All that’s left is the amaryllis

The ornaments are wrapped in their boxes and stacked on the shelf in the basement. The cookies have been devoured. Containers of leftovers from elaborate meals now empty, washed, and stored. The lighted angel is silent, the announcement of a birth long past, she stands in the dark downstairs beside the box of strings of lights that brightened the bushes outside our window. The sheets are changed and the towels washed. Toys are put away. Santa came and went in a flash. But the amaryllis remains.

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Life is still grand

Our woods the day before we left for St. Louis, October 21, 2012

Midlife is a time for flexibility, I think.

I woke up in my own bed at home this morning and had to re-orient myself, as I did most mornings while in St. Louis waking in the guest room at my son’s house. “I’m still here,” I’d think upon first waking, “we’ll be with the grandchilden today.”

This morning my thoughts turned to the familiar sights and sounds of home, and a running list of the things I wanted to accomplish today: a blog to post, plants to bring in from the dropping temperatures, a sewing project left on our dining room table to be finished, and a writing project to work on.

No more listening in the early hours for a little voice singing the alphabet song through a baby monitor on the kitchen table where I sat sipping my morning tea. No more bowls of cheerios with milk or bagels with “French” cheese, or fruit, lots of fruit, “More fruit, please.” And from the same little voice, optimistic that a voiced agreement will make it so, “Okay, then. Great.”

No more stickers, or crayons.  Eggs and toast made of Playdoh. No more puzzles or cars. No more trains. No more books about dogs, “Up the tree. Up the tree,” my computer gathering dust on the dining room table.

No more holding close a tiny little body, a warm soft head nestled in my hand, baby maybe-blue eyes gazing up at the light.

Love surrounded us in St. Louis; it was palpable, in the air with every breath we took, my senses on full alert soaking up every smile, every hug, every word, to be brought home and savored later.

It’s time to pick up again our life’s work, for in midlife even if we change our vocation from a profession to volunteering, from an hourly-job to a hobby, from child-rearing to writing, we still have our life’s work. It is what makes us want to arise in the morning each day.

I have an adult child facing what could be traumatic oral surgery, another trying to get a job, a father who struggles to eat, and a mother who struggles to feed him.

Love surrounds us here. It is not bright, shiny, and always joyous, but it is true, deep, and abiding love.

I have a little dog who wants nothing more than to just be home with us here.

And Mark. Always Mark.

Life is still grand.

Our woods this morning, October 29, 2012.

Violet Marie Grote has arrived

I woke up early this morning and walked through the open door at the end of the hall into a pink and white room beside the guest room where we’re staying. The motion of the ceiling fan caught my eye. We must have left it on when we were working in here yesterday assembling the crib.  It will be a while before the crib is used; the bassinet in the parents’ room will suffice for some time.

I pulled on the chain to turn off the fan, continued across the room to the second-story window above the leaf-strewn deck, and looked up at the sky. A constellation decorated the night. The name always seems to elude me, but it is the one with the three stars in a line, like a belt. Orion perhaps? I’ll have to look it up.

The house is quiet save for the nature sounds that play from an ipod speaker in Luke’s room through a monitor in ours.

Parents and baby will be coming home today.

Violet Marie Grote was born on Monday morning at 9:50 eastern standard time. She is 19-1/2 inches long and weighed 8 lbs. 14 oz. at birth. Her skin is soft, and her cry is insistent. When she opens her eyes, she is absolutely captivating. She’s attentive to the voice of her big brother, 2-year-old Luke, and looks for him when he speaks or sings her a song.

Isn’t life grand?

2012 — a midlife review

I woke up this morning with troubling thoughts swirling around in my mind, and remembered that I started this blog with the intent to write about what was on my mind each morning.

I’ve strayed from that intent.

I think I may look back on this year as the epitome of “midlife.”

I started the year nursing my husband through bilateral knee surgery.

I continue to make every effort to support my mother as she cares for my father who suffers from Alzheimer’s. The needs always changing and shifting. A continuum of problem-solving.

I struggle with denial as I try to make every moment count with my father who slips further and further away.

I’m working to fill my life with meaningful purpose now that my days of child-rearing have come to a close.

I’m trying to nurture and even invigorate a relationship with the man I’ve loved for more than 30 years, well past the days of infatuation. For relationships do require attention to thrive and I want to do more than settle into comfortable routine.

Instead of handling our children’s problems, I discuss them over telephone calls, e-mails, and text messages: a suspended license that defies resolution, teeth implants that will be required, job dissatisfaction.

I look forward with sweet anticipation to the new grandbaby expected to arrive next month.

I make road trips to St. Louis, packing a suitcase, boarding out Arthur, driving, and then doing everything in reverse, to eke out every last second  of time that I can spend with our grandson.

All the while I  try to minimize the strain I put on my arthritic knees and visit the orthopedic doctor at regular intervals for injections.

On a daily basis I deal with ongoing physical issues that result from crashing hormone levels and simply aging, wondering if its time to get a stronger prescription for my bifocals yet again.

Thirty years ago today I first became a mother and was nearly swallowed up by the love and joy.

When I was younger life seemed clearer and perhaps less varied. I was bringing children into the world and caring for them. My concerns were primarily focused on little people whose ages spanned less than a 10-year gap. It seemed busy and complicated at the time.

Now I visit my 2-year-old grandson on a weekend, savoring the joy and laughter.

And I visit my nearly 80-years-old parents on a Monday, holding back and denying the sadness and tears, wondering what changes need to be made so that Mom can still manage taking care of Dad at home. Wondering if we can make those changes. Wondering if she’s going to hold up under the strain. Wondering how long this can last.

Here at midlife, I am smack in the middle of the huge spectrum of life, still trying to understand what it’s all about.

