Growing Old Connections

I can feel the dirt sneaking its way into my gloves, leaving grit in my fingernails. The fabric is coated in rubber, but soil seems to happily ignore this feature. I pause and find gratitude for the small level of protection. Gratitude and slowness in the moments that are slow enough to notice have been my saving grace during quarantine.

While each day, hour, minute seems to jump in levels of uncertainty, moodiness, job duties, and needs, we’re now mostly able to ebb and flow as a family along with the fluctuations. 

For the most part, we’re sharing an inflatable life raft. When someone falls out, we’re nearby to pull them back to the reality of the boat. When one of us starts flipping out over homework or an infuriating social media moment, we’ll regroup and remind each other just to focus on the motion of rowing, together.

Togetherness will get us through.

Strangely enough, this doesn’t apply to being with anyone outside our raft. Right now, our mental health and ability to survive relies solely on keeping our little life boat afloat.

When we were first starting to get the hang of the situation, emotions ran high and we threw spaghetti at the wall trying to determine what would work for us to keep a semblance of normality. We had uncomfortable Skype and Zoom calls. Unnatural attempts at driveway-window chats. Facebook Kids. Anything to try to connect with nearby family, but none of it seemed to stick or work to form connections.

Turns out, what worked the most was us. Our closely knit group of hilarious, creative, passionate little people…and the two parents who are just lucky enough to get to share in their lives.

Emotions still run very much hot and cold; I can’t change who I am just as much as our two-year-old can’t change her own speech delay. We are who we are, and somehow we’ve all grown to accept each other with far greater understanding while being squished together in close quarters. 

But, while we miss the family and friends and connections outside our home (and, sure, chat via the window or a good, old-fashioned phone call), my connections have started coming from unexpected family members.

The ones that have long since passed.

As part of my quarantine birthday this year, my husband renewed my Ancestry account. I hadn’t worked on my family tree since our firstborn was still in diapers. Two more kids later and it seemed like no better time than to give me a distraction with doors into the past.

What can I say? He gets me.

So, while I enjoy the occasional chat with my own mom, one of my favorite connections is to people I’m revisiting or, better yet, meeting for the first time. My husband’s long lost family from Italy. My grandmother’s British side, leading me to wonder how they would’ve felt about the deeply rooted Irish contingency that took over most of my bloodline.

Having experienced the life-shaping loss of a parent at a young age, death and the relationships we share with the departed are large, looming life themes for me. The grandparents who stepped up helped mould my mind, my sentiments, and my philosophies, and gifted me with the perspective of history. 

Each time that I click a new leaf and discover a new name, I greet the person with excitement. I wonder a hundred or more things about their life.

I make assumptions about the difficulties that they must have endured simply to survive in a certain place at a certain time. I give thanks that they did, and know that the tough survival instincts many of us have lost aren’t truly lost; they were passed down, but have laid dormant until this very unique, challenging time. 

It’s here to slow us down, to make us sit with discomfort, and recognize our ability to do hard things in order to survive and thrive. I live my 21st century life, performing my job and teaching my kids through technology. But the historical passion and interest I’ve always had is bubbling to the surface like sourdough fermenting; I may not be living with such difficulties, after all. Seeing these names and reading my son Farmer Boy everyday brings it all home. A pinch of perspective can have soothing effects.

So, as I continue to turn the dirt in my hands and plant new seeds in my brand new raised bed, I’m feeling more connected than ever.

Hoping to see new leaves spring forth, a bridge between now and then.

I’m learning the lessons they teach from the grave. Their resilience. Their ability to create a life and survive with far worse circumstances. I yearn, more so, to know those lessons that have disappeared. The common sense connection to nature and the seasons. When to plant, when to prepare (always). How to sustain a family. 

My garden is late this year, but I will grow for them.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Together, Apart”.

Summer Daydreams

We spend so much time stockpiling gifts, planning fun times and decorating that, in addition to the actual enjoyment of the holidays, it’s a pretty big letdown when it’s over. Many of us (myself included) even experience a mild depression when we bid adieu to Christmas every year. It sometimes takes awhile to get over, with winter weather adding “blah” to the bummer.

