Another meeting in the wistful longers club, of which I am the only member
September 19, 2006
Preface: this post is long and rambling and is about ME, not you. If you love living in the middle of nowhere I am happy for you, honestly. I wish I were too. This post sounds way more depressing than I really intend it to be, but I don’t feel like going back and changing it to try and make it sound funny or chipper. There are good things about living here, mostly good things for the children and their Norman Rockwell like existence. I feel like I am constantly evaluating my life on a balance and most of the time it equals out. But then there are times when the suddenly the balance seems to have shifted. This is one of those times.
Twelve years ago I was finishing up grad school, living in a college city and pregnant with my first child. We had just gotten married. Rob had just begun his first real post graduate job. There were a lot of things that we liked about living in a city. Being able to walk places, the theater, the fact that things were open past 6:00pm, and that eating at Red Lobster wasn’t the height of sophisticated dining all come to mind.
Six months later, after watching way too many episodes of This Old House, we would move away from the city to a small town. One that is too far away from any neighboring city to be considered a suburb. I really thought that I would like it. I thought it would be like living in a cross between Country Home and Martha Stewart magazines. I thought that once I was surrounded by the great outdoors, fresh air, and dirt that I would grow to like the outdoors, fresh air and dirt.
I imagined a little vegetable garden outside my kitchen door that would be surrounded by a cute white picket fence with the paint peeling in that delighfully shabby chic way. Somehow those beautiful canning jars filled with tasty homegrown produce would just appear on my windowsill through no effort on my part. It would be like magic. And it would be a good thing.
I have come to realize that shabby chic really just looks shabby outside of a magazine photo and canned produce needs to be stored in a dark cool place like a basement, not with sun streaming through it on the kitchen windowsill, no matter how attractive Martha tells you it will look above your sink.
It was a culture shock. I went from an academic environment where people talked about ideas and issues. Suddenly I was in a place where all the women talked about were recipes, coupons, and the business of their neighbors. And they all seemed to have taken their marriage vows to mean that they are now physically grafted to their husbands and unable to go anywhere after dark without them. I can remember saying to my husband at one point that I used to talk about smart things, and that now I couldn’t even find anyone whose idea of good reading extended beyond People Magazine.
I was actually kicked out of the “coupon club” because I couldn’t keep up with all the rules. It was so stressful all the coupon clipping, organizing and trading and knowing to whom the coupons were supposed to go. Being kicked out of that “club” should have been my first indication to get the hell out of dodge. But instead I was incredibly depressed about it. Why couldn’t I find this life fulfilling? Why couldn’t I enjoy going to candle, avon, and crystal home parties?
People kept saying give it time, you will grow to love it. After awhile I just stopped talking about it and resolved to try harder.
My husband loves living away from all civilization, though I think part of his love of it is that he works in a big city. Therefore he has some balance. In fact his dream is to live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere when he retires, think Swiss Family Robinson meets LLBean. And he might just end up doing that… with his next wife, because I can’t imagine living there.
There was nothing nearby our little farmhouse. I couldn’t even take the kids for a walk in the stroller because it was far too hilly and there was nowhere to walk to anyway. There really isn’t anywhere to drive to either. But other people talk about this like it is a positive.
Three years ago we sold our tiny 200 year old farmhouse that was on a river and moved to the neighboring town into another historic house. This time we are in town. I thought that this would be better. And in some ways it is. Mostly because we bought this house as an investment and I knew it wasn’t long term. The town has nice well funded library. We can walk there. Hmmm, that is about it for positive things I can say. There isn’t anything awful I could say about it either, it’s just… boring.
I think I would probably enjoy living in a small town like this if it were closer to a big city. If there were opportunities for going to the theater, museums, hell, even a Target that was closer than an hour away.
I have gotten really good at biting my tongue. So much so that I rarely talk anymore. I can now pretend I am listening to a conversation while I discreetly pinch my thigh so that I still know that I am alive and scream inside my head.
