Slowly…ever so slowly…life is beginning to stir in northern New England. Almost as though we skipped spring and decided to wake from sleep directly into summer, we are beginning to re-discover old freedoms that feel new again. Workarounds and substitutions for real life have become so commonplace that I had forgotten what real experiences are like, although I’ve craved them. I met my friend for our weekly coffee in person last week for the first time since February. The last time that we saw each other face-to-face, there was snow outside the coffee shop window. That’s disconcerting, to say the least.
Other freedoms are still delayed, some more frustrating than others…Karen and I long to worship with a faith community again, not just the distanced images on a screen. Working out at the gym appears to be some weeks away, as well, something which I find contributing of my weakened state when I’m confronted with an uncharacteristically hot day in May, a day that feels more like July, which immediately curtails any sort of morning run.
Since the end of March, though, I’ve substituted my usual workout days with either a run or a brisk walk. When we were traveling in March, just before the world broke, I got into the habit of taking a walk with my coffee in the morning to get some air before I started my work day. That practice morphed into not just my usual workout days, but most weekdays. I think that I’m in better shape now than before the pandemic, and have even gotten to know some others in the neighborhood as we’ve passed on the street.
Better fitness is perhaps the most unexpected positive effect of a stay-at-home order, but by far not the only one. Even though I only commute three days weekly on average, I’m saving between six and eight hours every week with Boston traffic out of the equation. That’s time that I’ve been able to spend spontaneously chasing my kids around our yard, or having leisurely conversations with Karen of the sort that we used to have in grad school. I’m catching up on a lot of reading. I’m even pausing to think and enjoy some quiet every now again. As we bleed into summer, our daughters have made friends with a neighbor…”best friends,” as they refer to themselves, which makes me recall my best friend in childhood, and how that friendship and those summer day experiences were so formative for me. I smile when I see my kiddos growing up into some of the same experiences.
I eagerly anticipate our release from suspended animation over the coming weeks, and have jumped at the chance to go out for coffee, and to make my weekly comic book run. This time in, though, as emotionally trying as it has been for all of us, has lent itself to some positive things if we look for them.
I have a hard time looking, but when I do, the good isn’t difficult to see.
Every boy is into cars at some point. This fact is, as they say, as American as apple pie. I wasn’t any different. When I was a boy, the popular choice was Hot Wheels, which, until writing this, I had no idea were still such a big deal. And, though I would soon move on to action figures and comic books by the time I was leaving elementary school, I still managed to put together a decent collection of toy cars.
Eventually, my parents bought a collector’s case in which I could store these cars (they were likely tired of always finding them underfoot). That case returned with me after last summer’s vacation, and our kids have quite enjoyed giving the cars contained within a second life. Last week, our oldest, ever inventive, strung a rubber band between the legs of a dining room chair and discovered that she could launch the cars to spectacular effect. She couldn’t wait to show me, and I was immediately enthralled in the game. I was fascinated by how these cars, long dormant until a few months ago, could still roll with such speed, and I have much respect for the fact that they were built well enough to still withstand the collisions and blows that come with serious play. They just don’t make them like that anymore (said every Dad ever).
One of the cars that my daughter pulled out was a Bell Systems van, modeled after the vans that workers of the regional “Baby Bell” phone company drove in our area. My father retired from “the phone company.” When I was little, he bought me that toy van because it was identical to the one that he drove for work every day. I had forgotten how we had bonded over “racing cars” in my childhood, which proved to be so important for our relationship as I think that Dad struggled to relate to my later interests. I recall one Christmas morning racing cars around the toy track that I had opened that morning, surprised later as my Dad played back the audio of the morning on a cassette tape that he had made with his new stereo system. Those were different times, and so foundational to us keeping our relationship as I moved from an obsession with comic books and superheroes to music in high school, and later to writing and theatre in college. When I came home on weekends, we would still sit down and watch a basketball game together, and those car races were, I’m convinced, the reason why. They had grounded us somehow, provided a connection.
There are signs in the mundane, tiny monuments to help us recall essential and explanatory moments from our pasts. Across all of those years, that toy van helped to connect us in a very similar way that it did for my father and I. That evening, my daughter had found a tiny miracle contained within a Hot Wheels car, without even realizing that she had done so.
It’s actually been several years since I contemplated resolutions for a new year in any serious way. As I said, though, the fact that we’ve started a new decade makes this more meaningful than other new year’s. And yes, given that January is nearly over, I’m definitely late to write these down, but I’ve been thinking about them for a while. I wanted to be intentional about them, I suppose, because marking significant points in time is important. We’re prone to forget, after all.
When blogging was in its prime…I fondly we remember those days…this is the sort of thing that we would post. I think the motivation is to just put it out there, to say “this is what I’m hoping to accomplish so keep me accountable.“
Of course, I’d love to hear yours, as well.
