Tiny / Infinite

To say that time is flying is unbelievably trite, but it is, like, more than figuratively so. Minutes spill into hours into days into weeks; and suddenly, impossibly, it’s a new year—yours.

There’s so much that has happened since September. So much that we’ve done and still to do. (Less, though, slowly.) Because in pregnancy—and new parenthood, I imagine, the tiny becomes the infinite, which is both a bummer and a wonder of a thing. Like, how a page of text can take and therefore be an afternoon, because sleep—because January light, and you. How, too, nesting is the realest thing, and everything hinges on the perfect diaper bag, and there is magic in a Pinterest board. And how when you’re injured on top of everything, a walk to the mailbox stretches time and ligament and is, actually, an event.

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Somewhere and sometime this winter, I read a woman’s description of how in her pregnancy, her husband would often say that she was running a duathlon. As in, that morning she grew a human and walked the dog / made a meal / climbed the stairs. Cheer! I miss doing “more,” yes, but at thirty-three weeks, I love and believe that entirely.

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Today, little one, we’re closer to ready than not. There are clothes in a closet and diapers in a drawer and soft landing spots aplenty. Your room is nearly done and, we hope, a haven—simple, serene, wholly yours. (More on that to come.)

Still to do? Heal my feet. Procure a hospital bag and its contents. Install a car seat. Learn to change a diaper. Learn not to be afraid of words like, flange.  Nothing, everything; continual duathlons; miraculous smallness.

September Words, Belatedly

It can be hard to write during the first trimester of pregnancy—in part, because how you’re going through the world now is a subject taboo (with which I take issue, but was complicit, so), and to write about anything else seems evasive and small; but in greater part, because whatever intellectual capacities you may once have possessed have been quelled by a new-beating heart.

Now, I know, for every woman these early months are different. For some, they pass gently—steady dips and rises, a carousel. You live as you mostly always have, and do things like get out of bed and eat. For many others, though—for me, they are a nadir, and you can’t even remember what it feels like to feel well, and you wonder aloud, in tears, if you’ll ever know it again.

There are pregnancy forums innumerable, I’ve learned, with threads aplenty on “morning sickness.” But the things you read generally are brief, and half-emoji (green face / green face / green face), and just totally un-encompassing. There is such a dearth of real, coherent, longform writing about this maybe unbelievably hard time; and so often, when you do spot a promising line, it’s appended with a “but.” But I’m so grateful for this journey; but it’s all worth it; but this will only make me a better mother.

These are lovely and not at all untrue silver linings; because of course, you are utterly grateful for this babe-to-be; and all that matters is that, deo volente, she’ll soon be here in your arms; and yes, this trial may help prepare you for the countless you’ll face as a parent.

But I very firmly believe that it’s okay—necessary, actually—for women writing about their pregnancies to sink into the visceral, without attenuation; to say afterward, if it was, Wow, that part was awful, and I really suffered. Because I read—a lot—and I was totally unprepared.

With large thanks to Instagram, I think, pregnancy has become this weirdly performative act. Golden-haired, lithe-limbed “mamas,” in flowing Dôen dresses. (No shade to Dôen; I really like your dresses.) And yes! It is such a special and to-be-celebrated thing. But let’s be real: your mom did it, and so did her mom before her; and this total glorification of the experience, and compulsion to perform to it—as a writer, as anyone with a social platform—not only fetishizes pregnancy in ways truly bizarre, but warps the conversation and obscures what’s really real.

So, what I didn’t expect: I wouldn’t write very much, or do very much, this summer. In quick succession, I learned I was pregnant, floated in a fog of bliss, and got sick. It was a day or two of, hmm, something’s off; and then I was fully there. I was nauseous every moment I was awake. I vomited without warning or reason. I was given a prescription that helped not at all and also scared me to take. For weeks I could barely eat, and I lost weight. Cooking smells—all smells—were noxious. Helpfully, it was a thousand degrees; and if you don’t believe in climate change then I could wring your neck, because there were days in August when I would step outside and literally start to cry. And because the first months carry a particular terror, I walked (lay supine) on eggshells. On the positive, I read the New Yorker from cover to cover each week, and gained as clear an understanding as I’d ever had of what matters and what does not. (Not: the dishes.)

