Speeding to the finish line

Every year around this time I take a deep breath and figuratively buckle my seat belt. This is always high time for me. In a six week period, every person in my household has a birthday. Two weeks later there’s Mocksgiving. Then Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We also kicked off our soccer season this Sunday, with losses for both the U8 Netherlands team and U10 Brazil team. Perhaps the extra coaching session (called clinic) both our boys are doing this fall will help transform some losses to wins.

The level of play is much higher this year than it was last
The level of play is much higher this year than it was last

I only caught the Netherlands game, since I needed to get to church to kick off the Sunday School year. I’m teaching 2nd through 5th graders this year. I’m particularly lousy at traditional Sunday School arts and crafts curriculum, but am hopeful I make up for it by attempting to teach actual Biblical information. (I had two kids who memorized the books of the Bible last year – one OT and one NT!) But we’ll see if my planned curriculum works for 2nd graders.

After church, I chaired a meeting of the Mission Taskforce, which will be in full swing through the end of the year. We have some interesting work to do, trying to figure out what the next generation of church holds for our congregation.

Also there was room cleaning
Also there was room cleaning

Saturday was no less busy than Sunday. I had dueling playdates for the boys (I hosted one, and shipped Grey off to one). Somehow Thane managed to fall, fully clothed into a swimming pool. We found a new bike path, and went for a cool ride along the Mystic River.

We've really enjoyed our bike rides!
We’ve really enjoyed our bike rides!
This is 20 feet in the air
This is 20 feet in the air

I don’t have a thesis statement. This is all just a very long excuse for not posting yesterday! It’s also foreboding. Several of these things are things that will not improve in 2015. They’re seasonal, and the season just kicked off. This is one of my favorite times of year, but it comes with a price tag. Hopefully I’ll find some moments to walk in the quiet forests of fall, with the only sound the shuffling of leaves at my feet and the laughing of my children. Hopefully I’ll find a quiet moment to soak in the essence of New England – only available this time of year. There will be apple picking and trick-or-treating. But there will not be much down time between here and January. So buckle up.

Thirty-four (34)

The view from my back porch
The view from my back porch

September is one of my favorite months. I love the crispness of the air, the brightness of the sun, the blueness of the sky and the sense of change and possibility that rides on the adventurous breezes. It is back-to-school, new-pencil time. I often return to Tolkien, the progenitor of so many of my childhood daydreams, in September – fondly remembering that Bilbo, Frodo and I are separated in birthday by a scant day. (There was a time in my life where I attempted to figure out whether if, what with time zones and all, I could in any way be considered to be born on September 22nd. There is not, for the record.)

And here we are, on the first welcome day of autumn after a delicious and delightful summer, looking at my birthday. My thirty-fourth birthday.

My mother in law painted my dining room for my 34th birthday
My mother in law painted my dining room for my 34th birthday

Is there any birthday less consequential than your 34th? I’m no longer young, but not quite middle aged yet. I feel no biological clock ticking down because I’ve had my children. I still can’t be president. It’s not divisible by any exciting numbers. There are no (known) science fiction or fantasy references that make it significant (like 42). It’s just another birthday.

But this year, I find myself wildly and unreasonably excited by it. Look at that! I’m having a birthday! Isn’t that marvellous?! Maybe we should have cake! Although I still find myself melancholy on reflection of my lost little kitty, and although I have been somewhat tired and worn of late, my birthday is still (unexpectedly) exciting to me.

I reflect on why this might be. I come to the conclusion it’s because, for the first time in many years, there’s something I actually want for my birthday that I do not have and have been waiting to obtain for months. A new guitar. A grownup-size guitar. A guitar that says, “Yes, Brenda is really actually playing the guitar now.” A pretty guitar with a graceful body and mother-of-pearl inlay. (I hesitate to confess how much my heart was set on mother-of-pearl inlay.) A guitar with a darkly beautiful sound and an easy way of laying in my arms. I have sought, daydreamed and wanted, and for my birthday I have obtained my heart’s desire.

There are other things too, of course, that make my birthday delightful. There is the delight of a guilt-free chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and rather fewer than 34 candles. There is the delight of watching my sons learn the joy of giving. The New England Patriots are even obliging by playing an 8 pm game on my birthday (although one ardently hopes that this week’s performance is better than last’s – UGH! Eds note: QUADRUPLE UGH!).

Finally, this day initiates the fall for me – coming as it does so close to the equinox. Bring on the orange and brown palette. Let there be pumpkin stickers. May the fridge hold apple cider and the kitchen be fragrant with boiling apple butter. Let us open the windows during the day and close them during the night. Let me wake to the sound of the furnace turning on to heat the room for morning ablutions. Let there be birthdays and Halloweens and Cthulu games and apple picking and Mocksgiving and Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas. I am ready.

