This Guy

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 5.59.14 PMHe’s my firstborn, my training child.  I used to joke they should give you a practice kid first so you could make all your mistakes and then give the kid back in exchange for your actual first child.  Then your firstborn wouldn’t have to suffer the ups and downs of your parental learning curve. But despite my new-mom nerves for, say, the first twenty years of his life, Nate has turned out to be a helluva guy—an amazing person, and someone from whom I’ve learned so much.

Nate’s birth was a pitched battle.  He was born exactly a week after his due date, August 2, 1992, 26 years ago today. He must’ve liked the accommodations in utero because he was in no particular hurry to leave.  Being 32 years old and invincible, I was determined to have a natural delivery, which meant powering through about 32 hours of labor and delivery armed only with breathing exercises and tennis balls for back pain.  The 1992 Olympics were on TV when we first got to the hospital, Jacki Joyner-Kersee had just won gold in the heptathlon for the second consecutive Olympics.  Sometime around midnight, I decided that my goal of natural delivery was unnecessarily ambitious, but things had progressed too far at that point for an epidural, so onwards.  At one point, the midwife had to reach inside and rearrange my cervix because the baby was entering the birth canal somewhat askew.  I thought, “just kill me now.”  I believe it was about 2:15 a.m. when I told the midwives they should immediately wheel me down the hall and give me a C-section because I was done with this process.  Nate, showing early the great persistence which is one of his hallmark qualities, has never been one to take the easy path – the midwives informed me we were “too close” for surgery, so we soldiered on together, he and I, me thinking I was pushing really hard, John coaching me to  relax (???)  or some other well-intended but useless advice.  A student nurse tiptoed in.  The midwife asked whether I minded if the girl observed as I flailed ineffectively at this whole birth thing. I was speechless, so the trainee stayed.  Finally, at about 2:45, with the baby’s heartrate showing signs of distress, the midwife leaned into my face like a marine drill sergeant and said “Okay, Holly, enough of this ditzing around.  I want you to push like your life depends on it.”  And at 3:07 a.m. on a dark, cool August morning, Nate emerged into the world, quiet, and peeing.  A nurse out at the maternity ward desk rang a little bell in the still morning to herald his arrival.

Nate was a lot to keep up with, for new parents.  He was headstrong and fearless: climbing to the uppermost branches of the hemlocks at age four; skiing off ledges into the abyss below with abandon all his life, terrifying his sisters when he drove them too fast to summer camp.  I cannot recall a time I’ve seen Nate back down from a challenge.  He may feel intimidated inside, but he goes for it, even when he shouldn’t, like that time he biked to the Cape when he had mono.  Or when he partied with a group of homeless people in Vermont because he was interviewing them for a college journalism class, a privileged Ivy Leaguer entering their milieu with a frisson of fear, but led on by a compulsion to understand.

Nate has always been astonishingly bright. His school years left a number of teachers  scratching their heads in an effort to challenge him, or contain him, or both. In our recent house-cleaning frenzy, I came across a high school essay of his—a snarky, darkly comic piece about being a competitive Mr. Potatohead assembler that he’d written to the prompt “write a mock college essay.”  Clearly, he took the word “mock” seriously. It was beautifully written and decidedly sarcastic. The teacher’s note at the end of the paper read, “I just don’t know what to say.”  I laughed out loud at her comment; being his mom, I often felt that way, a mixture of amusement, amazement, awe, affection and irritation.  He regularly astonishes his dad and me with his encyclopedic knowledge about everything, from catalytic converters to foreign politics to 90’s rap music. I don’t know if I have ever known someone with a deeper drive of innate curiosity, one who hungers more to learn. And he’s a born Devil’s advocate, loving nothing more than a good debate.  (Well, except maybe Annie.  And their cats.  And his family.  And rowing.)   He’ll argue one side flawlessly then flip to the opposing viewpoint, just to better understand.  And also, I expect, to get under your skin.  Just a little bit. Or sometimes a lot.

As he’s entered manhood, the perseverance and iconoclasm that drove parents and grandparents, teachers, coaches and carpool drivers crazy when he was younger have become assets for him. He’s grown into them.  He’s acquired an easy way with people, humorous and interested.  What I once thought was orneriness, I now see more clearly as profound sensitivity.  He CARES.

So do I, buckaroo.  Thanks for teaching me how to be a mom, for the great adventure of watching you unfold into your adult self, for being smart, and making me laugh and eating whatever I cooked with such enthusiasm.  Knowing you and watching you grow has brought me so much happiness.  Don’t ever blend in!  Love you heaps and hope you have a great birthday.