At some point I just withdrew and stopped trying to find friends. I accepted that it was just how it was going to be. I’m sure that there are people out there that I would love to be friends with, but I am weary from the process now.
Just yesterday I was talking to someone I have been friendly with for ten years. She was telling me a story about the gym she goes to. WHen I suddenly blurted out, “You have been going to that same gym every single day for ten years, to the same Y every afternoon with your kids, the same grocery store, and interacted with the same handful of people for ten years… does it not bother you at all?” And you know what? it doesn’t bother her at all. She finds it comforting, predictable, familiar. Obviously the problem is with me.
After eleven years I finally have come to the realization that it isn’t going to take more time. I am never going to be happy here. I feel like I am biding my time, waiting for my real life to happen. Eleven years is a really long time to do that. A really long time.
I know it is exciting. The thing with home renovation on a budget is that everything happend is stages. Small small stages that seem to take forever to get from one to the next. Rob and I frequently wonder what people do on the weekends who don’t have a billion and one projects lined up to fill the entire 48 hours. We hope to find out one day soon. Really really hope.
Our family room/breakfast room/kitchen renovation has been ongoing since we bought the house three years ago. Have you any idea how much entire new kitchens cost? We didn’t either before we bought this house. But now we know they cost approximately the GNP of a mid sized country. And for someone who doesn’t even enjoy cooking, I know far more about drawer glides, the benefits of full overlay cabinet doors versus the more period appropriate inset design, pot fillers, dish warmers, appliance lay out, and why I can not possibly live without some ridiculously high priced gadget, than I think should be allowed.
And still? We are months and months and MONTHS away from even being at the point where we can order new kitchen cabinets. But each little project gets us closer.
This is what our breakfast room looked like about a year into the project.
It is barely recognizable even to us. That wall right in front of you there with the world’s smallest washer and dryer is no longer there. The kitchen beyond that wall hasn’t changed much.
Then about a year and a half into the project we were here:
Where the door and window are located to the right in the photo is now this (if you were looking in the opposite direction):
Saturday morning I had this:
Saturday afternoon I had this:
By saturday night I had a completely working door with out any holes to the outside. And also a doorknob I put on myself. It was actually quite the pain in the ass as it came with all these extra pieces that I had no idea what to do with. At least I assume they were extra since I didn’t use them and the door seems to be working fine. I didn’t take a picture of the completed installation. And even though I am sitting less than 20 ft away from it right now, I am too lazy to get up and take one. You can use your imagination. It’s a door.
This is exciting because this is the side of the house where we park. Hopefully we will have steps soon too so we I don’t have to just look 3 feet up in the air at the door longingly. Apparently I am the only one whith weak scrawny arms that can’t hoist my own body weight up. Or have to yell at the kids to stop jumping out because they can’t shut the door behind them when they do. And the mosquitos seem to be experiencing something of a rebirth this weekend.
I frequently am asked what the kids are doing when we we are busy with all the home renovations.
They busy themselves with sharp objects and tools.
Things I have learned that I didn’t know I needed to know, but now I freely share the knowledge with you
September 15, 2006
1) If you, or more accurately your toddler, eat a Barbie shoe it will come out looking exactly like it went in, the same goes for those magnetic marbles that my older children are so fond of leaving all over the house.
2) When you are in the store buying Magic Markers, do not be lulled into the buying the teacher approved 50 cent box of crayola markers. Spend the extra money. Buy the ones that say washable. They are teacher approved because the teacher doesn’t care if your child ruins their brand new clothing.
3) As soon as you venture into the attic storage area and bring down all the cold weather crap and organize it and wash it and fold it up, the weather will forcast 80 degree temperatures through the weekend. Everyone who lives in the tristate area and has bitching and moaning about the cold weather can thank me now. You are welcome.