Family reunions and the passage of time

According to Einstein, “an object in motion actually experiences time at a slower rate than one at rest,” (http://science.howstuffworks.com/warp-speed2.htm). According to this theory, which I will likely never fully comprehend, last weekend should have crawled at a snail’s pace. Our children and their significant others were here for a weekend of wine, food, and games. I was in motion much of the time, or at least much more so than my normal quiet sedentary life with Mark and Arthur.

But that wasn’t the case at all. The weekend passed in a fast blur of motion and color and laughter and a baby’s cry. The preparations for the weekend that occupied my thoughts and many of my activities for the two weeks prior, are completed, used up, and cleaned up. The baby gate and porta crib are folded and stored away. The guest set of dishes, warm from the dishwasher, are stored on a high shelf in the pantry again. Clean sheets and towels folded in stacks on top of the dryer and in the dining room wait to return to the lower level where empty guest rooms are bereft of any lingering reminders.

The well-stocked kitchen refrigerator is nearly empty. The refrigerator in the garage, so recently packed full of beverages is now an empty shell save for a lingering can of Diet Coke or two.

The Fisher-Price farm and zoo, the wooden train track running through the room, are all stashed away in containers where they will lie untouched for months.

Arthur, exhausted from his nonstop surveillance of a toddler, lies still and limp in a  curled position on the sofa, then the bed, and now on his pillow in the study.

I stumble around with a foggy head and try to remember what I should be doing.

I may wish that the time we had in motion this weekend passed slower. I may wish it would have lasted forever. But that is not the case.

Now I’ll sit at my desk and type to you, or in my rocking chair on the porch and read, or in my recliner in the evenings beside Mark as we catch up on the news or a television show or two.

And I’ll hope that my slowness will make time pass faster until we are all together again.

Elizabeth Bookser Barkley’s Power of the Pen

I read her name before I spoke with her. I talked to her over the phone before I met her. When I finally did meet her, I had no idea that such a huge influence on my career as a writer would come from such a tiny, yet feisty, well-loved woman.

When I decided to go back to college for an English degree, I found Elizabeth Bookser Barkley’s name in the College of Mount St. Joseph promotional materials. I was tentative about going back to school. I had quit my career as a chemical engineer (1979 degree from the University of Dayton), after working for Procter and Gamble a mere 3-1/2 years, to become a full-time stay-at-home mom. I really didn’t know if I had it in me to tackle college work again with other students less than half my age.

Photo from Cincinnati.com story

I found the courage to call Elizabeth Bookser Barkley and she steered me to the right course with which to begin. She continued to subtly steer me, something she excels at, through the remaining years I spent at the Mount working on my degree. I took five courses with her as the professor; when a position opened as a Writing Center Consultant, she recommended me; when she needed an editor for the school’s newspaper that she monitored, she asked me to do it.

Both of my stories that were published in the national magazine, St. Anthony Messenger, (The Joys and Challenges of Life with Annie – October 2008, and Sister Mary Beth Peters: A Heart for the Poor – April 2008) came from one of her classes.

Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, known as Buffy by her students and colleagues, is a professor and chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio. She is also a freelance writer who contributes to a variety of Catholic publications. You can do a simple google search of her name and find multiple articles and books written by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley.

The article I’d like to draw your attention to is one that was published yesterday (January 4, 2012) in the Cincinnati Enquirer and is now available online entitled, “The power of the pen.” I hope you take a minute to read it. I think it will make you smile.

Two worlds, a six-hour drive apart — a tale of the long-distance grandmother

I wake in the morning knowing it is the last day, after more than a week of days, with our grandson Luke who celebrates his birthday today. I try to chase the sadness away and fight the tears that threaten to spill from my eyes.

“There you are,” I say as his mother carries him down the stairs and into the dining room where I work on my computer. “Good morning!” I say as I have said for all these days.

He looks at me and smiles his brightness. I wonder if he will look for me tomorrow.

The morning passes quickly. Diapers, bottle, breakfast, books, puzzles, cars. Time for a nap. Party preparations occupy our minutes.

The guests arrive; lunch is served; a single candle lit.

I take one last quick hug and a kiss, brush my fingers across his soft cheek, then turn and walk away to hide my tears. My son gives me comfort in a hug on the drive. We get in the car where our bag and cooler of food and drinks replace the car seat with Luke on our outings and trip to the zoo. We drive away, down the street where I pushed Luke in his stroller.

The car engine moves the wheels that carry us away, minutes then hours, miles and miles.

I can still hear his soft voice saying “book?” with a hopeful look towards the shelf lined with colorful titles of thick-paged stories.

I turn my thoughts to home where my garden, books, music, and little white dog wait for me. Have the trees of our woods changed color this week?

At 4:00 I wonder if Luke got his afternoon nap on this busy birthday party day.

I can still feel his little arms clasp my legs as I sit on the sofa, wanting me to lift him up onto my lap.

I think about the seasons and wonder if I should get out Halloween decorations. Probably not this year. There are no children or grandchildren home to see them, and the long private drive deters the neighborhood children from trick-or-treating. Maybe just a fall table runner and “Give Thanks” sign. Perhaps an uncarved pumpkin beside a pot of mums.

It’s 8:00 and I wonder if Luke has gone to bed in his little soft sleeper with the zipper from ankle to neck.  I can still hear his little bedtime chatter through the intercom as he talks himself to sleep in words only he understands.

I think about how happy Arthur will be to see me.

We pull in our driveway and a little furry white head pops into the window of the door and then darts away. Arthur waits for us at the door to the garage.

We’ve left a world of hugs and kisses, laughs and baby chatter, books and puzzles.

We’re back in our world of quiet, peace, and photographs in picture frames.

I’ll listen to my music in the morning as I read my books and work, Arthur asleep on the pillow by the window.

Two and a half months until Christmas.