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Gratitude #30

Full Day

40744AA2-3A60-49B3-986C-BDEB75A82959Sometimes, there’s just too much living to do, and writing falls by the wayside.  There are moose on the roadside and mountains to hike, babbling brooks to admire and sore muscles to nurse.  Old friends you haven’t seen in ages invite you for drinks on their bucolic porch, and egg you on to feature them in your post.  (That’s for you, Richard and Neely!) By the time you pull out your cellphone to write (because your MacBook pro is at the Apple store getting repaired), you are just too played out to think straight. So instead of writing, you have a second beer at dinner and call it a good day.   Because it was.1320BF06-01CD-4580-86F6-6BC66D14444D

5EB8C1C5-4B61-463C-8A9D-592BFD79CD7Cgratitude #30

Chair Party

green wooden chair on white surface

At the end of Nia class this morning, I checked my phone for texts and saw this one from Mia: “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’d sub an 11 o’clock yoga class for us, LOL.”  She has a summer internship at the YWCA of Cambridge, as part of a fellowship in not-for-profit leadership she received from the Forest Foundation.  She works there to support their programs providing housing, food, and programming for local women and girls.  Their yoga teacher cancelled last minute.

”Sure,” I texted back. I love that she thought to ask me.  I’ve been meaning to visit her work site, having heard much from her this summer about their great work meeting a huge range of women’s needs.  Plus, I’m already anticipating her departure back to college in California; too fast, too fast these summer days have flown by with her at home! So I don’t squander opportunities to be around her, or to show her I love her.

She met me at the reception desk, and we walked over to the women’s residence together. At first I thought they wanted me to teach Nia, but I saw the space and met a student, an older lady who told me she has difficulty feeling her feet and moving her hands.  Mia clarified:  this was to have been a chair yoga class.  Aaaah.  No problem:  this was a job for Ageless Grace Brain Fitness, which is taught seated.  “Party in a chair,” I like to say. It’s really fun.

We sat in a circle and played to music, shaking our limbs to Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line,” clapping to different beat counts as Michael Franti sang “Say Hey!,” having a seated dance party to Abba’s “Mamma Mia,” which I added at the last minute when someone asked “Are you Mia’s mama?” — launching us into a discission of the cheesy but wonderful new movie.  The students—MaryBeth in her bathrobe and Barbara with her broken heart and achy feet, plus Mia and two game colleagues from the administration,—were lively and playful, tossing out comments and ideas, joining in with a freedom and joy that I’ve come to expect whenever I teach Ageless Grace.  Still, it’s always such a delight to midwife it into being.

At the end of class, Barbara, who is vulnerable and bright such that I wondered what life challenges brought her to live at the residence, told me she could feel her feet for the first time in a long time.  “My heart is full of love,” she said.

I gave her a hug and she looked surprised.  Maybe I shouldn’t have touched her—one can no longer assume hugs are welcome.  But she smiled shyly.

”Mine, too,” I told her.

 

gratitude 29

Beach Bodies

131210-prager_lvwgba-1We took a jaunt up Route 128 this afternoon to visit Wingaersheek Beach, followed by dinner at a tiny restaurant on the water in Annisquam, a quirky oceanfront village just around the coast from Gloucester.  Being on a vacation, John had it in his head that the beach would have emptied out by five o’clock, but of course, on a beautiful summer Sunday in July, there were still hundreds of people enjoying the afternoon when we arrived.

We walked the length of the beach (which is not far), awed by a flotilla of “party boats” lashed together and anchored on the shore across the inlet from Annisquam, power vessels with solid Boston names like “Mahtini,” “Weekendah,” and “The Codfather.”  The boats must have arrived at high tide and moored near shore; a few had misjudged the waterline and were now beached, waiting for the tide to come in again. 80’s and 90’s rock tunes blared from boat speakers, kids paddled in the water, and sunburnt parents draped themselves on deck, enjoying another beer.  My friend Cathy and I brought our kids up to Wingaersheek often when they were young; they loved to climb on the mountainous rocks and collect treasures in the tidal pools.  I had never before seen this side of the beach’s culture:  weekend party central, a parade of summer bodies, tanned, or blotched with uneven burns where the sunblock hadn’t reached, bald, or hairy-backed, the women’s hair wiry from salt, their skin freckled, white lines in the creases of their bronze bellies.