Sometime in week 14, things started to improve. I still felt nauseous, especially so at night; and by mid-afternoon, sleep was a siren song. But most days, at least in part, I could think and write and generally feel like a human, which—what an incredible feeling.

So in the beginning, there is such loveliness and un-loveliness both; and if you know what I mean, then I know what you mean, too. Shoot me a note; let’s commune.

And P.S.—baby girl, if it wasn’t entirely clear: I love you so much, it hurts.

March Words

In my humble but firm opinion, Lana Del Rey’s “Love” requires a level of intimacy with the streets of Boston, MA. Like, in the way that Infinite Jest more explicitly demands—with its willows greening by the mare des canards and not yet true twilight blanketing Newton. There’s a feeling evoked, of hurt and greater hope commingled. And how can one listen or read, and get it, without knowing what it is to walk through Inman Square on a Sunday afternoon, or plant oneself by the Harvard Book Store remainders (piles on piles of Philip K. Dick), or stand beneath a sky that must have been a model for the Ludwig Instagram filter—because that’s what it is, save for a few summer days or weeks. And, to be young and in love. {question mark}

It’s March 6th, a Tuesday, and I am thinking of New Year’s Eve. Of driving past our old, first apartment in East Cambridge—warm and buzzed at four o’clock, listening to Lust for Life and beginning to remember-when. Remember when we went there, ate that, saw/heard/did that ridiculous thing, with those friends, alone. {question mark} Of, later, sitting in the bar of the Taj Hotel and looking out on the shadow of the Public Garden, drinking martinis and sort of weeping from too-much-vodka feeling. Of having dinner beside a jazz quartet and waking up the next day, January 1, with resolutions.

I am lying in bed before work, computer on a cloud duvet on my lap. The curtain—the only one we ever really touch—is pulled to the side, and there’s a cat on the dresser who’s staring out the window. Birdsong rises from the tulip tree, and light spills into the room, making everything amber-tinged. March, in other words. And now I set “Love” on low, and I’m driving/laughing/crying/hoping. Bass beating {there, here}, so happy.

There’s more to say or not say; but this morning, simply, for you: I love this song/husband/life, Boston, and I’ve been keeping resolutions.

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Homecoming

The front door of our house is in need of repair. A pane of glass, cracked in a windstorm before we’d ever even moved in.

Ditto the screen (collided with said door); the garage; the basement; the deck. And not to forget the garden that needs tending; the weeds uprooting; the leaves raking, weekly (daily?) because suddenly, it seems, it’s fall. There are things to be done and dollars to spend and hours to give in devotion to this small plot of land, and the small house upon it.

Homeownership, in a word.

Recently, my husband and I spent a week in the Pacific Northwest, a place I’d never been and to which, once, I might have clung. Cancel the flight; send for the cats. To Seattle, especially, which felt like Boston and Chicago and San Francisco conjoined and flung out into some National Park. It was young and vibrant, and the geography every bit as gorgeous as Maria Semple describes it. Mountains abutting city streets spilling out onto a Sound that, much as I adore the Long Island iteration, was something special.

It was perfect, each day imbued with friends and food and so much Pinot Noir. We played tourist and flâneur at once. We mapped out where we’d live and work and how we’d spend our days. And the whole time we were there, I couldn’t wait to be home.

Years ago, Ann Patchett had an essay in The Times, which I bookmarked then and have revisited more than once since. In it, she writes (succinctly; sublimely; oh you’re good, Ann Patchett) of her home in Nashville. “I understand the world is full of spectacular things I’ve yet to see,” she says, “but I can’t imagine any of them would satisfy me as deeply as this house.” She continues that, “Home, once you find it, presents an inexhaustible set of wonders, a world that isn’t very wide but is endlessly deep.” It is “the stable window that opens out into the imagination”; and it is good not because of the porch or the floors—however lovely they may be—but because such is the life within it.

I’ve lived in many different real estates, seven in the last five years alone. (Which, when written out, does seem like a few too many.) There’s something amazing about that transience, about being able to dream up a life in Seattle and then, actually, realize it. But there’s something to be said, too, for being anchored to the earth. For having this space to which you and your love return from work each day. Where you’ll uproot a weed but not a self; where you’ll live and make life.