Almost as if an annual routine, I start to get the urge to plan the fun times that we hope to have when the weather turns warm. I think about the activities that Hadley will be able to enjoy (at his stage in development/maturity) and even start to mentally plan for his July birthday party. Family often makes fun of me for over-planning and over-thinking things, but it actually helps me a) keep mentally organized and feel on top of things, and b) get enjoyment out of the experience. The excitement is half the fun!

So, although nothing is in stone for our general Spring/Summer 2015 plans, I thought it’d be fun to have a little brain dump of the things we’d like to undertake in the spring and summer. Here goes!

Growing Old Connections - image 0c059-summer2bdaydream on
CSA – We’ll finally be joining a CSA for some regular, local veggies. Yay! Now is the perfect time to do our research to decide which farm we’ll be choosing. It would be awesome if it was one that we could visit or even do some work on so that Hadley has an idea of where some of the food is from, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Either way, I’m excited to try some different produce and recipes with the family.

Utica Zoo membership – Last year, we LOVED our zoo membership. It only makes sense to support their cause and enjoy it with the little guy again. Plus, they have an awesome playground setup that Hadley will love even more this year, with his longer legs and better stability. And the monkeys. Oh, the monkeys.

Trip to Western Mass – Hopefully, this doesn’t have to wait until summer! Hadley’s been asking about his little buddy in Massachusetts every few days, so we feel awful that we haven’t been back sooner. (Oh, and we want to see our old friends there, too!) It’s Dave’s old stomping ground, so it’s like a second home full of happy memories for us to return to regularly. Plus, they have the Eric Carle Museum, which is a family favorite.

Beach – Last year, the only place we went with sand was a small beach in Old Forge. On a chilly day. With occasional drizzles. It was far from ideal and involved no splashing, no sunbathing, no playing. This year, I’m hoping that we can get to one of the family-friendly beaches closer to home. (Last year, there were some red algae issues, so there were lots of “no using the water” warnings. Hopefully, there will be fewer this year.) I can’t wait for Hadley to play in the sand and splash in the water (hopefully he’ll be less terrified by water in his face if playing is involved), and admittedly I can’t wait to get my toes in some sand, too. Fingers crossed!

Old Forge – Speaking of Old Forge…we try to get there every year to wander and sight-see, but last year was by far the worst I can recall. Between places being non-stroller friendly and the chilly, rainy weather (in August?!), it was kind of a bust. We made the best of it and found coffee and donuts for the trip home (best part of the day!), but I’m already assuming that anything will be better than last year. I don’t expect every trip or experience to be the best thing ever, but when it’s far less than mediocre…well…it’s disappointing. Even the farmers’ market was too soggy and full of imported produce to get excited over.

Time to try a city? – I’ve talked about the fear of bringing Hadley into a big city because he’s still not great at listening and following directions. (Okay, some days he’s even worse at it.) So, I’m still wary about this, but I’m wondering if we go to a city in the middle of a week, we might be better as far as crowds go. I’m partial to Boston (and NYC and Philly, but those are still a bit nuts to consider), especially with the Freedom Trail as a way of getting some history in without having to try to force good behavior in a museum. Their aquarium might be a hit with the little guy, too. But, if we can’t do that, maybe another smaller trip like our Concord excursion last year (but to a different spot).

Local adventures – For awhile now, I’ve wanted to get the family into the local experiences that make our area unique. We often forget about the historical and natural gems in our own backyard, so I’m hoping that, whether it’s just a farmers’ market, a nature walk, or a stop at a nearby historical destination, we’ll be able to do this weekly. Again, fingers crossed. I hope to make a list

THREE! – Dudes. Can you believe it?! Our little guy is turning the big 3 this July! I’m sure I’ll do yet another brain dump of fun stuff I’m drooling over on Pinterest (and if I’m lucky 50% of it will make it to the party – Hadley’s a mind-changer…but what 2 1/2-year-old isn’t?). The only thing that he’s told me definitively has me adamantly agreeing: strawberry cake. Damn straight, child. You shall have your cake. (And it will be organic and from scratch. Shh. Guests don’t need to know.)

