Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ending an Era With Gratitude

Tree of Life afghan, knit with HoneyBee yarn for Baby Wonderful
I've always been noticeably behind my peers in life stages, if you judge those stages by nursery rhymes 

"First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes (insert name here) with a baby carriage!"

With the notable exception of Jimmy Caraway (true name), who slipped an enormous and elaborate valentine into my desk in third grade and had me counting the years until I could marry him, I was always behind the romantic curve. For as long as I could remember marriage and a family were the only things I truly yearned for in life but I didn't date in high school, or in college, or during my first professional job. By the time I'd finished my Peace Corps years unattached I was convinced that I had been the left-over button when God was matching up the buttons and buttonholes of humanity. I was still single with no prospects at age 28.

"Fine!" I finally told the Creator, half acceptance and half defiance. "I'll be the best single person ever. I'll travel, and I'll be the crazy aunt, and I'll take all the classes at the Free University." 

Within weeks of this surrender I met Husband, and directly in my ear heard God laughing. 

Once the nursery rhyme wheels creaked into motion, the love to marriage to baby carriage sequence was fast and joyful. And it turned out I had been right all along: Marriage and family were what my heart knew I needed. Boy#4 was born when Boy#1 was five years old. 

It was during those first sleep-deprived days of motherhood that my own wise mother gave me the best parenting advice I would ever hear. 

"Don't wish away any stage," she told me. "Ever stage has its own delights--you can miss a lot of sweet moments if you're only waiting for them to sleep through the night or walk or whatever you're waiting for."

I have thought of that hundreds, thousands of times over the past 34 years. While I was deliriously tired, I learned to cherish the middle-of-the-night stillness of a nursing baby. I consciously reminded myself that a toddler throwing a tantrum would in a few hours be hugging me straight into his neck. Even when our own Boys followed their parents' example and did not marry young, I consciously appreciated the opportunities that can come to young adults who do not have mortgages.

And while I've been waiting longingly for grandchildren, I've been loving so, so much this stage when the Boys are grown up and finding their Lovely Girls. The Christmas mornings that are unhurried and unscheduled. The solicitude of adult offspring for their parents, and their willingness (nay, eagerness) to drive and navigate. The never carrying luggage because my sons watch out for my wonky shoulder. The late nights listening to them playing board games that are way beyond my comprehension. 

I have not wished this era away, in spite of my delight in looking forward to the next stage of our family's history. 

As I prepare to enter the world of being GrandmaQueenBee, I'm grateful we've had a few years when we've had Lovely Girls in our lives but not yet Babies Wonderful. Even as I knit myself into a carpal-tunneled frenzy of baby blankets and booties, I'm remembering those years with joy and gratitude.

I have loved this stage, and I will love the next one.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Big News You've Been Waiting For

Or maybe it's just the Big News I have been waiting to share with you?

Yes! The lineage of the House on the Corner will be expanding by one generation in the next few weeks--Boy#1 and Lovely Girl#1 are in the final stages of preparation for Grandbaby#1. And in a month or so, that means I'll be GrandmaQueenBee.

I have been waiting for this moment more or less (mostly less) patiently ever since my Much Older Sister began having grandchildren and rhapsodizing about the indescribable wonder of this stage of life. The baby hugs! The tiny sweaters! The handing them back to the parents when they begin to cry!

And because I have always wanted every wonderful thing MOS has had, that means I have been tapping my toe impatiently as I waited to catch up with her for FOURTEEN YEARS, never mind that my own children didn't start marrying until five years or so ago. I'm embarrassed to say that as soon as Boy#1 let us know he and his freshman orientation leader were more than casual friends, I loudly proclaimed my readiness for grandchildren. And I'm even more embarrassed to say that I did that more than once. Or twice, or several times. Finally Boy#2 pulled me aside. "Mom," he told me, "you've got to cool it on the grandkids thing. You're freaking One out."


Last weekend Husband and I crossed state lines to (me) oooh and aaaah at the adorable baby paraphernalia LG's friends lovingly provided at a shower, and (Husband) hang out with One and reassure him on the daddy-ing gig.

It's not as if they needed much advice, though. So far our children are making good parenting choices. They didn't spread the news of the impending blessed event too early, making the pregnancy seem shorter for everyone else. In fact, Baby Wonderful was almost halfway to delivery date (17 weeks) when they told the prospective grandparents, and even closer (21 weeks) when the embargo on sharing the news was lifted. They also have decided to be surprised on the baby's sex, a decision I wholeheartedly endorse. Not only is it fun to speculate (I'm guessing girl; the parents are guessing boy), it also avoids the necessity of a gender reveal party, which is second only to preschool graduation mortarboards in my list of Newfangled Things That I Do Not Like.

