Love and Wine and Difficult Times

Love born of complete necessity and vulnerability, either your own or someone else’s, is rich and full and robust. If it sounds like I’m describing a really good wine, that might be because in some ways they are quite similar. It is the squishing of the grapes that creates the juice. It is the age worn barrels that enhance the flavor. It is the patience required by time that helps it mature. So it is with love. It is the difficult moments when we feel squished to our limits that new fodder for appreciation and respect and care – the building blocks of love – are born. It is through the wear and tear of stressful times that love develops and learns how to survive outside of the realm of romance. And it is definitely through patience and endurance that love gains it maturity and grows to new depths.

Making Wine Island Capri Bay Naples Grape Gathering Men - Part Page From The Illustrated London News. C1842-1900.

One of my most poignant experiences of this truth occurred after the birth of our first son. I had a difficult and complicated 22-hour labor that turned into an emergency C-section. Giving birth, under normal circumstances, is a harrowing experience, but under these circumstances was nearly unbearable. During the two hours in which I tried to push out my fully crowned baby, I burst many of the blood vessels in my face and most of them in my eyes, leaving very little white visible. When I expressed later to my husband that I was pretty sure I got hemorrhoids in the whole ordeal, he simply said, “I know.” There was a whole collection of people that saw all my business and experienced me at my most wretched and most vulnerable. And to finish it all off, I had major abdominal surgery that made it extremely difficult to move, much less accomplish the basic necessities of myself or my new-born baby. I could not use the bathroom by myself or dress myself. I could not bathe unassisted. I couldn’t lift our new baby or even walk without trying to hold my own abdomen together. I felt like I had lost all dignity, beauty, and respectability. But this was a time that my husband looked at me with AWE. He was so tender and attentive and amazed at what I had been through and accomplished in order to bring our new family into being. Rather than losing respectability, his respect for me multiplied in those days, as did mine for him. The love we had for each other in that time, born of my need and his care, was immense and unmatched. I am both terrified and excited to experience it again in a few months.

Just moments after he was born.

More recently, and somewhat less potently, we experienced another example of this type of love birthed from vulnerability. This past weekend (and on into the week) my whole family caught a terrible stomach bug that had all of us, but perhaps most pathetically my sweet little boy, in need of some extra TLC. Although this is not the first time that this has occurred, it is obviously freshest in my memory. And it is truly amazing how much you can push yourself to manage when your loved ones need you. Being five months pregnant, running on very little sleep at the tail end of the holidays, and suffering from the same bug myself, I found, somewhere deep within me, the ability to continue to get up and care for my baby who could not care for himself. And because of that care, even though he is better now, he has been positively glued to my side in a bittersweet appreciation. I cannot even tell you how many times today he hugged my legs and said, “You are a beautiful mama!” “I love you, Mama!” He feels that same gratitude and respect that we as adults feel in these circumstances and this is how he expresses it. It makes the dire reality of the week we’ve just experienced seem a little less terrible. If only it were easier to see the beauty while still in the struggle. Perhaps the more we remind ourselves of these truths the more we will begin to see them as they are happening, through the pain . . . savoring the harsh tannins as part of the flavor that makes the wine great!

Marking Milestones

Lets face it… the holidays are stressful. They were magical when we were kids. Sometimes, we still catch glimpses of that magic through the eyes of our children or a sense of nostalgia. But, as much as I hate to admit it, the older I get, the more the holidays seem to be about to-do lists and finances, expectations and family drama, and just making it through. By the time we hit New Years, I have so little energy or holiday spirit left that I just want to spend my long weekend clearing up all the Christmas crap and catching up on sleep. But, ironically, this is when we are expected, at the final stage of this seasonal marathon, to stay up all night and party like it’s 1999. Sigh.

As I contemplate the merits of going out versus staying in and try to dredge up the last remnants of good cheer and festive spirits that I possess, I find myself meditating (as I continually remind myself and all of you to do) on the small but meaningful milestones that have occurred during this season of chaos – trying to lift the hazy vale of petty stresses that seems to have settled over my eyes as of late. There are so many more important things than money and schedules and weight gain and chores. And if we’re not careful to mark them we may miss them.