In a nutshell, I want to work less and focus more on what’s really important this year, because I feel as though my priorities have been inverted. My faith, my family, and creative pursuits are going to receive more focus this year. So, here they are:
Finish that novel. I started it long, long ago…and was nearly finished with the rough draft when our oldest daughter was just born. I plan to have it as close to finished as possible this year.
Spend less time working and more time with my family. The kiddos are showing signs of not getting enough of me. I remember so fondly when our oldest was young, the time that I dedicated to spending with her and so carefully preserved. That’s slipped in the last few years, and I’ve never found a similar way to connect with our youngest. I hope to rectify that this year.
Place my faith first. I’ve come to the epiphany that I turn to God after attempting to resolve difficult situations myself. I want to discipline myself to turn this around this year.
Speaking of epiphanies, Karen and I realized that my favorite color is actually grey. That’s a different story, though.
I actually intended to post this prior to the new year, but the holidays were hectic and I’m only now sitting down to my keyboard. As we moved through Advent and into the Christmas season this year, I was largely oblivious to the fact that January 1 would not only roll over a new year on our calendar, but a new decade. I usually go about setting at least cursory new year’s resolutions for myself (I’m still deciding what this year’s will be)…well, except for one year when Karen and I were entirely oblivious to the fact that it was even New Year’s Eve…but a new decade seems much more significant when you think about it. Then, I read another blogger’s post in which he recapped the decade, and began thinking about just how much has occurred in our life over the course of ten years. So, inspired to do the same, here’s a glimpse into what the decade of 2010 held for us. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was life-altering.
Karen and I were “living the dream” in 2010. We were four years into our marriage, young professionals in a nice apartment in the city where we met in grad school. Karen had moved away from teaching middle and high school and was a professor, and I was writing while not in my day job in the non-profit world. We did theatre together. Not everything was perfect – not by any stretch. And certainly we were spread thin financially at times. But I look back on those days now, with the freedom and creativity that we had, and I miss them.
Our oldest daughter joined us unexpectedly in 2011. We were in labor for 24 hours prior to a C-section delivery. Our friends were praying for us, Karen’s mother came and stayed with us for nearly a month. I remember how my world changed – I literally saw things differently when Karen told me that we were expecting – and how speechless and stupid I felt when my daughter’s cries first echoed from the delivery room walls. The night before we went to the hospital, I remember sitting in our living room with Karen and her mom and reading Salinger out loud because we chose one of our daughter’s middle names from his story, “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.”
My focus shifted from writing (I still haven’t finished the novel with which I was so nearly finished when our first daughter was born) to the web. As I was pushed out of my first career as a result of legislative changes, I began to make my hobby into a living. With our daughter only just a year old, we moved to New England so that I could return to school in Boston. We had determined that there are two types of education: really cool education in things that matter, and education that earns a living. We both had a lot of the first, not as much of the second. The goal was to remedy that situation.
One of the high points of our life in New England was a job that I had with a group that used theatre programming as a treatment modality for adolescents who were on the spectrum. I lead a team of other clinicians, and this became my ministry. I loved every second of that job…I couldn’t wait to go to work. I have missed it painfully ever since.
2014 – 2015
It was surprisingly more difficult to rebound in my new career in New England than we had anticipated. The company I was with wasn’t working out, and we needed some freedom. We packed our lives once more and moved into a house that we still owned in North Carolina. We would spend the next two years fixing up that house and getting it ready to sell while I was freelancing and Karen was teaching as an adjunct. Our daughter was just coming out of her love for Thomas the Train and moving into Wild Kratts (animals are still her fascination). These were great years for me professionally, but I lost so much focus spiritually. I longed to be as firm in my faith as I was when I was in seminary, but I was working such long weeks. My relationship with our daughter was strained during this critical time, as well. As successful as I was professionally in those years, I wish I could go back and reclaim some of that lost time.
Surprise! Our second daughter joined us unexpectedly (see a pattern here?). A highlight of this time was having both sets of parents with us, overlapping for a few days, to help with the baby, all together in our home. As stressful as it was (you’d think that we would have a grip on things having had one child already), having our family together was priceless. We had been praying to return to New England during this time also, and, shortly after our second daughter was born, I received a sudden offer from a company in Boston that was just what we were looking for. So, with our new daughter not quite a year old (seriously, do you see a pattern?), we packed and moved in a month, back to New England.
Along with getting used to winters here again, we also began to get some answers to our oldest daughter’s academic struggles. The diagnosis of Nonverbal Learning Disability answers so many things, but has been so difficult to absorb. We’ve entered the new decade attempting to navigate this, with all of the logistical, financial, and emotional difficulties that it brings. Before I set those New Year’s resolutions, my goal for the new decade is that our daughter is equipped with what she needs to have a successful and happy life, and that we are able to grow into being the parents that she deserves. I love that little girl so much, and previous resolutions seem so empty now….
