See if you can guess who had a nap and who didn’t . . .
In the early 1990s, Don and I were lucky enough to be living in an apartment housed in a grand and gracious Victorian home. The livingroom featured a marble fireplace, hardwood floors, and floor-to-ceiling windows. When December rolled around, the room simply begged for a live Christmas tree. We went to a farm not far from where we were living to tag the tree, and a tradition was born. Every year since we have traipsed to this same farm, often with Don’s parents, to choose the perfect tree.
But this year we tried something new.
In the fall we had occasion to go to Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown with Oscar’s preschool. Our goal was to choose a pumpkin for a Halloween display. But the net result was that we had fallen in love with this place. The offerings–including fresh produce, pastries, sauces, and soups–were, of course, a draw, but there was something about the atmosphere that guaranteed our return visit. When it was time to tag the Christmas tree, we toyed with the idea of going back to the same farm we always had–the first one we went to as a couple, the first farm our children ever saw–our usual, traditional place.
But we didn’t.
We left yesterday afternoon after a quick rainstorm left us with temperatures slightly over 50 degrees and headed to Sweet Berry Farm. We first had a delicious lunch in the farmstand’s cafe–Don and I feasting on a sublime homemade pumpkin curry soup and the boys finding their favorite fare without event–a slice of fresh pizza for Edgar and a cheese sandwich for Oscar. We sat in a sunpatch and talked about whether or not the Grinch might be out in the field stealing Christmas trees.
We then got into the car and drove out to the field and found our tree–all in under 15 minutes.
The entire experience was so successful that it is exceedingly tempting to declare this a new tradition. There is certainly a place for traditions in our lives–they envelop us in a comfortable familiarity and help us to call up memories while connecting us to past, present, and future generations. But traditions can also prevent us from trying something new. And while we endeavor to live in the present, it might be worth remembering that whether an experience happens here or there is not nearly as important as sharing the experience with those we love.
We may return to Sweet Berry Farm for the next twenty years–have a delcious lunch and then find the perfect tree in record time–or we may not. But it is our hope that no matter where we wind up we’ll be together; and that is ultimately what matters. It’s what we’ll remember.
On this Thanksgiving evening, before I crawl into the bed that is trying so desperately to pry me off this keyboard, I need to pause and express my gratitude for the people in my life–the people who listen when I need to talk, who talk when I need to hear, who laugh with me and occasionally at me, who support me and care for me, for those who are there.
To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, “My friends and family are my estate.”
Our dog turned 14 today–which is a pretty significant accomplishment for a beagle (and her caregivers)! She’s a feisty girl (yes, she’s a girl–her name often throws people off). And tonight we celebrated with her favorite treat–a juicy, ripened tomato. Sure, she likes bones and other conventional dog fare, but ever since we moved into our house, we knew tomatoes were her snack of choice. One warm spring day, our next-door neighbor hand-delivered Templeton back to us. It seems our busy (and momentarily unsupervised) pup had dug under our fence and moved into our neighbor’s yard, then made a dash for her tomato garden and proceeded to feast. We knew we had moved to the right neighborhood when our neighbor found this amusing if not charming.
Templeton is still the willful puppy-faced girl she was all those years ago, but she is slowing down. Her walks aren’e nearly as long and she really can’t see or hear. But her nose works, and she still loves to eat. And we were thrilled that tonight we could celebrate her 14th birthday with Oscar and Edgar presiding.
The boys used a microphone and a megaphone to enhance their “Happy Birthday” song, and it meant a lot to know that they are now old enough that their memories of Templeton will be permanent. And though cleaning up after her is now a full-time job, she’s still our beautiful girl–our first “baby,” if you will. And it’s great to know that our children (the human ones) have had the opportunity to know her.
One of the unexpected benefits of being home sick when your children are well enough to run around, play, and be their usual exuberant selves is that when you have energy enough to only observe that is precisely what you do. And though at the weekend’s start it was initially disappointing not to be able to participate in many of Oscar and Edgar’s “reindeer games,” watching them from the sides not only provided me with glimpses of their ever-evolving interactions but offered to them an audience that, I think, enhanced their already burgeoning creativity. Whether it was creating dueling robots out of Tinker Toys or a medieval universe complete with costumes, the boys played often and well. And though there were occasionally moments when they forgot their parents were sick, they generally looked to each other for their amusement–playing Lego, doing puzzles, performing magic tricks, and reenacting scenes from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” And though I would certainly never wish ill health on anyone, if there was the proverbial silver lining in our self-imposed two-day hibernation it was that–out of necessity–we were the spectators to the theater that is childhood play. And though we’ll be thrilled to be able to soon again engage with the boys, it might not be a bad idea to once in a while step back and just watch. There is definitely a lot to see.
I have always had a bit of an ambivalent relationship with guilt. On the one hand, I can easily be convinced, in the words of a very good friend of mine, that “guilt is a useless emotion.” On the other hand, I also realize its place and its power to occasionally motivate. But the guilt a mother feels? Nothing ambivalent about that–not in the least.
This week has been a tough one for me physically. A fever on Sunday, too sick to go to work on Monday, dragging myself in on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning only to go home early on Thursday with yet another fever. I’m home today–listening to my body, sitting mostly still, drinking lots of tea and orange juice and giving myself permission to heal.
Last night, amidst fits of violent coughing, I suggested to Edgar that perhaps for tonight he should “read with Daddy.” The boys’ routine is generally Oscar reads with Don and I read with Edgar. Of course, on the rare occasion when one of us is out for the evening, the boys happily read with whomever is home. But when both of us are home, the routine is pretty fixed. The answer to Edgar’s crestfallen “Why?” to me seemed obvious as I alternately feared for the safety of my ribs and tried to keep the contents of my nose at bay. I said, “Mommy is sick. Please can you read with Daddy?”
Then the pursed lower lip. Then the tears. Real tears.
I got up from my slumped position in the chair, reached for his book of choice (Ian Falconer’s Olivia), invited Edgar to my intermittently convulsing lap, and read the story–twice.
Motivated by guilt? Maybe.
Motivated by love? Absolutely.
And we all slept well–Edgar secure in the knowledge that even when his parents are sick, they are still there for him. And me? Well, I’m sure the cough medicine didn’t hurt . . . but mostly because I was able to put Edgar to bed with a smile on his face.