  • This month, my hubby and I celebrated our 5th anniversary.  Five years of marriage and six years together really does feel like a lifetime – not because the time dragged, but because I find it increasingly hard to remember and nearly impossible to imagine what life was/would be like without him. He is my life and I am so grateful for this milestone and the achievement it marks, despite it’s relatively small, quiet celebration in the midst of Christmas travel.
  • This week marked the halfway point of my pregnancy.  Just two weeks after discovering that our little bundle is made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, he has begun making his presence known to me by kicking and punching actively every day.  And wildly expanding my girth from week to week.  It is so hard to imagine that – “WHOA-OH we’re halfway there!” And even though sometimes I do feel like I’m livin’ on a prayer, I am amazed at how far we’ve come and eager to see the fruits of my labor (pun most definitely intended.)

  • This month also marked my entry into another decade of my life.  And, I must say, the reality has been severely underwhelming.  For all the dread and angst that I invested leading up to that day, it has not dramatically changed my life or outlook.  But the more I considered this milestone, the more I realized that it’s not how many years you possess, but how much those years contained that matters. If they were full and rich, they were a success.  If they were not as full as I would have liked, than I have ten more years to rectify that before the next decade rolls around.  Guess I better get busy!
  • My son amazes me more and more every day. While constantly increasing his capacity to frustrate, he is also expanding his knowledge and understanding and ability. He is beginning to understand the rules of his world and how to live by them but imagine beyond them.  He may know that there is not really a monster in the shower, but why not create a blue dragon with red eyes to walk by his side and protect him as he checks to make sure.  He may know the names and natures of every single animal in his picture book, but he still pronounces some of them like “pokey-spines” and “flaming-glows.” He may scoff at Mama’s constant need for kisses and hugs or barely acknowledge the showers of little compliments we pay him daily, but I know our philosophy of positive parenting is paying off every time my little boy naturally and without any effort or thought compliments me to make me happy. These are the good times and we can’t let the spoiling nature of presents and late bedtimes and Christmas treats rob us of these memories.

  • I am finally surfacing and remembering that there is a life past Christmas feasts and cookies and splurges, and lately it has taken the form simple, uncomplicated, comfortable foods like spaghetti and vegetable soup, bagels and homemade bread, sandwiches and a classic favorite around here – green beans. It is a welcome relief to be back in the kitchen and cooking healthy food for only 3 (and a half) people.

  • Our Christmas presents were small but lovely reminders of thoughtful love. Mine to Jonathan included things that contributed to his manliness and comfort. Some things he’s mentioned wanting and others he didn’t even know he wanted. A chrome safety razor shaving set, a pipe and good tobacco, a handsome watch, and intriguing reading material.  His to me were special tokens of an effort which I know is difficult for him but at which he succeeded because he knows it’s important to me. A black and white diamond heart necklace, a book of love poems, a fantastically retro kitchen timer, two beautiful sweaters, a scarf set, and a prenatal message. Aiden’s toys reflected his current interests and will help to develop his growing imagination. Who knew Weebles would bring so many hours of creative play! And our gifts to family and friends were large mugs filled with homemade peppermint cocoa mix – made with many hours and much painstaking testing by Aiden and myself. And also, for the kids in our lives, homemade play dough sets with cookie cutters. Aiden proudly proclaimed to everyone who received them, “I made it with Mama!” giving me the best gift of all – knowing my son is learning the value of giving from the heart with work from the hands.

If all of these things don’t make up for the stresses of the holidays, than our focus is in the wrong place. We have to remember that it’s not a cushy bank account that we will cherish at the end of our lives but rather the joy of those we spent our time and money on. Things are replaceable.  People, moments, feelings are not. How we chose to remember these times largely colors how we experience them. I chose to remember well.

