Friday, January 29, 2010


Oldness, Newness

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend who was complaining about how we are expected in social media to present a "positive outlook" online and how we can't say what we are really feeling, if what we are feeling is really bad. I understand this frustration, because writing things down for me has always been a way to be honest, and we want to carry that honesty over into all forms of writing. It's just that a negative kind of honesty isn't necessarily meant to be shared with people--let alone strangers who stumble by. We are supposed to--as adults--maintain a polite and controlled persona when we interface with each other. We don't respect adults who throw tantrums (okay, we might secretly admire them a little bit, but we also try not to sit next to them in restaurants). And what I'm thinking about when it comes to life at this moment is constantly shifting and probably not really meant for strangers to read.

For example. I was thinking last night about oldness and newness. I was never someone who was very clear she wanted a family in the way that I was clear I wanted a book. I will say--just to throw this in--that having a baby makes me infinitely happier than having a book does. But I'm just trying to give you some context. But when my father died, I was very, very clear that I wanted a family. I thought about all the things he had done for me and it felt wrong to continue through life just being the recipient of people doing nice and nurturing things for me, without me doing the same thing back. There are, of course, lots of ways to be a nurturer--you can teach, or work with pets, or volunteer. For me--because of how I was raised--it meant having a family.

And, yes, there is this miracle to meeting someone new and watching a small baby literally "wake up" and become a conscious person--I read somewhere that the first few months of a baby's life are really like the fourth trimester, in that babies aren't really all that engaged with the world or with you in the way that we think of people engaging. And I see what this person meant--although I also see my baby "waking up" and responding to things, like his computer code is starting to really function. And then there's that weird stage where babies make all these faces in their sleep and I imagine it's like the programming just running tests--here is the smiley face, the sad face, the peaceful face--so that once the brain can actually interpret stimuli, the appropriate expression is ready to go.

But having a baby also makes me sad. What I mean is--when I comfort Ewan as I know only I can do (Me! Who was a failure as a babysitter! I baby sat 3 times--each a disaster. Now I can stop the baby hiccups, and calm him down, and somehow intuit if he's crying because he is cold, or needs a diaper change, or is . . . overstimulated and needs a dark room), I remember that my parents did this for me. And then I'm incredibly sad that my father is gone, and so too are the last vestiges of childhood.

I was reading about this incredible train set. You can see the video here.

And then I thought that my father would have found this fascinating. Except he would have wanted to make a train set and it would have been better than anything we could buy. He made my dollhouse, for example (my only regret in having a boy is that he will probably not be interested in the dollhouse. Also, my Mom and I can't take him into the Japanese baths with us when he is older). But my dad's not here. In fact, he's going to miss absolutely everything. What's worse, Ewan will miss everything.

I've heard from several people that it is good to read to babies. I am reading to Ewan. We are reading the Baby Smiles book, which he likes. Personally, I think he gets over-excited when Gordon reads him Yeats. But I try to read Nordic mythology (thank you, Allison) as calmly as possible so he will stay calm. He still likes Baby Smiles the best.

I asked Gordon the other day if he had had a favorite childhood book. He did.

I had one too. Mine was about a dog who was born invisible

My book was written by Wanda Gag, whose personal story I finally thought to look up-she reads like a character of a novel herself, someone who supported her siblings, after the death of their parents, and kept the family together. I loved this book--Nothing at All. My parents gave away my copy once I'd outgrown it, but then regretted doing so. Thanks to the magic that is Abebooks, I have a copy again. I would like to tell my father not to feel bad anymore about the missing book.

Then I sat down and read the book and wondered why this story about an invisible dog who just wants to be seen and to be reunited with the other dogs who have been adopted (he wasn't adopted because no one could see him) was so important to me. I remember being fascinated by the visual depiction of invisibility.

I picked up a couple of other books from Abebooks as well--Paddle to the Sea was a favorite in my grandmother's house. We cousins used to read it because we knew our parents had loved it. And this put me back to the time when my grandmother had been alive, in her house which I still dream about, and everything had felt permanent and safe. It occurs to me that I am supposed to have a home that also feels permanent and safe, even though I know that nothing is truly permanent in the physical sense.

And then looking at this book made me sad not to be closer to more family members, not to have a large family gathering every Thanksgiving and Christmas and sad to be in such a small and scattered family. And I wonder: what happened to yearly family get togethers and did people just stop caring about them? Probably other people don't miss or need them as much as I do. Then again, how many truly intense and emotionally committed relationships do any of us get--even when we have large families? Do we really feel connected to that many people?

I assume there comes a point where the newness of things overtakes the oldness. That is, I stop thinking about the past and can focus on the future. This isn't my childhood--it's Ewan's. And probably, at least one of you out there will think: this whole post is about you, Marie, and not about your son and to be a parent is to focus on your child and not yourself. I understand this. But grief is awfully persistent.

Finally: to the person named Laura who sent Ewan a basket of goodies--thank you. And at the risk of sounding rude--please remind me how I know you so I can thank you properly. I just don't recognize your last name.

Nice post, Marie. Made me think of two things. One, my father has had such an influence on me that I always tell my friends that they won't truly know me until they've met him. Unfortunately, he passed away 10 years ago.

Second, I just had a fairly horrible time at christmas with all 17 members of the rest of my family. Nothing to miss about that; big family gatherings often sound better on paper than they are in real life.

I agree with Ned. Thank you so much for this post.

I wanted to add to his post:
Your father knows everything what is happening with your life. You are a person with living flesh so you can not see your father but he sees you and is guiding you all the time. For example, even when you think/feel it is impossible to keep going in your life you can somehow pick up yourself and proceed with your day. When you are having a hard day/time remember that he is beside you and trying to ease the difficult situation you are experiencing. Have courage! Life is good. Enjoy your life.
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