As we walked back to our blanket, I couldn’t help but notice the vast range of shapes and sizes adopted by the human body.  We are daily bombarded with images suggesting there is really one acceptable body type:  lean, balanced proportions, white or light-skinned. But such “paragons” are in the minority, although we did spy one young couple over in party-boat-land who must have been personal trainers, their abs rippling, arms and legs muscular and perfectly chiseled. John went for a swim, but I didn’t want to eat dinner in a wet suit, so I sat on our towel and admired the cavalcade of physiques: a stout toddler splashed in a nearby tidal pool, while his leggy older sister, about eight or nine years old, chased seagulls.  A hunched Asian gentleman in socks and Birkenstocks paced back and forth in front of me, his head extended forward and up like a turtle’s; nubile teenage girls strutted by self-consciously.  Many of the dads today sported big bellies and tattoos, with strong legs and thick necks.  A brown-and-black family paused in front of me, speaking Spanish. The mom was short, heavyset in a shapely way, and toffee brown; her husband was tall and bald, with bony legs, a tight, round tummy, and beautiful black skin.  Their scrawny, long-limbed son resembled his dad, angular and dark.  A full-figured teenage daughter was lush and heavy-bottomed in a Kardashian-y way, with thick, wavy hair pulled back in a pony-tail, her skin a warm tone of creamed coffee.  Elderly people amazed me particularly, years of wear reshaping their bodies into angles, folds, wrinkles and lumps, so many hours in motion across the span of a life creating shapes and whorls like the patterns on seashells.

It was quite a magnificent display of human anatomy.

Gratitude #28

 

Good for it: Trust & Rom Coms

As promised (not that you care, but I’m meeting the bar I set for myself at the beginning of July, a post a day of gratitude), I am working off yesterday’s debt with a two-post day.

Trust

1*B-qByqXbJ_5JH1EwxpzwegI’ve always had a basic trust in authorities and in the fundamental goodness of most people.  I don’t spend a lot of time arguing with police officers about whether I was going the speed limit when pulled over.  I have yet to challenge a medical professional on their diagnosis, or blow off their treatment plan.  I even do the PT recommended by my massage therapist.  I never once, in my eighteen years of schooling, undergraduate and graduate, mixed it up with a professor about a grade I didn’t like—I just thought I’d have to work harder next time.  To be honest, such compliance has served me really well.  I don’t create dramas, not that you do, but we all know those types, amiright?  My temperament: sensitive, creative, emotionally reactive, is drama enough for me. My orientation is to try and learn from setbacks and to respect the experience of others.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blindly trusting.  If the financial planner proposes investing in hog futures, or a friend suggests it’s quicker to New York by ferry, I’m not going to just jump to it without doing my homework.  But my bias is to assume others are like me:  basically well-intended, or at the very least, not out to screw anyone.  My life circumstances have allowed me to continue with this orientation, it’s true.

Important caveat:  I am not speaking here of those authorities who demonstrably do not deserve respect, for example, elected officials who routinely lie, or hypocrites who abuse their power.  That is grist for a post having nothing to do with gratitude.

Because I’m trusting (Nate would say naïve; he may be right there), I can get played.  I have definitely over-extended myself on behalf of people who didn’t deserve it, or perhaps I should say, couldn’t live up to their end of the bargain, for whatever reason.  It’s always a bad feeling, a sucker punch, when I realize I may have been too optimistic or trusting in someone or something.  But you know what:  I guess I’d rather that, than protect myself in a carapace of cynicism. Maybe I’m being a Pollyanna here, but lioking for the good in people has drawn more good people into my life.

Gratitude #26

Rom Coms

tenor

There’s so much good binge-watchable storytelling on streaming video these days. But after biting my nails all spring with Offred on The Handmaid’s Tale, and feeling increasingly disgusted by the body count (host and human) on Westworld, I was ready for a summer hiatus from the dark and dystopian.  So when John suggested we watch The Proposal together last weekend, I was up for it.  It’s got eye candy for everyone in Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, plus they have nice chemistry and great comic timing. Does it get any better than these two?  Their unlikely romance is set against a backdrop of gorgeous Alaskan mountains, with a hilarious scene in which an eagle swoops down and steals Manhattanite Bullock’s cellphone (to which she is addicted).  She grabs a nearby puppy and races after the eagle offering a trade, as Mary Steenburgen and Betty White look on from the kitchen window: “Oh, look, how cute!  She’s playing with the dog!”  It’s low-brow physical comedy, and laugh-out-loud funny.  The movie hits all the boxes:  Gorgeous leads: Check.  Initial hostility giving way to slow-dawning affection and attraction: Check. Fabulous wardrobe and unrealistically beautiful settings?  Check. Comic sidekicks?  Times two, Betty White, and The Office’s Oscar Nunez.  Improvised wedding of uncommon rustic charm:  You bet.  “Does anyone here object to this marriage” style obstacle?  Yup.  Off-puttingly low score on Rotten Tomatoes:  Definitely. (44% approval rating).  Unrealistic airport runway chase scene and equally fantastic conflict resolution wherein hunky Ryan finally takes charge of super-uptight Sandra, while the entire office staff looks on, thereby avoiding her imminent deportation back to (gasp) Canada?  Check and check.

