Sweater Hugs

It’s been cold here in New Hampshire. And by “cold,” I mean take-your-breath-away cold. In fact, if you stay outside for more than a minute, one of your vestigial—but important—parts might freeze off: ears, nose, fingers, toes…. If you’ve ever lived in a cold climate, you know just the kind of cold I am talking about. It is C-O-L-D!

The cold sneaks through the walls of the house, around the windows and doors, dancing across the floor as a draft that brings the cold inside. The furnace is struggling to keep the temperature comfortably warm, so we need to bundle up in extra layers, even around the house. Turtlenecks, sweaters, and warm socks are necessary.

* * *

Back in the days when oversized sweaters were all the rage, I might (or might not) have usurped my dad’s old red wool sweater. I have a vague recollection that he let me borrow it for something when I was a senior in high school, and he decided he wasn’t going to wear it any more anyway (something about it being too small and not really something he was likely to wear), so it became mine. Now, I’m not sure if he really thought he wouldn’t wear it, or he wanted me to have it, but over the years, I have held onto it and worn it every now and again. Each time I sort through clothes to donate, I pass by the sweater, leaving it in the cedar chest just in case I want to wear it someday.

* * *

It has been almost a year since Dad passed away. The pain of loss was renewed with the holidays and the approaching new year. As I looked to bundle up against the cold this morning, I remembered Dad’s sweater, folded and ready for wear at the bottom of the cedar chest. I took it out and put it on, knowing that it was the perfect sweater to keep me warm today. Throughout the day, I cherished both the warmth of the sweater and the feeling of being wrapped in a gentle hug.

Since the cold is going to drag on, I think I might wear Dad’s sweater again tomorrow….

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Rediscovered Treasure

This weekend, winter decided to move in. On Saturday, the temperature dropped several degrees, and the snow began to fall just before noon. And Saturday was the day I chose to sort through my Christmas ornaments to decide what I would keep and what I would give away. After all, some of the ornaments in my collection have been kicking around since I was just out of college. And even earlier.

Nowadays, I tend not to burden my tree with an overabundance of ornaments like I did when the kids were younger. Mostly because I like it simple—lights and a few sparkly ornaments to reflect the light back into the room. But there is also the fact that my teenagers are excited about decorating the tree, but not so excited about taking it down after Christmas.

So I sat on the couch and opened the large, green plastic tote, removed the first cardboard box, and began to unwrap small tissue paper balls to rediscover what was inside. Plastic animals dressed in Santa hats with wreaths, hand-painted cinnamon sticks and wooden disks picked up at a long forgotten craft fair, needlepoint plastic canvas squares… these were the items that found themselves in the ever-growing “give away” pile.

As I sorted, I came upon a yellowed box that said, “Mom’s dwarfs” in the handwriting of … I’m not really sure … one of my aunts, maybe? And in pencil, in a similar handwriting, it said, “For Suzanne from Nana.” More recently written were a number of notes in Dad’s handwriting: instructions about being careful, about the fact that there were extra parts wrapped up by themselves, about the things that Dad would typically warn me about as he removed these very fragile items from their carefully crafted tissue paper cocoons.

And now, I pulled one out of the box and placed it in my lap. I unrolled the tissue, getting closer and closer to the treasure it held. The weight of the ornament was less than one might expect, making it easy to fumble or accidentally drop it. But it was cradled securely in my lap. Finally, I was rewarded for my care when I spied the first glint of pointy shoes, a leg, and then a jolly face, its paint cracked and peeling from years of use.

My breath caught in my throat as I could feel Dad’s large hand carefully placing the “dwarf” ornament in my own then small hand. Each year, without fail, before he let go, he would ask, “Got it?” double-checking that this delicate figure was secure and would not fall to the floor where it might meet its demise.

The fact that these old ornaments had seen better days did not make them any less precious. The memories they evoked were worth the extra care needed. Of course, now that I have carefully unwrapped these very fragile ornaments on my own, I believe they are less fragile than all the past fuss would indicate. No matter. I still took great care as I hung them on the branches of my tree.

My one question that will never be answered: why, with elves all around at this time of year, did these ornaments end up being labeled “dwarves” rather than “elves” that might be more fitting for the Christmas season? I suppose I’ll never know. I will be left to devise my own theory.

 

 

Snippets of Life

Memories of my life are filed away like index cards carefully placed in drawers, an ancient and ever-expanding card catalog of snippets of life. I can open the drawers, flip through the memories, and see the things that have brought me to this place—this point in time.

Different drawers contain different sets of memories. The good memories fill several drawers, and I can flip through them quickly, as if spinning a Rolodex, or slowly like I am engrossed in detailed research. When I look in one drawer, I can see my children toddling down the hall. There are first words, first steps, first days of school. I pause for a moment on an afternoon spent running around the front lawn, desperately trying to catch leaves tossed and blown on the wind. The giggles are as vivid in memory’s ear as they were that day.

If I work really hard, I can go back to memories of my own childhood: picnics on an old wooden bridge, dressing up for church on Sundays, holidays, and the occasion or two when I walked home from school in the middle of the day for lunch. There are memories of lessons learned, family time, and brief vacations thrown in here and there for good measure.