You are a boy of few words. As I type this you are sitting on my lap pointing across the kitchen sayng, “Joe…joe” over and over again. You are getting increasingly annoyed by my inability to understand what it is that you so desperately want. Coffee? Cup of Joe? Do you want coffee? At this point I would willingly give it to you in an effort to save me from anymore whining.*
You are very particular about your food. If I peel your banana I must leave the peel on, like a wrapper for you to hold. The same goes for granola bars, string cheese, or anything else that comes in a wrapper. When you get to the very bottom of the banana and the peel has to come off, you have a huge fit. EVERY TIME. You fling yourself on the floor and scream and cry, “Noooooo. Nooooooo” You refuse to eat the last part. I think you should just get over it now. I know that I laugh and I realize that probably upsets you even more. But I can’t help it.
You are a climber. You climb onto everything. Last week you tumbled off the bench at our kitchen table banging your face on the way down. I would notice a few hours later that you chipped your front tooth. First your father’s thumb, now your tooth, I think those benches might be out to get us. You will push things over and stack them up in order to reach something that is forbidden, like the sugar bowl or the stove top. Yes, I aged about ten years the day I found you sitting on the cook top playing with all the knives. Even though you were perfectly fine all the things that could have happened ran through my mind.
There is no sort of child proofing device that is safe from you. You can undo, or work around all of them. I have to hide things that I don’t want you to get into. Just this morning you opened a child-proof bottle of medication that was sitting on the table between us. If you feel the need for a snack, you will just go and get one, as if asking for one is not even a thought you would entertain. Likewise you will go into the bathroom and brush your teeth, usually trying out everyone’s toothbrushes and then wash your own hands. One favor I have to ask you though, will you please remember to turn the water off and not throw the hand towels into the sink that that it overflows? Thank you. I will appreciate it.
You run and jump and have learned to pedal a tricycle. You have obviously inherited your father’s superior athletic ability genes and not my unco-ordinated ones. The way that you love watching sports and balls of all kinds I realize that we are in for many many more years of coaching, watching, and spending every waking moment immersed in sports. I am oddly comforted by the fact that in ten years your oldest brother will be 22 and he might like to help coach your little league team or bring you to games, while your father and I relax and play Canasta.
You love to read books now. And “read” outloud with great expression while you do it. I especially love how now one of your favorite books is punctuated with an Ooops on every page. The other morning you were reading it in bed,and as I lay there in bed I couldn’t help but stifle a giggle as you said “Uh-OH” loudly in place of ooops before you turned each page.
Not quite as fun is the way that you want me to read the same book over and over and over again in a precise, though unclear to me, manner that can not be deviated from in the least.
You have had your first time outs this month. Which you seem to enjoy a little more than a person being punished should. In fact, if anyone else is sent to time out, you enthusiastically join them. You will sit in the corner in the kitchen looking at me with your big wide eyes. Suddenly you will say “Daw dawn” (all done, for those of you not up on the toddler lingo) complete with your hand sign and get up to walk away. The few times I have tried to stop you, you have looked at me and emphatically stated, “DAW DAWN” complete with what I believe to be an eye roll and look of disgust. And though I know I shouldn’t do it, I laugh. And yes you get out of time out.
You love to play outside and will try to sneak out of the house given any opportunity. We found out recently that you know how to open the sliding doors in our sunroom when I happened to look out the window and see you swinging on the swings in the backyard all alone. It might not have been that bad, except that it was night time. Now whenever you are out of my sight I suddenly begin freaking out and screaming, “Where is the baby? Where is he?!” and your siblings will usually point out that you are right behind me.
You idolize your sister. Everything she does you think is the coolest, bestest thing ever. I love the way that you look at her, as if the sun rises and sets because of her, which incidentally she believes is the case also. You are content with any morsel of attention she throws your way.
You have decided that baths are the worst thing ever and act as if you are being dipped into a vat of boiling oil. While I bathe you as fast as I can you try to claw your way up my arm and out of the bath. Perhaps you are part cat.