For lo: I am 34. I am not young. I am not old. I am not even – quite yet – middle aged. I have learned how much there is to love of fall, and stand ready to lay down another layer of memory to build the beautiful patina of age.

Melancholy October

It’s a dark, windy, rainy mid-October day. I’m listening to a Pandora station that seems to be taken entirely from my own iPod library. But still, it’s good. It’s just a little, well, sad. All the songs of love, loss, home, journeying, hope, despair — with strong overtones of a capella.

In addition to writing a complex query and laying out (yet another) pdf report, I’m thinking about what to do with a long weekend. It looks like the weather has a chance at brisk and glorious. Here’s what I’m thinking about for a glorious Saturday…

We’ll rise earlyish. I’ll let Grey finally finish the Avatar episode he’s started 3 times this week, and I play with Thane in his room. Thane loves, loves his bedroom in a way Grey never has. He’ll bop the Weebles down the slide, crawl between stacks of books, and then imperious hobble over to me, a Weeble-princess in one hand “Horn to Toes and In Between” in the other and announce “Boo! Boo!” We’ll eventually pile our sons into the car, carefully loaded with snacks and entertainments and drive North through the Merrimack River valley. Grey will be confused, wondering if we’re going to daycare on a Saturday.

We’ll pass through the lands of concrete onto smaller and smaller roads, through impossibly picturesque New England towns with white steeples and lots of acrimonious town politics, until we get to the Shaker Museum. Grey will get up close and personal with a livestock. We’ll stand in a room built by hands dedicated to equality and pacifism. No one lives there now. Perhaps there will be a hayride. I’ll feel torn between permitting my youngest to explore his world and forbidding him to explore cow-patties. I’ll buy a token of my memory of this period of unworldiness and optimism.

Last time I was there, my mother bought me a pin that was also a vase. It could hold a pansy — called heartsease — in water on your chest. It was stolen from me in a burglary we experienced on September 11, 2009.

Unless fortune truly smiles at us, we’ll have to leave when one or more boys hits too-tired. We’ll put them in the car, hoping for a nap. The child who desperately needs to sleep will not. We’ll drive to our next destination. 5 minutes before we arrive, the child will fall asleep and silence will descend on the car for the first time all day. We’ll drive in circles around our destination, afraid to stop until just a little more sleep has been obtained.

We’ll go to Moose Brook State park. The boys will play on the playground, swing in the swings. We’ll play with the great stomp-rocket Grey got for his birthday. As the shadows loom long, we’ll get a campsite and build a campfire. I imagine sitting around the fire, watching embers fly up to the stars, singing songs together and telling stories. I imagine putting our sticky, sweet, sleepy children into the car and silently returning to our daily lives back in the suburbs, flying down thick freeways in time to be at church the next morning.

Thus I imagine. I have enough experience to know that it’ll be nothing like this. It will be better. It will be worse. There will be a moment most sublime. There will be several that will be quite banal. I give it 50/50 odds that Grey throws up at least once.

On a melancholy autumn day, I think about these days and moments. This is my sons’ childhood — their one and only. It’s desperately brief. You get one shot at being a child, and one shot at giving the people you created their childhood. Will Grey remember this trip on a melancholy autumn, some day 30 years from now? Will these journeys be the touchstone for him? When the smells of October waft through his office window, which of these memories will pop unbidden to his mind? Which cobalt sky will define perfection in cobalt skies for my sons? Will he remember the laughter? The hot dogs? The feeling that the world is a bigger place than he realized?

There’s a Simon and Garfunkel song (“And the Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall”) that says “I don’t know what is real, I can’t touch what I feel.” I sometimes think about how few of the things I touch are real. When is the last time you ran your hands across the bark of a tree? Do you remember how silky soft the inner petals of a dandylion are? I sometimes fear that so much our world is created, constructed and extruded that my sons will never touch what is real, to know it when they feel it. I suppose that’s a funny thing to fear. But my roots still reach down to the water table of the wild. I drank great draughts in my youth. I can only hope to help my sons know that it is there if they choose to reach for it.

Mental zephyrs

I’ve been moody lately, for me. By moody, I mean that my general emotional tenor has not been logical or consistent based on external stimuli. Some days I’m just cranky as a bear with a sore tooth, while other days I’m Ms. Sunshine and Light. Today is a Sunshine and Light day. Wednesday? Bear needing a root canal.

This morning, as so often happens, my son climbed into bed to snuggle me. He even says, “snuggle”. He nestled into my arms, his butt against the bulge of his baby brother and his fuzzy-head at perfect kissable height and we drowsed there together for 10 minutes. How can that fail to bring joy to the heart? On a perfect clear October commute where the highway is lined with the slow fire of the dying year (really, the colors are magnificent this year), I listened to him discourse at length about whether Jesus had ever used bad words like “ca ca poo poo head” and gotten a time out.

One never knows just how much theology to teach a three year old. But I’m pretty sure the gospels are silent on Jesus’ use of the phrase “ca ca poo poo head”.