Silliness weaves through most of the drawers, knit into the fabric of my very being. Here and there, a memory will bring up the humor that my children often take for granted. It is an essential part of our family life.

There are memories I draw upon for inspiration. Times I was the definite underdog, but I persevered and met with success. Times I was on the receiving end of Mercy and Grace. Times when love and laughter were on my side as I worked through a challenge.

The not-so-positive memories are in a drawer of their own, lest I accidentally stumble upon them while I am surfing my pleasant memories. I don’t open that drawer much—I don’t need to. It is stiff and broken and hard to work. It doesn’t quite close all the way, and sometimes, the memories slip out, catching me when I am low, and nagging at the edges of my brain. These memories, they chastise me for… well, for everything. Not good enough. Not strong enough. Not thin enough. Not happy enough. Not. Enough.

And I work diligently to recover and move on as quickly as I can to another drawer. Because the catalog has never been a bad thing. It helps me to stay organized and grounded. And it helps me to move in a positive direction. The good memories outweigh the not-so-good memories. File away the “mistakes made” as lessons learned, and they suddenly become a necessary step in the process. Because every step and every misstep, every turn and every detour, every moment lived through every age is a tiny building block in the process of creating my life. The good, the bad, the happy, the sad, every card in my catalog… these are all lessons learned.

Blink

Over the years, we have hit milestones with the regularity of the thump of a flat tire. Thump… thump… thump…. At first, it’s kind of reassuring to know that your child is hitting all the important milestones. But recently, it seems the car is speeding up and the milestones thump by faster and faster—at an alarming rate of speed, really. And this week, my daughter completed—and submitted—her first college application. Breathe.

These monumental occasions always give me pause and compel me to take a quick (or leisurely) inventory of the years that have come and gone. This most recent milestone hints at the small amount of time I have before she is off and testing her wings.

The early years of single parenthood are still vividly etched in my memory. I spent the days looking in the rearview mirror, counting heads in the backseat of the car. As the one parent of three very small children—all under five—I was always afraid that in my sleep-deprived state, I would leave one behind. Maybe one slipped by me somehow, and was still hiding in a store in the mall. Perhaps someone went to use the potty and was in the bathroom finishing up, or worse, didn’t get in the car and was standing in the driveway in a puddle of tears wondering why I left without him/her. In those early years, that fear never fully dissipated.

I blinked and we were in a new house in a new neighborhood with new friends and a new school. Little hands reached for mine with regularity. A hand to hold; a hand to help; a hand to lead the way. Those were days of constant attention and discovery and learning. There were toys and games and books and building and dancing and crafts. LOTS of crafts.

And then I blinked.

And the day came when they were all in school, mornings first and then full days. The school bus rumbled up the hill in the morning and swallowed them up. I would watch as the bus drove off up the road and out of sight before I ran home to switch to “adult” mode and be on my way to work. In the early days, I was home from work for 3:15, always needing to beat the bus to meet the kids so they were supervised and transported to the activity of the day. Always rushing so I wouldn’t be late.

Until I blinked.

The kids were able to ride the bus to their activities. My work hours increased, and an after school sitter took on some of my role. Extra keys were made and cell phones purchased and the kids further shaped their identities as they took their first tentative steps toward independence.

I blinked again, and now they are nearly through high school. They will be out on their own soon, with jobs and lives that take them all in different directions. That doesn’t mean my job is done. A mother’s work is never done, is it?

Just don’t blink.

Simple Things

This week, it happened again….

One morning, early in the week, I was finishing up lunches and water bottles, preparing to send my kids out the door for their day at school. I usually add a few pieces of fruit to my water and my daughter’s, so we will have a hint of flavor as we stay hydrated throughout the day. I find if I put it in the bottom of the bottle before I add the ice, it stays out of the way.

Right now in New England, we are moving past our summer fruits. The berries and soft orchard fruits—like peaches—are not as readily available. Pineapple, various melons, and citrus fruits will become our go-to choices for the winter. On this particular morning, it was a few leftover strawberries combined with orange slices—a pretty tasty combination.

The minute I made the first cut into the orange peel, the zest sprayed out, filling the kitchen with its strong, distinct scent. This scent is one that speaks unmistakably of winter and holidays to me. On this morning, the smell brought me instantly to thoughts of Dad—the neatest orange peeler ever—and my childhood home; every year, just before the holidays, my parents buy oranges from a local high school citrus sale.

And suddenly, I began to wonder who might help Mom with the sorting and moving of her oranges this year—the boxes are bulky and heavy. And the grief came flooding in like a tsunami.

From that one simple act of cutting an orange, the week continued with moments of grief both intense and ephemeral. And on Friday, I walked out the door of my office building on a hazy, humid, and partly sunny day to a rainbow in the sky directly in front of me. It hadn’t rained, and the sun was struggling to shine brightly through the haze. And yet, there it was, a beautiful swath through the sky.

This grief thing… it can be a thorny path. But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that grief is not something to be overcome. Maybe, tucked in among the thorns, we find the beauty of the roses.