After the shower Husband and I helped stow the piles of diapers and pound nails for some nursery decor. We marveled at the kinds of gadgets now available to make life easier for the caretakers of tiny ones who can't blow their own noses, and agreed that while those gadgets may be marvelous the thought of physically sucking the blockage out of those tiny nostrils seems pretty gross. We talked about watching YouTube videos on swaddling techniques, something that apparently had fallen into disuse between the first Christmas until after our Boys were born but has come roaring back in the past few years.

And as I cheated and read the baby's books before I put them on the shelf, it struck me that the next time I see the room in today's beauty shot there will be a tiny child in that crib. Oh, the places he'll go and the things that she'll do.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

As I Was Saying....

It has been, by my calculations, one month and two days since I have shown up in this space. I have had no fewer than six persons ask me if I was giving up blogging forever and I have hung my head in shame, because that had not been my intention AT ALL.

I love this space. I love sharing the big things and the big-big things of my life with the internet, but I also love sharing the smaller things that are sometimes bigger than the big things because they are the umami that can be missed among life's sweet and salty. (My wonderful English teacher, Mrs. Lukens, would be horrified at that sentence, but I hope you understand what I'm saying.)

So why would I lead off this post with a photo of an airport luggage cart piled with a duct-taped Rubbermaid tote alongside my stuffed carry-on bag?

That photo, dear ones, is a parable.

I spent last week in Colorado with three of my oldest friends. We have been running around together (yes, that's what we call it) since middle school, which was (she said, horrified) more than half a century ago.  This is a group that didn't see each other much for a couple of decades in the middle of that span--life, you know--but we always kept in touch. And at the end of that intensive stretch of pregnancies and careers, the most far-flung of the group insisted we physically meet.

It was So. Much. Fun.

We talked and talked and talked and then ate and then talked some more. We know each other so well that every conversation was rich and deep, except when it was silly and shallow. We left vowing to meet again every year, and mostly we have done that.

Our last get-away, though was almost two years ago. Somehow time passed and in spite of our determination to prioritize our friendship there was just a lot standing in the way. Job changes. Moves. Aging parent issues. Life.

But the most amazing thing about getting together with old friends is that when you do get together, it feels as if you haven't been away at all. The hours of conversation start with "As I was just saying..." from the moment you step off the plane.

This time the conversations may have been richer, deeper than ever. We're aging, and people usually don't talk much about that when they're going through the process, but we did.

No topic was off limits. We discussed cremation vs. burial, and our fears about today's political realities, and an astounding number of words was expended on the new realities of the post-menopausal female body that NO ONE HAD TOLD US ABOUT.

Then when I bought an item at an antique store that was too big to get into my carry-on, one of my friends (who lives just outside Anchorage) informed me that duct-taped Rubbermaid tubs are also known as "Alaskan luggage," and that she flies with them all the time. It was so helpful to know that, and I wouldn't have known it without her experience.

So the explanation of this parable is this: I may have been absent from this space for a while but there are so many things happening in my life. Good things! Wonderful things! And some that aren't so great (errant facial hair, ladies, amiright?) but might make you realize you're not alone in this struggle. So I plan to be around, and I hope you'll come back, too.

As I was saying....

Monday, January 6, 2020

Holiday Recap (and Happy Birthday, Boy#3!)

So, MomQueenBee, how was your Christmas? Your New Year's celebration? The transition into an entirely new decade?

Well, dear reader, I will give you this illustration that sums up it up tidily: When I weighed in after a full month of ignoring the bathroom scales, the Weight Watchers app asked me delicately "Are you SURE this is the weight you want to record?" Well, no, but that doesn't mean that the scale was inaccurate.

So the answer to the question asked in the first paragraph would be "Delicious!" And, if today's beauty shot of sparkling juice bottles is any indication, overindulgent.

I have no regrets, even if I winced when WW pointed out that I had apparently Eaten All The Things. That's because for the first time in multiple years, all of our best beloveds were together in the House on the Corner. Oh, we've been together fairly often during that time--we've had weddings and vacations and meet-ups in other locations, but having all four Boys and the two Lovely Girls under the same roof? It just doesn't happen in this era when their homes cover four states. When Lovely Girl #2 pointed out that she had never seen the Taj Majohn I was flabbergasted.

Since the Boys have been  out on their own we've celebrated Christmas when we could all be together, not necessarily on Dec. 25. That meant the wild rumpus did not start until Dec. 28, but it continued a blissful week until everyone was back home on Jan. 3.