Success Through the Eyes of an (Almost) 30 Year-Old… and Ralph Waldo Emerson!

Sometimes, when faced with major milestones in our lives, as I am about to be in two days when I turn 30, we can’t help but look at where we are now and compare it to where we thought we might be. For some this comparison may be wonderful because they have accomplished so much more than what they thought was possible. For others (and I’d venture to guess this is the majority), it is a tough comparison to make. It is tough because life is rarely as grand as we imagine it will be when we are younger and because, as I so often stress in this blog, it is entirely too easy to weigh life by its grand moments, which are few and far between, rather than by the little beauties that ought to overwhelm us every day. I am trying to train my thoughts to mark worth and value by a much finer measure and take better notice of all of the little things that are the building blocks of the bigger ones. But even with my constant and vigilant efforts, I still find myself subdued, even saddened at times by all that I have not accomplished: financial stability, debt eradication, literary success (or at least notice), non-familial long-term relationships, a better handle on my own character flaws, a career. But as I begin to sink into these thoughts of “what if” or “if only” my wonderful husband often sits beside me and reminds me of all the important things I have accomplished: marrying an incredible person who I have the privilege of co-piloting life with, creating and training from scratch another human being (and a half), working to help provide for my family while being its primary care giver, producing almost a year’s worth of consistent (and, dare I say, occasionally profound) writing that has developed a growing following and influenced more people than I know, playing a distinct and important role in many people’s lives even if they are not still an active part of mine, starting a book club and voraciously consuming literature, completing a degree in two fields and opening many doors as a result, becoming an excellent cook, and constantly changing and growing and developing as each year passes. What more could I ask for? As I was contemplating these faithful encouragements from my dear hubby, I came across this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that was so pertinent to my meditations and so poignant in its profound and elegant beauty, that it made me cry as I read it. I hope it moves you as it did me.

Meet in the Middle

I’m just going to be honest… it’s been a rough day. Feeling sick all day, worrying about the baby’s wellness, stressing at work, hosting a baby shower while feeling rather un-plussed about babies at the moment, and demonstrating a patience level with my son that would give the worst of moms a run for their money. It is sometimes hard to sit down and write what you hope is positive inspiration for others when what you really want is for someone to spontaneously appear and inspire you. As I was expressing these thoughts to Jonathan and telling him that I didn’t know if I had it in me to write tonight, he suggested I post a poem that I loved. He hoped it might benefit me as much as my readers and at least keep up my regular posting schedule. I highly doubt this is what he had in mind but it has been running through my head for the past couple of days and, despite all my better judgements and taste in music, I love this song and its message of tolerance and forgiveness:

“…I’ll start walking your way
You start walking mine
We’ll meet in the middle
‘Neath that old Georgia pine
We’ll gain a lot of ground
If we both give a little
Cause there ain’t no road too long
When we meet in the middle…”

So often, particularly when we have days like I had today, we expect people to just come to us and cater to our needs, forgetting that there are two people involved in any relationship. And we may be struggling, but they may be too. We all have hidden cares and burdens that we carry around and it is not fair to expect the other person to come all way. But if we both make an effort to meet each other where we are, it is so much easier to get there.

If you hate this song and now have it stuck in your head for days, I do apologize.  If it is one of your guilty pleasures, as it is mine, then enjoy and try to remember as you belt it out in the shower tomorrow that as much as we want someone to meet us where we are, that someone most likely wants the same thing.  So lets all just  . . . meeee-eeeet in the middle!