There’s so much that’s inconstant—in the world right now, especially; so much to fall apart, and break your heart. And as I look out from my writing desk today, onto the deck that needs fixing (or, more accurately, tearing down) and to the burnt-orange leaves falling on it, knowing that I’ll see the same tomorrow, I’m just…really glad and grateful for that stillness. For this house which envelops this life, in all its smallness and infinity.

Packing for Maine

This week, my husband and I leave for vacation in Maine, where we’ll spend too few days with people we love and an agenda of good food, good drink, and good books. Little else, I hope.

In between some necessary doings today, I started to pack our bag. It’s a small one—meant for lone nights over, I’m sure—but this is summer on Casco Bay, and I really can’t imagine we’ll need more than jeans, a few tees, and a sweatshirt between us. And as I sat there on the bedspread, folding, considering this tank or that one, wondering after those lost and longed-for shorts, I was also thinking of our last trip to Maine—and of our first, too.

Of e-mailing Matt one early Sunday morning to say that I was so sorry, I couldn’t make it to the Super Bowl party; I had met this boy, and he wanted to take me to Portland. (I know, I do. Crossing state lines with a newfound friend? But guys, I had a feeling.)

Of driving from Boston to an even colder city, north—and not thinking for a moment that Maine in February was foolish. Stopping to photograph a lighthouse. Stopping again, to eat. (Chowder at Gilbert’s, of course.) Driving back and pausing in New Hampshire for moonshine, just because. Being home in Cambridge and ordering sushi that never came—and so, White Lightin’ for dinner.* And then, months later and another, warmer drive to Portland. Farther, too, to Deer Isle and Acadia, where we loafed and (half-)hiked and thought of Boston, and of leaving it.

So much has happened since Maine, then. A new address (or five). A marriage and an anniversary. Infinite drives and fewer flights. And while Portland is very lovely, I think it’s safe to say that I’m more than reasonably excited to be there. But I am—over-the-moon-like. For the lobster. For the days that begin in loonsong on a porch and end there, too—but with beers and a sky that’s no longer fog but striations of color, and wondrous. Mostly, though, for the camerado, who made this place a place.

So Malcolm, if you’re reading, thanks for traveling with me—to Maine or wherever, then and always. Thanks for sharing your sweatshirt, too.

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*A jar that didn’t make it past our last, ruthless pre-move purge, but that I kept for so very long. Lingering ’shine-tang, be damned.

The Great Zucchini

Growing up, I spent a week or so of every summer at the Shore. Often, this very week—which I know because we’d be sitting in the den, in front of the old tube TV, wondering whether Agassi or Sampras would take Wimbledon that year.

By the Shore, of course, I mean the New Jersey Shore; and if you grew up somewhere between Fairfield and Philadelphia, then you can probably picture the scene. The drive along the Garden State Parkway that, for reasons unclear, may take either two or six hours—and if the latter, will make you question every life choice that has led you to this moment. Counting the water towers. Wondering at the exit sign for Cheesequake State Park. (Not a typo; this is a true thing.) Lunch at *that one* rest stop. The abating traffic, but then, the slow crawl across the Manahawkin Bay Bridge. And finally, finally the island—all surf shops and snack bars and houses just awakened, after spring.

My grandparents had a Victorian on the southern end of LBI that was both very beautiful and very old. A white exterior, with black shutters and a sweeping front porch; a driveway of smooth, pale stones. So many rooms—all, somehow, filled. Indoor bathtubs but outdoor showers (character!). Central air: a thing for other people, somewhere else. There were twelve bedrooms that they had rented to college kids in the seventies (stories, there), but by the time their children were grown and had children of their own, they were ours alone. And in late June or early July, my family and my mother’s siblings and their families would all descend on the house like so many fireflies.

There’s so much from those years that I remember, still. Boogie boards dragged to the beach. Patches of dune grass. The hammock. The mosquitos. Late afternoon bike rides, and skinned knees.

My grandmother’s zucchini bread—wrapped in foil on the kitchen table, waiting for you, for whenever you might arrive.

