Last week when LD was OWON (Offline WithOut Notice), I had written most of a draft piece about the Christmas holiday. In it I wrote about how when I was young, the holiday’s primary meaning stemmed from the repetition of traditional songs, and decorations, and food, and references to love and kindness — as it does for so many — but also from my mother’s abundant love, and from the vicarious thrill she got watching my sister and me experience the bounty she had longed for as a girl, and never received. I wrote about how after my mother died, the wind was knocked out of the holiday for me. I took a gloomy detour to describe my Worst Christmas on Record, the one following my mother’s death, when my father and I joined my sister who was then living in Norway.
We all went up to an ancient farm outside of Trondheim, where my sister’s husband’s sister (my sister in-law-in-law?) lived with her husband on the working farm that had been in the family for hundreds of years. He took us to look at goats with coin-slot pupils who would live out that winter, but none more. I wrote about the wan December light (dawn and sunrise came in late morning; dusk and sunset in mid-afternoon; at its zenith the sun was little more than a stone’s throw above the horizon). The tundra that stretched for as far as the eye could see. Our compassionate but taciturn hosts. My crying jags in the bathroom, with the faucet turned on to mask the sound. I wrote about how it all combined to underscore the dimming of the light of Christmas for me, in the absence of my mother (the heavenly body around which we all orbited, and without whom we began to slowly drift out of orbit). I wrote about how I never could summon the enthusiasm for the holiday in the same way again.
Except. Now I’m part of a we, and we have these kids. And I find the magnetic center of the holiday is shifting away from the absence of my mother and toward the presence of her sparkling grandchildren. I wrote (again) about change, and about its constant presence in our lives, and about how annual events like family holidays set family changes in particularly sharp contrast: people now gone, people now here; different hands stirring the pudding. But then that was all a pre-Christmas rumination, rumined back when I thought I’d have found some kind of internet connection up in the mountains (seems they aren’t any more easily sussed out than internet connections at the beach, which may well account for the appeal of both beach and mountain as vacation get-aways). Now we are post-Christmas, and practically even post- the next occasion: the arrival of another New Year. So before we’re far enough into it to that sweeping, summary reflections are passÃ© (and before, goddess forbid, I experience another week offline!), I want to seize upon it as an occasion to reflect a bit on what it is that has animated this blog.
I began writing it as a means to gather kindred spirits around me while I mused out loud about what it might mean to be the kind of parent I am. I felt like I was neither mother nor father, but both. I had a hunch that there might be something deeper to this. Also I had a hunch I might not be the only one in this nether, twixt-tween space, and I wanted to either (a) rustle the extant ones out of the bushes, so I could learn from them, or (b) encourage the naescent, as-yet self-named ones to join the party, or (c) both. Lesbian dads would be most welcome, of course, but so would anyone else whom the shoe fit. I had a feeling that motherhood and fatherhood might both benefit if the generous space in which they overlapped were more clearly, enthusiastically, lovingly articulated, from the standpoint of someone in a parental role that felt both new and old at the same time.
Three-plus years and an extra kid into this parenting business, I continue to feel this way. What I hadn’t expected was that by doing this musing in public, using the multi-directional, conversational medium of a blog, I would get a priceless gift in return: camaraderie on an order I would never have expected. I have had the opportunity to come to know scores of kindred spirits, through your encouragement and insights and quips and shared travails. Many of you are parents, many are not. Many of you are lesbian parents, many are not. Many of you are women, many are not. Many of you are doing all your encouraging and quipping and sharing from in front of computers that are far, far away from my Northern California home. But all of you who’ve bothered to register and throw your two cents into the pot here have shared a desire to love well. To love better, and more generously. So far as I can tell. For this (and your continued two cents-tossing) I am enormously grateful.
I also began writing this in the shadow of one of the most powerfully defining events in my life: the birth of my first child was closely followed by the death of my eldest nephew. Many of you who have been reading this blog for a while know this (many of you who’ve been reading this blog know me, and therefore know this). I have felt nothing short of evangelical in my zeal to transform my nephew’s short, bright life into a resounding message that touches as many others as possible. The message I’ve wanted to convey is simply: be grateful. Really. Notice your life, and please know — don’t think, theoretically, but know, viscerally, that it is finite, and then live how you would if you knew that. And if you’re a parent, know that while most of us want to do everything we can to make the quality of our children’s lives as splendid as possible, we cannot ultimately control whether or not they’ll outlive us (they will if we’re fortunate, and that’s the point: we’d be fortunate).
This is an urgency so many people feel in the immediate wake of a death — that it is part of our lives, and that we would live our lives differently if we remained more constantly aware of its inevitability. But that urgency usually fades with time (the passage of which, ironically, helps to heal the wounds that death inflicted in the first place). Some may feel that it’s lugubrious to contemplate death, or that doing so somehow turns us away from our lives. But I feel the exact opposite: it gives me a fierce determination to appreciate what I have, and to remember the primary lesson my nephew’s death taught me: love is the only thing that matters. Love as many people as possible, as well as possible, as often as possible. Might sound hokey, and it’s sure easier said than done. But there it is.
The photograph of my nephew at right was taken by my sister on New Year’s Day, three years ago. Erik is radiant with mother-love, bald from chemotherapy, and wise from the battle for his life. He picked that flower for her after walking uphill a mile with her to their local park, a distance which would be a jaunt for any kid, and was a triumph for him at that point. I remember him on New Year’s Day, and every day that I try to put into practice the gratitude and perspective his life taught me. I try to bring that sensibility to what I write here, along with levity, and descriptive anecdotes, and the reflected light of the wee souls that stepped into the generation that he left.
Thank you again, gentle reader (whoever you are) for making these public musings a rich conversation rather than an echoing monolog. I look forward to improving on this venue in the coming weeks, with your help (about which more soon). Meanwhile — and I mean this in the best possible way — may you live like 2008 will be your last year. I know I’ll try to.