You also have an equal dislike for bedtime. When the sun sets, you think it is time to pull out all your cute tricks and be so adorable that we can not bear to send you off to your crib. That is how cute you act. And the sad thing? I fall for it every single night. And then around 10:00 pm I’ll suddenly look at the clock and realize you are still awake.
My favorite part of this video is how you laugh and laugh and act like going to bed is the biggest joke ever, like I could not possibly be serious that it was time for sleep.
Yup, my house is like a frat house for toddlers.
You are still the most smiley child, ever. You are so happy all the time. And your dimples, I could get lost in them.
I love you smiley Miley.
*After a tour of the kitchen and the various cabinets you decided that you were screaming about a banana. Have you forgotten how to say banana?
in which I fantasize about living somewhere tropical
September 13, 2006
Yesterday I lit a fire in my wood burning stove.
After complaing about being cold all day and the house having an indoor temperature of 59 degrees, and after calling my husband to whine several times, I broke down and lit it.
Conversations with my husband during which I may or may not have said, “Sure, you get to go to work where there is heat, grown-up conversation, and restaurants. While I sit home shivering calculating the price of heating oil and wondering what the price would be for selling my plasma.” I know, you are jealous. You wish you were married to me.
And my husband may or may not have answered, “Then light the stove, but for the love of all things holy stop calling me and complaining. Do you think I like being here?”
And I may or may not have answered, “Why YES I think you do like being there!”
Photos! Because when you have nothing to write about share photos. It’s like the comic book version of my blog. (more…)
I never really hear people talking about September 12, 2001. I remember that day even more clearly. Perhaps it is because by then I had tracked down everyone that I knew. I had fielded phone calls from people who had vague ideas that Rob traveled but had no idea when or where he would be. Heard all the stories of friends of friends of friends that I could bear to hear. It was the day I finally started breathing again.
I didn’t leave my house on that September 11. I had nowhere to go.
The next day as I drove down the road I noticed the flags. Flags hanging on every house I went past. Huge flags that hung two stories from the top of their house, rows of tiny flags lining their walkway, flags hanging on flagpoles, flags displayed in windows. I wondered where these people had gotten all these flags in one day. Had they had the flags and never displayed them? I had never seen so many flags, not even on July 4th. (I also noticed how many people hung their flags backward and wondered why they didn’t think it loked weird to have the stars on the right). People with signs on their lawns, “God Bless America” or “We Will Never Forget” and a lump welled up in my throat and my eyes were filled with tears. I am not normally like that.
Mingling with the tremendous sadness and loss there was an underlying sense somehow that we as a country were united. We were strong. We would persevere. We still had hope.
And now five years later I wonder where those feelings went.
What is the biggest change since September 11, 2001?
I hear people say it was the day the realized their own mortality. The day they saw the face of God… or lost their faith in him. The day they decided to pursue their dreams or mend past relationships. When I reflect on what has changed for me on a personal level, it is much more subtle.
Now when my husband travels for work and gets on a plane, the children say, “I hope no one crashes your plane into a building.” Or when they wave goodbye as he drives off to the airport one of them will nonchalantly say, “I hope he doesn’t die, Mom” and then they go right back to riding on their scooter, hitting a baseball, tormenting their sibling.
This nonchalant attitude isn’t because they don’t love their father, they do. It’s just that this is a real possibility in their minds. Even the ones who were not old enough to remember the day itself. It is the back drop to their lives. Terrorism:It’s the new normal.
One time I got annoyed and snapped back at one of them, “Of course nothing is going to happen. Of course he is coming back.”
And my third born son looked me in the eye and said, “Didn’t all those people [on 9/11] think that too?” And he was right. Upon examining my own reaction I realized that I didn’t want to be reminded of that fact either. I wanted to pretend things were the same as they had been before that day.
That is the lingering legacy of September 11.
That my children have this sense that nothing is a given. There are no absolutes that they can count on. That the idea of a plane crashing into a building and killing people isn’t some far fetched idea. It is real. It happened.
