that I hadn’t seen in years. While there was pressure involved (I was essentially beginning what would become two years of earning a living as a freelancer and contractor), it was relaxing for those first few weeks.

Of course, life became incredibly hectic again, and I had the opportunity for some really fantastic professional achievements here. There were several moments of renovating this house that I will hold quite fondly in my memory. We had the chance to frequently visit some of our closest friends from before we moved to New England the first time, and I am so very grateful for all of these opportunities.

I am more than ready to leave the South. As things become more quiet, though, I have more of a chance to remember. The contradiction of moving is that, while many things begin to move at a frantic pace, others slow down paradoxically. There is a huge importance, I think, to making space for the spiritual discipline of remembering these good times, these positive events. While I become less tolerant of moving as I get older, I find that these moments of reflection are gifts that only seem to occur as markers in these sorts of occasions.

For everything that has frustrated me here, there has been so much good, as well. I am grateful for every moment, as well as for every unexpected turn that our adventure together has taken, and for the family that we’ve become as we’ve embraced them together.

Moving forward is frantic, but there are tiny moments of quiet involved. Those moments hold beauty when you listen.

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Grasping for Hope

Of the challenges that I’ve encountered during my life, being a parent is by far the most difficult.

I don’t mean for that to sound as though I’m some wise, ancient guru or something. Certainly I’m not, as anyone who knows me well will happily attest. Still, I have had some experience at life, and, relatively speaking, I haven’t encountered an experience as difficult as parenting.

I also am not writing from the perspective of the things that you generally think of when you think of parenting challenges. No, diapers, cuts and scrapes, temper tantrums, cleaning up after projectile…sickness…all are inherently challenging in their own right, but I’m referring to something more…well, more metaphysical than that.

There’s an angst, for me at least, that comes with knowing that there are two small human lives for which I am responsible. This is angst born of the desire to somehow protect them from harm, to keep away that which would do them wrong at all cost to myself, as impossible a goal as that is. As frustrated as I have always been at injustice in the world, I am doubly so now, because I find myself sometimes feeling an overwhelming guilt about bringing our children into a world in which there is a seemingly constant state of war or power-mongering or profit at someone else’s expense.

Of course, when either of my daughters smile at me and express a desire for my time, this all goes away, because I know that I can only do my best within my sphere of influence. Still, when the emotional onslaught makes its presence felt, it is a force to be reckoned with.

The reason that it is so overwhelming is because it is rooted, I think, in a feeling of hopelessness. I see violence and hate growing around us, and I feel that I have no ability to stop it, despite my intentionality of choosing to not engage in it. I know that both of my daughters will make poor decisions, likely decisions that will harm them at some level, in the future, and that I will be unable to prevent this, as well, as much as I would give anything to do so. A lack of hope is a dark place, indeed, and the smallest glimpse of hope in a dark situation is cause enough for the fiercest struggle.

Except, sometimes, the hope that I’m missing comes, seemingly, out of nowhere.

I was in a coffee shop a few days ago, waiting what in my Western mind was an unacceptably long time for my over-priced drink, and I watched an older couple come and go. They were traveling, is my guess…passing through as this particular Starbucks was right off a major Interstate. I watched them interacting with each other, their talking and their smiles, and my imagination began to weave a story around them. How had they met? How many children did they have? Where were those children now? What insurmountable odds had they faced at various points in their life together?

Certainly they’ve seen more than I have, and overcome more than I could imagine simply by virtue of their age. I wonder what pain and grievous moments might have interrupted their joy at being parents, either by decisions made or by the actions of outside forces over which they had no control. I wondered when they had felt powerless, as I sometimes do.

And I concluded that, whatever their story, whenever and however these events had occurred, that they were here now, enjoying time together, having made it through whatever challenges they had faced.

And there, in my imaginative wandering, was the hope for which I sometimes find myself grasping. They made it through.

And we will, too.

Not without scars, of course. Life gives us those regardless of our best efforts, but it is by those scars that we learn.

I don’t know those people, their names, or their stories. I very likely will never see them again. We do have friends, however, in the same position, friends who have been through more life than we have, and that, with only their presence, give the same hope.

I wonder if, one day, someone will see Karen and I in a Starbucks (that part, at least, is very likely) and think these thoughts. Because I know that we will have made it. I know that our children will have made it, that, in the end, everything will be okay. Not because things around us got better, but because life is created to survive, and because Light is created to overwhelm the darkness.

If we’re open to it, the hope will find us. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to be receptive to it, and that’s okay. That’s a spiritual discipline in itself. When revealed, though, the smallest hope will always bring us through the most crushing of obstacles.

Hope, by definition, will always point us to faith.

And hope is always, always more powerful than hate.

Always.

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