Monday, June 12, 2017

Like an echo, like a photograph

I miss pictures.

Ya know? Real pictures. The ones that are printed out on shiny photo paper, that have pin-holes in the corners from being tacked up onto bulletin boards, or tape remnants from being stuck on the wall.

When I was growing up, my father was the Official Family Photographer, and he took his job seriously. In my parents' family room, an entire wall is bookshelves, stocked with hundreds and hundreds of books - history, political analysis, sociology, some literature - and then a couple of shelves dedicated to photo albums.

There are at least twenty of them, maybe more, ranging from pictures that my grandparents had of my parents growing up, baby books, wedding albums, and then chronicling the years as Josh and Sam and I grew up, and some as my parents were empty-nesters.

One of the things my brothers and I do every Thanksgiving is sit down and look through a bunch of the photo albums.

I can't imagine losing them.

I guess it would be worse to not have them at all, ever. When I lived in Atlanta in my 20s, my boyfriend's parents had a beautiful house, full of gorgeous furniture and art and books. And one day when we were there, I said, "I don't see any family pictures. Where are all of your parents' picture albums? I want to see pictures of you as a kid."

"They don't have any albums. They never really took a lot of pictures of us."

I found this baffling - and sad - on so many levels. The visual record that my grandparents and parents have of our family, and that my brothers and I continue to add to, is an essential and cherished element of our shared bond and history.

(Also, what the fuck kind of parents don't take a jillion pictures of their kids??)

That's why I'm so adamant about taking pictures, preserving old ones, and presenting them in a way that's digestible - not just a series of files on a phone or computer, but something that is tangible and somewhat curated. I do this by making photo books, including of old photos that I've scanned. One year I borrowed the cracked, falling-apart baby album that my parents assembled in the year after I was born. I scanned all the photos and printed them in a photo book that recreated the album page by page. The last couple of pages had some completely random photos that had nothing to do with baby me - pictures of them and their friends at a wedding or something like that. I always thought it was funny that those pictures got shoved in with the baby pictures, so I included them in the photo book as well.

I don't want to lose these memories. I nag my mother about getting the old family photos scanned.

But then I neglected my own advice.

So, we have this cat that I got because the kids wanted a pet. His name is Scooby.

The kids adore him.

I like him fine. He's fine. He's a nice cat. Whatever.

I'm generally indifferent to cats, and that feeling hasn't changed. If someone came along and said, "hey, I really love cats and I want your cat and I'm taking him off your hands if you don't mind," I'd be all, "OK, sure," and I wouldn't ever think of the cat again.

I can't really see this actually happening. It would be super weird.

But assuming it did, and assuming it were a friend or someone who I didn't have reason to suspect was a cat abuser, I'd be cool with it if I didn't know that the kids would freak out.


The cat chills out in my room a lot, frequently under the bed. He is generally unobtrusive. When he comes to hang out with us, he is friendly and cuddly and purr-y. He has some toys that he usually ignores, but sometimes likes to play with.

And then over the weekend, he went kind of nuts.

The kids have this stuffed snake that had fallen on the floor. It had a slight split in the seam, so some of the stuffing was poking out, but it was a small split and easily fixable.

Until Scooby got hold of it and murdered that poor snake.

Zeke told me about it before I saw it, so at first I didn't realize the extend of the destruction.

"Don't worry, honey, I can sew it up."

"No, it can't be fixed. All the stuffy-fluffy is out."

Indeed it was.

Then later I went into my room. A picture frame that had been on my night table was on the floor, with the glass and the backing separated from the frame.

Next to it was a photo that had been ripped to shreds.

It took me a second to realize that the photo was one of Emma and me.

It's one of my favorite pictures of the two of us. We're at a beach house on the Outer Banks, I'm sitting in a chair with my feet resting on a ledge, and she's sitting on my lap. She's two or three, wearing shorts, hair in pigtails, rocking an impossibly gorgeous tan. She's telling me something and I have my head cocked to the side as I look at her and listen to her story and smile and marvel at how adorable she is.

And that picture in the frame was the only copy I had. My heart sank. Even though I have so many pictures of Emma, that one was special, and the idea that it was gone, never to be recovered, gutted me.

But it's just a picture, right?

No. It's not just a picture. It's family history. It's irreplaceable.

This is why when people are asked what they would save from a burning house, it's almost always family photographs.

Had I scanned the picture? Maybe I had scanned it.

But I couldn't recall ever scanning it. I looked through my computer, my phone, thumb drives, external storage devices, old discs with pictures on them, anything I could think of. I couldn't find it anywhere.

I was despondent.

Then I remembered. I wrote about it a year ago. And in doing so, had to have scanned a copy to upload it to the blog post.

I still haven't found the file from when I scanned it last year. But I was able to download it from the blog post.  Here it is.


So, scan your old pictures. Or write a blog and include pictures on it.

Also, anyone want a cat?

Thursday, June 08, 2017

The summer of love

The sun was shining and the air felt pleasantly warm, but not too hot, as I walked across the street and into the YMCA to pick up the kids. It's already mid-June, but there's always a feeling of "already?" when summer weather finally hits. Invariably, there's a snow storm in mid May (as there was this year), and then the lingering chilliness of spring that lasts right up until the time that it's 60 degrees and cloudy one day and 90 degrees and sunny the next, and then it's summer.

Last Friday was the last day of school, and this past Monday was the first day of camp. The kids were excited. They like school, but they were ready for a break from the grind, particularly Zeke. Summer is when they get to go to YMCA camp, where they hang out with friends and have a different fun field trip every single day - "and we get to do lanyards, Mama!!" They get to ride their bikes around the neighborhood and hang out at the pool, which is three blocks from my house and one block from their dad's. They get to go on vacation - the Outer Banks with me, and then somewhere else with dad. We go hiking and camping in the mountains. I take them to a Cirque du Soleil show.  On super hot days, we might seek refuge in the air conditioning of the the art museum or the science museum or the movies.