All of the accounts that I read of September 11, 2001 start off stating the weather. The beautiful blue skyed day. A day that seemed too beautiful for something bad to happen. A day where the weather and the events that were to occur seems incongruous. Since I live right outside of NYC, I remember the weather too. I also remember the absolute still quiet outside. No planes flew overhead that day. No children were running around screaming in their yards. It was eerie. And I remember standing in the middle of my backyard and just looking up into the sky and thinking, ‘Why?’
It was a day that started out like any other for 2996 people and their families.
Including David E. Rivers.
I didn’t know David. I don’t know his family. I don’t really know anything about him other than what I could google about him.
He was a son, a brother, a husband and a father.
He was scheduled to give a seminar on the 106th floor of the North tower at Windows on the World on September 11 and 12. He did not ordinarily work at the World trade Center.
David Rivers was the key editorial person in New York for Risk Waters’ publications, and a man widely respected by everyone involved in financial IT. Married 17 years, he had a five-year-old son and a wife, Ricky, who was big in the world of fashion. They lived in the Village on Fifth Avenue. By all accounts she was the one who kept him well dressed.
According to Dennis Waters, the founder of Waters Informational Services, David was not shy about laughing. What a great quality to have.
At a movie party in TriBeCa 18 years ago, Ricky Vider Rivers met her future husband, David, a newcomer to New York by way of Massachusetts. Within three weeks, the two had moved in; they’d been together since.
“He was my soul mate, my best friend, my everything,” said Mrs. Rivers, a fashion editor. “And I can’t believe we won’t see him again.”
Mr. Rivers, 40, was editorial director at Risk Waters Group, a financial technology company that was sponsoring a conference at Windows on The World on Sept. 11. After the first plane hit, Mr. Rivers called his wife, who had forgotten that he was in the building. “I’m just hoping he was calm in that storm, standing there on the top of the building,” she said.
Last weekend, the family held a memorial service for Mr. Rivers on Martha’s Vineyard, a treasured place where he spent summers as a boy and later as a husband and father. “We put a box in the ground with a key to the beach in it,” Mrs. Rivers said. “Because that’s all we have left.”
She continued: “Our son James, who is 5 years old, asks ‘Why did Daddy have to be there that day?’ And I can’t answer him.”
I think of my own five year old son who I just wrote about a few days ago. And then I think of my ten year old son who was five on September 11, 2001. And I am at a loss for words. There aren’t any that can express the magnitude of my sorrow for his family.
While we lost so much as a nation, David’s wife and son lost him, an individual person who was irreplaceable in their lives.
I don’t know why either, James.
I am no one special. I have certainly never done anything remotely heroic in my life. But what I can do is write. And today I write about David Rivers. One person I will never forget. One face to humanize a tragedy.
I hope that I do his life justice.
James, I won’t forget your father. When I go to Martha’s Vineyard and walk on the beach I will think of him. When I feel the sand between my toes and the salty waves splash up onto legs, I will think of him. And though I have never listened to Emmylou Harris, I did today.
David also brought a distinctive style to the content and design of his publications, particularly Waters. To him, the magazine’s graphic design set it apart from its competitors as much as its content did. We all learned a lot from him – not just about this industry but what it means to be a journalist. He certainly set an example. David spent many weekends tapping furiously on his laptop while listening to Emmylou Harris or Chocolate Genius. It’s a sound – and a presence – we deeply miss.
When I saw this photo on one of the many websites I visited I thought here is a person who loved life, who loved to laugh, who was surrounded by friends.
I have written and rewritten this, trying to find the right words. In the end I decided to edit out most of his career resume. I realized what made him special is the same thing that makes all of us special. We love and we are loved.
So sweep for the sons
And the dear darling daughters
For the passing of time
And the parting of waters
For all who have passed through
This world long before me
To a far distant shore line
Where no one waits for me
But I cried a river
A river for him
That’s deeper and wider
Than I’ll ever swim
The heart it will harden
The sorrow will dim
But I cried a river
A river for him