This means the celebration covered the birthday of Boy#3. He was born on Jan. 2, which is hands-down the worst day to have a birthday. On the day after New Year's Day everyone is over-partied and tired of celebration, itching to start the next diet and ready for a nap. And of course, the entire family is rarely around because businesses are usually back to regular hours on Jan. 2.

The last time we were together to celebrate Three's birthday, in fact, was 10 years ago--four hours after my mother's funeral. Yup, worst day ever to have a birthday.

But the best way to have a birthday is when all of your brothers are around. Look at this face:

This shot was snapped by Lovely Girl #2. We'd just eaten carrot cake with soft-serve ice cream, and as Three worked through his pile of presents he got to  a long, slender box at the bottom of the pile. It was from Boy#2 and LG#2, and harkened back Two and Three watching this video together:


If you have an inordinate number  of boys in  your family, you will know that this moment was inevitable: A saber* and a grocery sack filled with bottles of sparkling cider and grape juice, plus an entire family shivering on  the lawn  at 11:45 p.m.

There was plenty of loud advice ("Swing through it like a golf swing!" "Get your fingers out of the way!" "Don't back off!") with a common muttered undertone ("This will never work.").

And how did it go? LG#2 made a gif of the results.

Oh. My. Gosh.

I'm pretty sure neighbors in a four-block radius heard our shrieks of delight and surprise. One smooth slash and the "cork" broke off cleanly and smoothly, shooting 30 feet into the street. No one was more delighted or surprised than Three. (Look at that face!)

Then, because boys, everyone had to try. It took only seven slashes (whacks?) to take the tops off of all six bottles, and whether that was because this is actually a fairly easy and reliable process or because there is a recessive Cossack gene somewhere in the family heritage, I don't know.

All I know is that I am claiming this as my metaphor for 2020. We're going into it with more than  the customary New Year apprehension, and we don't really know what's in store for our world. We will shout encouragement and mutter apprehension, and then we will follow through the best we know how.  Whatever happens, we will find surprise and delight because we are family.

It will be delicious.

*Full disclosure: This fearsome-looking weapon actually was made for this use, and has two dull edges. Crocodile Dundee would be unimpressed. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

If This Is December, It Must Be...What?

So many tulle tutus, ready for Cinderella's entrance.

A few weeks ago Husband and I were going over my calendar, which has been increasingly unpredictable since I joined the full-time gig economy.

"You're on your own for meals on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I have rehearsals in the morning on Friday, but nothing after 3:00," I was telling him when he looked up at me.

"Is this the way your life is going to be from now on?" he said.


No, this isn't the way my life is going to be, and certainly this was not the way I had expected retirement to unfold. Apparently not having a salaried full-time job means I am like a kid with an all-rides pass at the carnival: I will run from the Ferris wheel to the Tilt-a-Whirl to  the swings to the big slides to everything else until I either throw up or pass out from exhaustion. But they're so much fun! And everything is out there waiting for me!

There are the things I had intended to write about in the past months since I left you on that Costa Rican suspension bridge: The rest of Costa Rica, including my lovely visit with a dear Peace Corps friend (Hola, Sharon!), the food (because I ate fried plantains every single time I had the chance and I do not regret that one bit), the places we stayed (one of which was the embodiment of my fantasy dream home). Also, having my 65th birthday which is all sorts of weird to even write when I feel 46 inside. Also, the Best Day of the Year. Also several other topics.

So many things I wanted to inflict on share with you, but friends, apparently there are just too many fun rides to ride.

There was, for example, the Accompany a Small-Town High School Musical ride, during  which I fell in love with the music of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown all over again. Oh, my gosh! So much fun. None of the cast had ever heard of Charlie Brown before they were cast in the play so I felt as if I should have been riding in to rehearsals in a covered wagon based on the antiquity of my personal knowledge.

And  there was the musical presented in my regular job, for which I sewed 47 (count 'em) tulle tutus for the ballroom scene of Cinderella.  My lack of finesse  as a seamstress would make my mother cringe but for costumes that are seen from a distance of at least 40 feet (stage to closest dancer) and are only in the production for four minutes, I'm the perfect choice.

And there are the 22 dozen dinner rolls and the pies I baked for the Best Day of the Year, because I do love to bake but don't have much reason to do it now that Husband and I are in the You'd Better Clean Up Your Eating Habits stage of life.

There are the Christmas stockings and special projects I'm knitting while I watch the new seasons of Hercule Poirot that have been added to Amazon's Prime library.

So many good rides, so little time. So much reluctance to ditch any of them, but so needing to do so.

