Monday, December 31, 2012

A year of first, lasts and in-betweens

Another year has come and gone. Another calendar has filled itself up with birthday parties, toddler scribbling, doctor appointments, play dates and anniversary reminders. Another blank calendar sits on the corner of my desk, the empty spaces waiting for my pen markings. Exclamation marks signify a night away on the central coast with my love to celebrate the marriage of a very dear family friend. A balloon sticker marks the first birthday of my youngest daughter. A heart marks the third anniversary of a beloved cousin lost, while another heart circling the eighth of April marks my eighth wedding anniversary.


This year held lots of firsts and lasts for us. The first time we sold a house. The last time we walked the hallway of our little home on Bessemer Street. The first time I kissed Lily, moments after her birth. The last night we spent as a family of three, with Daisy wedged between us. The first day of work, teaching a new class, days after I signed the HR paperwork. The last time I patted my parents’ dog, Annie. The first time I left the girls with a non-relative babysitter, my first time as a marathon spectator. The last time I drove my blue CR-V, the last time I changed Daisy’s diaper. Lily’s first Christmas. 


I find myself remembering these moments, and I cannot help but think that 2012 was, for us, a year of transitions. A year of redefining our goals, a year of reprioritizing, a year of being intentional: in all that we do. I look forward to the New Year, starting out with waking up next to my love, our girls showering us with morning kisses, and knowing that whatever 2013 throws our way our family will tackle the first, lasts and in-betweens together.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On feeling hope

We were in the car, driving home, listening to NPR. A news reporter came on air, interrupting the typical programming, reporting on the horrific shooting in Newtown, Conn.

As I listened to the story, my eyes threatening with tears, I thought of the parents who lost their children today, not just their children, but the promise of a future: the loss of their unknown grandbabies, the loss of their happiness, and the loss of their comfort. I thought of how one man, one boy really, took away a piece of their life that they can never fully recover from.

I turned off the news cycle, unable to listen, feeling sick to my stomach. Instead, I found myself reciting the poem, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

I heard the bells on Christmas day / Their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet the words repeat / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,  / The belfries of Christendom. Had rolled along th’unbroken song / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way. / The world revolved from night to day / A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth / The cannon thundered in the South,  / And with the sound / The carols drowned / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent / The hearth-stones of a continent, / And made forlorn / The households born / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head: / There is no peace on earth’ I said‘ / For hate is strong, and mocks the song / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:  / God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; / The wrong shall fail, the right prevail. / With peace on earth, good-will to men.’

I wish my daughters were inheriting a world where such deep hurt did not exist. I wish I could protect them forever from knowing loss, from knowing pain, from knowing that the world can be an unsafe place. The poem above speaks of despair, hopelessness over the state of humanity, but ultimately it speaks of hope. The bells sweet sound swell over the roar of the cannons and sanguinity is restored. The poem insists that God still influences the world, touches humanity, and the joyous Christmas bells proclaim God’s presence. The ringing bells unite the world in joy.

As we pull into the garage Daisy asks to make a Christmas project, while I hear Lily waking up from a short-lived nap, ready to nurse. I gather the girls into my arms, asking for kisses and hugs, them both freely dolling them out, I commit this moment, these hugs and slobbery kisses, to memory.

The words of Longfellow’s poem still ring in my heart as I set up the painting supplies for Daisy, put on Pandora, and get us set up for lunch. “I heard the bells on Christmas Day” reminds me of the enduring concept that despite tragedy, loss and warfare, there is within most of us the hope and wish for “peace on earth, good-will to men.”

And this is the real message of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On Turkeys, Marathons & Cleaning Sprees

How has the start of your holiday season been? Mine has been pretty nice, a bit chaotic, and has involved lots of sleepless nights, the eternal optimism in me thinks it has been mostly nice because it  has involved lots of cookies, online shopping and listening to Christmas music.

As for Thanksgiving, our little household hosted the big feast for all eleven our immediate family members. Both sets of grandparents, brothers and a girlfriend were all in attendance. On Wednesday night, right after I burned a boiling pot of peeled potatoes, the thought I kept having was this: you know that crack I was apparently smoking when I decided I could handle hosting Thanksgiving dinner? Get me some more of that. I’m going to need it.

But the day turned out fine, of course; better than fine, perhaps. We moved the table from the nook to take over the family area and gathered every chair I could find, and used a few of Daisy’s art projects and collected a couple pinecones as my tablescapes (and for the record, I had no idea what a tablescape was before the invention of Pinterest), and turned the lights down low so no-one could see the dog hair on the futon and the crumbs on the floor. I brought out my wedding china and mismatched some other sets of plates – and got everyone nice and liquored up before I told J it was time to carve the turkey. We feasted and laughed, told embarrassing stories, and drank plenty of wine.

Friday of Thanksgiving weekend consisted of family pictures, a delicious sushi lunch, furniture rearranging and a double date. Family eventually left leaving behind multiple dozens of cookies and several pies. We muddled through another week of sleepless nights, due to the unending energy of a teething 10 month old, all the while distributing leftover cookies and pies to neighbors and friends (of course, this is after I spent an entire two hour naptime dunking cookies into my never-ending cup of coffee). On Friday night J and I had a Parks & Recreation marathon after the girls’ bath and bedtime, and on Saturday we drove out to Sacramento right in front of a massive thunderstorm which local news and the Doppler had been threatening all week. And on Sunday, in the pouring rain J ran his second marathon, and he officially became “a runner.” Complete with war wounds and all.

He did a fabulous job, running all 26.2 miles in the rain and the wind and chilly weather on little sleep (did I mention the teething baby?), although I was never happier to go home and take a hot shower. Cheering on a loved one in a marathon is tough work.

Of course, the next week had J walking around like he was in his mid-seventies. On Thursday night, I forced a mini-celebration at Chez Stars of sorts, to celebrate the end of J’s long training and his completion of a 2012 goal and Lily’s new tooth. We toasted and drank and then realized that this was just the first of 20 teeth to make an appearance over the next year. On Friday, I promptly went out and bought another bottle of Advil, a huge container of teething tablets, and scotch.

Of course, then I had grand plans for this past weekend: sleeping in, writing a final exam, Christmas shopping, editing essays and homemade cioppino. However, sadly the stomach flu found our household, the 24 hour bug that took me down hard on Saturday, and left me ravenous on Sunday evening with a house that looked like a hurricane had hit, leading to yesterday’s long-overdue cleaning and purging rampage – tiresome but ultimately satisfying – which means I’m now typing this from a house with bare toy baskets, squeaky clean toilets and shiny floorboards that smell pleasingly of almonds.