Life in the Light of Death

Having not attended a funeral in many, many years and then randomly attending two in the last two months, I’ve been pondering the concepts that surround death. And life. And everything that lies in between. I know this seems like a somewhat morbid concept for a blog that focuses largely on seizing the moment and appreciating life, but what makes this theme more crucial or potent than death? Is there anything that motivates us more strongly to grab life by the horns and savor the wild ride? So if you were hoping for a more lighthearted post about shopping or design or recipes, come back next time, there will be plenty more of those. But for now, here are some thoughts inspired by the ending of two lives worth memorializing whose influence spread wide and whose love left a lasting mark on this world:

– I do not appreciate my own life or the lives of my loved ones enough. We are all only here for a moment. But what a moment! There are SO many beauties that surround us every day but often we allow ourselves to be robbed of them because we are too busy worrying, stressing, begrudging, envying, etc. How many times a day do we tell those we love how much they mean to us? How vastly would that number change if we knew our time with them was limited? It is. So SAY IT! Every time you appreciate something about those you hold dear, tell them. Every time you have a lovely thought about them, tell them. Every time they inspire you to be better, tell them. There is no one who would tire of hearing such things and you never know when your expression of love and gratitude may be your last.

– Explaining death to a two-year old is hard. Who am I kidding? Explaining death to ourselves is hard, much less trying to explain it to someone who barely has his head wrapped around what it means to be alive. And lets face it, none of us knows exactly what will happen to us when we die. We can have faith that certain things will happen. We can hope for some things. We can hope against others. But we don’t know. So answering questions such as, “Where did they go?” “Will we see them again?” “What does die mean?” “Will YOU die?” are very difficult when looking into the eyes of your innocent, naïve, beautiful blue-eyed son. Especially when the answer is simply “I don’t know.”

– I have a deep desire to leave a legacy. I wrote about this a couple posts back. It doesn’t have to be vast, but it has to be powerful. I want to be remembered by more than just my children and I want my children to remember me as more than just their mother. When people consider the life I leave behind, I want them to be inspired to be better people, as I have been inspired by those recently passed. I want to leave a legacy of unmatched love, selflessness, faithfulness that inspires growth and change, written and spoken word that is not easily forgotten, loyalty, hospitality, open-mindedness, and light. Perhaps the sphere of people that I influence will be relatively small, but I hope that sphere will do great things.

– I do not wish to have a visitation before my funeral. If the point of such gatherings is to say goodbye, it is too late. I will already be gone. I don’t want people to gaze at my lifeless body and wish my soul were still with it. I want them to remember me alive, not dead in a box. And if the point of a visitation is to pay respects to the family, most often, they need time and space. And having to face everyone they know with a smile and say, “We’re doing fine, thank you.” at a time when they are really not, actually, doing fine, seems a bit . . . well . . . cruel. I want to give my bereaved family room to mourn privately and I want the eulogy at my funeral to focus on my life and what it meant rather than on its ending. There is a scene in the movie, Love Actually, in which a widower expresses the wishes of his wife for what she wanted at her own funeral. She asked that the music of the Bay City Rollers, “Bye Bye Baby,” be played while a projector displayed images of the beautiful moments of her life over her casket. It was sadly funny, beautiful and touching and I have always been moved by such an idea.

– Nothing ever prepares us for death. It will always be shocking and painful. But we as human beings have a remarkable ability to recover, adapt, move on. Never forgetting, but forging ahead and learning how to live in the absence of the person who is gone. I cannot even fathom the chasm that would be left if my darling husband were to leave me early, or how desperately painful it would be to outlive my son. But strangely, I can imagine leaving them, and I KNOW I would not want them to lose themselves in their grief. To forget how to see and experience beauty. I would not want my death to rob them of the their lives as well. Knowing this, from my perspective, I must be prepared to continue to live my life in the face of extraordinary loss, as that is what they too would want.

– Above all else, in life as well as in death, LOVE is primary. It is what motivates us and holds us together. It spurs us into action when action is necessary. It demands a quiet embrace when no action is possible. It is its own legacy and without it we are lost. Remember, nothing is more important than love. Not truth, not being right, not winning, not succeeding or failing. It is the golden rule and the greatest commandment of all religions. LOVE.

There is so much more to say, but sometimes there are too many words. This, I believe, summarizes my thoughts and feelings of late. Perhaps they will inspire you to consider your life in the light of death and appreciate it fully now, even if you don’t get a chance to remember it later. Others will.