Such a good life.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Costa Rica 2019: What We Did (Zip!)

The path to the zipline included a suspension bridge
There is a common denominator in the two trips during which Husband and I were in the company of our offspring on our trips to Costa Rica: In both instances the tipping point of deciding on this destination was the availability of ziplines.

In 2001, when the Boys were 15-, 13-, 11-, 9-year-olds, they did not want to go to my second favorite place on earth. Not at all, not for any reason. They didn't speak the language, they didn't know what kind of food to expect, they would be missing a big chunk of summer vacation time, and (because this blog is all about Truth) they had spent 15/13/11/9 years listening to their mother talk about the enormous cockroaches and dusty bus rides of her Peace Corps years.

So, actually, kind of my own fault. But it would be fun! And they would see where I had lived! (And if that isn't the way to get a kid to enthusiastically jump on the vacation destination bandwagon, I don't know what is.)  Still they sulked.

Finally, as a good parent does, I resorted to bribery.

"We'll be able to go ziplining!"

These words were the bibbity-bobbity-boo of my sons' age group. Suddenly we had a group of more-or-less enthusiastic travelers and the resulting zipline experience remains in my top family memory bank.

Ziplining, for those who have never had this experience, is the closest thing I can imagine to flying. Steel cables are strung between landing points throughout the mountain, and with some kind of metal do-hickey clipped between that line and an industrial-strength harness that manages to harass all of the personal and private areas of the body, even an unathletic land slug such as myself is able to fly over waterfalls and peer down on volcanoes. It just takes the confidence in the equipment to sit down into thin air, and the rest is all wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

It is, as we kids say, awesome.

Lovely Girl#2 had zipped in Hawaii during years past, and I'm pretty sure the prospect of returning to the lines was the reason she agreed to celebrate the first anniversary of membership in our family in Costa Rica. (Doesn't everyone take their in-laws on a romantic get-away?) I have imagined that conversation several times:

Boy#2: Hey, how about we take my folks along on our anniversary trip? And maybe a brother?


Boy#2: We can zipline!

LG#2: Out of my way--I'm packing the sunscreen!

The 2019 Day of the Zip dawned sunny, which is a lovely gift during Costa Rica's rainy season.

The company we chose promised 12 lines to zip, including one that is a kilometer long and the second longest in Costa Rica. (One of the lines was being repaired so we actually only zipped 11 times, but we did not complain about this. Much like being on a plane that is delayed for mechanical reasons, you do not want to the operators to say "Oh, you're inconvenienced? Then let's just take off." No, thank you. Plus they gave us lunch in the canteen in lieu of the 12th zip, so, win!)

I had talked to the company rep in advance and explained that while 80% of the party ranged in athleticism from fit to quite fit (did I mention that Boy#4 had run a half-marathon the previous weekend?) the remaining 20% (moi) could best be described as creaky. "But I can walk really well!" I oversold my fitness. The rep assured me I'd be fine--it's a short walk to the first take-off spot, she said.

So we strapped into our harnesses and blue helmets that the operators admitted would be useless if we actually fell from the zipline but promised would be dandy to protect from errant branches and in giving us all a distinctively Lego-headed vibe.

A tractor-pulled trailer took us the first leg up the mountain, but then we all piled out and began the mile-long trek to the lines.

My friends, I would never lie to you (literary exaggerations aside): This initial trek was on the upper edge of my bell curve of personal comfort. We followed a path of stone steps, several hundred of them, and the steps were not of equal height, and there was no handrail (In the mountain! Can you imagine that?) and I may have oversold my physical fitness to the firm rep because I was pretty gassed by the time we reached the first zip.

But then they hooked me onto the first line and I sat into the void. All my inner whining and outer puffing and panting were forgotten and I remembered that you cannot do this activity without grinning.

I am not a beautiful zipliner. Look at this picture of LG#2 on the line:

Gorgeous, isn't she, with her daintily crossed ankles? And watch her coming in for a landing:

She steps onto that platform with the grace and confidence of the trained dancer she is.

I would show you a picture of me in the same pose except, well, I believe this was the line in which I failed to make it to the platform and was stuck far enough out on the line that the overall-clad zipguide had to come out and rescue me by wrapping his legs around mine and hand-over-hand hauling us both to the end of the line. It was every bit as ungainly and mortifying as it sounds.

But guess what? I didn't even care, except to realize that the guide deserved a hefty tip. Look at this face:

Sweaty, slightly sunburned, wearing a truly dorky helmet that was sliding backward, and still as happy as a human being can get.