House hunt – I’ve mentioned before that we’re finally hoping to move to a new town (relatively nearby), namely to get a larger space for the family that we can hopefully own long-term. Given that our current space is about 1,000 square feet, we’ve always known that this wasn’t going to be our forever home. So, while I hope to hit up tons of the above, if we’re in the midst of moving (or obtaining a larger mortgage), we’ll see what we can do. Heck, maybe his party will be at a new, larger setting.

For now, though, we’re going to hunker down and enjoy the good that winter brings. I do enjoy snow (and the prospect of snow days!), drinking hot chocolate, and cozying up with a good book. Although, admittedly, I’ll be super happy when the sunset happens later than 4:30. Oye.

Parisian Parenting

Growing Old Connections - image  on https://megactsout.comLet me start by saying that I haven’t been too excited about reading parenting books. Even the pregnancy books, while at times enlightening and highly educational (I do need to know this stuff, after all…apparently *wink*), haven’t gotten me excited. In all honesty, the only thing that gets me REALLY excited is the growing belly (although clothes are the devil lately), the occasional “knock-knock” baby’s giving me (yes, I know you’re there!), and the private conversations I get to have with my husband about everything. Oh, and the thoughts of how to decorate the nursery – those are pretty fun, too.

But, when I saw that this story was going to be on “The Today Show” this morning, I immediately said, “Ohhhh, I hope they post a link for that on Facebook so I can see it!” I adore that Dave watched it, and texted me the title of the book that it was based on. I asked him what he thought about it all (I had been a bit of a skeptic when I heard it, assuming they’d skew it in a Tiger Mom direction), and he said that it “sounded really good”. Wow, a glowing recommendation…about a parenting book…from my man. How could I NOT get a tad excited?

Then, I watched the link (which, side note, I Googled). While the article accompanying the video at first admonishes the idea that one culture shouldn’t blatantly state that it’s better at anything (ironic, being Americans), but goes on to recognize that the author writes in a humorous, thoughtful manner (and apparently from an American perspective – being an American in France). Whew, good to know.

Here’s the video link. Give it a try. 🙂

So, I’ve put the book (entitled Bringing Up Bebe – accent on the “e”s) into my Amazon Baby Wishlist (soon to be my Amazon Baby Registry), although I’m so excited to read it, I may have to purchase it as my “first baby item”. That’s right, we technically haven’t purchased any clothes, books, ANYTHING (other than stuff for the nursery, but I see that more as organization – not fun stuff) for the baby since finding out. I just haven’t found the perfect “first onesie”. Plus, we’ve already been getting awesome hand-me-downs (including my sister’s favorite pregnancy book, which is where I’m getting all my “knowledge” on the ins-and-outs of what’s happening and what will happen), so there’s no point in splurging. Not quite yet. Not if we’re squeezing pennies. (That, and we don’t want stuff for stuff’s sake.)

It’s not that we’re down on American parenting. Heck, it’s what WE had, and we’re (pretty) well-adjusted and (publicly) respectful members of society. But, we’re open to alternate ideas on the subject – anything that may give kids in a 21st century environment greater sensitivity and awareness, and which may make parenting a more connected, less co-dependent situation. After seeing countless American children in my everyday job over the past several years, I’ve seen some wonderful behavior…but I’ve seen absolutely selfish, demanding, relentless behavior. And, I hate to say it, but it’s on the rise. It’s a challenge when trying to teach independent use of the library for future success as young adults and adults, I’ll tell ya that.

So, I’ll be sure to let you know how the book is when I’ve finally received and read it. Heck, that may not be until a month before the baby comes. I foresee that it’ll be hard to put it down for the pregnancy books.

What do YOU think? Are things just fine the way we handle parenting in America? Or, is it right to look for other methods elsewhere? Do tell.

Grandma’s Hands

Last night, I cut myself while cooking. Actually, I kind of carved myself. If I hadn’t had a split second “oh crap!” moment, I probably would’ve lost half an inch of my thumb and fingernail, and embarrassingly requested that my husband drive me to the hospital. As it was, I stood there holding my paper towel-wrapped thumb high in the air, calmly saying to him, “Don’t freak out, but…” It worked! He didn’t freak out (although we both know he wanted to) and I forced myself to clean and bandage the wound up without throwing up or passing out. I now know what mommyhood will look like. I still feel like passing out thinking of the blood, the pain, and the reality of what the awkward, sliced fingernail looks like. Blah. Ick.