I keep a small collection of her recipes with me, and there are a few that I always return to—vegetable lasagna, oatmeal muffins, banana bread. The zucchini bread that she made those summers at the Shore, though, is one I’ve left untouched. I’m not quite sure why. But yesterday afternoon, I stumbled on the recipe and got to work; and, without meaning to sound too sanctimonious, if you put one thing into your oven this week, it should be this one. (Good Lord. The smell alone.) I wish I could say that the zucchini came fresh from my garden; but hey, maybe next year.

I hope you’ll enjoy this recipe that, for me, means family and salty air and slow, simple living—summer, in a word.

Ebbie’s Zucchini Bread
Makes two loaves.

Ingredients
• 3 cups flour*
• 3 eggs
• 1 cup canola oil
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 cups peeled (or unpeeled) and grated zucchini
• 2 tsp. vanilla
• 2 tsp. cinnamon
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 2 tsp. baking powder

Directions
1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease and flour two loaf pans.
2. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix until blended.
3. Fill pans with batter.
4. Bake for one hour.

*I used whole wheat because it’s what we keep around the house, but all-purpose should do just fine.

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Notes on a garden, which is to say on a life

You wake up so early. 4:50. The cats. Soft steps and then, closer, a tearing. The curtain above your nightstand. It’s fine, you think. You turn to the right and see that your husband is stirring, will make them breakfast. Small blessings. Ten feet, then—eight, smaller and light. You think of how you like to joke, Practice; night feedings. You feel your husband ease back into bed, the covers tightening across your shoulders, and you turn over again, to the left. Fold into something small. Close your eyes.

You open them and glance at your phone, and it’s already (only) 5:23. You read an e-mail, set the phone down. You’re half-asleep, and your mind is ticking through the real process of awakening—the bathroom, the walk downstairs, the lifting of blinds. And so you do those things. You look out the window as the coffee starts, and there is so much fog. You can barely see past the yard. You rest your eyes there, then. Everything is green. You’ve let the grass go too long, and the flowerbeds need care—pruning, weeding, re-planting. Whatever it is that needs to be done for a garden. (Which is? You wonder.) Your husband said last week, as you crouched over so many tendrils, puzzled, “Isn’t anything you don’t like a weed?” You’re not sure that’s right, but then, maybe.

You make a list for the day. Water the hanging plants (impatiens, not impatients, you’ve learned)—one so withered from the sun, you’re not sure it’ll live; but you’ll hope. Mow the lawn. You don’t linger too long on that. Maybe you’ll pick up the sticks. So many; the rain. Find food for the roses out front. (Something they need, you’ve learned. Something organic.) You look inside the cabinets, see baking powder, apple cider vinegar; you’ll need to go to the store. You will. You wonder why the hydrangeas haven’t bloomed. (They should have, by now, right?) You’ll want to bring something from the garden indoors. A few roses, clipped, in a mason jar. You’ll place them somewhere high. The cats.

6:43. You’re here with your husband, in the kitchen. “More coffee?” he asks, and you shake your head, No. It’s raining again. Maybe the yard work will have to wait, till the afternoon, till tomorrow. You peer into the refrigerator, see carrots, think, I’ll make those muffins again. You’re hungry, after all. Your cats traipse in, sit beside you, look through the sliding glass door. You do, too. The fog is thick but the sky is lighter now—like an elephant? Something like that. It’s so quiet, only the birds. You set down your list, close your eyes, don’t think too far ahead. Just. Here I am, in this house, with the person I love on this still Sunday morning. And that’s enough.

You set out the mixing bowl. Crack an egg. Stir.

For the curious and the hungry:

Carrot Oatmeal Greek Yogurt Muffins
Yields twelve.
Best served with coffee and blooms, preferably au lit.

Ingredients
• 1 1/4 cups all-purpose {or whole wheat} flour
• 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
• 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 2 large eggs
• 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
• 2 tbsp maple syrup {or honey}
• 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 cup grated carrot
• 1/2 cup raisins {optional}

Directions
1. Preheat your oven to 350F and prepare a muffin pan by lining the cavities with paper liners or greasing them with cooking spray or oil. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until they become slightly frothy before whisking in the yogurt, maple syrup, almond milk, and vanilla. Mix until well combined before folding in the grated carrots.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing gently until just combined. Add raisins, if desired.
5. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups, filling almost to the top.
6. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for ~5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

*Recipe adapted from Amanda’s at Running with Spoons.