It's the magic of the zipline.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Costa Rica 2019: We Are Family

Lovely Girl #2 took this selfie of us with my Costa Rican family of the heart--Rosa-Emilia, Chena, Vital, and Jose-Antonio.

Before we start this post, a few numbers:
  • Year I swore into the Peace Corps: 1979
  • Ages of the parents in the family I lived with during this experience: 48 (the dad) and 44 (the mom)
  • Year I finished my service: 1982
  • Year I had intended to return to Costa Rica: 1983, or 1984, or maybe 1985
  • Year  I actually returned to Costa Rica: 2001
  • Change in family size in the intervening years: +1 husband, +4 sons
  • Number of times I swore I would return following the 2001 trip: Every year. I promise.
  • Number of times I actually returned following the 2001 trip: Once, a long weekend 50th birthday celebration organized by a Husband who knew how much I wanted it. 
  • Current ages of the parents in the family where I lived during my Peace Corps experience: 88 (the dad) and 84 (the mom)
Those numbers are the closest I can come to explaining the urgency I felt to get back to Costa Rica.  For years I've put my second heart home on the table as a possible vacation destination, but it was never quite the right time. Time, or finances, or other priorities simply made this trip a luxury, and frankly, when four kids are growing up and getting through college and setting out on their own, luxury isn't an option. 

This year, though, the trip suddenly flipped from luxury to necessity in my heart of hearts. 

During the years I lived in Tilaran, a beautiful city in the low mountains of Guanacaste, I roomed with a family that adopted me as their big, bumbling, blonde galoot of a daughter. Chronologically I fell between Vital and Chena's two daughters, just a couple of years older than the two boys who rounded out the family. They became my family of the heart. 

 And because Chena was (like most of her contemporaries) a housewife, she became the most delightful surrogate mother in  a two-continent region. She was the one who showed me the societally-accepted ropes of being a Tica, taught  me how to brew a perfect cup of cafe chorreado, and laughed with me at the absurdities of life. She was the one who nursed me when (at age 25) I caught a horrendous case of the measles and was desperately ill, and when I managed to crash my motorcycle into a pasture and the resulting bruised (broken?) ribs kept me from being able to dress myself. She was the one who slogged through calf-deep mud with me to go to a dance in a nearby town, both of us squealing with disgust. 

I was 24, and she was the mother of grown children, so I thought of her as the most fun-loving, full-of-beans elderly person I knew (ah, the arrogance of youth). Years later I still laughed thinking of the afternoons we spent drinking coffee and discussing the neighbors' foibles. 

We've kept up through Facebook, and with occasional video chats, but this year my simmering need to be in the same room with my Tico family boiled over. 

Here's the thing about family of the heart: Whether you have been away from  them for 40 hours or 40 days or 40 years, that time compresses into a tiny, manageable thing that can be slipped into a pocket when you're together again, and it's as if you've never been apart. 

I walked onto the porch of the concrete house where I'd shared a room with Rosa-Emilia, my Tica sister, and called into the open front door. Within moments I was hugging Chena, then Vital. They are older and less healthy than they were during our hugs two decades ago. Vital, who's now 88, sleeps much of the day. At 84 Chena walks with a cane and pain in her right hand (arthritis? carpal tunnel?) has made it impossible to do the regular housework so a lovely neighbor takes care of them. 

Within minutes, though, we were laughing again, and that lovely laugh hasn't changed at all. 

We spent much of two days with the family--Chena and Vital, of course, and their daughter whose room I invaded for more than two years, and their son Jose-Antonio who lives just down the street and took us on a photographic excursion high above the city. (Another daughter splits her time between a home in the United States and trips back to Costa Rica, and the youngest son lies in the capital city.)

We reminisced, and caught up on neighbors and families, and shook our heads sadly at the state of politics in the world, and everyone laughed at the size differential between my boys and my tiny Tica mama:

They're standing on the same step
By the time Boy#2 and Lovely Girl#2 arrived to continue our vacation further inland, we had exhausted our hosts and my non-Spanish-speaking family was ready to understand more conversation than they had for the past hours. We took a final round of pictures and prepared to get on the road. Chena pulled me close, and traced a cross on my forehead with her thumb. "Dios me la bendiga," she whispered a blessing.

I waved once more to Chena, who was standing in the  door of the house, then we drove away. I only cried for a few minutes.

The Ticos have a phrase they use whenever they talk about an event in the future: Si Dios quiere. It means "If God wills it," and is almost as pervasive as "puravida." Are you going to the market today? Si Dios quiere. Will we win the soccer game? Si Dios quiere. Will the present arrive in time for Christmas? Si Dios quiere. 

Will I see this family of my heart again in this lifetime? Si Dios quiere.