Done with school and ready for summer.
And even though my life doesn't change that much during the summer - I still go to work, I still have the kids according to the same schedule - the kids' sense of happiness and relaxation makes me more happy and relaxed, and nowhere is that more evident than in our morning routine.

Here's what most mornings are like during the school year:

I get out of bed at 6 to exercise. I shower. I try to wake up the kids.

"Good morning, kiddies. Time to get up."

"Mamaaaa..." Zeke will groan.

"Come on honey, it's time to get up. You too, Josie."

"No. I'm tired." She burrows under her blankets and sticks a pillow on top of her head.

"I know, sweetie, but it's time to get up. Come on, I'll get you some clothes to put on."

I go pick clothes out for them.

"Come on, guys. Let's go." My voice is not quite as sweet as it was before.

They flop around in bed, moaning about being tired.

I tell them to get up and get dressed, and then I go to brush my teeth.  When I come back, no one has stirred.

"Guys!! Let's go. It's time to get up!"

I get dressed, go downstairs to make myself some coffee, assemble lunch for Zeke (Josie likes to buy it at school), find socks and shoes and books and jackets.

I look at the clock and realize we need to leave the house in 20 minutes if they're going to be on time for school.  I run upstairs. They're still in bed.


"You're so mean!" they respond. But they finally get up.

The next 20 minutes is a flurry of me making breakfast, drinking coffee, putting on my makeup, finding my car keys, "shoes! where are your shoes??" "where's your backpack?" "do you have your Thursday folder?" "the bell is going to ring in 8 minutes, WE HAVE TO GO!!!"

They bicker and dawdle. As we're leaving the house, someone decides to race upstairs to find three things they need to put in their backpacks. Without fail, they are things that do not need to be taken to school.

We finally get in the car and I drop them off with no time to spare, feeling frazzled and tense. Every day, no matter how early I get up, no matter how early they go to bed the night before, no matter how organized I think I am, it's down to the wire every. single. day.

In contrast, this is what it's like in the summer:

I get up at 6 to exercise. Then I shower. By the time I'm out of the shower, they're up, bustling around happily.

"Hi, kidlets! I washed your camp shirts and they're downstairs. Don't forget to brush your teeth."

"OK, Mama!" they chirp.

They get dressed without incident, they eat their breakfast without incident, there's no bickering.

"What are you guys doing today at camp?"

"We're going to Garden of the Gods to go hiking. Yesterday we got to go to the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder. It was awesome!"

"Oh yeah? what was it like? what did you see?"

"We got to taste different kind of herbal teas. And we got to go in this room where they process peppermint leaves - it smells so strong that my eyes watered."


We walk out the door and head to the bus stop. We leave early because the kids like to get to camp with enough time to play before the day officially starts.

"Love you, Mama!" Zeke says.

"I love you too, babe."

"Mama, did you know that herbal teas aren't actually tea?"

"I did know that. They have different kinds of plants and flowers in them."

"Yeah, tea is actually a plant that grows!"

We get on the bus. Sometimes we chat, sometimes the kids strike up conversation with other riders, sometimes they read books, sometimes they play on my phone. We get off at my stop downtown, I walk them to the YMCA, bid them good-bye as they ignore me and race off to see their friends, and then walk across the street to my office.

Everyone is happy and relaxed.

Josie chills out on the sidewalk and plays with her fidget spinner as we wait for the bus.
Yesterday was the first day I had the kids since camp started. I picked them up and they were playing cards and making lanyards with their friends. They were happy and a little tired. We rode the bus home and they told me about their day. We went to the Greek diner on the next block for dinner. No one fought or bickered. Everyone was cheerful. Lovely manners were used at every turn.

Back at home, we watched a little TV (they're obsessed with World Wide Dance), read books for awhile, and went to bed early.

They were content so I was content. There's a sense of calm and peace in the house. I didn't feel as anxious.

When I'm with my children, they center me. They make me laugh and smile.

I'm working the knots, just a little bit.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Loosening and untying


It's been awhile, I know. And I'm not sure why.

Normally, I feel like I have things I want to write about - things I'm thinking about, things I'm experiencing. I have done this for almost 11 years. It has been an emotional outlet and a connection with the world - the readers I know about and those that I don't.

But for the past few months, I have felt paralyzed, communicationally-speaking. There are so many areas of my life that I'm trying to sort out from a psychological perspective that the various strands have become entangled and knotted, like necklaces carelessly tossed into a box. Writing about them seems impossible, both because I'm still sorting them out in my head, but also because it feels too personal.

I feel those knots physically. My chest is always slightly tight, my breathing isn't as deep as it should be. I'm perpetually anxious. My heart feels like it's beating too close to the surface of my skin.

Exercise helps. I find that when I wake up in the morning feeling like I'm two steps away from being in the throes of a full-blown anxiety/panic attack - and I feel this way almost every day - the exertion from a super strenuous workout can push the anxiety in my chest to the side. It doesn't go away altogether, but it's abated somewhat.

If I have to be anxious and nervous all the time, at least I'll be in shape.

It's not like I'm particularly unhappy. The kids are great. It's summer, so we've got our annual Outer Banks beach trip coming up in a few weeks. The mountains beckon with beautiful hiking trails. The neighborhood pool opens this weekend. I've got tickets to Red Rocks shows.

But I have an overwhelming sense of uncertainty about where I am in my life, and where I want to be. I know I'll figure it out, but it's a hard process.