New Year’s clearance

IMG_2909.JPG copyAt left: Glitter glam dress lights up the couch, Dorrington, CA.

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 passé (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.

Erik, New Year's Day, 2005The 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.

21 thoughts on “New Year’s clearance”

  1. Wow. I’ve read the posts about your nephew, and have always felt so altered by your reflections on his untimely death. But it’s a little different to see his beautiful face and read the story behind the photo. Wow.

    … I’m off to call my little boy …

  2. “Thank you again, gentle reader (whoever you are) for making these public musings a rich conversation rather than an echoing monolog.”

    No, thank you!

    I appreciate being able to listen in and look in on your life, and I am really hopeful that love does, indeed, conquer all.

    Happy New Year.

  3. FemKnit, Erik just smiled a little bigger.

    Amperesandprime, I’m with you. Enough of us walk around acting as if that amor vincits omnia, and it very well just may. Happy New Year to you and your family.

  4. I have been one of your more silent readers for over a year now. It seems that now is as good a time as any to speak up and thank you for giving a glimpse into your truly incredible family, past and present. Even though I’m still young, I am eagerly awaiting parenthood and I can only hope that I’m as compassionate, humorous, forgiving and wise as you. You make it seem so easy!

    A very happy New Year to you and your family, and thank you, again, for your writing and photos. Such talent!

  5. A nod and a smile to you, emily. I get the feeling you’ll be as great a parent as you are a young person.

    In all honesty, I do have to admit that I don’t write about the not-so-easy parts as freely (or with as much joy!) as I do the easy parts. It’s a heck of a ride, and I’m still coming to terms with the vast expanses of my parental imperfections. But it’s so so worth it. So, so worth it. And while the natural, daily exigencies of parenthood can expose warts you never wanted to flash your kids, much less anyone else, it also can bring out capacities you never thought you had. Also, I think it’s quite good for the health to feel that much love all the time.

    A very Happy New Year to you and yours! (And thank you for the props: I aspire to approach, in my work, the vast talent my beloved exudes in her own.)

  6. I recently found your blog a few months ago–and honestly, I have no idea how I stumbled across it. I had googled something or another, and one click after another had me ending up here. I read several of your blog posts that day, and was touched by your obvious love for your children and struck by your wonderful way with words. I’m a single, straight, & childless woman, and from the bible belt to boot–all stereotypes that may not often grace your blog, but I am here, nonetheless, and continue to follow your story.

    I used to believe in coincidence–the older I get, the less I believe that things randomly happen or that we have any control over anything in this life. I’m having one of those difficult evenings tonight; full of uncertainty about the future and doubtful that people around me care–though I know that they do. Anyway, I say all this to say that reading this blog post tonight moved me, and reminded me to look at life not as something that is to be survived, but is meant to be enjoyed and filled with as much happiness as the universe will allow.

    With many thanks, I will leave lurker-dom and post my very first comment 🙂

  7. What lofty ideals you effect, LD. To be sure, this giant post/ your blog is a thing of immense beauty and love. What more memorial tribute could there be?

    And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
    And gies a hand of thine!
    And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,
    for auld lang syne.

    (rough translation: heres my hand my trusty friend/ give me yours/ and lets take a right goodwill draft for (toast) days gone by)

    Wishing you a Happy (and peaceful!) New Year.

  8. SJnky, I wonder if it was around-about Thanksgiving, and you were Googling “turkey baster.” Because, and I sh*t you not, this blog’s post The turkey baster has no clothes is on the first Google page returned for that search string. I toss and turn at night pondering that mystery, but there you have it.

    Whatever it was that brought you here, I am grateful, if only for this one moment this afternoon when my nephew brought you solace. Thank you for reading, and for your comment. And I agree with you: something or another is at work in our lives, and it’s not just chance.

    Chumpy: hail, fellow, well met! I will tak a right gude-willie-waught with you any day! And don’t think that, thanks to your kindly commentary, along with that of AllieG, I don’t dream of a British Isles vacation with my brood one fine day! A right Happy (and peaceful!) New Year on back atcha, sister!

  9. I’ve never googled “turkey baster” before my in life, but you can bet I just did now! TOO funny that it’s on the first page! I just sat and read the entire thing–I now know more about AI (see, I’m even up on the lingo now) than I ever thought I would 🙂

    I guess you really do learn something every day! And, it is going to drive me crazy to figure out how I ended up on your blog. I’m going to rack my brain now!

  10. Happy New Year to you and your lovely, obliging family. I am so grateful for your blog! Never know what to expect when I take a peek, but I am always intrigued, often smile and sometimes feel my heart open right up. Like here. I love this photo of your nephew.

  11. I’d also like to leave my thanks for all the thoughts you share here on your blog. Thank you for bringing together twixt-tweeners, and showing the not-so-twixt-tweeners that we exist. In the spirit of your trail blazing through gendered terms and titles, two stories:

    I recently traveled home and revisited my high school, showing my significant other of three months where I’d grown up. In the halls, I happened across an old teacher who started chatting and asked me, “Is this your brother?” Trying to correct him with poise, the first thing out of my mouth was, “No, this is my sister.” Embarrassed, laughing, shocked at my fumbling, I tried again: “Actually, this is my girlfriend, [name].” The teacher was thoroughly confused at this point. Meanwhile, I sat there wishing I could’ve introduced her using the term of endearment I’m accustomed to: toolfriend (a name she earned after naming me “tool”).

    Second story: The two of us have tried to find new gender labels that fit. “Genderqueer” and “queer” are okay, but seem very wrapped up in one specific racial, generational, socioeconomic subset of this country’s population. I found a quote in S.Bear Bergman’s book “Butch is a Noun” which reads: ” ‘ …[hyr] gender is xylophone…’ ” It wasn’t until I was searching Google for that quote to show to the Toolfriend that I realized how much I hadn’t understood the quote: a gender is actually a musical instrument from Indonesia. After laughing for a while longer, we decided that this would be even better than the completely arbitrary term for which we’d been searching. We now refer to each other as xylophones, and that seems to fit pretty well.

    Here’s to another amazing year! As long as you keep blogging, I’ll keep reading 🙂

  12. I’ve commented a few times, and hey – you “know” me from – in any case I just wanted to say that your blog has been an immense help to my rather genderqueer partner as we moved through our long and painful ttc journey. Now that we are finally about to dive headfirst into parenthood (I am 5 days from our due date!) she has gone back through your archives and read every post regarding talking to ones child about being Baba, what that means and how you have negotiated those conversations.

    So thank you, for her and for me – because as loving and supportive as I may be for her there is nothing to replace the voice of one who has been there.

  13. Posts like this one remind me to live in the present…something that I need to be reminded of more often than I would like to admit.

    Happy New Year to you and your family! You are in my thoughts…

  14. You’ll have to go to the source of this photo, on the Utilitarianism page of That Religious Studies Website, to find out why it serves as illustration for Utilitarianism. I just couldn’t bring myself to hammer my own finger simply for the purposes of winking back at LD’s comment, so I had to go borrowing for the image. Am now trying to get the kid to spit up beer for the next illustration.


  15. Perkl8, thank you, especially for your gratitude for Erik’s picture. His radiant love is so evident there for me, and I would love it if it beamed out to other people too.

    Smurf, the anecdotes and the new lingo is much appreciated. Toolfriend xylophones, unite!

    Anotherjenny, most hearty congratulations on your eminent immanence! I am honored that your partner is getting any guidance from the tales herein, and please encourage her to write me directly (info at lesbiandad dot net) if she has any worries/questions/comments that she wants to pursue directly and offline. We’re all in this together.

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