I remember part of why this stage of pregnancy is so tiring. You KNOW that you might have up to (by my count) 30 more days until you are holding an actual real baby. You know that the odds of going into labor today are very small. (Less than 1 in 30.) You know that likely you have a long hard slog ahead of you. And yet you think that maybe? Just maybe? And some of my friends are every so slightly more pregnant than I am and they are having labor pains and it’s days or hours until they will have babies and I could too! Or, well, it could be November.

Hm. What if I am in active labor on election day? Hm hm.

And thus you see the pattern of my thoughts, scattered high, low and in-between by the autumnal zephyrs like so many crisp new-fallen leaves.


When I pass a stand of erstwhile unnoticeable maples, and am caught by the color of the leaves, that’s the the word that comes to mind. Vermillion. Brighter than red. Deeper, more passionate than burgundy. There are showers of gold along some roads — early to color, already gone. There are trees tinged with red, orange as flame in their hearts. And some rare trees, stark in brilliance against the blue October sky, are vermillion.

For all the pumpkins, it is red’s time of year to reign supreme. The trees are red. The sunsets, early, tinge the world with their crimson kisses. Noses, flesh-toned through the warm days of summer, reflect the season’s changes too. And the socks, even the socks are red as colored clothing faces winter birds in the World Series. And the blood of a sports hero tinges his sock with the team, the season color. A red darkening to brown with scoreless innings pitched.

Soon, we head into brown of pilgrim scenes. Then the dark pine green of Christmas. Finally, we settle into the long, bitter gray of ever-enduring winter, with only the faintest touches of purple at Lent, scarecly daring to believe that the light and misty greens of spring will ever arrive.

But for now, my friends, I am content to live in a world aflame with vermillion.

And so it begins

It’s August. August should be hot and humid. August rises in waves from blacktop pavement, and smells of tar. August fans itself laconically in the shade, hardly fathoming the concept of being comfortable, never mind cool. August sears to the bone with its heat, melting the ice still lingering on in the marrow of a New Englander. July rises us, like bread dough put near a hot stove, and August bakes us into tall loaves, ready to be taken from the oven.

Well, a normal August does. This year, I’m afraid. For the second year in a row we have a temperate August. We had a few hot, humid, properly miserable August days. But now there’s an autumnal tint to the air. The skies are clear and blue. The breezes are cool and crisp. The grasses are still green. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is my favorite weather. But for August, it is simply wrong. We have slipped straight from June to September once again, my friends. The icicles in my veins still cool my heart with every drop of blood.

Watching the colors turn in autumn is like watching a child grow old. You love each stage, and yearn for more — the first word… the first sentence… learning to read… learning to write… But you know that eventually your baby will be a man full grown and leave you. A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. So does summer go. It goes beautifully, here in the Northeast. The breath catches in the chest as the leaves turn yellow and gold in the slanting October sun — just as your child riding a bike by himself for the first time. And as beautiful as that moment is, it also foretells the future of absence.

Today, I saw a flash of scarlet on the side of the road. A shrub, in a wetland (always the first to go), has signalled defeat and raises a vermillion flag of surrender. It is early. Possibly the shrub is diseased, or otherwise in difficulty. But it is the first. In time, even the mightiest and healthiest of maples shall bow to the inevitable and strip themselves of their summer garmets.

And I am not ready. Another summer like last — short and cool. Another winter like last — harsh and frigid. I am becoming like the Arctic permafrost. I feel the beginnings of a glacier forming in my inmost center. The summer was not hot enough or long enough to melt off last winter’s snow, nor the winter before. It grows and accumulates, and becomes a powerful river of ice, scouring the landscape.

And there is nothing I can do but brace myself, and look longingly at the velvet night sky — too clear for August — and hope.

The inevitability of autumn

As I drove in today, I saw probably twice as many colored leaves as I saw on Monday. At one point, the wind was blowing and stripping yellow leaves off a tree one by one, and making them dance across traffic. It was quite cool this morning — in the mid 50s. The air is crisp — it’s humidity banished with the heat. I have the itching of autumn — to be creative and adventurous and travel. To be domestic, and quiet, and make pies on the counter while listening to fiddles.

Autumn is among us, a scent on the wind. It sweeps — as it does every year — some of the cobwebs from our routine-numbed brains. It asks questions that make us look at horizons and wonder what is past them. It trickles long-known and forgotten scents towards us, and makes us search for their pattern in our minds.

The falling leaves make me love them. The colors and pageantry and crisp air. For the first time, having lived through a brutal New England winter last year, I also understand the poignancy and threat behind the scarlet and gold. Autumn, in it’s kindness and grace, foretells winter in all its hard, uncaring violence and seeping drafts.

I wish I could return to the innocence of loving autumn with my whole heart, not knowing how painful and difficult the winds of February are.