{Photo of oranges by Mateus Bassan on Unsplash}

Positivity Post: Useless Gems from the Past

Recently, I have taken on the job of sorting through stuff. The stuff in question consists of items that were hidden in long forgotten boxes stashed in the attic of my childhood home—old family photographs, school papers, letters, greeting cards, books, newspaper clippings… you name it. Every now and then, in amongst the useless stuff, I encounter a rare—albeit worthless—gem, and sometimes, I feel the need to share it before I throw it out.

Being a woman of a certain (non-youthful) age, I was immediately intrigued when I came across a 1941 booklet entitled “The new way to a Youthful Figure.” I am most likely the exact target demographic of this publication, though two generations out. In fact, I have finally hit the point where I can put on a pound or two just looking at ice cream, which does not thrill me. So I opened the booklet to see what the 1941 trending logic was to maintain—or regain—a youthful figure.

What I discovered is that the dieting information of yesteryear is pretty much the same information as today. There is information on alkaline versus acid: “If you would feel at your best, be quick on the trigger, physically and mentally, you should let the alkaline-forming foods be slightly in excess of the acid-forming ones.”

There is a 3-day cleanse to begin. And we are assured, “By Monday morning your system will be thoroughly cleansed. You will be so hungry that the reducing menu will taste delicious.” Ah, now that’s the ticket to a successful diet—starve yourself first so you are happy to have anything edible! Your stomach will be happy, but your brain might be foggy.

In the back of the booklet, there are menus to help limit calories each day, and there is a lengthy list of 100-calorie portions. Pretty typical. “The reducing menus, pages 15-19, provide all the nourishment your body requires. Moreover, if carefully prepared, appetizingly served, they are not only satisfying but delicious. If you follow them carefully, with absolute honesty even for a few weeks, you may look in your mirror some morning and cry, ‘Eureka! I have a waistline! And behold this faint blush of rose in my cheeks! It’s amazing how fit and lively I feel!’” I don’t know about you, but the day I talk to myself in the mirror this way is the day I might need to be moved to a safe location.

Should you feel the need to read this booklet, I would be happy to scan it and send it to you. Heck, I’ll just send it to you, so you can have the original! And I will go back to sorting my stuff. I’ll be sure to share any more gems I find.

Meanwhile, I am caught between advising readers to sort through and dispose of their own clutter so that others won’t have to do it and advising readers to save a few completely useless items just to give future generations a laugh or two.

When Aliens Move In

I was having a conversation with my neighbor recently, and midway through our discussion, she said, “Was your son home the other day? I said ‘hi’ to him, but then I wasn’t quite sure it was really him. I thought it was, but he’s changed so much….” Her voice trailed off.

I get it. We have lived in our neighborhood for the past 13+ years, and the kids were very, very little when we moved in. Now, they are hovering on adulthood, driving, working. They have grown from knee-high to taller than Mama. Their schedules are busy, and they don’t cross paths with the neighbors as much as they used to. So it doesn’t surprise me that recognizing them might be a challenge.

There is this subtle change that all kids experience on their journey from childhood to adulthood. But then there is the not-so-subtle change when they are suddenly much more adult than they were yesterday; one day—quite suddenly—they almost seem to be different people altogether.

It usually happens after a feeding-frenzy when they have somehow managed to consume every edible morsel in the house. They go to bed and the next day, or the next week, they wake up, come into the kitchen for breakfast, and you think, Is that really my child at the table? As you look at said child, you notice that the face is more angular; the shoulders are a bit broader; the voice is deeper and the vocabulary is more mature; moods and attitudes vary from moment to moment; and wait… my child would never have worn those clothes yesterday. Where did he even get that outfit? You rack your brain trying to remember if you purchased that shirt, or from whom he might have borrowed it.

As you begin to get used to this taller, louder, hungrier being that now inhabits your home, you simultaneously start to wonder what happened to your child. Where is the child who—just yesterday—was climbing trees and catching frogs? Where is the child who cuddled up next to you while you read bedtime stories? Where is the little one would get up from a Lego-building session and come into the kitchen for a hug?

In fact, I will admit that last summer, I dropped my son at camp, as I had every year for several years. A week later, when I went to pick him up, I could not find him in amongst the crowd of boys all dressed alike. I even spotted him at one point, only to continue scanning the crowd because that kid just didn’t look like my kid. Seriously. My own kid.

And then there was the day over the last year when I called home on my commute from work. A man answered the phone and my heartbeat quickened. WHO IS THIS?? I almost screamed, but then I heard a lilt that I recognized in the strange male voice. Oh, wait…. Perhaps this is the new voice of my kid…?

It’s been a process, but I’m beginning to get used to the new kids who share my house with me. Because with these new kids come some unexpected adventures and new idiosyncrasies. These new kids help each other, they work together, they brainstorm solutions to their own problems, they have goals and dreams, and through their daily experiences, they are developing the grit to reach the goals they set for themselves.

And every now and then, I know they are the same children who have always lived here. When I am really lucky, one of them will come into the kitchen and surprise me with a spontaneous hug.