On New Year’s eve, Karen and I watched a movie. She fell asleep on the sofa, and I poured a glass of wine and did something that I hadn’t done in many years…I watched the ball drop. I used to be into this tradition, and it seemed so flippant now. I feel my age, more weary than I should feel at times, and, to paraphrase a Wall Flowers song, I haven’t changed, but I know I’m not the same.
I hope that your new year…and your new decade…is blessed in whatever life sends your way. Who knows what adventures I’ll be able to write about in 2030? Time will tell…
It’s difficult to prevent yesterday from taking over today sometimes.
About a month ago, we took a two-week family vacation. We don’t really do much traveling of late, as the kids aren’t quite old enough for that to be viable again, so this was a treat, a break from the “stay-cations” that we’ve taken over the last three years. Granted, we didn’t go anywhere exotic. Rather, we headed south to see family, and then further south…back to the city in which Karen and I met and in which I lived when I first started this blog…to spend time with old friends whom we hadn’t seen in years.
I suppose that those sorts of trips are especially prone to getting caught up in yesterdays. We made it a point to visit several of our old haunts…we ate at one of our favorite restaurants, walked downtown near some art galleries that we used to frequent, even drove by our old apartment and made a quick supply stop by the grocery store in our old neighborhood. The past comes rushing back when you make those sorts of visits, there’s just no way to avoid that experience. With that rush comes the inevitable “what-if.” What if we hadn’t left? What if we moved back? After all, we still have so many friends there. We know the area. It would be so easy to settle back into that life.
Of course, there are a thousand reasons why that would be difficult at best, unworkable at worst. Even if it were realistic, though, what’s not obvious in the theatrical fog machine in which your memory clouds itself in these moments is the fact that, even were we to do so, we wouldn’t simply reclaim our old life. I remember fondly when Karen and I went to plays, had dinner with friends on weekends, had a life before we had children. As dearly as I love my little girls, I miss that freedom…any parent does. The rhythm of our lives would be different now, the hidden evolutions of the city would take us by surprise and disrupt us in ways we wouldn’t anticipate. These are the sorts of unexpected events that experience teaches. Even with that experience, though, it’s difficult to see past nostalgia’s sleight of hand and recognize reality. Decisions made are decisions made, and a part of one’s life that is lived has been lived.
We can’t move backward. We can only move forward.
Another part of our vacation centered around giving my parents time with the grandkids. They see them far less often now than I would prefer, and I joke that I risk ex-communication if we don’t resolve this somehow, so we spent several days there.
Because our married life has been what it has been, and because we’ve moved as much as we have, I still have things in storage with my parents. For the last few years, with each visit, we intentionally cull through some of these things, and either return with some or throw some out. Often these center around old collectibles that actually aren’t so collectible any more, and other times this event turns into a deeper, and more reflective, trip in the way back machine.
This year, we delved into some memories from my undergrad days. I, like many people of my age, didn’t stay on a single track of study in college. I began my career at my alma-mater as a theatre and communications double-major. I didn’t finish that way, though. I dropped the theatre major with only 6 credit hours left, and, to this day, I’m not sure why.
At the time, I would have claimed burnout, but that’s overly simplistic. Ultimately, I left theatre, but later came running back. The degree remains unfinished, though, a road not taken (I graduated with the communications degree, instead).
On our vacation cleanout this summer, we discovered the drafting tools that I used for scene design. Opening the case was like opening a time capsule: the drafting board, the T-square, the templates for lighting instruments and furniture items…even the compasses and measuring tools. Now, to date myself a bit, I haven’t done any scene design in a long time, but I doubt seriously that designers still break out an architect’s scale to do their work. These tools, though, captured that moment in my life, the moment that I had changed academic pursuits. I returned to theatre as a director and actor, not a designer, and so I hadn’t touched those tools since that semester, over twenty years ago. There have been very few moments in my life of genuine regret, choices that I would make differently had I the opportunity to do so. That academic change, however, is one of them.
While visiting my parents, I fell into an easy routine of the day-to-day. I was up early (I was never a morning person, but it sort of comes with parenthood), and got used to seeing a large truck leaving from across the street, carrying its driver to work every morning. The kids loved my mother’s garden (which goes on seemingly forever), and I was washed over by nostalgic recollections of parts of that back yard during my childhood, which served in my imagination as the interior of my TARDIS, and part of the grounds of the X-Mansion. I remember the unbroken white expanse of that lawn under a fresh snow. Randomly, I remembered a photo of myself in high school, right before graduation, sitting on the living room sofa and opening cards or some such. I was taken with a profound desire to re-live some of those moments.
We can’t move backward, though. We can only move forward.
As our vacation drew to a close, and we were beginning our trip back, we drove past a church in my parent’s town that had one of those garish digital signs out front. The sign read, “Don’t let yesterday take over today.” Were there a meaning to this vacation as I’ve unpacked it over the last few weeks, it’s that. I cannot go backward. That part of my life has been lived, and, I think, lived well. We can only move forward, and I hope…I pray…that, as we do, we provide that incredible foundation to our own children.