Sure, we could have watched The Wire, or Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos, all classic long-form cable series that cause people to tch-tch when we admit we’ve never seen them.  But last night, after a stressful day driving to a New Hampshire and back for me, and continued de-cluttering of our furnace room for John, who needed such fare?  After dinner, we hunkered down with Roku and dialed up a nice serving of Wimbledon, the perfectly mediocre romance starring Paul Bettany, Kirsten Dunst, and the game of tennis. Just good enough to delight, just middling enough not to tax our tired brains.  Plus: English accents, a young James McAvoy in the comic relief role, and a hunky, younger Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (look ma, TWO hands!), looking fine in tennis shorts rather than his usual Game of Thrones armor.

What a confection.

I’m thinking maybe it’s time for a re-watch of Crazy, Stupid Love tonight.  Unless you have a better suggestion.

Gratitude #27

I Owe You

keep-calm-and-take-a-rain-checkFeeling grateful today for the concept that we can make up the difference later when we come up short, that good intentions and good faith promises have some capital.  I haven’t let you down for these past twenty-five days; I’ve faithfully produced a blog a day, as promised.  But this one got away from me.  So I’m giving you a rain check, taking a mulligan, putting you on hold.  I promise two-ish posts tomorrow.

Ya’ll know I’m good for it.

In the meantime, cut yourself some slack for any little failings today.  You’re only human.

As am I.

Gratitude #26

Good Genes

5b1f18b91fc27751f88f4d53be54d2cf--young-at-heart-racingJohn is in Connecticut today.  He drove down this morning to visit his parents, who live in a congenial, attractive assisted living community in the town of Cheshire, where John grew up. His dad will turn 92 in early September; his mom just celebrated her 87th birthday on the fourth of July, in defiance of a late-stage cancer diagnosis she received close to two years ago.  She opted not to pursue treatment; it made her feel too awful. She’s been in hospice care ever since. Although she spends most of her time in bed, and much of that sleeping, she sparks right up for visits and meals, her mind keen as ever, which is saying something.  She presides over her bed kingdom with regal command, her minions a succession of cheerful health aides and hospice personnel, along with her loyal, royal consort, my father-in-law.  They appear to be squeezing every possible drop of affection and connection out of their marriage of sixty plus years, despite the pain of her disease and the shadow of inevitable loss.

On my side, the Hacketts, my dad is 83 and in excellent health…a little prostate scare here and a pinched nerve there, but like my mother-in-law, his mind is sharper than a German butcher’s meat cleaver.  His mother lived to 106 years old, dying of natural causes, her intellect relentlessly sound right up until the last day of her life. She once apologized when we were on the phone for repeating a story she had told me the last time we spoke. I had completely forgotten. She was 103 at the time; I was at the beginning of perimenopause and constantly whiffing on stuff, students’ names, my cellphone number, birthdays of people important to me.  I laughed, “Mimsy, you are more cognitively together than Harvard’s entire neuroscience department.”  Given this provenance, I’m hoping my dad has a long runway before taking off for the next dimension.

Mom turns 83 in September and has, like Dad, been mercifully free of major glitches for most her life.  She has a pacemaker, but that’s just maintenance.  In the past few years, she has felt more vulnerable to the quirks of her aging body: ocular migraine headaches, some swelling near one of her optic nerves, cataracts. She falls more than we’d like, but that’s largely because she’s so preoccupied with her busy thoughts.  These reductions in function are disconcerting, but not the knell of doom she sometimes feels them to be, at least I hope not.  I coach her to stop measuring her well-being by the yardstick of her first seventy to eighty years, the near-perfect health of her youth.  It must be hard, not to mark every new deficit with some apprehension. Yet she still has so much good material to work with.

So between them, our four parents have racked up a combined 345 years in longevity, all of those years in full possession of their faculties, relatively speaking. We get to enjoy their company awhile longer, looks like.

Gratitude #25