But, while I saw the blood instantly fill the layers of paper towel, I couldn’t help but feel proud. I’ve been cooking for quite awhile and have had plenty of mishaps – mostly involving collecting burn scars – but this was the first “does that need stitches?” sort of injury. My thoughts instantly went to my grandmother.

“Grandma Heidi” was called by this confusing nickname because, for whatever reason, our sets of grandparents were named for their dogs: Grandma and Grandpa Heidi, Grandma and Grandpa Ginger. As I came along, it got even more blurry since the dogs had long since passed. Regardless, the nicknames stuck. The only way I could remember the names was when Grandpa Heidi showed me an old “Heidi” movie and I started to associate the book (along with the grandfather in it) with him.

Anyhoo, we spent a lot of time with the Heidi grandparents. I would guess that we actually spent an abnormal amount of time at their house compared to most families, between living in the same village, their VERY close proximity to our elementary school, and their silent, ever-present willingness to help Mom in the tough raising of four children alone. We were incredibly lucky.

Grandpa, as far as my relationship with him goes, has always been my hero. If I start to elaborate, I WILL cry. Needless to say, he was one of the several men who raised me, and he was full of patience and kindness for me, with just the right levels of discipline and intimidation. I will surely be struck down when he passes, one day.

Grandma Heidi, on the other hand, was a pip. She was the undisputed matriarch of the family. While she and Grandpa were both Marines, serving during WWII, she was the one who seemed to embody that strictness. Simultaneously, she seemed to have a vein of mischief that you knew she used to unleash with her lady Marine buddies back when she was living that life.

There are countless stories to prove her conflicting sides. For example, my sister and I had to make the bed when we stayed over…but our way wouldn’t do. She taught us how to make the bed as she was taught in the Marines (although I don’t recall whether she actually did bounce a quarter), and always checked before we could go about our day.

At the same time, her naughtiness came through when she gave the Sign of Peace in church. You knew it was coming, yet it was disrespectful NOT to shake hands. CRUSH. Grandma would squeeze so hard she’d flatten the bones in your hand and leave you on your knees howling…to which, Mom would turn and snap at you. Not Grandma. You. And I can’t count how many times, while teaching me how to play Gin (or several other card games) she blew smoke in my face when I started to learn how to win. It was also her cue to suddenly change the rules.

But, ultimately, her love was palpable, even if not stated or even shown regularly. That’s just how the family was.

So, how is this all relevant to my Band-Aid finger? I watched her cook from the time I could peer over the countertop. I was sometimes lucky enough to get picked up and sit ON the counter to help mix cookies. (I remember Mary getting frustrated and jealous over that, but they had a much deeper connection, so no hard feelings harbored.) While she might not have been the best cook on Earth, the sights and smells are deeply-rooted memories. Her spice cabinet was unrivaled as far as smells. The taste of grape jelly in the middle of a spaghetti dinner – yes, a palette cleanser, don’t judge. The anticipation of watching molasses coloring her famous molasses cookies.

As much as everything else, I was mesmerized by her hands. The arthritis bulged her joints slightly, the skin rolling like uneven hillsides covering ancient cities, and lines showing as much age as experience. Accompanying and interrupting those lines, you could see the nicks and splices that had built up over her many decades of cooking. Those years cooking for her large family when her mother died. Those years that she cooked, as a newlywed, for her new husband along with his siblings. Those years that she made meals of indelible memories for her five children – who cared so much about their Sunday food routines and famous recipes that I was asked to compile a plethora of stories and memories into a homemade cookbook for them to share. Those hands meant a lot to a small, exclusive club of Cunningham (and subsequent) family.

I recall intensely staring at her fingers. I do remember her having the occasional Band-Aid, or making that clinched-teeth-sucking-in-air sound while chopping, then rushing to run water over it. While I didn’t look forward to being in pain, I looked forward to being Grandma. And, incidentally, Mom – they have the same hands, although Mom’s are less soft but definitely hard-working and gentle.

I didn’t feel like either of them until last night. After making my initial “chchhchceeee” clenched noise, I smiled and laughed. I had gotten my badge. And I’d avoided getting blood in the onions.